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Chapter no 12

House of Sky and Breath

Hunt stretched out his legs, adjusting his wings so he didn’t crush them between his back and the wooden bench. Bryce sat beside him, pistachio ice cream melting down the sides of her cone, and Hunt tried not to stare as she licked away each dribbling green droplet.

Was this punishment for his fight with Pollux? To sit here and watch this?

Hunt focused instead on the scooter she’d apparently ridden at breakneck speed to the Comitium. She’d walked with him when they left, though, pushing it beside her all the way to the park. He cleared his throat and asked, “Something up with your bike?”

Bryce frowned. “It was making a weird noise earlier. Didn’t seem wise to get back on it.” She arched a brow. “Want to be a gentleman and carry it home for me?”

“I’d rather carry you, but sure.” The scooter would be heavy, but nothing he couldn’t deal with. He remembered his own ice cream—coffee

—in time to lick away the melted bits. He tried not to note the way her eyes tracked each movement of his tongue. “What kind of noise was it making?” “A kind of rasping sputter whenever I idled.” She twisted to where her beloved bike leaned against a banner-adorned lamppost. “It’s gonna have to

go into the shop, poor thing.”

Hunt chuckled. “I can bring it up to the roof and check it out.”

“So romantic. When do the wedding invites go out for you two?”

He laughed again. “I’m shocked Randall didn’t make you learn how to fix your own bike.”

“Oh, he tried. But I was a legal adult by that point and didn’t have to listen.” She glanced at him sidelong. “Seriously, though—you know how to fix a bike?”

Hunt’s amusement slipped a notch. “Yeah. I, ah … know how to fix a lot of machines.”

“Does your lightning give you an affinity for knowing how they work, or something?”

“Yeah.” Hunt trained his gaze upon the Istros. The relentless sun was finally setting, casting the river in reds and golds and oranges. Far below the surface, little lights glowed, all that showed of the mighty, sprawling court beneath the water. He said quietly, “Sandriel took advantage of that— she often had me take apart Ophion’s mech-suits after battles, so I could learn how they worked and then sabotage them before discreetly sending the machines back to the front for the rebels to use unwittingly.” He couldn’t look at her, especially when she remained silent as he added, almost confessing, “I learned a lot about how machines work. How to make them not work. Especially at key moments. A lot of people likely died because of that. Because of me.”

He’d tried convincing himself that what he did was justified, that the suits themselves were monstrous: fifteen feet high and crafted of titanium, they were essentially exoskeletal armor that the human standing within could pilot as easily as moving their own body. Armed with seven-foot-long swords—some of them charged with firstlight—and massive guns, they could go head-to-maw with a wolf shifter and walk away intact. They were the human army’s most valuable asset—and only way of withstanding a Vanir attack.

Sandriel ordering him to take apart and mess with the suits had nothing to do with that, though. It had been about pure cruelty and sick amusement

—stealing the suits, sabotaging them, and returning them with the humans none the wiser. It was about watching with glee as the pilots squared off against Vanir forces, only to find that their mech-suits failed them.

Bryce laid a hand on his knee. “I’m sorry she made you do that, Hunt.” “So am I,” Hunt said, exhaling deeply, as if it could somehow cleanse

his soul.

Bryce seemed to sense his need to shift the subject, because she suddenly asked, “What the Hel are we going to do about Pollux and

Baxian?” She threw him a wry look, drawing him out of the past. “Aside from pummeling them into tenderized meat.”

Hunt snorted, silently thanking Urd for bringing Bryce into his life. “We can only hope Celestina keeps them in line.”

“You don’t sound so certain.”

“I spoke to her for five minutes before Pollux came in. It wasn’t enough to make a judgment.”

“Isaiah and Naomi seem to like her.” “You talked to them?”

“On the way in. They’re … concerned about you.”

Hunt growled. “They should be concerned about those two psychopaths living here.”

“Hunt.”

The sun lit her eyes to a gold so brilliant it knocked the breath from him. She said, “I know your history with Pollux. I understand why you reacted this way. But it can’t happen again.”

“I know.” He licked his ice cream again. “The Asteri sent him here for a reason. Probably to rile me like this.”

“They told us to lie low. Why goad you out of doing so?”

“Maybe they changed their minds and want a public reason to arrest

us.”

“We killed two Archangels. They don’t need any further charges to sign

our death sentences.”

“Maybe they do. Maybe they worry we could get away with it if it went to trial. And a public trial would mean admitting our roles in Micah’s and Sandriel’s deaths.”

“I think the world could easily believe you killed an Archangel. But a widdle nobody half-human like me? That’s the thing they don’t want leaking out.”

“I guess. But … I just have a hard time believing any of this. That Pollux and Baxian being here isn’t a sign of shit about to go down. That Celestina might actually be a decent person. I’ve got more than two hundred years of history telling me to be wary. I can’t deprogram myself.” Hunt shut his eyes.

A moment later, soft fingers tangled in his hair, idly brushing the strands. He nearly purred, but kept perfectly still as Bryce said, “We’ll keep

our guards up. But I think … I think we might need to start believing in our good luck.”

“Ithan Holstrom’s arrival is the exact opposite of that.” Bryce nudged him with a shoulder. “He’s not so bad.”

He cracked open an eye. “You’ve come around quickly on him.” “I don’t have time to hold grudges.”

“You’re immortal now. I’d say you do.”

She opened her mouth, but a bland male voice echoed through the park: The Gates will be closing in ten minutes. Anyone not in line will not be granted access.

She scowled. “I could have lived without them using the Gates to broadcast announcements all day.”

“You’re the one to blame for it, you know,” he said, mouth kicking up at one corner.

Bryce sighed, but didn’t argue.

It was true. Since she’d used the crystal Gates to contact Danika, it had awoken public interest in them, and revived awareness that they could be used to speak throughout the city. They were now mostly used to make announcements, ranging from the opening and closing times at the tourist sites to the occasional recording of an imperial announcement from Rigelus himself. Hunt hated those the most. This is Rigelus, Bright Hand of the Asteri. We honor the fallen dead in beautiful Lunathion, and thank those who fought for their service.

And we watch all of them like hawks, Hunt always thought when he heard the droning voice that disguised the ancient being within the teenage Fae body.

The Gate announcer fell quiet again, the gentle lapping of the Istros and whispering palm trees overhead filling the air once more.

Bryce’s gaze drifted across the river, to the mists swirling on its opposite shore. She smiled sadly. “Do you think Lehabah is over there?”

“I hope so.” He’d never stop being grateful for what the fire sprite had done.

“I miss her,” she said quietly.

Hunt slid an arm around her, tucking her into his side. Savoring her warmth and offering his own. “Me too.”

Bryce leaned her head against his shoulder. “I know Pollux is a monster; and you have every reason in the world to want to kill him. But please don’t do anything to make the Governor punish you. I couldn’t …” Her voice caught, and Hunt’s chest strained with it. “Watching Micah cut off your wings … I can’t see that again, Hunt. Or any other horror she might invent for you.”

He ran a hand over her silken hair. “I shouldn’t have lost control like that. I’m sorry.”

“You don’t need to apologize. Not for this. Just … be cautious.” “I will.”

She ate more of her ice cream, but didn’t move. So Hunt did the same, careful not to drip into her hair.

When they’d eaten it all, when the sun was near-vanished and the first stars had appeared, Bryce straightened. “We should go home. Ithan and Syrinx need dinner.”

“I’d suggest not telling Holstrom that you group him with your pet.”

Bryce chuckled, pulling away, and it was all Hunt could do to not reach for her.

He’d decided to Hel with it all when Bryce stiffened, her attention fixed on something beyond his wings. Hunt whirled, hand going to the knife at his thigh.

He swore. This was not an opponent he could fight against. No one could.

“Let’s go,” Hunt murmured, folding a wing around her as the black boat neared the quay. A Reaper stood atop it. Clothed and veiled in billowing black that hid all indication of whether the Reaper was male or female, old or young. Such things did not matter to Reapers.

Hunt’s blood chilled to ice as the oarless, rudderless boat drifted right to the quay, utterly at odds with the elegant banners and flowers adorning every part of this city. The boat halted as if invisible hands tied it to the concrete walkway.

The Reaper stepped out, moving so fluidly it was as if it walked on air. Bryce trembled beside him. The city around them had gone quiet. Even the insects had ceased their humming. No wind stirred the palms lining the quay. The banners hanging from the lampposts had ceased their flapping. The ornate flower wreaths seemed to wither and brown.

But a phantom breeze fluttered the Reaper’s robes and trailing veil as it aimed for the small park beyond the quay and the streets past that. It did not look their way, did not halt.

Reapers did not need to halt for anything, not even death. The Vanir might call themselves immortal, but they could die from trauma or sickness. Even the Asteri were killable. The Reapers, however …

You could not kill what was already dead. The Reaper drifted by, silence rippling in its wake, and vanished into the city.

Bryce braced her hands on her knees. “Ugh, ugh, ughhh.”

“My sentiments exactly,” Hunt murmured. Reapers dwelled on every eternal isle in the world: the Bone Quarter here, the Catacombs in the Eternal City, the Summerlands in Avallen … Each of the sacred, sleeping domains guarded by a fierce monarch. Hunt had never met the Under-King of Lunathion—and hoped he never would.

He had as little as possible to do with the Under-King’s Reapers, too. Half-lifes, people called them. Humans and Vanir who had once been alive, who had faced death and offered their souls to the Under-King as his private guards and servants instead. The cost: to live forever, unaging and unkillable, but never again to be able to sleep, eat, fuck. Vanir did not mess with them.

“Let’s go,” Bryce said, shaking off her shiver. “I need more ice cream.”

Hunt chuckled. “Fair enough.” He was about to turn them from the river when the roar of a wave skimmer’s engine sounded. He turned toward it on training and instinct, and halted when he marked the red-haired male atop it. The muscled arm that waved toward them. Not a friendly wave, but a frantic one.

“Tharion?” Bryce asked, seeing the direction of Hunt’s focus as the mer male gunned for them, leaving roiling waves in his wake.

It was the work of a moment to reach them, and Tharion cut the engine and drifted for the quay, keeping well away from the black boat tied nearby. “Where the fuck have you been this summer?” Hunt asked, crossing his

arms.

But Tharion said breathlessly to Bryce, “We need to talk.”

“How did you even find us?” Bryce asked as they rode the elevator in her apartment building minutes later.

“Spy-master, remember?” Tharion grinned. “I’ve got eyes everywhere.” He followed Bryce and Hunt into the apartment.

Bryce’s attention immediately shot to Ithan—who was exactly where she’d left him that morning: on the couch, Syrinx sprawled across his lap. His face had healed even more, the raw scar nearly vanished.

Ithan straightened as Tharion entered. “Relax,” she said, and didn’t spare the wolf another glance as Hunt and Tharion aimed for the couch.

Bryce let out a warning hiss at the mer’s still-wet clothes.

Hunt rolled his eyes and sat at the dining table instead. “This is why people shouldn’t get white couches,” the angel grumbled, and Bryce scowled.

“Then you can clean off the river water and dirt,” she shot back.

“That’s what insta-clean spells are for,” Hunt replied smoothly. Bryce scowled.

“Domestic bliss, I see,” Tharion said.

Bryce snickered, but Ithan asked from the couch, “Who are you?” Tharion flashed him a smile. “None of your business.”

But Ithan sniffed. “Mer. Oh—yeah, I know you. Captain Whatever.” “Ketos,” Tharion muttered.

Hunt tipped his head to Ithan. “You’ve landed a grave blow to Captain Whatever’s ego, Holstrom.”

“The gravest blow comes from my dearest friends failing to extol my many qualities when I’m challenged,” Tharion said, pouting.

“Dearest friends?” Hunt asked, raising a brow.

“Prettiest friends,” Tharion said, blowing a kiss to Bryce.

Bryce laughed and twisted away, putting her phone on silent before sending off a message to Ruhn. Get over here ASAP.

He replied instantly. What’s wrong? NOW.

Whatever it was that Tharion wanted with such urgency, Ruhn should know about it, too. She wanted him to know about it. Which was … weird. Yet nice.

Bryce slid her phone into her back pocket as Tharion gestured toward the neon-pink lace bra dangling off the folding door to the laundry

machines. “Hot,” the mer said.

“Don’t get her started,” Hunt muttered.

Bryce glared at him, but said to Tharion, “It’s been a while.” The mer was as attractive as she remembered. Perhaps more so, now that he was slightly disheveled and muddy.

“We talking about your sex life, or the time since I’ve seen you?” Tharion asked, glancing between her and Hunt. Hunt glowered, but Bryce smiled fiendishly. Tharion went on, heedless of Hunt’s ire, “It’s been a busy summer.” He jumped onto a stool at the kitchen counter and patted the one beside him. “Sit, Legs. Let’s have a chat.”

Bryce plopped next to him, hooking her feet on the bar below.

Tharion asked, suddenly serious, “Did Danika ever talk about someone named Sofie?” Ithan grunted in surprise.

Bryce’s mouth scrunched to the side. “Sofie who?”

Before she could ask more, Hunt demanded, “What the fuck is this about?”

Tharion said smoothly, “Just updating some old files.”

Bryce drummed her fingers on the marble counter. “On Danika?”

Tharion shrugged. “Glamorous as my life might seem, Legs, there’s a lot of grunt work behind the scenes.” He winked. “Though not the sort of grunting I’d like to do with you, of course.”

“Don’t try to distract me with flirting,” Bryce said. “Why are you asking about Danika? And who the Hel is Sofie?”

Tharion sighed at the ceiling. “There’s a cold case I’m working on, and Danika—”

“Don’t lie to her, Tharion,” Hunt growled. Lightning danced along his wings.

A thrill shot through Bryce at it—not only the power, but knowing he had her back. She said to Tharion, “I’m not telling you shit until you give me more information.” She jabbed a thumb toward Ithan. “And neither is he, so don’t even ask.”

Ithan only smiled slowly at the mer, as if daring him to.

Tharion sized them all up. To his credit, he didn’t back down. A muscle ticked in his cheek, though. As if he waged some inner debate. Then the mer captain said, “I, ah … I was assigned to look into a human woman, Sofie Renast. She was a rebel who was captured by the Hind two weeks

ago. But Sofie was no ordinary human, and neither was her younger brother

—Emile. Both he and Sofie pass as human, yet they possess full thunderbird powers.”

Bryce blew out a breath. Well, she hadn’t been expecting that.

Hunt said, “I thought thunderbirds had been hunted to extinction by the Asteri.” Too dangerous and volatile to be allowed to live was the history they’d been spoon-fed at school. A grave threat to the empire. “They’re little more than myths now.”

All true. Bryce remembered a Starlight Fancy horse called Thunderbird: a blue-and-white unicorn-pegasus who could wield all types of energy. She’d never gotten her hands on one, though she’d yearned to.

But Tharion went on, “Well, somehow, somewhere, one survived. And bred. Emile was captured three years ago and sent to the Kavalla death camp. His captors were unaware of what they’d grabbed, and he wisely kept his gifts hidden. Sofie went into Kavalla and freed him. But from what I was told, Sofie was caught by the Hind before she reached safety. Emile got away—only to run from Ophion as well. It seems like he came this way, but various parties are still very interested in the powers he possesses. And Sofie, too, if she survived.”

“No one survives the Hind,” Hunt said darkly.

“Yeah, I know. But the chains attached to the lead blocks at the bottom of the ocean were empty. Unlocked. Seems like Sofie made it. Or someone snatched her corpse.”

Bryce frowned. “And the River Queen wants both the kid and Sofie?

Why? And what does this have to do with Danika?”

“I don’t know what my queen’s ultimate goal is. All I know is that she’s very keen on finding Sofie, alive or dead, and equally keen on attaining Emile. But despite what that suggests, she’s not affiliated with Ophion in any way.” Tharion rubbed at his jaw. “In the process of trying to figure out this clusterfuck, I found some emails between Sofie and Danika talking about a safe place in this city for Sofie to lie low should she ever need it.”

“That’s not possible,” Ithan said.

Hunt rose from the table and stalked to Bryce’s side. His power shimmered up her body, electrifying her very blood at his nearness. “Is the River Queen insane? Are you insane? Searching for rebels and not turning them in is a one-way ticket to crucifixion.”

Tharion held his stare. “I don’t really have a choice here. Orders are orders.” He nodded to them. “Clearly you guys know nothing about this. Do me a favor and don’t mention it to anyone, okay?” The mer stood and turned toward the door.

Bryce hopped off her stool and stepped into his path. “Oh, I don’t think so.” She let a fraction of her starlight shine around her. “You don’t get to tell me that Danika was in contact with a known rebel and then waltz out of here.”

Tharion chuckled, cold frosting his eyes. “Yeah, I do, Legs.” He took a blatantly challenging step toward her.

Bryce held her ground. Was surprised and delighted that Hunt let her fight this battle without interfering. “Do you even care that this oh-so-powerful thunderbird is a kid? Who survived a fucking death camp? And is now scared and alone?”

Tharion blinked, and she could have strangled him.

“I know this is a dick thing to say,” Ithan added, “but if the kid’s got that power, why didn’t he use it to get out of Kavalla himself?”

“Maybe he doesn’t know how to use it yet,” Tharion mused. “Maybe he was too weak or tired. I don’t know. But I’ll see you guys later.” He made to step past Bryce.

She blocked him again. “Emile aside, Danika wasn’t a rebel, and she didn’t know anyone named Sofie Renast.”

Ithan said, “I agree.”

Tharion said firmly, “The email was linked to her. And the email address was BansheeFan56—Danika was clearly a Banshees fan. Skim through any of her old social media profiles and there are ten thousand references to her love of that band.”

Solas, how many Banshees shirts and posters had Danika amassed over the years? Bryce had lost count.

Bryce tapped her foot, her blood at a steady simmer. Hadn’t Philip Briggs said something similar when she and Hunt had interrogated the former leader of the Keres rebel sect in his prison cell? That Danika was a rebel sympathizer? “What did the emails say?”

Tharion kept his mouth shut.

Bryce bristled. “What did the emails say?

Tharion snapped, a rare show of temper apparently getting the better of him, “Does Dusk’s Truth mean anything to you? What about Project Thurr?” At her blank look, and Ithan’s, the mer said, “I thought so.”

Bryce clenched her jaw hard enough to hurt. After this spring, she’d realized she hadn’t known as much about Danika as she’d believed, but to add even more to that list … She tried not to let it sting.

Tharion took another challenging step toward the door. But Bryce said, “You can’t drop all that information and expect me not to do anything. Not to go looking for this kid.”

Tharion arched a brow. “So softhearted. But stay out of it, Legs.” “No way,” Bryce countered.

Hunt cut in, “Bryce. We were given an order by the Asteri—by Rigelus himself—to lie low.”

“Then obey them,” Tharion said.

Bryce glared at the mer, then at Hunt. But Hunt said, storms in his eyes, “The Asteri will slaughter us, along with your entire family, if word reaches them that you’re involved with rebel activity in any way. Even if it’s just helping to find a lost kid.”

Bryce opened her mouth, but Hunt pushed, “We won’t get a trial, Bryce. Only an execution.”

Tharion crossed his arms. “Exactly. So, again: stay out of it, and I’ll be on my way.”

Before Bryce could snap her reply, the front door banged open, and Ruhn filled the doorway. “What the— Oh. Hey, Tharion.”

“You invited him?” Tharion accused Bryce. Bryce stayed silent, holding her ground.

“What’s going on?” Ruhn asked, glancing to Hunt and Ithan. Ruhn startled at the sight of the wolf. “And what’s he doing here?”

“Ithan’s a free agent right now, so he’s staying with us,” Bryce said, and at Ruhn’s puzzled look, added, “I’ll fill you in later.”

Ruhn asked, “Why’s your heart racing?”

Bryce peered at her chest, half expecting her scar to be glowing. Mercifully, it lay dormant. “Well, apparently Tharion thinks Danika was involved with the rebels.”

Ruhn gaped.

“Thanks, Bryce,” Tharion muttered.

Bryce threw him a saccharine smile and explained Tharion’s investigation to Ruhn.

“Well?” Ruhn asked when she’d finished, his face drained of color. “Was Danika a rebel?”

“No!” Bryce splayed her arms. “Solas, she was more interested in what junk food we had in our apartment.”

“That’s not all she was interested in,” Ruhn corrected. “She stole the Horn and hid it from you. Hid it on you. And all that shit with Briggs and the synth …”

“Okay, fine. But the rebel stuff … She never even talked about the war.”

“She would have known it’d endanger you,” Tharion suggested.

Hunt said to Tharion, “And you’re cool with being press-ganged into working on this shit?” His face remained paler than usual. Tharion just crossed his long, muscular arms. Hunt went on, voice lowering, “It won’t end well, Tharion. Trust me on that. You’re tangling in some dangerous shit.”

Bryce avoided looking at the branded-out tattoo on Hunt’s wrist.

Tharion’s throat bobbed. “I’m sorry to have even come here. I know how you feel about this stuff, Athalar.”

“You really think there’s a chance Sofie is alive?” Ruhn asked. “Yes,” Tharion said.

“If she survived the Hind,” Hunt said, “and the Hind hears about it, she’ll come running.”

“The Hind might already be headed this way,” Tharion said thickly. “Regardless of Sofie, Emile and his powers remain a prize. Or something to be wiped out once and for all.” He dragged his long fingers through his dark red hair. “I know I’m dropping a bomb on you guys.” He winced at his unfortunate word choice, no doubt remembering what had happened last spring. “But I want to find this kid before anyone else.”

“And do what with him?” Bryce asked. “Hand him over to your queen?”

“He’d be safe Beneath, Legs. It’d take a damn long while even for the Asteri to find him—and kill him.”

“So he’d be used by your queen like some kind of weaponized battery instead? Like Hel am I going to let you do that.”

“Again, I don’t know what she wants with Emile. But she wouldn’t harm him. And you’d be wise to keep out of her path.”

Ithan cut in before Bryce could start spitting venom, “You really think the kid is coming here? That the Hind will follow?”

Hunt rubbed his jaw. “The 33rd hasn’t heard anything about the Hind coming over. Or Ophion being in the area.”

“Neither has the Aux,” Ruhn confirmed.

“Well, unless one of the marsh sobeks swam all the way across the Haldren to take a bite out of an Ophion soldier, I can’t think of any other reason why I found dismembered body parts of one here,” Tharion said.

“I don’t even know where to begin with that,” Hunt said.

“Just trust me,” Tharion said, “Ophion is on its way, if not already here. So I need to know as much as possible, and as quickly as possible. Find Emile, and we potentially find Sofie.”

“And gain a nice child soldier, right?” Bryce said tightly.

Tharion turned pleading eyes on her. “Either the River Queen puts me in charge of hunting for them, or she assigns someone else, possibly someone less … independently minded. I’d rather it be me who finds Emile.”

Ithan burst out, “Can we discuss that you guys are talking about rebels in this city? About Danika potentially being a rebel?” He snarled. “That’s a serious fucking claim.”

“Sofie and Danika exchanged a number of intentionally vague emails,” Tharion said. “Ones that included an allusion to a safe hiding place here in Lunathion. A place where the weary souls find relief from their suffering. I’m guessing the Bone Quarter, though I’m not sure even Danika would be so reckless as to send them there. But anyway, it’s not a claim. It’s a fact.”

Ithan shook his head, but it was Hunt who said, “This is a lethal game, Tharion. One I’d rather not play again.” Bryce could have sworn his hands shook slightly. This had to be dragging up the worst of his memories and fears—he’d been a rebel, once. It had won him two hundred years of servitude.

And today had been long and weird and she hadn’t even told Hunt about Cormac’s visit at lunch.

But to let this boy be hunted by so many people … She couldn’t sit by. Not for an instant. So Bryce said, “I can ask Fury tomorrow if she knows

anything about Danika and Sofie. Maybe she can give some insight into where Danika might have suggested hiding.”

“Ask her right now,” Tharion said with unusual seriousness.

“It’s Wednesday night. She and Juniper always have date night.”

It was half a lie, and Hunt must have known it was for his sake, because his wing gently brushed over her shoulder.

But Tharion ordered, “Then interrupt it.”

“Don’t you know anything about Fury Axtar?” Bryce waved a hand. “I’ll call her tomorrow morning. She’s always in a better mood after she and June get it on.”

Tharion glanced between her and Hunt, then to Ruhn and Ithan, both silently watching. The mer reached into his jacket and pulled out a folded stack of papers with a resigned sigh. “Here’s a sampling of the emails,” he said, handing them to Bryce, and aimed for the door again. He paused near Syrinx, then knelt down and petted his head, his thick neck. He straightened Syrinx’s collar and earned a lick of thanks. Tharion’s mouth curled up at the corners as he stood. “Cool pet.” He opened the front door. “Don’t put anything in writing. I’ll be back around lunch tomorrow.”

As soon as the mer shut the door, Hunt said to Bryce, “Getting involved with this is a bad idea.”

Ruhn said, “I agree.”

Bryce only clutched the papers tighter and turned to Ithan. “This is the part where you say you agree, too.”

Ithan frowned deeply. “I can ignore the shit about Danika and Ophion, but there’s a kid out there on the run. Who probably has nothing to do with Ophion and needs help.”

Thank you,” Bryce said, whirling on Hunt. “See?”

“It’s Tharion’s business. Leave it alone, Bryce,” Hunt warned. “I don’t even know why you had to ask about any of this.”

“I don’t know why you wouldn’t ask,” Bryce challenged.

Hunt pushed, “Is this really about finding the kid, or is it about learning something new about Danika?”

“Can’t it be both?”

Hunt slowly shook his head.

Ruhn said, “Let’s think this through, Bryce, before deciding to act. And maybe burn those emails.”

“I’ve already decided,” she announced. “I’m going to find Emile.”

“And do what with him?” Hunt asked. “If the Asteri want him, you’d be harboring a rebel.”

Bryce couldn’t stop the light from shimmering around her. “He’s thirteen years old. He’s not a rebel. The rebels just want him to be.”

Hunt said quietly, “I saw kids his age walk onto battlefields, Bryce.”

Ruhn nodded solemnly. “Ophion doesn’t turn away fighters based on their age.”

Ithan said, “That’s despicable.”

“I’m not saying it isn’t,” Hunt countered. “But the Asteri won’t care if he’s thirteen or thirty, if he’s a true rebel or not. You stand in their way, and they’ll punish you.”

Bryce opened her mouth, but—a muscle flickered in his cheek, making the bruise there all the more noticeable. Guilt punched through her, warring with her ire. “I’ll think about it,” she conceded, and stalked for her bedroom.

She needed a breather before she said or did more than she meant to. A moment to process the information she’d gotten out of Tharion. She hadn’t put any stock in Briggs’s claim about Danika and the rebels when he’d taunted her with it—he’d been trying to get at her in any way possible. But it seemed she’d been wrong.

She scoured her memory for any detail as she washed away her makeup, then brushed her hair. Male voices rumbled from the other side of the door, but Bryce ignored them, changing into her pajamas. Her stomach gurgled.

Was Emile hungry? He was a kid—alone in the world, having suffered in one of those gods-forsaken camps, no family left. He had to be terrified. Traumatized.

She hoped Sofie was alive. Not for any intel or amazing powers, but so Emile had someone left. Family who loved him for him and not for being some all-powerful chosen one whose people had long ago been hunted to extinction.

Bryce frowned in the mirror. Then at the stack of papers Tharion had handed her. The emails between Sofie and Danika—and a few between Sofie and Emile.

The former were exactly as Tharion had claimed. Vague mentions of things.

But Sofie and Emile’s emails …

I had to leave your sunball game before the end, Sofie had written in one exchange more than three years ago, but Mom told me you guys won! Congrats—you were amazing out there!

Emile had replied, I was ok. Missed 2 shots.

Sofie had written back, at three in the morning—as if she’d been up late studying or partying—I once had a game when I missed ten shots! So you’re doing way better than me. 🙂

The next morning, Emile had said, Thanks, sis. Miss u.

Bryce swallowed hard. Such an ordinary exchange—proof of a normal, decent life.

What had happened to them? How had he wound up in Kavalla? Part of her didn’t want to know, and yet … She read the emails again. The loving, casual exchange between siblings.

Did any of the many people searching for Emile want to actually help him? Not use him, but just … protect him? Maybe he and Sofie would find each other at that rendezvous spot Danika had mentioned. Maybe they’d get lucky, and no one would ever find them.

Danika had always helped those who needed it. Bryce included.

And during the spring attack, when Bryce had run to Asphodel Meadows … it was the same feeling creeping over her now. The boy needed help. She wouldn’t walk away from it. Couldn’t walk away from it.

But how did Danika factor in to all of this? She needed to know.

Her stomach protested again. Right—dinner. With a silent prayer to Cthona to keep Emile safe, Bryce emerged from the bedroom and said, “I’m ordering pizza.”

Ruhn said, “I’m in,” as if he’d been invited, but Bryce glanced at the shut door to Hunt’s bedroom.

If she needed a moment, he’d sure as Hel need a lot longer.

Hunt turned on the shower with a shaking hand. The blast and splatter of the water provided much-needed white noise, a quieting barrier against the

world beyond his bathroom. He’d muttered something about needing a shower and walked in here, not caring what Danaan and Holstrom thought.

Hunt peeled out of his battle-suit, dimly aware of the bruises along his ribs and his face, the brawl with Pollux almost forgotten.

He couldn’t stop shaking, couldn’t stop the surge of acid through his veins that made every breath torturous.

Fucking Tharion. That stupid, arrogant asshole. Dragging them— dragging Bryce—into this. The River Queen might have no association with Ophion, but Emile was a rebel’s brother. Danika had possibly been a rebel herself. It brought them far too close to Ophion’s orbit.

Of course Bryce wouldn’t have been able to drop it once she’d heard. He knew it was irrational to be pissed at her about it, because part of why he adored her was that she was the kind of person who would want to help, but … fucking Hel.

Hunt sucked in a breath, stepping into the now-warm stream, and clenched his jaw against the rising thunder in his blood and the memories that came with it.

Those strategy meetings in Shahar’s war tent; the bloody, screaming chaos of battle; his roar as Shahar died, a piece of his heart dying with her; the bolt of unrelenting pain as his wings were sawed off tendon by tendon

Hunt sucked in another breath, wings twitching, as if in an echo of that pain.

He couldn’t let it happen again. If all of it had been for Bryce, to get here—then it had happened so that he’d know when to walk away, and keep her safe.

But he hadn’t been able to find those words. Hunt focused on his breathing, on the sensation of his feet against the slick tiles, the dribble of water down his wings.

And couldn’t help but think that warm water felt an awful lot like blood.

Thirty minutes later, they sat around the dining table, four boxes of pizza stacked before them.

“Carnivore’s Delight,” Bryce said with forced cheer to Hunt, sliding the meat-on-meat-on-meat pizza toward him. He offered a smile, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. She didn’t ask about that haunted gleam, though. Not with Ruhn and Ithan here. Not when Hunt had already made it pretty clear what was going through his head.

They’d undoubtedly have it out the moment they were alone.

“Carnivore’s Delight with extra sausage,” she said to Ithan, winking as she handed over the box. She could have sworn Ithan blushed. “And pepperoni with grilled onions,” she said to Ruhn.

“What’d you get?” her brother asked. An attempt at normalcy after Tharion’s visit.

Hunt and Ithan said at the same time, “Sausage and onion with extra cheese.”

Bryce laughed. “I don’t know whether to be impressed or disturbed.”

But Ithan and Hunt didn’t smile. She caught Ruhn’s glance from across the table, and her brother said into her mind, Ignoring all the shit with Tharion and Emile, it’s super fucking weird that Holstrom’s here.

She started on her pizza and sighed at the combination of meat and cheese and slightly sweet sauce. I think it’s super weird for him, too.

Ruhn bit into his slice. Honestly, don’t flip the Hel out, but you’re technically a Starborn Princess. And you’re now harboring an exiled wolf. I hate this political crap, but … I wouldn’t put it past Sabine to see this as an affront. The wolves are technically our allies.

Bryce sipped from her beer. It’s not like he has any family left. Her heart ached. Believe me, he is fucking miserable that he has nowhere else to go.

I can take him in. Her brother spoke with utter sincerity.

Isn’t that the same political bullshit?

I can say that I’m hiring him to work for the Fae side of the Aux. Claim it’s for a top secret investigation, which I suppose this stuff with Danika and Sofie and Emile is. Sabine can’t get around that.

All right. But … give him a few days. I don’t want him to think I’m kicking him out.

Why not? He was a dick to you.

There were five years before that when we were close. So? He was a dick to you when you needed him most. And I shut him out when he needed me most.

Bryce blinked, finding Hunt and Ithan watching her and Ruhn. The angel drawled, no hint of his previous haunted discomfort, “Some might consider it rude to have a silent conversation in front of other people.”

Ithan raised his hand in agreement. How he’d figured out what was going on, she could only attribute to his keen wolf’s abilities. Or his athlete’s skill at reading opponents.

Bryce stuck out her tongue. “Sorry you’re not magical, special Fae like

us.”

“Here we go,” Hunt said, diving into his slice. “I was waiting for this

day to come.”

“What day?” Ithan swigged from his beer.

Hunt smirked. “When Bryce realizes how truly obnoxious being a princess allows her to be.”

Bryce flipped him off. “If I have to suffer through the title, then you have to suffer through the effects.”

Hunt opened his mouth, but Ithan said, “I heard you had your Ordeal that day this spring. Congrats?”

Bryce went still. “Yeah. Uh, thanks.” She didn’t want to think about it

—the nøkk, Syrinx nearly drowning, the tank … Syrinx rubbed against her ankles, as if sensing her distress. And Hunt, also reading it, said to Ruhn, “You had your Ordeal in Avallen, right? And our new friend Cormac was there?”

Before Ruhn could answer, Flynn and Dec strode into the apartment with a key Bryce definitely hadn’t authorized. She whipped her head to Ruhn. “You gave them fingerprint access and copies of my keys?”

Flynn slid into the chair beside hers and pulled her pizza toward himself. “We took Ruhn’s fingerprints when he was passed out during the Summer Solstice, as a way into the system. Then Dec added ours alongside them.”

Declan dropped into the chair beside Ruhn, taking one of her brother’s slices and a beer from the bucket in the center of the table. “We made copies of the physical keys before he noticed they were gone.”

“You’re really making me look good, you two,” Ruhn grumbled.

Bryce shoved out a hand. “I’m changing my fingerprint system to something more secure. Give me that key.”

Flynn only slid it into his pocket. “Come get it, babycakes.”

Hunt shot the Fae lord a glare, and Declan snickered. “Careful, Flynn,” Dec warned.

Ithan snorted, and the two males eyed him up. Of course they’d already noticed him—they were trained warriors—but they hadn’t yet deigned to acknowledge him.

Flynn flashed a charming smile full of teeth. “Hi, pup.” Ithan’s fingers tightened into fists at the term. “Hey.”

Declan gave a mirror grin to Flynn’s. “Bryce needed a new pet?”

“Okay, okay,” Bryce cut in. “Let’s just say that we made a thousand dog jokes about Ithan, and he made a thousand Fae asshole jokes about you two idiots, and we now all thoroughly hate each other, but we can be adults and eat our food.”

“I second that.” Hunt dug into his third slice, using his other hand to clink beers with Bryce.

Flynn grinned again. “I thought I heard you ask Ruhn about his Ordeal.

It was our Ordeal, too, you know.”

“I know,” Bryce said, flicking her hair over her shoulder. “But he won the prize sword, didn’t he?”

“Ouch.” Flynn clutched his chest. “Cold, B,” Declan said.

Ruhn chuckled and leaned back in his seat, finishing off his beer before he said, “I was twenty-seven. My—our father sent me to Avallen to … check out the ladies.”

“There was a Fae female from a powerful family who the Autumn King wanted Ruhn to marry,” Flynn explained. “Unfortunately, Cormac wanted to marry her, too. Neither married her in the end, of course.”

Bryce groaned. “Please tell me all this tension between you two isn’t over a girl.”

“Only partially,” Declan said. “It’s also because Cormac and his twin cousins tried to kill us. Cormac literally put a sword through my gut.” He patted his rock-hard abs.

“Aren’t you Fae all … allies?” Ithan asked, brows raised.

Flynn nearly spat out his drink. “Valbaran Fae and Avallen Fae hate each other. The Avallen Fae are a bunch of backward assholes. Prince Cormac might be Ruhn’s cousin, but he can drop dead for all we care.”

“Strong family bonds, huh?” Hunt said.

Flynn shrugged. “They deserved what happened during the Ordeal.” “Which was what, exactly?” Bryce asked.

“Humiliation,” Declan said with relish. “A few weeks into our visit, King Morven—Cormac’s dad—ordered Ruhn to go see if he could retrieve the Starsword from the caves.”

“Tell the whole story, Dec. Why did he order me to do that?” Ruhn growled.

Dec sheepishly grinned. “Because I bragged that you could.” Ruhn cracked open another beer. “And?”

“And I made fun of Cormac for not having gone to retrieve it yet.”

“And?”

“And I said that one Valbaran Fae warrior was better than ten from Avallen.”

Bryce laughed. “So Uncle Morven sent you off to teach you a lesson?” “Yep,” Flynn said. “All three of us. We didn’t realize until we were in

the mist—the caves are literally full of it—that he also sent Cormac and the asshole twins to hunt us in there.”

“Starting blood feuds,” Bryce said to Declan, raising her hand for a high five. “Nice work.”

Declan clapped her hand, but Ithan asked, “So your Ordeals happened then?”

“Yeah,” Ruhn said, face darkening. “We all got lost in the caves. There was some … scary shit in there. Ghouls and wraiths—they were old and wicked. The six of us went from trying to kill each other to trying to stay alive. Long story short, Flynn and Dec and I wound up in these catacombs deep beneath the cave—”

“Surrounded by bloodsucking spirits who were going to eat our bodies, then our souls,” Flynn added. “Or was it our souls, then our bodies?”

Ruhn shook his head. “I got disarmed. So I looked in the sarcophagus in the center of the chamber where we were trapped, and … there it was. The Starsword. It was either die at the hands of those creatures or die trying to pull that sword from its sheath.” He shrugged. “Thankfully, it worked.”

Declan said, “Bastards ran screaming from the cave when Ruhn drew the sword. Right to where Cormac and the twins were hunting us.” He grinned again. “The three of them had no choice but to flee back to their

castle. King Morven was not happy. Especially when Ruhn returned with the Starsword and told him to go fuck himself.”

Bryce lifted her brows at her brother. He smiled, lip ring glinting. “Not such a loser after all, huh?”

Bryce waved him off. “Whatever.”

Flynn suddenly asked Ithan, gaze on his tattooed neck, “You gonna keep that ink?”

Ithan drained his beer. “What’s it to you?”

Another charming grin. “Just want to know when I can tell you that Sabine and Amelie are two of the worst fucking people in this city.”

Ithan grunted, but a ghost of a smile appeared on his lips.

Bryce glanced to Ruhn, who said into her mind, Might not be such a bad idea for him to come stay with us.

You really want to be roomies with a wolf? Better than an angel.

Depends on what you’re doing with that angel. Gross, Bryce.

Bryce tuned back into the conversation as Declan asked with a wicked smile that told her he was about to start shit, “So, who’s sleeping where in this apartment tonight?”

Bryce couldn’t help glancing again at Hunt, who kept his face wholly neutral as he said, “I’m bunking with Bryce.”

Bryce’s mouth popped open, but Ithan said, “Good. She snores.” “Assholes,” Bryce seethed. “You can both go sleep on the roof.” “Not enough distance from your snoring,” Ithan said, smirking. Bryce scowled, leaning down to pet Syrinx’s velvety ears.

Hunt only winked. “I’ll get earplugs.”

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