Chapter no 14

House of Sky and Breath (Crescent City, #2)

Hunt crossed his arms, trying to focus on the unit sparring in one of the Comitium’s rooftop training areas and not the scorching heat threatening to singe his wings. Beside him, Isaiah also sweated away, dark eyes fixed on a pair of fighting soldiers. The female was faster and cleverer than the male she faced, but the male had a hundred pounds on her. Each of his blows must have felt like being hit by a semitruck.

“My money’s on the male,” Isaiah murmured.

“So’s mine. She’s too green to hold out much longer.” Hunt wiped the sweat from his brow, grateful he’d cut his hair shorter before the heat had set in. Solas was slow-roasting them over a pit of coals. Thank fuck he’d changed in the barracks to shorts and a T-shirt.

“Won’t really matter in the long run,” Isaiah said as the male landed a blow to her jaw with the pommel of his sword. Blood sprayed from her mouth. “Not if we head into war.”

The great equalizer.

Hunt said nothing. He’d barely slept last night. Hadn’t been able to calm the thoughts that circled over and over. He’d wanted to talk to Bryce, but that acid in his veins had surged every time he’d gotten close, and dissolved all his words. Even this morning, all he’d been able to say was that they needed to talk.

But Bryce being Bryce, she’d seen all of that. Knew what haunted him.

And held his hand as she said yes.

He checked his phone. Only an hour until Tharion would show up at the apartment to discuss things. Great.

“You think we’ll wind up back there?” Isaiah went on, face distant. “On those battlefields?”

Hunt knew which ones he meant, though they’d fought on many. Sandriel had sent both him and Isaiah to slaughter human rebels decades ago, when Ophion had initially formed.

“I hope not,” Hunt said, blocking out the images of those muddy massacres: the mech-suits smoldering with their pilots bleeding out inside them; heaps of broken wings piled high to the skies; some shifters going feral and feasting on the carrion alongside the crows.

He looked over at Isaiah. What would his friend say if he knew about Tharion? Isaiah’s words from their last argument in Shahar’s war tent still rang in his ears. This is folly, Athalar! We fly into slaughter. We have no allies, no route of retreat—you two are going to kill us all!

Hunt had ordered his friend out. Had curled up alongside Shahar, who’d listened to their argument from her bed behind the curtain of the tent. She’d promised him that Isaiah was wrong, that he was merely afraid, and Hunt had believed her. Because he was also afraid, he realized later. He’d believed her, and they’d fucked like animals, and a few hours after dawn, she was dead.

Hunt shook the memories of the past away and focused on the fight in front of him. The female ducked and slammed her fist into the male’s gut. He went down like a sack of flour, and Hunt chuckled, memories and dread shaking loose. “A pleasant surprise,” he said, turning his attention to the other soldiers paired off throughout the space. Sweat gleamed on bare skin, wings white and black and brown and gray rustled, and blood shone on more than a few faces.

Naomi was in the skies training a unit in dive-bombing maneuvers. It was an effort not to glance to the far ring, where Pollux and Baxian oversaw a unit practicing their shooting. The latter was currently in his large canine form, his coat a slick black.

It felt wrong to have those two pieces of shit here, instead of Vik and Justinian.

So wrong that he did look at them after all. Sized up the Helhound’s animal form. He’d seen Baxian rip limbs from opponents with those jaws, and move as fast on land as he did in his malakh form. As if sensing his attention, Baxian turned his head. His dark eyes gleamed.

Hunt bristled at the blatant challenge in Baxian’s gaze. It didn’t lessen when Baxian shifted in a flash of light, a few angels nearby startling at the return of his humanoid form.

Isaiah murmured, “Relax,” as Baxian said something to Pollux before stalking for them.

Baxian stood nearly as tall as Hunt, and despite the sweltering heat, he still wore head-to-toe black that matched his wings and his Helhound pelt. “I thought you were doing something far more interesting here in Valbara, Athalar. I’m surprised you haven’t dropped dead from boredom.”

Isaiah took that as a cue to check on the male who’d fallen, winking at Hunt as he left.


“Some of us crave a normal life, you know,” Hunt said to Baxian.

Baxian snickered. “All those battles, all that glory you won for yourself, all that lightning in your veins … and you simply want a nine-to-five job?” He tapped the scar on his neck. “The male who gave me this would be horrified.”

“The male who gave you that,” Hunt said through his teeth, “always wanted peace.”

“Didn’t seem like it when your lightning flayed me.”

“You handed over that rebel family to Sandriel without a second thought. I’d say you had it coming.”

Baxian laughed, low and lifeless. The hot, dry breeze rustled his black wings. “You were always a literal sort of bastard. Couldn’t read between the lines.”

“What the fuck does that mean?” Hunt’s power flared at his fingertips.

Baxian shrugged. “I might not have been a slave as you are—were.” A nod toward his clear brow. “But I had as little choice in serving Sandriel as you did. Only I didn’t make my displeasure known.”

“Bullshit. You served her gladly. You don’t get to rewrite your history now that you’re here.”

Baxian’s wings rustled. “You never asked me why I was in her triarii, you know. Not once, in all those decades. You’re like that with everyone, Athalar. Surface-level.”

“Fuck off. Go back to your work.”

“This is my work. The Governor just messaged me and told me to team up with you.”

Hunt’s stomach turned. Did Celestina somehow know about Tharion asking for help finding that thunderbird kid? What better way to monitor him than to shackle him to the Helhound? “Hel no,” he said.

Baxian’s mouth curled upward as he nodded toward Pollux. “I’ve been stuck with that prick for a hundred years. It’s someone else’s turn to deal with him.” He pointed to Naomi.

Was it selfish to be glad he didn’t have to deal with the Hammer? “Why not tell us during the meeting earlier?”

“I think she’s been watching us this morning.” Baxian inclined his head to the cameras. “Likely didn’t want to alter our behavior before deciding who to pair up.”

“To what end?”

As if in answer, Hunt’s phone buzzed. He pulled it from his shorts to find a message from Celestina.

As Isaiah will be escorting me around the city to meet its various leaders, I am relying on you and Naomi to help our two new arrivals adjust. I’d like you to partner with Baxian. Show him the ropes. Not just the ins and outs of the 33rd, but also how this city operates. Ease him into life in Valbara.

Hunt considered, even as he inwardly groaned. He was acutely aware of those cameras—the Archangel might be observing his every expression. “She put Naomi in charge of helping Pollux adjust?”

Across the ring, Isaiah was now checking his phone, frowning deeply. He glanced to Hunt, face lit with alarm. Not at the honor of escorting the Governor, Hunt knew.

Hunt turned back to Baxian, who’d no doubt gleaned that Hunt had all the orders he needed. “There’s no way Pollux will allow anyone to show him the ropes.”

Baxian shrugged. “Let Pollux dig his own grave here. He’s too pissed about being separated from the Hind to understand his new reality.”

“I didn’t realize the Hammer was capable of caring for anyone like that.”

“He isn’t. He just likes to have control over his … belongings.”

“The Hind belongs to no one.” Hunt hadn’t known Lidia Cervos well— their time had only briefly overlapped when he’d served Sandriel, and the Hind had spent most of it off on missions for the Asteri. Rented out like some sort of field-worker to do their spy-hunting and rebel-breaking. Whenever Lidia had been at Sandriel’s castle, she’d either been in secret meetings with the Archangel, or fucking Pollux in whatever room they felt like using. Thank the gods the Hind hadn’t come here. Or the Harpy.

But if Emile Renast was heading for this city … Hunt asked, “The Hind’s really not coming to Lunathion?”

“No. Pollux got a call from her this morning. He’s been moody ever since.”

“Mordoc finally making his move?” The head of the Hind’s dreadwolves was as formidable as his mistress.

Baxian snorted. “He’s not Lidia’s type. And doesn’t have the balls to go head-to-head with Pollux.”

“Did Mordoc go with her to Ephraim?” He had to step carefully.

“Yeah,” Baxian said, attention on Pollux. “They’re all in Forvos right now. Ephraim’s been keeping them close for the last few weeks—it’s pissed off the Hind. The Harpy’s even madder.”

So the Hind wasn’t in pursuit of Emile. At least, not at present. Which left the Ophion agents as the main danger to the boy, he supposed. He made a mental note to tell Tharion when he saw him later and said, “I thought you and the Harpy were a pair—you don’t seem too hung up on not seeing her.” Baxian let out another one of those low laughs that skittered over

Hunt’s bones. “She and Pollux would be a better pair than him and Lidia.” Lidia. Hunt had never heard Baxian use the Hind’s given name, but he’d used it twice now. “She’ll make Ephraim miserable,” Baxian went on, smiling to himself. “Too bad I can’t see it.”

Hunt almost pitied Ephraim for inheriting the Harpy. “And the Hawk?” “Doing what he does best: trying to outdo Pollux in cruelty and

brutality.” The hawk shifter had long been Pollux’s main rival for power. Hunt had steered clear of him for decades. So had Baxian, he realized. He’d never seen them interact.

“You’re a free male,” Hunt said carefully. “Sandriel’s gone. Why keep serving at all?”

Baxian ran a hand over his closely buzzed hair. “I could ask the same question of you.”

“I need the money.”

“Is that so?” Baxian clicked his tongue. “Bryce Quinlan’s an expensive girlfriend, I take it. Princesses like pretty things.”

Hunt knew better than to deny that Bryce was his girlfriend. Not if it’d open a door for Baxian to taunt him. “Exactly.”

Baxian continued, “I like her. She’s got balls.”

Isaiah shouted Hunt’s name from across the space, and Hunt nearly sagged with relief to have an excuse to get out of this conversation. “Here’s the first rule of getting adjusted: don’t fucking talk to me unless I talk to you.” As Isaiah’s Second, he outranked Baxian.

Baxian’s eyes flared, as if realizing it. “I’m taking this assignment seriously, you know.”

Hunt gave him a savage grin. “Oh, I know.” If he had to help Baxian adjust, he’d happily drag him into the current century. Hopefully kicking and screaming. “So am I.”

Baxian had the good sense to look a little nervous.

Tharion wanted to own Bryce Quinlan’s apartment. Badly.

But he sure as shit didn’t make enough to afford it, and the sun would shine in Hel before the River Queen allowed him to live Above. The thought had him scowling as he knocked on the apartment door.

The lock clicked, and Ithan Holstrom peered out from the doorway, brows high. “Bryce isn’t back yet.”

“She already told me.” Tharion held up his phone, displaying the brief exchange with the Fae Princess from a few minutes ago.

I’m at your apartment and ready to go through your underwear drawer.

She’d written back immediately, You’re early. I’ll be there in ten. Don’t leave drool stains on the lace ones. Or worse.

No promises, he’d answered, and she’d replied, Just spare the pink bra, please.

To Tharion’s surprise, Ithan checked that the number under her contact info was indeed Bryce’s. Smart kid. Ithan’s jaw worked before he said, “I thought she was involved with Athalar.”

“Oh, she is,” Tharion said, pocketing his phone. “But Legs and I have an understanding when it comes to her underwear.” He stepped forward, a blatant demand to be let in.

Ithan stiffened, teeth flashing. Pure wolf. But the male opened the door wider, stepping aside. Tharion kept a healthy distance away as he entered. How many sunball games had Tharion watched where this male had scored the winning shot? How many times had he yelled at his TV, ordering Ithan to throw that fucking ball? It was weird to see him face-to-face. To go toe-to-toe with him.

Tharion plopped onto the ridiculously comfortable white couch, sinking deep into the cushions. “It occurred to me after I left last night that you didn’t say much about Danika.”

Ithan leaned against the counter. “What do you mean?”

Tharion smirked. “You might be a jock, but you’re not dumb. I mean about what I told Bryce last night.”

“Why would Danika tell me anything about knowing a rebel?” “You were pretty damn close with her.”

“She was my Alpha.”

“You weren’t part of the Pack of Devils.” “No, but I would have been.”

Tharion toed off his shoes and propped his bare feet on the coffee table.

Sports news blared on the TV. “Weren’t you all set to go pro?” Ithan’s face tightened. “That’s none of your business.”

“Right. I’m just Captain Whatever.” Tharion gave him a salute. “But if you knew about any involvement Danika had, if there was a place Danika might have told Sofie was safe for hiding here in the city that sounds like it might be where the weary souls find relief, or even if your brother—”

“Don’t talk about my brother.” Ithan’s snarl rattled the glasses in the kitchen cabinets.

Tharion held up his hands. “Noted. So you don’t know anything.”

“We didn’t talk about the rebellion, or the war, or anything of the sort.” A muscle ticked in Ithan’s jaw. “I don’t appreciate being dragged into this. Or having Bryce dragged into it, either. You’re endangering her simply by mentioning it. Hunting for a missing kid is one thing, but the shit with Ophion is deadly.”

Tharion gave the male a winning smile. “I have my orders, and I’m bound to obey them.”

“You’re an idiot if you don’t see the risk in spreading this intel about your queen searching for Emile.”

“Maybe, but what she’ll do to me if I disobey will be a Hel of a lot worse than what Sabine and Amelie did to you.” Another grin. “And I won’t have pretty Bryce to kiss my wounds after.”

Ithan snarled again. Did the wolf have any idea what he revealed with that snarl alone? He’d been such a smart sunball player, never broadcasting his moves. Seemed like he’d lost the skill.

But Tharion went on, “Danika did a lot of shady shit before she died. Bryce knows that. You’re not protecting her by refusing to talk.” Tharion eased to his feet, then stalked for the fridge, keenly aware of the wolf’s every breath.

He’d opened the door to rummage for snacks when Ithan said, “She was a history major.”

Tharion arched a brow. “Yeah?”

Ithan shrugged. “She once told me she was doing research on something that would likely land her in a heap of trouble. But when I asked her later what she’d gotten on the paper, she said she’d changed subjects. I always thought it was weird.”

Tharion shut the fridge door and lounged against it. “Why?”

“Because Danika was relentless. If she was interested in something, she didn’t stop. I didn’t really believe that she’d have changed the subject of her paper without good reason.”

“You think a college student found something top secret that led her to Ophion?”

“Danika wasn’t ever only a college student.”

“The same way you weren’t ever just a college sunball player, huh?”

Ithan ignored the barb. “You asked me about Danika. Aside from everything that went down with the synth, that’s the only thing I can think of. Sorry if it’s not what you hoped for.”

Tharion just looked at the male leaning against the counter. Alone.

Maybe he was a sappy bastard, but Tharion pointed toward the TV. “I missed the sunball game against Korinth last night and want to see the highlights. Mind if I watch with you while we wait for the others?”

Ithan frowned, but Tharion put a hand on his heart. “No secret spying stuff, I swear.” He sighed. “I could use a few minutes of peace.”

Ithan weighed the words, Tharion’s expression, with a keen-eyed sharpness that the wolf had used on his opponents. Perhaps the sunball player wasn’t dead after all.

But Ithan only said, “There’s leftover pizza if you’re hungry.”

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