Search

Chapter no 19

House of Sky and Breath

“What the fuck is this?” Bryce whispered as she knelt in the ruins of her coffee table and leafed through the stack of papers that had apparently been hidden inside.

“It’s not only college papers,” Ithan said, fanning out the pages beside her. “These are documents and images of newspaper clippings.” He peered at them. “They all seem like they’re regarding firstlight’s uses—mostly how it was made into weapons.”

Bryce’s hands shook. She sifted through a few academic articles—all full of redactions—theorizing on the origin of worlds and what the Asteri even were.

“She never mentioned any of this,” Bryce said.

“Think this is what Sofie Renast discovered?” he asked. “Like, maybe Danika sniffed something out about the Asteri with her …” He trailed off, then added, “Gifts?”

Bryce lifted her gaze to his carefully neutral face as he tried to recover from a stumble. “You knew about her bloodhound gift?”

Ithan shifted on his knees. “It wasn’t ever talked about, but … yeah.

Connor and I knew.”

Bryce flipped another page, tucking that factoid away. “Well, why would it even matter if Danika had sniffed out something regarding the Asteri? They’re holy stars.” Beings that possessed the force of an entire star within them, unaging and undying.

But as Bryce skimmed article after article, Ithan doing the same beside her, she began to see that they challenged that fact. She made herself keep

breathing steadily. Danika had been a history major at CCU. None of this stuff was out of the ordinary—except that it had been hidden. Here.

All we have as proof of their so-called sacred power is their word, Bryce read. Who has ever seen such a star manifest itself? If they are stars from the heavens, then they are fallen stars.

A chill ran down Bryce’s spine, one hand drifting to her chest. She had a star within her. Well, starlight that manifested as a star-shaped thing, but

… What was the Asteri’s power, then? The sun was a star—did they possess the power of an actual sun?

If so, this rebellion was fucked. Maybe Danika had wondered about it, and wanted Sofie to verify it somehow. Maybe that was what the intel was about, what Danika had suspected and dreaded and needed to officially confirm: there was no way to win. Ever.

Bryce wished Hunt were here, but she didn’t dare call him with this info. Though after what had happened between them in the alley during lunch, maybe it was good they weren’t in close quarters. She didn’t trust herself to keep her hands off him.

Because gods-damn. That kiss. She hadn’t hesitated. Had seen Hunt, that usually unflappable exterior melting away, and … she’d needed to kiss him.

The problem was that now she needed more. It was unfortunate that Ithan was staying with her, and the kind of sex she planned to have with Hunt would rattle the walls.

But … Urd must have sent her back to the apartment just now. For this. She exhaled. Ran a hand over the pages. The final papers in the pile made Bryce’s breath catch.

“What is it?” Ithan asked.

Bryce shook her head, angling slightly away from him to read the text again.

Dusk’s Truth.

The same project that had been mentioned in the emails between Sofie and Danika. That Danika had said would be of interest to Sofie. Danika had been digging into it since college? Bryce inhaled and turned to the next page.

It was completely blank. Like Danika had never gotten to writing down any notes about it.

“Dusk’s Truth was one of the things that Danika mentioned to Sofie,” Bryce said quietly. “Dusk’s Truth and Project Thurr.”

“What is it?”

She shook her head again. “I don’t know. But there has to be a connection between all of it.” She tossed the Dusk’s Truth document back onto the pile.

Ithan asked, “So what now?”

She sighed. “I gotta get back to work.” He arched a brow in question.

“Job, remember?” She got to her feet. “Maybe, um … find someplace to hide this stuff? And don’t play Warrior Hero anymore. I liked that coffee table.”

Ithan flushed. “I wasn’t playing Warrior Hero,” he muttered.

Bryce snickered and grabbed her ID from where she’d left it hanging beside the door, but then she sobered. “You looked good wielding it, Ithan.” “I was just screwing around.” His tone was tense enough that she didn’t

say anything more before leaving.

Ruhn found Cormac at the pool hall in FiRo, losing to a satyr, an old rock song crackling from the jukebox on the other side of the concrete-lined space.

Cormac said, focusing on his shot, “I’d never tell your father, by the way.”

“And yet here I am,” Ruhn said. The satyr noted the expression on Ruhn’s face and made himself scarce. “Seems like your threat worked.”

“Desperate times,” Cormac muttered.

Ruhn grabbed the cue the satyr had discarded, eyeing the pool table. He spotted the satyr’s next shot immediately and smirked. “He was probably going to kick your ass.”

Cormac again assessed his shot. “I was letting him win. It was the princely thing to do.”

Balls cracked, and Ruhn chuckled as they scattered. None found a pocket.

“Sure,” Ruhn said, aligning the cue ball. Two balls found their homes with a satisfying plink.

Cormac swore softly. “I have a feeling this is more your element than mine.”

“Guilty.”

“You seem like a male who spends his time in places like this.” “As opposed to …?”

“Doing things.”

“I head up the Aux. It’s not like I squat in dives all day.” Ruhn looked pointedly around the bar.

“That party suggested otherwise.”

“We like to enjoy ourselves here in sunny Lunathion.”

Cormac snorted. “Apparently.” He watched Ruhn pocket another ball, then blow his second shot by an inch. “You have more piercings since the last time I saw you. And more ink. Things must be dull around here if that’s what you spend your time on.”

“All right,” Ruhn said, leaning against his cue. “You’re a brooding hero and I’m a lazy asshole. Is that really how you want to start your pitch?”

Cormac made his move, one of the balls finally sinking into a pocket. But his second shot missed, leaving the angle Ruhn needed completely open. “Hear me out, cousin. That’s all I ask.”

“Fine.” Ruhn took his shot. “Let’s hear it.” His voice was barely more than a whisper.

Cormac leaned against his cue and studied the empty bar before saying, “Sofie was in contact with our most vital spy in the rebellion—Agent Daybright.”

Unease wended through Ruhn. He really, really didn’t want to know this.

Cormac went on, “Daybright has direct access to the Asteri—Ophion has long wondered whether Daybright is one of the Asteri themselves. Daybright and Sofie used codes on crystal-fueled radios to pass along messages. But with Sofie’s … disappearance, it’s become too dangerous to keep using the old methods of communicating. The fact that the Hind was able to be on the scene so quickly that night indicates that someone might have intercepted those messages and broken our codes. We need someone who can mind-speak to be in direct contact with Agent Daybright.”

“And why the fuck would I ever agree to work with you?” Beyond the threat of Cormac telling his father about his talents.

The mind-speaking was a rare gift of the Avallen Fae, inherited from his mother’s bloodline, and had always come naturally to him. He’d been four the first time he’d done it—he’d asked his mother for a sandwich. She’d screamed when she’d heard him in her mind, and in that moment, he’d known that the gift was something to hide, to keep secret. When she’d rubbed her head, clearly wondering if she’d imagined things, he’d kept quiet. And made sure she had no reason to bring him to his father, who he knew, even then, would have questioned and examined him and never let him go. Ruhn hadn’t made that mistake again.

He wouldn’t let his father control this piece of him, too. And even if Cormac had sworn he wouldn’t reveal it … he’d be stupid to believe his cousin.

“Because it’s the right thing to do,” Cormac said. “I’ve seen those death camps. Seen what’s left of the people who survive. The children who survive. It can’t be allowed to go on.”

Ruhn said, “The prison camps are nothing new. Why act now?”

“Because Daybright came along and started feeding us vital information that has led to successful strikes on supply lines, missions, encampments. Now that we have someone in the upper echelons of the Asteri’s rule, it changes everything. The information Daybright would pass to you can save thousands of lives.”

“And take them,” Ruhn said darkly. “Did you tell Command about me?”

“No,” Cormac said earnestly. “I only mentioned that I had a contact in Lunathion who might be useful in reestablishing our connection with Daybright, and was sent here.”

Ruhn couldn’t fault him for trying. While he couldn’t read thoughts or invade people’s unguarded minds as some of his cousins could, he’d learned that he could talk to people on a sort of psychic bridge, as if his mind had formed it brick by brick between souls. It was perfect for a spy network.

But Ruhn asked, “And it was coincidence that it happened to line up with Emile coming here, too?”

A slight smile. “Two birds, one stone. I needed a reason to be here, to cover for my hunt for him. Seeking out your gifts offered that to Ophion. As does my engagement to your sister.”

Ruhn frowned. “So you’re asking me to what—help out this one time?

Or for the rest of my fucking life?”

“I’m asking you, Ruhn, to pick up where Sofie left off. How long you decide to work with us is up to you. But right now, Ophion is desperate for Daybright’s information. People’s lives depend on it. Daybright has alerted us three times now before an imperial attack on one of our bases. Those warnings saved thousands of lives. We need you for the next few months— or at least until we’ve attained the intel that Sofie knew.”

“I don’t see how I have any choice but to say yes.”

“I told you—I won’t tell your father. I just needed to get you here. To get you to listen. I wouldn’t ask this of you unless it was necessary.”

“How’d you even get caught up in all this rebel business?” Cormac’s life had been pretty cushy, as far as Ruhn could tell. But he supposed that to an outsider, his own life looked the same.

Cormac weighed the cue in his hands. “It’s a long story. I linked up with them about four years ago.”

“And what’s your title with Ophion, exactly?”

“Field agent. Technically, I’m a field commander of the northwestern Pangeran spy network.” He exhaled slowly. “Sofie was one of my agents.”

“But now you’re trying to keep Emile away from Ophion? Having doubts about the cause?”

“Never about the cause,” Cormac said quietly. “Only about the people in it. After the heavy hits to the bases this year, Ophion has about ten thousand members left, controlled by a team of twenty in Command. Most of them are humans, but some are Vanir. Any Vanir affiliated with Ophion, Command or not, are sworn to secrecy, perhaps to stricter standards than the humans.”

Ruhn angled his head and asked baldly, “How do you know you can trust me?”

“Because your sister put a bullet through the head of an Archangel and you’ve all kept quiet about it.”

Ruhn nodded toward a pocket, but missed his final shot. Yet he said calmly, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Cormac laughed softly. “Really? My father’s spies learned of it before the Asteri shut the information down.”

“Then why treat her like some party girl?”

“Because she went back to partying after what happened last spring.”

“So did I.” But they were getting off topic. “What do you know about Agent Daybright?”

“As much as you do.” Cormac’s ball went wide by an embarrassing margin.

“How do I make contact? And what’s the process after I receive information?”

“You pass it to me. I know where to send it in Command.” “And again, I’m supposed to simply … trust you.”

“I’ve trusted you with information that could land me in the Asteri’s cells.”

Not just any prison. For this kind of thing, for someone of Cormac’s rank—Ruhn’s rank—it’d be the notorious dungeons beneath the Asteri’s crystal palace. A place so awful, so brutal, that rumor claimed there were no cameras. No record, no proof of atrocities. Except for rare witnesses and survivors like Athalar.

Ruhn again lined up his final shot and called the pocket, but paused before making it. “So how do I do it? Cast my mind into oblivion and hope someone answers?”

Cormac chuckled, swearing again as Ruhn sank his last ball. Ruhn wordlessly grabbed the wooden triangle and began to rerack the balls.

Ruhn broke the balls with a thunderous crack, starting the next round.

The three and seven balls landed in opposite pockets—solids, then.

Cormac pulled a small quartz crystal from his pocket and tossed it to Ruhn. “It’s all hypothetical right now, given that we’ve never worked with someone like you. But first try to contact Daybright by holding this. Daybright has the sister to this comm-crystal. It possesses the same communicative properties as the Gates in this city.”

The comm-crystal was warm against Ruhn’s skin as he pocketed it. “How does it work?”

“That’s how our radios reached Daybright. Seven crystals all hewn from one rock—six in radios in our possession, the seventh in Daybright’s radio. They’re beacons—on the same precise frequency. Always desiring to connect into one whole again. This crystal is the last one that remains of our six. The other five were destroyed for safety. I’m hoping that if someone with your powers holds it in your hand, it might link you with Daybright

when you cast your mind out. The same way the Gates here can send audio between them.”

Cormac’s gaze had gone hazy—pained. And Ruhn found himself asking, “Is this crystal from Sofie’s radio?”

“Yes.” Cormac’s voice thickened. “She gave it to Command before she went into Kavalla. They gave it to me when I mentioned I might know someone who could use it.”

Ruhn weighed the grief, the pain in his cousin’s face before he softened his tone. “Sofie sounds like a remarkable person.”

“She was. Is.” Cormac’s throat bobbed. “I need to find her. And Emile.” “You love her?”

Cormac’s eyes burned with flame. “I don’t try to delude myself into thinking that my father would ever approve of a union with a part-human— especially one with no fortune or name. But yes. I was hoping to find a way to spend my life with her.”

“You really think she’s here, trying to meet up with Emile?”

“The mer didn’t rule it out. Why should I?” Again those walls rose in Cormac’s eyes. “If your sister knows anything about whether Danika found a hiding place for them, I need to know.”

Ruhn noted the faint hint of desperation—of dread and panic—and decided to put his cousin out of his misery. “We suspect Danika might have told Sofie to lie low in the Bone Quarter,” he said.

Alarm flared across Cormac’s face, but he nodded his gratitude to Ruhn. “Then we will need to find a way to secure safe passage there—and find some way to search unseen and undisturbed.”

Well, Ruhn needed a drink. Thank Urd they were already in a bar. “All right.” He surveyed his cousin, the perfect blond hair and handsome face. “For what it’s worth, if we can find Sofie, I think you should marry her, if she feels the same way about you. Don’t let your father tie you into some betrothal you don’t want.”

Cormac didn’t smile. He observed Ruhn with the same clear-eyed scrutiny and said, “The witch-queen Hypaxia is beautiful and wise. You could do far worse, you know.”

“I know.” That was as much as Ruhn would say about it.

She was beautiful. Stunningly, distractingly beautiful. But she had zero interest in him. She’d made that clear in the months after the Summit. He

didn’t entirely blame her. Even if he’d had a glimpse of what life might have been like with her. Like peering through a keyhole.

Cormac cleared his throat. “When you connect with Daybright, say this to confirm your identity.”

As his cousin rattled off the code phrases, Ruhn made shot after shot, until only two balls remained and he blew an easy one and scratched the cue ball to give his cousin a chance. He didn’t know why he bothered.

Cormac handed the cue ball back to him. “I don’t want a pity win.”

Ruhn rolled his eyes but took the ball back, making another shot. “Is there any intel I should be asking Daybright about?”

“For months now, we’ve been trying to coordinate a hit on the Spine. Daybright is our main source of information regarding when and where to strike.”

The Spine—the north-south railway that cut Pangera in half. The main artery for supplies in this war.

“Why risk the hit?” Ruhn asked. “To disrupt the supply lines?”

“That, and Daybright’s been getting whispers for months now about the Asteri working on some sort of new mech-suit prototype.”

“Different from the mech-suits the humans use?”

“Yes. This is a mech-suit designed for Vanir to pilot. For the imperial armies.”

“Fuck.” He could only imagine how dangerous they’d be.

“Exactly,” Cormac said. He checked his watch. “I need to head toward the Black Dock—I want to know if there’s any hint that Emile or Sofie have been there. But contact Daybright as soon as you can. We need to intercept the Vanir suit prototype to study its technology before it can be used to slaughter us.”

Ruhn nodded, resigned. “All right. I’ll help you.”

“Your friends will not be pleased. Athalar in particular.”

“Leave Athalar to me.” He didn’t answer to the angel. Though his sister

Cormac observed him once more. “When you want out, I’ll get you out.

I promise.”

Ruhn sank his last ball into his chosen pocket and leaned the stick against the concrete wall. “I’ll hold you to that.”

You'll Also Like