Chapter no 5

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

Tharion Ketos had royally fucked up.

Literally. The River Queen had been pissed.

Which was why he was now struggling to keep his feet on a small fishing vessel in a sea so stormy it made even his iron stomach churn. Up and down, down and up, the boat bobbed in the rain and swells, wind threatening to flay his skin to the bone, despite his thick black sweater and the tactical vest atop it.

He should be lounging on a rock in the Istros right now, preferably in plain sight of whatever females walked along the quay. He certainly enjoyed finding not-so-covert photos of him on social media, with captions like: So hot it’s a miracle he doesn’t turn the Istros to steam!

That had been a particular favorite. Too bad it had also landed him here.

Punished by the River Queen because her daughter had cried over it.

He was accustomed to cold, had explored as deep as his mer’s gifts would allow without his skull cracking like an egg, but this northern stretch of the Haldren Sea was different. It sucked the life from one’s bones, its grayness creeping into the soul.

Though swimming would be a Hel of a lot less nauseating.

Tharion ducked his head against the lashing rain, his dark red hair plastered to his scalp, dripping icy water down his neck. Gods, he wanted to go home. Back to the dry, blistering heat of a Lunathion summer.

“Submersible’s within range,” the captain called. The female dolphin shifter was tucked in the safety of the command vestibule. Lucky asshole. “We’re starting to get a live feed.”

Barely able to maintain his grip on the rain-slick rail of the boat, Tharion aimed for the vestibule. It could only fit two people, so he had to wait until the first mate—a shark shifter—squeezed out before entering. The warmth was like a kiss from Solas himself, and Tharion sighed as he slid the door shut and observed the small screen beside the wheel.

The images from the trench were murky: flurries of floating bits in a whole lot of darkness. If they’d been on a battleship—Hel, even a yacht— they’d have had giant screens with crystal clarity. But this fishing boat, capable of slipping past the Pangeran navy’s radar, had been the best bet.

The captain stood before the screen, pointing with a brown finger to a rising number in its upper right corner. “We’re nearing the requested depth.”

Tharion sank into the swivel chair anchored into the floor. Technically, it was the captain’s chair, but he didn’t care. He was paying for this expedition. Granted, it was with his Blue Court–issued credit card, but he could damn well sit where he wanted to.

The captain raised a dark brow. “You know what you’re looking for?” She’d come highly recommended by a few spies in his employ—a discreet and bold female who wouldn’t flee at the first hint of imperial battleships.

Tharion surveyed the screen. “A body.”

The captain whistled. “You know the odds of that are—”

“She was tied to lead blocks and dropped into the water around here.” By the Hind.

“If she’s not in the House of Many Waters, she’s long dead.”

No shit. “I just need to find her.” What remained of her, after two weeks at the bottom of the sea. Frankly, her bones and body had likely exploded from the pressure.

His queen had learned of the poor girl’s fate through whatever the rivers and seas whispered to her. He’d known it was how the River Queen kept tabs on her sisters, who ruled the other bodies of water around Midgard, but he hadn’t realized how precise the information could be—she’d been able to tell him to hunt for lead blocks, and where to look. And what manner of Vanir, exactly, Sofie was: a thunderbird. Ogenas have mercy on them all.

It was on the slim chance that Sofie’s Vanir body had survived the plunge—and hadn’t been picked apart yet by scavengers—that he’d come.

His queen seemed to be under the impression that Sofie was an asset, even dead.

His queen had refused to tell him more than that. She’d only said that he was to retrieve the body and bring it back to the Blue Court. Presumably to search it for intel or weapons. He prayed he wouldn’t be the one to do it.

“We’re at depth,” the captain announced, and the camera feed halted. More white bits swirled past as the camera pivoted to reveal the silty, alien seafloor. “Any idea where to start, Captain?”

Captain. Tharion still found the title ridiculous, and more than a little painful. The case that had earned him the recent promotion had been his sister’s murder. He’d have traded in the title in a heartbeat if it meant he could have Lesia back. Hear his younger sister’s boisterous laugh one more time. Catching and killing her murderer hadn’t eased that feeling.

“Based on the current, she should have landed around here,” Tharion said, letting his water magic drift to the bottom, cringing at the ocean’s viciousness. Not at all like the clear calm of the Istros. Granted, plenty of monsters dwelled within the Blue River, but the turquoise water sang to him, laughed with him, cried with him. This sea only bellowed and raged.

Tharion monitored the camera feed. “Rotate the camera to the west— and move the submersible ahead about ten yards.”

Through the glare of the firstlight beams atop the remote submersible, more fleshy white bits floated by. This was what the wraith Viktoria had been damned by Micah to endure. The former Archangel had shoved her essence into a magically sealed box while the wraith remained fully conscious despite having no corporeal form, and dropped her to the floor of the Melinoë Trench.

That the trench’s bottom was another fifteen miles deeper than the seafloor before them sent a shiver along Tharion’s tiger-striped forearms. The wraith’s shoebox-sized Helhole had been bespelled against the pressure. And Viktoria, not needing food or water, would live forever. Trapped. Alone. No light, nothing but silence, not even the comfort of her own voice.

A fate worse than death. With Micah now sitting in a trash bag in some city dump, would anyone dare retrieve the wraith? Athalar had shown no signs of rebellion, and Bryce Quinlan, the last Tharion had heard, was content to return to a normal life.

Hel, after this spring, hadn’t everyone wanted to return to normal?

The River Queen didn’t seem to want to. She’d sent him hunting for a rebel spy’s remains. To retrieve her Very Fucking Important corpse.

Even if the mere fact that the River Queen was searching for the body of a rebel spy could damn her. Damn all of them.

And he’d be first in the line of fire. But he never dared to challenge her about the contradictions of it: she punished him for making her daughter cry, yet what would happen should he be killed or harmed during one of her punishments? Wouldn’t her daughter cry then?

Her daughter, as capricious as her mother—and as jealous. If she was a bit of a possessive monster, it was because her mother had taught her well.

He’d been a fool not to see it before he’d taken her maidenhead and sworn himself to her a decade ago. Before he’d ever made himself her betrothed. Beloved of the River Queen’s daughter. A prince-in-training.

A fucking nightmare.

Judging by the fact that he had kept his job these ten years, and even been promoted, her mother apparently still had no idea what to do with him. Unless her daughter had intervened on his behalf, to keep him safe. The thought of that alone—that he had to stay on her good side—had made him keep his hands to himself and his cock in his pants. Fins. Whatever.

And he’d accepted the punishments, however unfair and undeserved and dangerous, that were thrown his way.

“I’m not seeing anything.” The captain adjusted the control toggle on the dash.

“Keep moving. Do a complete scan within a one-mile perimeter.” He wouldn’t return to his queen empty-handed if he could help it.

“We’ll be here for hours,” the captain countered, frowning.

Tharion just settled into the chair, glancing to the first mate sheltering against the side of the vestibule.

They knew what they were getting into by coming here. Knew what kind of storms stalked these seas at this point in the year. If the shifter got tired of the wind and rain, he could jump beneath the waves.

Even if a shark in these waters was the least of the terrors.

Three and a half hours later, Tharion lifted a hand. “Go back to the right. No—yeah. There. Can you get closer?”

The remote submersible had floated past boiling-hot sea vents, past muck and rock and all manner of strange creatures. But there, tucked among a cluster of red-and-white tuber worms … a square rock.

Only Vanir or human hands could have made it.

“I’ll be damned,” the captain murmured, leaning toward the screen, the light illuminating her angular face. “Those are lead blocks.”

He suppressed a shiver. The River Queen had been right. Down to the last detail. “Circle them.”

But … Chains draped from the block onto the seafloor. They were empty.

The captain observed, “Whoever those chains held is long gone. They either got eaten or they exploded from the pressure.”

Tharion marked the chains, nodding. But his gaze snagged on something.

He glanced at the captain to see if she’d noticed the anomaly, but her face revealed no sign of surprise. So Tharion kept silent, letting her bring the small submersible back up to the surface, where the first mate hauled it onto the deck.

Two hours later, back on land—soggy and muddy from the rain— Tharion calmed his chattering teeth long enough to call his queen.

The River Queen answered after the first ring. “Talk.”

Used to the curt, yet ethereal voice, Tharion said, “I found the lead blocks. The chains were still attached.”


“There was no body.” A sigh of disappointment. He shivered yet again

—not entirely from the cold. “But the shackles had been unlocked.”

The sigh paused. He’d learn to read her pauses, as varied as the life in her river. “You’re sure of this?”

He refrained from asking why the currents hadn’t told her about this particularly vital detail. Maybe they were as capricious as she. Tharion said mildly, “No signs of damage. At least as far as I could tell on the crappy screen.”

“You think Sofie Renast freed herself?”

“I don’t know.” Tharion climbed into the black SUV that he’d drive to the private heliport in the north of Pangera, and turned the heat to full blast. It’d probably take the entire hour’s drive inland to warm his frozen body. “But I sure as Hel don’t think she ever made it to the seafloor.”

Tharion drove down the rough road, mud spraying, windshield wipers swishing faintly.

His queen said, “Then either someone got there before us … or Sofie is alive. Interesting, that the water did not whisper of that. As if it were silenced.” Tharion had a feeling he knew where this was going. “Find her,” she ordered. “I’d bet my court that she’s looking for her brother. She went to great lengths to free him from Kavalla. The sea whispered that he is as gifted as she. Find him, and we find her. And vice versa. But even if we only find the boy … he will be valuable indeed.”

Tharion didn’t dare ask why she wanted either of them. He could invent reasons for wanting the rebel, but the boy … Emile Renast had his sister’s gift, and that was it. A powerful one, but he was a kid. Hadn’t even made the Drop. And as far as Tharion knew, his queen wasn’t in the habit of using child soldiers. But Tharion couldn’t say anything other than: “I’ll begin the search immediately.”

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