Authors: Sarah J. Maas
Sofie didn’t care. As long as that boat waited where she’d been told it would be, the world could go to Hel.
was idling at the end of a long wooden dock three blocks ahead, silver letters bright against her black hull. A few firstlights glowed in the small steamer’s portholes, but the decks remained quiet. Emile gasped, as if it were a vision from Luna.
Sofie prayed the other Ophion boats would be waiting beyond the harbor to provide backup, exactly as Command had promised in return for the valuable asset she’d gone into the camp to retrieve. They hadn’t cared that the valuable asset was her brother. Only what she told them he could do.
She scanned the streets, the docks, the skies.
The power in her veins thrummed in time to her heart. A counter-beat. A bone-drum, a death knell. A warning.
They had to go
She started, but Silver’s broad hand clamped on her shoulder.
“They’re here,” he said in his northern accent. With his sharp senses, he could detect the wolves better than she could.
Sofie surveyed the sloping rooftops, the cobblestones, the fog. “How close?”
Dread filled Silver’s handsome face. “Everywhere. They’re fucking everywhere.”
Only three blocks separated them from salvation. Shouts echoed off the stones a block away. “
One heartbeat to decide. One heartbeat—Emile halted, fear bright in his dark eyes.
No more fear. No more pain.
Sofie hissed at Silver, “
.” Silver reached for his gun, but she shoved his hand down, getting in his face. “Get the kids to the boat and go. I’ll hold the wolves off and meet you there.”
Some of the children were already bolting for the dock. Emile waited. “Run!” she told Silver again. He touched her cheek—the
softest of caresses—and sprinted after the children, roaring for the captain to rev the engines. None of them would survive if they didn’t depart now.
She whirled to Emile. “Get on that boat.”
His eyes—their mother’s eyes—widened. “But how will you—”
“I promise I will find you again, Emile. Remember all I told you.
When she embraced his lanky, bony body, she let herself inhale one breath of his scent, the one that lay beneath the acrid layers of dirt and waste from the camp. Then Emile staggered away, half tripping over himself as he marked the lingering power building at her fingertips.
But her brother said softly, “
Make them pay.
She closed her eyes, readying herself. Gathering her power. Lights went out on the block around her. When she opened her eyes to the newfound darkness, Emile had reached the dock. Silver waited at the ramp, beckoning beneath the one streetlight that remained lit. Her stare met Silver’s.
She nodded once—hoping it conveyed all that was within her heart—and aimed for the dreadwolves’ howls.
Sofie sprinted right into the golden beams of the headlights of four cars emblazoned with the Asteri’s symbol:
and its wreath of seven stars. All crammed full of dreadwolves in imperial uniforms, guns out.
Sofie instantly spied the golden-haired female lounging in the front of the military convertible. A silver torque glimmered against her neck.
The deer shifter had two snipers poised beside her in the open-air car, rifles trained on Sofie. Even in the darkness, Lidia Cervos’s hair shimmered, her beautiful face passive and cold. Amber eyes fixed on Sofie, lit with smug amusement. Triumph.
Sofie whipped around a corner before their shots cracked like
thunder. The snarl of the Hind’s dreadwolves rumbled in the mist behind her as she charged into Servast proper, away from the harbor. From that ship and the children. From Emile.
Silver couldn’t use his power to get her. He had no idea where she was.
Sofie’s breath sawed out of her chest as she sprinted down the empty, murky streets. A blast from the boat’s horn blared through the misty night, as if pleading with her to hurry.
In answer, half a dozen unearthly howls rose up behind her. All closing in.
Some had taken their wolf form, then.
Claws thundered against the pavement nearby, and Sofie gritted her teeth, cutting down another alley, heading for the one place all the maps she’d studied suggested she might stand a chance. The ship’s horn blasted again, a final warning that it would leave.
If she could only make it a bit deeper into the city—a bit deeper—
Fangs gnashed behind her.
Not only away from the Vanir on her tail, but from the snipers on the ground, waiting for the open shot. From the Hind, who must know what information Sofie bore. Sofie supposed she should be flattered the Hind herself had come to oversee this.
The small market square appeared ahead, and Sofie barreled for the fountain in its center, punching a line of her power straight for it, shearing through rock and metal until water sprayed, a geyser coating the market square. Wolves splashed into the water as they surged from the surrounding streets, shifting as they cornered her.
In the center of the flooded square, Sofie paused.
The wolves in human forms wore imperial uniforms. Tiny silver darts glimmered along their collars. A dart for every rebel spy broken. Her stomach flipped. Only one type of dreadwolf had those silver darts. The Hind’s private guard. The most elite of the shifters.
A throaty whistle sounded through the port. A warning and a farewell.
So Sofie leapt onto the lip of the fountain and smiled at the wolves closing in. They wouldn’t kill her. Not when the Hind was waiting
to interrogate her. Too bad they didn’t know what Sofie truly was. Not a human, nor a witch.
She let the power she’d gathered by the docks unspool.
Crackling energy curled at her fingertips and amid the strands of her short brown hair. One of the dreadwolves understood then—matched what he was seeing with the myths Vanir whispered to their children.
She’s a fucking thunderbird!
” the wolf roared—just as Sofie unleashed the power she’d gathered on the water flooding the square. On the dreadwolves standing ankle-deep in it.
They didn’t stand a chance.
Sofie pivoted toward the docks as the electricity finished slithering over the stones, hardly sparing a glance for the smoking, half-submerged carcasses. The silver darts along their collars glowed molten-hot.
Another whistle. She could still make it.
Sofie splashed through the flooded square, breath ragged in her throat.
The dreadwolf had been only half-right. She was part thunderbird—her great-grandmother had mated with a human long ago, before being executed. The gift, more legend than truth these days, had resurfaced in Sofie.
It was why the rebels had wanted her so badly, why they’d sent her out on such dangerous missions. Why Pippa had come to value her
Sofie smelled like and could pass for a human, but in her veins lurked an ability that could kill in an instant. The Asteri had long ago hunted most thunderbirds to extinction. She’d never learned how her great-grandmother had survived, but the descendants had kept the bloodline secret.
had kept it secret.
Until that day three years ago when her family had been killed and taken. When she’d found the nearest Ophion base and showed them exactly what she could do. When she told them what she wanted them to do for her in exchange.
She hated them. Almost as much as she hated the Asteri and the world they’d built. For three years, Ophion had dangled Emile’s whereabouts above her, promising to find him, to help her free him, if
she could do
one more mission
. Pippa and Silver might believe in the cause, though they differed in their methods of how to fight for it, but Emile had always been Sofie’s cause. A free world would be wonderful. But what did it matter if she had no family to share it with?
So many times, for those rebels, she had drawn up power from the grid, from lights and machines, and killed and killed, until her soul lay in tatters. She’d often debated going rogue and finding her brother herself, but she was no spy. She had no network. So she’d stayed, and covertly built up her own bait to dangle before Ophion. Made sure they knew the importance of what she’d gleaned before she entered Kavalla.
Faster, faster she pushed herself toward the dock. If she didn’t make it, maybe there would be a smaller boat that she could take to the steamer. Maybe she’d just swim until she was close enough for Silver to spot her, and easily reach her with his power.
Half-crumbling houses and uneven streets passed; fog drifted in veils.
The stretch of wooden dock between Sofie and the steamer pulling away lay clear. She raced for it.
She could make out Silver on the
’s deck, monitoring her approach. But why didn’t he use his power to reach her? Another few feet closer, and she spied the hand pressed to his bleeding shoulder.
Cthona have mercy on him. Silver didn’t appear badly hurt, but she had a feeling she knew what kind of bullet he’d been hit with. A bullet with a core of gorsian stone—one that would stifle magic.
His power was useless. But if a sniper had hit Silver on the ship … Sofie drew up short.
The convertible sat in the shadows of the building across from the docks. The Hind still lounged like a queen, a sniper beside her with his rifle trained on Sofie. Where the second had gone, she didn’t know. Only this one mattered. This one, and his rifle.
It was likely chock-full of gorsian bullets. They’d bring her down in seconds.
The Hind’s golden eyes glowed like coals in the dimness. Sofie gauged the distance to the end of the dock, the rope Silver had
thrown down, trailing with every inch the
chugged toward the open water.
The Hind inclined her head in challenge. A deceptively calm voice slid from between her red lips. “Are you faster than a bullet, thunderbird?”
Sofie didn’t wait to banter. As swift as a wind through the fjords of her native land, she hurtled down the dock. She knew the sniper’s rifle tracked her.
The end of the dock, the dark harbor beyond, loomed.
The rifle cracked.
Silver’s roar cleaved the night before Sofie hit the wood planks, splinters cutting into her face, the impact ricocheting through one eye. Pain burst through her right thigh, leaving a wake of shredded flesh and shattered bone, so violent it robbed even the scream from her lungs.
Silver’s bellow stopped abruptly—and then he yelled to the captain, “
Go, go, go, go!
Facedown on the dock, Sofie knew it was bad. She lifted her head, swallowing her shriek of pain, blood leaking from her nose. The droning hum of an Omega-boat’s energy rocked through her even before she spied the approaching lights beneath the harbor’s surface.
Four imperial submersible warships converged like sharks on the
Pippa Spetsos stood aboard the rebel ship
, the Haldren Sea a dark expanse around her. In the distance, the firstlights of the towns along Pangera’s northern coast twinkled like gold stars.
But her attention remained fixed on the gleam of Servast. On the little light sailing toward them.
was on time.
Pippa pressed a hand against the cold, hard armor covering her breast, right above the sinking sun insignia of the Lightfall unit. She would not loose that final breath of relief—not until she saw Sofie. Until she’d secured the assets Sofie carried with her: the boy and the intel.
Then she’d demonstrate to Sofie precisely how Command felt about being manipulated.
Agent Silverbow, the arrogant bastard, had followed the woman he loved. She knew the asset Sofie brought with her meant little to him. The fool. But the possibility of the intel that Sofie claimed to have spent years covertly gathering for Ophion … even Silverbow would want that.
Captain Richmond stepped up beside her. “Report,” she ordered.
He’d learned the hard way not to disobey her. Learned exactly who in Command supported her, and would rain down Hel on her behalf. Monitoring the approaching vessel, Richmond said, “We’ve made radio contact. Your operative is not on that ship.”
Pippa went still. “The brother?”
“The boy is there. And eleven other children from Kavalla. Sofie Renast stayed behind to buy them time. I’m sorry.”
Pippa had lost track of how many times she’d heard that fucking word.
But right now … Emile had made it to the ship. Was gaining him worth losing Sofie?
It was the gamble they’d taken in even allowing Sofie to go into Kavalla: possibly losing one valuable asset in the quest to seize another. But that was before Sofie had left—and then informed them, right before entering the camp, that she’d attained vital intel on their enemies. To lose Sofie now, with that crucial intel on the line …
She hissed at the captain, “I want—”
A human sailor barreled out the glass-enclosed bridge door, skin eerily pale in the moonlight. He faced the captain, then Pippa, uncertain whom to report to. “The
’s got four Omegas on her tail, closing in fast. Agent Silverbow is down—gorsian bullet to the shoulder.”
Pippa’s blood chilled. Silverbow wouldn’t be any help with a gorsian bullet in him. “They’re going to sink that ship, rather than let those children go.”
She had not yet become so numb to the horrors of this world that it didn’t roil her stomach. Captain Richmond swore softly.
Pippa ordered, “Prepare the gunners.” Even if the odds were slim that
would survive an assault by the Omegas, they could provide a distraction. The captain grunted his agreement. But the sailor who’d come rushing out of the bridge gasped and pointed.
On the horizon, each and every light in Servast was winking out. The wave of darkness swept inland.
“What in Hel—”
“Not Hel,” Pippa murmured as the blackout spread.