House of Sky and Breath (Crescent City) (4 page)

BOOK: House of Sky and Breath (Crescent City)
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Sofie. Or … Her eyes narrowed on the

Pippa ran for the bridge’s better view. She arrived, panting, Richmond beside her, in time to see the
racing for them—the submerged lights of the four Omega-boats flickering behind, closing in.

But as they did, a mighty white light soared beneath the surface. It wrapped its long arms around the nearest Omega.

The white light leapt away a moment later, flying for the next boat. No submersible lights glowed in its wake. On the radar before her, the Omega-boat vanished.

“Holy gods,” Richmond said.

Something like that
, Pippa wanted to say. It was Sofie’s strange gift: not only electricity, but firstlight power, too. Energy of any type was hers to command, to suck into herself. Her kind had been hunted to extinction by the Asteri centuries ago because of that mighty, unconquerable gift—or so it had seemed.

But now there were two of them.

Sofie said her brother’s powers dwarfed her own. Powers Pippa now witnessed as the light leapt from the second boat—another blackout—and raced for the third.

She could make out no sign of Emile on the
’s deck, but he had to be there.

“What can bring down an Omega with no torpedoes?” murmured one of the sailors. Closer now, the light swept beneath the surface for the third boat, and even with the distance, Pippa could see the core of long, bright white tendrils streaming from it—like wings.

“An angel?” someone whispered. Pippa scoffed privately. There were no angels among the few Vanir in Ophion. If Pippa had her
way, there’d be no Vanir among them at all … save for ones like this. Vanir powers, but a human soul and body.

Emile was a great prize for the rebellion—Command would be pleased indeed.

The third Omega submersible went black, vanishing into the inky deep. Pippa’s blood sang at the terrible glory of it. Only one Omega left.

“Come on,” Pippa breathed. “Come on …” Too much rested on that boat. The balance of this war might hang on it.

“Two brimstone torpedoes fired from the remaining Omega,” a sailor shouted.

But the white light slammed into the Omega, miles’ worth of firstlight sending the final ship spiraling into a watery abyss.

And then a leap outward, a whip of light illuminating the waves above it to turquoise. A stretching hand.

A sailor reported hoarsely, awe and anticipation in every word, “Brimstone torpedoes are gone from the radar. Vanished.”

Only the lights of the
remained, like dim stars in a sea of darkness.

“Commander Spetsos?” Richmond asked.

But Pippa ignored Richmond, and stalked into the warmth of the bridge’s interior, yanking a pair of long-range binoculars from a hook just inside the door. Within seconds, she was out on the wind-whipped deck again, binoculars focused on the

Emile stood there, aged but definitely the same child from Sofie’s photos, no more than a lean figure alone at the prow. Staring toward the watery graveyard as they passed over it. Then to the land beyond. He slowly sank to his knees.

Smiling to herself, Pippa shifted the view on the binoculars and gazed toward the thorough blackness of Pangera.

Lying on her side, the lap of waves against the quay and the drip of her blood on the surface beneath the wooden slats the only sounds she could hear, Sofie waited to die.

Her arm dangled off the end of the dock as the
toward those savior lights on the sea. Toward Pippa. Pippa had brought battleships to guide the
to safety. Likely to ensure Sofie was on it, along with Emile, but … Pippa had still come. Ophion had come.

Tears slid along her cheeks, onto the wood slats. Everything hurt.

She’d known this would happen, if she pushed too far, demanded too much power, as she had tonight. The firstlight always hurt so much worse than electricity. Charred her insides even as it left her craving more of its potent power. It was why she avoided it as much as possible. Why the idea of Emile had been so enticing to Command, to Pippa and her Lightfall squadron.

There was nothing left inside her now. Not one spark of power. And no one was coming to save her.

Footsteps thudded on the dock, rattling her body. Sofie bit her lip against the flashing pain.

Polished black boots stopped inches from her nose. Sofie shifted her good eye upward. The Hind’s pale face peered down.

“Naughty girl,” the Hind said in that fair voice. “Electrocuting my dreadwolves.” She ran an amber eye over Sofie. “What a remarkable power you have. And what a remarkable power your brother has, downing my Omega-boats. It seems all the legends about your kind are true.”

Sofie said nothing.

The spy-breaker smiled slightly. “Tell me who you passed the intel to, and I will walk off this dock and let you live. I’ll let you see your darling little brother.”

Sofie said through stiff lips, “No one.”

The Hind merely said, “Let’s go for a ride, Sofie Renast.”

The dreadwolves bundled Sofie into a nondescript boat. No one spoke as it sailed out to sea. As an hour passed, and the sky lightened. Only when they were so far from the shore that it was no longer a darker shadow against the night sky did the Hind lift a hand. The engines cut off, and the boat bobbed in the waves.

Again, those polished, knee-high boots approached Sofie. She’d been bound, gorsian shackles around her wrists to stifle her power. Her leg had gone numb with agony.

With a nod to a wolf, the Hind ordered that Sofie should be hauled to her feet. Sofie bit down her cry of pain. Behind her, another wolf opened the transom gate, exposing the small platform off the boat’s back. Sofie’s throat closed up.

“Since your brother has bestowed such a death upon a multitude of imperial soldiers, this will be an apt punishment for you,” the Hind said, stepping onto the platform, not seeming to care about the water splashing over her boots. She pulled a small white stone from her pocket, lifting it for Sofie to see, and then chucked it into the water. Observed it with her Vanir-sharp eyes as it dropped down, down, down into the inky blackness.

“At that depth, you’ll likely drown before you hit the seafloor,” the Hind observed, her golden hair shifting across her imperious face. She slid her hands into her pockets as the wolves knelt at Sofie’s feet and bound them together with chains weighted with lead blocks.

“I’ll ask you again,” the Hind said, angling her head, silver torque glinting at her neck. “With whom did you share the intelligence you collected before you went into Kavalla?”

Sofie felt the ache of her missing fingernails. Saw the faces in that camp. The people she’d left behind. Her cause had been Emile—yet Ophion was right in so many ways. And some small part of her had been glad to kill for Ophion, to fight for those people. Would keep fighting for them, for Emile, now. She gritted out, “I told you: no one.”

“Very well, then.” The Hind pointed to the water. “You know how this ends.”

Sofie kept her face blank to conceal her shock at her good luck, one last gift from Solas. Apparently, even the Hind was not as clever as she believed herself to be. She offered a swift, horrible death—but it was nothing compared to the endless torture Sofie had expected.

“Put her on the platform.”

A dreadwolf—a hulking, dark-haired male—objected, sneering, “We’ll get it out of her.” Mordoc, the Hind’s second in command. Almost as feared as his commander. Especially with his particular gifts.

The Hind didn’t so much as look at him. “I’m not wasting my time on this. She says she didn’t tell anyone, and I’m inclined to believe her.” A slow smile. “So the intel will die with her.”

It was all the Hind needed to say. The wolves hauled Sofie onto the platform. She swallowed a cry at the wave of agony that rippled through her thigh. Icy water sprayed, soaking through her clothes, burning and numbing.

Sofie couldn’t stop her shaking. Tried to remember the kiss of the air, the scent of the sea, the gray of the sky before dawn. She would not see the sunrise, only minutes away. She’d never see another one again.

She had taken the beauty and simplicity of living for granted. How she wished she’d savored it more. Every single moment.

The deer shifter prowled closer. “Any last words?”

Emile had gotten away. It was all that mattered. He’d be kept safe now.

Sofie smiled crookedly at the Hind. “
Go to Hel

Mordoc’s clawed hands shoved her off the platform.

The frigid water hit Sofie like a bomb blast, and then the lead at her feet grabbed all that she was and might have been, and pulled her under.

The Hind stood, a phantom in the chilled mist of the Haldren Sea, and watched until Sofie Renast had been wrapped in Ogenas’s embrace.






For a Tuesday night at the Crescent City Ballet, the theater was unusually packed. The sight of the swarming masses in the lobby, drinking and chatting and mingling, filled Bryce Quinlan with a quiet sort of joy and pride.

There was only one reason why the theater was so packed tonight. With her Fae hearing, she could have sworn she heard the hundreds of voices all around her whispering,
Juniper Andromeda
. The star of tonight’s performance.

Yet even with the crowd, an air of quiet reverence and serenity filled the space. As if it were a temple.

Bryce had the creeping sensation that the various ancient statues of the gods flanking the long lobby watched her. Or maybe that was the well-dressed older shifter couple standing by a reclining statue of Cthona, the earth goddess, naked and awaiting the embrace of her lover, Solas. The shifters—some sort of big cats, from their scents, and rich ones, judging by their watches and jewelry—blatantly ogled her.

Bryce offered them a bland, close-lipped smile.

Some variation of this had happened nearly every single day since the attack this past spring. The first few times had been overwhelming, unnerving—people coming up to her and sobbing with gratitude. Now they just stared.

Bryce didn’t blame the people who wanted to speak to her, who
to speak to her. The city had been healed—by her—but its people …

Scores had been dead by the time her firstlight erupted through Lunathion. Hunt had been lucky, had been taking his last breaths, when the firstlight saved him. Five thousand other people had not been so lucky.

Their families had not been so lucky.

So many dark boats had drifted across the Istros to the mists of the Bone Quarter that they had looked like a bevy of black swans. Hunt had carried her into the skies to see it. The quays along the river had teemed with people, their mourning cries rising to the low clouds where she and Hunt had glided.

Hunt had only held her tighter and flown them home.

“Take a picture,” Ember Quinlan called now to the shifters from where she stood next to a marble torso of Ogenas rising from the waves, the ocean goddess’s full breasts peaked and arms upraised. “Only ten gold marks. Fifteen, if you want to be in it.”

“For fuck’s sake, Mom,” Bryce muttered. Ember stood with her hands on her hips, gorgeous in a silky gray gown and pashmina. “Please don’t.”

Ember opened her mouth, as if she’d say something else to the chastised shifters now hurrying toward the east staircase, but her husband interrupted her. “I second Bryce’s request,” Randall said, dashing in his navy suit.

Ember turned outraged dark eyes on Bryce’s stepfather—her only father, as far as Bryce was concerned—but Randall pointed casually to a broad frieze behind them. “That one reminds me of Athalar.”

Bryce arched a brow, grateful for the change of subject, and twisted toward where he’d pointed. On it, a powerful Fae male stood poised above an anvil, hammer raised skyward in one fist, lightning cracking from the skies, filling the hammer, and flowing down toward the object of the hammer’s intended blow: a sword.

Its label read simply:
Unknown sculptor. Palmira, circa 125 V.E.

Bryce lifted her mobile and snapped a photo, pulling up her messaging thread with
Hunt Athalar Is Better at Sunball Than I Am

She couldn’t deny that. They’d gone to the local sunball field one sunny afternoon last week to play, and Hunt had promptly wiped the floor with her. He’d changed his name in her phone on the way home.

With a few sweeps of her thumbs, the picture zoomed off into the ether, along with her note:
Long-lost relative of yours?

She slid her phone into her clutch to find her mother watching. “What?” Bryce muttered.

But Ember only motioned toward the frieze. “Who does it depict?”

Bryce checked the sliver of writing in the lower right corner. “It just says
The Making of the Sword

Her mother peered at the half-faded etching. “In what language?”

Bryce tried to keep her posture relaxed. “The Old Language of the Fae.”

“Ah.” Ember pursed her lips, and Randall wisely drifted off through the crowd to study a towering statue of Luna aiming her bow toward the heavens, two hunting dogs at her feet and a stag nuzzling her hip. “You stayed fluent in it?”

“Yep,” Bryce said. Then added, “It’s come in handy.”

“I’d imagine so.” Ember tucked back a strand of her black hair.

Bryce moved to the next frieze dangling from the distant ceiling on near-invisible wires. “This one’s of the First Wars.” She scanned the relief carved into the ten-foot expanse of marble. “It’s about …” She schooled her expression into neutrality.

“What?” Ember stepped closer to the depiction of an army of winged demons swooping down from the skies upon a terrestrial army gathered on the plain below.

“This one’s about Hel’s armies arriving to conquer Midgard during the First Wars,” Bryce finished, trying to keep her voice bland. To block out the flash of talons and fangs and leathery wings—the boom of her rifle resounding through her bones, the rivers of blood in the streets, the screaming and screaming and—

BOOK: House of Sky and Breath (Crescent City)
4.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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