House of Sky and Breath (Crescent City) (2 page)

BOOK: House of Sky and Breath (Crescent City)
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And her brother … Sofie hadn’t been able to find anything on
Emile until now. For years, she’d been working with the Ophion rebels in exchange for any snippet of information about him, about her family. She didn’t let herself think about what she’d done in return for that information. The spying, the people she’d killed to collect whatever intel Ophion wanted—these things weighed on her soul like a leaden cloak.

But she’d finally done enough for Ophion that they’d informed her Emile had been sent here, and survived against all odds. At last, she had a location for him. Convincing Command to let her come here … that had been another labyrinth to navigate.

In the end, it had required Pippa’s support. Command listened to Pippa, their faithful and fervent soldier, leader of the elite Lightfall unit. Especially now that Ophion’s numbers had taken such steep hits. Sort-of-human Sofie, on the other hand … She knew she was an asset, but with the Vanir blood in her veins, they’d never fully trust her. So she occasionally needed Pippa. Just as much as Pippa’s Lightfall missions had needed Sofie’s powers.

Pippa’s help hadn’t been due to friendship. Sofie was fairly certain that friends didn’t exist within the Ophion rebel network. But Pippa was an opportunist—and she knew what she stood to gain should this op go smoothly, the doors that would further open to her within Command if Sofie returned triumphant.

A week after Command had approved the plan, over three years after her family had been snatched from their home, Sofie walked into Kavalla.

She’d waited until a local dreadwolf patrol was marching by and stumbled into their path, a mere mile from here. They immediately found the fake rebel documents she’d planted in her coat. They had no idea that Sofie also carried with her, hidden in her head, information that could very well be the final piece of this war against the Asteri.

The blow that could end it.

Ophion had found out too late that before she’d gone into Kavalla, she’d finally accomplished the mission she’d spent years preparing for. She’d made sure before she was picked up that Pippa and Ophion knew she’d acquired that intel. Now they wouldn’t
back out of their promises to retrieve her and Emile. She knew there would be Hel to pay for it—that she’d gone in secret to gather the information, and was now using it as collateral.

But that would come later.

The dreadwolf patrol interrogated her for two days. Two days, and then they’d thrown her into the cattle car with the others, convinced she was a foolish human girl who’d been given the documents by a lover who’d used her.

She’d never thought her minor in theater would come in handy. That she’d hear her favorite professor’s voice critiquing her performance while someone was ripping out her fingernails. That she’d feign a confession with all the sincerity she’d once brought to the stage.

She wondered if Command knew she’d used those acting abilities on them, too.

That wasn’t her concern, either. At least, not until tomorrow. Tonight, all that mattered was the desperate plan that would now come to fruition. If she had not been betrayed, if Command had not realized the truth, then a boat waited twenty miles away to ferry them out of Pangera. She looked down at the children around her and prayed the boat had room for more than the three passengers she’d claimed would be arriving.

She’d spent her first week and a half in Kavalla waiting for a glimpse of her brother—a hint of where he might be in the sprawling camp. And then, a few days ago, she’d spotted him in the food line. She’d faked a stumble to cover her shock and joy and sorrow.

He’d gotten so tall. As tall as their father. He was all gangly limbs and bones, a far cry from the healthy thirteen-year-old he should have been, but his face … it was the face she’d grown up with. But beginning to show the first hints of manhood on the horizon.

Tonight, she’d seized her chance to sneak into his bunk. And despite the three years and the countless miseries they’d endured, he knew her in an instant, too. Sofie would have spirited him away that moment had he not begged her to bring the others.

Now twelve children crouched behind her.

The alarms would be blaring soon. They had different sirens
for everything here, she’d learned. To signal their wake-ups, their meals, random inspections.

A mournful bird’s call fluttered through the low-hanging mist.
All clear
.

With a silent prayer of thanks to the sun-priest and the god he served, Sofie lifted her mangled hand to the electrified fence. She did not glance at her missing fingernails, or the welts, or even feel how numb and stiff her hands were, not as the fence’s power crackled through her.

Through her, into her,
becoming
her. Becoming hers to use as she wished.

A thought, and the fence’s power turned outward again, her fingertips sparking where they curled against the metal. The metal turned orange, then red beneath her hand.

She sliced her palm down, skin so blisteringly hot it cleaved metal and wire. Emile whispered to the others to keep them from crying out, but she heard one of the boys murmur, “
Witch.

A typical human’s fear of those with Vanir gifts—of the females who held such tremendous power. She did not turn to tell him that it was not a witch’s power that flowed through her. It was something far more rare.

The cold earth met her hand as she rent the last of the fence and peeled the two flaps apart, barely wide enough for her to fit through. The children edged forward, but she signaled for them to halt, scanning the open dirt beyond. The road separating the camp from the ferns and towering pines lay empty.

But the threat would come from behind. She pivoted toward the watchtowers at the corners of the camp, which housed guards with sniper rifles forever trained on the road.

Sofie took a breath, and the power she’d sucked from the fence again shuddered through her. Across the camp, the spotlights ruptured in a shower of sparks that had the guards whirling toward it, shouting.

Sofie peeled the fence apart wider, arms straining, metal biting into her palms, grunting at the children to
run, run, run

Little shadows, their light gray uniforms tattered and stained and too bright in the near-full moon, hurried through the fence and across the muddy road to the dense ferns and steep gully beyond. Emile went last, his taller, bony body still a shock to her system, as brutal as any power she could wield.

Sofie did not let herself think of it. She raced after him, weak from the lack of food, the grueling labor, the soul-draining misery of this place. Mud and rocks cut into her bare feet, but the pain was distant as she took in the dozen pale faces peering from the ferns. “
Hurry
,
hurry, hurry
,” she whispered.

The van would wait only so long.

One of the girls swayed as she got to her feet, aiming for the slope beyond, but Sofie gripped her beneath a bony shoulder, keeping her upright as they staggered along, ferns brushing their legs, roots tangling their feet. Faster. They had to be
faster

A siren wailed.

This one, Sofie had not heard before. But she knew its blaring screech for what it was:
Escape
.

Flashlight beams shot through the trees as Sofie and the children crested the lip of a hill, half falling into the fern-laden gully. The dreadwolves were in their humanoid forms, then. Good—their eyes weren’t as sharp in the dark this way. Bad, because it meant they carried guns.

Sofie’s breathing hitched, but she focused, and sent her power slicing behind her. The flashlights went dark. Even firstlight could not stand against her power. Shouting rose—male, vicious.

Sofie hurried to the front of the group and Emile fell to the back to make sure none were forgotten. Pride swelled in her chest, even as it mingled with terror.

She knew they’d never make it back to the camp alive if they were caught.

Thighs burning, Sofie sprinted up the steep side of the gully. She didn’t want to think what the children were enduring, not when their knobbly-kneed legs looked barely able to hold them up. They reached the top of the hill just as the dreadwolves howled,
an inhuman sound breaking from humanoid throats. A summons to the hunt.

She pushed the children faster. Mist and ferns and trees and stones—

When one of the boys collapsed, Sofie carried him, focusing on the too-delicate hands gripping the front of her shift.

Hurry, hurry, hurry—

And then there was the road, and the van. Agent Silverbow had waited.

She didn’t know his real name. Had refused to let him tell her, though she had a good idea of what—who—he was. But he’d always be Silver to her. And he had waited.

He’d said he wouldn’t. Had said Ophion would kill him for abandoning his current mission.
Pippa
would kill him. Or order one of her Lightfall soldiers to do it.

But he’d come with Sofie, had hidden out these two weeks, until Sofie had sent forth the ripple of firstlight last night—the one signal she’d dared make with the Vanir prowling the death camp—to tell him to be here in twenty-four hours.

She’d told him not to use his powers. Even if it would’ve made this far safer and easier, it would have drained him too much for the escape. And she needed him at full strength now.

In the moonlight, Silver’s face was pale above the imperial uniform he’d stolen, his hair slicked back like any preening officer. He grimaced at Emile, then at the eleven other kids—clearly calculating how many could fit into the nondescript white van.

“All,” Sofie said as she hurtled for the vehicle, her voice raw. “All, Silver.”

He understood. He’d always understood her.

He leapt out of the car with preternatural grace and opened the rear doors. A minute later, squeezed against Silver in the front of the van, his warmth heating her through her threadbare clothes, Sofie could hardly draw breath fast enough as he floored the gas pedal. His thumb brushed over her shoulder, again and again, as if reassuring himself that she was there, that she’d made it.

None of the children spoke. None of them cried.

As the van barreled into the night, Sofie found herself wondering if they still could.

It took them thirty minutes to reach the port city of Servast.

Sofie leaned on Silver, who saw to it, even while racing down the bumpy, winding country road, that the children found the food in the bags he’d stashed in the back. Only enough for three, but the children knew how to stretch a scant spread. He made sure Sofie ate, too. Two weeks in that camp had nearly wrecked her. She didn’t understand how these children had survived months. Years. Her brother had survived
three years
.

Silver said quietly as they rounded a sharp curve, “The Hind is close by. I received a report this morning that she was in Alcene.” A small city not two hours away—one of the vital depots along the Spine, the north-south network of train tracks that provided ammo and supplies to the imperial troops. “Our spies indicated she was headed this way.”

Sofie’s stomach tightened, but she focused on donning the clothes and shoes Silver had brought for her to change into. “Then let’s hope we make it to the coast before she does.”

His throat bobbed. She dared ask, “Pippa?”

A muscle ticked in his jaw. He and Pippa had been jockeying for a promotion into Command’s inner ranks for years now.
A crazed fanatic
, Silver had called Pippa on more than one occasion, usually after her Lightfall squadron had led a brutal attack that left no survivors. But Sofie understood Pippa’s devotion—she herself had grown up passing as fully human, after all. Had learned exactly how they were treated—how Pippa had likely been treated by the Vanir her entire life. Some things, some experiences, Silver could never understand.

Silver said, “No word yet. She’d better be where she promised to be.” Disapproval and distrust laced every word.

Sofie said nothing else as they drove. She wouldn’t tell him the details of the intelligence she’d gathered, for all that he had done
and meant to her, despite the silent hours spent together, bodies and souls merging. She wouldn’t tell anyone—not until Command came through on their promises.

The Asteri had probably realized what she’d discovered. They’d no doubt sent the Hind after her to stop her from telling anyone else.

But the more immediate threat came from the dreadwolves closing in with every mile they hurried toward Servast, hounds on a scent. Silver’s frequent glances in the rearview mirror told her that he knew it, too.

The two of them could take on perhaps a handful of wolf shifters—they’d done so before. But there would be more than a handful for an escape from Kavalla. Far more than they could face and live.

She’d prepared for that eventuality. Had already handed over her comm-crystal to Command before entering Kavalla. That precious, sole line of communication to their most valued spy. She knew they’d keep the small chunk of quartz safe. Just as Silver would keep Emile safe. He’d given her his word.

When they emerged from the van, mist wreathed the narrow docks of Servast, writhing over the chill, night-dark waters of the Haldren Sea. It wended around the ancient stone houses of the port town, the firstlight in the few lampposts above the cobblestone streets flickering. No lights shone behind the shuttered windows; not one car or pedestrian moved in the deep shadows and fog.

It was as if the streets of Servast had been emptied in advance of their arrival. As if its citizens—mostly poor fisher-folk, both human and Vanir allied with the House of Many Waters—had hunkered down, some instinct bleating that the fog was not to be braved. Not this night.

Not with dreadwolves on the prowl.

Silver led the way, hair peeking from beneath the cap he’d donned, his attention darting this way and that, his gun within easy reach at his side. She’d seen him kill efficiently with his power, but sometimes a gun was easier.

Emile kept close to Sofie as they crept down the age-worn
streets, through the empty markets. She could feel eyes on her from behind the closed shutters. But no one opened a door to offer help.

BOOK: House of Sky and Breath (Crescent City)
5.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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