House of Sky and Breath (Crescent City #2) by Sarah J. Maas

PROLOGUE

Sofie had survived in the Kavalla death camp for two weeks.

Two weeks, and still the guards—dreadwolves, all of them—had not sniffed her out. Everything had gone according to plan. The reek of the days crammed into the cattle car had covered the telltale scent in her blood. It had also veiled her when they’d marched her and the others between the brick buildings of the camp, this new Hel that was only a small model of what the Asteri planned to do if the war continued.

Two weeks here, and that reek had become etched into her very skin, blinding even the wolves’ keen noses. She’d stood mere feet from a guard in the breakfast line this morning and he hadn’t so much as sniffed in her direction.

A small victory. One she’d gladly take these days.

Half of the Ophion rebel bases had fallen. More would soon. But only two places existed for her now: here, and the port of Servast, her destination tonight. Alone, even on foot, she could have easily made it. A rare benefit of being able to switch between human and Vanir identities—and of being a rare human who’d made the Drop.

It technically made her Vanir. Granted her a long life span and all the benefits that came from it that her human family did not and would never have. She might not have bothered to make the Drop had her parents not encouraged it—with the healing abilities she would gain, it provided extra armor in a world designed to kill her kind. So she’d done it under the radar, in a back-alley, highly illegal Drop center, where a leering satyr had been her Anchor, and handing over her firstlight had been the cost of the ritual. She’d spent the years since then learning to wear her humanity like a cloak, inside and out. She might have all the traits of the Vanir, but she’d never be Vanir. Not in her heart, her soul.

Yet tonight … tonight, Sofie did not mind letting a little of the monster loose.

It would not be an easy journey, thanks to the dozen small forms crouched behind her in the mud before the barbed-wire fence.

Five boys and six girls gathered by her thirteen-year-old brother, who now stood watch over them like a shepherd with his flock. Emile had gotten all of them out of the bunks, aided by a gentle human sun-priest, who was currently serving as lookout at the shed ten yards away.

The children were gray-skinned, gaunt. Eyes too big, too hopeless.

Sofie didn’t need to know their stories. They were likely the same as hers: rebel human parents who’d either been caught or sold out. Hers had been the latter.

Pure dumb luck had kept Sofie out of the dreadwolves’ clutches, too—at least until now. Three years ago, she’d been studying late at the university library with her friends. Arriving home after midnight, she’d spied the broken windows and shattered front door, the spray paint on the siding of their ordinary suburban house—REBEL SHITS—and begun running. She could only credit Urd for the fact that the dreadwolf guard posted at the front door hadn’t seen her.

Later, she’d managed to confirm that her parents were dead. Tortured until the brutal end by the Hind or her elite squadron of dreadwolf interrogators. The report Sofie spent months working her way up through Ophion to attain had also revealed that her grandparents had been herded off upon reaching the Bracchus camp in the north, and shot in a lineup of other elders, their bodies left to crumple into a mass grave.

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.