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Chapter no 21 – Jacks

A Curse for True Love

Jacks had seen enough.

If he stayed on the balcony any longer, if he kept watching, he’d kill Apollo, or at least make it impossible for him to touch Evangeline ever again.

Jacks reminded himself she was safe with Apollo. As a princess, she’d have anything she ever wanted.

But she wasn’t supposed to want to kiss him. It wasn’t fair of Jacks to hate her a little for it. But feeling hateful was the only thing that made it possible for him to leave. And he really needed to leave.

Evangeline was safe. That was what mattered.

If Jacks stayed, if he stormed in the room and used his powers to make Apollo watch as Jacks told Evangeline that she wasn’t nothing to him. That she was everything. That he’d turned back time to keep her alive, and he would make the same choice again. If Jacks made her remember that he was the one she should have wanted to kiss. She wouldn’t be safe anymore. She wouldn’t even be alive.

If Evangeline was going to have any future, Jacks could not be a part of

it.

Quietly he leaped from the balcony. His boots made no sound as he

landed in the darkened courtyard below. Although he should have timed it

better. He could hear two guards on rounds approaching.

Normally, he’d have used his abilities to control their emotions so that they might turn around. But he was a little drained from all the guards he’d controlled earlier. He could also hear the conversation of these guards, and the words blood and massacre caught his attention.

Jacks moved closer to the stony walls of Wolf Hall and hid in the shadows as the guards drew closer and the taller one said, “Quixton was there and he said it wasn’t possible that one person could kill so many people. He said it was like a demon did it.” The guard paused to shudder. “I don’t have any love for the family of House Fortuna, but no one should have their throat ripped into and their heart ripped out.”

Jacks disagreed with his last statement. But he was less concerned that a royal guard could have such an irrationally soft heart than he was about this guard’s use of the word demon.

Demons didn’t exist.

But Jacks did know of a creature that humans often mistook for one, especially in the North, where the story curse made it nearly impossible for tales about vampires to properly spread. When they did, the curse prevented humans from being reasonably fearful. So whenever a human was truly afraid, they usually referred to the vampires as demons.

And Jacks feared he knew exactly which bloodthirsty demon these guards were speaking of tonight. Castor.

The Valors had originally cast the story curse to protect their son, Castor, when he’d first been turned into a vampire. It was supposed to affect only stories about vampires. But the curse had been cast out of terror, and curses that come from a place of fear always turn out a little twisted or become far more terrible than intended.

Jacks wondered if the Valors would attempt to reverse the curse now that they were back. It would be interesting to see if Honora and Wolfric would choose to reshape the North, or if they would simply live a quiet life in the rebuilt Merrywood Manor.

He had yet to visit them there. He’d seen most of the Valors after the arch had been opened, but he’d been half dead at the time, thanks to Castor’s appetite. Since then, Jacks had seen only Aurora. He knew she wouldn’t turn him in to Apollo or his soldiers. He was less certain about her parents, Wolfric and Honora.

First, there was the matter of honor, which they both had. Then there was Apollo, who had bestowed the status of Great House upon their new name and gifted them Merrywood Forest, Merrywood Manor, and Merrywood Village.

The forest, the manor, and the village weren’t much of a gift in Jacks’s opinion. Their history was as ugly as they were. Most people simply said they were cursed or haunted. Even Jacks didn’t like traveling through those lands.

But he thought again about the guards talking about a murderous demon. Then he pictured that same murderous demon, ripping into Evangeline’s throat, killing her, again.

Jacks mounted his horse and rode hard for the Merrywood.

He could already sense a change as soon as he reached Merrywood Forest. He could hear the life teeming on either side of his path. Rabbits, frogs, birds, deer, and trees as they began to grow again.

The Valors might have returned only a few days ago, but there was a reason they were the Valors, a reason that even when they’d been long dead, the stories about them had lived and grown, transforming them into beings that sometimes sounded closer to gods.

Jacks knew they weren’t.

The Valors could bleed and die like everyone else, but they didn’t live like everyone. They weren’t content merely surviving. He wasn’t even sure they were capable of it. Before they’d been locked away in the Valory, they’d started a kingdom that spanned half a continent. Jacks didn’t know what they would do now that they were out, but he had no doubt the Valors would create another indelible shift in the world.

He hopped off his horse and tied it to a post just outside Merrywood Village. The Valors hadn’t started their rebuilding of the manor yet. They were beginning with the village first. Jacks imagined they’d all be staying somewhere in the vicinity, and therefore Castor would most likely be nearby instead of at his old crypt in Valorfell.

Like the forest, Merrywood Village was also returning to life. The air smelled of fresh-cut lumber as Jacks entered the square. It was an old square, built around a large well that had once upon a time been surrounded by shops—a smithy, an apothecary, a bakery, a butcher, a candlemaker— and the daily fruit and vegetable market.

For a second, Jacks remembered sneaking out at night and meeting his friends on the apothecary’s rooftop. They’d lie back, watch the stars, and brag about all the things they would do someday, as if their days were guaranteed instead of numbered.

He looked up, not expecting to find Castor on the apothecary rooftop now, but he also wasn’t surprised when he did.

One of the downfalls to being immortal was a propensity to remain tethered to the past, to the time before the immortal had stopped aging. No matter how many days Jacks lived, those days when he was a human were always the clearest to him and never seemed to fade with time. It was another downfall of being immortal—these endless, haunting memories that always gave humanity the illusion of being far more vibrant than immortality. It made Jacks hate humans at times, but he imagined it made Castor want to become one.

“Are you going to come down or do I need to set the apothecary on fire?” called Jacks.

“That threat might work better if you actually had a torch,” Castor replied. A second later he easily dropped down to the ground and casually leaned an elbow against the wall of the crumbling old apothecary. With the helm off and his family back, he was more like Castor, the noble prince without a care, than like Chaos, the long-suffering vampire with a helm, who couldn’t feed.

For a second, Jacks felt a pinprick of envy.

“What has put you in such a foul mood?” Castor asked. “Were you watching Evangeline again?”

“I’m not here because of her,” Jacks snapped. “Well, you’re certainly snippy about her.”

Jacks glared. “And you’re in a disturbingly good mood for someone who just slaughtered an entire family.”

Castor’s expression immediately darkened. Heat seeped into a gaze that looked less like hunger and more like a threat.

If Jacks had more regard for his own life, he might have been frightened. But Jacks wasn’t feeling much these days unless the feelings involved Evangeline, and he was trying his best to avoid those at the moment.

Anything that helped take his mind off her was pleasant in comparison— except for maybe this. Castor was his oldest friend, so Jacks didn’t want to

hate him, but when he looked at him, he could still see his teeth in Evangeline’s throat as he ripped her life away.

Castor had no idea that version of their history even existed. It wasn’t entirely fair to judge him for it. But Jacks hadn’t cared about being fair for a very long time.

“If you’re here to lecture me,” said Castor, “I don’t want to hear it.” “Then I’ll keep this short. You need to control yourself. Or your parents

are going to find out and maybe this time, instead of placing a helm on you, they’ll just place you in a grave.”

Castor worked his jaw. “They wouldn’t do that.”

“They’re still human, Castor. Humans do a lot of stupid things when they’re scared.”

Jacks had. And the worst part was, he’d thought he’d been doing the right thing. As when Castor had died.

Jacks had been the one who’d told Castor’s mother, Honora, to bring him back from the dead.

Castor and Lyric had been Jacks’s best friends, more like his brothers.

Lyric had just died, and Jacks couldn’t lose Castor, too.

He hadn’t thought about what it would cost to return him to life. He hadn’t imagined how much blood would be shed. One of the reasons Jacks had allowed himself to be turned into a Fate was so that Castor wouldn’t be alone. Then he’d started the rumor that Castor was Chaos and that Chaos was a Fate, so that the world wouldn’t figure out he was the last remaining Valor.

“I’m just trying to look out for you,” Jacks said. “You finally have the helm off and your family back. I don’t want to see you destroy this chance.”

Castor scoffed. “I’m not the one about to destroy my life.” “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I talked to my sister. Aurora told me what you want and what you’re willing to exchange for it.”

“Your sister—” Jacks stopped himself. Even he knew better than to insult the twin of a vampire with control issues. Although it was tempting. He could feel his hands clenching into fists, but Castor wasn’t the one he really wanted to punch. “I know what I’m doing.”

The vampire gave him another hard look. “If Evangeline ever gets her memories back, she’ll never forgive you for this.”

“At least she’ll be alive to hate me.”

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