Chapter no 18

A Dawn of Onyx

The reflection staring back at me in the gilded mirror barely resembled my face. I had never seen so much charcoal in my life—Mari had

painted my eyes with the smoky mixture and my lips a dark scarlet.

“That’s enough. Honestly, Mar. I look like a pirate. Or a lady of the night.”

“Or both! A beautiful pirate whore,” Mari said, dusting more dark powder onto my eyelids.

The look wasn’t helped by the off-the-shoulder night black gown she had squeezed me into.

“This is so unfair. Why can’t I wear something like you?”

“Because,” Mari said, twirling in her high-necked, pine dress. “I’m not seeing an ex-lover tonight.”

“He’s not an ex-lover by any stretch of the imagination. He’s the king, and I doubt we’ll even see each other.”

Mari ignored me and brushed my hair, letting chocolatey locks fall down my back, one section at a time.

“Tonight…” I started but didn’t quite know how to finish the thought.

“I know.” I couldn’t see her face in the mirror, so I swiveled to look at her.

But I couldn’t bring myself to say the words. I felt strangled by emotion I hadn’t seen coming.

“I understand, Arwen,” she said, taking my hand in hers. “If Halden can get out, you’re going to go with him. I’m sure I’d do the same.”

“Yes. But it’s a big if.”

“No, it’s not. He doesn’t want to die. He’ll find a way out.”

I felt tears sting my eyes.

“Oh, Arwen. Don’t cry. He’s going to be all right.”

Guilt coursed through me—it wasn’t Halden I was crying for. “I’m going to miss you.”

Mari’s eyes were like wet glass as she pulled me into a hug. “Me too.”

She released me and wiped at my cheeks, clearing the blackened streaks that ran down my face. “But you’ll find a way to write to me. I know we’ll see each other again. Now let me fix this. Sad pirate whore is definitely not the look we are going for.”


The great hall was elegant and celebratory tonight, lit with candles of every shape and size and adorned with wreathes of Onyx flowers. Heat from the shadowy lanterns, piping hot food, and the crowding of bodies all warmed my skin. A haunting tune from the harmony of four different string instruments reverberated through the hall, calling me to dance. Outside, the white, elegant horses of Peridot were stark next to Onyx’s brutal, demonic-looking ones, as tanned, blond Peridot dignitaries and nobles dressed in sultry, warm colors filtered in.

I had lost Mari a while ago. She and a librarian from Peridot had hidden in a corner, drunk on birchwine and analyzing some old Fae text. But I didn’t mind walking through the festivities alone. Despite my earlier complaints, I felt rather pretty in my silk-draped gown and the way it hugged my curves, melting against my body like candle wax.

I grabbed a cup of wine and took a sip. The bitter taste was foreign to me

—Amber wine was notoriously sweet and caramel colored. This drink was the color of currants and I instantly felt it in my bones after only two sips. I maneuvered my way past sweaty, joyful strangers and toward the dancing. I wasn’t normally a reveler, but the level of anonymity at tonight’s festivities gave me a sense of freedom I hadn’t ever felt. Before I could throw myself into the merriment, something caught my eye. No—someone.

A woman so stunning it was arresting, lithe with milky white hair and a

delicate crown of leaves, was laughing uproariously at a certain dark king.

Kane propped himself against the wall behind her with one outstretched arm, and grinned into his ale. Her laugh was like a peal of bells, light and melodic. As he continued whatever story he was telling, the mystery woman listened intently, her eyes following every word off his lips. After one particularly hilarious aside, she reached a delicate hand out to encircle his bicep, and I found my feet moving before my mind had a chance to follow.

“Good evening,” I said, stumbling into them with a little too much gusto. Kane appraised me, his eyes traveling down my body deliciously slow.

But it was the expression he held when he settled on my face that took my breath away.

“Arwen. You look… so beautiful.”

We held each other’s eyes a beat too long, a smile that was almost awe growing on his face.

But then Kane seemed to remember where he was, cleared his throat, and gestured to the woman next to him. “Arwen, this is Princess Amelia. Princess, this is Lady Arwen. She is our keep’s healer.”

Amelia. She was the princess of the Peridot Provinces. The luscious jungled peninsula that bordered Onyx, and the daughter of the banquet’s guest of honor, King Eryx.

Shame colored my face.

“Your Highness,” I curtsied.

The princess said nothing, but her narrowed eyes told me she didn’t appreciate my interruption.

The three of us stood around limply until I couldn’t stand the tension any longer. Clearly, I had interrupted a moment between them. Why had I rushed over here, anyway? To ruin Kane’s night? Wasn’t I the one that wished he would leave me be? Who planned to flee this very evening? The birchwine was making my head swim.

“Well. Enjoy the banquet! The mutton is excellent,” I said, overly chipper. I winced as I turned to leave.

Kane’s warm hand wrapped around my arm with ease as he pulled me

back toward him. “Your Highness,” he said to the princess, still grasping me tightly, “I must have a brief word with Lady Arwen. Can I come find you in a short while?”

“You’d better,” she said, without much humor. She was as severe as she was stunning.

I gave her my best don’t look at me shrug as Kane drew me away.

We crossed the great hall swiftly. When I realized he was pulling me away from the banquet, I struggled against him. “Where are you taking me? Let go. I won’t bother you again, I want to stay and enjoy the dancing.”

Kane was either ignoring me or couldn’t hear my protests over the music and revelry. We exited the grand room through a hidden corridor, flew down tight stone steps, and slipped inside the nearby wine cellar.

Kane closed the heavy stone door behind him, shutting out the noise of the banquet and drowning us in silence. My ears felt like they were full of cotton.

The small space was musty and dry. Filled to the brim with barrels of wine, there was little room for both him and me. Kane’s impressive height didn’t help. I felt small, both in stature and behavior.

Bleeding Stones, Kane. This is ridiculous.”

“You really do have a mouth like a sailor,” he laughed, leaning against the door.

“Don’t think about my mouth.”

His eyes turned from playful to deadly in a heartbeat. “How I wish I could stop, bird.”

I snorted. “You’re incorrigible.”

“And you’re jealous.” His smile was like a wolf’s.

“That’s ridiculous. You disgust me. I’m—” I paused, trying to gather myself. What was I? “I’m sorry I interrupted you and the princess. That was rude.” I crossed my arms, and then quickly uncrossed them so as not to appear defensive.

His eyes gave nothing away. “We are at war. I am trying to solidify an ally. You think I’m just playing around? Do I strike you as a huge fan of banquets?”

I pressed my lips into a line. “Who knew political warfare could look so intimate?”

The corner of Kane’s mouth turned up. “Aw, bird. Did you burn with rage at the thought of me with another woman?”

“Don’t be silly. By all means, have at it. She’s just a little young for you, don’t you think?”

Kane actually looked offended. “How old do you think I am?”

“Never mind. It doesn’t matter.” I tried to push past him, but he blocked my path.

“Well, I should hope not. You have a man behind bars a few feet beneath us who believes you to be his wife.”

“Of course, Halden. Thank you for sparing him.”

“Of course,” he mimicked, a gleam in his eyes. “I’m not such a cruel king after all.”

“I really should get back. Mari will be—”

A shock wave radiated through my body, throwing me into Kane with brutal force. My chin snapped against his sternum and searing pain bloomed in my jaw. Kane wrapped his arms around me, cradling my body to his as the force knocked us to the floor.

Wine sloshed as barrels fell on each other, breaking apart. The faint roar of screaming echoed from the great hall above us, and I squeezed my eyes shut. The ground continued to shake.

“I’ve got you,” Kane grunted, as wine barrels tipped off the shelves and landed on his back. Every muscle in my body was tight as a coil as I prayed for the shuddering to end.

Stop, stop, stop.

When the aftershocks subsided, Kane’s face was inches from mine, the length of his body pressing down on me. It was overwhelming to feel him everywhere—muscular torso pressed to my breasts, our thighs intertwined, his corded arms protecting my head. And a strong hand still cradling my neck gently—ever so gently. Much, much too gently. At the first hitch of my breath, he disentangled from me with lightning speed.

My heart still pounding from the shock, I assessed the damage.

The wine cellar was decimated.

Dust and debris cluttered the shelves and floor, and we were both soaked in dark red. Kane’s eyes lit with horror as he searched my body.

“Are you hurt?”

“No, it’s just wine,” I said. But I brought my hand to my mouth and felt where I had bitten through my lip in our collision.

He cradled my jaw with a gentleness that nearly made me pant. Using his thumb, he carefully pulled my lower lip down to inspect the wound. I felt my whole body flush from the intimacy of the touch.

“Ouch. Sorry, bird. Have some of this, it’ll keep it clean.” His thumb released my lip, and he reached for an unbroken bottle, dusted off the dirt, and handed it to me. I took a slow sip, holding his gaze.

He exhaled a shaky breath as he watched me drink deeply from the bottle and set it down beside me.

“What was that?” I asked, massaging my jaw.

But it hit me a moment too late. Halden’s explosion. It had been much bigger than he had let on, whatever it was he did.

If anyone had been hurt because of this, I—

“Perhaps an earthquake.” Kane stood up and pushed through the debris to reach the door. “Stay here. I’ll send Barney for you.”

Before I could argue he pushed at the door. But it didn’t budge. My stomach sank in an instant.


My chest began to shudder. He pushed again, hard, using his whole frame. The muscles on his back rippled under his shirt, the cords in his neck bulged.


My palms were sweating. Heart racing. Kane let go, pushed the hair out of his face, and cracked his knuckles. Once more he heaved forward, but nothing happened.


“What?” He swiveled. I was on my hands and knees, heaving for air. He rushed to me and placed a calming hand on my back. “Fuck. You’re all

right, little bird. Trust me. You can’t die from fear alone. There’s plenty of air in here.”

He was saying the right things. All the things I had told myself a thousand times. That Nora had tried to walk me through, or my mother when I was young. But it made no difference now. My chest felt like it was caving in on itself. My whole body shook with adrenaline and my thoughts swam. I had to get out of here.

Now, now, now.

“I can’t stay in here,” I took in another huge gulp of air.

“Try to sit back,” he said. I scrambled up and pushed myself against the wall, eyes squeezed shut.

“Good. Slow breaths now. In through your nose, out through your mouth.”

This room had plenty of air. I was not going to be stuck forever. I squeezed Kane’s hand and fought the urge to breathe in by the mouthful.

“What a grip. Your training with Dagan must be going well.”

I nodded, eyes still screwed closed. “I’m so strong, I could strangle you.” Kane chuckled and the sound relaxed me more.

“You are strong. You’re doing great.” The words of encouragement brought tears to my eyes. “Tell me how you’d strangle me.”

“What?” I said, my eyes snapping to his.

“You heard me. I want to know—help prepare me for the attack.” I knew what he was doing. But I needed the diversion terribly.

“I’d make Griffin laugh. Shock alone would be enough to distract you.

Then I’d squeeze the life out of your thick neck.” Kane laughed hard—his addicting, hearty laugh.

I wanted to chew on it. Stuff it into my mouth so nobody else could have


“Keep going, this is my new favorite pastime. Death by bird.” I screwed my eyes shut and leaned back once more.

Breathe in, breathe out.

“Well, you’d be dead then. So I’d take over the Onyx Kingdom and rule

with Barney at my side.”

At his wheeze, I peered one eye open. Tears had gathered in the corners of his eyes. My lips perked up too. His laugh was contagious.

One more slow inhale, and finally, the adrenaline abated. I was still on edge, but my heart rate had slowed and I could swallow again. I blew out a breath.

“Thank you.”

He smiled that crooked smile at me, wiping tears from his eyes.

“No, thank you.” Slowly he rubbed circles along my palm with his thumb. The sensation was meant to calm me, but I only felt liquid heat course through my veins from the slight contact. I pulled my hand from his. “Don’t worry, bird. We won’t be in here long. They’ll be looking for us.

Someone has to notice the king is missing eventually.”

Resting my forehead on up-tucked knees, I shuddered out an exhale. I heard him stand and peered up to see Kane chugging from a birchwine bottle. The long column of his throat glistened with sweat in the dim cellar lighting as he drank. He took a final swig and pointed the bottle in my direction.

“Can I offer you a drink?”

“You really can’t get that door open?”

He took a seat next to me, passing the wine. A flicker of worry passed over his expression, there and gone in an instant. “I’m afraid not.”

The liquid was bitter and heavy on my tongue. I drank and drank, hoping the spirit would relieve even a little of the tension coiled in my body. The guilt that had crept in once again for having fun with him. Even if I was trying to suppress sheer, unrelenting panic.

“All right, that’s enough,” Kane motioned for the wine. I continued to sip until it was empty. I was going to need all the help I could get, stuck in here with him.

“Let’s try another form of distraction,” Kane said, prying the bottle from my hands.

My body quickly felt the effects of the spirit, loosening and thrumming with a subtle buzz. I looked over at Kane, for what felt like the first time since we were trapped in here. His dark hair was pushed out of his face,

damp from sweat and possibly spilled wine. His crown was slightly askew. Before I knew what I was doing, I reached up and carefully set it straight on his head. His remarkable quicksilver eyes studied my face. I drew my hand back and let it fall lifelessly into my lap.

“Want to lecture me on all I don’t understand about the continent and how pathetic I am?”

“Don’t sell yourself so short, bird. I’m never trying to insult you. You have no idea how exceptional I think you are.”

I snorted. “What a line. Trust me, there’s nothing special about me.”

He cleared his throat and looked up at the ceiling as if he were asking some unknown entity to grant him strength. He, too, must have been miserable about our predicament.

“What did you actually have in mind? For a distraction?” I asked.

“I’m not sure. What do you and your pretty redhead friend do for fun?”

A genuine laugh burst out of me, and I wasn’t even sure why. I reached for a second bottle above my head and yanked it open.

“What is so funny?” Kane asked. “Besides you guzzling through the castle’s most expensive wine as if it were water.”

I laughed harder and took another mouthful. “I don’t know,” I giggled. “I think it’s funny that you don’t know how to have fun.”

Kane looked at me in pretend outrage. It was painfully adorable. “Using my pond confession against me, it seems. I used to have loads of fun. I was sort of known for it, actually.”

I snorted. “Yeah, that’s not the kind of ‘fun’ Mari and I have.” “That is devastating news.”

For some reason, I could not keep it together. I doubled over laughing. “Keep it in your trousers, Kane. You’re not her type.”

“I’m everyone’s type.”

I faked a dry heave, and this time Kane was the one to laugh. The noise was a deep rumble from his chest, and a smile glowed in his eyes.

“I know. It’s the worst,” I said.

“Ah. My poor jealous bird. I told you, I’m not interested in the princess anymore.”

I shook my head. He had it all wrong—I wasn’t talking about her. I was talking about m—

Then my brain stopped working.

“Anymore?” I asked, barely keeping the horror at bay.

He grimaced. “We have spent some time together. Intimately. Many years ago.”

I gasped like I was in a bad theater production, and Kane laughed harder. I tried to laugh with him, but the image of them together made me want to set myself on fire. Her long, white hair threaded through his strong hands. His grunts of pleasure as he buried himself between her—

“Arwen—” Mercifully, he interrupted my revolting train of thought. “It was nothing. I had no feelings for her.”

“Oh, so you used her?”

He threw his head backward, smacking into the wine barrels behind us and wincing.

“Always so difficult. It was mutual. An agreement between old friends. It was… before.”

“Before what?” I asked, guarded hope lilting my words. His eyes narrowed on my lips, but he didn’t answer.

For a moment all I heard was the steady drip of spilled wine falling on the stone floor.

“You don’t have much of a right to be jealous, anyway,” he finally said, finishing off the next bottle. “Seeing as you’re still so hung up on that human filth in the cells beneath us.”

The thought of Halden killed my happy buzz almost immediately.

I looked down at my hands. “I don’t think he’s below us anymore.” “Not an earthquake, then?”

I shook my head. “And you knew?”

I couldn’t bear to look up and see his rage at my betrayal. I didn’t say anything.

“Well, I hope for your sake he escaped. If my men caught him, he won’t live to see daybreak.”

I turned my face further away from Kane, so he couldn’t see my expression. It would give away the pain that I felt at the thought of Halden’s death.

“What did they want? In the vault?” I asked.

“Something that hadn’t been there for a long time.”

Kane stood and began to pace in the small space. He reminded me of a caged beast, hackles raised and power rippling off of him. The musty cellar with its low ceiling was too small to hold all of him in.

He cursed under his breath and turned to me. “I have to leave tomorrow. I’ll be back as quickly as I can. But Arwen, don’t go chasing after him while I’m gone.” He knelt down. “There is evil lurking beyond these walls, waiting for you to make a single misstep.”

I turned his plea over in my mind. I had heard these warnings before, but Halden’s voice echoed in my ears. The woods aren’t as dangerous as I’m sure they’ve led you to believe.

He could tell I didn’t believe him. I could see it in his eyes. He looked like he was on the precipice of an enormously difficult decision.

“I have to explain something to you.”

I wanted to urge him to continue—I’d kill for answers—but felt at any moment he might change his mind.

“Arwen,” he paused, running his hands through his hair in exasperation. “He’s a murderer.”

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