Chapter no 19

A Dawn of Onyx

A sickening shiver kissed down my spine.

What was he talking about? I shook my head. “No, you’re a murderer.”

Kane looked around in exasperation. “Perhaps so, but I do not make a habit of killing innocents in cold blood.”

My body went rigid. “Neither does Halden.”

“He was an assassin for the Amber King. He—”

“I’m sure you have assassins.” I could hear my voice rising in pitch. Kane’s face hardened.

I remembered what sheer power he possessed and felt myself shrink backward.

“What is your obsession with comparing us? I’m not claiming to be anything I am not.” When I didn’t respond, he softened, but his tone was still bitter. “Your precious King Gareth sent Halden’s unit into Onyx to kill Fae.”

My entire body seized. I couldn’t move—couldn’t breathe. I pressed my hands against the cool stone floor to ground myself.

“I didn’t tell you because it is a burden to understand what is truly at stake. I didn’t wish to hurt you. But watching you pine over the spineless twit is making me… aggravated.”

The room wouldn’t stay still. My heart spun in my chest.

“So they’re…” I swallowed a lump in my throat. “They’re real? “How much do you know of them…the Fae?”

“Not much,” I admitted, still reeling. “Ancient, violent creatures. Very scary, very old, very dead.”

“Centuries ago, there was an entire realm of them. Mortals too. But the Fae were a dying breed and eventually their king was the last true Fae that lived.”

I had gone completely rigid. My eyes felt as wide as the sea, and I tried to get a handle on my breathing and my swimming thoughts. The wine was really not helping.

“What does that mean? ‘true Fae’?”

“He was full-blooded. No mortal heritage. But he was the last one. Even his children weren’t full-blooded, since his queen’s grandmother had been a witch. The land they inhabited, the Fae realm, was growing bare of resources. Fae children were rare, but mortals were fertile, and the more mortal children born into the realm, the more mouths to feed, homes to build, and wars to fight.

“The realm functioned on a unique Fae power, called lighte, which every Fae was born with. It could be bottled and sold, used to fuel anything. It could heal, build, destroy. But it came to them from deep within the Fae land, and it wasn’t infinite. That’s why Faeries aren’t born here in Evendell. “With fewer Fae, lighte grew rarer and even more valuable. Soon, the realm couldn’t support the influx of people, turning the once magical world into a barren wasteland. Ash rained from the sky, lush green meadows turned to cracked, dry earth. Earthquakes, fire rain, and the birth of demons that thrived in such conditions plagued the realm. The people starved and suffered. They begged the Fae King, Lazarus, to be kinder to the realm, to

ration the lighte, to find other resources, but he refused.”

“How do I not know any of this?” The story was like an old cautionary tale. I thought better of my question. “Or, how do scholars and bookworms like Mari not know any of this?”

“Only high-ranking nobles and royalty from Onyx know the truth. And you.” Warmth flashed across his face. My heart fluttered.

“Why only Onyx?” I asked.

“When refugees from the realm began to make their way over to Evendell, Onyx was the closest kingdom. Some traveled instantly with lighte or witch magic. Others braced themselves for the long and

treacherous journey across forbidden lands and seas. Few survived. When Lazarus realized his subjects were leaving, he built a wall to keep his people in. He convinced them it kept them safe from all those who wished to steal their lighte.”

“A seer, a type of Fae whose power draws visions from the future, was pulled from slumber one night to deliver a prophecy.”

The seer was Fae…and the prophecy Kane had referenced all those months ago had been about the Fae King. But what did that have to do with him? Or Halden?

“A small but powerful group used her foresight to lead a rebellion to save the realm, but it failed.” He clenched his jaw. “Thousands died. In their retreat, a mere hundred Fae got out and came here to Onyx, to start fresh. Which is why there are still Fae and halflings in the kingdom to this day.”

Horror at his words made my heart rattle in my chest. “How did they get out?” I asked.

His eyes had turned sorrowful. “At enormous personal cost.”

My mind was reeling. All along, the Fae had been real. And some even lived here, today, in Onyx.

I shook my head, unable to find adequate words for my shock.

“I have about a hundred questions,” I said, staring at the barrels of wine in front of me. Kane’s answering smirk said what a surprise.

“But what does this history lesson have to do with Halden?”

His pupils flared. “About three years ago, my spies informed me that King Gareth had struck a deal with King Lazarus.”

Icy dread slunk down my spine. “He’s still alive?”

“Any Fae that are more than half-blooded can live for a very long time. Lazarus is probably encroaching on a millennium. He promised Gareth and his highest dignitaries untold power, riches, and lighte, in return for fresh land, devoid of people.”

“How…?” I didn’t know how to finish the sentence. Unimaginable horror washed over me. I reached for another bottle of birchwine.

“Lazarus will have no problem turning an entire mortal kingdom to ash if

it means a fresh start for the Fae left in his kingdom,” said Kane, watching a stream of spilled wine slowly crawl across the dusty cellar floor.

“So, he destroyed his world with greed and now that it can no longer serve him, he wants to take ours?”

Kane’s jaw clenched. “Exactly. I tried to convince Gareth that he couldn’t trust Lazarus, that I could give him any riches he desired. But the imbecile wouldn’t be swayed. Now, Lazarus and Gareth are gathering more allies to wage war on Evendell.”

“I still don’t understand why Gareth and Lazarus would want the Fae murdered. Aren’t those Lazarus’ people? His subjects?”

Kane heaved a heavy sigh. “They’re his defectors. Any Fae here in Onyx or otherwise are living proof of those that escaped his realm.” Kane rubbed his jaw in thought. “He’s a very vengeful king. Likely makes everything you once thought about me look like child’s play.”

Guilt bubbled up inside me.

“Is that why Onyx attacked Amber? Those with Fae blood live in your kingdom, and Gareth was murdering them?” Hadn’t Halden said something like that? My mind was like tangled bed sheets. I couldn’t believe Halden had lied to me. I wanted to punch him in the face.

“In part. It’s more complicated than that.”

It always was. “Why are you here then? And not in Willowridge, protecting your people?”

Kane ran a hand down his face, clearly regretting his decision to share anything with me. “The Fae King wants me. Even more than the defectors. I’m keeping my city safe by staying here, in the stronghold. Away from them.”

Fear that I never expected crept into my soul. Fear of my own King Gareth, of what might happen if his army took the castle. “Are we safe here?”

“For now. Unless the cretin tells Gareth I’m here.” It wasn’t the most comforting answer.

“Great,” I said, my voice dripping with sarcasm. “I helped set a murderer free who has been killing innocents, and I get the pleasure of being a

prisoner in a castle that is doomed to fall any day now to a vicious Fae King because of it. I’m on quite the roll.”

Kane scoffed. “We both know you haven’t been a prisoner here in a long time. Yet, you stay.”

The too familiar stab of guilt bloomed in my chest once more. I shouldn’t tell him.

I didn’t have to tell him anything.

But still—the words pressed on my tongue, as he beheld me with soft curiosity.

No. He had kept so much from me, I didn’t owe him anything. Why did I feel the need to—

“I was going to leave.” I blurted. “Tonight.” Damned wine.

Kane’s expression was unreadable.

“But I ended up stuck in here, so Halden’s likely gone without me.” I wouldn’t have known Kane’s fury had I not glanced at his hands. His knuckles were rigid and white along his fists as he clenched and unclenched his palms. “I don’t understand why it matters to you, I’m not your property.”

“I know that.” He sounded exasperated.

“And I’m grateful that you are trying to find my family, and I’m not as miserable here as a healer as I thought I would be, but you have to understand. Halden was like family. I had to leave with him if I had a chance.”

“I know.”

“And had I just—”

“Arwen,” he turned to face me, his expression one of frustration more than rage. “I am not angry that you planned to leave. I am angry that the imbecile left you behind.”

Now I was completely confused. And it was not the wine’s fault. “What? You wanted me to leave with a Faerie murderer?”

Kane’s mouth quirked slightly. “No,” he said, trying for patience. “Never mind.”

I shook my head.

He was upset about… my honor. I almost laughed.

After everything, he hadn’t really been a monster. Not at all.

“So all the things I thought of you—that the entire continent did. The war you waged—it was all to fight this Fae King?”

“Well,” he said ruefully, a slight grin working its way onto his face, “Don’t chalk it all up to virtue. I am still a bit of a prick.”

I couldn’t even muster a smile at his words. I was still trying to put all the pieces together in my mind.

The Fae, the upcoming war, the even more wicked king. The prophecy… I recalled the words that had kept me up so many nights here in


‘You know the seer’s words as well as I do. Time is running out. We have less than a year.’

“What did the prophecy foretell?”

“That is a conversation for another day.” His tired gaze raked down the column of my throat. “A more sober day.”

I nodded. It was enough information—I wasn’t sure I could take anymore.

He finished the next bottle of birchwine and laid back against the wall beside me, closing his eyes. After long minutes passed like water droplets sliding off a sweating glass, my mind spinning with knowledge of all that I had misunderstood, I couldn’t stand the silence anymore.

“Have we been in here for a hundred years?” I asked, watching him rest. His face was immaculate. As if it had been carved by the Stones themselves.

I wondered if he felt any relief in sharing so much with me, or if that intimacy had scared him. Made him feel weak, as he had once feared.

“Yes,” he said, eyes still closed. “Why are you staring at me?” I looked away instantly. “I’m not.”

“It’s only fair. I’ve stared at you. Most of the time I can’t seem to look at anything else.”

I turned to face him again and found him looking right at me, just as he

said. Like this, our faces were far too close together. I needed to pull away but felt inexplicably tied to his gaze. His restless eyes studied mine. Slate gray on olive green, and my heart hammered in my chest.

His hand made its way to my face, carefully, as if not to spook me. He brushed a thumb against my cheek, and I let out an involuntary hum.

Kane’s expression shifted. I knew it was need in his eyes, and that they reflected the need in my own. I couldn’t deny it a minute longer. The attraction I felt for him was like a dull ache that never left me. I licked my bottom lip, in hopes of conveying exactly what I wanted. Had I been a little braver—or had one more swig of wine—I might have just taken it for myself. But there was something about him that was still frightening, only maybe now for different reasons.

He watched as my tongue caressed my bottom lip, and his hand laced through my hair, cupping the side of my face. Tightening just enough to make my toes curl. I must have whimpered, because he pulled himself closer to me until I could feel the heat of his breath on my mouth. He smelled like wine, leather, and mint. I closed my eyes and leaned into his touch.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” An exasperated male voice came from the doorway, which had been wrenched open.

I jumped about a foot in the air and scrambled away from Kane, who stayed perfectly still on the floor. Griffin and a handful of soldiers and guards crowded the doorway.

“Commander,” Kane greeted him casually. “It’s about time.”


After we had left the wine cellar, Kane sent me to the infirmary while he and Griffin surveyed the damage. Thankfully, very few had been harmed in the explosion. I tended to a few concussed Peridot and Onyx revelers, and two prison guards who had taken the brunt of the burns from Halden’s explosion. It may not have been my finest work, as I was still fairly sloshed, but thankfully my healing abilities were second nature. I hadn’t gotten back to my room until the wee hours of the night.

My feet ached as I opened the door to my quarters.

I felt his presence in the dimly lit bedroom instantly. Kane was lying on my bed, one hand behind his head—the picture of comfort.

“If I had a sack of coin for every time I found you somewhere you shouldn’t be, I would be a very rich healer.”

A laugh breezed out of him. “How was the infirmary?”

I slipped my shoes off, feet aching, and climbed into bed beside him in all my clothes.

“Exhausting. And I may have operated on some soldiers a little smashed. But they’re tough. Who needs all five fingers anyway?” He stared at me in shock until a laugh burst out of me. “Kidding. Everyone seems to be fine, if not a little shaken up.”

Sighing, I studied the knots in the wooden ceiling above us. He followed suit.

“I’m glad to hear it.”

I turned to face him. “So, what happens now?”

“My best spies are tracking the Amber men as we speak. Tomorrow, Griffin and I will go after any leads they find. We need to catch them before they give Gareth and Lazarus any intel on me, or Shadowhold. The entire keep and visiting Peridot nobles believe the disruption to be a kitchen mishap. Not much else we can do tonight.”

“And how much trouble am I in?” I prepared myself for the worst.

“Truth be told, bird, I only blame myself. I should have known to never threaten someone you care about. You love too fiercely.”

I wanted to remind him I wasn’t in love with Halden, before I realized he didn’t mean romantic love. His tolerance toward my betrayal was shocking. “Well. I am sorry for my part in it. Had I known who he was…” I had no

idea how to finish that sentence.

Kane just nodded and stared once more at the wooden slats of the ceiling above us.

“I have so many questions from earlier. About the history of the Fae.

Mari would probably vibrate with curiosity.”

Kane’s mouth quirked up, but he didn’t say more, and I didn’t ask. Maybe

I felt like after what I had done to help Halden escape I didn’t deserve to grill him.

We sat in comfortable silence for a moment. I wasn’t sure if it was the wine still coursing through my veins, the relief of finally understanding the man beside me, or the late, strange hour of the night, but I couldn’t find it in me to make myself hate Kane a minute longer.

Truth was, I probably hadn’t really hated him since our day in the forest. “Tell me about Abbington.”

His words caught me off guard and I stiffened imperceptibly. “I’ve already told you. What did you call it? A collection of huts?”

But he only shook his head and fixed his gaze on me. “No, the good—tell me what you liked about growing up there.”

It was easier than I expected to step right back into the glade outside my house, the cobblestone streets, the small cottages and farmhouses. I could smell the crisp air, the year-round corn harvest, the steam billowing off my cranberry and apple tea, warm inside my chilly kitchen.

“It wasn’t glamorous, we didn’t have the finery that you have even here in the middle of the woods. But everyone was kind, tried to help each other. The taverns were warm and full, the sunsets were spectacular each night over the mountains. I don’t know… it was home.”

“And your family? What are they like?”

“Leigh, my little sister, is a menace. She’s way too smart for her age, and always speaks whatever is on her mind. But she’s so sharp, so witty. She really makes me laugh. You would love her. Ryder is the charmer. He has the kind of confidence even charlatans would follow blindly. I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t completely enamored by him. Even our parents. And my mother,” I turned to face Kane, whose expression had grown wistful. The twist in my heart forced me to trail off.

“Your mother?”

I cleared my throat. “She used to sing while she cooked, when she was healthier. She always made up these songs that never sounded quite right. Trying to rhyme celery and friendly and things like that,” I smiled even though my throat was squeezing. “She made everything better. Every bad

day in school, every splinter, every time I felt so scared I couldn’t breathe. She was ill my whole life and never complained. Not once.”

“I’m sorry,” Kane said, eyes almost wounded. “About what this war has done to your home and to your family. I swear I will find them for you.” I nodded. I believed him. “And one day, when Lazarus is defeated, I will rebuild all the cities and villages like yours that fell. Restore homes, heal the injured.”

“I can help you with that last one,” I said, before realizing how pathetic it sounded. Practically begging him to keep me around. Take me with him.

His eyes lit with a new expression. Something I couldn’t quite place, there and gone like a flash of lightning. “Is healing your favorite thing to do, bird? Or do you do it simply because of your gift?”

“I do love it. Healing people. And I like that I’m good at it. Is that conceited?”

His mouth lifted in a smile. “Of course not.”

“But my favorite thing to do… I love running. If I could, I would run each morning and night. I’d sleep like a baby. I really love flowers, too. I think I could have enjoyed being an herbalist. And Mari’s gotten me quite into reading. I like the love stories and the epic, fantastical tales of pirates and conquerors.”

He huffed in amusement.

“You don’t like to read?” I asked.

“I do.” He tucked a rogue brown strand that had cluttered my face behind my ear, and my whole body lit up like a matchstick. I willed myself to be calm, but my toes twitched, and I was sure that he saw. “But as you said tonight, I am old and dull. I like political tomes.”

I mocked dying slowly from boredom, which earned me a gorgeous grin. “Fine. What else do you love?” I needed more. I loved learning about the

non-wicked-king side of Kane. I pictured him in another life, buttering cloverbread and reading a large, boring book in a little cottage by the sea, while babies slept in the next room. Whether or not I was somewhere else in that cottage, taking a soapy bath, I tried not to dwell on.

“Well, you know I loved playing the lute growing up. I like to play chess

with Griffin. He’s the only one who can beat me.” “Such a humble king,” I teased.

“Truth is, I don’t do too much that I enjoy anymore.”

The thought made me unbearably sad. “Well, we’ll have to change that. When this war is over, and you can spare a moment from your kingly duties, I will take you to my favorite grassy hill above my home in Amber. There is nothing a mug of cider and a sunset over the town square in Abbington can’t cure.”

“You’re very good at that.” “Good at what?”

“Relentless positivity.”

Humor twitched at my lips. “That doesn’t sound like a good thing.” “There is nothing more valuable in a world as dark as ours.”

We were both on our sides now, staring at one another. There was far too little space between us and also, somehow, too much. It was torturous. I searched my brain for another question to break the tension.

“The last time you surprised me like this I still thought you were a prisoner. Why did you come visit me that night?”

“What do you mean?”

“The first time we met, you were in the dungeons to manipulate someone else for information. The second, you needed medical assistance. I’m the only healer, you thought I might not help you if you admitted you were the king—fine, makes sense. But the third time you were just outside my cell, waiting for me. You told me you were seeing if I was still planning to run. But I didn’t believe you then and I sure don’t now. So, why?”

He ran a hand over his jaw in thought. “What I told you that night was true. I had been dealing with something unpleasant. Afterward, I think I just wanted to… be near you.”

My pulse quickened and I waited for more. More, more, more.

“Not as the king I knew you hated. But as a man you had come to like.” He shook his head and sighed. “And a man I had come to like.”

So I had been right, after the day we raced to the pond.

The monster act was a purposeful one, to be to others what he felt inside.

I chose my next words carefully. “You said a while ago that maybe I didn’t think so highly of myself.” Heat burned my cheeks at the admission, but I pressed on. “That I had thought my life was worth less than my brother’s. I realized not too long after how little I had stood up for myself or thought of myself, for so many years. Is it possible you suffer from a similar affliction?”

Kane wove my hand in his. His palm was rough and warm and dwarfed mine twice over.

“Such a perceptive bird. I fear my condition is far worse. You have been surrounded by people who have told you such things. Dim-witted fools, all of them.”

He was warring with whatever he wanted to say next, I could tell. I waited patiently.

“I have harmed many people, Arwen. I bring pain wherever I go. I hurt people. Often those I care about most.”

I knew it was true, but it was worse hearing him admit it.

“There is always another day, Kane. A chance to make things right with them.”

“No, there isn’t.”

His grave eyes glinted in the candlelight, and I released a slow breath. “Isn’t that a little… definitive? Everyone is capable of redemption.”

“They’re dead, Arwen. Because of me.” I started at the harshness of his words. The self-loathing and pain entwined in them—no wonder he thought he was a monster. “There is no redemption,” he continued, pulling his hand from mine. “Only revenge.”

“Sounds like a very lonely way to live.”

“Yes.” He said it like he deserved such an existence.

The guilt and anger that throbbed in his voice nearly choked me. “Is that why…” It was a delicate question to phrase, but it had been burning in my mind for too long. “You’ve never taken a queen?”

“I’m not sure that’s a fitting punishment for anyone,” he said, a bitter laugh falling from his lips. “Even by my standards, and ‘love of torture,’ as you like to say. Nobody deserves to suffer the eternal fate of being my


Self-deprecating Kane—that was new.

Or maybe not. I hadn’t known him all too well until tonight, I realized.

He sat up a little bit. “For what it’s worth, Griffin is a much bigger fan of those tactics you claim I love than I’ve ever been. Very tough military parents. He even once suggested we get you to talk in such a way.” Kane’s eyes went viciously black at some memory and my heart raced.

“Get me to talk? To say what?”

“There was a blade taken from my vault years ago. Griffin thought maybe you might know something, since our last lead at the time was in Amber. It’s what your pigeon-brained lover was looking for.” He said the word with a grimace.

I was sick of Kane assuming Halden and I had been together in that way, when we hadn’t. Especially now that I knew what he was capable of.

“He was never my lover. We didn’t…” I drew in an awkward breath. “Ah.”

“I haven’t. With anyone.” He had been right, that day in the throne room. And something about the strange hour of the night, like a private pocket of our own, coupled with our closeness on a bed, was pulling intimate admissions from me. Maybe I was still drunk.

His expression was unreadable, but he had the decency to move past my unnecessary confession.

“But you felt something for him.”

“I’m not sure. I think he was what was expected of me, and I wanted very badly to be what my family wanted. I didn’t feel anything when we kissed in the dungeons, though.” Shit. Definitely still drunk.

Kane’s eyes were like razors skating over me. His jaw had gone rigid. I cringed. “What?”

“Fuck,” he sighed, running a hand down his tense face. “I want to eradicate him for getting to touch you, let alone kiss you. It’s making me physically sick,” he rested his face in his hand. “Since when am I such a jealous schoolboy?”

My heart walloped and I fought a smile. I was becoming addicted to his


“But if I recall, I’m ‘not exactly your type’?”

His face twisted, dark brows pulling in. “I’m not sure what ever compelled me to say that.”

“I think I had insulted you.”

“Ah, one of the many very sexy things you do so well.”

The word sexy falling from his mouth imprinted on my brain like a wax seal, and I blushed, suddenly wishing my room was even darker. There was nowhere to hide my face this close to his. His golden skin glowed in the soft candlelight. His beauty was almost alarming this close up.

He looked at me in earnest. “It was a very rude thing of me to say, and likely said in… self-preservation. Forgive me, Arwen. Nothing has ever been further from the truth.”

Maybe I should have told him how I felt. But it was too much for me to even begin to share. Bigger than me. Bigger than him.

Truthfully, it frightened me.

All I knew for certain was that I trusted him more now than I had ever expected to, and that I should tell him about my plans to get the burrowroot tomorrow night, during the eclipse. Maybe he could help me make it safely in and out of the woods unscathed.

But I didn’t have the energy left to argue with him if he deemed it unsafe. After everything he had told me about the Fae King and the woods beyond the castle, I doubt he’d want to risk any of his guards’ lives, or even less his own to get a single root for my mother—who I might never see again—for a potion that might not even work.

My eyelids had started to feel like lead pulling my lashes down. My entire head was heavy from the wine, and the onslaught of information I had learned tonight.

Kane ran a few lazy fingers through my hair, lulling my eyes shut and slowing my spinning mind.

I’d ask him about the burrowroot first thing tomorrow.

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