Chapter no 22

A Dawn of Onyx

Relentless, excruciating pain coursed through my body, shocking me into consciousness. I sucked in a lungful of air and swallowed hard.

Salt dripped into my eyelashes. My mouth tasted like coins.

I could barely make out the shapes moving like a dust storm around me. Women with damp cloths and a man wrapping my wrist in gauze. Someone was stitching up my face. The needle tugging at my skin was a dull ache compared to the searing in my chest and roaring behind my eyes.

Some cobwebbed, rational corner of my mind wondered who was healing me if I was the castle healer. I laughed out loud, and the focused men and women exchanged furtive looks, and only seemed spurred to work quicker.

I tried to press my palm into my chest, but the woman next to me kept pushing my hand out of the way. It didn’t matter, I had no power left. I had used all my healing abilities on the chimera. When had that been?

I could barely keep my eyes from fluttering closed and fought to peer through the sheer drapery that surrounded me.

It was a room I had never been in, shrouded in navy curtains and filled with leather furniture. A handful of black candles with curled wicks burned in the dim light. Something smelled familiar, like home, but I couldn’t place it.

Lilies in stone vases peppered the space. Where had those come from?

The delicate white flowers played against the soft candlelight.


Also, sweltering.

About a million degrees and suffocating me. I tried to sit up. I needed fresh air, right now.

Warm, broad hands held me down.

“Try to stay still,” Kane murmured, his voice hard as steel. “It’s almost over.”

I whimpered and turned my face away from him, my head foggy and nausea coating my stomach. I was dizzy and hot and freezing. I needed water.

“I’ll get it for you.” His familiar scent disappeared, and my throat closed up at the loss. He was back moments later and gently pressed the glass to my dry, cracked lips.

A sharp burst of pain echoed through my chest, and I choked on the agony.

“You’re torturing her!” Kane roared at someone, but I could not see anything through the blinding anguish. I heard the glass of water shatter on the floor.

“The venom has to be purged, my King. This is all that we can do.”

“Please,” he begged. Actually begged. “Then please, just work faster.”

“We are trying, but—” a woman’s voice. The fear in her words was contagious and soaked into my already shivering bones.

“No,” he breathed. It was almost a sob. “There might not be—”

The truest, most piercing agony I had ever felt seared through my chest, into my bones, down to my toes, through my very soul—

I screamed a bloody, gargled wail into the overheated room. Sweat dripped from my brows and stung my eyes.

I couldn’t endure it. I couldn’t I couldn’t I couldn’t—

“No!” he roared, and this time, wisps of twisted black shadow filled the tented gossamer of the bed, snuffing out all the light and bathing the room in stark black midnight.

The specters drowned out my suffering in an instant. What was anguish

—pure anguish, was now… nothing. Numb, cold, nothing. I reached for Kane, in relief, confusion—but found only the swift and heavy comfort of sleep as my eyes fell closed instead.


A sharp stab of pain exploded through my back. I snapped my eyes open and was somewhere unfamiliar.

Or worse, somewhere all too familiar, a place I hadn’t been in years.

I was staring at the dark wood floor of Powell’s work shed. It wasn’t even worth looking to the door or windows. I knew they were locked, that I was trapped inside. I braced myself for another lash of pain, but it didn’t come. I peered up and instantly regretted it. Powell stood over me, face bright red and snarling, belt raised.

“Weak girl,” he said, spitting. Tears spilled over my cheeks and snot bubbled at my nose.

“I have asked you three times this week not to play in the kitchen,” he said, voice booming off the walls of the cold, empty shed. I didn’t want to cower, but I couldn’t help it. I shrunk into myself, hoping my back might soon stop pulsing in pain. I knew better than to speak.

“You’re infuriating. Making me teach you this way.” He was right. He only ever hurt me, because I was the worst. Why couldn’t I be stronger? Smarter? I hated that everything he said about me was true.

“You are a poison in this family, Arwen. You’re killing your mother.”

As he lifted his hand to strike me again, I called out, begging him to stop, but nobody heard me.


“Shh, Arwen. Nobody is hurting you. You’re going to be all right.” I sobbed and sobbed, cries wracking through me at the pain.

Please stop, I thought. I can’t take any more.

“Stop what? Arwen?” He sounded frantic. Scared. But so was I.


The bed was like a bath of silk, soaking me in sheets and leaving me weightless. Layers of gossamer lined the four-post bed, and twinkling lights peeked through in pockets. I hadn’t noticed a fireplace before, but the

fickle, dancing flames through the canopy were a comfort. A slow lullaby sounded from an instrument somewhere. Haunted and bewitching, the notes weaved through the room, like wisps of moonlight. It made me want to sing. Or maybe cry.

“You’re awake,” Kane said, from a corner of the room I couldn’t see. My eyes ached with tears at the soft sound of his voice.

The melancholy song ceased, and I heard him place something on the floor.

What had I seen before falling unconscious? The images of black, mist-like smoke coiling around me, lulling me into sleep, were hazy but I knew I had seen them. The feeling—it hadn’t been like anything I had felt before. Not like magic, not like a potion. It was as if something had seeped inside my soul and eased my anguish. It was a dark and twisted mercy of some kind.

Kane approached me slowly and held his cool palm on my forehead. It felt delicious. I leaned into it like an animal, rubbing my hot face on his hand.

“I have something even better for you.”

I whimpered at the loss of contact. The bed shifted and Kane was beside me, pulling my body against his and laying a cold compress on my forehead. It felt like heaven, and I turned my face away so he could run it along my neck and shoulders and arms—

My eyes shot open. “What am I wearing?” I could hear the slurring of my words.

Kane blushed. He was so cute.

“Thank you, bird. You’re in one of my shirts. It was all I had.”

I nodded my face into his body, cradling my aching wrist against his chest.

“You’re warm,” I said.

“Not as warm as you. Your fever hasn’t subsided.” I hummed.

“Arwen,” he continued. “Why were you in the woods tonight?” He paused. His poor eyes were anguished. “I could have lost you.”

He held my wrist to him like it was very delicate. My heart thumped.

“I tried to find you.” I peered up and was met with a pained expression. I reached my good hand toward his rumpled brows and touched his temple. “It’s all right, I got what I needed.”

“And what was that?”

“For my mother. To heal her.”

Kane nodded, but I could tell he had no idea what I was saying. “Sleep, little bird. I’ll be right here.”

So I did.


I woke to shuddering and gasping. I looked around for the source only to realize the grotesque noises were coming from me. It was midday, and I felt like a hog roasting over a spit. I lashed at the sheets and rolled around, searching for some relief from the mountains of covers that swallowed me whole. I rolled onto a hard body and knew from the familiar scent it was Kane. He smelled like a sweaty cedar tree. If it had been doused in whiskey and set on fire.

“Clearly, I need to bathe,” he said, his voice laced with sleep.

I had to stop doing that—my fever was making it impossible to tell my thoughts from my words. I was a delirious mess, everything was blurring together, and I thought I might have been babbling. Damn this fever.

Kane’s answering laugh shook the mattress beneath us. Ugh. Had I said that out loud too?

“Why are you in my bed?” I asked. I was aiming for snarky, but it came out like a lost child.

“Actually, you are in my bed.”

I held my ground. “Why am I in your bed?”

Kane laughed again, a bright and hearty boom that brought a lopsided grin to my groggy face.

“It’s so good to have you back, even just a little.”

I wasn’t sure where I had gone but I smiled anyway. “You’re welcome.”

“Can you eat?” He made to leave the bed in search of food, but I wrapped

my arms and legs around him like a vine.

“Don’t leave,” I was pathetic. It was all right. I had made peace with it in death.

“You aren’t dead, Arwen.”

Of course I was. He was reading my mind, and I was pantsless.

“I’m not reading your mind, you’re talking to me. And you’re pantsless because you keep taking off your pants.” he motioned toward the floor, and I peered over to see my leathers in a heap. I whispered an internal prayer of thanks to the Stones that there were no undergarments down there as well. I curled toward him again.

“I can’t keep holding you like this,” he said. His body had tensed. I couldn’t tell if I had dreamt it. “But I can’t seem to let you go either.”

“What was that?” I asked. “The…” I didn’t know how to explain it. The twisted darkness that had filled his room like living shadows.

But he knew.

“I want to share everything, Arwen… but it would only bring you more suffering.”

I pried one eye open to look at him, but he was staring out the window at the sun as it slipped behind the woods below us.

“I’m stronger than you think.”

“No, bird. You’re stronger than any of us. It is only you who doesn’t think so.”


The clumsy giants were back, but this time they had brought friends who also lacked rhythm. I rubbed at my temples and tried to swallow, my mouth feeling like cotton. But my vision and thoughts were clear—the fever had finally passed.

I sat up and stretched. Every joint in my body, from my fingers to my neck, popped and cracked with relief.

And I was starving.

I slipped out of the bed, my bare feet on the cool, wood floor, and assessed the room that smelled so brightly of lilies. So these were Kane’s

private quarters. They were more colorful than I had expected. Whimsical blue throws and sultry violet curtains popped against the dark wood floors, stone walls, and cluttered shelves. Stacks of the historical books he had told me about framed his bedside. It was so lived in, so masculine. Not at all cold or sterile as I had once imagined.

The balcony doors were open and I stepped outside, soaking in the fresh air and summer sunshine like a wilted flower after a storm. I stretched my arms high above my head, and the breeze grazed over my thighs and bottom.

Oh, right. No pants.

I went back inside for them, but my leathers were so stiff and caked in dirt, blood, and pond water I couldn’t bear to slide them on.

Behind the four-poster bed was a closet filled with mostly black, kingly attire. In the far corner was a full-length mirror. I prepared myself for the worst and approached.

In some ways, it wasn’t as bad as I expected. My legs were mostly fine, minus a few scrapes and bruises. I was grateful to be in undergarments that covered my ass and most of my stomach. Kane’s large, black tunic fit me more like a dress, and I heaved a sigh of relief. One point scored for modesty.

In other ways, it was really, very bad.

My face looked horrific. Like a deranged swamp witch. My eyes lacked their usual olive color, I was too pale, and my lips were cracked. The stitches on my cheek cut across me like tracks, and my lower lip was still bruised from the night of the explosion. Even my wrist, despite the wrappings, was purple and swollen.

I held my palm to my cheek and breathed deeply, feeling the welcome sting of my skin lacing itself together again and pushing the stitches out of my face. I was still so weak—but I had enough left to make a slight dent in the healing process. Within a couple of days, it would barely be noticeable. But that wasn’t the worst of it.

It was time to see the real damage.

The buttons of Kane’s tunic were easy to undo, but I was terrified to look

at my reflection. I wasn’t necessarily a vain person, but I knew whatever injury I had sustained from the wolfbeast would be with me for life.

Peeling back the bandages revealed a large gash that ripped me from my collarbone to the top of my breast. The healers had stitched it up beautifully, I would have to thank them somehow.

For the first time, I had someone actually tend to me after I had been injured. It was a strange comfort, to not have been alone, healing my wounds.

But in looking at the stitches, an image of the white of my own collarbone flashed in my mind, and I gripped the ornate armoire to steady myself. I wasn’t squeamish; my professional assessment was that the dizzy spell was more likely due to dehydration. I made my way back into the bedroom and found Kane setting a breakfast tray on the bed for me.

“You’re up,” he said, eyes following my bare legs. A grin tugged at my lips. His shameless ogling felt like a sign that I was no longer his patient. I self-consciously patted my wild hair.

“I am,” I said. “What’s this?”

I climbed into bed and tucked a rebellious lock behind my ear. Fine, I wanted to look nice for him. Maybe hours of fevered, sweaty, bloodied Arwen could be erased by a decent comb.

“This is breakfast. How’s the wound?”

“It’s uncomfortable,” I admitted. “But better than I expected given the fever. I don’t want to know what kind of venom was in the beast’s claws. Thank you, Kane. For everything.”

He only nodded.

The food before me was mouthwatering. Three boiled eggs, two loaves of cloverbread with a dollop of honeyed butter, a sliced apple, and some grilled pork. I practically drooled.

And, candidly, it wasn’t the only mouthwatering part of breakfast. Kane looked downright delectable. His shirt was unbuttoned, exposing a slight dusting of dark, curled chest hair. His black locks were swept away from his face, and slight stubble sprinkled his face. I hadn’t ever seen him with facial hair before. I resisted the all-consuming urge to cup his jaw in my hand.

“You have a beard,” I said, around a mouthful of apple.

He cocked his head and joined me on the bed, resting his hand on my forehead.

I laughed and covered my mouth. “Not the fever talking. Just a lack of filter.” A horrific thought dawned on me as I wondered what humiliating things I must have said while sick. As if he could read my mind, Kane’s lips curved in a mischievous smile. I raised an eyebrow in question.

“Oh, you don’t even want to know,” he purred.

“Stop that. You’re lying.” I was going for outrage, but his charm had turned my admonishment into flirting. Damn him.

“You’ll never know.”

“Add it to the list,” I mumbled, and took a huge bite of the sweet bread. When he didn’t respond I turned to face him, but he was lost in thought.

“I don’t mean to keep things from you, Arwen.” I didn’t like when he used my name. Not that I fully understood the feathered nickname, but I had come to learn that ‘Arwen’ meant only bad news. “There is some knowledge that would only bring you more pain.”

His words brought back a singular memory of the strange power that had seeped out from him when I was dying, and brought me into a sleeplike state. Stronger than any medicine, but not quite unconsciousness.

My breathing went shallow.

I scrambled back on the bed away from him. “You…”

“So you remember that.” He said, his face solemn, resigned.

“What was that? Are you… some kind of warlock?” But I knew—that had not been magic.

He frowned. “Perhaps if I had told you weeks ago, you wouldn’t have nearly died.”

I wanted to ask how the two things were at all related.

“Finish eating,” he said after a moment. “Then, let’s take a walk.”

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