Chapter no 26

A Dawn of Onyx

Only slightly worse for wear and in Garnet clothes I couldn’t have imagined any of them wearing, were my family. My mother, Leigh,

and Ryder were seated at a wooden table with Griffin and Mari, laughing and eating. My face crumpled and I couldn’t control the tears that spilled down.

I ran to them, throwing myself at Leigh first.

“What the—” But when she realized it was me, she squealed. Her little arms wrapping around me only made me cry harder. Later, I would take the time to inspect every finger and every toe and prove to myself that she was really all right.

“I missed you so much. And I love you, but I can’t breathe!”

I released her, but only to get a good look at her face. She was thinner than when I last saw her, but she was beaming at me, and her expression lit up her sunken cheeks.

I looked to Ryder next, as he hustled over and scooped me into his arms.

When he let me go, he appraised my sheer outfit with a grimace. “You look deranged.”

I laughed through my blurry eyes and held him tighter. “Thank you.” I pulled back but kept my voice low. “You kept them safe.”

“Of course I did. What did you do?” “It’s a very long story.”

Then I made my way over to my mother. She didn’t look quite as good as Leigh and Ryder. The months had aged her, and she seemed frail and tired. I crouched down and held her in my arms.

“I can’t believe it. I thought I might never see you again,” she breathed.

My heart rose in my chest like the sun after a storm. Bright and shining and clear. I held her even tighter. “I know.” I said. “I’m so sorry.”

We stayed like that for I don’t know how long. When my back began to ache, I let go and took a seat at the table.

I searched for Kane, only to find him stalking out of the hall with Amelia and Eryx. I ran after them, joy and disbelief making me bold.

“Hey! Wait!” I caught up to him and yanked on his shirt, wiping my eyes with my other hand. “Where are you going?”

Amelia gazed at me with cynical interest next to her father, but I couldn’t be bothered. Not tonight. Not when Kane was looking at me with such affection, my cheeks began to hurt from all the smiling.

“I thought you might want to be alone with them. I have some things to do here before I leave.”

“We do have a war to strategize on, Lady Arwen,” Amelia said, condescension dripping from her voice and even stony features.

“Oh, of course.” I turned back to Kane. “Thank you. I’ll never be able to say it enough—for reuniting us.”

“I told you I would,” he said, eyes shining.

“How did you get here so quickly? From Garnet?”

His head cocked to the side as if he was preparing to answer my question with another question.

“Dragon?” I asked, as if it was completely normal to me.

He smiled a bit. “Yes.” Then, leaning away from our hosts, “I’m not sure who was more thrilled, your mother or the little one.”

“And Ryder?”

“I think he vomited.”

I loosed a too-loud laugh and Kane’s eyes crinkled at my joy. “When do you leave?” I asked.

He shifted his weight and back toward Eryx. “Tomorrow morning.”

“Right,” I said. “Well, even busy kings who are waging wars have to eat. Want to join us? Would probably be the shock of my mother’s life.” I grinned up at him.

His usual wolf-like charm was gone tonight, but he didn’t seem sad,

either. Maybe resigned, which made sense. I understood the severity of the situation. But nothing could take the joy of seeing my family away from me right now.

He glanced at Amelia and Eryx, their faces twin masks of irritation. Then his eyes flit over to the candlelit table that held my family, Mari, his commander.

“Sure,” he said.


Dinner was fascinating.

I had given my mother the burrowroot concoction I brewed on our journey here, and while she wasn’t thrilled with the taste, her face had brightened just over the course of our dinner.

Despite my family’s initial unease at the dark king’s presence, Kane was on his best behavior, and they softened to him one by one. Leigh first, of course—the girl was gutsy. Then Mother, who had many questions for Kane. ‘What does it feel like to carry the burden of a kingdom on your lone shoulders?’ ‘Do the deaths you have caused weigh on you daily?’ Not quite leisurely dinnertime conversation. I tried to convey my displeasure through relentless eye contact.

At least her approach was better than Ryder’s. He had watched us return to the table with a strange look in his eye and hadn’t let up since we sat down. He interrupted my mother’s next question for Kane with one of his own. “So, King Ravenwood,” he asked, bread roll in hand. “How did you end up befriending my sister?” I shot him a dirty glare. I did not care for the emphasis he put on befriending.

Kane gave him that signature wolfish grin. I turned about eight shades of red in anticipation. “She offered to be the healer in my keep in return for the coin you stole. You might owe her your thanks.”

Now it was Ryder’s turn to redden. “Your Majesty, it was a simple life or death scenario. You would have done the same for your family, would you not?”

“I have no family, so I wouldn’t know,” Kane said offhandedly. A twinge

of sadness echoed in my heart at his words. He must have seen my facial expression, as he added, “But I’ll take your word for it.”

Bleeding Stones,” Ryder muttered under his breath, shrinking away. “Language!” Mother hissed at him.

I couldn’t help my smile. I had even missed her ridiculous prudishness.

Mari, too, had lots of questions. Mostly about Abbington and what misconceptions people had about Onyx. Leigh loved her immediately. The two of them were like two halves of a comedy act—finishing each other’s sentences and laughing maniacally at things nobody else at the table found funny.

“That actually brings me to another thought,” Mari said to my mother. “What was the—”

“You’re making the woman choke on her swordfish. Let her eat in peace.” Griffin’s tone was pleasant enough, but Mari shot him a withering glare.

“I’m so sorry, Commander. I forgot how good you are at making conversation. Do you want to compliment her hair?” asked Mari.

A laugh spasmed out of me and I almost spewed papaya all over the table. I grabbed Kane’s arm beside me in between fits of giggles. Kane bit down a laugh at my hysterics. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ryder quirk a brow at the moment between us. I quickly extricated my hand from the king’s sleeve.

“Don’t worry about it, Red. I think she likes being interviewed. Don’t you, Mam?” said Ryder.

My mother smiled and started to speak, but Griffin interrupted. “I don’t know, Red, I think the kid’s just being kind.”

Mari scoffed, and Ryder grinned at Griffin, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “If I’m a kid, what does that make you, Commander?”

“A man,” Griffin said into his food, already bored by the exchange.

“Could’ve fooled me,” Ryder chirped, sending Mari and me into another fit of laughter.

I looked to my left and saw Kane and Leigh deep in conversation. She was explaining something to him with animated expressions and complex

hand gestures. Kane, to his credit, was following intently, chin resting on his fist and nodding along to her story.

I took in this strange group before me and felt as though my heart might burst. It was better than I could ever have imagined, having all of them together.

When dinner ended and we were all full to the brim, rum and carbs coating our stomachs, I rounded to my mother’s chair to help her stand. To my disbelief, she stood up easily.

“Mother!” I said, not even trying to hide my shock.

She moved slowly at first, then found her footing and walked like she used to. Slow, but deliberate. Elegant, even. Leigh and Ryder watched with awe. I felt more tears prick at my eyes. Tonight had to be some kind of happy-crying record.

“Arwen… I don’t have words.” “Me neither. How do you feel?”

“Better. My mind feels less foggy.”

“So, it wasn’t the fever talking,” Kane said.

I whipped to him behind me, his eyes like stars.

“No,” I whispered. What I had done in the woods that night was unbelievably stupid. But nothing could have been more worth it than the look on my mother’s face tonight.

“What’s he talking about?” my mother asked, brow raised.

“Nothing, let me walk you to your room for the night.” I turned to Kane, but he read my thoughts.

“I’ll come see you before I leave. Enjoy your family tonight.” I nodded in thanks.

Halfway up the stairs, my mother turned to me. “So, you’re sleeping with a king. That’s new!”

“Mother!” I gasped, but I was unable to hide my grin.

She laughed. “I’m only teasing. But he is clearly very, very fond of you.”

I felt the familiar tug in my heart. “We are absolutely doing nothing of the sort.” I linked her arm in mine as we rounded the torch-lit hall, “But, I’m fond of him, too. He has been kind to me since I’ve been at Onyx. Despite

everything going on, everything at stake. Well,” I thought better of my phrasing. “His version of kind.”

My mother clucked, patting my hand. “He seems very thoughtful, under all those layers of brooding.” Now it was my turn to laugh. Kane would love that.

“It wasn’t an easy few months, but there were a few silver linings. You would adore the flowers in the Shadowhold gardens. They are the strangest colors I have ever seen.”

She gave me a half smile before going still just a few steps from her room. “Arwen, when Ryder went back for you and saw the… the blood, we thought the worst. I could scarcely sleep knowing we had let you turn back.” She took my hand into hers. “But I am so, so proud of you, Arwen.”

I squeezed her hand tightly, my brows knitting inward. “What for?”

“When the King found us in Garnet, he told us what you did for Ryder. For all of us. How many you had healed in the Onyx Kingdom outpost. I had no idea where you had gone. If you were still alive. But part of me knew all along you would be just fine on your own. That maybe, it was necessary. I fear I sheltered you too much. I just know how dark a place this world can be.”

My thoughts flashed to Bert, the wolfbeast, Halden’s lies. “I’m grateful. Had I known what was out there, I might never have given myself the chance to be brave.”

My mother shook her head and pulled me into her arms. “I’m so lucky to have you as my daughter. The world is a better place seen through your eyes.”

It felt like home, resting my head against her shoulder, and feeling her soothing hands on my back. “If anything, I get it from you,” I mumbled into her.

“My kind girl. Don’t let anyone take that from you. The shining light you have within.”

I nodded into the crook between her neck and shoulder, the nighttime buzzing of crickets and cicadas like a cocoon for our embrace. With everything that was unfolding—understanding I would likely not see Kane

again for months if not years, the brewing conflict with a Fae King—I hadn’t realized how much I just needed my mother. I never wanted to let go.

She squeezed me harder and said, “I think tomorrow I’m going to swim in the bay. What do you think of that?”

A single tear slipped down my cheek onto her dress. “I think that sounds wonderful. I’ll join you.”

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