Chapter no 29

The Ashes & the Star-Cursed King

Time went on in mundane placidity.

It seemed silly that this house should feel so empty without Raihn. Mische talked constantly, and was extra talkative now that I

was her only companion—at least, the only one that actually engaged with her, Ketura’s guards forever stoic. Still, I couldn’t shake this feeling of a missing puzzle piece, a silence between breaths that I wished would be filled.

We fell into an easy routine—healing, training, resting, repeat.

Mische was a good teacher, though training with her reminded me too much of the time we had spent working on our magic together during the Kejari. Then, Mische had only been one half of my instruction. The other had come from Vincent, whose teaching style had been the opposite of hers in every way—rigid commands and control to counter every instance of Mische harping on about opening one’s heart and soul. To return to one without the other highlighted the shape of his absence… a wound that, unlike the ones on my wings, felt like it would never heal.

In our rest time, we examined the pendant. Mische was not only a talented magic user, but well-read in sorcery and magical history. Still, even between the two of us, we couldn’t make much sense of what the thing was or what it did. I was the only one who could touch it, though it wasn’t especially pleasant—making Vincent’s presence feel far too close, even more than his sword did. The best Mische could figure was that it was just a piece of something larger—perhaps a key, or a compass, or a device intended to enhance the power of something else. Not a power in itself, she

theorized, but something designed to unleash another. But even these thoughts were just guesses, frustratingly rooted as much in luck as in fact.

At nightfall and dawn, Mische tended to my wounds, which continued to improve dramatically with each passing day. None of the treatments were as painful as that first one. None, thankfully, were as… pleasurable, either.

One day, as she observed the remaining wounds, she remarked, “You already look so much better! This stuff must be worth whatever Raihn went through to get it.”

“Whatever he went through?” I repeated.

“It wasn’t easy to find. But he was determined.” A pause, then, more tentatively, “He was so worried. We thought…”

I thought I lost you, Raihn had said, the words shuddering along my skin.

I was suddenly very uncomfortable with this line of conversation.

“He’s got to protect his asset,” I muttered, even though the words tasted bitter—even though I knew it wasn’t true.

Mische sighed, dabbing at the last wound on my left wing. “Raihn has a lot of flaws, Oraya,” she murmured, “but he knows how to love.”

I didn’t know what to say to that.

I wasn’t sure what it meant that I couldn’t think of anything at all.




“YOU’RE BLOCKING IT,” Mische said, for the fifteenth time that day. I gritted my teeth and tried to ignore her.

Since I’d received my Heir Mark, my magic had become undoubtedly more powerful. I could feel it constantly thrashing under my skin. But with that power came more volatility than I knew how to control. Like every time I used it, I had to tap into something viscerally painful.

Right now, the pressure built, sharper and sharper, like a blade slowly parting skin.

“Keep going,” Mische said. Her voice was distant over the sound of my blood rushing in my ears. “Don’t let go of it!”

A bead of sweat dripped down my nose. Despite Mische’s commands, I could still hear Vincent in my ear, too: Focus. Control. Willpower.

Lately, his voice had been an unwelcome visitor.

The Nightfire sputtered and roared, threatening to either spin out of control or wither away completely, as I balanced on the edge between shutting myself off and falling into a pit of emotion I couldn’t confront.

Where do you want me to go? Vincent whispered. I’m a part of you. And isn’t that what you’ve always wanted?

Once, I had wanted nothing more than I wanted to be Vincent. Even now, a part of me still wanted it—even knowing how he had lied to me, knowing what he had done to my family and his, knowing the brutality he had inflicted upon people just like me for centuries.

I was ashamed of it.

Ashamed? Vincent said. I made you everything that you are, and you say that you are ashamed of me?

That one was a memory. One of the last things he had said to me.

The Nightfire flared, spinning out of control. Mische took a step back. I struggled to wrangle it. Struggled to fight back the war of shame and guilt in my head.

But when I was using magic, everything came so much closer to the surface. It was Vincent’s magic, after all—his blood that gave me this power, his Heir Mark that intensified it. I could not wield it without feeling his presence breathing down my throat.

“Keep going!” Mische urged, though I could barely hear her.

My eyes burned against the blinding white of the Nightflame. In that light, I saw Vincent’s bloody face in those final moments—always so real, no matter how many times I tried to forget it.

The voice in my ear whispered his final words. So many regrets in the end. Never you.

I couldn’t do this. Goddess, I couldn’t do this—


I severed myself from all those unwelcome memories. The Nightfire guttered out.

Suddenly, my knees were in the damp dirt. My breath was painful, coming in deep, raspy gasps.

“Oh, gods.” Mische knelt before me, her hands at my shoulders—I leaned against them without meaning to, silently grateful for the stabilizing


“You’re alright,” she murmured. “It’s alright.”

I didn’t know why her voice sounded like that—so pitying—until something wet hit my splayed hand. I blinked down at it, confused, and another spot joined it.



My face grew hot.

“I’m fine. It’s—let’s just go again.”

I stood and turned away, swaying a little on my feet. It was hard to pull myself together once I’d started to break. Like all that pressure was building up right under the surface. That was how I’d ended up sobbing in front of Raihn. And now Mische. Great.

“I’m fine,” I said.

Mische said softly, “You don’t have to be fine.”

She said it so simply. Like it was just a truth, nothing to be judged or disagreed with. I knew that she believed it, and in this moment, I loved her fiercely for that.

Even if I couldn’t bring myself to.

I had a kingdom relying on me, and a crown waiting for me, and people who needed me to become something better than this immediately.

And what had I done? Lodged a single failed attack? Found a pretty little necklace I couldn’t figure out how to use?


Mische touched my shoulder. I didn’t turn—I couldn’t show her my face. Perhaps she knew this, because she didn’t try to make me, only offering me that one touch—so light I could move away if I wanted to.

“Magic is like… a living thing,” she murmured. “I guess it makes sense that it comes from the gods, because it’s just as fickle and temperamental as they are. Yours feeds on your emotion. It makes you reach into things that are… hard right now. But one day, the things that are the most painful are going to be sources of strength.”

I glanced down, at Mische’s hand on my shoulder and the several inches of her wrist visible beneath her sleeve. The scars covered nearly all her exposed skin.

Had they been that bad before? Or had she just been incessantly trying, and failing, to use her magic ever since her god abandoned her?

Maybe my profile revealed the question I didn’t ask, because she removed her hand and pulled her sleeve down as I finally turned to face her. “Don’t think I don’t understand what it feels like to—to lose

something,” she said.

When I’d first met Mische, it might have been easy to dismiss her as some pretty, vapid thing. But every so often, I glimpsed something so much harder under the surface. Now, that shadow passed over her face. A glint of blade-sharp steel hidden in the flower garden.

“Can I ask you a question?” I said. She hesitated. Then nodded.

“What was it like to Turn?” Her face darkened.

“It was hard,” she said. “I would have died if Raihn hadn’t found me.” “He saved you.”

That shadow parted, just enough to let a little sad smile slip through. “Mhm. He saved me. I don’t really remember it. One minute I’m very sick in the middle of the desert, and I’m—” Her expression shuttered, and she cut herself off. “Then I’m waking up in some shitty inn with a giant, grumpy stranger. That, let me tell you, was a hell of a confusing moment.”

I could imagine.

“You were a priestess,” I said carefully. “Right?”

The smile faded. She tugged at her sleeve again and didn’t say anything for a long, long moment.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “That was—”

“No. No, it’s fine.” She shook her head, as if pulling herself from her haze. “Yes. I was. A priestess of Atroxus. It’s just… it’s hard for me to talk about, sometimes.” She gave me another weak smile. “Hypocritical of me, right?”

“No,” I said. “It isn’t.”

“Magic is… I know some people think it’s just another discipline, but I think it lives close to our hearts. I think it draws right from our souls. Mine has always been close to me. And I—” Her jaw snapped closed, eyes shining.

“It’s alright,” I said quickly. “I shouldn’t have asked.”

It was downright painful to see Mische on the verge of tears. But she laughed and wiped her face with the back of her hand.

“This is what I mean, Oraya,” she said. “We’ve all got our reckoning. My Turning wasn’t my choice, and it broke me. Raihn’s was his, and maybe it broke him even more. Maybe the others don’t let you see the shards. Maybe they don’t show you the things they mourn. Doesn’t mean it’s not there. Doesn’t mean they don’t feel it. And your father—”

Her face went serious now, fiery-fierce. Her hand fell to mine, clutching tight. “Your father, Oraya, felt all those things, too. He was just as broken as the rest of us, and he was so determined not to acknowledge it that he flayed you with those sharp edges and then berated you for having skin instead of steel.”

My throat was tight. Grief and fury surged up it before I could stop myself.

“Don’t talk about him that way,” I said. But my words were weak and pleading.

Mische just looked at me sadly. “You and Raihn are always trying to be like them,” she said. “I don’t understand it. You’re better than him. Don’t forget that, Oraya. Embrace it.”

She was wrong.

But she didn’t give me time to tell her so before she threw her arms around me in a brief, fierce hug. “We’ll try again tomorrow,” she said, released me, and strode back into the house without another word.




DAYS PASSED. Our routine continued. Ketura arrived from Lahor, tired and battle-weary. She told us that the city had fallen into significant disarray with Evelaena dead, and it had taken some time to get things under control there.

“It was already in significant disarray,” Mische pointed out, which was very true, and I shuddered to think of how much worse it could have gotten. Ketura added another teacher to my daily training routine, teaching me how to appear and disappear my wings, now that they were healed enough. She, at least, provided a more familiar instruction compared to Mische’s cheerful style—harsh, barked commands that made me appreciate just how

brutal of a commander she must be to her soldiers. Still, she was effective— a week later, and I was semi-reliably able to conjure and spirit away my wings on command.

But uneventful as this time was, day by day, the signs of Mische’s unease slowly grew more obvious. I’d often catch her staring out the window, a little wrinkle between her eyebrows, rubbing the scars on her wrists.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel it too. It was too quiet, like we were trapped behind glass, frozen in artificial tranquility, while darkness encroached on the horizon.

One day, when Mische finished tending to the much-improved wounds on my wings, I said, “I think it’s time for us to go back to Sivrinaj.”

She paused before answering, “Raihn told us to wait until he sent for us.”

I scoffed. “And have you heard from him?”

That was an intentionally stupid question. I knew she hadn’t—her quiet anxiety told me that. I told myself this was why I knew, and not because I’d been watching for his letter just as closely.

Mische looked torn.

“You want to go,” I said. “So let’s go. What, Raihn’s king now so he gets to tell us both what to do? Fuck him. I’m the queen. My say counts just as much.”

I said it very confidently, even though we both knew it wasn’t that simple.

Still, at that, she cracked a smile. “I like that attitude.”

I knew she was going to agree. This was, after all, the girl who had run off and joined the Goddess-damned Kejari in order to force Raihn’s hand. But maybe it was a testament to her friendship with Raihn, and her respect for him, that she still had to think about it for a long moment.

But her impatience won out.

“Fine,” she said eventually, just like I knew she would. “You’re right.

We can’t just wait around here forever.”

You'll Also Like