Chapter no 39

The Ashes & the Star-Cursed King

Maybe Oraya was right, and I was more out of shape than I’d thought, because that dance had taken more out of me than it should have. For those few minutes, the rest of the party had

become a blur, time and music and the sounds of the crowd fading to a distant din. How could it not, when I was so singularly focused on her?

But when Cairis led me away, that feeling lingered. My thoughts were fuzzy and slow, a half step behind. When I looked around and realized that we’d left the ballroom, wandering outside under the cooling night air, I startled a little. I didn’t even remember walking through the rest of the party.

Cairis was saying something, but I’d managed to miss whatever it was. “Wait.” I held up a hand, then pinched the bridge of my nose. “I—go

back. I’m sorry. What are we talking about?” He let out a small laugh.

“One dance with her and you can’t even think straight anymore, hm?” His voice lowered. “I told you to be careful about that.”

My head was suddenly throbbing. I didn’t especially feel like being scolded.

“I’m allowed to dance with my wife,” I said shortly. “What did you want to talk to me about? I have things to do.”

I imagined Oraya in that ballroom, surrounded by vampire pricks who’d just found a new reason to be interested in her. Suddenly the image of Simon standing over her, his hand on her arm, was infuriatingly vivid.

Cairis’s mouth thinned as he cast a disapproving glance back to the party, light spilling from the open doors and multi-paned windows. The

entrance was farther away than I remembered it being—when did we walk this far?

He sighed. “That’s the problem, Raihn. You think we’re all stupid.”

It took a few seconds for the words to sink in. When I turned back to Cairis, brow furrowed in confusion, my eyes struggled to focus on his face. I couldn’t get the sharp rebuke out of my mouth.

“Surely you must think more of my intelligence than that,” he was saying, hands tucked into his pockets, eyes drawn to the ground. “You keep saying that she’s just a prisoner. But I’m not blind. And no one else is, either. Everyone knows.” His gaze lifted to me, a wrinkle between his brows. “It’s sweet, Raihn. But it wasn’t just you who sacrificed for this.”

His voice sounded like he was underwater. The world tilted, the stars behind him smearing against the sky.

I opened my mouth to argue with him, ready to unleash the appropriate verbal storm of a disrespected Nightborn king, but instead, a sudden wave of dizziness had me falling back against a stone wall, barely catching myself.

He caught my shoulder. “Are you feeling alright?”


The truth solidified through my sluggish thoughts.

This wasn’t alcohol or exertion. Something was very wrong.

I forced my head up to look at Cairis, expecting confusion or concern on his face.

Instead, what I saw was pity. Guilt.

“I’m sorry,” he said, voice low. “I just can’t go back to the way it was, Raihn. I can’t stay with you until that happens. I just—I can’t. I need to pick a winner. You have to understand that.”

Realization ignited through increasingly sticky, drug-addled thoughts. What Cairis was admitting to. How many drinks had I let him hand me tonight, accepted without question?

I never even considered him. That fucking bastard.

I conjured my wings, trying to fly, trying to move fast enough to prepare for the onslaught that I knew was coming. But my body betrayed me, just as my advisor had.

I fought the drugs until the last moment, even as my vision faded at the edges, my stomach roiling, my head pounding. I fought it even though I couldn’t even keep track of how many soldiers—Rishan soldiers, my own Goddess-damned men—poured from the darkness, surrounding me, grabbing me. I managed to strike a head, a throat, an arm.

But whatever Cairis had given me drained my consciousness ravenously, second by second.

I fought until I physically couldn’t anymore. Until the chains wrapped around my wrists.

I forced my head up to see that distant ballroom light, now little more than smears of gold in my failing vision. I tried to crawl to it.

But by then my body had failed me.

In another distant world, the clock rang out in ominous solitude, a thunderous GONG echoing through the bloody night.

I didn’t hear it chime again.

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