Chapter no 41

The Ashes & the Star-Cursed King

Consciousness didn’t want me back. I had to claw for it with my teeth and fingernails, and even then, I only managed to reclaim tatters of it.

The floor, moving beneath me.

Hands on me. Hands all over me.

Don’t fucking touch me.

I tried to say it aloud, but my throat, my tongue, wouldn’t cooperate.

Someone was pulling at my skirt, sliding their hand up my thigh. My instinct was to kick them. Instead, I tamped the impulse down and remained limp, buying myself a few seconds to gather my senses.

I was… where? I was still in the castle. I recognized that rose-stale smell.

“—Should’ve killed her by now.” “Can’t. You know we can’t.”

A man. A woman. Both Bloodborn—I recognized that accent.


“Get that off,” she snapped. “Trying,” he hissed.

The hands sliding up my skirt weren’t lecherous. He was trying to take my blades.

Quickly, I reassembled the fuzzy memory of what had happened.

Septimus. Simon. The coup. The blood all over the floor. Raihn stumbling a little as he walked away from me. Suddenly I was wide awake, my blood cold.

Raihn. Leaving with Cairis.

He could already be dead.

The Bloodborn man managed to unbuckle my dagger. “Fucking fi—”

As he loosened his grip on me to lift the sheath, I grabbed the hilt and slammed the blade into his chest.

Black blood sprayed me across the face. He went flying back. It wasn’t fatal—I didn’t have enough strength behind the movement.

But it was enough to earn me time.

Desdemona was on me immediately. I had to be quick—I’d never seen her use blood magic, but that didn’t mean she didn’t have the ability. I couldn’t be stronger than her, so I had to be faster. But even that was difficult, my movements a little too sluggish as they fought the aftereffects of Septimus’s sedation.

My back slammed against the wall as Desdemona countered me. My blade buried in her side, deep.

She barely flinched, her eyes not leaving mine.


We both knew I was fucked. She smiled as she drew her weapon back. But then, she hesitated. Her next strike wasn’t for my throat, my heart—

it was for my leg.

Her momentary pause gave me the window I needed to slip her grip, just enough that she only nicked me.

The realization hit me—my greatest advantage. Septimus could have killed me himself, easily. Desdemona could have killed me right now. Neither of them did. That was an intentional choice.

Septimus still wanted me—or at least, wanted my blood. He wouldn’t kill me. Not yet.

He’d just keep me locked up like a slave. He’d make me another tool to be leveraged.

And why the hell wouldn’t he? That’s all I’d ever been. A thing to be used at the convenience of others, or a risk to be mitigated.

Not a force in her own right. Fuck that.

Nightfire bloomed to life in my hands, clinging to the edge of my blade. Desdemona wasn’t prepared. She stumbled, her hands flying up to protect her face.

I went straight for her heart.

Maybe Raihn was right. Maybe my half-vampire blood meant I was capable of more than I’d ever let myself dream. Because it felt like I didn’t even have to push all that hard—the dagger slid right into her flesh like it was meant to be there.

I did not take time to relish this.

I kicked her off my blade and spun around. The familiar burning had already started in my veins. Her companion had recovered, his hand lifted, pearling droplets of my blood floating around us.

The two of us lunged at each other and tangled in a mass of limbs and teeth and steel. The burn of his magic grew stronger, stronger. I had never managed to stave it off for this long. I let it fade to a faint buzz in the back of my mind—simply made every strike stronger to compensate for the force of it, fought harder to cut through the resistance.

I wasn’t thinking about anything anymore. I was angry.

I was fucking furious.

I didn’t call upon the Nightfire to consume me—it came to me all on its own.

And when it did, the licks of white-blue obscuring my vision, the only thing that remained was my opponent’s shocked face against the tile of the floor, my knees around his torso, my blade raised.

I brought it down.

He went silent. Countless minuscule drops of my blood spattered to the ground like misty rain.

My heaving breath ached in my lungs. Adrenaline had my heart pumping fast, coursing through every vein. The Nightfire still burned and burned.

I stood. I was shaking slightly. I noticed this only with faint recognition.

I was still so angry I couldn’t speak. Couldn’t think. Couldn’t think except for one word, one name:


I glanced at the table, which had the male Bloodborn’s arm slumped against it, like he had been reaching for something in his final moments. Just beyond his grasp was a long object, wrapped in white silk. Immediately, I recognized it. They’d taken it from my room.

Vincent’s sword. The Taker of Hearts.

This time, I didn’t hesitate. I sheathed my blades and unwrapped the sword. When my hand closed around the hilt, it didn’t hurt at all. Mother, how could I ever have thought it hurt? This wasn’t pain. This was power.

This is what you were always meant to be, my little serpent, Vincent whispered in my ear.

I flinched at the sound of his voice—so much more real whenever I touched this sword.

But he was right.

This is what I was always meant to be. And he’d hidden that from me. He’d stifled me. He’d lied to me. He gave me his power and then spent twenty years making me small and afraid and telling me how weak I was.

And yet, as I drew the blade, a lump of painful grief rose in my throat. I was everything I was meant to be.

My father’s daughter. Victim and protégée. Greatest love and ruination.

I did not know how to reconcile all those things. Suddenly I no longer cared to. It didn’t matter what he had wanted of me.

I had his power.

Nightfire rolled up the delicate blade like the sun setting blaze to the horizon.

I didn’t even have to consciously call to my wings. Suddenly they were out, and spread, and the air was rushing around me as I roared out the door and into the hall, the wind burning away the tears in my eyes.



Where are you?

I had been taken to the basement of the castle. I slipped into the tunnels that so few people knew how to navigate like I did—the tunnels that Vincent had hoped might one day save him from a coup just like this one. Sounds of bloodshed echoed in the walls, as if the castle itself was moaning and screaming in its final death throes. Some of the doors I passed had blood seeping beneath them, dark and slippery on the stone landings.

I ran, and ran, and didn’t stop—didn’t stop to think, didn’t stop to question why I was sticking my throat out to save him. I didn’t know. I

wouldn’t know. All I knew was that the truth of it stood before me, an inevitable action.

Where are you?

The castle had dungeons. But Raihn was a king. Not only a king, but a king who was reviled by the man who intended to take his crown.

I knew exactly what Simon thought of Raihn. Turned. Slave. Tainted. He thought Raihn was only fit to be used by people like him—not the other way around.

Simon needed a show of strength. He wanted to put Raihn in his place in front of everyone. Just like Vincent had once lined the city with Rishan bodies on stakes.

Vampires didn’t kill for practicality. They killed for joy. Retribution.

Spectacle. Fear.

You don’t do that in a dungeon. You don’t do that quietly in a back hallway.

Where are you?

I ran up the stairs. My thighs burned.

I kept thinking of Vincent, and all those Rishan wings pinned to the walls of Sivrinaj.

All the times he’d hung some poor bastard who defied him out in front of the castle.

Where are you?

I kept going up, up, up.

Because I knew where Raihn was—or at least, I prayed I did, the guess clinging to my gut with the desperation of hope.

I reached the top of the final staircase and flung the door open. A wall of hot, dry air blew my hair back.

The top floor of the castle—a ballroom, a wall of windows, and a balcony. Beyond the windows, the night sky, pink with oncoming dawn, opened before me, the reflection of the moon and stars spilling over the black marble floor, polished as a mirror.

For a moment, it was all so fucking beautiful—the untouchable beauty of the moment before glass shatters.

A number of people were in the room, their backs to me.

And there, beyond the glass, silhouetted against the sky, wings forcibly spread, was a figure I recognized immediately—even from this distance, silhouetted.

The following seconds happened slowly.

The Nightfire around me swelled and billowed. The Rishan soldiers turned to look at me.

I tightened my grip on the Taker of Hearts. My palms burned, but I wanted to lean into it. It fueled me.

Now you understand.

Vincent’s voice sounded a little proud. A little sad.

Power hurts. It requires sacrifice. Do you want to change this world, little serpent? Climb the bars until you’re so high no one can catch you.

I told you that once.

I know because I did it, my daughter. I know.

My eyes settled on Raihn’s form, strung up by chains.

When the Rishan soldiers lunged for me, I was ready for them.

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