Chapter no 49

The Ashes & the Star-Cursed King

It took me a moment to recognize him. I’d only seem him from across the room at the wedding, and I’d been distracted then. Highborn vampire men tended to have the same sort of look about them—the

high cheekbones, the smooth skin, the sharp eyes, the dangerous allure designed to lure in prey. The Shadowborn prince had all those things in abundance. A beautiful, dangerous person who fit in seamlessly among all the other beautiful, dangerous people.

It was only once I saw the diadem upon his head of thick hair, and the style of his clothing—fine, tight-fitting brocades—that it clicked into place. A little smile of recognition spread over his lips, too, though his gaze fell to me only for a moment before sliding behind me—lingering on


What the hell was he doing here?

If I’d given even the slightest thought to where the Shadowborn prince had gone when the coup broke out, I would have assumed that he’d fled the city. What interest would a Shadowborn have in remaining to watch the Nightborn tear each other apart?

Then again… why wouldn’t he want to watch that? Vampires. Shrewd and bloodthirsty, so easily entertained by violence. So enthralled by the idea of their enemies on their knees.

And why wouldn’t Simon want him to see it all, if it meant a chance at gaining the respect of a powerful Obitraen leader?

Smart of him. Because the prince was valuable.

If I was a better diplomat, maybe I could have seized this opportunity. I could imagine Raihn doing so skillfully—putting on just the right mask to

show the prince what he wanted to see.

But I wasn’t Raihn. I wasn’t Vincent. I looked at this prince and saw nothing but a threat, every nerve in my body screaming, Kill him!

Doing that would be foolish. A political nightmare. But— The prince stepped closer, his eyebrows raising.

“Well,” he said, “this is—”

A smear of bronze-and-gold streaked past me. The brush of a body knocked me momentarily off balance.

The next thing I knew, Mische was on top of the prince, and blood was everywhere.

I had never seen Mische fight like this, not even in the Kejari. It was animalistic, not her typical light, quick movements, but vicious and brutal. The two of them tangled on the ground, limbs flailing, wisps of shadow magic making it impossible to make out what was happening.

I dove after her a split second after she moved. But by then, their fight was already a mess of gore. First Mische was on top of him, stabbing wildly, red-black blood spattering her face and then mine as I rushed over to them.

Then, just as I was within striking distance, he slammed Mische to the floor, snarling as his dagger inched closer to her face.

All thoughts about diplomacy or alliances or impending war disappeared.

I threw myself against him, wrenching him off her. He recovered fast, recoiling, turning on me. I had my sword ready to charge through his chest

But before I could, Mische leapt on him.

It was an incredible strike, even by the standards of vampire speed and strength. Accurate, quick, powerful.

She didn’t even hesitate as her blade breached his breastbone. It was so gracefully beautiful that the ugly slam of his body against the wall startled me.

She’d driven that sword all the way through him, and she still just kept pushing—pushing that blade against the wall, the two of them inching closer. Her face was unrecognizable, a mask of fury, remnants of her gold makeup settling into lines of pure rage.

The Shadowborn prince did not blink as he died.

And when he was gone, his eyes just kept staring right through her.

She still kept pushing, even though the blade was now buried in the wall. Her once-stunning golden gown was now drenched in black.

The silence was suddenly deafening, save for Mische’s heaving, shaking breath. She was trembling violently.

I touched her shoulder.

She drew in a gasp and stumbled backwards, her hands clapping over her mouth. The sword remained stuck in the wall, through the prince’s body.

“Oh gods,” she breathed. “I—oh gods. What did I just—” She had just murdered a prince of the House of Shadow. Cold fear settled over me.

I stuffed it down, far beneath more pressing matters. “We can’t worry about that—”

But Mische whirled to me, and something about the look in her eyes gave me pause.

I recognized that look. It went deeper than the frenzied shock of an unexpected kill.

Perhaps I had worn a similar expression the night I had run to Vincent’s bedchamber in tears, after my lover had raped me.

My mouth closed.

I thought of the expression on Mische’s face when she had seen the prince at the wedding. And I knew. I didn’t have to ask.

But she still choked out, “It’s—he’s the one who—”

The man who had taken her as a teenager. Who had Turned her against her will. Who had abandoned her to die when she got sick.

Now I understood why Mische was brought up here, to these rooms. Somewhere comfortable and attractive, rather than unpleasant dungeons. She was a gift returned to her maker. A token to keep the foreign prince’s favor.

My gaze fell to the prince’s body, which slowly sagged against the blade skewering him to the wall. I resisted the overpowering desire to spit on his corpse.

Diplomatic issues be fucking damned. I couldn’t bring myself to be sorry.

I grabbed the hilt of her sword and yanked it from the wall—and the corpse, which went sliding down to the floor with a dull thunk. I held the weapon out to her.

“Raihn needs us.”

It was all I needed to say.

She blinked, clearing almost-tears. Her jaw set. She nodded and took the sword, the prince’s blood dripping onto the tile floor.

“Let’s go,” she said.



WE MOVED SWIFTLY through the tunnels. I prayed that I would find Raihn at our rendezvous point—the juncture of the two paths, where we had last separated. But when we flew down that last set of stairs, nothing met us there but two darkened hallways.

Dread clenched in my stomach. But I didn’t hesitate.

“That way,” I said to Mische, and the two of us swept down the next path, the one that would take us down to the dungeons.

I knew what we were charging into before we reached the door. Mische heard it before I did, with her superior ears—but the sounds grew louder quickly, a distant thrum of banging and grunts through the walls.

I knew what violence sounded like.

Soon we were both running, abandoning stealth for speed. By the time we made it to the door, there was little doubt of what was going on beyond it. It took palpable effort to force myself to slow down as we slipped through, the tunnel letting us out into a hall just beyond the dungeons. The sounds of steel and flesh echoed against the stone walls.

Three long strides, and I was around the corner. Movement. Guards. Steel.




I barely took the time to observe all this before I was throwing myself into the fight.

My sword found one guard’s back, aiming straight for the heart. The blade cut through the flesh so easily, with so little resistance. Raihn flung

the body off him, meeting my eyes for only a split second before he had to turn his attention to the other soldier lunging at him.

That moment, though—it was enough to convey so many things, a million shades of relief.

Raihn, injured as he still was, had been struggling against half a dozen guards—more, maybe, before we had gotten there—even with the help of his Asteris.

Now, that changed.

I’d forgotten how good it felt to fight beside Raihn. How intuitively we understood each other. How he watched my body even without watching, anticipating every move, complementing it. It was like slipping back into a comfortable jacket.

Strike after strike blended together, my awareness fading save for the next move, the next opponent. My Nightfire flared at my blade and Raihn’s Asteris surged at his, our light and dark intertwining.

Alone, he had struggled. Together, we were devastatingly efficient. Minutes and the final body fell.

I pulled my blade from the still-twitching guard and turned to Raihn.

He swept me up in an embrace before I could even open my mouth, his face burying into the space between my neck and shoulder.

And then, just as quickly, he released me, leaving me swaying. “What was that for?” I said.

“Your endless charms,” he replied.

Then he saw Mische and stilled. His eyes widened at the sight of her blood-covered gown.

“Where were you?” he said.

But she just smiled and shook her head, as if shaking away the vacant look that had been there moments ago. “Later. Good to see you, too.”

She was right. We didn’t have time. We were lucky that Simon’s forces were split in too many directions right now, but it was only a matter of time before either the bloodbath upstairs or down here attracted more attention.

The cells were built into the walls and barred with thick, solid metal doors, with only a small slit looking in. Raihn was already rummaging through the bodies, groping for keys, and when he found them, he tossed them in the air with satisfaction.

Then he went to the first door, swinging it open to reveal a highly disgruntled-looking Vale. He was still wearing his wedding finery, though it

looked like he’d put up a hell of a fight, the silk torn and blood-spattered.

“Lilith,” he blurted out, desperately, like the name had been thrashing behind his teeth for hours.

Raihn had been so sure Vale would be the one to betray him. But looking at him now, the possibility seemed incomprehensible.

Raihn’s face went serious, like he was having the same thought. He went to the next door and unlocked it, releasing an equally disheveled-looking Lilith. Vale was on Lilith immediately, cradling her head as if inspecting her for damage, while she muttered “I’m fine, I’m fine,” under her breath.

Meanwhile, Raihn opened the third door, releasing Ketura, who just looked pissed. The first words out of her mouth were, “That fucking prick.” I wasn’t sure whether she was talking about Simon, Septimus, or Cairis,

but in any event, I agreed.

“That fucking prick indeed,” Raihn muttered. “But later. Let’s get the hell out of here.”

Vale and Ketura armed themselves with the guards’ discarded swords, and I led us back down the hall to the tunnels, carefully closing the door behind us. I had no doubt that it wouldn’t take long for Simon’s men to piece together who was responsible, going by the Nightfire burns and the evidence of Asteris on the bodies we’d left behind.

We had to get out of Sivrinaj, and fast.

We moved swiftly through the tunnels. When we were nearing the sewers again, the sounds from the castle within grew much louder, footsteps echoing through the stone with renewed urgency, garbled raised voices shouting commands.

“That about us?” Raihn muttered. “Probably,” I said.

I flung open the passageway to the sewers and held it open for the others, then sealed it behind us. Jumping into the muck wasn’t any less disgusting the second time, but running from imminent danger did have a way of making it a little more tolerable. Still, I couldn’t argue with Mische’s gagged curse as we hit the water.

As the traitors in the castle roused to our presence, ready to tear apart the city to look for us, we swam.

We swam for our damned lives.

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