Chapter no 55

The Ashes & the Star-Cursed King

The minute the sun set, Jesmine roused the warriors. The bloodthirsty excitement of the night before was gone. Now, the soldiers were efficient, focused—a set of well-oiled gears grinding to life for one

purpose alone. Warriors silently donned their weapons and armor, all ready and waiting. We didn’t have much time to strike. Every second counted.

The summoners had been preparing their sigils the entire journey, calling Nightborn demons the moment the sun disappeared beneath the horizon. Now I understood how Jesmine had used so many demons in her attack on the armory, what felt like a lifetime ago—she, wisely, had recruited many summoners to her army. Smart, because demons were far more expendable than people, especially in an army this woefully undermanned. I was grateful for the beasts now, disgusting as they were. We needed the bodies, and while demons weren’t as smart as vampires, they were certainly just as vicious.

We didn’t bother breaking down our tents, leaving them discarded in the sands, an eerily abandoned sea of debris left in our wake—looking as if thousands of people had simply disappeared into the desert.

We knew that either way, in victory or defeat, we wouldn’t be coming back.

Our offensive would be a fourfold attack. Vale’s allies’ fleets would circle Sivrinaj from the sea, splitting the attention of Simon and Septimus’s forces. Raihn would spearhead the airborne assault with Vale, bringing hundreds of Rishan and Hiaj warriors straight to the inner city. The demons and a smaller team of soldiers would approach by ground, breaking down the barricades and cutting a path to the castle, led by Ketura. And finally,

Jesmine and I would lead an army into the tunnels, heading directly for the castle itself—between the two of us, we knew Vincent’s secret routes through the city better than anyone.

With the sun gone, Sivrinaj had become a ghostly silver outline, ominously lit with the flaring white of Nightfire. Sivrinaj was not usually so bright, not even on festival nights. They knew we were coming, and they were preparing for us.

Fine, I thought. Let them.

The warriors fell into formation, preparing to march. Raihn and I took our positions at the front of the group, Jesmine and Vale beside us.

“I think we’re ready, Highness,” Jesmine said quietly, then stepped back.

The world seemed to be holding its breath, waiting expectantly. Waiting for me—for us—to lead.

Mother, what a surreal experience. It was suddenly dizzying.

I glanced at Raihn, and I could see the same thought on his face. His brow twitched as he gave me a wry smile.

“I suppose that’s us, isn’t it?”

“Feels like we should have an inspiring speech,” I muttered. “It does. You write anything?”

I scoffed.

“Shame,” he said. “You have such a way with words.” I scowled, and he chuckled.

“Keep that face. That’s better, anyway.”

My eyes settled on the Sivrinaj skyline. The city that had kept me captive all my life, now captive itself. My kingdom, ready to be liberated.

I drew Vincent’s sword. As it always did, holding it filled me with a wave of cold strength that reminded me so painfully of my father’s presence, its power surging through my veins all at once.

I embraced it.

Nightfire rippled up the blade, my magic meshing with his.

You have teeth too, little serpent, he whispered in my ear, and Goddess, he sounded closer than ever. Show them that bite.

There, in that city, waited the men who believed Raihn and I did not deserve our crowns. They took this kingdom by force, because it was all they knew how to do.

I was tired of letting people like that tell me what I could be, or what the House of Night could be.

I lifted my sword, the streak of Nightfire blinding against the night sky. “Let’s take our fucking kingdom back,” I snarled.

Raihn laughed. “I thought you said you didn’t have a speech.”

He spread those stunning wings and tilted his face to the sky. But before he could take off, I caught his arm.

“Be careful,” I blurted out, before I could stop myself. “He doesn’t deserve to kill you.”

Raihn’s eyes remained crinkled with an easygoing smile. But his hand lingered over mine, thumb rubbing back and forth.

“Give them hell, princess,” he said. “I’ll see you soon.”

I’ll see you soon. Such casual words, and such a deep promise within them.

We released each other, and a sudden gust of wind blew my hair back as he launched into the air.

My gaze settled back on the city ahead. Our target.

Behind me, a dull roar built slowly, like distant thunder, as hundreds of winged warriors followed Raihn into the night. I could feel Jesmine’s eyes on me, expectant.

I raised the Taker of Hearts, and charged.

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