Chapter no 58

The Ashes & the Star-Cursed King

I’d lost track of just how many men I’d killed. I was in the Kejari all over again, thrown into senseless, indiscriminate, unending violence.

Maybe I wasn’t any better than Neculai, or Vincent, or Simon after

all. Maybe I was just another cursed king.

Because I fucking loved it.

I barely felt the scream of my muscles or the bite of my wounds. Something more primal took over. Rational thought disappeared. My magic surged in my veins, grateful for the opportunity to finally be set free, fully unleashed—and this was what it wanted to do. Kill. Reclaim. Possess.

I wasn’t relying on sight anymore, and that was a gift, because I couldn’t see anything even if I’d tried. Through the smears of black blood in my eyes, my field of vision became nothing but fragmented flashes of wings and weapons and steel buried in bodies. The blinding black-white of my Asteris followed my every stroke. Defeated enemies hurtled to the ground like limp rag dolls, falling onto the roofs of the buildings below.

Time, physicality, space ceased to exist. I thought about nothing but the next strike, the next kill, the next inch of ground I could gain toward that castle—my castle.

Until him.

The shift was immediate, so strong it actually managed to knock me from my bloodlust—so strong it made my muscles freeze at the most inopportune moment, interrupting my counter against the Rishan soldier attacking me and earning me a vicious cut over my shoulder.

I grabbed the soldier, skewered him, and let him fall to the ground, but I wasn’t looking at him anymore. Instead, my gaze flicked up.

Up to the castle.

Simon was there, standing on the very same balcony where he had tried to kill me. Even through the carnage, through the endless bodies, I knew he was there. I knew it because I felt him, the way one felt ripples in a pond when something terrible circled beneath the water.

And this was something terrible.

I had never sensed anything like this before, but that certainty ground into my bones immediately. I’d awakened something primal in myself, and now, that beast was recognizing a threat—a threat that did not belong, here or anywhere else.

What was that?

I was too far gone to be afraid. I’d spent too damned long fearing Simon and the people like him, even if I refused to admit it to myself or anyone else.

I was pushing through the warriors before Vale even had the chance to call after me. Cutting through bodies, wings, weapons—anything standing between me and him.

I was going to fucking kill him.

He stood on the balcony waiting for me, amber wings spread, sword drawn, hair pulled back tight in a way that emphasized the hard, cruel planes of his face.

I didn’t slow down as I flew for him. Instead, I pumped my wings, surging faster, so fast I couldn’t see anything but his slow, predatory smile, split seconds before we clashed.

We met in a deafening thunderclap of steel and a burst of magic, my Asteris dousing us in a mantle of black light. Our bodies slammed against each other. His sword met mine, metal screaming against metal.

Immediately, he countered. He was a strong warrior, even after all these years. Despite his age, he met me strike for strike, step for step. Even my magic didn’t seem to deter him, even though, spurred by hatred, it poured from every stroke of my blade, punctuating each clash.

I was wounded. I was tired. My body didn’t care.

I was going to kill him.

Through the red of my rage and the black of my Asteris, Simon’s face looked so uncannily like his cousin’s. It was my former master who sneered at me in the seconds between strikes and blocks, taunting me, urging me on.

How many times, back then, had I imagined what it would be like to kill Neculai?

Countless. Seventy years. Twenty-five thousand days to lie there in bed and close my eyes and think about what he might sound like with blood filling his lungs, think about what it might look like to peel his skin back inch by inch, think about whether he’d piss himself in his final moments.

I’d thought about it so many times.

I wasn’t the one who had gotten that satisfaction in the end. That had gone to another cruel king. I’d told myself I was alright with that. Let them tear each other apart.

I had been lying to myself.

I had wanted to be the one to do it.

And now, this seemed almost as good.

The first time I struck skin, opening a river of red-black across his arm, I actually fucking laughed—loud and crazed.

That one drop of blood awakened something in me. My next blow was harder, faster, blade seeking out his flesh like a starving animal. When he managed to get in a return strike, I barely felt it, instead using the force of his hit against him.

I was so lost in my own frenzy that it took me far too long to notice exactly what was so off about him. To notice that Simon didn’t seem concerned at all, even though I’d wounded him. Not even when I struck him again, sending him staggering back.

I pushed him against the wall, licks of night rolling from my sword, the smell of his blood thick in my nostrils.

This was it.

I wanted to look into his eyes when he died. Wanted that satisfaction.

I wanted to see the fear on his face when he realized that the slave he had abused two hundred years ago was going to be the one to kill him.

But when I met Simon’s eyes, I didn’t see fear. I didn’t see much of anything, actually. They were vacant and bloodshot, glazed over, like he was looking through me instead of at me, at something a million miles past the horizon.

A sour drone thrummed in the air, nagging at my magic, burrowing deep into my veins.

I hesitated. And finally, I heard the voice in my head—the one that insisted, This isn’t right.

My eyes flicked up for a moment, catching movement through the glass window over Simon’s muscled, armored shoulder.

Septimus stood in the middle of the empty ballroom, enjoying the view through those floor-to-ceiling windows, utterly calm. He smiled at me, a lazy trail of cigarillo smoke rising between his teeth.

This isn’t right.

Simon wasn’t moving, even though I had him pinned. The pulse in the air grew thicker, louder. The unnatural ripples that called to my magic seemed to pull tighter, like lungs inflating in an inhale, drawing me closer.

I actually took in Simon’s appearance for the first time since I saw him, my head clearing.

He wore old, classic Rishan battle leathers. Finely made stuff. But oddly enough, he’d left the top unbuttoned down to his chest, revealing a long triangle of skin.

Skin marked with black, pulsing veins.

And all those veins led to a chunk of silver and ivory, buried right into the flesh of his chest.

It was so grotesque, so unnervingly wrong, that at first, I couldn’t make sense of what I was looking at.

And then I recognized it:

The silver was Vincent’s pendant, smashed and melted and warped, smeared with Simon’s blood.

And the ivory was… Teeth.

Teeth, welded into the metal.

The memory of Septimus’s voice floated through my mind:

I found some, in the House of Blood. Teeth.

What the fuck does one do with the teeth of the God of Death? Oraya had asked.

And in a sudden moment of clarity, I realized: This was what someone did with god teeth.

They created a fucking monster.

This thought crossed my mind only briefly, as Simon’s face finally broke into a chilling, blood-lined smile, and he unleashed a burst of magic that rearranged the entire Goddess-damned world.

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