Chapter no 59

The Ashes & the Star-Cursed King

I was running.

Running through those tunnels, even though I’d outpaced Jesmine, even though I didn’t even know exactly where I was going—only that I

was going up, and out, as fast as I possibly fucking could.

We were, thankfully, close to the end. I practically wept with joy when I saw the stairs before me. I dove up them, flinging open the door at the other side—taking only seconds to evaluate where I was, at the foot of the castle. Mother, it was chaos out here, flinging me into a sea of blood and steel and death, Bloodborn and Rishan and Hiaj and demons all ripping each other apart.

I barely paid attention to it.

Instead, I looked up—up to the top of the castle, to the balcony where I had saved Raihn’s life not long ago. I couldn’t see anything from this angle, but I could feel it, the epicenter of this noxious sensation.

My wings were out and I was in the air before I could question myself. I’d never flown so fast before. Faster than I even knew I was capable of. I rose to the balcony, only to immediately be knocked back by—

What was that?

It was like Asteris, maybe, but stronger—red, not black. It seemed to rip apart the air itself and reorder it. It lasted for only a moment—at least, I thought it did—but when I regained awareness, my wings weren’t working, and I was falling.

With a gasp of air, I righted myself, pumping my wings just in time to avoid hurling myself into a pillar.

I soared back up to the balcony.

Raihn. Raihn, locked in a battle with—Mother, was that Simon? He looked so different—not just because of his armor, a stark contrast from the fineries I’d seen on him before, or even because of the whorls of red magic that surrounded him. He felt different, like he’d been pushed beyond some boundary that no mortal should cross. Like a part of him no longer even existed anymore.

Every shred of my awareness balked at his presence.

And that instinct reacted viciously at the sight of Simon leaning over Raihn, sword raised, eerie red mist clinging to the blade.

I didn’t remember landing, or running, or lunging. Only the satisfying spurt of blood that sprayed across my face as the Taker of Hearts found its mark, skewering through Simon’s back, right between his wings.

A deadly shot for anyone, human or vampire.

But Simon, I realized immediately, was not just a vampire right now.

He let out a snarl and reared back, dropping Raihn and whirling to me as I yanked my sword from his flesh and danced backward. When his bloodshot eyes fell to me, vacant and vicious, I felt like I was looking into the face of death itself.

And then I saw it:

The… thing fused into the skin of his chest. Metal and… bone?

My magic reacted to its proximity. Suddenly, Vincent’s presence seemed so much closer—but twisted, enraged.

Twisted, just like the pendant had been twisted, shattered. Melded with…


God teeth, I realized. Fucking Septimus.

It seemed outlandish. It seemed ridiculous. The horror of it fell over me distantly. I didn’t have time to let myself acknowledge it.

He lifted his sword, but before he could bring it down, I lunged at him.

He responded immediately, our blades meeting, each clash more vicious than the last. He was bigger, stronger; I was faster. Still, he kept pace. My body crumpled beneath his blows and the force it required to deflect them. It took all my focus—but I remained perpetually aware of Raihn out of the corner of my eye, crumpled on the ground. When he slowly pushed himself up, I breathed a sigh of relief.

For a split second, before Simon was on me again.

My muscles screamed. His magic rivaled mine, even as my Nightfire poured from my skin, surrounding us. The burns didn’t seem to bother him, not even when the flames ate away at the delicate flesh around his mouth and eyes. He just stared through them, and smiled.

An empty smile. A dead smile.

I couldn’t remember when his first hit was—my side, perhaps, making me stumble just enough to make it difficult to evade his next lunge. When I looked up again to see his sword raised, I thought, This is it. The end.

Just as a streak of black-red came hurling in from his left side, sword drawn.

Raihn threw himself at Simon, the two of them tangling in a dance of destruction.

I hadn’t been able to hear anything over the violence and my own breath and heartbeat throbbing in my ears. But as I steadied myself, I chanced a glance down below—to the city of Sivrinaj.

It was a bloodbath.

Our opponents had been holding back. Now the full numbers of Bloodborn forces poured from the castle grounds, seeping through the city streets like a wave of fire. Ketura’s men had been beaten back, the squeals of dying demons drowning beneath the screams of dying vampires. Jesmine’s forces had risen from the tunnels, only to be met with a formidable force that was expecting them, and far outnumbered them.

And Simon—and whatever terrible, twisted magic he wielded—hadn’t even made it down there, yet.

We were fucked.

We were utterly fucked.

We needed to retreat. We needed to retreat now.

Raihn had seen what I did, or maybe the dawning horror on my face told him everything he needed to know.

When I launched myself back at Simon, he rasped out, “Go.” The one word he could choke out.

I knew what he meant: Go to the armies. Go lead them away.

I didn’t even consider it.

We had only one shot at salvaging this, and that was by killing Simon here and now. I wasn’t going to run away. I wasn’t going to leave this man here to keep my throne and this twisted power he’d gotten from my father’s magic.

I’d had enough. My entire life, these people thought they could take everything from me.

And the thought of ceding one more single second to them enraged me. My heartbeat throbbed in my ears, hot beneath my skin.

This is my kingdom, Vincent whispered, the words pulsing through my skin, my veins, my heart. This is my castle. Do not let anyone take it from me.

Mine, my heartbeat echoed. This was mine.

I would not let anyone take it away. And I sure as fuck wasn’t going to let them kill Raihn to do it.

Raihn whirled around as more Rishan soldiers ran from the castle doors, surging for him—distracting him in this critical moment.

Not me. I barely noticed them.

I let my rage blind me, drive me, drown me as I threw myself at Simon. My awareness narrowed to the satisfying sensation of my blade parting

Simon’s flesh, the Nightfire swelling and overtaking my body, my magic flourishing in the depths of my uncontrollable rage.

Simon actually flinched, his body lurching.

Someone laughed and it took a few seconds to realize that it had been me. My cheeks split with a smile as he straightened and faced me, all that terrible power focused only in one spot.

I wasn’t afraid.

We lunged at the same time, our weapons meeting again, each blow unrelenting. At first, I was lost in the intoxicating haze of vengeance, and I loved it, each wound a shot of alcohol, an unnatural high.

But Simon didn’t let up.

Raihn, surrounded by Rishan soldiers, was not coming to help me. And Simon just kept coming, and coming, and coming.

The first little nagging shard of fear came when he struck me so hard I thought I felt something crack when I blocked his weapon. The pain shot through me in a lightning bolt, stealing my breath.

No time to recover, though. No time to counter.

Because the onslaught continued, that one devastating strike turning to two, three. Soon I couldn’t do more than evade, block, stumble backwards to get my footing—

But I’d been knocked off balance. And I had no time to regain it.

The realization that I was fucked was slow and certain.

He opened a wound on my shoulder, my arm, my hip. Each one came with a breathtaking stab of pain, deeper than flesh. His magic, that red, noxious smoke, surrounded us both. The twisted creation in his chest pulsed unnaturally.

I could feel Vincent’s cold rage, his need for dominance, thrashing inside me, but it had nowhere to go. The magic of the Taker of Hearts was powerful, but it wasn’t as strong as whatever Simon had done to himself.

I leapt backward in a dodge and found myself against the balcony railing. Fuck. Nowhere left to go.

A hot breeze surged, blowing my hair back and yanking strands of Simon’s from its binding, making him look even more monstrous as he loomed over me, a bloody smile spreading over his lips.

Behind him, Raihn’s eyes locked onto me, as he cut through one Rishan soldier, two—

He wouldn’t be fast enough. Mother, I was going to die.

But, oh, what a death it will be.

I wondered if it was Vincent’s voice, or mine.

Simon reached out and touched my face, turning it toward his, as if in curiosity.

His smile soured.

“Just a human,” he said. “That’s all.”

A fighter’s death, I promised myself, as Simon raised his sword, and I raised mine.

His strike was devastating.

A burst of magic blinded me. A deafening crack left my ears ringing. Something sharp flew back against me, opening little cuts in my cheeks, my arms.

I barely felt them, because the pain was everywhere.

Simon had staggered backwards, doubled over, but it was too late.

I was falling, too. My body went over the railing in what felt like slow motion. The last thing I saw was Raihn, his eyes wide and terrified, as he yanked his sword from a body and ran for me—

He looked so, so scared.

I reached for him, but I was already falling. Worlds blended together in my weightlessness.

In one world, I couldn’t hear anything over the sound of screams and explosions and desperate commands.

In another, I could hear nothing but my father’s voice from an old memory. Could feel nothing but his grip, so firm it hurt—but then again, that was Vincent’s love, hidden in sharp edges and always just as painful.

I told you not to climb that high, he said, voice harsh. How many times have I told you, you can’t do that?

I know, I wanted to say. I’m sorry. You were right.


Raihn’s scream cleaved through the air, even through the sounds of a kingdom falling. I forced my eyes open to see smears of blurring color.

He was diving down after me, wings spread, covered in blood, a single hand reaching out for me.

Something about this image looked so familiar, and then it clicked—the painting of the Rishan man falling, one hand outstretched. I’d always thought he was reaching for the gods.

He was reaching for me. Everything went black.

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