Chapter no 62

The Ashes & the Star-Cursed King

All this time, I had been trying so desperately to decode my father’s past, my father’s secrets, to find the power I needed to reclaim my


How fitting that in the end, it was my mother who gave me the answer.

Raihn and I hastily set up the mirror, dripping my blood into it and summoning an extremely relieved Jesmine. Vale, Mische, and Ketura joined her, and we called Alya into the room too, showing her the map on my skin.

Once the initial shock wore off, Alya seemed equal parts proud and sad when she pieced together what she was looking at. It was a spell, she explained, forged into the metalwork of the jewelry, only to be activated once all three were worn together by its intended bearer.

“My sister’s magic,” she said softly. “I’d recognize it anywhere.” She touched the bracelet—an affectionate caress.

“Too smart for her own good, that one,” she muttered. “Always was.”

“Wouldn’t Vincent have known if the ring was enchanted?” I asked. “He was a powerful magic user, too.”

“Of Nyaxia’s magic, yes. But he wouldn’t have had enough experience with Acaeja’s to know what to look for.”

A lump rose in my throat, my thumb sweeping over the little black ring. The one token he’d allowed me to have from my former life. Little did he know.

The map on the back of my hand depicted the House of Night, or at least a small part of it—Vartana in the bottom left corner, Sivrinaj in the upper right, and a little star marked at the top center, right over my knuckle.

No town or city existed there. It was right in the middle of the desert, nothing but ruins.

Ruins that still managed to be uncomfortably, dangerously close to Sivrinaj.

“Do you have any idea what this could be?” I asked Alya.

I knew what I hoped it could be. I didn’t want to dream. It seemed like too much to possibly wish for.

Alya tilted her head, thoughtful.

“In the end, she was scared,” she said. “Scared of whatever she was helping him do. I remember that. She never would tell me the details, but I know my sister. I think—I think she was growing afraid of what that kind of power could do in the hands of someone so distrustful, especially if he was the only one who had access to it. Perhaps, she may have given you a path to that power too, just in case, knowing that your blood may allow you to wield it.” A barely-there smile—a little sad, a little proud. “I can’t say for sure. But I can imagine that.”

I let out a shuddering exhale of relief, and with it, a flood of affection for the mother I barely remembered.

She saved us. Goddess, she saved us.

“That’s if Septimus hasn’t already gotten to whatever this is,” Jesmine pointed out. “Whatever power he’d given Simon wasn’t of this world. I’m certain of that.”

But Alya shook her head firmly. “Based on what they described, what you saw wasn’t any creation of my sister’s. It sounds like cobbled-together magic. An activator hacked apart to force it to work with something it wasn’t intended to.”

“An activator,” Raihn repeated. “The pendant.”

Mische looked proud of herself—because this had always been her suspicion.

“From what you’ve described, it sounds like it,” Alya said. “I’d assume that Vincent would have created multiple activators with Alana’s help. And any of them, used with the right magic, could be twisted and modified to work with a power similar enough to their intended target. But it would be ugly, and it would be dangerous. Probably deadly to whoever used it, eventually.”

I remembered Simon’s glazed-over, bloodshot eyes and shuddered.

Yes, that was certainly ugly. He’d looked like he was already mostly dead.

“So Septimus only got a piece of what he wanted,” Raihn said, “in the form of the pendant. It worked enough, for now. But it means it’s unlikely he has what he really came here for.”

“Meaning that the god blood, if it exists,” I added, “is probably still out there.”

I curled my fingers and gazed down at my hand, shifting it beneath the firelight. The strokes of red shivered slightly, like moonlight through rippling leaves.

“This all sounds,” Vale said, “like a lot of conjecture.” “It is,” Raihn replied. “But it’s also all we have.”

“I accept that sometimes we need to act based on what we don’t know,” Vale said. “But what I do know is that Simon and his armies will be coming for us at any moment, and if they meet us now, they will win. I know that they’re searching for you both, and this map takes you right by Sivrinaj. I know that if you go there, they’ll know, and they will come after you with far more power than you two could possibly fight off alone. So if we choose to make this our gamble, then it will need to be a big one.”

A wry smile tugged at the corner of Raihn’s mouth. “How big, exactly?”

Vale was silent. I could practically see him questioning all the life decisions that led him to this moment.

“We all converge there,” he said at last. “Whatever men we have left, ready to meet them one more time. We hold them off while Oraya… does whatever she needs to do. And we pray to the Mother that whatever she finds there is powerful enough to buy us a victory.”

I felt a little nauseous.

Raihn threw back his head and laughed. “Oh,” he said. “Is that all?”

“I told you it was a big gamble,” Vale said, annoyed.

“What else can we do?” Mische asked, grabbing the mirror and tipping it toward her. “If Raihn and Oraya go by themselves, they get killed. If we wait for Simon to come for us, we get killed. If we attack Sivrinaj again, we get killed.” She threw her hands up. “It sounds like this is the only option that gives us a tiny little chance of maybe not getting killed.”

“Other than surrender,” Jesmine pointed out, which earned a face of disgust from every single person in the conversation.

“If we surrender,” I said, “they kill us all, anyway. And that’s not how I want to go.”

At least this way, I’ll die doing something. No one disagreed.

We were all silent for a long, long moment.

It was outlandish. It was dangerous. It was downright foolish in its riskiness.

It was also all we had.

My eyes slipped to Raihn—and he was already looking at me, resolve firm in his gaze. I knew that look. Same one we would give each other before yet another impossible Kejari trial.

“So it’s decided,” he said. “We go down fighting in the name of blind fucking hope.”

None of us could argue with that.

At least if we were idiots, we were all idiots together. That counted for something, I supposed.



THE GEARS WERE, once again, set in motion. Alya left not long after, citing errands, leaving Raihn and I alone at her worn kitchen table. We spent the rest of the day there, strategizing with frequent correspondence with Jesmine and Vale. The hours blurred together.

When Alya returned, some time later, she was not alone.

I was so focused—and so exhausted—that I didn’t even hear the door open, until I glanced up from my maps to see Raihn sitting rod-straight, looking at the door like he wasn’t sure whether to run or attack.

Alya closed the door behind her and her two companions: a mustached man with cropped, peppered hair, and a woman, a fair bit younger, with curly dark hair bound tight at the back of her head. Both prominently bore weapons hanging at their hips—the woman a sword, and the man an axe.

I stiffened. For a second, the prospect of Alya’s betrayal nearly shattered me.

“They’re friends,” Alya said quickly at our reaction, raising her palms. “Oraya, Raihn, this is my husband, Jace. And my friend, Tamyra.”

Raihn didn’t relax, and neither did I. I didn’t quite like the way either of them were sizing us up—especially the woman, Tamyra, who seemed like she hadn’t quite decided that she wasn’t going to kill us yet.

Alya glanced between all of us and heaved a long-suffering sigh. “Mother help us, no one has time for this. That’s not necessary, Tamyra.”

The man approached first, each step slow, his eyes locked onto me. I rose, just because it seemed like I should. It wasn’t until he was just a pace away that I saw the gleam in his eyes—the shine of almost-tears.

“You look just the same,” he said, deep voice rough. “Never thought we’d see you again, Alya and I, we —”

He snapped his jaw shut, as if abandoning words. And then he lowered to his knees.

It took everything in me not to jump—because I found the gesture that startling. And it was even more startling when, behind him, Tamyra approached and lowered into a kneel as well, bowing her head before me.

“Highness,” she said. “It’s an honor to meet you.” Mother, this was bizarre.

I cleared my throat. “You may… rise.”

My voice sounded much weaker than Vincent’s ever had when issuing that command.

Jace and Tamyra stood, and Tamyra stepped forward. With the lantern light falling across her face, I could see that she was heavily scarred—an angry pink slash across one cheek, and even what looked like fang marks on her throat, barely visible beneath the grease-stained fabric of her collar.

“I know you’re very busy, so I don’t ask for much of your time.” Her voice was low and brusque—the kind of voice that was impossible not to listen to. “My king, my queen, I consider myself a protector of this city. For nearly twenty years, my soldiers and I have looked after the safety of the people who live in these districts. I’m sure you know that in the House of Night, that’s often not an easy task.” Her gaze lingered on mine. “I hear rumors that you’ve acted in a role much like mine for some years now.”

Once, not long ago, I would have been embarrassed to have my nighttime activities so blatantly named. Not anymore. I wasn’t ashamed of

what I’d done.

“There aren’t too many of us, but we have enough,” she went on. “We network across cities throughout the House of Night. Don’t have a presence everywhere, yet, but we’re expanding every day. Organizing. Teaching humans how to protect themselves. The thing is, our work has gotten a lot easier these last few months.”

Her eyes slipped to Raihn, full of reluctant admiration, though clearly much warier of him than she was of me.

“I’ve come to thank you,” she said, “for prioritizing the safety of your human citizens.”

Raihn kept his face neutral. But maybe I was the only one who saw his tell—the little bob of his throat.

“I was human once,” he said. “A part of me always will be. Just seemed like the fair thing to do.”

“Past kings didn’t agree.”

“I don’t agree with much about past kings.”

A ghost of a smile, like Tamyra liked hearing this. She turned back to


“I’ve come to make an offer to you, King Raihn, Queen Oraya, from

one human to another.”

Queen Oraya. Two words that left me slightly dizzy. I didn’t show it.

“If you can guarantee that you will continue to protect the safety of your human population during your reigns,” she said, “then I can guarantee we’ll offer whatever forces we have into helping you keep that reign.”

My brows lurched before I could stop them.

“Like I said, we don’t have many,” she went on, “A few hundred, among the cities close enough to offer up troops in time for your march. My soldiers probably aren’t as strong as the vampire warriors you’re accustomed to. But we’re well trained, and we’re loyal as hell, and we know how to fight. You’ll be glad you have us.”

And then she just stared at us, expectant.

I could feel Raihn’s eyes on me too, as if to say, Go on, princess. This one’s yours.

“Thank you,” I said. “We would be honored to have your men fighting beside us.”

No flowery words. No performances. Just the truth.

I extended my hand.

Tamyra stared at it for a moment, blinking in confusion—which made me realize that probably, most queens didn’t go around accepting oaths of loyalty with a handshake.

But then she grasped my hand firmly, a slow smile spreading over her lips.

“Then I won’t waste time,” she said. “I’ll gather my soldiers and send word to the others. We move at your command.”

I released her hand, she bowed once more, and left. Once she was gone, Jace approached, carrying a canvas sack.

“You’ll need a weapon, I figured,” he said. “But I can’t salvage this, I’m afraid.”

He dumped the bag out on the table with a clatter, and my chest clenched.

The Taker of Hearts.

It was in pieces. My father’s sword had been decimated, reduced to nothing but faintly glowing, red shards. Even the hand guard was hopelessly warped.

“Jace and I can make magic-touched weapons together,” Alya said, joining us beside the table. “We might have been able to repair this one, if more of it was intact. But…”

She didn’t have to say anything more. If the debris on the table was all that remained of it, then more than half the blade was missing.

I picked up one of the shards, pressing it to my palm. The magic thrummed against my skin, calling to my blood—Vincent’s presence near, as if his ghost loomed over the corpse of his prized weapon.

Another piece of him gone.

I had so wanted to preserve this weapon—to be worthy of wielding it. When I’d finally managed it, I felt like I’d achieved something he’d always held just out of my grasp, even if I had to do it in his death.

Yes, the sword was powerful. But was that really why it had meant so much to me?

Or was it just another way of chasing the approval of a dead man who couldn’t give it to me?

I didn’t even like wielding rapiers. Never had.

“The magic in it is strong,” Alya said. “It would be a shame to waste it. I couldn’t recreate it from scratch, but we may be able to use the pieces—”

“Could you forge them into something else?” I asked.

They exchanged a glance. “It’d be tough,” Jace said. “But I’ve done harder.”

I opened my palm and let the shard fall to the table with a metallic

plink. Vincent’s ghost stepped back into the shadows.

“Could you make them,” I asked, “into dual blades?”

I glanced back at Raihn, and the pride in his face caught me off-guard.

His eyes crinkled with a barely-there, knowing smirk.

And Goddess damn him, I could practically hear him saying it:

There she is.

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