Chapter no 66

The Ashes & the Star-Cursed King

One would think that after almost three hundred years as a vampire, I’d stop feeling like a human. One would think that after two hundred years of freedom, I’d stop believing the things that Neculai

had once told me.

The divide was always so clear—us versus them. The Turned would always bear some mark of our human weakness, human flaws. I’d spent so fucking long sawing away all evidence of those weaknesses in myself. I was physically stronger than I’d ever been. Stronger, maybe, than even Neculai had been.

But when I flew up into the night sky—a sky that was an unnatural, ungodly black with the wings of Rishan warriors—I was fucking terrified.

As a young man, I used to think that bravery was the absence of fear.

No. I’d learned since then that the absence of fear was only stupidity.

I let myself feel it for thirty seconds, as my eyes took in that wave of warriors that just kept going and going and going, and then I stuffed it down my throat.

I veered left, soaring toward Vale. The army had split now, Ketura’s troops sweeping to the ground in a wave of fluttering feathers, like rain falling down over the desert, to join the human soldiers to face the Bloodborn.

Everyone was moving fast. Too fast. Minutes, and these unstoppable forces would collide.

I still wasn’t quite used to seeing Vale look relieved to see me.

“Highness,” he said, raising his voice over the wind and the steady drumbeat rhythm of wings.

“Don’t let them get beyond the ruins,” I commanded.

He looked down to the rocks below. I saw him put the pieces together— what must be down there.

“Understood.” His eyes flicked to me, the question in them obvious. “Did you—”

“Oraya is searching.”

That answer made it sound so mundane. Not like I’d just left her to wander off into an ominous magical pit.

I veered closer, as close as we could get without colliding. “Hold that line, Vale. No matter what. Understood?”

Understanding flickered in his face. He knew the frantic edge to my voice wasn’t just about the artifact, no matter how powerful it was.

“We’ll hold it,” he said, voice firm. “I swear it.”

I lifted my head to face the onslaught of warriors ahead, speeding toward us in a steady, unrelenting wall. Vale drew his sword, face stone, jaw set.

“Weapons up!” he roared, voice booming through the air, the echo rolling through the armies as his captains passed the order along.

Simon’s army was now close enough that I could see their faces.

And clearer than any of them, I saw Simon’s—blood-streaked, rage-drenched. He practically reeked of otherworldly power, a faint, crimson-tinted smoke collecting around his wings, the glow at his chest simmering like hot coals in the night.

One look at him, and I knew he’d rip through whatever poor bastards threw themselves at him. Heir power might be enough to hold him off. Maybe.

“Stay away from him,” I said to Vale. “He’s mine.”

The truth was, it wasn’t all that selfless. I was ready for a rematch. I drew my sword.

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