Chapter no 73

The Ashes & the Star-Cursed King


I didn’t mean to scream his name. It ripped itself from my throat when he fell. I barely heard it so much as I felt it, a

distillation of emotion too powerful to remain inside me.

I had run from those tunnels into the bowels of fucking hell.

The sight of it had shocked me, horrified me. The sky was dark with warriors tangled in combat, and the sandy ground of the ruins drenched with flower-bloom spatters of blood that rained from the bodies above. In the distance, beyond the rocks, our ground forces were locked in combat with the Bloodborn—human, Hiaj, Rishan, Bloodborn, all tearing each other apart.

No horror story could top this. No nightmare. Not even the prison of the gods could be worse than this.

And yet, none of it was as horrifying as seeing Raihn like this, a collection of broken tissue and tattered flesh, lying on the ground.

Suddenly I was on the grounds of the colosseum in the final trial.

Suddenly I was losing him all over again.

“Raihn.” I grabbed him by the shredded leather of his armor and shook him, hard. “Get up. Get the fuck up.”

His head lolled. I expected a bleary blink, a half smile, a fuck you, too, princess.

What I got was nothing.

I pressed my hand to his chest. Or at least, I tried to, even though it required me to do the impossible—find an expanse of skin that wasn’t an open wound.

It rose and fell. So, so weakly.

He was alive. But I knew that wouldn’t last. I’d spent so much of my life sensing death looming over me. I knew what it felt like when it was near.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Simon stir. He was a monster at this point, a grotesque puppet of twisted flesh and gore. But that magic, that noxious, terrible magic, would keep him going.

I shook Raihn again. “Raihn. I forbid you to die on me. Do you understand? Get the fuck up. You swore to me—you swore—”

Never again, he’d promised me, in the springs. He swore to me that he would never betray me again.

And this—losing him—felt like the greatest betrayal. No. No, I refused to let it happen.

I grabbed my blade and sliced my hand open again, squeezing the blood into Raihn’s parted lips. It pooled and dribbled out pathetically from the corner of his mouth, useless.

And still, he did not move.

Everything else in my mind simply shut down. Grief cracked open inside me, drowning me, uncontrollable.

Behind me, Simon twitched again, gurgling groans rising from his decimated body.

Above me, blood rained down from the heavens.

Around me, my people fell to the blades of my enemies. Before me, my husband died.

And in my hand, clutched against burnt flesh, was a power strong enough to end it all.

All my life, I had wanted to be something to fear. It was my father’s dream, shouldered from the moment I could understand how to build the strength he expected of me and excise the weaknesses he disapproved of.

If I used the blood of a god, I would certainly become something to fear. I would be more terrifying than Simon was. I could destroy him. Septimus. The Bloodborn. I could kill every enemy and make sure no one ever would question or threaten me or my people ever again.

They would write legends about me.

But that would be the power of destruction. I would not be able to save Raihn.

I opened my palm. The skin cracked and bled, charred by the power of the vial I clutched against it. Yet that ugliness only highlighted the incandescence of what sat within it, the blood a galaxy of colors against the darkest shadows of night.

It was so incredibly beautiful.

I blinked and a tear rolled down my cheek.

I wouldn’t lose one more thing. One more person. I couldn’t.

This blood could be used as a tool of destruction, yes. But how else could it be used?

Once I had cherished my dead father’s dirty wine glasses. I’d wrapped myself in his discarded clothing. If someone had offered me a piece of his hair, I’d have wept for it.

This blood was more than a weapon. It was a piece of someone who had once been loved. It was a bargaining chip, priceless to the one being who I knew would treasure it above all.

As Simon grunted and pushed himself to his hands and knees, I lifted my eyes to the sky. Beyond the winged bodies above, storm clouds swirled in unnatural wisps—like fish circling a pond, fragments of suspended lightning dancing between them.

I’d only seen the sky like that once before. When we had the attention of the gods.

I raised the vial above my head, as if offering it to the heavens.

“My Mother of the Ravenous Dark,” I screamed. “I call upon you, Goddess of Night, of Blood, of Shadow. I offer you the blood of your husband, Alarus. Hear me, my Goddess, Nyaxia.”

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