Chapter no 75

The Ashes & the Star-Cursed King

A caeja’s beauty was not the beauty of Nyaxia. Nyaxia was beautiful the way many women hoped to be, albeit a million times over, a force greater than a mortal mind could even comprehend.

Acaeja’s beauty, though, was terrifying.

When she landed before me, I started shaking.

She was tall, even taller than Nyaxia was, with a regal, strong face. But more imposing than her stature were the wings—six of them layered over each other, three to each side. Each one acted as a window to a different world, a different fate—a field of blossoms beneath a cloudless summer sky, a bustling human city beneath a lightning storm, a forest raging with fire. She wore long white robes that pooled around her bare feet. Strings of light—the threads of fate—dangled from her ten-fingered hands.

Her face tilted toward me, cloudy white eyes meeting mine. I gasped and tore my gaze away.

A second of that stare, and I saw my past, my present, my future, blurring by too fast to comprehend. Fitting, that was what one would see, looking into the eyes of the Weaver of Fates.

“Do not be afraid, my daughter.”

Her voice was the amalgamation of so many different tones—child, maiden, elder.

Fear is just a collection of physical responses, I told myself, and I forced myself to meet Acaeja’s gaze again.

She knelt before me—observing Raihn, and then me, with detached interest.

“You called,” she said simply.

You answered, I almost replied, because I was still in shock that she actually had.

I groped for words and came up empty-handed. But she grabbed my chin, gently but firmly, and looked into my eyes like she was reading the pages of a book. Her gaze flicked back to Raihn.

“Ah,” she said. “I see.”

“A Coriatis bond,” I managed. “I ask you, Great Goddess, for a Coriatis bond. My mother devoted her life to you, and I—I’ll offer you anything if


Acaeja raised a single hand.

“Hush, child. I understand what you seek. Your mother was indeed a devoted follower of mine. I am quite protective of those who walk the unknown beside me.” She scanned the carnage that surrounded us, lips thinning with a brief wave of disapproval. “Even if they walk it, at times, to questionable ends, tampering with forces that should not be disturbed.”

I bit back a wave of shame on my mother’s behalf.

“Please,” I whispered. “If you grant us a Coriatis bond, if you help me save him, I swear to you—”

Again, Acaeja raised her palm.

“Do you understand the gravity of what you ask of me?” This, I knew, was not a rhetorical question.

“Yes,” I said. “I do.”

“Do you understand that you are asking me for something I have never once granted before?”

My eyes prickled. Another tear rolled down my cheek. “Yes.”

Only Nyaxia had ever granted a Coriatis bond. Never a single god of the White Pantheon.

But I was willing to try anything. Anything.

“Countless times, my followers have begged me to save their loved ones from death. Death is not the enemy. Death is a natural continuation of life. An intrinsic part of fate.” The visions in her wings shifted, as if to demonstrate—revealing glimpses of dark skies and bones and flowers growing from rotting flesh. “What makes you different?”

Nothing, I thought, at first. I was just another grieving lover, standing on the precipice of one more loss she couldn’t bear.

But I rasped out, “Because he could do such great things for this kingdom. We could, together. We could make things so much better for the

people who live here. People—” My voice grew stronger. “People like my mother, who devoted her life to you, even when trying to survive so many hardships here.”

Acaeja tilted her head, as if she found this answer interesting. Compared to Nyaxia’s blatant emotionality, she was distant, calculated. I couldn’t read her.

I knew Nyaxia, despite her cruel dismissal, felt my pain. Acaeja, I feared, was only analyzing it.

“My cousin spoke the truth to you,” she said. “Granting a Coriatis bond between two Heirs would alter the course of the House of Night forever.”

“It would end millennia of warfare.”

“Yes. But it would come with many challenges, as well.”

My hand closed around Raihn’s limp, bloody fingers. “I know. We would face them.”

It almost surprised me, how easily this answer came to me. It wasn’t a platitude, wasn’t a performance. It was the truth.

Acaeja stared at me for a long moment. A shiver ran up my spine—the uncomfortable feeling that my past and future were being rifled through like pages in a record log.

Then she let out a soft chuckle. “Humans,” she said softly. “Such hope.” I waited, not breathing.

At last, she said, “If I grant this request, do you swear that to me? That you both will use the power I am granting you to fight for what is Right in this world and the next, even against great opposition?”

My heart leapt.

“Yes,” I said. “Yes. I do.”

“You will be under my protection as an offspring of my acolyte, and that protection will extend to him, as your heart-bonded. But understand that my cousin will not be happy about this development. She will not act against you. Not today. Not tomorrow. But someday soon, Oraya of the Nightborn, there will come a day when Nyaxia brings a great reckoning. And when that day comes, you must be prepared to face her displeasure.”

Goddess fucking help us.

And maybe I was a fool for it, but I still didn’t hesitate. “Yes,” I said. “I understand.”

“I see your truth. I see the possibility in both your futures. I see that there is still much to come. And for that reason, I will grant you a Coriatis


The words were so unbelievable. At first, I couldn’t even grasp them. “Thank you,” I tried to say, but it drowned in a sob.

“Quickly,” Acaeja said. “He fades.”

My eyes fell to Raihn’s face—motionless, battered, covered in blood, features broken beyond recognition. And yet, for some reason, the image of that same face on our wedding night came to my mind. The night he had promised himself to me, and I couldn’t offer him the same.

“This will be painful,” Acaeja warned. She touched my chest, right over my heart.

“Painful” was not the right word for it. I gasped at the bolt of agony— like someone was spearing me straight through, hooking my heart and dragging it through my ribcage.

Still, I didn’t flinch, didn’t close my eyes. I looked only at Raihn’s face.

Through the haze of pain, I heard our wedding vows:

I give you my body.

I give you my blood. I give you my soul.

Acaeja drew her hand from my chest, slowly, as if pulling a great weight, and then pressed it to Raihn’s. A blinding white light engulfed us.

The pain intensified.

From this night until the end of nights.

I doubled over, my forehead leaning against Raihn’s.

From daybreak until our days are broken.

Acaeja drew her hands back, a thread of light between them.

“I bind these hearts together.” Her voice rippled through the air like water. “Their souls are one. Their power is one. From this moment, until their threads cross this mortal plane.”

Her hands splayed, twenty long fingers weaving together our fates—and then, in one abrupt movement, drawing the threads taut.

I doubled over, unable to move, to breathe. My eyes squeezed shut. My head emptied of everything except for five words:

I give you my heart.

The words I wouldn’t—couldn’t—say to Raihn that night. The vow I could not make.

Now I whispered those words over and over again, clinging to them, as my soul itself shattered and reformed.

“I give you my heart,” I murmured against his skin. “I give you my heart. I give you my heart.”

The light faded. The pain ebbed.

Acaeja sounded very far away, her voice like a wave rolling from the shore, as she said, “It is done.”

The words faded off into oblivion. And so did I.

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