Chapter no 78

The Ashes & the Star-Cursed King

I was nervous.

I stood in front of the mirror for a borderline embarrassing amount of time.

I could admit that I looked good. A small army of servants had seen to

that, painting my face, smoothing my hair, pinching and prodding my body so that every swell swelled and every dip dipped in all the right places in this dress. Though, I definitely couldn’t take credit for making this thing look good. It was nothing short of a work of art. Even more magnificent, somehow, than the one I’d worn at Vale and Lilith’s wedding.

It was dark purple, nearly black, and tailored close to my body. It was scandalously revealing—cut low enough to reveal the dimples at the base of my spine, and plunging in the front, the bodice dipping between my breasts. It was designed to frame both my Marks, and it did that very well, the shape complementing every curve and point of the tattoos. The bodice was boned with deep red that echoed the color of the Marks, and those bones, at my hips, gave way to dots of scattered silver that resembled stars, growing thicker as they reached the skirt.

It rivaled the craftsmanship of every weapon I’d ever held. And I did look every bit a queen. As I should.

The first few weeks of our joint reign had been tense, uncertain. But over the last month, Raihn and I had worked hard to cement our rule over the House of Night. The traitors had been sentenced. The Bloodborn had been expelled. Rebellious nobles had been deposed.

No one had come for our heads. Yet.

But tonight was the first major festival to take place since the end of the war. Raihn and I would appear before the most respected of vampire society, and we’d make our offering to Nyaxia for the new lunar year. We’d need to be…


Fucking royal, when one year ago, I’d spent this holiday barred up in my room, forbidden by Vincent to come to the festivities. It had been just a few short weeks before the start of the Kejari.

Little did I know, then, how close I was to everything changing.

I knew Raihn was approaching before I heard his footsteps. I often did, now.

He appeared behind me in the mirror, peering through the open doorway. He let out a low whistle.

“Really?” I said, turning around and examining the dress from the back. “You think so?”

“What the hell else would I think?”

He approached, and I watched him through the mirror. Goddess, the tailors were damned artists. His outfit complemented mine, cut from the same shade of deep purple cloth, the cuffs and the collar adorned with the same star accents.

It was also incredibly flattering. The jacket was shaped impeccably to his body. The buttons started low, leaving the top open to reveal deliberate glimpses of his Mark. Along with a decidedly noticeable expanse of muscled flesh.

“You know,” Raihn said, “it’s very easy for me to tell now when you’re doing that.”

“Doing what?” I said innocently.

He was one to talk. As if I didn’t also feel his eyes on my chest.

I turned around to face him. My fingertips ran down his throat, tracing the lines of his Mark all the way down to the soft hair of his chest. I thought of the night of the Halfmoon ball, when he’d opened his jacket for me and practically offered up his heart.

Are you going to kill me, princess?

Turned out that answer was yes.

He tipped my chin up. “You look too good to be this nervous.”

“It seems like whenever I look this good, something terrible happens.”

He choked a laugh. “You may have a point there. I’ve survived a few coups now and you looking good was a factor in at least two of them.”

Bloodshed and ballgowns. They really went together.

But I wasn’t ready to joke about it. The memory of the wedding was still too fresh. That, too, had been a grand gesture to show off the power of a new regime to its most important subjects.

And look at how that had ended.

Raihn swept his thumb over the wrinkle on my brow. “What’s that face for?”

I stared at him, deadpan, because he knew what that face was for. “Nothing to be nervous about,” he said.

My eyebrows lowered, because fuck that bullshit, I knew he was nervous too.

He sighed. “Fine. You have me. But I’m feeling better already, because if you walk in there wearing that face, it’ll put any doubts about our brutal, terrifying power to rest.”

I couldn’t help it. I laughed. “There we go.”

He smiled. Even though I could still feel the unease beneath it, the expression tugged deep in my chest. There was genuine happiness in that smile. Something a little looser, that hadn’t existed when we’d first met.

I remembered the first time I’d heard Raihn laugh, and it had struck me because I didn’t know it was possible for anyone to laugh like that—so freely. He smiled like that too. Totally un-vampiric.

I couldn’t help but return it.

A knock rang out at the door. Ketura poked her head in.

“The moon is rising,” she said. “Everyone’s ready for you.”

Raihn glanced at me and raised his brows, as if to say, Well, this is it.

I took his arm and very subtly wiped the sweat from my palms on his sleeve.

“Nice,” he muttered into my ear, as we followed Ketura out the door.



RAIHN and I were led to the balcony of the castle. Not long ago, Raihn had been strung up here to die. Now, we would stand here to address our people.

This feast was always one of Sivrinaj’s grandest, and this year’s was especially grand besides. In light of our current unique circumstances, we’d decided to open it up more than usual, allowing citizens of Sivrinaj into the outer reaches of the palace grounds. Within the innermost walls, the nobles and officials gathered—all those, of course, who had sworn loyalty to the new king and queen. A crowd of Hiaj, Rishan, and human, alike.

A year ago—hell, months ago—such a thing would have been incomprehensible.

A year ago, the thought of even being among all these people, with my throat exposed, would have been paralyzing.

A wave of that terror passed over me as Raihn and I approached the doorway and I saw the sea of faces beneath—hundreds, maybe thousands. I paused at the silver arch, dizzy. Raihn’s hand found the small of my back, his thumb swirling a single comforting circle on bare skin.

He leaned close to me, his lips brushing my ear. “You’re safe,” he murmured.

Seemed like some kind of magic, that he always made me believe him.

I straightened my back, wound my fingers through his, and strode out to greet my people alongside him.

Somewhere below, voices rang out in perfect unison:

“Announcing, on this blessed eve, the arrival of the King and Queen of the House of Night!”

The words shivered through the air, hanging there like smoke. They slithered over my skin. I felt Raihn flinch at them, too, like the reality of them struck him in a way he wasn’t expecting.

A ripple of movement, as all those countless eyes turned to us. I stopped breathing.

And I still didn’t breathe—couldn’t—as all those people, Rishan, Hiaj, and human, lowered into bows, like a wave rolling across the sea.

Goddess help me. What a sight it was.

I let out a shaky exhale. I was grateful for Raihn’s hand, clutching mine so hard it trembled.

He glanced at me through the corner of his eye, crinkled slightly with a smile of relief.

I muttered, quietly enough for only him to hear, “And you didn’t even have to rip off anyone’s head.”

Raihn stifled his chuckle.



THE CEREMONY ITSELF WAS BRIEFNO vampire wanted to spend more time watching a bunch of religious ritual more than they wanted to spend it eating and drinking and fucking. The feast was to commemorate the end of one lunar year and the beginning of a new one. I’d seen Vincent perform this rite only once before, and I’d had to sneak out to do it, watching from the rooftop of a nearby building and quietly creeping away before anyone could smell me.

It was, needless to say, very different when you were at the center of it. Raihn and I had to give Nyaxia three offerings.

First, wine—to thank her for the abundance of the year and ask for abundance in the next. We held the glass goblet up together, raising it to the sky, our magic urging the liquid from the glass in an eel-like swirl of deep red and sending it to the stars above.

Then, the bone of an enemy—in appreciation for her protection, and in request for continued strength. We had more than enough to pick from this year, but it seemed particularly appropriate to offer her one of Simon’s—a finger bone. We held the polished piece of ivory up to the sky, and with a flash of black light, Raihn’s Asteris reduced it to dust, swept away in the wind.

And finally, we would offer her our blood. This was the most important of the three offerings, the one that signaled our eternal loyalty and devotion. She had made our blood what it was, the scriptures said, and thus we would offer it back to her as a sign of our fealty.

Tonight, this seemed a little redundant, given just how much of it we’d spilled for her over the last few months, but neither of us was going to complain about a little more.

Raihn and I made this offering together, our blood shared. We used my blade—because of course, I still carried them everywhere—to open cuts

across our palms. Then we pressed our hands together and cupped them. When we lifted them to the night sky, we offered Nyaxia a pool of mingling crimson and black.

Traditionally, Nyaxia would take this offering herself, calling the blood up to the stars.

But now, nothing happened.

Long seconds passed. Raihn and I both grew silently more tense.

If Nyaxia didn’t accept the offering, it would make a terrible impression on such an important night. I was prepared to fake it if I had to. It was all a show, after all. Our magic was more than capable of convincingly swirling some blood around in the air.

But finally—after what felt like an eternity, but was only seconds—the blood rose. It danced against the velvet-black like an unfurling wisp of liquid smoke, before being consumed by the darkness.

Raihn and I let out simultaneous exhales of relief.

The spectators, oblivious, broke into applause, mostly cheering that they were now free to go feast and drink. We turned to address them, raising our hands in celebration and thanks, and we looked every bit the picture of the royalty we were supposed to be.

But my eyes drifted up to the night sky, where swirls of odd, gleaming clouds lingered, like clustered fragments of moonlight.

And for some reason, Acaeja’s warning rang out in my mind:

There will come a day when Nyaxia will bring a reckoning. Not today. Not tomorrow.

But it will come.

Then I blinked, and the strange clouds disappeared—like they’d never existed at all, just another figment of my imagination.

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