Chapter no 79

The Ashes & the Star-Cursed King

The feast was one for the record books. Historians would, one day, write about this party, though they’d have to make some things up, because if they were there, they were probably too drunk to

remember it firsthand. It was almost a shame that Cairis wasn’t around to appreciate it. He’d have been impressed.

After the ceremony, Oraya and I were thrown into engagement after engagement, shuffled around by Vale and Lilith from one set of nobles to another, making deadly-polite conversation and making sure all the right people knew just how frightening and powerful we were.

I preferred the Kejari. I was much more comfortable fighting with swords than words. Still, Oraya and I both turned out to be better at this than we thought. The hours wore on, and the event was, by all accounts, a success.

It was the small hours of the morning by the time I finally managed to slip away from my obligations. Oraya and I had gotten separated some time ago—Vale dragging me one way and Jesmine dragging her another—but one of the many benefits of the Coriatis bond was that I now always knew when Oraya was safe and when she wasn’t. I sensed no hint of distress, so instead of fighting through the crowd to look for her and risking getting pulled aside by yet another Rishan noble, I decided to find someone I actually wanted to talk to.

It was never that hard to find Mische at these types of events. She was always either near the food or the flowers. This time, I found her near the flowers. She’d wandered away from the main party, walking through the

garden’s blooming shrubberies. When I came across her, she was staring into a wall of blossoms, silhouetted against them.

I’d paused for a moment, my smile fading. Something about the image was so… sad.

“Careful where you wander unannounced out here,” I said, approaching her. “There are at least a dozen couples fucking somewhere in this maze.”

She laughed a little as she turned to me. A bit of my concern eased when I saw the overflowing plate of food in her hand. If she’d been empty-handed, I’d know we were really in trouble.

“Surprised you’re not one of them,” she said. “Yet.”

That thought distracted me briefly. I was joking, but also, it wasn’t a bad idea.

She scoffed, then took a bite of a pastry. “That went well,” she said, through a mouthful. “The ceremony. The party, too. I haven’t seen anyone die yet.”

I wasn’t sure if that was the measure of a successful royal vampire party or an unsuccessful one.

But that thought faded away as I watched her. She was now carefully avoiding eye contact, looking very interested in the flowers.

“Thought you were done keeping secrets from me, Mish,” I said. She stopped mid-chew. Then turned to me, wide-eyed, dismayed. “She said she wouldn’t tell you!”


My eyes narrowed. “She?

Mische’s eyes widened more. “Fuck,” she hissed. “Right. Fuck. Who’s she? Oraya?”

“I’ve got to go look at the—”

She started to turn away, but I grabbed her elbow. “Mische. What the hell is wrong?”

She let out a long sigh, then turned back to me. “I just—I didn’t want to do this here.”

“Do what?”

I hated when suspicions were confirmed. Mische hadn’t been herself the last few weeks. She hadn’t been the same since the prince. Or—who was I kidding? She hadn’t been the same since the Moon Palace. My gaze fell to

her arms, and the long gloves covering the burn scars she didn’t let anyone see—even me.

“What, Mische?” I asked, more gently.

She nudged food around her plate with her fork. “I’m… I decided I’m going to go away for a while.”

My heart sank.

“Away? Where?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. Everywhere. Anywhere.”

“We already did that. You and I. We saw everything worth seeing.” “We never made it to the Lotus Islands.”

“I have. They’re not that great.” She still wouldn’t look at me.

“Mische, if this is because of the House of Shadow—” I started.

“It’s not,” she said, too quickly. “It’s—argh.” She winced, squeezing her eyes shut, then set her plate down on a stone wall.

“Whatever the House of Shadow does, we will deal with it,” I said, voice low. And fuck, I meant that. “We’ll protect you. I’d never, never, let them—”

“I know,” she said. “Trust me, I know. It’s not about that.” “I don’t believe you.”

“Well—” She shrugged, opening her hands. “You have to. I was never meant for staying still, Raihn. You know that. Not even—before.”

Funny how hundreds of years later, she still stumbled over it every time she referenced her Turning.

But she was right. I did know that. That’s why Mische and I had made such good companions for so long. We were running from a lot together. Content to spend eternity letting the wind take us where it would.

“I thought that, too,” I said. “But…”

My voice trailed off. Because I hadn’t really thought about it this way before—that I actually felt like I had a home now, beside Oraya. I didn’t have to run from anything anymore.

For all the times I’d reassured Oraya about her safety, I’d never felt safe myself. Not until, I realized, now.

“This can be good, Mische,” I said. “You have a home here.” She smiled weakly. “You have a home here. This isn’t my home.” But, I wanted to say, I thought your home was always with me.

But none of this was about me.

For a long time, Mische had been my little sister. I’d treated her as something to be protected. But she wasn’t a child. She was an adult, and a damned capable one.

“When?” I said.

“Not for a while still. I told Oraya maybe a few weeks—”

Oraya. Oh, I’d almost forgotten about that interesting little bit.

“Speaking of Oraya,” I said, “why do I have to start talking to my wife to find out what’s going on in your head?”

Mische shrugged and said casually, “Maybe I just like her better than you.”

I touched my chest and made an exaggerated expression of pain. Such a casual, fatal shot.

She laughed, and I was so grateful for the sound I didn’t even care about the insult. Hell, I was glad she felt comfortable talking to Oraya, if she wasn’t going to be comfortable talking to me.

But her laughter faded. “It was just… easier,” she admitted. “It’s just…

It’s you and me, you know?”

I did know. I understood exactly. Sometimes she and I were so close we couldn’t really see or understand each other.

“And,” she added, “I just didn’t want to see you make that face. That sad face.”

The sad face?

“Did I make it?” I asked.

“Yes. It was heartbreaking.”

I wasn’t sure how to feel about that.

“Listen, Mische… I will always support you going where you want to go and doing what you want to do with your life. And yes, I’ll miss the hell out of you.”

Ix’s tits, I really would miss her.

“But if this is what you really want, then who am I to question that? You said this place isn’t your home. But it can be. A home is somewhere you come back to. And if you really feel like you need to leave, that’s fine. But this place—us—we will always be here for you to come back to.”

Her eyes, big and round, gleamed in the moonlight. Her lip wobbled slightly.

The sad face. Goddess damn it.

“None of that bullshit,” I grumbled. “You said a few more weeks. We can do this then.”

But before the words were out of my mouth, she threw herself against me in a hug. I grumbled, but folded my arms around her anyway, squeezing her tight.

A few weeks, I reminded myself. Hell if I wasn’t grateful for them.

Saying goodbye to Mische would be like saying goodbye to an entire version of myself. Wasn’t sure I was ready to do it tonight.

“Thanks,” she murmured.

For everything.

I knew exactly what she meant. I knew it, because I felt it, too.

“It’s nothing,” I said. Even though we both knew it wasn’t true.



THAT WAS ENOUGH UNCOMFORTABLY blatant emotion for Mische and me. We’d said all there was to say, and Mische wandered off, significantly lighter, to go find more food, leaving me alone to wander the gardens. I took a few minutes of solitude, collecting myself.

I hadn’t had much quiet time, lately. It was actually nice. Even if it was occasionally punctuated by the vocal moans of one couple or another from the shrubs.

Eventually, I decided to go find Oraya. I wondered if she was still trapped in conversations with nobles, or if she’d finally managed to extract herself, too.

Just as this thought crossed my mind, I turned a corner to see her standing at one of the garden walls, looking out over the festivities below.

I stopped short.

I couldn’t help it. I needed to just take a minute to look at her. Her wings were out now, the red shockingly vibrant even under the moonlight. Her gown glittered like the night sky itself. And her posture—she held herself like such a queen.

Sometimes, I found it impossible to imagine how Oraya had ever thought of herself as helpless. She was the most powerful person I’d ever met.

I approached her. She turned before I made it to her side, and the little smile she gave me eased the remaining lingering tension in my chest.

“You escaped,” I said. “So did you.”

“In a way. I found Mische instead.”

Maybe it was the bond that told Oraya what that meant, or maybe it was my face, or maybe both, because she cringed slightly.



“Are you alright?”

I shrugged. “She’s her own person. If that’s what she needs to do, that’s what she needs to do.”

Oraya stared hard at me in a way that told me she knew I wasn’t feeling quite so nonchalant about the whole thing. I sighed.

“A few weeks is a few weeks. We’ll deal with it then.”

I took a drink of my wine, and then frowned down at it, wishing it was something more satisfying.

Oraya followed my gaze.

“I think this party is hosting itself at this point,” she remarked, looking out over the crowd. Then she met my eye with a playful, knowing glint. “Do you want to go somewhere more fun?”

No hesitation. “Fuck, yes.”

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