Chapter no 13

The Ashes & the Star-Cursed King

Raihn knocked at my door just a few hours before dawn.

I knew it was him right away. I’d spent the rest of the night after that conversation with Septimus waiting for him to show up. That

wasn’t the end of the fight. Any minute, I told myself, and he’d be at my door, trying to force me into this.

I was ready for it.

I didn’t get up, of course, when he knocked. Prisoner or not, I didn’t feel like rising to meet my own punishment.

Click, click, click, click, as the locks released. The door swung open.

Raihn stood there wearing a dark cloak, a pile of fabric over one arm.

He tossed it on the bed—a matching cape. “Put it on,” he said. I didn’t. “Why?”

“Because I said so.”

“That’s a shit reason.”

“Ix’s tits, princess. Put on the damned cloak.”

I narrowed my eyes at him, confused and trying not to show it. A few hours ago, he’d been all but threatening to torture me.

“I’m not sure why I’d go anywhere with you or do anything you ask me to,” I said curtly. “When you’ve already made it so clear you’ll just force me to do whatever you want.”

He sighed. “We can’t have this conversation here. Just put on the cloak and come on,” he said, raised his hood, and left the room.

I sat there for a few long seconds, then cursed to myself under my breath. Mother damn that human curiosity.

I put on the cloak and followed Raihn. He’d gone next door, to his chamber. He held the door open for me, then closed it behind us.

I had never been in this room. The apartment had been empty when I lived here as a child—Vincent would never let anyone but himself so close to me, considering the fragility of my human skin and the draw of my human blood. There were only two chambers in this wing, so keeping this one unoccupied left me isolated—safe.

It was a mirror image of my own—a small sitting room, a washroom, a bedchamber. I eyed the open door to Raihn’s bedchamber—much messier than I would have expected, the sheets and blankets a pile on the bed—and tried not to think about the fact that our rooms shared a wall.

Raihn strode to the other end of the sitting room, where two large windows stretched to the ceiling. He unlatched one of them, letting it fly open. A rush of dry desert air rustled his hair around his face as he climbed up on the sill, turned to me, and offered his hand. With a puff of smoke, his wings unfurled.

I didn’t move.

“Come on,” he said. “Absolutely not.”

“We both know you’re going to agree. So let’s skip the part where we go back and forth about it. We don’t have a lot of time.”

“Are you asking me or are you commanding me?”

His mouth tightened. “Can I really command you to do anything? If you really want to go back to your room and sit there by yourself, you can do that too. Your choice.”

He pulled his hood up a bit more, the shadow over the top half of his face highlighting the smirk on his mouth, the strength of his jaw, the light pooling in the lines of the scar on his left cheek.

Mother damn him, I wished he wasn’t right, but he was. I approached warily. He reached for me, then hesitated. “May I?” he asked, his voice a little rough.

I nodded, trying very hard to look nonchalant.

It wasn’t the first time Raihn had flown with me. But it was the first time since… the end of the Kejari. The thought of being that close to him, the thought of allowing him to hold me… it…

Fear is a collection of physical responses, I told myself, trying desperately to slow my rapid heartbeat before he could sense it.

Even though this was a whole different kind of fear than the adrenaline rush of bodily danger. Harder to numb.

I stepped onto the sill, and he pulled me into his arms, one tight across my back, the other under my thighs. I wrapped my arms around his neck in a way that felt far more natural than it should have.

He smelled the same. Like the desert and the rush of the sky. The warmth of his body felt the same, too—firm and stable.

For a brief, terrible moment, we paused just like that. His muscles tightened, as if struggling with the instinct to pull me closer, to make this a real embrace. Such a subtle movement, but I still felt it, because my awareness of him was so agonizingly acute.

My attempts to slow my heart had failed, and Raihn undoubtedly heard it. My eyes fell to his throat—right at the angle of his jaw, where muscles flexed as he swallowed and turned his head slightly to look at me.

I didn’t want to meet his eyes, because that would have put our faces far too close together.

His thumb rubbed that single circle on my upper back. “You’re safe,” he murmured. “Alright?”

He sounded a little sad.

And then he hurled us into the night sky.



HE BROUGHT US, to my surprise, to the human districts. He kept us out of sight during the flight and landed in the yard of an abandoned building. As soon as he set me down, I took two steps away from him, eager to put space between us.

Our hoods had fallen back in the wind. Raihn casually replaced his and started walking to the main streets. “This way.”

“Where are we?”

I didn’t recognize this part of town. I’d been all over the districts, but this was near the outskirts of Sivrinaj’s borders—far even for us, during our nighttime training sessions.

“I want to show you something.” He glanced over his shoulder, the hood obscuring all but his profile. “Oh. And I brought these for you. In case you want to have some fun while you’re here.”

He held out two sheathed weapons—blades.

Shock stole my steps for a moment, then I had to half-run to catch up to him. I snatched the weapons from his hands in case he thought better of it.

I unsheathed them. Watched the light play over the carvings on the black steel—Nightborn steel. The good shit.

Not just any blades. My blades.

I’d thought it would feel right to have these in my hands again, like being reunited with an old friend. Instead, I had to brace against the sudden, visceral memory of what I had done with these very weapons the last time I’d held them.

“Why would you give me these?”

“I figured you’ll need them. No poison in them, though. I haven’t had time to track any down, but maybe we should call it a precaution.”

Raihn was walking fast. I didn’t have much time to admire them, stumbling along as I affixed the sheaths to my belt while keeping up with him.

Leathers. Weapons. Human districts. It was all eerily familiar, and yet, so wildly different.

We emerged onto a denser street, little clay buildings packed together like crooked teeth. “Keep that hood up,” Raihn muttered, though there was no one around, and crossed the street to a rickety building with four stories that all seemed to be a little misaligned, like a stack of unsteady bricks. A single lantern swung in the breeze at the door, the suggestion of light seeping between curtained window panes. Raihn opened the door without knocking, and I followed.

It led us into a small, dim lobby, with a single desk and a narrow staircase. A rotund, middle-aged human man dozed at the desk, an empty glass of very pungent-smelling alcohol drawing amber circles on scattered papers.

Raihn ignored him, and I followed his lead as he went up the stairs. At the top floor, he reached into his pocket and produced a key. Apparently, the lock didn’t work very well anymore, so he grumbled through three attempts before the door finally swung open.

He gave me a sly smile beneath the hood. “After you, princess.”

Tentatively, I stepped into the room.

It was an apartment. A stark contrast to the one we had just left in the castle—the entirety of the place was smaller than the bedroom alone there, the only furniture a single small bed, a dresser, and one tiny desk that I suspected Raihn probably couldn’t even fit at. It was clearly occupied, though—the desk held books and papers, one half-open dresser drawer revealed a glimpse of crumpled fabric, and the washroom lantern was still lit. The bed was a little messy, like someone had slept in it recently and made it very hurriedly.

I walked around the room slowly, brow furrowed. “Who lives here?”

Raihn closed the door and latched it behind us. “I do.”

I halted mid-stride. My brows lurched.

He chucked softly. “It’s still satisfying to shock you. Fine. Maybe ‘living here’ is a bit of an exaggeration.” He unhooked his cloak, tossed it onto the bed, and then fell backwards onto it with a grunt of satisfaction. “It’s… somewhere private to go.”

I thought of all those days that I never heard Raihn’s footsteps return to his rooms.

“You sleep here?”

“Sometimes.” A pause, then, “Sometimes I can’t… sometimes I just want to get away from that place.”

I watched him practically deflate onto the bed. He did immediately seem more at ease here. Like the remnants of whatever mask he wore within the walls of the castle had finally fallen free.

I didn’t want to see this version of Raihn—the version that reminded me far too much of the man I’d…

I cleared my throat, stuffed my hands into my pockets, and wandered the perimeter.

“No one knows about it,” Raihn said. “No one but me,” I corrected.

I could hear the smile in his voice. “No one but you.” “Stupid of you.”


“Since I’m a traitor and all.”

“Mmm.” The bed creaked as Raihn sat back up. I turned around to see him giving me a stare that made me jolt. All seriousness.

“We need to talk,” he said, “and we needed to do it somewhere I knew no one else would hear us.”

“I thought you said everything you needed to say. Or Septimus did, at least.”

My words were pointed, the accusation clear. “I say what I need to say, in front of them.”

“You manipulated me,” I snapped. “You’ve been playing games with me since the beginning.”

Raihn’s face hardened.

“You committed an act of war, Oraya.”

I let out a choked laugh. “committed an act of war? Me?

This was a mistake. I shouldn’t even be here. I was armed now. I could

He winced, then raised his hands. “I—let’s not. This isn’t what I’m here


“Then what?”

He stood, went to the dresser, and pulled something out of the middle drawer—something long, wrapped in fabric. He lay the object over the desk beside me and unwrapped it.

My heart caught in my throat.

The Taker of Hearts. Vincent’s sword.

It was an incredible weapon—he’d had it for centuries, and never refuted or confirmed the legends surrounding it. That it was god-forged. That it was cursed. That it was blessed. That he’d carved out a little chunk of his own heart to have it made. He’d told me these legends when I was a child, sometimes—always with a completely serious face but a glint of amusement in his eye.

Legends aside, the reality was impressive enough. The weapon was incredibly powerful, enhancing Vincent’s already-significant magical strength. It was his and his alone, rejecting all other wielders. I used to joke that the sword was Vincent’s true greatest love. For most of my life, I think I believed it.

Now, the image of Vincent’s bloodied face, straining to look at me in his final breaths, cut through my mind.

I loved you from the first moment.

My chest was very, very tight.

Raihn stepped back, leaning against the wall, as if to give me space alone with it. “You can pick it up,” he said—oddly gently. “Just be careful. Hurts like a bitch if you touch the hilt too long.”

I unsheathed the sword and lay it over the desk. It was light, a slender and elegant rapier. The blade was bright red, swirls and sigils carved into its length that matched those on my own. The hilt was made of Nightsteel, forming delicate spirals around the handguard, which resembled the bones of Hiaj wings.

I stared at it for a long time, not trusting myself to speak. A slow-rising tide of grief and anger swelled inside me.

Raihn had been keeping this sword. My father’s most prized possession, now owned by the man who had killed him.

“Why are you showing me this?”

Surely he couldn’t think it was some kind of sentimental peace offering. “Could you wield it?”

I blinked in surprise and turned to Raihn. I briefly questioned if I’d heard him right.

“No,” I said. “No one can wield it but him.”

“But no one could use the mirror but him, either. And you used that.” “That’s different. This is…”


Vincent had warned me many times against even touching the weapon. For all the obvious reasons one would warn a child against such a thing, in the beginning, but later because he made it very clear it would be dangerous for me to even hold it. The weapon could only be wielded by him, and what was painful to vampires could very well be deadly to me.

“Why?” I asked pointedly. “Is this another thing you want me to do for Septimus?”

The shadow of anger that passed over Raihn’s face was fleeting, but powerful. “No.”

“Then why would you hand me a weapon like this and want me to use


After I’d acted against him. After he had made it so clear the role I was

intended to play.

Handing me this weapon—hell, even letting me know that it still existed

—was a downright stupid move.

He said simply, “Because you’re right.”

I’d told myself so many times that I’d never let Raihn surprise me again. And yet, here we were.

“Because the things you said in Vincent’s office that night—they’re true,” he said. “There is no excuse for what I have allowed the Bloodborn to do to this kingdom. Septimus is preying on both of us. I allowed myself to be manipulated into an alliance that I didn’t want, into a deal I can’t get out of, and now here we fucking are.”

He paced closer, step by step, and I didn’t move away. I glanced to the floor, uncomfortable, when he spoke of being forced into his alliance, but I still saw his face, anyway—that moment when Angelika had been ready to kill me, and I’d watched Raihn look up into the stands and nod.

Another paradox I couldn’t reconcile. Raihn had murdered my father and taken my kingdom and imprisoned me, but he had done it all to save my life.

“I know I’m right,” I said. “And?”

A faint smile of amusement, gone in seconds. “And I want you to help me do something about it.”

“If this is another speech about—”

“No. This is about blood, Oraya.” He didn’t blink. His eyes didn’t leave mine. “This is about getting the Bloodborn out of our fucking kingdom.”

“Your allies. The ones you’re relying on to keep your throne.”

“Allies,” he scoffed. And there was something about the way he said it, under his breath, that made a realization crash through me.

Septimus had manipulated me to test his theory, knowing I would never cooperate with him. And until now, I’d assumed that Raihn had been right beside him in that—maybe even that he had instigated it.

Now, I was suddenly certain that I had been wrong.

“You didn’t know,” I said. “You didn’t know about any of this, either.

The mirror. The armory attack. The god blood.”

The look on Raihn’s face confirmed my theory long before he spoke.

Because there had been Rishan forces at the armory, but no Bloodborn. If Raihn had been involved, there should have been many more Rishan troops at the base that night. But they were as unprepared as we were. He ended up losing just as many soldiers as I did.

Only Septimus had come out of it all unscathed—with both the Rishan and the Hiaj weakened, and his theory confirmed.

“He’s a snake,” Raihn muttered. “He didn’t tell me about any of it until afterwards. I showed him what he wanted to see. Threw my dick around. Shouted. Big, stupid warrior shit. And then I went along with him, after giving him just enough resistance to make it believable.”

Raihn and his performances.

“I made a deal I can’t get out of,” he went on. “I’ve granted Septimus that much. But… regardless of whether we find what he wants, he may not even be the one who can use it. And there are other things in the House of Night that are just as powerful. But to wield them, I’ll need your help.”

I scoffed, and he raised his palms.

“Easy, viper. Let me finish,” he said, before I could speak. “Help me find the god blood. Help me fulfill Septimus’s ridiculous quest. But then, I want you to help me use it to betray him and throw those Bloodborn bastards out of this kingdom once and for all. And after that, you’re free to do whatever you want.”

I scoffed again. “Whatever I—” “Whatever you want.”

I didn’t mean to look surprised. Mother damn my face.

He laughed softly. “You never believed me, but I never intended to keep you captive. I’m asking you—not forcing you—to help me. And after that, you have my word that we’re done.”

“What is your word worth?”

“Not much. It’s seen better days. A little banged-up. But it’s all I have to offer, unfortunately.”

I stared down at my father’s sword. He’d died with it soaking up his blood mere feet from him in the colosseum sands.

The House of Night was my father’s kingdom. It was my kingdom.

Raihn had lied to me so many times. And yet… I found myself considering this.

“Won’t Septimus suspect this?” I asked. “He has eyes everywhere.”

“No vampire has eyes here.” He gestured to the dim, dusty room— distinctly human. “You’re right, though. We’ll have to be careful. Make sure he sees only what he expects to see. I’ll play the part of the brute king. You play the part of the prisoner wife who hates him.”

“That will be easy,” I said. “I do hate you.”

I’d thought those words to myself countless times—I hate him, I hate him, I hate him—and yet, when they slipped over my tongue, they tasted rancid, bitter for all the ways they were true and untrue. Because they should not be anything but true, when I was standing before the man who murdered my father.

Raihn’s face went still, just for a split second, like he was collecting himself after a blow.

And then he smiled, easy and comfortable.

“Oh, I know,” he said. “That’s for the better. You aren’t much of an actress.”

He extended his hand. “But,” he added, softly, seriously, “you are one hell of an ally.”


A lifetime ago, he had offered me an alliance. I knew it was a mistake to take it then, too.

But I was powerless now, just as I was then. A human in a world of vampires. An Heir with no teeth. A daughter with no way to avenge her father.

Raihn was offering me power. More power than I’d ever dreamed of wielding.

And power was the currency of revenge.

I took Raihn’s hand. It was warm and rough, and much larger than my own. He folded his fingers around mine, just slightly. Even his touch felt different now—like all the magic that pulsed beneath the surface of our skin called to and repelled each other, as if recognizing its natural enemy.

Raihn was stronger than ever. But so was I. And with the power that Raihn talked about—the power that belonged to me by birthright—I would be unstoppable.

He was offering me everything I needed to destroy him. “Deal,” I said.

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