Chapter no 3

The Ashes & the Star-Cursed King

The look on Raihn’s face lingered with me longer than I wish it did. Why would he give me that? Something so honest.

I hated that I knew it was honest.

I was ushered out of the throne room quickly after that, Raihn striding away without giving his nobles a second glance, casual in a way that I knew was calculated. Ketura’s guards flanked me, and Raihn walked several steps ahead, though I could see the whitened knuckles at his side. He didn’t even say a word to me as Cairis, Ketura, and the noble—his new Head of War?— flocked around him, the group of them disappearing down a side hallway while the guards ushered me to the staircase that led back to my rooms.

Septimus joined me several steps up. I smelled him before I heard him.

He walked silently, but that damned cigarillo smoke gave him away. “Well that,” he said, “was interesting, wasn’t it?”

He eyed the guards, who had visibly stiffened in his presence. “Oh, pardon my rudeness. Am I interrupting?”

The guards said nothing. As always.

Septimus smirked, satisfied with this non-answer.

“I knew your husband’s past was a subject of… we’ll call it controversy, among the Rishan nobles,” he went on, to me. “But I have to say, that exceeded my expectations. Suppose I’ll probably have to call in more troops from the House of Blood.” He flicked ash to the marble staircase, grinding it under his heel. “Looks like the Rishan won’t be much help, if that’s the best they have to offer.”

We turned up another flight of stairs.

I had nothing to say. Septimus’s words floated through me like background noise.

“You,” he said at last, “have gotten much quieter.”

“I don’t just talk for the sake of hearing my own voice.”

“That’s a shame. You always had such interesting things to say.”

He was playing with me, and I hated it. If I’d had the energy, maybe I would’ve granted his wish and snapped at him.

I didn’t have the energy, so I said nothing.

We made it to the top floor. Just as we rounded the corner, my bedchamber door ahead, quick steps approached from behind. Desdemona, one of Septimus’s guards, fell into stride beside him.

“Pardon, Highness. We have an issue.”

Septimus and Desdemona fell back, while I kept walking. Still… my ears perked.

“It’s about the attack on Misrada,” Desdemona was saying, voice low. “We’ll need to pull troops from the armory if we want to get enough men in two weeks—”

My door swung open, jerking my attention back. The familiar haven— prison—of my bedchamber opened before me.

“Well, then do it,” Septimus was saying, sounding impatient. “I don’t care about—”

I walked inside.

The door shut behind me, closing me in once again. I loosened the buttons on my dress and immediately flopped onto the bed, waiting for the all-too-familiar sound of my door. Four clicks. Four locks.



I waited. Seconds passed. Footsteps faded.

My brow furrowed. Curiosity piqued for the first time in weeks. I sat up.

Had I imagined it? My mind had been blurry lately. Maybe I’d missed the other two.

I went to the door and squinted into the crack. Two shadows interrupted the sliver of light from the hall. The upper two locks—simple sliding bars— were closed.

And the bottom two had been left open.


My first day here, I’d managed to get three of the locks open. It was the bottom one, the big deadbolt, that had evaded me. But now…

I stepped away from the door, sizing it up the way I’d size up an opponent in the ring. A glimmer of a foreign, unpracticed sensation—hope

—stirred in my chest.

I could get those locks open. I could get out.

It was nighttime still, albeit nearing dawn. I should wait until the sun rose and the vampires had mostly gone to their respective rooms. Then I winced—thinking of the room right next to mine, and the man within who’d be back any minute. Vampire hearing was impeccable. If I tried to get out while he was there, he’d know it.

But… I’d paid attention to Raihn’s movements, too. He spent very little time in his room. Oftentimes, he didn’t return until well after sunrise.

So, I’d have to gamble. Wait until tomorrow—wait long enough that most vampires had gone to sleep, but not long enough that Raihn had.

And then what?

You know this castle better than anyone here, little serpent, Vincent whispered to me, and I flinched, as I always did when I heard his voice.

He was right, though. Not only had I lived in this castle my entire life, I’d learned how to sneak around it with no one noticing—not even the last King of the Nightborn.

I just needed to bide my time.

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