I wasn’t sure when I decided what I was going to do, only that by the time I made it back to my room, it was no longer a question. I waited until long after Raihn’s footsteps had faded down the hallway. I didn’t
want to take any risks, especially not when Raihn had made it so clear just how embarrassingly well he could hear what went on inside my chambers.
And then, finally, I reached into my pocket and withdrew that little clump of glass, placing it on my bed. It looked just as unremarkable in here as it had on Vincent’s desk—like stacked shards, now stained with my blood.
I still didn’t understand what this was, or how it worked. But I mimicked what I’d done in the study, sliding the still-bleeding pad of my thumb over the smooth edge.
Just as it had before, the shards immediately scattered into a pile of broken glass. I touched them again, and it reassembled into the mirrored, shallow bowl.
Now that I was watching more closely, I noticed that the pieces, when assembled, still trembled a bit—in some areas, they didn’t seem to line up quite right. I sliced my thumb on the edge again and watched my blood swirl down the decorative whorls, pooling at the bottom of the basin.
I was prepared, this time, for the wave of—of Vincent that would follow. But it wasn’t any less painful to feel it, nor any less difficult to keep myself from shutting it out. I didn’t hear the sound of his voice or see his face, but I unmistakably felt his presence, like at any moment I’d turn around and he would be standing behind me. Deeper, more visceral certainty than any single sense could conjure.
The blood at the center sputtered and widened, shivering at the edges with the trembling shards of glass. The image in the blood seemed like a reflection from another location, distant and faint. Maybe it would have been easier to see in a pool of black blood. Or perhaps it was so faint because this device—whatever it was—was never intended to work for me. I was only half vampire, after all.
I squinted into the half-formed image. I could make out the faintest suggestion of a person’s face, as if leaning over the mirror from the opposite side.
“Jesmine?” I whispered. “Highness?”
It was unmistakably Jesmine’s voice, just like I’d thought before, albeit very distant and fuzzy. I leaned closer, straining my ears.
“It is you—” she said. “Thought—from the—where are—” “Slow down,” I said. “I can’t hear you.”
Just as I always told you, little serpent, Vincent whispered to me. You must learn how to be more patient. Wait, and feel it.
I drew in a sharp breath.
Goddess, his voice felt so close, I could practically feel his breath on my ear. The sudden wave of grief struck me before I could steel myself against it.
Jesmine’s image solidified, her voice growing stronger, even though I still had to strain to hear her.
“—you can use it,” she was saying. I could make out her expression now—confused, intrigued. Dirt—or blood—appeared to smear one of her cheeks, her hair pulled back in a frizzy knot, a bandage wrapped around one of her arms. A stark difference from the polished seductress I was so used to seeing slink around Vincent’s parties.
“Use it?” I asked.
“His mirror. You can use it.”
I didn’t need to know the details of what this thing was, exactly, to know that it was powerful, old magic—just from the way it felt, so inextricably linked to Vincent’s soul. And if this was his, and it ran on his blood…
“We don’t have time,” I muttered, mostly to myself.
No, I didn’t have time to question any of this. Not when we had work to
Jesmine nodded seriously, her face shifting from that of a curious
subject to a general. “Are you safe, Highness?”
Safe. What a word. But I answered, “I am. And your status?” “We are in—”
“I don’t want to know.” I was relatively certain that if we’d made it this far, no one was listening to our conversation—but I couldn’t be sure.
Understanding fell over Jesmine’s face. “Yes, Highness. Do you—how much do you know of the state of the war?”
I cleared my throat.
It was embarrassing to admit just how little I knew. Now, with this connection to Vincent burning bright and painful in my chest, it seemed even more shameful.
I had been handed incredible responsibility, and how I felt about it made no difference—so far, I’d squandered it.
Jesmine’s image flickered, and I pulled the bowl closer to me, as if to drag her back by force.
“I want your assessment, not the Rishan’s,” I said. A convenient way of brushing off my own ignorance.
“We’ve lost… many of our remaining strongholds. We’re still fighting to defend those that remain, Highness. Fighting with all we’ve got. But—” A wrinkle of hatred flitted over her nose. “The Bloodborn are numerous and vicious. The Rishan we could handle. The Bloodborn are… challenging.”
That aligned with what I’d been seeing here. Raihn could wax philosophical about his dreams all he wanted. The ugly truth was that he had invited dogs into his kingdom and let them hide behind his crown while they murdered his own people. He was heavily reliant upon their forces.
Raihn had told me, once, that dreams counted for little. What counted was action.
Well, his actions were not enough. And mine had been severely lacking, too.
Jesmine’s face blurred again, her next words fractured. “Do you— orders?”
In a desperate attempt to save my connection to her, I pressed my thumb to the edge of the bowl and let more blood flow into it, but that just made
her image ripple and made the headache at the back of my skull pound ferociously.
The sound of distant footsteps made me still. I peered over my shoulder at the door to my chambers—closed. The footsteps didn’t approach, then faded to an echo at the opposite end of the hall.
I turned back to the mirror. “I don’t have much time,” I whispered. “Do you have orders?” she asked urgently.
Orders. Like I had any authority to be telling Jesmine what she should be doing.
“They’re coming after you at Misrada in two weeks,” I said, quickly and quietly. “It will be a big move. They’re stretching themselves thin— even the Bloodborn. They’ll be leaving the Sivrinaj armory unmanned in order to get enough forces there.”
Jesmine’s brow furrowed in thought.
“I don’t know if we could defend against that kind of manpower.” “I don’t know if you could, either. But maybe you don’t have to.”
I hesitated here—standing on the precipice of a decision I couldn’t take back. The decision to fight.
I could feel Vincent’s presence like a hand resting on my shoulder.
This is your kingdom, he whispered to me. I taught you how to fight for a significant existence. I gave you teeth. Now use them.
“Evacuate Misrada,” I said. “Go after the armory while it’s unguarded. Raid it, or capture it, or destroy it—whatever is possible with what you have. Do you have the resources?”
Even through the foggy reflection, the steel in Jesmine’s stare was clear. “It will be tight. But we have enough to try.”
I didn’t let myself waver, didn’t let my command falter, as I said, “Then do it. Enough running. Enough defending. We don’t have time for half measures.”
It was time to fucking fight.