The Ashes & the Star-Cursed King

Turning is a fate worse than death. It is death, in a way—death of a version of yourself that you will never see again. Born vampires cannot possibly understand, nor are they usually especially inclined

to. To them, the turmoil of the Turned is a sign of weakness. A snake, after all, does not mourn its skin.

What they will never understand is how much that skin takes with it.

The man clings to his humanity through every second of his transformation. It must be ripped away from him, stitch by stitch. Turning is a terrible process. It nearly kills him. He loses weeks, months, to illness, taken in an onslaught of delirium. Dreaming of his home. Dreaming of his mistakes. Dreaming of the family he does not yet know he would never see again.

He barely remembers the aftermath of the shipwreck when he emerges from this haze.

The king is beside him, perched at the edge of his bed, watching him with the kind of detached interest that one affords a new pet.

He offers a goblet, and the man gulps it down frantically, liquid spilling down his chin. He has never tasted anything so wonderful—so sweet, so rich, so—

The king pulls the goblet away.

“That’s enough for now,” he says, with a thick accent, patting the man’s shoulder and setting the cup aside.

The man wipes the mess from his face with the back of his hand and blinks down at the smears of red left behind, confused.

He does not understand yet, you see, what happened to him.

He puts aside his hand and his confusion. His family, he thinks. How long has he been here? Time blurs. The ship seems like a lifetime ago.

“Thank you,” he chokes out. “Thank you for your hospitality. But I need to go.”

The king smiles and says nothing.

Perhaps he didn’t understand him, the man thinks. He is far from home.

What country had he ended up in? He knew once, but now—

It doesn’t matter. The man doesn’t speak any language but the commoner’s tongue he’d grown up with.

“I need to leave,” he says again, speaking slowly, each word enunciated, pointing to the window—the window that overlooks the sea.

The king still does not answer. His smile broadens slightly, revealing the tips of his pointed teeth.

Those teeth—the sight brings with them the memory of the night of his almost-death—

Do you want to live?

Dread rises. The man ignores it. “Please,” he says.

But the king just strokes the back of his head. “You have no more home,” he says, somewhat pityingly, words serrated with the thick tang of his accent. “You exist only here.”

Years later, the man will remember little of this conversation. But those four words will remain, even when the specifics of the rest are long lost: You exist only here.

It will become the truth. The king has given the man a new life, but the catch is that this life belongs solely to him.

This is the moment that the man understands how much his life has just changed.

He shakes his head, trying to get up, but the king pushes him back to the bed easily. The man is too tired and dizzy to fight, though he claws through it with every bit of his remaining strength—

But when the king offers him his wrist, the scent dazes him.

“It will not be so bad,” the king says, as he guides the man’s head to his skin.

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