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Glint: Chapter 40

AUREN

Gold.

Such a heavy, heavy word.

Some people hear it and think of wealth. Others, a color. Someone else, perfection.

But for me, gold is my identity. Has been, ever since I took my first breath.

I remember my parents saying I shone with the warmth of light. I remember them calling me their little sun.

I wonder what they would think of me now—locked in a windowless room and surrounded by ice, stuck in a world that seems determined to keep me from rising.

As I pace in the room, I keep seeing the statue from the corner of my eye—the woman who’s now stuck in an agonized wince. Her mouth doesn’t need to emit any sound for me to hear her screaming.

Will that be me one day? Will the gold consume me, suffocate me, just as it did in my dream?

My eyes prickle, like the barbed edge of a leaf. I wonder how different things would’ve been, only if.

If my body had never glimmered with the shine of a little sun.

If gold-touch magic had never dripped from my hands.

If ribbons had never sprouted from my back.

If I’d never met Midas.

But all of those things did happen, and here I am. In the dark space of an ex-dressing room, now-cage room. My ribbons drag on the floor behind me with every step I take, and outside the door, guards are standing watch.

Bright side? I don’t fucking know.

My eyes fall to my bare palm, to the gold that’s caked to it like dried blood. It still drips, a spigot left to dribble. I hold the weight of wealth in my hands, and it’s so damn heavy to carry.

This power—this magic that the goddesses bestowed upon me, it has cost me everything. And apparently, it wasn’t enough that I was born gold to be gawked at, because then, when I turned fifteen, it started to stream from my fingers and turn me into a murderer, while ribbons sprouted from my back like a monster.

I wish there was a window so I could rage. Rage at the stars hiding behind the light of the sun.

Instead, I rage at the heavy locked door.

Storming over to it, my fists pummel the wood, making splotches of gold drip into the grains before it begins to spread.

“Let me out!” I yell, teeth bared and ready to bite.

He will not trap me in here like an animal. I won’t let him do this to me. I will not spend the rest of my days waiting for scraps to be tossed my way.

My gold-touch magic, my ribbons, my own damn thoughts, I’ve tried to hide them all. Been ashamed of them. Been ashamed of me, and he nurtured that shame, though I was too blind to see it.

I sat and I smiled, withering beneath the gild. Played pretty music as I stayed locked in my birdcage and accepted when I should have fought.

And Midas…

He gave me feathered kisses and spoke sweet words, and it isn’t enough. Who I’ve allowed myself to become isn’t enough.

Rip was right.

A veil has been lifted—a veil I put there, over my own eyes. Now it’s ripped away, and I can see everything more clearly.

I’ve made many choices in my life, and for the last decade, all of them have been for Midas. But like Lu said, it’s time to own my shit.

It’s time to start choosing me.

I had one chance, one person who could’ve helped me, but I fumbled that when I turned Rip down. So I need a plan. I need to figure out what I’m going to do. No more hiding from the world while I stand on Midas’s pedestal.

I grip the handle of the door in my bare hand, my magic swallowing it until it gleams. I yank hard, as if I can get the lock to come free, but of course it doesn’t.

“Let me out!” I scream again, but Midas’s guards ignore me.

My ribbons snap up like snakes rising in a pose to strike. With fury taking over, I send them lashing at the door as I continue to pound my fists against it.

Some of the strips wrap around the handle, some start slicing into the hinges, while the rest hack at the door like an axe to kindling, because I can’t give up, can’t give in.

My ribbons are tired though, overwrought. They aren’t acclimated to being used so much. But I push them, ignoring my screaming muscles and the mental effort it takes to control them.

They broke the door to my cage, and they can break down the door to this room too. They have to.

Panic makes a sob tear from my throat as I scream at the door for not budging, scream at me for not being stronger.

I hear the voices of the guards as my efforts grow louder and louder, but I stupidly didn’t put a stopper on my gold-touch. With my rage too consuming, I’ve gilded the whole damn door, and the exclamations of surprise tell me that it’s gleaming on the guards’ side too.

I slap my palm against it, fuming.

My ribbons could probably hack through wood, but not through solid gold.

“Shit,” I curse, furious at myself, at Midas for locking me in here in the first place.

“Stay inside and back away from the door, miss,” one of the guards orders.

My head snaps up. “Fuck you!” I shout back.

In a moment of clarity, I send a ribbon squeezing beneath the small slit at the bottom of the door. I crouch down to give it plenty of length, and I hear a guard shout in surprise.

I close my eyes in concentration while my ribbon reaches for the handle on the other side, searching for a flip lock. But my hopes are dashed when all I find is a keyhole too small for my ribbon to squeeze into.

Someone tries to grab hold of it, so I yank my ribbon back beneath the door and onto my side again for fear of them trying to pin it in place.

Chest heaving, I glare at the door as if it’s my nemesis.

My ribbons quiver like overworked muscles, and I yell out another curse of frustration as I whirl around and search for something, anything, to help me get the hell out.

I stalk into the cage, determined to look through it to see if my dead decoy had anything in there that might help. I have no idea what that might be, but I can’t just do nothing. I have to try.

Because I meant what I said. I won’t live like this anymore.

I start searching the cage with manic desperation, while gold continues to drop from my bare palm like a steadily bleeding vein.

Just as I’m tossing aside the mattress to see if the woman hid anything beneath it, I feel it—the change in the sky. I don’t need a window to know that night has just fallen, because my prickling skin is proof.

The sun flees, and my gold-touch magic flees with it.

“Dammit!” I shout, kicking at a tray of food at my feet. My power is gone, sapped, the last of the gold curdling against my palm as the incessant drip goes suddenly dry. I curl my hand, not wanting to watch the metallic sheen soak into my skin.

At least with my gold-touch, I’m a walking weapon. But now, I’m just an irate woman with strength-sapped ribbons and no way out.

I really, really hate the goddesses.

My legs threaten to give out, either from the weight of my fury or because of my depleting strength as my power gets stripped out of me, dormant for the night.

My ribbons manage to catch me, but they’re struggling too. I stumble forward, clutching the bars of the cage. I’m a mess of tangled hair and shaking ribbons, but my fury for Midas’s betrayal keeps me standing.

Just as I’m about to force myself to bang on the door again, something else changes in the air. Something heavier, darker, more ominous than night.

It’s subtle at first, like an inhale, a hum. The fluttering of lashes against a cold cheek, the strike of a match right before it catches.

Then, there’s a sudden shout outside my door.

I hear more exclamations of surprise, cursing, yelling, the guards sounding confused and authoritative at first—but it changes into something more like desperate begging. There’s the unmistakable noise of swords being yanked from their hilts and running footsteps, but it’s all followed by a series of ominous thumps.

And then…nothing.

No sounds at all.

My heart races and my stomach roils, while fear squeezes me in its nefarious grasp.

Then, the doorknob jiggles. Just once. Like someone tested to see if it was locked. A second later, I see the handle fall away completely, disintegrated into grains of golden sand.

I tense as the door swings open, and a silhouette appears in the threshold like a demon stepping out of hell.

The dim light of the room shouldn’t be enough for me to recognize who it is, but I know. I think even in the pitch black, I’d know.

Because I can feel it.

Just like when I was on that hill, his power seems to travel from the ground and soak into my feet. Another wave of nausea roils through me, making my fingers curl tighter around the bars as King Ravinger himself steps into the room.

All the air in my lungs dissolves like that doorknob did, and my body freezes in fear. He steps in almost boredly, without even squinting in the dim light, as if his eyes don’t need to adjust to the dark.

Maybe that’s because darkness lurks within him already.

Walking forward, he scans the room methodically. He’s wearing neat black leathers with a high collar shirt, and a barbed crown of branches sits proudly on his head. They look withered, petrified, like they died long ago and then hardened in a molded polish.

He stops in the shadows, a few feet away from my cage, but I don’t need him closer to see how his gaze hooks onto me.

His are deep green eyes, like rich moss right before it’s about to turn brown. Life, right before death. Richness, right before rot.

But it’s the markings on his face that I can’t stop staring at. They rise out of his collar, trailing up his neck, curling over his jaw, like roots searching for soil. Like veins come loose from a poisoned heart.

As I watch, they move, curling and writhing, like something sinister is contained in those insidious markings.

He stands there, and my eyes warily look at the doorway, but no guards are gathered there. It’s as silent and heavy as death.

“Did you kill them?” I ask through labored breaths.

He gives me a shrug of his proud, unbothered shoulder. “They were in my way.”

My heart falls in fear. He killed all of them within seconds.

“Do you know who I am?” he asks, his voice a low rumble that makes me shake.

I swallow hard. “King Ravinger.”

He hums, and my mind races with why he’s here, why he’s come. I thought I’d escaped him, but I should’ve known that trade-off was too simple, too easy.

He doesn’t seem at all nervous that King Midas might find him here. In fact, I suspect he’d welcome an excuse for the confrontation.

The firelight bathes his crown in vibrant orange, like autumn to a leaf. His black hair is somewhat creased, while a shadow clings to the jaw of his slightly gray-toned face. He’s younger than I thought he would be, but no less terrifying.

“So, this is where King Midas keeps his famous gold-touched favored.” Even with the dark distance between us, I see him studying me from bottom to top. “You really do look like a caged Goldfinch. Shame. You don’t belong in there at all.”

Eyes widening, my heart pounds in my chest, thrumming with a sharp hurt. Rip told him. Rip told his king his nickname for me. And the way Ravinger repeated it makes it sound crude, almost mocking.

Is that what Rip did? Mock me when he spoke to his king?

Too much emotion rises up inside of me, making me want to scream again.

I find myself straightening up and tearing off my feather coat in a blink. I step out of the cage and throw it at him through the broken doorway. “There. You can give that to Rip,” I say with a sneer as soon as his hand shoots out to catch it. “Tell him I’m not his little Goldfinch that he can mock behind my back.”

His eyes look down at the feathers, and just then, I realize my mistake.

Shit.

I freeze, hoping maybe he won’t notice.

After a moment, his hands still, and then Ravinger lifts the coat up with the pinch of his fingers. The light of the lantern makes it shimmer, and my hope plummets right through my toes.

“Now, this is interesting, isn’t it?” he purrs.

I feel the blood drain from my face as he turns the coat inside out, revealing the truth within.

Lined throughout the inside, a gold glint shines.

A nefarious smile spreads over his face as he looks back at me, but then he laughs, and that’s so much worse. His haunting, gravelly chuckle boasts from his lips and seems to rope around me, holding me captive.

“I must admit, I’m not often surprised,” he muses, rubbing the hidden gold fabric. “But this surprises me.”

His fingertips brush over the wayward feathers along the wrists and hood where I’d accidentally gilded them with my skin. It was incredibly difficult to stop the spread, but at least I managed that much. Though, what good is that now when I’ve just tossed my secret at his face?

Ravinger’s attention flickers over the room again, as if he’s seeing it in a new light. He lingers on the woman’s statue behind me. “Midas is far more devious than I suspected. And so are you.”

It sounds like that actually excites him.

“What do you want?” I ask as I edge for the door. I don’t care if his power can kill me in seconds, I’ll try to make a run for it anyway.

He grins at me from the shadows as I step sideways, but he can mock me all he wants, I know better than to turn my back on him.

“Now that’s the question, isn’t it?” he asks, and his voice

His attention flicks down to my wayward ribbons and skims over their crumpled, tired lengths. Just his look makes them shiver, a timid tremble that I feel against the skin of my back.

“It all makes so much more sense now. Why he keeps you. Why your skin is truly gold. Why you’re trapped with him.” Ravinger glances down at the broken cage door lying on the floor. “But perhaps…not as trapped as one might believe.”

His power becomes cloying again all of a sudden, like it’s reaching out in invisible tendrils and trying to latch onto my own, trying to get a feel of what lurks inside of me. Sweat breaks out against my brow, my stomach flipping, and I take another two steps toward the door.

If I can just get there. If I can just get through—

Another wave of sickness makes me nearly stumble. “Stop,” I pant. I feel like I’m a second from vomiting all over the floor.

Immediately, his power recedes, and with it, those dark lines on his face grow, like a flash flood of rivers unleashing, nearly reaching the sharp planes of his cheeks.

“You should probably get used to that,” he says, amusement evident in the deep timbre of his voice as he watches me sweat and shake. “Can’t have you getting sick every time I come into the room.”

“Why?” I ask nervously, squinting toward his dark shrouded body. I don’t know what would be scarier, for him to stay hidden in the shadows as he is, or if he were to step into the light so I could see him more clearly.

“We’re going to be around each other for a while.”

Chills rush down both arms, and I stop my retreat. Is he stealing me? Is he going to use me worse than Midas did?

“What are you talking about?” I ask, fear breaking my voice. I take the last few steps to the threshold, feeling a surge of victory when my fingers close around the doorframe. I turn, keeping my back to Midas’s room and my eyes on him, the predator who can pounce at any moment.

“Oh, Midas hasn’t told you yet?” he says smoothly, not moving from his place. “We’ve negotiated peace, and he’s also hosting a celebration. Fourth has been invited to stay and attend.”

All at once, a dozen thoughts hit me.

I swallow down a lump of hope in my throat as I shove damp hair off my face. “Your commander? Is he staying?” I blurt, though I immediately want to kick myself for letting my interest slip.

If there’s no war, if Rip is staying here…

I need an ally if I have any hope of getting away.

Ravinger chuckles, and the rasp abrades my ears, like the splintered wood of a rotten log. “Oh Goldfinch, I asked you before if you knew who I was.”

My foot hesitates from its move to back up, my brows pulling together in a frown of confusion even as my heart pounds, warning me to flee. “What?”

Without warning, his power suddenly pulses out again and tightens like a fist, yanking a noose around my stomach. This time, it’s different, a surge instead of a reach.

I gulp out strangled air and double over, a cold sweat immediately drenching my skin as I breathe through my nose, trying not to be sick, trying not to fall.

My shaky hands grip the doorframe hard as I try to stay upright. My tired ribbons wince, curling up behind me and diving beneath my dress like they can hide from his magic.

Dizziness overtakes me with a hot flush as I lean against the wall, but right before I’m about to be sick, the power suddenly dissolves, like salt in a sea.

Panting, I look up, and right before my eyes, the reaching roots over Ravinger’s face recede.

He walks toward me, no longer half-hidden in the shadows.

As the veins fade away, his green eyes shutter, like his irises are soaking up all that black, putrid power.

His entire body shudders, and my eyes go wide with shock as his face changes, sharpens.

I’m stuck in place, unable to breathe, unable to even blink as the bones of his face taper like the edge of a blade. His ears pinch to a point at the top just as scales appear on chiseled cheeks.

“Great Divine…” Shock is infused with my tone, holding it under, suffocating me with the weight of realization.

Spikes stab through his arms and shoot from his spine. He unfurls, the wild, wicked fae, transitioning until all that’s left of his horrible power is the viscid press of a very familiar dark aura.

“You’re…you’re…” My tongue goes thick, catching up with the sheen in my eyes while the betrayal, heavy and solid, sinks into the depths of my soul.

Rip rolls his shoulders, as if his metamorphosis from rotted king to monstrous fae was painful. Though I can guarantee it wasn’t nearly as painful to him as it was to me.

The blacks of his irises that seem to have swallowed the power are the only indication of the foul magic lurking within.

That voice. Deeper, crueler than usual, but with a timbre of familiarity. I should’ve known. I should have damn well figured it out.

He takes one more step, and then he’s so close that I can feel the fiery temperature of his blackened soul, taste the press of spiced air as it passes from his lips.

He’s Rip and he’s Rot. He’s the fae and the king.

I swear, I feel a knife to my back all over again. But this time, it’s from a different betrayal, from a different man.

And I do feel betrayed. He tricked me. Confused me with a kiss and lied about who he really is. Maybe that’s unfair, considering I’ve lied too, but I can’t help feeling like he played me.

“You’re King Ravinger,” I breathe in hurt accusation, because it’s the only thought clanging through my bones and shrieking in my skull.

Rip’s mouth slowly pulls into a grin, and he speaks with the dark, sensual stroke of a villainous purr that matches the glint in his eye. “Yes, Goldfinch, I am. But you can call me Slade.”

End of Book Two


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