Chapter no 10

The Serpent and the Wings of Night

I couldn’t move. I stabbed wildly, hitting flesh here, bone here, an eye here. I could see nothing but slithering masses of gray flesh. My pathetic magic sparked at my

fingertips, useless fragments of blue-white light. Blood and blood and blood rained on me. The thrashing bodies of the demons parted enough for me to glimpse the sky above me through a haze of toxic red smoke—glimpse the moon, taunting me from beyond the glass.

Then it was blotted out beneath the powerful spread of massive wings. Silhouetted by the light of the moon and the lanterns, the feathers were rich, deep shades of red and purple.

Time slowed to a crawl as Raihn plunged his sword into the demon on top of me. The monster hissed and flailed. A slice opened across my cheek as I narrowly missed one of its thrashing claws.

I couldn’t hear anything, but I saw his lips move—saw them form the word, “Now!

As my consciousness faded, I gathered my final strength and rammed my sword into the demon’s heart.

Push hard, little serpent, Vincent whispered in my ear.

The world had gone silent. Raindrops of blood became a waterfall. I kept pushing and pushing, until my hands were

within the wound and I felt the demon’s slippery flesh around my knuckles.

I was going to die. I thought I’d come close to it before. But this was different. When the demon’s head lowered, when its cataract-ridden eyes met mine, I knew we were united in that—in the terror of our own mortality.

If this wasn’t the key to victory, I was fucked. Completely fucked. Locked up in hell with this thing. For a moment and an eternity, the demon and I balanced together, dancing on the blade’s edge of death.

And then the sudden absence of the weight left me gasping.

Raihn let out a ragged roar as he yanked the demon off me, gripping it by the throat and hurling it to the blood-soaked sand. The screaming from the crowd was now deafening. I couldn’t catch my breath. Couldn’t move. Pain paralyzed me.

I cringed, waiting for another demon to leap on me. Seconds passed. It didn’t happen. Instead, Raihn stood over me, one hand on his hip, wings spirited away but sword still drawn and dripping. His lips moved, but I couldn’t hear the words they formed.

“What?” I tried to say.

He leaned closer, mouth twisting into a grin. “I said,

good idea.”

He stretched out his hand for me, but I rolled away and pushed myself to my feet. That earned an explosion of agony up my thigh.

The demons were now motionless husks, just boneless sacks of meat on the ground. Four of the seven of us remained alive. We stared at each other, weapons still poised. I struggled to grab hold of my slippery, pain-and-poison addled thoughts.

Did we win? Or did we still need to kill each other?

The Hiaj—the fucker who had shot me—looked pointedly to the ground. Not at the corpses, but at the lines of

shadow that led us to the edge of our enclosure. There, an archway had appeared. Within it was the cold, silent halls of the Moon Palace, standing in laughable contrast to the bloody chaos in the ring.

That was it. As much of a victory celebration as we would get, apparently.

Kiretta and the remaining Hiaj both limped to the door with only momentary pauses of confusion, eager to leave with their lives. But I didn’t move. I wouldn’t show it, but I wasn’t even sure if I could walk.

I glanced back over my shoulder. For the first time since arriving, I took in the stands, where thousands of screaming spectators watched. They were so far above us that individual faces were lost in the crowd, but I still found myself looking for Vincent, anyway.

Raihn, too, had not moved. He was looking to his left, at the enclosure beside ours, whose occupants were still locked in a brutal battle—including Ibrihim, who was, remarkably, still alive and fighting. A faint wrinkle flitted across Raihn’s brow in an expression that oddly resembled concern, and I realized why when I followed his gaze to his friend. She leapt around with all the erratic grace of a butterfly, wielding—

My brows lurched.

She was wielding fire. Not the white, dark power of Nightfire, either, a uniquely Nightborn gift. No, this was fire.

My lips parted in shock. Fire magic was the domain of Atroxus, the sun god—a member of the White Pantheon. I’d never seen a vampire wielding magic that was not born of Nyaxia’s dark arts, let alone magic in the domain of her greatest enemy. I didn’t know such a thing was possible.

Raihn pounded on the glass wall of our enclosure, loud enough to attract her attention. She glanced at him, and he tapped his forehead right between his eyebrows. Then he

pointed to the demon in her cage that had the white mark on its face.

With that, he casually turned back to me, looked me up and down, and motioned to the door.

“After you.”

There was absolutely no way in hell I was letting him walk behind me—especially not with my leg bleeding this much. I could only imagine how I smelled to him.

“After you,” I said sweetly.

He shrugged, walked ahead, and I hobbled after him.

My leg trembled violently.

The first trial ended with little fanfare. We all skulked away to our hideaways in the silent embrace of the Moon Palace. I went for the greenhouse immediately, desperate to hide before anyone else scented my blood and decided I was an easy meal. From my hiding place, I listened to the echoes of the other returning contestants.

One trial done. Four remained.

I thought I’d feel some sort of relief. But as I crouched among the leaves and tried to quell my bleeding—tried and failed—I fought back only rising dread.

No, relief was for the safe. And as I piled bloody rags higher and higher, safety was far, far from my reach.

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