Chapter no 16

The Serpent and the Wings of Night

“Shit!” Mische gasped. “How did you do that?”

I barely heard her over the rushing blood in my ears, and even if I had, it might as well have been my

own voice in my head—because all I could think as I dove across the room was, Ix’s tits, how did I do that?

We were at the top of one of the Moon Palace’s tallest spires, hundreds of feet above the ground. Fuck, did I just kill him? I didn’t mean to. At least, not yet.

My heart in my throat, I ran to the window, thrust my head through the open frame, and—

—nearly toppled backwards as a streak of tan and black soared up from below with enough force to send my hair whipping around my face.

Raihn’s wings were spread, looking as if they were made of the night itself, a million variations of purple and red and black and rust. Almost pretty enough to distract from the sheer fury on his face.

“You,” he breathed, “are being a shit about trusting me, and yet you’ve been hiding that?”

The words sat on the tip of my tongue—I didn’t know, I don’t know how the hell I just did that—but I swallowed them down. I didn’t need them to know that I wasn’t even aware of my own abilities. Give them yet another weakness to take advantage of.

Let them be a little afraid of me, for once.

So I tucked my trembling hands into my pockets and simply shrugged. “I’m sure you’re hiding all sorts of things from me.”

“I don’t know how I ever thought this was going to work.” He landed back in the apartment. The movement was effortlessly smooth, the boundary between the sky and the ground nothing but a single graceful step. “You don’t know how to give a fuck about a single person other than yourself. Just like all the rest of them. The Nightborn princess, living up in Vincent’s castle, probably taught that the whole fucking world belonged to her. Is that what he promised you? Become just like him, learn how to double-cross all the right people, and this whole shitty dead world will be yours. Is that what you think you have waiting for you?”

“Don’t talk about my family that way,” I snarled.

He scoffed—a sound of pure hatred. “Family. What a sad life you must have.”

My fists trembled, white-knuckled at my sides. “What the hell have you done to earn my trust? Am I supposed to be so honored that you chose me that I fall into a little pile of gelatin at your feet? Typical Rishan trash. Look at where that kind of entitlement got your people before you speak that way about my father.”

The room brightened, the orange of the flames turning white in fits and bursts. A well-timed gust of wind whipped my hair and Raihn’s about our faces. His entire body was rigid, his wings still out, his eyes spearing me while mine skewered him to the wall.

Mische darted between us. “Alright. Alright. Everyone is angry. That’s enough.”

I wasn’t going to be the first one to break the stare.

That’s enough,” she repeated, voice high and nervous. At last, Raihn turned away.

“Fine,” I said, doing the same. “I’m done.”

“Me too.”

He simply stepped from the open window and into the night sky. I threw open the door, setting off down the hallway. Both of us left Mische standing there among the broken glass, looking hopeless.



NEEDED Vincent to be at our meeting spot, and yet I wasn’t all that surprised when he wasn’t. I went every night. He met me less than half of those times, and when he did, he was distracted. Something big was happening, even though he refused to tell me what it was. And similarly, maybe he sensed my mounting annoyance with my situation with Raihn, even though I never uttered a word about it. I knew well by now which things were better kept from Vincent.

But tonight I was so angry—so confused—that I would have told him everything if he had been there. He, at least, would have answers about what my magic had just done, and I needed those desperately. The force I had used to throw Raihn across the room was so wildly disproportionate to anything I’d ever managed before, and I didn’t even know how I had done it. Now, as I walked alone through the darkened streets, I tried to summon that power and was greeted with only a few familiar weak sparks at my fingertips.

Still, maybe a small part of me was grateful for my father’s absence. As much as I wanted answers, I hated to reveal emotions that I couldn’t control. And I’d already done that more than enough today. Lost control. Of my magic. Of my temper.

I had been too raw. And I had been petulant. I knew it. I had allowed Raihn to goad me and bowed to my own worst

impulses. He was wrong about a lot of things—a lot of things—but maybe he was right that I needed to either choose to be an ally or properly become an enemy.

When it became clear Vincent wasn’t coming, I wandered through the deserted grounds of the Moon Palace. I longed to go to the human districts and bury this sense of helplessness with a blade in some vampire piece of shit’s chest. It had been years since I’d gone so long without it. I hadn’t even realized how reliant I was upon that release.

The first time I killed there, it had been an accident, and now, I could barely function without it.

It was only a few days after… after. My own grief and loneliness had been eating me alive. It had been years since I had been so obsessed with my own flesh, but those awful days, I had gone back to old bad habits, opening little paths of blood over my skin and watching how easily it tore, how slow it healed. I hated that my body was so weak. That it attracted in all the ways I didn’t want it to. That it bore the marks from every bad memory, like the ones that now marked my throat, then two barely-scabbed wounds.

I wasn’t sure what I had been looking for that night when I went to the human districts, but I hadn’t been looking to kill. I had never felt like less of a vampire than I did in those awful days—maybe I had been searching for whatever connection I couldn’t get in the Nightborn castle. Maybe I had hoped I would find some missing piece of myself, when I had never felt more painfully incomplete.

Instead, I had found a district full of humans who seemed like foreign creatures, and a vampire who intended to prey on them. When I saw the vampire stalking a young woman washing laundry behind her crumbling little house, I didn’t think. I just acted. It was easier than I thought it would be. I was well-trained. The vampire was not prepared for a fight.

After, I’d panicked and run back to the Nightborn castle. I spent the day in my washroom, vomiting. I couldn’t wash the blood from my hands, couldn’t scrub the sight of my victim’s face from the insides of my eyelids. I’d been certain that the minute Vincent showed up at my door, I would confess everything to him. He would lock me up for the next decade, and in that moment, I would have been grateful for it.

But the hours had passed. I lay on my bed and watched the sunlight filter through the curtains as guilt settled in my stomach like a disagreeable meal. I realized that killing that vampire—saving those humans—had made me feel powerful. And the guilt was fading, but the strength was not.

Was my guilt worth more than the life of the human woman I’d saved? Were Vincent’s arbitrary rules worth more than the countless other humans that monster would have killed, if he hadn’t been stopped? No. I hadn’t felt guilty about killing that man. I felt guilty about lying to my father.

But Vincent had made me this way, and a lie was a petty sin.

I realized that day, as I stared at the sunlight-speckled ceiling, that I’d gone a full twenty-four hours without thinking about the face that haunted me.

I wish I could say it was my noble intentions that brought me back to the slums the next night. But it wasn’t. It was my own selfishness. I’d rather dream of these dying faces than the other one. At least this made me stronger instead of weaker.

Now, I felt nothing when I killed but the satisfaction of a job well done. A mark etched upon the world. That was worth something, to a mortal living amongst immortal beings. A way for me to tell this place, You think my life is worth nothing, but I can still leave a stain on you that can’t be washed out.

My hands itched now to leave that mark, like an opium addict twitching for their next fix. But dawn was too close, and the human districts were far from the Moon Palace on foot. I couldn’t risk that journey.

Instead, I walked back the slow way, winding through deserted back paths. I remained close to the Lituro River, one of two tributaries that broke up the city and converged to form the inner city of Sivrinaj, right where the Nightborn castle sat. I often looked out over this view from my room. From up there, the streams were serene and peaceful, like elegant winding streaks of paint through the city.

Up close, it smelled like piss.

I paused at the riverbed and watched the water trickle by. A breeze trembled my hair, and with it came a warm, familiar scent—tobacco.

The hairs rose on the back of my neck. I wasn’t alone.

I glanced to my left to see another figure standing near the water, a cigarillo to his lips. He lifted his chin and let out a long exhale, the smoke silver as it caught the moonlight.

The smell hit me again, stronger, and with it came a wave of familiarity that made that seeping wound in my chest ache.

I half expected to hear Ilana’s cough. To see her face when I turned around. And Mother, I needed that. I craved it even more than I craved power.


My hand on my blade, I approached the figure. “Can I have one of those? I’ll buy it off you.”

What is wrong with you? I heard Vincent’s voice hiss in my ear. Approaching a stranger? For what?

The figure turned, cold light falling across only the lower part of his face, highlighting moon-pale skin, a narrow, angular jaw, and lips that curled slightly.

“Of course. Help yourself.”

His hand, clad in leather gloves, reached from beneath his long coat, holding a little wooden box. I reached to take it from him, but his grip didn’t let up.

He cocked his head, the movement allowing moonlight to creep further across his face. He was handsome, his features elegant and too sharp, like honed steel. Beneath a swoop of hair that was either silver or very fair blond—it was impossible to tell in the darkness—a set of yellow-amber eyes narrowed at me, then brightened in recognition.

“I know you.”

He smiled. It was the sort of smile that no doubt loosened undergarments and opened throats all over Obitraes.

“Oh?” I said.

He released the box, and I put distance between us as I slid it open and withdrew a cigarillo. Mother, I wanted to shove my face into this box. Just inhale that familiar scent and pretend it was my friend.

“I saw you in the Full Moon trial. Had a lot of bets hinged on you.” He chuckled softly and shook his head, the light catching a single ruby dangling from one ear. “The odds against you were staggering. Lot of people lost a lot of money.”

He struck a match and offered me the flame. I leaned just close enough to light my cigarillo, mumbled a thank you, and drew away.

“Sorry about your coin purse.”

A different, slower smile rolled across his lips. “Sorry? Oh no, dove. I don’t make bets I lose.” I offered him the box, and he shook his head. “Keep it. You paid for it.”

He turned away, offering one more inscrutable glance as he walked down the path. “Looking forward to tomorrow. Good luck out there.”

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