Chapter no 17

The Serpent and the Wings of Night

I considered not returning to the apartment, but I didn’t have anywhere else to go. I was half-surprised that nobody held the door shut as I turned my key and

entered. Raihn hadn’t returned, and Mische swept glass from the floor. The shattered window was still wide open, a strong breeze making her short, curly hair flutter about her face like butterfly wings.

She gave me a big grin when I walked in, like she was genuinely thrilled to see me. “You’re here!”

She seemed a little surprised. I was, too, frankly.

“Want me to patch that up?” I gestured to the window.

“Oh, no. I’ll do something with it once Raihn comes home.”

Home, she said, so casually. Like this place was a home.

I nodded and wandered closer. She had already cleaned up most of the broken glass, now just sweeping the smallest pieces into a little tray to throw in the garbage. I felt embarrassed, like a small child after throwing a temper tantrum.

“Do you need help?”

“No,” she said cheerfully. “But thank you!” She waved to the table. “Sit. There’s food.”

I wasn’t hungry, but I joined her anyway. She took a seat and sipped a goblet of blood, and though she had gestured

to the chair across from hers, I still picked the one on the opposite end of the table.

Instead of reaching for the food, I pulled out the cigarillo box.

“Do you mind?”

She gave me a knowing smile. “Life is too short not to indulge.”

What an odd thing for a vampire to say. Vampire lives were not short by any measure. But then again… didn’t everyone have a short life, in here?

And besides, Mische was the most unusual vampire I’d ever met.

I watched her sip her blood, looking content as she gazed out the window. Like the fight earlier hadn’t even fazed her.

“Can I ask you a question, Mische?” “Mm-hm.”

“Why are you with Raihn?”

Her face snapped to me, aghast. “With Raihn? I’m not

with Raihn.”

“No… I know you’re not with him like that.” I’d wondered about it at first, especially since vampires fucked like rabbits, but it became quickly obvious that Mische and Raihn had a platonic relationship. They slept in separate bedrooms and treated each other far more like siblings than lovers.

Still, that only made it harder to understand. They were just so different. I couldn’t imagine dragging someone like Mische into a tournament like this. At least if they were fucking, I could understand it even if I didn’t agree with it. People did all kinds of nonsensical things when blinded by good sex.

And Raihn looked like he was probably very good at sex.

That thought shocked me the minute it crossed my mind, and I slammed my mental doors against it as hard as I could.

“He’s my best friend,” Mische said simply, as if that explained everything.

“But… why?”

She threw her head back and let out a high, full laugh.

“I’m going to tell him that sometime,” she said when she collected herself. “Your face! But… why?” Her imitation of my voice was comically low and flat, her face twisting into an expression of exaggerated disgust.

Look, it was a fair question.

“Lots of reasons.” Her insulting impression of me faded into a soft smile. “He was there for me when no one else was. He’s the most loyal person I’ve ever met. The most trustworthy.”

“Hm.” I made a noncommittal noise, probably looking as unconvinced as I felt.

Other than Vincent, I’d never truly met a trustworthy vampire. Not really. All of them would skin their own children if they thought their power was under attack.

“It’s just…” Her eyes drifted to the sky, far away in thought. “I spent a lot of time alone, before. I didn’t realize how important it was to really have someone. To have someone who would just—who would kill for you. You know?”

Killing didn’t especially seem to be a great favor or sacrifice for Raihn. Yet, I couldn’t bring myself to challenge her point, because I knew exactly what she meant. For me, Vincent was that person. Even when I had no one else, I had him, and I knew beyond any doubt in this world or the next that he would do literally anything for me.

“A lot of people don’t know how to love. Raihn has a lot of flaws, but he knows how to love. Or at least he…” A little wrinkle deepened between her brows, and her voice trailed off before she jerked herself out of her thought, looked back to me, and grinned.

“That, and he’s a very good cook. A very good cook.”

I wondered if my disbelief showed on my face. I couldn’t imagine any of those things. The loyalty. The love. Definitely not the cooking.

Her voice went a shade more serious. “That wasn’t him today.”

“Oh?” I said dryly. “Then who was it?”

“The past.” She gave me a sad smile. “Maybe our skin doesn’t scar the same as yours, but our hearts do. Sometimes they never heal.”

My scoff was not as convincingly dismissive as I wished it was.

She asked, “So… was that you?” “What do you mean?”

“Today. The, uh… window. The magic. Were you hiding it this whole time?”

I didn’t know why I found it hard to lie to Mische. She was just so uncomfortably genuine. I exhaled a puff of smoke instead of answering, because a lie was difficult and the truth was embarrassing.

“Ah.” She nodded. “I see.”

“It’s unpredictable.” I sounded more defensive than I meant to.

“We can work on it together.”

Mother, that was a statement that should have been terrifying to me. And yet, it was strangely comforting.

“He deserved to go out the window,” I said.

“He did,” she agreed. Then, more seriously, she asked, “Are you going to leave?”

I took a deep drag of my cigarillo and relished the way the smoke burned my nose as I exhaled.


“That would be a stupid thing to do the day before a trial.”

“It would.”

“What do you think it’s going to be? The trial?”

I’d spent plenty of time wondering about it, but there was nothing we could do but speculate. The Waning Moon trial was one of the biggest wildcards in the Kejari. Year after year, it was drastically different. The first trial traditionally detailed Nyaxia’s escape from the land of the White Pantheon. But the second could land at so many different places in her story—perhaps when she found the underworld, her love story with Alarus, the God of Death, or any one of the many legendary adventures that they had together.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Are you nervous?”

I said nothing. I couldn’t deny it, but I wouldn’t admit it aloud, either.

She did not wait for an answer. “I am,” she sighed, taking another drink of blood.

“It might be about her journey,” I theorized. “Her journey down to the land of the dead.”

Even that gave us little to go on. A journey could take so many forms, could be interpreted in limitless ways.

“Do you think she was scared back then?” Mische mused.



“She was a goddess.”

“Barely, in the beginning. A nobody. And so young.”

I paused. Nyaxia, at this point in her story, was only one of countless powerless offspring produced by the White Pantheon; not only a lesser goddess herself, but the child of one. No one would even know if she had died alone in the wilderness, let alone mourn her. Most legends put her at only twenty, practically an infant by the standards of the deities.

People like her were born to be used and thrown away by the other gods. Fucked, feasted upon, and discarded.

Mische was probably right. She had probably been terrified.

But that was two thousand years ago, and now Nyaxia was staggeringly powerful—powerful enough to defy the White Pantheon on her own. Powerful enough to give an entire continent her gift of vampirism and create a civilization of her followers. And powerful enough that all of Obitraes now lived and died and loved and sacrificed at her feet, forever.

“Well,” I said, “that changed.”

“But think of all she had to give up for it.”

Her husband. Murdered by the White Pantheon as punishment for marrying Nyaxia.

I considered this. Yes, maybe the Pantheon took her lover. But Nyaxia also took back her own power. I could imagine far too clearly how good that must feel after a lifetime of weakness. I was a bit ashamed to admit the things I would be willing to sacrifice for it, myself.

“At least she isn’t afraid anymore,” I said.

“No,” Mische replied, thoughtfully. “I’d guess not. But she’s probably awfully unhappy, don’t you think?”



RETURNED to my room not long after that, but I was too nervous to sleep. Instead, I watched the color of the sky turn to ash red. I could hear Mische shuffling around down the hall, but not Raihn’s return.

I was beginning to drift off when a crash made my eyes snap open. I went to the door, listening carefully. A series of dull THUMPs and the sound of rustling fabric echoed from the living room.

“You cut it so close.” Mische was trying to whisper and failing.

“I know.”

“Gods, look at you.” “I know.”


“I know, Mische.”

My curiosity got the better of me.

Very, very slowly—very, very silently—I removed the chair, cracked my door, and slipped into the hallway. I peered around the corner to see Mische yanking the curtains closed as Raihn sat heavily on one of the couches. Or maybe collapsed was a better word, like all his limbs just decided to give up at the same time.

Goddess, was he drunk?

“I thought you said after last year you weren’t going to do this again!” Mische was awful at speaking quietly. No one could even blame me for eavesdropping.

“Fuck it. What’s immortality if we don’t use it to do the same things over and over again, forever, until the end of time?”

Oh, he was definitely drunk.

She sighed and turned to him. He now lay against the couch, his chin tipped back. He really was a mess—clothes stained with I-didn’t-even-know-what, hair tangled over his shoulders.

“So,” she said. “Today.”

She turned and I stepped back quickly to remain out of sight, so I could no longer see them, only hear them.

He let out a low groan. “What about it?”

A silence, which was presumably filled with Mische’s pointed look.

The groan became a sigh. “Too much?” “Definitely too much.”

“She should be able to take it.” “That was her taking it.”

“Well… not like that. Not ‘taking it’ by throwing me out a fucking window.”

“And was that you ‘taking it,’ idiot?”

Silence. I could imagine the look on his face.

Her voice grew softer. “Think about what it must have been like for her. Growing up like that.”

My nose wrinkled. Growing up like what?

I was almost insulted that this point earned a thoughtful silence from Raihn.

Then, “Well, woe is her. So? We all have our shit.” “Yours isn’t her fault.”

A long pause.

I chanced a step closer so I could peer around the corner. Raihn’s head was tilted back, his eyes looking straight up to the ceiling. Mische now stood behind him, leaning over the back of the chair to rest her arms around his neck, her chin on the top of his head in casual affection. “You know that wasn’t her fault,” she said again. “That

was your fault.”

My eyebrows rose slightly. Raihn did not seem like the kind of person to suffer that kind of insult—few vampires were. I tensed, as if cringing on Mische’s behalf for a sharp rebuff, verbal or physical.

But instead, to my shock, Raihn just let out a long sigh. “I know,” he said. “I know.”

He patted her arm, and she pressed a chaste kiss to the top of his head.

“At least the day is over.” “Small victories.”

“Drink some water. Now you’re going to have to survive a trial hungover, you fool…”

Their whispers faded away as I backed down the hall.

You'll Also Like