Chapter no 22

The Serpent and the Wings of Night

“O raya.”

Vincent said my name in a single exhale of relief

—not so much a greeting as much as a desperate

thank you to the Mother that I was here.

I wasn’t expecting that.

Three syllables, and so much of my anger melted away, leaving a vulnerable affection that ached beneath a stab of guilt.

I had made him wait one more day. I couldn’t bring myself to see him after witnessing what happened to that little girl. And still, as I crested the hill today, I questioned whether it was a good idea.

I thought I was ready. Working in the human districts had stilled something within me. It didn’t make the image of that little girl’s crying face go away, but it did make her pain feel like it was worth something.

And yet, with every step I took towards Vincent’s meeting place, I felt smaller and smaller. All the parts of myself that I’d been so careful to hide from him were too close to the surface.

So I was relieved when he looked at me that way, and when it made all my anger deflate. He had been worried about me, and he loved me. That was all that mattered.

“Are you hurt?”

Vincent circled me, looking me up and down even though I wore leathers that covered my entire body, the scars of my injuries sealed away beneath armor.

“I’m fine.”

“You didn’t look fine. You looked…” His back straightened, paternal worry replaced with the rage of the King of the Nightborn. “What,” he hissed, “were you thinking? You nearly threw that match away. You nearly forfeited your life. For what?”

That stare was cold enough to freeze my heart again.

For what?

With those words, I was in the maze again, looking at that child, the horrifying realization falling over me. I had learned over the years to carefully regulate my emotions— anger is a series of physical responses—but this time it hit me hard, and fast.

“Why were there humans in that trial?” I asked.

I spoke calmly, but Vincent had taught me how to line words with steel. He recognized that now, blinking in surprise.

“The trials are not under my jurisdiction.” “That isn’t true.”

Surprise turned to indignation. “Excuse me?”

“You do not execute them, but they are under your jurisdiction. And the humans are citizens of the House of Night. There are—there are protections. There should have been protections.”

I was eternally conscious of how I stumbled over my words. In my head, they sounded strong and convicted. Aloud, they sounded weak and childish.

His stare grew colder. “Protections? Their lives belong to Nyaxia. Just as mine does. Just as yours does. And if this is what she wants them for—”

“Children? She wants children for her entertainment?


I cut myself off and turned so my face was shrouded in the shadows. Useless. It would hide nothing from a vampire.

Something in him softened. I could hear the change in his voice—he had morphed from father to king, and now he was my father again.

“Let me into that mind of yours, little serpent,” he murmured.

He didn’t know what he was asking for. He wouldn’t like what he saw there, if I did. The words that weighed heavy on my tongue tasted like treason—like they might betray me to him as someone who was too dissimilar to him. Not vampiric enough.

“A human life should not be worth so little,” I said. “There’s a reason why humans are protected within their districts.”

“All of our lives are cheap, Oraya. Human. Vampire.

Even those of the gods.”

He said this somewhat pityingly, as if he was surprised to have to explain something so obvious.

It was true. Death was everywhere in the House of Night. Parents killed their children. Children killed their parents. Lovers took each other’s lives in the night, gone too far in the throes of passion. Even the stories of our gods were vicious, lesser deities frequently murdered for little more than sport. The Nightborn forged their people and their blades from steel, hard and cold and unforgiving.

This was life. Maybe it was a sign that something was wrong with me that I struggled to accept it. Struggled to hammer myself into that blade. Perhaps it was because I was neither human nor vampire, and because standing on that boundary made it so clear how steep the differences were.

“At least the vampires died for something,” I said. “We all die for something. Vampire and human.”

I didn’t accept that answer. I didn’t accept it at all. If I died in the Kejari, at least I’d be doing so of my own volition. But those humans? What did they die for? Nothing. Entertainment for our bloodthirsty goddess and bloodthirsty populace. I chose this life, but that child didn’t.

Vincent was right that the House of Night didn’t respect any life, but it certainly still valued some more than others.

I tried so hard to stop there. But I couldn’t. The words came before I could stop myself.

“That could have been me. That girl. It could have been me. Do you ever think about that?”

Vincent’s expression darkened, like storm clouds blotting out the powerful stillness of the moon. “That never would have been you, Oraya.”


Human. I so rarely spoke that word to him. Never said it aloud. Like it was some dirty term that neither of us wanted to acknowledge.

“You are not like them,” he cut in, forcefully. “It never

would have been you.”

He was wrong. I knew this, just as I knew better than to say it.

He stepped closer, the shadows in his gaze growing deeper, fiercer.

“Do you want to change this world, little serpent? Then climb your cage until you are so high no one can catch you. Break its bars and make them your weapons. Nothing is sharper. I know because I did it.”

I was accustomed to seeing Vincent the king, Vincent the father, but it was rare that I saw this version of him: Vincent the revolutionary. It was easy to forget, sometimes, that he’d reshaped this kingdom. He knew what it was like to crave change.

“You cannot accomplish anything in this world without power,” he said. “And power requires sacrifice, focus, and ruthlessness.”

His gaze drifted off into the shadows behind me, and I wondered if he was thinking about his own rise to power and everything it had taken from him. I knew he had sacrificed, too. But in exchange, he had become the most powerful king the House of Night had ever seen. He’d been able to shape this kingdom into everything he wanted it to be.

You cannot accomplish anything in this world without power.

The truth. In good ways and bad. Perhaps the only useful thing my anger could do for me was motivate me. I needed to stay focused.

I swallowed and lowered my chin. “I know.”

Power. The word reminded me of all the questions I still didn’t have answers to. I rubbed my fingertips together as they tingled with the memory of my confusing, brief burst of magic.

“Something strange happened,” I said. “Before the Trial.

I… did something I don’t understand.”

I told him what had happened with my magic— selectively, of course, leaving out the specifics of my argument with Raihn. I didn’t need any more of Vincent’s disapproval than I already had on that front.

He listened in silence, face stoic. When I was done, I watched for some sign of surprise, of concern, and found none.

“It doesn’t make sense,” I said. “I have never been able to do anything like that. Not even when you were training me.”

He was silent for a few seconds before answering, like he had to think about what to say next. “We always knew you had talents.”

The faintest tug at the corner of his mouth. Just a hint of pride.

We? Maybe he did—maybe, I was a bit skeptical—but I never thought I could do anything like that.

“But I never had before.”

“Magic is an unpredictable force, and your life has changed dramatically these last few weeks.”

I stared flatly at him, unconvinced.

“I’m not a vampire. I’m not one of Nyaxia’s children. How could I have wielded that kind of power from her arts?”

“You offered your blood to Nyaxia. You offered her your life. That offering does not go unrecognized. And many have been able to wield powers that traditional wisdom said they couldn’t.”

I thought of Mische and her flames—a vampire wielding the power of Atroxus.

“Perhaps some part of you knows that you need this power now more than ever. So learn it. Use it.” He leaned closer, eyes cold with fervor. “Nothing matters but this, Oraya. Nothing. Step over temporary barriers. Once you win, the world is yours. That is the time for dreaming. But this? This is the time for conquering.”



I, once again, barely returned to the Moon Palace in time for dawn. By the time I made it back to our apartment, the sun was already peeking over the horizon. I came in just as Mische was heading back into her room, but Raihn once again stood at the window, forearm braced against it, curtains parted.

He peered over his shoulder, giving me a little smirk. “Welcome back.”

“You aren’t going to ask me where I was?”

“I’ve learned it’s more fun to be surprised by you.

Besides, I think I know. You ready to start tomorrow?”

I thought about the last time we’d played out this moment and just how poorly it went. Briefly, I wondered whether I was insane.

But there was a Halfmoon trial to win.

Now is the time for conquering, Vincent whispered in my ear.

“Yes,” I said. “I’ll be ready.”

I started to go to my room, and then succumbed to my curiosity and turned back.

“Why do you do that?” I asked. “Hm?”

“It must hurt.”

“Not too bad yet.”

“But… why? Why do you do it?”

He was silent for a long moment, then smiled at me.

“Get some rest,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do.”

It struck me as completely unfair that he got to see my secret but refused to explain his own stupid self-destructive habits. I decided that refraining from pointing out this hypocrisy was my first step to being a decent ally.

“Well, don’t burn yourself so badly that you’re going to be useless tomorrow,” I said as I turned away. “Won’t do much to convince me this is a good idea.”

“You say that like you aren’t desperate.”

I shook my head, rolled my eyes, and went back to my room.

I did not miss Mische peering around the corner of her door, not even bothering to hide her eavesdropping nor her grin.

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