Chapter no 25

The Serpent and the Wings of Night

A shiver tore through my entire body. The sound was distant, and yet it silenced the room immediately. The ground shook once, violently—over so fast that if

plates and glasses hadn’t all toppled to the ground in that moment, I might have questioned if I’d imagined it.

Maybe I had been wrong about these humans being carefree, because they all sobered right away, their hushed fear rising to the surface like it had never really left.

Raihn and I were already on our feet, running outside.

When we stumbled onto the street, I stopped short. “Fuck,” I breathed.

A plume of shimmery silver smoke rose from the distant Moon Palace, floating up through the night sky and blotting out the moon. The puffs of white nearly consumed the Palace’s silhouette, but when a gust of wind thinned the fog, it revealed that one of the towers was simply missing. Just… gone. Lightning-bright cracks radiated up through the base of the building, visible even from across the city. Bursts of light clustered around the castle’s foundation.

My stomach dropped.


Mische was in the Moon Palace.

I whirled to Raihn, who had gone pale. All his masks and performances had been abandoned, leaving only bare, gut-

wrenching terror.

“We’ll get her,” I said. “She’s going to be alright. We’ll get her.”

I touched him without thinking, my fingers digging into the muscle of his forearm. He had to visibly fight that fear from the surface. Still, his voice shook a little as he said, “I’m flying.”

“I’m coming with you.” “You’ll be a liability.”

“You know damned fucking well that isn’t true, and you don’t know what you’re about to find, Raihn.”

He winced, because he knew I was right. “Fine. Then you’re flying with me.”

It didn’t sink in what, exactly, that meant. Not until Raihn stepped closer, drew me into his arms, and scooped me up like I was nothing before I had time to react.

“Hold on,” he said, voice low and so close to my ear that my skin shivered. “I’m not coming back for you if you fall.”

My body seized, frozen by the sheer overwhelming proximity of him. His form enveloped mine, his arms gripping me tight to his chest, encircling me with a firm hold. I was close enough to feel his heartbeat—slower than a human’s. Close enough that the heat of him surrounded me at all angles.

My pulse went rapid, every instinct screaming.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Raihn glance at me— did he sense the increase in my heart rate?

His expression softened. “You’re safe, Oraya,” he murmured in my ear. “Just hold on.”

You’re safe, I told myself.

We didn’t have time for this. Mische didn’t have time for this. So I tightened my arms around his neck, fighting more than a decade of training in order to put myself completely at his mercy.

And as if he knew—as if he sensed my fear—Raihn’s thumb traced a circle over my back in one gentle, wordless


It startled me, that touch. It startled me because it comforted me. I didn’t think it was possible to find a touch comforting ever again.

“Ready?” he said.

I nodded against his shoulder and braced myself.

A great whoosh surrounded us. I peered over Raihn’s shoulder just in time to see a wall of black open around us

—inky, glossy feathers, even more magnificent so close, with as many variations of purple and blue and red as the night sky itself.

Then my stomach dropped, and the ground fell out beneath us. My hair flew back. Warm wind stung my cheeks, whipping with such ferocity that I had to bury my face against his shoulder again as we ascended.

We soared towards the burning Palace. He flew fast. Once we leveled out, I chanced twisting my head around. Looking down was a mistake—the sight of the buildings of Sivrinaj no bigger than wooden toy blocks made me nauseous. But up… Mother, the night sky was incredible. Freeing. In any other circumstance, I would have wanted to live up here forever. Vincent rarely flew, which now seemed unthinkable. Why would anyone choose not to do this? Why would anyone do anything else, when they could be here?

Then I turned ahead, and when I saw the Moon Palace, that amazement withered to horror.

An entire spire had fallen, its stone remnants now a jagged mountain of rock that partially pierced the central domed roof. Blue-white light burned in the wound and glowed from within the shattered glass windows. From this height, people were nothing but little dots in the distance, but I could see them swarming in activity near the entrances. The cold flames spread, consuming nearly half of its base, obliterating the surrounding gardens. The quarter of the city nearest to the Moon Palace had been crushed, entire buildings seemingly reduced to rubble.

This was an attack. A calculated attack.

And it was an attack conducted with Nightborn magic. That blue-white was unmistakable. Nightfire was a gift of the House of Night alone, never used by the Bloodborn or Shadowborn.

The hairs rose on the back of my neck.

The Rishan. It had to be. Vincent had been so preoccupied lately—so obviously concerned with issues he wouldn’t share with me. I knew tensions between the two Nightborn clans had been on the verge of exploding. Vincent had held on to power for two hundred years. That was a long time for one bloodline to manage to keep it. And it wouldn’t be the first time the Rishan had made a violent attempt at rebellion.

I was so tight against Raihn’s chest that even with the air rushing around me, I felt him shudder.

“Our tower is standing.” I had to get very close to his ear because the wind was so loud, my lips brushing the crest of it. I was so shaken by what I had seen that I almost

—almost—didn’t notice.

He didn’t seem comforted. And the truth was, neither was I. Yes, our tower was standing, but Nightfire consumed everything. It wouldn’t remain that way for long.

He glided through the still-broken window of our apartment, tearing past the cloth that Mische had put up to cover the missing pane. Immediately, our hands went up to shield our faces. Raihn set me down and I struggled to get my feet under me. My eyes slitted against the blinding white.

Nightfire. Everywhere.

Nightfire didn’t produce heat, exactly, so much as it withered flesh from the inside out. It wasn’t hot like flames, but it wasn’t cold, either. It simply devoured—devoured more quickly, and more unforgivingly, than fire ever did. People caught in Nightfire were often found in piles of pristine bone. One of Vincent’s highest-ranking generals

had lost his hand to it, and now the bone jutted out from black-scarred flesh, polished and gleaming.

It had overtaken the apartment. White flames leeched the color from the floors, the walls, the curtains. The fumes made my lungs sting, as if each layer of tissue was shrieking a dying wail.

The smoke was too thick and the light too bright. It took too long for my eyes to adjust—to see the movement within the licks of death. Night-dark bodies writhed through the blaze. They were small and twisted, perched on four spindly legs bent in all the wrong directions, all of which looked as if they had been pried from a separate corpse and stitched together into something moderately resembling a single beast. Demons. Even through the fire, I recognized them immediately as the product of Nightborn magic; very different than the Bloodborn beasts we saw in the first Trial.

Three of them surrounded Mische’s limp body.

In the fire, everything was black or white, save for the violent splatter of black-red, like a bucket of spilled paint, right at the center of the room.

My mind emptied, save for the horrible certainty that Mische was dead.

The demons’ faces snapped to us, their eyes round, gleaming pits.

I was moving before I had time to question whether it was a good idea. I wasn’t being strategic—wasn’t being smart. By the third step, I thought the demons would be upon me, but they weren’t. They remained completely still, staring at us. Looking at me? Or looking at Raihn?

I see you I see you I see you.

The words came in a sense different than sound, the rhythm of them burrowing in my veins.

A strong hand grabbed my wrist and yanked me away. “Get back,” Raihn commanded in a low growl.

He kept walking past me, in quick, purposeful steps, gaze fixed upon those demons. In turn, the demons stared back at him, unblinking, unmoving.

“Get the fuck away from her,” he hissed, and lifted his hands.

I was several strides behind him, but even so, the force of his Asteris nearly toppled me over. My arms flew up to shield my face—if the Nightfire was intense, the flare of his magic was unfathomable. It lasted only a split second. The demons’ deaths were punctuated by a high, chilling wail that fell into weeping whimpers. When the light faded, Raihn was at Mische’s side, and two of the demons were simply gone, the third a mess of black liquid and twitching limbs on the opposite side of the room.

I ran to them and fell to my knees next to Raihn. The mask of deathly rage on his face had disappeared, revealing now such raw dismay. Either it was a trick of the light, or he was on the verge of tears.

“Mische,” he said. “Mische, look at me.”

I leaned over her, blinking away the Nightfire smoke. Her blood soaked through the knees of my pants, even through the leather. Her eyes were half open, but unmoving. One hand was outstretched beside her, holding a long, golden object—a candlestick? My foot hit something hard and I glanced down to see that candles surrounded her, unlit blocks of wax rolling across the marble floor.

And her abdomen… Mother, she was torn open. Gutted. Vampires could survive so much. But this… how could any being survive this?

A sickening CRACK rang out. The floor quivered, groaned. For a terrifying moment, I was certain we were about to fall to our deaths. In the distance, the screams grew louder. I couldn’t tell anymore where they were coming from—in here, or out there, or both.

Raihn and I, both braced over Mische’s body, exchanged an alarmed glance. No time. How long did we have before

this tower collapsed?

“Come on, Mische,” he murmured. “We have to go.”

He gathered her in his arms. She let out a tiny whimper that made my heart leap—if she was in pain, she was alive.

A burst of light flared behind us as the Nightfire swelled. It was everywhere. Raihn abandoned his gentleness for urgency as we lurched back towards the window and away from the flames.

He turned to me. “I can take you both.”

No, he couldn’t. He could barely extend his hand to me with Mische in his arms.

I said, “Bring her down and come back for me.” He grimaced. “Oraya—”

“It’s no use to anyone if we all fall. Go. Fast, because I don’t feel like dying tonight.”

He hesitated, then said, “Fine. I’ll be back. Don’t burn to death,” and was gone through the window.

It was only once I was alone that I realized what a supremely stupid idea this was. The floor moaned and quaked precariously. I struggled to see anything. Surges of white and blue ballooned, walls falling to the flames.

Thirty seconds and the Nightfire would overtake this entire apartment. That, or the tower would collapse. Raihn would never get back fast enough.

That is, if he even came back at all. He could just leave me here.


It was so loud it transcended sound and became force. I whirled around just in time to see the door burst from its hinges, the light consuming me.



COULDNT SEE. I couldn’t hear.

I was suspended in nothing but pain.

I rolled over. Pushed myself to my hands and knees—or at least I thought I did. I could be upside down. I could be falling. I wouldn’t even know.

My eyes were wide open, groping desperately for something—anything—other than blinding white, and failing. My hands slid across the floor, searching for my blades. Feeling blood-slicked tile, crumbled stone, broken glass, the ice-cold ash of Nightfire debris…

I would die here.

I was blind and defenseless. Injured—my body didn’t move the way I expected it too, but the pain from the Nightfire was so universal, hitting every nerve at once, that I couldn’t even tell what was broken. Every sound was distant and muffled, as if I was underwater.

Take stock of your senses, Oraya, Vincent commanded in my head, the only clear thing in a blurry world.

I drew in a deep breath. Let it out.

I couldn’t see, couldn’t hear, but I could feel. I pressed my palms to the ground—let the vibrations from it run through me.

And there, I found something… strange. A hot-cold sensation bubbling up inside of me, reaching out. All at once, I became aware not only of the floor beneath my palms, but the walls, the imprint of the window frames. I could feel myself here, in the center of this room. Feel the placement of my blades, one several feet to my right, the other lingering just beyond the reach of my left hand.

And I could feel… strength. Delirious strength. It surrounded me, ready to be drawn upon. The Nightfire. It was energy. It was power.

Mische’s words, which not long ago had seemed totally illogical—it’s just there—suddenly made sense.

I reached for that power the way I reached for my senses, like it was already a part of me.

My eyes still saw nothing but white. And yet, I knew the exact moment that the demons came bursting through the door. Three of them—no, four, the last one lingering somewhat behind, its back leg injured.

I didn’t think.

I rose, opened my hands, and let out a wordless roar.

Heat and cold flashed over my skin. A shriek pierced the numb silence of my ears. A wave of euphoria shivered over my flesh. For two seconds, I was the most powerful being in the world. I was fucking untouchable.

And then I was in agony.

My knees hit the ground hard. I doubled over, covering my face.


I didn’t hear Raihn until he was right next to me, grabbing me and pulling me upright. I blinked at him, his face a blurry imprint in a world of oppressive white. He was looking past me, to the apartment, lips parted and brow furrowed.

Then, he pulled me into his arms and hurled us out the window.

We fell for a gut-clenching moment before his wings splayed out, turning our freefall into a graceful arc. The darkness of the night was a relief to my eyes, though I blinked hard, over and over again, trying to clear my vision

—now all acid spots of white against sky. “You’re alright?” Raihn said into my ear.

I choked out, “You missed your chance to get rid of me.” I didn’t think he was even capable of joking right now,

with Mische in the state she was. So it seemed like some grim victory when, where my cheek pressed against his neck, I felt his throat vibrate with a raspy, humorless laugh. “Shame. I considered it.”

I laughed, too, in a strange broken sound that was too high and too loud.

“I thought I was going to be too late.” He leaned close to me, his voice low and drawn. “What did you just do in there?”

What? I wanted to say, but the words stuck in my throat. “The Nightfire.” As if he heard it anyway. “You killed

four demons.”

The wave of nausea had nothing to do with motion sickness.

I didn’t know how to answer him, so I didn’t.

Instead, I looked down. The white spots still speckled my vision. I realized, after a moment, that they didn’t fade because some of those spots were actually Nightfire, spreading through the streets.

Before us was the Nightborn castle, foreboding red against the night sky. The Guard had been deployed. Vincent’s army was a wave of blue and purple falling across the city, the mass of them a singular smear of death to my broken eyes.

Still, I found Vincent immediately: right there at the front, his wings spread, the black glow of Asteris surrounding him. The red outline of his wings was visible even from the sky, as was the crimson shade of his sword— the Taker of Hearts.

Even from this distance, he emanated death.

I had witnessed Vincent’s power many times before. But I had never seen him like this. A horrible feeling coiled in my stomach.

“Your father has his war,” Raihn remarked. “He’s been waiting for this moment for a long, long time. He was made for this.”

I wanted to argue. But all I could think as we soared over the wreckage was that something had changed tonight. Something would never be the same again. I couldn’t describe it, couldn’t make sense of it, but I felt it in the air.

This was not just an attack. Not just a culmination of tension. Not a final death spasm.

No, this was the beginning of something horrible. A bloody birth of a bloodier monster. One that could devour us all.

You'll Also Like