Chapter no 30

The Serpent and the Wings of Night

Vincent had always warned me about what it would be like to be caught in a frenzy. “They will not wait until you are dead,” he said. “There is no sense. There is

no thought. There is only hunger.”

I had thought about those words a lot in the days after Ilana’s death. What I had heard that first night in the Moon Palace sounded just as Vincent had described. She had been devoured alive, and she had been powerless to do anything about it. Her final moments haunted me.

Now, as my body flung me into a mass of starving animals, my muscles beyond my reach for pivotal seconds, only one thought stuck in my mind:

Was this how she felt when she died?

Ivan’s magic paralyzed me. I couldn’t move, but I was conscious as those beasts descended upon me.

The animals had been provoked into a delirium by the violence and starvation. They had formed tightly packed groups, all twitching muscles and foaming mouths, as if perhaps some part of them knew that it was their only chance at survival.

For a split second, it struck me as deeply sad. They were just animals, after all. Killers reduced to prey for entertainment. Just like all of us, really.

I felt it when the first one, a demon, grabbed ahold of my leg. Immediately, I was surrounded by so many that they completely shadowed the sky. All I saw was teeth and claws.

I couldn’t even scream.


Raihn’s panic flooded me. It was just as intense as my own.

I didn’t know what to make of that.

But something about that panic jolted through me, the burst of it sharp enough to cut through the remnants of Ivan’s magic. My hands flew out, stabbing wildly.

It wasn’t enough.

There were so many of them. I was bleeding too much. Blood was bad. Blood was dangerous. I lashed out with my blades, but it was futile panic in an endless sea of flesh and skin and fur and feathers.

I was going to die. Mother, I was going to die. My heartbeat was wild. Every pump of blood brought them closer.

I’m coming for you, Oraya.

I didn’t like that. How scared Raihn sounded. He had managed to slip Angelika, and he was running, running, running, pushing through the crowd on his side of the wall.

He wouldn’t be fast enough.

Use your magic, he urged. I saw flashes of his vision as he ran—sprinting up the unsteady stone of his path.

You aren’t even far from the end. Use it right now.

I couldn’t. I couldn’t grip my own power—even when I could, I produced little more than wisps of light. I fought and thrashed and struggled to calm myself, and—

I told myself, Fear is a collection of—

Fear is the fucking KEY to it, Oraya! Raihn’s voice, booming with fear of his own, filled both of our minds. USE IT. Pretend that you’re throwing me out the fucking

window. Pretend that you’re dragging Mische out of that burning apartment.

Shameful tears pricked my eyes.

I didn’t know how. Didn’t know how to let go of that wall within myself. I’d built it for so long, cemented over every crack. Now I clung to it. Terrified of what would happen if I let myself fall.

I’m with you, Oraya. Right now. You don’t have time.

We’ll go together. Alright? I’m with you.

That should have terrified me.

The beasts overwhelmed me. My back hit the sand. A demon crawled over me, its face inches from mine. It went for my throat—right there on the side, right where I had a scar that reminded me of the boy I tried not to think about every night.

Now, I let myself. Let myself think of him for the first time in so many years.

Let myself think of my parents, crushed in a broken building in a war that had nothing to do with them.

Let myself think of a little lost girl with dark hair hunted in a maze. A little girl with dark hair left alone in a ruined city.

Let myself think of a lifetime spent here, trapped by my own fear, trapped by these fucking predators, these monsters, these things that didn’t see me as anything other than livestock—

And then I realized. I realized that fear, when embraced, hardens and sharpens.

That it becomes rage. That it becomes powerI would not die here.

I let my fury explode.

I let it spill out through my mouth and my eyes and my fingers and the tips of my hair. I let it erupt all the way to the sky—past the stars, the moon, reaching for Nyaxia herself.

And I felt her reach back.

The Nightfire roared through me, surrounding me in a blanket of light and heat and power. It consumed everything—the demons, the hellhounds, the vampires. Consumed my skin, my eyes. Consumed, above all, my anger.


I gripped my blades but did not need to wield them as I rose. I barely remembered moving. Barely remembered stepping through a sea of white flames over Nightfire-eaten corpses that might have been animal, might have been vampire, on my way up the path, climbing and climbing.

I stopped only when I reached the top—when I looked up at the sky and saw the moon.

Suddenly I felt so, so small again. Awareness plunged back into my injured mortal body. Nausea churned in my stomach. My legs almost gave out, and I thrust my hand out to steady myself.

The flames fell away. My eyes struggled to adjust to the darkness in the wake of such blinding light.

I was at the top of the wall, in the center of the colosseum. My hand braced against the frame of the one remaining gate, the other now nothing but charred, twisted metal. I felt strange and unsteady and empty. Behind me, a tableau of devastation trailed from the sands of the arena up the crumbling wall of rock—scorched stones and piles of clean white bones.

The audience watched in silence, thousands of eyes upon me. Their faces all blended together. Vincent was out there, somewhere. I was going to look for him, but instead my gaze drifted down, just several paces away, to where the path from the other side of the arena crested the top of the wall.


He was on his knees, staring up at me. And that—the way he looked at me—was the first thing that felt real.

Real, and raw, and… and confusing.

Because he looked at me in sheer awe—like I was the most incredible thing he had ever seen. Like I was a fucking goddess.

I blinked and tears streamed down my cheeks. Whatever I had cracked open inside myself to access that power bled like an open wound.

Raihn rose slowly at first.

And then so fast that I didn’t have time to react when he closed the space between us in several long strides—and then he was all around me at once in a firm embrace, and my feet were off the ground, and my arms were around his neck, and I was allowing him to hold me. Allowing myself to cling to him. Allowing myself to bury my tear-streaked face in the warm space between his chin and throat.

And suddenly not a single thing—not the audience, or the arena, or the arch, or the Nightfire, or Nyaxia herself— existed except for this.

“You worried me for a minute there,” he murmured against my hair, his voice rough. “I should’ve known better.”

He lowered me until my feet touched the ground again, then released me. Swaying and dizzy, I looked out over the stands.

Vincent was right in the front, halfway across the ring. He was half standing, his eyes wide and unblinking. One hand clung to the rail. The other clutched his chest—as if trying to hold in his own heart.

I must have been weak with blood loss. Because I even thought that perhaps I saw a silver streak down his cheek.

“Let’s go,” Raihn said softly, his hand on my back.

I turned to the door, and the ghostly silence of the Moon Palace welcomed us with open arms.

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