Chapter no 31

The Serpent and the Wings of Night

Eleven of us remained.

Ivan was there when we arrived, and Angelika followed not long after Raihn and I did. The last, to

everyone’s shock, was Ibrihim, who dragged himself through covered in gore, his sword bloodied, eyes faraway and empty. He had killed his partner right before stepping through the arch. Half was an odd number this year. Only one of them could live.

Ibrihim didn’t seem all that broken up about it.

How many people did I kill today? I wondered, numbly.

Everyone was staring at me. Not in the same way they usually did, either. Not with amused hunger, but wary curiosity.

I couldn’t decide if I liked the change.

Unlike the other trials, the Ministaer and his acolytes waited in the Moon Palace to greet us as we returned. After Ibrihim, the gate—which stood of its own accord in the center of the room—simply faded away, leaving whoever still remained beyond it to their bloody fates.

The silence was deafening. The Ministaer regarded us with a placid stare, an expression that only vaguely resembled a smile twisting his mouth.

“Congratulations,” he said. “You are finalists of the Kejari. You have made it into the final two trials. Our Dark

Mother is very pleased with you.”

No one looked pleased with themselves. Only grimly determined.

“To celebrate your victory,” the Ministaer continued, “a ceremonial feast has been held at Nyaxia’s pleasure, in honor of your gift to the Mother of the Ravenous Dark. The blood that has been spilled, and for the blood you have yet to give her.”

His smile broadened, as if this was the only thing that brought him genuine pleasure.

Sometimes, I thought Nyaxia was a bit depraved.

“Go,” he said. “Heal yourselves. Rest. The Moon Palace, by Nyaxia’s generosity, has offered you all you need. Return to the church at sundown.”



THE APARTMENT WAS TOO quiet without Mische. Raihn and I didn’t talk as we returned, and I was infinitely conscious of the silence.

He spoke first, only once the door was shut firmly behind him. “Six whole hours of rest after we nearly died for the entertainment of our benevolent goddess.” He gave me a half-smile. “How generous of them.”

I rasped a forced chuckle, and his brow flattened. “What?”


“That sounded like a dying cat, but what concerns me even more is that you actually faked a laugh at a joke that wasn’t even funny.”

That, I almost would have laughed at. But my head was foggy and my body exhausted. Now that the shock of the

trial was starting to wear off, what I had done—and the fact that I understood so little of it—had begun to set in.

“Hey,” Raihn said softly. I looked at him.

And out of everything that had just happened today, this moment might have been the most frightening.

Because right now, two truths careened into me at the same time:

One, that he looked at me like my well-being was actually important to him. That he must actually care, because I’d felt the way he cared. I’d felt his panic when I was in danger, and that meant he’d felt mine when I thought Angelika would kill him.

Two, that the Halfmoon Trial was over. We no longer needed an alliance. And that meant that either he would kill me, or I would kill him.

These two undeniable facts collided so violently that I found myself leaning back against the wall.

“Well,” I said, “we did it.” My voice was hoarse. “We sure fucking did.”

He took a step closer, his eyes never leaving mine.

I should have tensed. I should have reached for my blade.

I didn’t.

“You were fucking magnificent, Oraya,” he murmured. “I hope you know that.”

I lifted my chin and said, with as much conviction as I could muster, “I know.”

He laughed. His eyes crinkled when he smiled. Had I noticed before how much I liked that?

“Get a little rest if you can,” he said, “before the feast.

I’ll leave you alone. Get ready in a different apartment.”

He spoke so casually, but I knew what he really meant. Was this how he acknowledged what had changed between

us? Was this his way of saying, Neither of us have to make any moves yet?

Either way, I was grateful for it. Grateful that I didn’t have to spend these next few hours talking myself into killing him. Whatever the Oraya of tomorrow had to do… that could be her problem. The Oraya of tonight could just watch him for a little longer.

I refused to let even a hint of any of this into my voice as I replied, “Fine.”

He lowered his chin, went to the door, and opened it. Just before he slipped through, I said, a little too quickly, “Raihn.”

He glanced back.

“I’ll admit that you were a good ally,” I said.

He winked at me. “You knew it from the start,” he said, and closed the door behind him.



HADNT BEEN sure exactly what the Ministaer meant when he’d said that “the Moon Palace will provide,” but it turned out he meant it very literally.

The Moon Palace gave me healing potions and dressings. It gave me a hot bath with seventeen ridiculous scents of soaps. It gave me a set of hairbrushes that I had no idea what to do with.

And it gave me a gown.

When I returned to the bedchamber after my bath to see it laid out neatly over the bedspread, as if placed there by a silent, invisible servant, I actually laughed aloud.

“This must be a fucking joke,” I said, to no one in particular.

Obviously, I couldn’t wear this.

But I had no other options. As if the Moon Palace had predicted my displeasure, it had taken away any alternatives. The drawers and closets were empty. Even my bloody armor was gone. So, after wandering around the room naked for a few minutes in fruitless search for something else, I put on the damned dress.

I barely recognized myself in the mirror.

The fabric was smooth and silky and a dark, rich violet— a strangely familiar shade I couldn’t place. The front fell into a deep V, the top structured enough to define the curve of my breasts. It was held up by black metal chain straps, and that same glistening ebony metal encircled the bodice, adorning my ribcage in a manner reminiscent of armor. The back was low and open, the long chains crossing over my back. The skirt pooled lightly around my feet, which donned delicate silver sandals.

Though the dress clung to my body, it wasn’t restrictive. I nearly felt naked in the light, airy fabric, and it easily moved with me, the violet rippling like water through shades of black and purple. I left my hair free and straight. It dried smooth, falling down my back like tendrils of shadow.

I stared at myself for a long, long time.

I quite literally could not remember the last time I had seen myself in clothing created to be beautiful. I never, ever wore anything designed to attract attention. And this dress… well, it would definitely attract attention. It highlighted all the things I normally tried to hide: my skin, my shape, and the very, very exposed column of my throat.

“I can’t wear this,” I muttered to myself, again, but this time I sounded less convinced.

Because the truth was… I liked it. It was the kind of thing I’d dreamed of wearing when I was too young to understand that doing so would be a poor survival choice.

Still, I went back to my pack one last time in a final futile attempt to find something else to wear. When I

opened it, I saw why this dress looked so familiar.

That purple. Bunched up right there at the top of my belongings. I would never let anyone know how many times I pulled it out, just to hold it.

I returned to the mirror, Ilana’s scarf in my hands. I let it fall open. The fabric was battered and stained. But its color and texture were exactly the same as the gown’s. The two could have been cut from the same stretch of cloth.

My eyes stung.

I could practically smell the cigar smoke, hear her craggy voice in my ear: You’d better wear that dress. You’d better show those cunts.

Fine. I would. With one addition.

I tied Ilana’s scarf around my throat—a band of bloodstained purple silk tight around my neck, leaving two fluttering, slightly-scorched trails to dangle over my shoulder.

If I was going to let myself be a spectacle, at least I’d be one that fucking meant something.

…And I’d still find somewhere to put my daggers.

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