Chapter no 36

The Serpent and the Wings of Night

The next night, the doors to the Moon Palace were locked from the outside.

Vincent was traveling, so in lieu of his gifts, I had

intended to go out into the city to find some extra poison for my blades, just in case. But when I attempted to leave, the front door did not so much as rattle. So I tried another, and another. No door would open. No window, either.

When I returned to the apartment so soon after leaving, Raihn, who was cleaning his sword, gave me a questioning look.

“Everything’s locked,” I said. “Doors. Windows.”

His face hardened. Then he sheathed his sword and left the apartment. He returned a few minutes later with a single carafe and a basket of fruit and bread.

“Feast hall’s empty,” he said, “except for this.”

The bread and fruit, plus what we had stored in this apartment, would at least be enough to get me by. But the blood? The carafe held less than a single glass.

He and I exchanged a glance, clearly thinking the same thing. If the Moon Palace had locked us in, it meant that it intended to starve us. And starvation was terrifying to both of us for very different reasons.

“You have more, right?” I said, nodding to the carafe. He and Mische had been hoarding blood since the beginning of

the tournament, but… I wasn’t sure how much of it had survived the attack.

“Enough,” he said tightly. “We lost some of it in the fire but… I have enough. If I ration.”

My shoulders lowered in relief. At least if Raihn had enough blood to get him by, I wouldn’t be locked up in an apartment with a predator. Still, being confined to a castle with nearly a dozen more of them didn’t feel much better.

Most of the trials were held in equal intervals, exactly three weeks apart. But the Crescent trial was sometimes— not always—an exception. Some years it was a longer trial, spanning several days, and occasionally held at a location outside the colosseum.

If Nyaxia was going to starve us until the Crescent, that could be as long as three weeks, or as little as one. Either was dangerous. Some of the vampires here had not had any blood since the feast four days ago.

Raihn moved a dresser in front of the door that night.



THE DOORS and windows didn’t unlock. The food did not replenish. There was no more blood.

On the fifth day, in growing desperation, one of the Hiaj contestants tried to fly up to the top of the tower and smash through an upper window. The glass shattered, but the moment he attempted to fly through, he was cast back to the ground with a ragged shriek of pain. His entire body had been cut up as if by a thousand minuscule razor blades, shredding his skin and his wings. Raihn and I watched from a distance, but even from across the hall it was clear he’d die, whether it be of blood loss or starvation. A breeze flowed gently through that open window. It revealed

nothing but the sky, the Moon Palace hiding its deadliness in innocence.

No one tried to break the windows again. Not even as the hunger got worse.



Another week passed.

I stopped leaving the apartment. The vampires who hadn’t been able to get any blood right before the supply disappeared would now be experiencing intense hunger— not enough to kill them, not yet, but enough to drive them to desperation.

First, we started hearing footsteps pacing the hall outside the apartment door at night. Then they continued during the daylight hours as hunger led the instinctual desire for food to outweigh aversion to burning. They probably didn’t even know they were doing it. If they were starving, their legs would just take them to wherever they sensed the greatest potential to feed. And I had been careful to heal all my wounds from the last trial, but I still probably smelled delicious.

Through all of this, Raihn and I somehow managed to maintain our little bubble of normalcy. We trained together in the early nights, then he would help me practice my woefully unpredictable magic later. We spent the pre-dawn hours curled up in the sitting room, and every day I watched him linger at the curtains, peering at the horizon until the sun left little angry claw marks on his skin.

One day, when Raihn was asleep, I had an idea. I pulled the huge mirror from my bedchamber out into the sitting room, propping it up a bit precariously against the couch. I eyed it, fussed with the curtains, checked my angles and

then checked them again. When Raihn woke up at sundown and came out to see the mess I’d made of the living room, he halted.

“Oh,” he said. “Well, it finally happened. You’ve lost your mind.”

I scoffed and offered no explanation. Not until the end of the night, when the sun began to rise and Raihn went to take his usual spot near the curtains. Then, I called him back into the living room.

“Watch,” I said, pointing to the mirror. And then I went into my bedchamber and threw open the drapes.

He flinched, shrinking back. But the sharp corner of the hall shielded him from the rays of sunlight—while the mirror still offered him a full view of the sky.

“I tested it,” I said. “As long as you stay back here, even at high noon, the light won’t flood into this room. But you can still see the sun in the mirror. It’s… it’s nice in the middle of the day. The sun reflects off the church spires.”

I said it so casually, as if I hadn’t spent hours perfecting the placement of that mirror, making sure it framed everything I found so beautiful about the sleeping city in daylight, the way no one but me could see it. Until now.

Raihn was quiet for a long time.

“Careful, princess,” he said at last, his voice rough. “Someone might think you’re actually nice.”

But his words mattered so much less than the persistent tug of the smile across his lips. And every day after that, he dragged a chair to that turn of the hallway, and he watched the sun rise and fall over Sivrinaj as if it was the most precious gift in the world.

In times like that, it was too easy for me to forget the grim reality of our situation.

But the darkness of it slipped through, anyway.



ONE NIGHT, in the third week, Raihn was on edge. He seemed tense, his usual smooth, casual demeanor replaced with perpetually tapping feet and grinding teeth and fingers that would clench, unclench, clench, unclench, over and over. Every muscle in his expression was tight.

“What’s wrong with you?” I asked, eventually, when he was so distracted while training that he nearly let me take his head off with Nightfire.

“Nothing,” he snapped. “That’s convincing.”

He didn’t even have a retort, which may have been the most worrying thing of all.

He excused himself from our training, and I didn’t argue. I wasn’t about to show him that I was worried about him, but I also couldn’t shake the nagging knot of anxiety. When I heard footsteps in the common room, I crept silently from my room and peered at him around the corner. He was standing at the dining table, a glass in his hand.

I thought it was empty at first, then realized, as he lifted it, that it held just a tiny, tiny pool of blood—barely enough to cover the bottom.

Raihn gazed at it like he was saying goodbye to a lover before throwing it back, savoring, and then swallowing.

Everything went numb and cold. The expression on his face… the way he stared down at the empty glass now… it told me all I needed to know. I felt like a fool.

“So,” I said, emerging from the hallway. “That’s it, isn’t it?”


Mother. I was so fucking stupid. Raihn was so far gone that he didn’t even have it in him to convincingly feign

ignorance. I thrust my palm to the empty glass, still in his hand. “You told me you had enough.”

“I—” He avoided my gaze. Swallowed. “I did have enough.”

“That doesn’t look like enough.”

“The Crescent trial will be happening any day now. It’s fine. I’m fine.”

He set down the glass a little too hard, and a crack spiderwebbed up its side. If he noticed, he didn’t show it. His knuckles were white.

Something about that sound—the sound of the glass cracking—cracked something open in me, too. All at once, all those signs of hunger that I hadn’t wanted to see struck me. It was everywhere. How had I not noticed? Whenever I asked if he had enough, he told me he did. And I had taken him at his word without even questioning it.

Raihn was hungry, and not only hungry, but on the verge of starving.

And I had barricaded myself in a room with him.

Why had it been so hard for me to confront the reality of those two things?

It wasn’t that I was afraid of him. It was that I wasn’t, and I should be. I should be. That was nature, and that did not change because of whatever I may have come to feel.

You have been making so many mistakes, Vincent whispered in my ear. I hadn’t noticed how long it had been since I’d heard him.

“I should go somewhere else,” I said. “A different apartment.”

I leveled my voice, but I had to try harder than I expected. And I could tell that Raihn had to try just as hard to keep his face neutral, and didn’t quite succeed. There was a slight twitch to the muscle in his jaw, like he had to dampen a flinch from a blow.

I felt that blow, too. Like I had just slapped him across the face.

“Why?” he said tightly.

Why?” I motioned to the empty glass. The cracks had grown. Now Raihn’s fisted grip was the only thing keeping it from shattering. “Raihn, don’t be a—”

“There’s no reason to.”

He was not going to make me say this. He couldn’t possibly be so naive.

“Yes, there is. You know there is.”

“I told you that—” He paused. Took a breath. Let it out. “I hope you know by now that you don’t have to worry about that.”

“I always have to worry.”

You are never safe, Vincent whispered. “Not with me.”

“Even with you.”

Especially with you, because you make me feel at ease. And this time, he did actually flinch. The glass shattered. “After everything, you’re still afraid of me? I’m not a

fucking animal, Oraya,” he said, words so low and rough

that they did, indeed, resemble a growl. “Give me a little more credit than that.”

Something hardened in my heart, prodded by the hurt I felt on his behalf.

“You aren’t an animal,” I said. “But you are a vampire.” “I wouldn’t hurt you,” he snapped.

No. That was a lie. It was a lie the last time someone had said it to me. It was a lie even if Raihn completely believed it was the truth—and if he did, maybe he was more of a fool than I realized.

Hell, maybe I was, too.

We were finalists in the Kejari. We would need to hurt each other. And that was even if we made it that far.

“What are you so offended by?” I shot back. “That I’m stating the obvious aloud? You are a vampire. I am human. Maybe we don’t like to say those things, but they’re true.

Look at yourself. You think I don’t see right fucking through you?”

I was upset. My heartbeat had quickened. A muscle feathered in his cheek. His nostrils flared. Even now, I could see it. The hunger lingering beneath the hurt.

“Our dream world is nice, but it’s not real,” I said. “And I

don’t want to be woken up from it by you tearing open my throat.”

I regretted my words immediately. But I regretted them because they were cruel, and because the terrible, childlike hurt on Raihn’s face made my soul ache.

I didn’t regret them because they weren’t true. They were.

Did he think he was the only one who wanted to pretend otherwise? In this moment, I wanted nothing more than to live my entire life the way we had been over these last few weeks. Building something like a home in this shitty, dark Palace.

I wanted it so much that I even… even considered if I might be able to help him. Even though it was a foolish thought. Even though a human offering themselves to a vampire deprived of food for this long would mean near-certain death, no matter how good their intentions were. And yet, when I saw that look on his face, that desperation, I was willing to consider it.

Stupid, naive, childish.

But Raihn had already backed up, his back straight, knuckles white at his sides. He had taken several steps away, as if, even in his anger, he recognized that I needed him to put more space between us.

“Fine,” he said coldly. “You’re right. We’ve been stupid. If you want me gone, I’m gone. You shouldn’t be anywhere near that hallway. I’ll go.”

I already wanted to take it back. The familiar grip of fear had begun to tighten around my heart. Not fear of Raihn,

but fear of being without him, and the things I might feel once he was gone.

“Alright,” I said, against every instinct. Neither of us seemed to know what else to say.

So he went to his room, gathered his belongings, pushed aside the bureau in front of the door just enough to slip through, and then turned to me.

A million words hung there.

He just said, “Push this back when I’m gone. I—” He bit down on whatever he was about to say.

I knew that feeling, because I found myself doing it, too. Swallowing down, Don’t go’s and I’ll miss you’s and I’m sorry’s.

This is fucking silly, I told myself. He’s just going to a different room, and it’s the only thing that makes sense.

But I knew—we both knew—that once Raihn left, once he became just another contestant in the Kejari, something will have changed between us irreparably.

“I—” He tried again, gave up, and said, “I’ll see you at the next trial.”

And he was gone before I could say another word.

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