Chapter no 40

The Serpent and the Wings of Night

This wasn’t flying. This was just hurtling ourselves through the air, all finesse stripped away in favor of speed. My eyes burned and face stung as bugs, dust,

and stray branches clawed at us. Raihn had to move erratically, not in graceful arcs but messy jerks to dodge trees and piles of rock while keeping us low enough to avoid the cloud of acidic smoke above us—and all while fighting with the flowing fabric that threatened to tangle in his wings. I struggled to keep my eyes open and weapons ready, barely blinking.

Thirty counts, forty, sixty-five, seventy— “Now!” I shouted.

Raihn held me tighter, and we slammed to the ground. He pushed me down first—hard enough that I let out a strangled oof—and braced himself above me, throwing the cloak over us both.

“Smaller,” he grunted, and I pulled my legs up tight to my torso and rolled to the side, making myself as tiny as possible beneath him.

I’d never been so grateful to be as short as I was. It was the only reason why this worked. Raihn had said that he would magic his wings away so they didn’t get in the way, but he must not have had time, because he ended up pressing them down tight to our sides, the cloak coming

down around us. My heartbeat quickened at the suffocating closeness—I was pinned, the ashy ground beneath me, Raihn’s body above, his wings on either side.

I couldn’t see anything. But I felt it, when the smoke rolled in, because Raihn tensed.

I pressed my hand to his chest in a wordless comfort.

“Shut your eyes,” he commanded, just before the burning started.

I squeezed them shut tight, but I still felt it. On my flesh, too—first in the exposed skin, like my wrists and hands and neck, and then the rest of me.

Ten seconds in, I thought, Maybe this will kill us.

But it didn’t. The pain remained unpleasant, but far from deadly.

Ninety endless seconds.

When Raihn finally lifted off me, my skin, lungs, and eyes stung, but I was otherwise unhurt. He would have gotten the worst of it. I had no time to even look at him, though, before he grabbed me and we were flying once more.

My mind emptied of everything but counting. We had to make it miles like this, in ninety-second spurts. I lost track of how many times we repeated it, my body slamming against the ground again and again.

We were lucky at first, encountering no danger other than that smoke. But then, about halfway to our destination, Raihn threw back the cloak and we were immediately attacked by three wolves, foamy-mouthed and visibly starving. Raihn didn’t have time to grab his sword, instead unleashing an immediate burst of magic to force them back—far weaker than usual, considering his still-fresh injuries.

Fifteen seconds.

I had to react fast. I gutted one while it was still stunned from Raihn’s blast, and the other when it exposed its throat to me as it dove.

Forty seconds.

The third refused to die. It lunged for me while I was still pulling my blade from its companion.


I fought, and I counted. Raihn leapt in to help, taking a nasty bite intended for me. The wolf clung to life, thrashing back at every wound.

Sixty seconds. Seventy.

Eighty, as I finally killed it with a strike and a burst of Nightfire—just in time to look down the steep incline of the crater and see a wave of misty black coming for us, ten seconds early.

Raihn threw me down roughly. I saw him wince as the smoke rolled over us. We were nose to nose. The fabric didn’t cover all of him.

“You were too close,” he whispered. “Blame the wolf.”

This time, when those ninety counts were up, Raihn didn’t move quite as quickly. As he scooped me up again, I eyed his wings. The tips had been poking out of the cloak. Now the feathers there were slightly ragged, the black flecked with what I at first thought was blood, and then realized were actually spots of red coloring.

We flew again, again, again. We were getting tired. Moving a bit slower when we needed to be going faster. I knew that the burns on Raihn’s wings and legs were bothering him, as was the wolf bite.

At last, the arch came into sight. My eyesight was so poor in the dark and the fog that we were surprisingly close by the time I could make out that gold gate cutting through the night. Maybe two more sprints.

“I see it now,” I said, relieved.

Raihn’s hands were already at my waist, preparing to carry me again. “You should be ashamed of that terrible human—”

He stopped short.

I turned. He was looking down at something. We had climbed high, the rocky ridge now looming far above our starting point, and farther still above the deepest parts of the crater below. From this distance, it looked like a cauldron of mist. It had been difficult to see the curvature of the landscape at the bottom, but up here, the shape of it was unmistakable, the circle so well defined that it seemed as if it had been man-made.

The hairs rose at the back of my neck. Once again, an odd sensation of familiarity passed over me.

I glanced at Raihn, and his expression made me stop breathing. Anger and fear and devastation, painted over every feature.

I had only seen that once before. When he thought Mische was dead.

Something silver glinted in the dirt. He kneeled down and picked it up. Stared at it.

“This is…”

He sounded as if he didn’t realize he was speaking aloud. The silver in his fingers glinted as his hands shook. I realized it was a street sign—or part of one.

We were running out of time.

“Raihn, we have to go before—” He rasped, “This is Salinae.” Salinae?

I almost laughed at him, because it was so outlandish. Salinae was one of the biggest cities in the House of Night. When the Rishan had been in power, it had been their second capital. I’d researched it obsessively, preparing for the day I could storm it. I’d studied every drawing, every map.

“Salinae? That’s…”

Ridiculous, I started to say. But I’d studied every map.

And suddenly, there it was, superimposed over this desolate wasteland. Piles of smashed rock became

buildings—the city hall there, the church there, the library there. Veins of packed dirt through the landscape, dismissed before as natural rivulets in the earth, became roads.

My lips parted in sickened shock.

This wasn’t a wasteland. It was ruins of a city that no longer existed. The ruins of a city that had been thoroughly, systemically devastated—as if by one of the most powerful militaries in the world.

And finally, I realized why the air felt so familiar.

It smelled like the aftermath of Asteris. Asteris and explosives, power stripped directly from the stars itself, wielded by thousands of warriors.

It smelled like this very place had smelled, sixteen years ago, the night Vincent had taken me home.

I was numb as the realization fell over me.

I will spare no one, Vincent had said. I will not spare your wives or children.

And he hadn’t. Not just the Rishan. But the humans, too. Vincent had killed them all.

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