Chapter no 47

The Serpent and the Wings of Night

The crowd shrieked. Ibrihim’s eye rolled and went distant as he died. I pulled my blade from his chest and let him fall to the sand.

I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. Across the arena, another door had opened.

I turned, ready to lunge, but instead, loosened a breath of relief.

Raihn stood there, shoulders heaving. His armor had been tattered—Mother, I didn’t know what kind of creature could shred leather like that—and he was soaked, his dripping hair plastered to his face and neck. Zarux, the god of the sea, perhaps?

Fuck, I didn’t even care. He was alive. I’d thank whatever god I had to for that. And I saw that same silent prayer on his lips when his gaze landed on me, too.

The fourth door swung open, breaking our trance.

Angelika looked every bit a god herself, her braided hair torn free from its binding, a slash over her ice-pale cheek. Behind her, I glimpsed a spattered painting of blood. She had butchered her opponents.

The moment she stepped into the ring, all four of the doors slammed closed behind us, leaving us trapped here.

Raihn, Angelika, and I tensed, eyeing each other. Maybe we were waiting for another gimmick, another one of

Nyaxia’s displays.

Nothing. Just the swelling roar of the audience, rising to a bloodthirsty climax.

No, there was no other trick here. Just three animals in a cage with each other. But who needed a gimmick when we were already giving them this? A human, an outcast, a monster. Lovers forced to turn on each other. A heartbroken mourner rabid for vengeance.

It was already a hell of a show.

Move, little serpent. Move before they do.

It was still Vincent’s voice in my head. And despite everything, I still obeyed.

I turned my attention to Angelika first.

Her slitted eyes found mine, and we both lunged.



Angelika was relentless.

She didn’t spare even a single glance to Raihn. He might as well not have been there at all. Even when he offered her clear openings—even when he was obviously trying to draw her attention—she came only for me.

I was smaller than her, faster, more agile. But that was the only advantage I had against her. Angelika was a bred killer. She was as tall as Raihn, and nearly as strong. Halting the edge of her blade was one thing—keeping my fragile human body from crumpling, literally crumpling, beneath the crushing force of her strikes was another.

During one particularly vicious swing, I blocked her with my blades, only to hear a distinct CRACK ring out through my back. Pain shot through my spine like lightning.

I struggled to hold the block. A hoarse roar scraped from my throat. I threw everything I had into my Nightfire,

flecks of it tearing up the length of my blades.

But Angelika barely reacted when those white flames nipped at her. Nor did she flinch at any cut I managed to open on her flesh, not even as the poison ate away at skin.

Her eyes, red-rimmed and cold with rage, did not move from me. She ignored Raihn, swatted away his blows, and continued her unstoppable barrage.

Seconds stretched to minutes, and the minutes stretched endlessly.

This was more than strategy. She wasn’t just picking me off because I was the weaker opponent. No, this was personal. I was certain of that, even if I didn’t fully understand why. Did she blame me, somehow, for Ivan’s death, even though Raihn had been the one to throw him into the fog?

Did it matter?

No time to think. No time to question. No time to go on the offensive, only to evade her blows the best I could.

My eyes met Raihn’s over her shoulder for a split second as I blocked one of her devastating strikes. The sheer terror on his face as he tried to get her off of me—terror on my behalf—startled me. Distracted me.

I hesitated a moment too long.

Her sword opened a river of blood over my shoulder, and her lips curled in satisfaction.


I tried to yank away, but her fingertips lifted. She was a skilled magic user. Not as good as Ivan had been, perhaps, but more than good enough for this. A twitch of her hand, and my own body betrayed me.

I fell to my knees. My heartbeat shuddered as the blood in my veins gushed and twisted in strange, unnatural ways. Pain bubbled up inside me, a slow burn, starting at a low simmer and quickly rising to an agony that consumed everything else. I couldn’t move.

Angelika smiled as she approached me.

“You did good, human,” she said. “Better than I expected.”


I had gotten too far to die here. I forced my way through it, forced my muscles to work against the magic.

I managed to barely lift my blade.

Raihn lunged at Angelika, but she quickly deflected him, offering me only a few seconds of reprieve—enough for me to gulp down a few lungfuls of air and stagger to my feet, barely making it up before she pushed me down again, her boot clamping down on my leg.

“It’s been a pleasure, Oraya.”

The certainty of death rolled over me slowly, like a cold fog, the kind that’s invisible until you’re drowning in its depths.

My back was to the crowd. Perhaps if it wasn’t, I might have looked at Vincent. Or maybe I was grateful I wouldn’t have to watch him watch me die.

Instead, my gaze flicked past Angelika, to Raihn.

I didn’t know what I was searching for. Yet I felt a sharp twinge of sadness when he wasn’t looking at me at all. He was staring past me, into the crowd. At what? I couldn’t make sense of that expression. Desperation and anger. As if pleading with someone and hating every second of it.

His chin lowered. Barely a nod.

Angelika had raised her sword. It would cut me in two.

I readied my weapons. Summoned every final scrap of magic I had within my veins. I would die fighting.

But then, something strange happened. The strike did not come when I expected it. Instead, Angelika faltered, her gaze lifting briefly to the stands. Watching.

She let the blood magic slip.

And my body was already moving, and my newly freed muscles were already leaping, and my blade was already buried in Angelika’s chest.

The Nightfire came a moment later, engulfing us both.

You have to push hard to make it through the breastbone.

Angelika’s body was muscular and lean, and she wore armor besides. But I threw myself against her with such force that my blade hit her heart on the first try.

She collapsed. No counter, no attempted block. Maybe, if I’d had the time to think, I might have found that strange. Her eyes simply slipped to mine.

And she smiled.

“Good luck,” she whispered as her claw-tipped nails fell from my arms. Her body hit the sands with a heavy thump, all the weight of greatness fallen.

I stood slowly, the pain of Angelika’s magic draining away. I stepped over her body as the pool of blood soaked the soles of my boots.

Raihn was on the other side of the pit, shoulders heaving.

He looked every bit the hardened warrior. Sweat plastered a few strands of deep red hair to his face. Whatever had shredded his armor in his previous trial had done good work of it, and more tattered pieces of leather had fallen away as he moved, leaving broad patches of muscled flesh visible over his chest and shoulders—the power of his body unmistakable. Even the magic of his sword seemed fiercer than ever before, the puffs of smoke unfurling from the blade in vicious licks.

But his eyes did not belong to that person.

His eyes belonged to the person who had woken up with me today. Who had kissed the scars on my throat as if my past, and all of its dark corners, was something precious to be protected.

It was just us now. One of us would walk away, and one of us would leave our soul here, in these blood-soaked sands.

For a moment, I considered throwing down my weapons.

But then Raihn lifted his chin. The muscles of his throat shifted as he swallowed. I heard everything he didn’t say in the little, encouraging nod he gave me.

Promise me you’ll never stop fighting.

He had one chance to gain the power he needed to help those he left behind. I had one chance to become something more than a human left to die in a world that despised her. Neither of us could afford to sacrifice those things—no matter how much we might want to.

No, we would fight. Raihn moved first.

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