Chapter no 51

The Serpent and the Wings of Night

Nyaxia did not ask me if I was sure. She knew my soul. She knew I was.

“As you wish,” she said, as if I had just done

something very amusing indeed.

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting—maybe some dramatic flash of light or storm of darkness, or hell, maybe that I would disappear completely—but none of it happened.

No, it turns out that fate changing is a subtle beast. The air turns just a little colder, the direction of the wind just a little lost. You look down and suddenly your hands are shaking, holding the blade that, seconds and another reality ago, had been lodged in your lover’s chest.

I looked up, and Raihn was alive.

He sucked in a great gulp of air, his hands clutching at his chest—at the wound that was no longer there.

The crowd murmured and gasped.

I didn’t look at them. Raihn didn’t, either. Instead, his gaze shot to me. Only me. He looked at me before he even looked at Nyaxia.

The tears that pricked my eyes now were of relief.

It was worth it. I already knew it. Even if I never saw him again. It would have been worth it.

Confusion tangled in his expression as he rubbed his chest.

“Hello, Raihn Ashraj, my Nightborn son,” Nyaxia purred. “Victor of the Kejari.”

Raihn’s confusion turned to realization. Then turned to… To…

My brow furrowed.

That wasn’t relief. That was anguish.

“Oraya,” he choked out. “What did you—”

“Rise,” Nyaxia commanded. “Rise, my son. And tell me how I may reward your victory.”

Raihn did not speak for a long moment. That silence seemed to stretch a million years. At last, he rose and approached Nyaxia. Her fingers stroked his cheek, leaving in their wake little paths of blood.

“My, what a long time it has been,” she crooned. “Even fate did not know if I would see this face again.”

“Likewise, my lady,” Raihn said.

Vincent’s jaw was so tight it trembled, his knuckles white at his sides, back straight. His wings quivered, as if he had to hold himself back from flying down here.

Nyaxia’s eyes danced with amusement—terrifying amusement.

My stomach clenched tight. I did not like to see that level of delight. The kind of delight that promised bloodshed.

Nyaxia likes her children squabbling.

Something… something was not right. “Tell me, my son, what is your prize?”

The world held its breath. Raihn bowed his head.

In the crowd, I glimpsed Septimus pushing forward through the stands, a hungry grin spreading over his lips.

Why was Septimus looking so pleased, if his champion had fallen?

Raihn said, “Two hundred years ago, you came to this place and granted the winner of the Kejari a wish. You

sealed away the power of the Rishan Nightborn King.”

The smirk on Nyaxia’s lips had grown to a grin, and with it, my stomach sank.

“I wish for that power, my lady. I wish for it to be restored to the Rishan Heir line. I wish for it to be restored to me.”


Nyaxia laughed, low and silken. “I wondered when this might happen. Your wish is granted, Raihn Ashraj, Turned Heir of the Rishan king.”


My eyes went wide. I took several steps back, towards the stands. Some spectators were laughing, soaking up the drama of it all. But others, mostly Hiaj, had started to uneasily back out through the crowd.

Nyaxia cupped her hands before her. “Congratulations on your victory.”

Raihn looked only at me, dismayed apology over his face, as Nyaxia’s hands opened over his chest, her lips pressing to his forehead.

The burst of power rearranged the world.

Everything went white, then black. But the real force of the shift was deeper than that. At any given moment, one could feel Vincent’s power innately—the kind of power kissed by the Goddess herself. Now, two polar extremes yanked in opposite directions.

I lifted my hand to shield my eyes. When the light faded, Raihn was standing before Vincent’s box. His wings burst forth—a million colors, black as night, with one notable exception:

Red, painted at their tips. I let out a strangled noise.

Because Raihn’s armor had been so badly damaged that when his wings flung out, most of the leather had ripped away, revealing the landscape of scars over his back. The scars from Vincent’s torture, yes. But also the older one,

the one that started at his upper back and ran down his spine.

Now light burned through that scar tissue, streaks of red piercing the mottled flesh. It formed a design—five phases of the moon over the top of his shoulders, and a spear of smoke down the center of his back.

A mark.

An Heir Mark.

It bloomed to life as if awakened by a sudden burst of power. Even if its owner had once, long ago, tried to burn it off his skin.

Fuck. Fuck. What had I done? Goddess, what had I done?

By now the Hiaj spectators understood what was happening. People trampled each other in the stands trying to escape, taking to the sky or to any open exits in clumsy masses.

A deafening crack sounded from beyond the colosseum. It shook the ground, followed by a deep grinding—like stone shattering. Like city walls falling. Like an empire crumbling.

Soldiers poured from the entrances of the colosseum. Soldiers wearing the red and white of the House of Blood. Septimus watched it all and smiled.

A dead lover can never break your heart, Nyaxia’s voice

whispered to me, taunting.

It was all I could hear as Vincent spread his wings and drew his sword.

He didn’t move as Raihn approached him. No, Vincent never backed down from a threat. He’d face his challenger head-on.


I didn’t remember drawing my blades. I just started running. I made it halfway up the steps to Vincent’s balcony before someone grabbed me. I didn’t know who. Didn’t care. Didn’t look.

I needed to get to him.

I needed to get to him right now, right now, right now

Raihn’s lip curled. “You don’t even know who I am, do you?”

Vincent did not dignify this with a response. Instead, he lunged.

A cry leapt to my throat.

Vincent was one of the best warriors in all of Nyaxia’s kingdoms. And yet Raihn struck him down mid-movement, as if he were nothing. Power swelled and sparked at Raihn’s fingertips—flashes of light and darkness, like stars themselves, dwarfing even the force of his Asteris in the ring.

I thrashed against whoever held me back—thrashed so hard that soon another set of hands joined the first—

“We met,” Raihn said. “Two hundred years ago. The day you took power and opened a river of blood in this city. The day you slaughtered your own family and every Rishan man, woman, and child within these walls. The day you killed anyone you thought even had the sliver of a chance of taking the Rishan Heir line and challenging you for the House of Night.” He pushed Vincent’s sword away with a burst of power, sending it clattering to the floor. “Well. You missed one.”

Raihn grabbed Vincent’s throat. The red of Vincent’s Heir Mark sputtered in fits and starts, as if repelled by the grip of its natural enemy. A sickening CRACK as Raihn pushed Vincent’s body to the smooth stone of the wall, smearing crimson-black over white marble.

Horrible certainty fell over me.

I was about to watch my father die.

I fought harder. Two sets of hands became three.

Someone yelped as I stabbed at them.

Raihn yanked Vincent closer, their heads bowing. Vincent said something to him, much too quietly for me to hear.

Then his head turned—slowly, as if it took all his strength—to look at me.

Raihn looked at me, too. And for a moment, that hate on his face was replaced with profound, tortured regret. I couldn’t hear anything over my frantic scream, but his lips formed the words, Look away.

I screamed something—perhaps a curse, a plea. I would never remember.

And I did not look away.

Not as magic flared at Raihn’s touch.

Not as Vincent’s body flew back against the wall with enough force to turn bones to liquid.

No, I did not look away as I watched Raihn kill my father.

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