Chapter no 53

The Serpent and the Wings of Night

My mind stopped working.

I wasn’t Vincent’s daughter. Not by blood. He had never even Turned me.

I couldn’t be an Heir.

Yet the Mark was there, unmistakable. I could only see the edge of it, but I could feel it—feel it burning into the skin of my throat, clavicle, upper chest.

“That’s not—” I choked out. “I can’t be—”

Raihn still held my shoulders. His lips had parted, but words escaped him.

“Kill her,” Cairis said, not taking his eyes off of me, like if he did I might attack. “Right now.”

Chaos exploded around us. A crowd pushed closer. Ketura was already drawing her sword. And so did so many others—all those Rishan soldiers in battle-ready armor, ready to kill me. One even went so far as to lunge for me.

But then in one abrupt movement, Raihn yanked me back. He spun me around, holding me close to him, so tight I couldn’t move.

“No.” His voice was foreign and cold. Nothing like the man I knew. “I have better plans for her.”

The Rishan hesitated, confused. In the background, Septimus’s lips curled as he raised his cigarillo to his mouth.

“I took Vincent’s kingdom,” Raihn snarled. “I took his life. I took his title. And now, I will take his daughter. I’ll make her my wife. Keep her close, where I can keep an eye on her. And I’ll make sure it hurts when I fuck her, just like it did when he raped our queen two hundred years ago.”

I couldn’t even process what I was hearing.

So different. Mother, Raihn was so good at performances. But I didn’t know which one was real anymore. Which version of him was true.

I let this man into my bed. Into my body. This man who now boasted about raping me to a gaggle of rapt soldiers.

They hesitated. I knew what they were thinking—that it was foolish. But vampires loved sex and bloodshed. Loved pain and power. When all those things were combined? They could hardly resist.

“Think of that.” Raihn’s face was right next to mine as he gripped me against his body. I glimpsed his wolfish, feral grin out of the corner of my eye. “How much more interesting than death for her. There can be no other Hiaj Heir as long as she lives. And I’d happily make her my little slave forever, just as Vincent was happy to make the Rishan his.” He jerked his head to Vincent’s body. “Maybe I’ll even prop him up so he can attend his daughter’s wedding.”

And it was this—this final sprinkle of nauseating savagery—that won them over. The soldiers laughed. Cairis looked unconvinced, stepping back only slightly. And Ketura did not sheathe her sword, still seemingly ready to skewer me herself.

But Raihn didn’t give anyone time to argue. He motioned to the distance—to the carnage within the colosseum walls and beyond it. “Go. Go reclaim your kingdom. And let me deal with her.”

They obeyed him. And Raihn, as he promised, dealt with me.

I fought him. But Raihn’s power had become something else altogether, and mine was exhausted by my outburst.

He dragged me across the sand, ignoring my weak struggles.

Around us, the entire world burned. The moon and stars had been blotted out with smoke the color of dried blood. House of Blood and Rishan warriors poured into the colosseum, making quick work of Hiaj who resisted. The sounds of death echoed through the night.

As Raihn pulled me away, my eyes landed on Vincent’s body, little more than pulp in the sand.

He did not look like a king anymore.

“I’m so sorry, Oraya,” Raihn whispered, the moment we were out of earshot. “I’m—I’m just so fucking sorry.”

Sorry. The word brought to mind Vincent’s final apology. Final declaration of love. How many times had I longed to hear those words from him?

And did it even matter, in the end? “I hate you,” I spat at Raihn.

His fingers brushed my face. Little wisps of shadow trailed them. Darkness. Sleep. Too powerful for me to fight.

The last thing I heard was Raihn’s whisper of, “There she is.”

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