Let me tell you about the first time the child wishes to be something she is not.
Five years is a blink to a vampire. A half a lifetime
to a little human. The king keeps his new adopted daughter carefully sequestered from the rest of his bloody world. He gives her everything she could possibly wish for within the confines of four walls.
The girl is eleven years old before her wishes venture beyond those walls. The king tried to be everything to her, but for all his affection and protection, he was still several hundred years older than her, and an entirely different species aside.
The girl remembered the life she had before she came here—even if those images were fleeting, eaten away by time. Years are long to a child so young, and memories so short.
Still, she remembered that she had a life before this. A life with people who were like her.
One night, when the king came to visit her, she asked him about her family. It was not the first time. She recognized the look on his face as he prepared to give her the same answer he always had, for the thousandth time.
“I know my parents are gone,” she said quickly, before he spoke. “But there must be others.”
“Others like me.” “Humans.”
The girl nodded. The king was silent.
The girl went to her bookcase and pulled out a tome that weighed almost as much as she did. She had to battle it to make it to the table. It hit the wood with a thud, and she flipped through the book of maps.
“You found me in the western regions of the House of Night.”
The king blinked in surprise. He had never told her the details of where she had been found.
The girl beamed a little, pleased to impress her father. “I figured it out,” she said. “Rishan territory. Right?” She could not read her father’s face. He nodded.
“Then where?” Her finger trailed over fading lines— cities and townships that only existed to her as ink on a map.
“It doesn’t matter.”
The girl paused. It did matter. It mattered very much. She had learned to choose her words carefully.
“Maybe someone is still there. Looking for me.”
“But you have a home here, little serpent.” The king gave her a small, warm smile. “A home that suits you. Maybe your blood runs red, but you belong here.”
He didn’t understand. She did have a home here, but the life within its walls was one of constant fear.
“I don’t,” she said. “Everyone wants to kill me here.”
The king did not argue with her. He had told her this was true many times over.
Finally, he sighed.
“I found you in a place called Salinae. A far away district on the other side of the House of Night’s borders. But even if you had family still living there, Oraya, I could not find them for you.”
The girl didn’t realize just how tightly she held onto this hope—this fragile, invented reality—until it shattered in her chest.
“Why?” she choked out.
“That is Rishan territory. As the Hiaj king, and leader of the House of Night, I can’t go there unprovoked.”
“Then I can.” She did not hesitate. “I’ll go.” He laughed, but she snapped, “It isn’t a joke!”
The king’s smile faded. He looked at his daughter for a long moment. “You are a human,” he said. “It’s too dangerous for you to do this.”
“Then Turn me,” she shot back. “Make me like you. I read all about it.”
“I can’t do that, either, Oraya.”
Another hope fractured. Her eyes burned. “Why not?”
“Because you are far too precious.” He stroked her hair. “Two in three Turnings end in death. That’s more than half. I will not take that risk with your life.”
Her throat was thick. Her eyes stung. She had to hold back her tears with all her strength. She was on the cusp of the age when children begin to understand the future. And in this moment, the little girl understood that this truth— that the prison of her own human flesh—damned her to a life within these four walls.
She whirled to her father, her little hands balled into fists. “There has to be something,” she said. “There has to be some way. There has to.”
The king chuckled, though his eyes were distant and sad. “Such teeth.”
He was silent for a long moment, his smile fading to serious thought. He was quiet for such a long time that it seemed like his mind had traversed to a whole other world. The little girl knew better than to interrupt, so she watched him and waited.
She had already learned how to read his expressions, but this one was foreign. More than a decade later, she
would think back to this conversation and know that what she had been seeing in him then was conflict—an expression so rare that she had not known how to identify it. She would think countless times about this night and about what her father would say to her next. The unanswered question of what he had been considering in that silence would haunt her.
But the little girl knew none of this now. She simply waited. At last, the king leaned forward in his chair, arms braced on his knees.
“There is one way you could, one day, become just as powerful as me.”
Hope flooded her.
“How?” she breathed.
The king’s mouth twisted into a rueful smile. “With a gift from a goddess.”