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First 3 Chapters - Wicked Academia: Lost Stars

Wicked Academia

The Celestial Academy for Fallen Stars Book 1

By Jasmine Jenkins and Sophie Suliman

Author’s Note: Please be aware Wicked Academia is a new adult fantasy and contains mature themes. It is intended for audiences 18 years and over.

Content Warnings

Parental death (flashback), graphic violence, explicit sexual scenes, blood, murder

1 - In Which Vivian Gets a Very Peculiar Customer

Vivian Greywick wished she could fly. But in the land of Thraina, wishes weren’t granted from falling stars. They were granted by those who caught them. And Vivian knew better than to place her wishes in a Starling’s hand.

So, she couldn’t fly over the massive crowd blocking her path. Couldn’t even wish for it. She was going to be so late and in so much trouble.

“Excuse me!” Her words were lost to the noise of the streets. If only she’d left the apartment when Marion had. Her sister, younger by several minutes, had no difficulty pushing her way through a throng.

The sun had barely risen, golden rays cresting between the tall turrets of the castle, melting the frost on the town’s roofs and windowsills. Already the warmth of summer had faded, and autumn had fully encapsulated Wolfhelm. The morning cold prickled her cheeks and ungloved hands.

The crowd was meandering, looking into foggy shoppe windows, pausing at every statue, marveling at the blue and gold flags strung between houses. There were so many visitors from out of town, all here for Unification Day. All here to catch a glimpse of the Prince.

Her sister Marion said festivals were self-indulgent nonsense. Vivian wouldn’t go that far, but they certainly were a nuisance. It really was all Prince Darius’s fault for having Unification Day in the first place.

And all these visitors were potential customers; another reason Mrs. Meryladon wouldn’t tolerate her being so late. Vivian dodged horses, carriages, and people alike, her worn boots slipping over the slick cobblestone. As she ran, she swept her chestnut hair up on her head with a blue ribbon.

She turned the last corner. Lanterns shone halos through the lingering mist. There was the Wondrous Wick, the candle shoppe in which she worked. They did not sell the dull candles that provided light in the dark, or the strange narrow kind alchemists melted over their creations. These candles were purely for smelling, or as Vivian liked to think of it, to escape. To capture a whiff of the sea or feel the chill of a crisp autumn day. Shoppers bought these to relive their most fantastic memories with absolutely no magic at all—because, for an ordinary person, magic was forbidden.

And today everyone seemed to want a bit of that magic. A line curved around the shoppe.

“No, no, no.” Vivian pushed through the crowd, mud splashing up her hem as she didn’t bother dodging the puddles.

Orange buttery light spilled onto the damp cobblestone from inside the shoppe. Silhouettes shifted within. So busy already. Maybe I can slip in and avoid Mrs. Meryladon…

Darkness crept along the path beside her, and she skidded to a stop in front of the shoppe door. An enormous shadow slithered over the buildings, causing street lanterns to bloom as if it were night. Her heart beat wildly in her chest. Gasps of awe sounded from the crowd, townsfolk straining their necks to look up.

A curtain of clouds split and out soared a floating island, so great it eclipsed the rising sun as it sailed across the grey-blue sky.

She could only see the bottom: jagged brown rocks, like the tip of an upside-down mountain. Waterfalls cascaded off and disappeared into the mist surrounding the massive island. Through the clouds, Vivian swore she caught a gleam of white towers.

The floating Isle of Argos.

Upon which lay an enchanted forest, the Glass Cathedral, the Pond of Galaxies, and… “The Celestial Academy for Fallen Stars.” Vivian heard herself whisper the name along with the rest of the swelling crowd, who rejoiced as the school floated above.

“Are the Starlings looking down on us?” the people wondered, laughing and clapping. Already the sky was full of hot air balloons and sky skiffs as students flew down to Wolfhelm for the Unification Day Festival. Students who had swallowed a falling star, who had discovered their magic.

But Vivian could not smile. Her father’s voice roared in her head: “Get inside. Never let its shadow touch you.” Though her heart still beat with the same fear, she couldn’t make herself move.

This was as close as she would ever be—to the clouds, to the school, to the stars themselves.

Something hard hit her in the back, and she stumbled, smacking into a customer exiting the shoppe. There was a clatter and a smash. Vivian looked up to see the distraught face of a woman, a child wrapped in her arms, and a candle shattered on the ground. The child started to cry.

“I’m so sorr—”

Mrs. Meryladon herself stalked out of the candle shoppe at the sound. She may have been pretty if not for the twisted scowl, and her permanently squinted eyes from counting every verdallion.

“Greywick! There you are, and late as usual.” Mrs. Meryladon’s bird-like gaze swept from the broken candle to the crying child, up to the Isle of Argos, floating beyond the horizon.

“I was on my way in,” Vivian tried to explain, “but the crowd, and the school, and I–”

“Always with your head in the clouds.” She smacked Vivian on the back of her skull. “You should have saved me the grief and gone up with the rest of those hopefuls earlier this moon. That magic would have burned you from the inside out, and I’d have hired a decent worker to replace you.”

“I-I’m…” Vivian stuttered. “I didn’t mean—”

Mrs. Meryladon narrowed her eyes even more. “This is your last chance, Greywick. See if anyone else will hire a moon-headed spinster like you.”

Vivian wanted to protest she should hardly be considered a spinster at nineteen, but she was shaking, and tears threatened to fall. Mrs. Meryladon had yelled at her before, but never in front of such a crowd. She deserved it, always being so late, for spending more time daydreaming than dusting…

“Clean this up, girl.” Mrs. Meryladon shoved a broom and dustpan into her hands, and turned to the customer, voice dripping in remorse. “Now, let’s get you a new candle. My clumsy worker will pay for the replacement.”

Vivian’s heart tightened. Candles were a luxury. Compensating for one would mean another night her siblings went hungry. She wanted to fight her case, tell Mrs. Meryladon it wasn’t fair. But what was the point? She dropped to her knees, broom in hand.

“Excuse me,” a deep voice said, and suddenly there were shining black boots in front of her. “Let me pay for the candle. It was my party that knocked the girl.”

Vivian’s face burned; she didn’t need some stranger’s pity. She already got enough of that from her siblings.

Mrs. Meryladon clucked like a proud hen and happily accepted the coins. She went back inside to replace the broken candle.

“Of course he did that,” a female voice sighed behind Vivian.

“What did you expect, Mills?” A male laughed. “He sees a pretty girl in need and must save the day.”

“I needn’t interfere if you hadn’t been so clumsy, friend,” the first man said.

Vivian’s face grew hotter, but she kept her gaze down, concentrating on carefully sweeping every shard of glass into the dustpan. The last thing she needed was for someone to cut themselves.

“You dropped this.” The man kneeled before her.

She flicked her eyes up. The man wasn’t much older than she was. His eyes were deep blue, the color of the sky on a stormy day. He wore a fine cloak over his hair, fabric joined at his neck by a golden clasp: a crescent moon. He looked familiar, but she was sure they’d never met.

In his outstretched hand, he held a blue ribbon. It must have fallen from her hair.

“Thank you…” She reached for the ribbon, her fingers brushing against his. A tingling shock jolted through her.

His breath hitched, and he smiled. It was suddenly like she was staring at the clouds again, lost and wondering.

She shook her head and tied her chestnut brown hair back with the ribbon before picking up her dustpan and standing. “You didn’t need to do that.”

“No one should be punished for watching the wonders of the sky.” He rose too. By the Three, he was tall. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“And it wasn’t yours.” She sighed. “We can blame the ruddy Prince and his stupid festival for drawing the crowds.”

Laughter erupted from behind them, where the young man’s two friends stood. The girl muttered, “It is a stupid festival, isn’t it?”

The man in front of her laughed but seized her gaze as he said, “Don’t the people love it, though? Exciting games and food and music? The sweep of a dance?”

Despite herself, Vivian smiled and held up her broom. “Well, first I’ll sweep the candle shoppe, then I’ll surely owe the Prince a dance for all the loveliness he has brought me today.” She gestured to the long line outside the shoppe. There would be no enjoying the festival for her. And it wasn’t as if she could go after work. Not with it being a moonless night and all.

The man didn’t answer, and she turned, regretfully, pushing her way back into the shoppe. There was wax to melt, and oil to boil, candles to sell, and no time to dwell about princes and boys with storm-filled eyes.

The day’s bustle of activity had no end. Mrs. Meryladon left as soon as Vivian came in, lamenting that Vivian had given her such a headache she must rest. With Mrs. Meryladon gone, Detvar Gibbons took off at the noon bell, complaining of a weak constitution. Shortly after, Kendra Ohlsen contracted a case of the chills. But Vivian knew they all wanted to attend the festival, to experience what the boy with the stormy eyes had spoken of: the games and food and music and dancing.

She didn’t mind. The shoppe kept her busy, and it wasn’t like she would attend the festival anyhow.

As the light turned from gold to red, customers trickled in slower and slower. Everyone was heading to the town square for the main ceremony. It was unusual for an event to occur at night.

The night was for magic. And monsters.

But the Prince was now a Starling, a student at the Celestial Academy for Fallen Stars, so she’d heard. No doubt they wanted a show of his abilities.

Finally, she could breathe. Vivian wiped the sweat from her brow and loosely tied her matted brown hair up in a knotted nest with her blue ribbon. It was a gift from her brother, Timothée. She was glad she hadn’t lost it.

Vivian padded over to the entrance and was halfway through flipping the sign to closed when the door burst open.

She stumbled back. It wasn’t a group of tourists.

“Oh, we’ll only be a moment,” a girl said. Vivian’s age, but with ashen hair perfectly coiled around her rosy cheeks, and a hat trimmed with cherries made of shining baubles and lace. “You don’t mind, do you, Viv?”

Tilda Dovetail and her friends were locals of Wolfhelm. She delighted in talking loudly about her trips and her studies at the Royal Drunning Academy. Success meant little unless you had someone to show it to.

Vivian would be twenty soon, and she tried not to think about it, how other girls her age traveled to far-off schools. To learn about the world, the people, and places.

The door opened again, and a man walked in. The man in the fine blue cloak she’d met this morning. Why was he back? Had he regretted his choice to pay for the candle and wanted his money? Or perhaps he was some royal zealot and had taken offense to her jeer of the Prince? Perhaps he’d set the Celestial Knights on her. She almost laughed. It sounded like a story her brother Timothée would make up.

The young man still wore the cloak over his head, but she felt his gaze on her. She took a deep breath and flipped the sign over. At least that would prevent anyone new from coming in.

First deal with Tilda, then the boy. Once she finished serving them, she’d be out of here well before sunset.

“Oh, must have been quite busy today.” Tilda worried her brow as she looked across the shoppe at the near-empty shelves and her heels crunching over the brown and yellow leaves that had blown in. “I’d hate to see you stuck here all night.”

Vivian sucked in a tight breath and busied her hands folding tissue that didn’t need folding. Words didn’t come easily to her; they hardly ever did. While her sister, Marion, made words her weapon, Vivian was often at a loss for them entirely.

“Everyone left to get ready for the festival,” Vivian said. But Tilda and her friends had already turned away.

Vivian was once again reminded Tilda wasn’t her friend. She had no friends besides her brother and sister. Marion hated Tilda. But Vivian didn’t. She enjoyed watching her. Not when she was busy gossiping in the shoppe, but other moments when she and her friends were sharing crumb cakes in the town square or laughing at a local theater troupe.

Tilda swished over, carrying a dyed blue candle. “Will we see you at the festival tonight, Vivian?” Tilda’s voice was as squeaky as the mice that burrowed around Vivian’s apartment. She leaned far over the counter, the veins in her thin white neck visibly pulsing. Vivian took an involuntary breath. The blueberry candle’s scent was mercifully potent.

“I-I’ll be with my sister and brother.” Vivian busied herself wrapping the candle.