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10 – In Which Timothée Touches the Clouds



Marion had called it a special skill, his ability to fall asleep anywhere. He’d been able to take a nap splayed out in the lavender field, squished between his sisters in their giant bed on the farm, and even the ratty couch at their apartment on Enola Avenue hadn’t posed a problem for him. He’d even fallen asleep in the bakery from time to time. That has caused Lingrint a great deal of grief….

But now, in this soft plush bed, with the roar of the fire, the light of the flames dancing across the white sheets…Timothée didn’t think he would ever sleep.

Something had crept into his mind and refused to leave. Something had taken root since the square. He’d pushed it back as soon as the rain began to plop over his blood-streaked hair.

But now, alone in the darkness, he couldn’t push it away anymore.

A terrible awareness crept over Timothée. It was such a feeling he knew his life would never again be the same. Some sort of terrible destiny had claimed him when he and his sisters glowed in the square. When the Dark Prophet gazed at him. He knew it was a gaze, even behind that sharp angled obsidian mask. And that monster had spoken a word that broke flesh and bone and blood and descended all the way down to Timothée’s wicked core.

Noctis.

The way he’d spoken the name, a splintered sort of sound…it was the sound of utter agony, though Timothée couldn’t explain why he thought that.

He couldn’t stop replaying the night over and over in his mind’s eyes until some parts sharpened to focus so clear it was if he were there now. The fluid way the Dark Prophet had moved, the deep richness of his black sword made of gravastarium, which swallowed light instead of reflecting it.

And he thought of the prophecy the Dark Prophet had foretold – the words echoed in his head.

The God of Shadows will return.

Mountains will crumble, rivers run red, and the sky will weep.

Timothée rolled over, covered his head with a pillow, but the voice only grew louder and louder and louder.

Noctis and I stood side by side, as we did at the start of his world.

Twice the Dark Prophet had said that name… the first time spoken with such reverence. But the second time, when the Dark Prophet had looked down at him…the word was agony. Reverence and agony. What did it mean?

Noctis.

Reverence and agony.

He had called Timothée, Noctis.

Why?

Noctis.

Noctis was the son of the gods. And Setviren and the people were calling the Greywicks the children of the gods.

Was he really the brother of a god? The son of them? Hot tears streamed down his cheeks as the thought washed over him. It made him question his own belief — he realized he’d never truly tried to make sense of it all: the making of the world, the vast skies, the magic, and the stars that fell…

He’d spent the last nineteen years dreaming of destiny, and now that it had befallen him, he found himself drowning under the vast awareness of what it could mean. A part of him found himself understanding Marion, her desire to shuttle them away to a simple life. And he knew in that moment that his sister had felt it too, that vast purpose of what it all could mean. That was why she ran from the terror of it all: the unimaginable spread of the universe before them.

His fingernails dug bloody circles into his palms. Another part of him – that deep dark seed – knew there was no place in all of Thraina they could run to now.

Laugher sounded in the hallway and Timothée bolted up, gasping. His body and limbs felt heavy, like the shadows of his waking dream were pulling him back down to the bed.

He shook his head. His mind felt foggy, distant. He needed to sleep and rest. But if these thoughts plague me during awakeness, what nightmares wait for me in sleep?

Slowly, he stepped out of bed and padded across the floor. Slivers of sunlight crept from underneath the long curtains. It was day then. But this was when stars slept. This is when you sleep.

Another laugh, and this time he recognized it at Vivian’s. It was a strange realization. How long has it been since I heard your laugh, sister? He realized with great sadness that he did not know.

He pushed the door open a crack and peered into the hallway. Vivian stood out there, back against the wall as the Prince leaned over her. Yvaine sat happily in his arms.

Traitor. He had thought himself a special sort, with Yvaine taking a liking to only him, and tolerating his sisters. But he couldn’t blame her for liking the Prince. He was handsome and brave—braver than anyone! He had stood against the Dark Prophet and survived.

“I really should let you rest,” the Prince said to Timothée’s sister. He ran a thumb over her cheek, an intimate gesture.

Something tightened in Timothée stomach. He had been with many more people than his sister. It wasn’t hard because she’d never even kissed anyone. But no one had looked at him the way the Prince was looking at her.

And no one ever will. He couldn’t stop the dark clouds of his mind. Not when you’ve got such a wicked heart.

Then the Prince pulled Vivian up against him, kissing her. Timothée began to shut the door when he caught Vivian’s closed mouth smile as she pulled away.

She’s happy, he thought. Happy but scared.

He knew that expression. He hated to interrupt her, but this was for her own good. Drat, he thought. I sound an awful lot like Marion.

Timothée stepped back from the door, then started to call loudly for Yvaine. A moment later, he heard a little meow, a scuffle, and then Vivian—Yvaine clutched in her arms—crept through the door.

“Sorry,” Vivian said. “She followed me through the castle and…” She trailed off and narrowed her eyes at him. “But you already knew that. You were watching me.”

Timothée realized he was grinning. He skipped over and Yvaine immediately jumped to his shoulder. “I had to save you.”

“Save me—”

“Your fangs are out, aren’t they?” He reached for her mouth and pulled back her cheeks. Sure enough he saw two white fangs. “But you’re not hungry, are you?”

“Stop it—” She swatted his hand away. “You only know that because of all those terrible banned books you charmed Jenny Cotswood into giving you.”

Timothée laughed. This felt like the best revenge for all the times she’d teased him about the boys and girls he saw around town. “Hey, those books were packed full of information that has helped us along the way. Like if you get enough blood, you can eat real food and—”

Vivian crossed her arms. “Yes, that’s why you read them. To get information to help me.”

Timothée shrugged. Vivian was in a good mood. It had been a long time since he had been able to joke around with her like this. This was how the two of them dealt with what she was, through jests and jokes. But when Marion was around, not a word was uttered about Vivian’s illness. For her, it became too real, the terribleness of it brought forth in stark colour.

With his sister here, hearing the lightness in her voice, the dark thoughts from earlier felt further away. Or deeper down.

“But the fang thing,” Timothée smirked, “that’s true, huh? You also get them when you feel desire?”

She smacked his arm. “I’m not talking to you about this.”

“Come on, I know you want to tell me. He kissed you?”

“I kissed him.” Vivian looked down, bit her lip. “I just wanted to…I needed to know what it was like before…”

Timothée felt it, the necessary hard conversation, lingering just on the edge of their laughter. Soon the two of them would have to sneak out and meet Marion. They’d creep through the streets and go to who knows where.

“It’s for the best,” Vivian said sadly, giving a finale to the unspoken words.

“No, it’s not,” Timothée said. He suddenly felt a great unfairness was occurring to his eldest sister, an unfairness from this whole world. “He loves you and you love him.”

“Timothée.” Vivian stumbled back.

“I’ve read hundreds of books, and none of them ever came close to describing how Darius looked when the Dark Prophet had you.” He ran a hand through his hair. “And when you ran out to him…you were like the hero of all those stories. You can’t just leave him.”

Vivian took his hand, squeezed it three times. “Even if that’s true, he doesn’t truly love me. He can’t. He doesn’t know me.”

He gave his sister a sidelong glance.

She smiled sadly. “Fangs, remember?”

“But what if love is enough for him to—”

He broke off as they heard a commotion at the door, and a great deal of squawking and bickering.

The two of them crept forward where they heard Marion.

“What is she doing back?” Vivian looked over at Timothée who shrugged.

“I am perfectly fine making it to my corridors on my own.” Marion’s voice carried through the door.

“I was just trying to be a gentleman.” Timothée recognized the smooth-talking cadence of the Medihsan ward, Khalid Ali Bagheeri.

“You being a gentleman is like a rat calling itself a wolf,” Marion said.

“I’m wounded! That’s the third time this moon I’ve been compared to a rat, but never so viciously as you’ve delivered.”

“Good night, Mr. Ali Bagheeri,” Marion said firmly.

“Good day, actually.”

“Well,” Marion’s voice suddenly got lower, breathier, “good day, then.”

“Good day, Ms. Greywick.” Khalid’s voice pitched so low, Timothée could barely hear it through the door.

“Oh stars,” Timothée mouthed over at Vivian, who was looking back at him with wide eyes.

What was happening behind the door?

Suddenly, there was a high-pitched yelp—but it wasn’t his sister. Marion said: “Good NIGHT!” The door flew open and Timothée caught a single glance of Khalid rubbing his nose before Marion slammed the door.

Marion studied them. “What are you two doing?”

“What are you doing?” Vivian said. Her fangs had retracted, so at least she wouldn’t have to explain anything to Marion right away. “We didn’t expect you to come back.”

Marion dropped a large bag by the door. Her usually well-kempt hair looked tangled, and the buttons on her bodice were done up askew.

Timothée and Vivian exchanged a look.

“What?” Marion snapped, shuffling over to the chairs by the fire. She slumped down as if carrying a great weight. “I ran into Khalid in town. I was getting information out of him.”

Vivian crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow. “Is that all you got from him?”

“Shut up,” Marion grumbled and tore her fingers through the knots in her hair.

“Everyone’s having a good time with the royalty, and I’ve just been stuck here in the room!” Timothée lamented. “Should I try to seduce Carmilla? She frightens me.”

“Good luck.” Marion snorted. “Besides, Khalid isn’t royalty. He’s…” She shook her head. “Doesn’t matter. The situation has changed.”

Timothée and Vivian exchanged a glance before sitting on the long couch across from her. She looked them both square in the face and gave a long sigh. “I think we should enroll at the Academy.”

Timothée’s heart leapt in his chest. But he forced his face to remain neutral. His hopes had been dashed so many times before. “Why do you think that?”

Marion took a deep, shuddering breath. “Khalid knows about Vivian’s illness. I don’t know how, but he does. And he says…he says there’s a great power at the Celestial Academy. And we could use it to create a cure.”

“He knows what I am?” Vivian started shaking, and Timothée put an arm around her shoulder. “And you still want us to go there?”

“I do,” Marion said, though it sounded like the words were hard for her to say.

“You must really trust him, huh?” Timothée placed Yvaine down.

“I…I do,” Marion said, and those words sounded even harder.

“What if he tells Darius?” Vivian said.

“He won’t.”

“You’re so sure?”

Marion looked down. “I’m not sure about anything. But you were right earlier. We can’t go on like this. I need to get you better, Viv. And I don’t know any other way.” Her eyes were shiny but her back straightened like a rod.

She is truly desperate. Timothée thought of the vampire he’d seen in the streets. With his protruding, paper-thin wings, and ashen skin. Maybe we have to be desperate. For Vivian.

Timothée and Vivian stood, and crossed to squeeze into the chair with Marion, wrapping their arms around her.

“We won’t just be students there,” Marion said, voice fighting for some bit of control. “Our purpose will be to find a cure.”

“To find answers about Dad,” Timothée added. If that’s even who he was…

“Yes,” Marion agreed. “We can’t get caught up in all this Star Children nonsense. These people love their legends. If we can use the story to our advantage, fine. But until proven otherwise, it’s just that. A story.”

“Right,” Vivian said. “Eyes and ears open. We do this together.”

“Together,” Marion said.

And as she said it, as it became final, Timothée felt something coil inside him, a darkness tightening, like a key sliding into place, unlocking a door that should not be opened. And he saw the smile of the Dark Prophet, though he did not know how a mask could smile. Some ancient instinctual memory took over his mind, hurtling images at him in sharp flashes: the Celestial Academy devoured in shadows, great curls of darkness lancing through the trees, and around the pillars, shattering the Glass Cathedral, and the Dark Prophet was with him hand-in-hand—

“Timothée!” Vivian was shaking him.

“You look like you’re about to be sick,” Marion said.

Timothée shook his head, realized both his sisters were staring at him, and he was wavering in place. He ran his hands through his wayward hair and took a couple deep breaths. “I’m alright. Just tired.”

He was just tired, and still a little scared from the events earlier. That’s why those images wouldn’t stop replaying in his mind. He’d keep telling himself that until he believed it.

“By the way,” Marion looked between them, “what were you two doing when I came in, looking so suspicious?”

Not wanting to let Marion know he was spying on her, Timothée just shrugged and said, “Vivian kissed the Prince.”

Marion let out a long sigh. “Oh bother.”


***


The waning crescent moon hung like a lantern in the sky, backed by thousands of stars. The night air had the crispness of autumn, and brittle leaves crunched under Timothée’s feet. Fog thick as soup wound its way around the castle grounds, turning statues into gargoyles, and trees into monster’s limbs.

Timothée bundled the heavy wool jacket he’d been given tighter around himself and followed closely behind his sisters, the Prince, and the wards of the kingdom.

Setviren, the loremaster, held an oil lantern from his leather gloved hands. The warm orange glow barely cut through the murk, and instead formed a circular ring around him.

Timothée had thankfully fallen into a dreamless sleep, comforted by the presence of his sisters. He tried to leave no room in his mind for the Dark Prophet, or prophecies, or Noctis.

They’d been awoken in the early evening with a tray of breakfast outside their door. “Breakfast in the evening, I’ll never get used to this,” Marion had complained, while shoving an entire piece of jam toast in her mouth.

“It’s when the Starlings wake up,” Vivian had said as she sucked on a frozen leech. If she ate three a day, they had discovered, it was enough for her to be able to keep her fangs down and eat bites of normal food.

Well, it had been enough for a while. She hadn’t eaten normal food in ages, and Timothée knew she wasn’t sleeping well.

That’s why we’re going to the Academy, he had reminded himself. For Vivian.

The rest of the evening had been a flurry as they prepared for their departure to the Isle of Argos. They would fly up at midnight to the Celestial Academy for Fallen Stars.

Now, they passed through a maze of hedges and flowers that all looked black and grey and thorned in the gloom. They came upon a large open lawn within the palace walls.

Lined up were many metal contraptions. They looked like thick canoes, made of shimmering sheet metal. Wings stretched out on both sides of each contraption, making them look like chubby silver birds. At the front of each was a hub with thin blades attached. A Celestial Knight leapt into one and a moment later, the hub began to rotate, the blades swinging around and around in a deadly whirl. Sky skiffs. Timothée had seen them dot the sky over Wolfhelm and always wondered what it would be like to fly in one.

Beside the skiffs was a large wicker basket, and something attached to it by thick ropes. A huge sheet of canvas…

“Is that,” Timothée gasped, “a hot air balloon?”

The Prince turned around and grinned at him. Well, he was probably grinning at Vivian beside him.

Setviren gave a long sigh. “In case anyone wants a more practical, time-efficient experience, you may ride in a sky skiff with me. Why the Prince decides to fly on that boorish contraption is a wonder.”

“Oh, come on, you old kook,” Khalid jeered, slapping him on the back. “The Star Children are riding with us.”

Setviren winced, his lantern swinging back and forth. “So be it. If I was in charge, you’d all be riding in sky skiffs.” He gave a long sigh. “Alas, until we return to the Academy, I defer to you, Your Highness.”

Darius was barely listening to him, his concentration on the large canvas sheet. “Khalid,” he called, “I could use some light over her.”

Khalid shrugged. “Duty calls.”

Something tickled the back of Timothée’s mind when he looked at Khalid. Something in the keen glint of his green eyes. He was sure he had never met the Medihsan before and yet…

“Is that really how we get up there?” Marion said warily, looking up into the inky depths.

The words shook Timothée from his thoughts. “It’s in the sky. Did you think we were going to walk?” He gave Yvaine a reassuring pat as she lay coiled around his neck. Setviren had begrudgingly allowed Timothée to keep her. One animal companion was allowed per student. Setviren had pleaded to let him find Timothée a more aesthetically pleasing pet, but of course, Timothée had refused.

A warm glow emitted from around where Khalid and Darius were setting up the balloon, though Timothée didn’t remember Khalid having a lantern.

Carmilla walked up beside him, grabbed his arm. “Come on, kids. The boys want to show off.”

Timothée was glad the cover of night hid his burning cheeks. Carmilla was so beautiful…and equally as frightening. They walked over to the wicker basket, which lay on its side. Thick rope attached the balloon to the basket, but there was a strange metal contraption affixed to it.

“Good. You’re here.” Darius straightened. “Stand close to the basket and get ready.”

“They’re acting like they haven’t done this before.” Carmilla leaned closer to Timothée. “I think your pretty sisters make them nervous.”

“Alright, Khalid.” Darius threw back his hood, running a hand through his blond hair. “Ready?”

“Always, Your Highness.” Khalid cracked his knuckles. “Timothée, hold onto Marion. I don’t want her swooning.”

Timothée stepped closer to Marion, who groaned and shoved him away.

“These children used powers strong enough to chase away a coven of vampires,” Carmilla drawled. “I doubt they’ll be impressed by your party tricks.”

“But did they do it looking quite so dashing as me?” Khalid effected an expression of genuine hurt. Then he flicked his gloved fingers. An orange flame sprouted from his hand. It caught on the metal piece attached to the balloon and hissed into a ball of fire.

“Morning Star,” Marion whispered. “The power of creation.”

That must have been the glow Timothée had seen. Khalid could create fire.

The light of Khalid’s flame bounced off Darius and his hair looked like burnished gold. He drifted his hands in the air, and the flames grew bigger. The balloon began to expand as warm air rushed into it. The night pricked with magic.

Khalid walked backwards toward them, and then tipped the basket up as the balloon started to rise into the sky.

“All aboard.” He grinned and held out his hand. “Next stop: the stars.”

Marion purposely walked past him, but he caught her hand. They ended up in an awkward sort of tussle as they maneuvered into the balloon.

Timothée tightened his grip on his bag. Marion had packed him a couple outfits, his hairbrush, and his notebook. But she had also left most of their books, and the new cast iron frying pan they’d pooled all their money for three months ago. Nearly everything was behind him…

As Timothée stepped into the basket, he felt his feet would not touch the ground for a very long time.

Khalid closed the small swinging door behind them. It was crowded, and with Marion refusing to even be in the same vicinity as Khalid, Timothée was squeezed up against the Medihsan ward and Carmilla.

The balloon grew and grew, and he could make out the colours and pattern on it. Blue and gold with the silhouette of a snarling wolf. The sigil of Andúrigard.

He caught Vivian’s expression, as wide-eyed and wonderous as he imagined his own was. Her eyes were trained on Darius, who stood outside the basket. Magic crackled around him as the flame grew bigger and bigger.

Khalid and Carmilla started moving the ropes, and then Khalid threw something over the edge of the basket and Timothée felt a drop in his stomach as they lifted ever so slightly off the ground.

“Going to miss the ride, Your Highness!” Khalid called.

“Right!” Darius danced back across the field and leapt over the edge of basket. The balloon pitched and he fell forward, reaching for Vivian and wrapping his arms around her waist. Timothée was pushed tighter against Khalid.

The balloon swayed back and forth. The only sensation he could compare it to was the sway of stormy ocean waves. He looked over the edge, saw the tops of the trees and hedges grow smaller and smaller.

The tall turrets of the castle glistened in the starlight. Timothée craned his neck over the side of the basket and looked up—nothing but grey and navy clouds.

A wrrr sounded beside them as Setviren’s sky skiff fluttered past. Setviren gave a sharp angled look through ridiculously thick goggles, then disappeared into the clouds.

“He’ll make sure the cavalry is there to greet us,” Khalid said. “Or rather, greet you.”

“Do not fret about that.” Darius waved a hand, and the flame shrank. “Enjoy the ride.”

“You’re an…an Evening Star.” Timothée tried to sound confident in front of the Prince. He’d suspected as much after watching Darius fight the Dark Prophet, but this all but confirmed it.

“That’s right,” Darius said. “As long as Khalid creates the flame, I can make it bigger or smaller, hotter or colder.”

“Technically you could make it into any you wanted, right?” Timothée asked.

“Yes, in a way,” Darius said. “You start with the basics: ice to water to vapor. But those truly blessed by Xydrious could theoretically shaped the world around them to their will.”

Timothée’s heart flipped in his chest. Was he really going to learn all this, to be like the Prince, know magic?

“Blah blah blah,” Khalid groaned, tugging on one of the riggings. “Evening Stars can change, Morning Stars create. I thought we escaped Professor Kunuk’s lessons for a little while.”

Timothée laughed along with Khalid. He had a thousand more questions for them, but some could wait until they got to the Academy.

Clouds gathered around them as they rose higher, until Timothée could barely see his own hand. A black, heavy mist hung in the air.

“Morning Stars can create any natural element: water, air, earth, and,” Carmilla said, “in case you haven’t noticed, Khalid’s specialty is fire.”

“And Evening Stars can change matter,” Vivian said. “What do you excel at, Darius?”

Carmilla and Khalid exchanged a look then burst into laughter.

“What?” Marion asked.

“Darius excels at everything,” Carmilla said coolly. The glow from the flames powering the balloon licked at her smile.

A pink flush crossed Darius’s face. “Now that’s not true.”

“Whatever you say, your royal perfectness.” Khalid’s voice dripped with mock sweetness.

But Timothée remembered how Darius had fought against the Dark Prophet, created the sword out of stellarite. Perhaps the Prince was being too modest.

“There is still much to learn,” Darius continued. “I only caught my star last month. There are many ways you can specialize your magic. Some Evening Stars become physicians by learning the art of healing. They can mend broken bones or seal wounds. Many others become craftspeople. It’s vey common for Morning Stars to focus on perfecting the summon of a specific element. Our navy would not be as strong as it is without the aircrafters who ensure there is always a wind.”

“Or the Medihsan sailors,” Khalid said through his teeth.

“Absolutely!” Darius clapped him on the shoulder. “During our first year at the Academy, we learn the basics. Second years are given a chance to test out many specialities. Third and fourth year are used to hone your particular talents.”

“So, you really caught a falling star,” Timothée said, then, “What star did you catch, Carmilla?”

There was beat of silence and stiffness. Carmilla touched the black choker at her neck, an awkward gesture.

“Look,” Darius interrupted. “We’re almost out of the clouds.”

Carmilla weaved closer to Timothée. “Remember, there are three types of stars, Greywick.”

“There!” Darius pointed.

The clouds parted as they rose into a sapphire sky, which sparkled with the sliver of a moon. And there, in the centre of it all was the floating Isle of Argos.

It had always seemed so large in the sky, at times blocking the sun and covering the horizon. But now he realized how wrong he had been.

It was not large—it was immense. Land and forest and water: a castle in the sky. The bottom of it was sheer cliffs, tapered like an upside-down mountain. Waterfalls fell off the edges, tails disappearing into a great skirt of mist. They floated higher and he saw a shadowy forest, and a huge sprawling field, and the white stone of a castle. There was the Glass Cathedral, reflecting every sparkling star. And there…there was the white-washed stone of the Academy.

Their balloon drew closer, and he saw the tiny movements of people, students. Starlings. They ran across the field, waving. So many gathered there. A sea of blue and gold uniforms. Setviren’s sky skiff had landed, and he stood beside it, all white robes and green hair.

“The Celestial Academy for Fallen Stars,” Timothée whispered.

“Children of the gods,” Carmilla said, “welcome home.”


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