If Timothée compared himself to the heroes of all the stories he’d read (which of course he wouldn’t, because that would get him laughed at by his sisters), then he was on track with some of his favourite legends. He had the pleasant childhood (lavender farm), the deep sadness (dead father), a fateful encounter with an archenemy (Dark Prophet), and a pathway to destiny (the Celestial Academy). All he needed now was to fall in love and overcome great evil.
But he noted quite unpleasantly that most heroes didn’t have older sisters constantly trying to thwart said destiny.
Setviren had left them to rest in the infirmary. There were no patients currently, just beds with green-grey sheets and grey-green curtains hanging around them. There weren’t even any windows, this part of the castle tucked snugly into the middle of the Academy.
Setviren had not seemed overly pleased to leave them in the infirmary. In the two days since Timothée had known the loremaster, he had only seen him as flustered once—and that was when the vampires were attacking the city. “The West Wing is for the Evening Stars, the East is for the Mornings. And of course, you can’t stay in the tower. Don’t want you anywhere near there.”
Timothée never found out what the tower was. But they were without a house of their own, so the infirmary it was. With the hard beds and cool stone floors and carts full of bric-a-brac: vials and glass pitchers that flickered in the light of the room.
The infirmary wasn’t lit by candles. Strange crystals in fixtures along the walls cast pastel pink, purple, and teal light.
Timothée picked up a bottle. It was filled with a vibrant liquid and a fading parchment label, which written in elegant handwriting read: Vitality with the essence of bergamot and hibiscus – V. Sun – 1st year
“Timothée!” Marion snapped. “Don’t touch that.”
He fumbled, barely catching the potion, and set it down. He walked back and sat on the hard bed across from his sisters. Yvaine curled up at the bottom and flicked her tail.
“This place is enchanting, but we’re here for Vivian,” Marion said. “We can’t let the glamour of it get to us.”
“Or the enchantment of green eyes.” Vivian raised a brow and smirked.
A flush broke out over Marion’s face. “No, of course not.”
Timothée studied his sisters. They were beautiful. Back in Seagrass, many of the village boys had fallen loopy in love with them. But none of it was ever serious. By the time they lived in Wolfhelm, well, Vivian had kept her distance from everyone, and Marion barely had time for Huxley MacGregor.
Darius was clearly infatuated with Vivian, which caused all sorts of problems they couldn’t properly talk about. And Timothée hadn’t seen Marion quite so hateful of anyone ever—which clearly meant she was infatuated with Khalid. Did that mean he was destined for Carmilla…
She had saved him from the Dark Prophet, and she was beautiful…but she was cold.
But not quite so cold as Lady Kassandra.
“How come she didn’t let me kiss the staff?”
His sisters blinked at him. “What?”
Timothée picked at an invisible thread on his shirt. “Lady Kassandra let both of you kiss her staff. But she didn’t offer it to me. She didn’t seem to like me very much.”
“Think nothing of it.” Marion began fluffing her flat pillow. “That lady’s a kook, like the rest of them. Probably the kookiest.”
Vivian looked down nervously and began rubbing her arm. “I’m sure you’re right, Mare, but…”
“But what?” Marion gave a lemon-suck face.
Vivian’s eyes shone. “I swear when I kissed the staff…it said my name.”
Marion’s hands stilled on the pillow. Her body tensed. Then she returned to fluffing, more aggressively this time. “I’m sure it was nothing. We’re all over-tired and overwhelmed. We’ll play the priestess’s little game, but she’s no mother of ours.”
Something sat wrong in Timothée’s belly, twisting and turning. A memory that could only be felt, not recalled.
“There was something odd about that staff,” Vivian pressed. “I just know it.”
“It was made of gravastarium.” The memory clicked into Timothée’s mind like a key in a lock. The forbidden metal. “Just like the Dark Prophet’s sword.”
“Another reason not to trust this place,” Marion said. “That lady outlaws a metal then hoards an entire staff of the stuff? And she called Father a thief and traitor. What a bother!”
Vivian slipped beneath the stiff-looking bed sheets. “A bother it may be, but tomorrow we become a part of it. If we’re going to go through with this, we’ll have to swallow a star.”
Timothée could barely stifle his smile. His thoughts turned to the ceremony tomorrow. All this time, he’d thought himself stuck as a poor baker boy. That he’d waste his life away in the slums of Wolfhelm, with only his books for adventures. Maybe Marion was right, and it was all nonsense. But it had given him this chance.
To wield magic would be to change his entire life. He’d never be a nobody, ignored or loathed by society.
He was going to be a Starling.
This would make a very good story.
Marion, on the other hand, did not seem enthused about the idea. She tentatively climbed into her own bed, wringing at the sheets.
“What are you worried about, Mare?” Timothée leapt beside her and wrapped his arms around his shoulders. “You’re not going to get all burnt up. You’ve got the strongest heart I know!”
“It’s not just that,” Marion snapped. “Didn’t you notice on our way in? Gold and blue uniforms only. And haven’t you been listening to Setviren? Morning Star this, Evening Star that. There’s another house, you know. And they treat them like lepers.”
Timothée thought of Carmilla in her purple uniform, the black choker tight around her neck. “The Dark Stars.”
He’d heard the stories. To swallow a Dark Star meant to have your magic bound. Maybe it has something to do with that strange choker Carmilla wears.
But that wouldn’t happen. Not to the Greywicks.
They would be heroes.
Timothée squeezed his sister tighter. “You worry too much! Jenny Cotswood told me it’s very rare to swallow a Dark Star. They’re the smallest house. Only one in a hundred catch a Dark Star.”
“Well, I have very rotten luck,” Marion mumbled.
“Aren’t Dark Stars supposed to wield the magic of Noctis?” Vivian whispered. “The same magic he was banished for a millennium ago?”
The name echoed in Timothée’s head, a haunting chorus. Reverence and agony.
Shame crept into his words as he whispered, “The Dark Prophet…he looked at me and called me Noctis. Why?”
Marion clicked her tongue. “Are you sure he was calling you Noctis? He’s a raving cultist. He was blathering on and on about Noctis before he tried to murder Vivian’s prince.”
“But what if Noctis is really our brother?” Timothée urged.
Marion patted his hand. “I have one brother, and he is right beside me.”
Timothée wanted to be reassured by her words, but he wasn’t. Because the Dark Prophet had called him Noctis and in that moment, that name had belonged to him more than his own.
“Let us focus on the task at hand and do what we’ve always done.” Vivian’s steel-blue eyes shimmered in the low light. “Take one step at a time. Whatever happens, we’ll get through it together.”
Timothée kissed Marion on the head, then did the same to Vivian. He settled into his own stiff, hard bed. There was no telling what time of night it was. The wee hours, leading toward dawn, probably. They’d have to get used to sleeping during the day, like Starlings.
The infirmary was night dark, besides the pale glowing crystals along the wall. The lights had dimmed as soon as they’d laid down to sleep. As if the room had been waiting for them. He squeezed his eyes shut. He knew he was exhausted, could feel the heaviness in his eyes.
Something slithered into his mind: a whisper, someone’s breath brushing the curls from his forehead. He shot up, throwing his hands out, but there was no one there.
Vivian and Marion slept peacefully on either side of him.
He rubbed his ear; he swore he’d heard someone whispering to him. He lay back down, eyes wide on the ceiling.
A cold chill slithered from one end of his mind to the other: This way.
He shot up. The voice was coming from the other side of the door.
“Hello?” Timothée whispered.
The crystal lights on the walls blinked in response.
He carefully looked over at Vivian and Marion. If he were to wake them, they would just say he feared being in a new place and tell him to go back to sleep. But he had heard something.
He swung his legs over the bed, and Yvaine, who had been sleeping, gave an angry growl and hopped over to Vivian’s bed.
“Fine,” Timothée whispered, “I’ll go alone.”
He was only wearing a light long-sleeve shirt and pants; both had been given to him at the palace. The sleeves were a little short, and the cuffs of the pants hung just over his ankles. He tugged on his old boots, laces undone, and shuffled out the door.
A frigid breeze travelled through the room, strong enough to make him stumble. He swore the breeze carried words: This way. Except…there could be no breeze. There were no windows.
It was cold without a blanket, even the starchy green-grey one, and the halls had a silence that hadn’t been there earlier. But it was approaching dawn now, and that was when the Starlings went to sleep. So, who is whispering?
He turned a corner. Curved windows with polished golden frames lined the long hall. Grey autumn light dusted through the windows, confirming his suspicion: not yet dawn. Outside, a dark sky was heavy with swollen clouds, and rain pierced down in sheets.
Timothée turned corner after corner, looking for any source of the voice. The Academy was built with huge, polished stones, and each hallway was lit by those crystal light fixtures. He passed suits of armours holding flags of the Celestial Church and Andúrigard. Regal doors were closed along his path. Some had small scrolls hung outside listing the names of different classes: History of Thraina, Study of Celestial Bodies, Astronomical Arithmetic.
This way, this way. Now it felt like the voice was demanding from between his ears. He knew he’d heard it before but could not place who the voice belonged to.
There was something unsettling about the only sounds being the echo of footsteps, the pattering of rain. And that voice in my head.
He rounded another corner and realized he was going deeper to the centre of the school, his path now lit by those pulsing crystal lights. He came to a huge hallway, one he recognized from earlier when Setviren had ushered them in. It must be one of the main corridors through the school.
Giant portraits covered this hall, all the way to the ceiling. He had to crane his neck to take them in. He wanted to stop and examine them, but the whisper in his mind became more insistent: This way. This way. This way. He caught glimpses of vast landscapes of Thraina, but most were paintings of the night sky.
He passed by a small alcove. A shadow tremored from within. There’s someone in there. Timothée slowed his steps, then turned back. This way, the voice in his mind hissed.
But he was curious and peered into the shadowy alcove. It was lined with more paintings, and suits of armour, and someone stood at the end stari