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14 - In Which Marion Witnesses the Order of Stars

Marion Greywick sat on the grassy hill looking over the Meadow of Shattered Stars. There was so much commotion around her, students laughing and eating and singing shanties and worst of all: trying to talk to her.

Marion Greywick did not like talking to strangers.

But…she did enjoy sweets. And everyone kept supplying her with goodies. When her mug of apple cider ran dry, it was replaced with a thermos of hot coco. Tins of cookies and warm croissants and sugary figs kept being passed around and she was urged to taste everything.

When one is filled with nerves and most out of their element, eating sweets is always the best course of action.

When did I become like this? Back in Seagrass, she spent her evenings twirling around their little cabin, pretending to be at grand parties. She would drag Vivian into the village so they could flirt with the farm boys and gossip with the other girls.

Now, every well-meaning congratulator seemed a threat. And everyone was dressed head-to-toe in gold.

They were Morning Stars.

And so was she.

Marion placed a head on her heart. What happened to me? It had been like dancing through a dream, starfall all around her, and that star…

It had called her.

You belong among the stars. That’s what Khalid had told her. She knew it wasn’t true, she didn’t belong here. But…

She had belonged to that star. And it to her.

Even now, she felt a new warmth within her chest, a fire within her that could never be extinguished.

How odd to have something that belonged only to her, and not to her siblings, as well. They were three points of the same triangle. To be different—

She looked down the hill, where Vivian was still surrounded by a host of blue-clad students. An Evening Star. Already, they were separated.

Prince Darius had his arm around Vivian’s waist, and she looked equal parts awed and comfortable. I will have to warn Vivian of this prince, Marion thought, and soon. It was all well and good to play the part of princess, but Vivian could not continue this little game any longer.

Not with how sick she was.

Marion picked nervously at a tassel on the blanket she was sitting on. An exuberant red-head had insisted she sit on her blanket and Marion was grateful to have something between her and the cold grass. She hoped the star magic had not affected Vivian’s illness in any strange way. There was so much that could go wrong—

A shiver of worry coursed through her. There would be no end to the fear until all the triplets were at the top of the hill. Timothée was still out in the field. It had been an hour since Vivian had caught her star, maybe longer. At times, it seemed Timothée was getting close. A star would skitter to a stop in front of him, considering, wondering. But the moment, he reached out, it would throw itself down into the moor and fizzle out.

She had to give his silly black cat credit, though. The poor girl pranced dutifully around him the entire time, almost as if she were trying to catch her own star.

“The moon is high, the stars are falling, and the most beautiful girl in Thraina has joined my house!”

A presence fell onto the blanket beside her. She was instantly washed in the smell of mint and orange trees. Khalid Ali Bagheeri looked every bit the dignified scoundrel, with that perfect tendril of hair falling between his brows. He leaned against her, and she didn’t pull away.

“I told you there was nothing to fear.” Khalid gave a lop-sided smirk.

She could educate him on all the things there was to fear, but a sensation of relief flooded through her at his presence. In a sea of strangers, it was nice to have a…a…

A friend, she thought decidedly.

And besides, she was much too distracted by the glittering sugar glaze all over his face and lips.

“Look at you,” she murmured. “What a mess.”

With the edge of her sleeve, she rubbed at the sticky sugar on his face. As she approached his full lips, her sleeve dropped. Tentative fingers ran over his swollen, plush lips. His mouth parted slightly against her touch, and he stared at her with a green-eyed gaze that made her heart beat double within her breast.

“What can I say?” His warm breath drifted over her fingers. “Maeve is giving out cinnamon buns.”

Marion dropped her hand and focused on the grass before her, hoping her blush was invisible in the night air. “Fair enough.”

A boisterous commotion drew nearer: a crowd of Evening Stars approaching her cluster of people.

What a strange thought, she realized. Her people. The Morning Stars were her people. Her house.

But you’re not like them, a wicked voice chided in her mind.

Khalid stood and gave a hearty laugh, embracing Prince Darius, who was at the front of the group.

Behind the Prince, stood Marion’s sister. Vivian looked like a player in a stage performance, made up by starlight, hair a romantic tumble over her shoulders, eyes rich with desire. Marion leapt up and darted to her sister’s side.

“We did it—” Vivian began, but Marion snatched her wrist and pulled her away from the group. “Alright, alright, I’m coming!”

When they were a few feet away, Marion allowed herself a breath.

“How are you feeling?” Vivian asked.

“Fine, fine,” she responded. “More importantly, how are you feeling?”

“Good. Surprisingly well. Just thirsty.”

“We’ll get you fed up as soon as this whole ordeal is over. I’m worried, Viv. He’s been out there for ages.”

They looked through the throng of people, down the hill, and across the field. Timothée had wandered far away, now just a meandering silhouette against the starshower.

“Ah, don’t be worried! Your brother’s perfect star just hasn’t fallen yet.” Khalid appeared between them. Marion’s spine stiffened. She hadn’t realized he’d been close enough to hear.

“Remember that, Dare?” Khalid grabbed Darius’s cloak and yanked him into the conversation. “Star catching. Seems like it was only yesterday we were all out here finding our own stars. Now we must let the younger generation carry on!”

“Not yesterday.” Darius laughed. “Just earlier this moon.”

Despite herself, Marion felt a smile tug at the corners of her lips as they all laughed together.

“A memory I treasure deeply,” a smooth voice said, and a new boy walked up behind them. He wore a dark purple cloak and moved like a cat, stalking and silent.

But what Marion noticed most about him was his hair: silvery lilac, with eyes the same colour.

There could only be one boy like that in the school. One boy who had harassed her little brother.

Before she could say anything, a new host of students appeared behind the boy, all garbed in purple and black uniforms. Carmilla stood among them, her blood-red hair bright against the night.

Khalid turned to the newcomer. “Ah, the majestic Valentine Sun graces us with his presence! A memory we treasure together, my friend.” His eyes flashed, and something unspoken passed between them.

Setviren scuttled over, a great fluttering bird in his white robes. “Uh, ah, oh, ah!”

Carmilla crossed her arms. “We’re allowed to witness the Cosmic Rite, Professor.”

Setviren’s watery eyes shone, and then he flapped over to where Lady Kassandra stood. Marion watched her closely, observed how the Archpriestess’s body tensed as she turned and stared at the purple-clad students. Saw her lip curl, the way one might look at mud smeared on their new shoes. Setviren mumbled something to her, and Lady Kassandra responded, “Let them watch.”

Then this could only be the Dark Star house.

Marion licked her lips. There was something hard about them, in the way they stood knitted so tightly together. And each one, from Carmilla, to this Valentine, wore a thick black choker around their neck.

“Good evening, Carmilla,” Darius said, then turned to the lilac-haired boy. His voice deepened. “Valentine.”

“What? No hello kiss?” Valentine said mockingly. “Don’t dare say you didn’t miss me?”

Darius didn’t even acknowledge him, but Marion could feel the heat in the air, the sparks of tension between them.

“You offer him a kiss, but not me?” Khalid placed a hand on his heart and feigned an expression of offence.

Valentine gripped the taller boy’s neck. “Khalid, my darling, if we began, we’d never stop.”

The crowd began to chuckle. Vivian mumbled, “Are they…? Have they…?”

Marion felt Carmilla’s presence between them. “Have never and will never.” The gorgeous Dark Star girl picked at an invisible thread on her purple jacket. “They’re both just too enraptured with the idea of themselves, it’s manifested into this chaos whenever they’re together. The whole thing is quite annoying.”

Marion wanted to laugh, crack a joke with Carmilla about the size of Khalid’s ego, but she was too focused on Valentine. He had hurt her brother.

Marion leaned into her sister, hissed: “Is that boy the one who locked Tim in the sewer?”

“Purple hair, purple eyes,” Vivian whispered back. “Beautiful enough for Timothée to lose his wits over. A likely culprit.”

Justice had to be served.

Presently, Darius walked stiffly over to Vivian. “I just remembered I have to speak with Professor Setviren about something. If you’ll excuse me.”

He walked away from the group. A cluster of Evening Stars trailed after him.

Valentine worried his bottom lip and pulled away from Khalid. “I get the feeling he doesn’t like me.”

Khalid barked a laugh. “Well, yeah. Maybe you shouldn’t have stolen his lover.”

Valentine grabbed Carmilla’s waist and drew her close. “Can you blame me?”

Alarm bells clanged in Marion’s mind. What were they saying? Did that mean Darius and Carmilla had been together? Marion looked at her older sister. To anyone else, her face was perfectly nonchalant. But Marion could see it in the stuttering of breath, the slight tremble of her bottom lip.

Her sister had gone and fallen for this prince. And to know he had been with this staggering red-haired beauty—

No, no, no. It was enough that her brother was running around in a field. She couldn’t have her sister collapsing in heartbreak.

“Khalid?” she said sweetly. “Can I borrow you?”

He gave a roguish, white-toothed grin. “For any time, any reason.”

“Great.” She grabbed his earlobe and yanked him away from the Dark Star crowd.