The world was a blur of blackness. Of moist withered leaves and grass and hands and grasping fingers. Timothée couldn’t breathe. He kept gasping for air, but his lungs were empty. The sky swirled. At least he thought it was the sky. But there were no stars—and the sky had stars, right?
Steal the stars from the sky.
Shatter the magic.
Shake the earth with reckoning.
A voice beat against his mind—veiled and foggy.
Light unbidden, unwanted, broke across his vision, and he still couldn’t breathe. But now he could see, and Celestial Knights towered above him.
Something was strangling him. He felt a tight strap around his neck. Some distant part of his mind registered it – a choker.
He couldn’t breathe—no, couldn’t exhale. Something was trapped—no, caged—within his chest.
“Don’t touch that!” one of the knights yelled. “Don’t move! Stop!”
He didn’t know what he was doing. He saw a flash behind the guards: Vivian and Marion. They were yelling too.
“It’s all right. I’ll handle it.” A deep voice rang across the meadow.
A man stood beside his eldest sister. He was tall and wore a dark purple cloak. His attention was focused on the knights.
“You’re making it worse,” he continued. “You’ve got your choker on him. I’ll take it from here. Come, Carmilla.”
Then Carmilla leaned over Timothée, and pink sun crested the horizon, making her red hair glow like flames themselves.
“Carmilla, get him out of here. I have to clean up this mess,” the deep-voiced man said, casting a look back at Lady Kassandra and Setviren on the hill. “Take him to the Cauldron. Settle him in. I’ll find him in the morning.”
“Yes, Professor.” Carmilla placed a steady hand on Timothée’s chest. “Timothée, look at me. You need to breath.”
Didn’t she know he couldn’t? But when his eyes found hers, he knew she understood. The black choker around her neck, the same one Val wore. The same one Val had taken off the night he’d used shadow magic.
Carmilla and Val were Dark Stars.
And so was he.
“Breath, Timothée.” She pressed harder on his chest.
He opened his mouth. Cold air pressed into his lungs, sunk deep into his belly.
“Good.” Then her arms were around him. He staggered to his feet.
There were still knights in fighting stance. Still knights on the ground.
“Did I—” Timothée stuttered. “Are they?”
“Just keeping walking,” Carmilla ordered.
He kept his gaze down, saw Vivian and Marion’s skirts.
“Do you want—?” Carmilla asked.
“No,” he mumbled. He couldn’t look at Marion and Vivian, radiating with their blue and golden stars.
He heard her speaking to them, their muffled voices, but everything was still muted and dark. Then they were walking again, up the hill, cutting through the fog.
Distantly, he registered Yvaine, still walking along at his heels.
“I just couldn’t talk to them.” Guilt cut through his chest.
“I couldn’t either.” Carmilla was so much shorter than Timothée, but she supported his weight easily. “Our whole lives it was Darius, Khalid, Celeste, and me. We knew we would go to this Academy. And it sounds silly, but our biggest worry was that we would be split into different houses. Because Dark Stars are so rare, aren’t they? It couldn’t be any of us. And then Darius caught his Evening Star. And I was next. The Dark Star wrapped its grip around me, and this thing has been choking me ever since.
“I suppose I shouldn’t have…but I secretly hoped Khalid would catch a Dark Star, as well. And it took him straight ‘til morning to catch his star. But, alas, he came back with a Morning Star, dawn chasing his heels. Typical of that boy.”
Timothée realized they were almost back at the Academy. A couple of other students surrounded them, all dressed in the same purple and silver accented uniform. The uniform of the Dark Star house.
He didn’t know why—he really didn’t want to—but he was searching for Val. Then he saw a lilac line cutting across the horizon and fading into the mist, already heading into the Academy.
The excitement of watching Timothée get tackled must have faded.
Timothée followed behind Carmilla’s heels, and eventually the others skittered ahead or fell behind.
“Do you know much about dark magic, Timothée?” Carmilla asked.
He did. He didn’t. He didn’t know what he knew anymore.
“I know it’s banned. I know it’s evil.” I know it was the magic of Noctis. The magic of my brother.
“There will be time for a history lesson later.” Carmilla paused at the entrance to the school. “There’s only one thing you need to know about dark magic. The Celestial Academy of Fallen Stars is run by the Kingdom of Andúrigard and the Celestial Church. The two most powerful forces in this world.” She turned to face him. “But they fear Dark Stars. They fear us.”
“And here is the entrance for our house,” Carmilla said.
“Is there a key or secret password to get in?” Timothée asked.
Carmilla gave a little laugh and shook her head. “No. That would mean that people actually wanted to come here.”
Inside the school, they’d fallen into silence, weaving through the halls like it was a maze. He’d kept his head down. There had been stairs though, lots and lots of stairs.
At the top of the stairs, there was a narrow corridor with a single door. It was old with a purple bat sloppily painted across it.
Carmilla pulled back the door, and they entered a large circular room—which made sense. They must have climbed so high that they were in one of the twisting towers at the top of the Academy.
“Welcome,” she said, “to the Cauldron.”
The room was filled with…clutter.
He cast a glance around. There was a large fireplace, crackling with purple fire. Bookshelves were crammed full and loose parchment spilled onto the stone floor. There was a long table, which was probably meant for eating, but was littered with vials half-full of neon liquids, and the ground beneath was all sorts of strange, splattered colours. A few windows let in the first rays of morning light, but most had patchwork curtains covering them.
A few students were milling about, lounging on mismatched sofas and chairs, covered in patchwork. They had blankets bundled around them, and Timothée could already feel the draft this high up. All of the students wore chokers.
Yvaine gave a soft little mew.
Carmilla looked down at her, then back up to Timothée. “You must be tired. Let me show you to your room. Your stuff will be delivered here shortly.” She then placed a hand on her hip and addressed everyone in the Cauldron. “You’re all doing your best to be polite, and I appreciate it. But as you know—because you were all there—this is Timothée Greywick. He’s a Star Child…and he’s one of us. Let him be tonight. There will be plenty of time to annoy him tomorrow.”
He felt more than heard the command in her words, and the soft obedience in the students around them. And why not? If it hadn’t been for the war, she would have grown up to be an empress.
But someone did rise from the crowd: a young man who looked slightly older than Timothée and Carmilla. He had short brown hair and a face of hard angles and hallow cheeks.
“But who would I be to not formally introduce myself to the Timothée Greywick?” the young man said.
Carmilla let out an annoyed huff. “If you must.”
“My name’s Erik Borstigsson.” The man—Erik—took Timothée’s hand. His palm was sweaty. “You might have heard of me.”
Timothée thought the name Borstigsson might sound familiar, but his mind was foggy. He looked beyond Erik to the common room. So many students were staring at him, their gazes curious and…fearful. Didn’t they all swallow a Dark Star too?
And even here, Timothée felt the uttermost core of himself—his differentness—no matter where he went.
“Excuse me!” Erik snapped his fingers in front of Timothée’s face. “I thought we were having a conversation.”
Yvaine hissed. Timothée startled at the sound. Carmilla sighed, then said: “Erik’s father is Jeremysson Borstigsson, Darius’s uncle and the steward of Andúrigard until Darius graduates and takes his rightful place as king.”
Timothée might be able to see the relation to Darius if he looked closely, if he squinted. But Erik’s features were harsher, he was shorter, and he held himself in a way that was too calculated to be casual. As if it were an imitation of it. He’s trying to appear at ease, Timothée thought, but he’s frightened of something.
“Is that all I am to you, little ward?” Erik smirked. “I’m also a fourth-year here and the house leader.”
“It’s nice to meet you…” Timothée fumbled.
“Indeed.” Erik narrowed his eyes, then said, “You did give us quite the entrance. Think you took out a couple of Kassandra’s favourite knights.”
The knights on the ground…had his magic hurt them? Images of violent strips of darkness played in his mind’s eye.
“Professor Barracus is taking care of it, I’m sure,” Carmilla said. “Timothée didn’t know what he was doing.”
“No.” A slow smile crept up Erik’s face. “But can you imagine when he does?”
There was something about the house leader’s eyes and his smile—they were misaligned, like two mismatched puzzle pieces. Something flared inside Timothée as he looked at Erik. It was his own magic—a warning.
“He might have what it takes to rival the Dark Prophet himself,” Erik murmured.
“Do you really think so?” Something passed between Carmilla and Erik. Something acknowledged without being spoken.
“But then again, maybe not. He is rather scrawny.” Erik grabbed Timothée’s arm. Perhaps his gesture was meant to be lighthearted, but the grip was too tight, too rigid.
“Good day, Erik.” Carmilla pulled Timothée to a staircase across the room. She paused at the bottom.
Timothée wanted to ask her about the knights, but he wasn’t sure he was ready for the answer.
“As you can see this is our common room,” Carmilla said. “This is where most of the studying happens, and the arguing and, and well, everything. There’s a small kitchen over there, though it’s a bit of a disaster. Some of the students also use it to practice our assignments. You’ll eat most of your meals in the dining hall, anyway. And up here is where all the dorms are.”
“Is there a room for me?”
“Morning Stars and Evening Stars have private rooms with private bathrooms,” Carmilla said. “We have twenty rooms and four bathrooms, and they’re all shared. Well, except one…” Carmilla placed a finger to her lips. “Where to put you? Lance would be kind, but we’ve already got six people in that room. And you would not want to share with Ashwyn and Bess. I could stick you in Nate’s room, but he has an allergy to cats.”
Timothée shifted from foot to foot. Of course he’d imagined what his house would be like. It seemed in all the stories that the heroes always found their someone right away, their best friend, someone who was there for them at all times, someone to get in and out of trouble with.
All he’d found in this school was a boy who locked him in the sewer pit and held his hand on a field. Valentine’s hand hadn’t been sweaty like Erik’s: it’d been cold. “I don’t care where I go.”
“Okay then,” Carmilla said slowly, “it better be…”
She tugged on his arm, and they started up the staircase. The stone wall was lined with torches. “Dorm. Dorm. Bathroom.” Carmilla named the many doors as they passed by them.
“And here’s my room,” she said, then, “I would have put you here, but it’s already quite crowded. Just keep climbing the stairs. You’ll reach the attic—your dorm. It’s the only door from here on out. It’s a double so you’ll have your own bed and dresser, and it’s got a private bathroom.”
“No one wanted to share a room with a private bathroom?” Timothée said. He was out of breath, but he relished the use of his muscles after everything that had happened.
“No one wanted to be his roommate,” Carmilla said. “He values solitude, but since the Academy forces us into this small space, it would seem neither of you will have much of a choice.”
“Professor Barracus will sort out your uniform and texts in the morning,” Carmilla said. “You relax. Get to know your roommate. He keeps everything clean and tidy at least. Just try not to kill him, okay? The Dark Star house—or as we’re otherwise known as: the Alchemist Guild—already has a bad enough reputation.”
She entered her room and closed the door before he had a chance to say goodnight. Timothée looked up. If he never saw any stairs again in his entire life, he would be okay with that.
If possible, the stairs got even narrower, and there were no more windows or doors. He missed Carmilla’s presence and wondered why she hadn’t come with him. He realized why no one wanted to be in this room. Who would want to climb all these stairs every day? Finally, he got to a black door with a silver handle.
Inside would be the roommate no one wanted.
But no one wanted to be around him either, so maybe that fit.
He rapped his knuckles against the door. When no one answered, he looked down at Yvaine and shrugged. “I guess I should have asked Carmilla if they were up here.”
He opened the door and blinked as the dark room slowly came into focus.
It wasn’t a room: it was the tomb of one.
Stains of black crawled up the walls. The stone flooring was torn up, chipped and crumbling, with the same black markings. It was like a fire exploded in the room and all that was left was the silhouette of flames. There may have been dressers or beds, but everything was broken, draped in torn sheets, a patchwork of cloth and splintered wood. A fireplace burned with purple crystals, but underneath were the remnants of a real fire. Timothée saw bits of burned books and papers in a pile of ash. The common room had been cluttered but this room was…destroyed.
He stumbled inside.
A powerful scent filled his nose. It was the acidic taste of magic. Dark magic. Lingering. He wasn’t sure how he knew, but he could tell dark magic had been cast in the room, but not recently. The smell was faint, faded.
Something cool clenched around his heart.
Had Carmilla sent him to the wrong place? He couldn’t have taken a wrong turn, there was nowhere else to go. But someone couldn’t possibly live here.
Yvaine’s fur shone silver as she hopped through a pink line of rising sun, drifting through the window. Running water sounded from behind the closed curtain on the other side of the room.
Timothée slowly shut the door behind him. He could go ask Carmilla, but the thought of waking her up—and doing all those stairs again—sent a shiver down his spine. He just wanted this day to end. It was like rotten luck had stacked itself over and over on him. It couldn’t possibly get any worse.
Here, in the silence, his thoughts started creeping in. He didn’t want to think them—didn’t want to think about the dark star that had leapt down his throat, Erik’s unsettling smile, the knight’s heavy hands, or their still bodies on the meadow.
His chest tightened and an unconscious hand touched the choker around his neck. Just as quickly, his hand dropped.
“’ello?” he called uncertainly.
The water stopped running. Rapid movement sounded.
The curtain slid aside, and Valentine Sun stepped out.
His eyes were wide, water flying off his hair. “What are you doing here?” A dark rasp of words.
Val was wearing a grey robe, tied loosely at his waist, open enough so Timothée could see the smooth white panes of his chest. Water caressed his exposed skin. His face was bare, shadows and liners washed off. Without it, he looked different: softer, younger almost. Timothée’s breath caught in an odd way. Of course, it’s Valentine…
“You better answer me, Greywick.” Val stalked toward him, navigating around the rubble of the room.
“This is…this is my room now.” If you can call it a room.
“Did Borstigsson put you up to this? Oh, that is a funny joke.” Val bent down into a pile of cloth and threw on a tight black shirt and some loose pants before dropping his robe, and storming off, hauling the door open. “Well, let’s just see how he likes—”
“It was Carmilla,” Timothée said weakly.
“Carmilla?” Val hesitated, then slammed the door so hard the wood splintered. “What was she thinking sending you here.”
It wasn’t a question.
Timothée barely dodged Val as he stormed back to the window and drew the curtains, blocking the rising sun, and leaving only the purple light of the fire.
Why was Val upset? Lots of people had roommates they didn’t like. It wasn’t like Val had been tackled tonight while his sisters got to celebrate. It wasn’t the worst day of his life.
Everything felt on fire. Timothée wanted to scream and cry and curl up in a ball—but he couldn’t do that. He refused to do that. Not in front of Valentine.
He clenched his fists, forging his sadness into anger.
“This room is a disaster!” Why had Val chosen a room this destroyed? How could a school treat its students this way? “How do you live like this?”
“You don’t.” Val stepped over a pile of books, bracing his hands on the wall. He was silent for a long time. So long that the crystals in the fire broke down to glittering embers. “You don’t live at the Celestial Academy for Fallen Stars. You survive.”
And Timothée thought with sickening clarity: Marion had been right. His father had been right.
“You think I want to be in here with you?”
“I don’t think you know what you want,” Val replied.
Timothée swallowed in a dry throat. He had known—he had wanted a purpose. He had wanted to be a hero, to find out where he belonged. But he had been scared to wish it. Been scared to even voice that desire. Until all at once it had come to him: place and purpose. And then it was whipped away in a single night.
As if it had never been there at all.
He gritted his teeth then clawed at his choker.
“Careful. If you take that off wrong, you’ll bleed all over my room.” Val licked his lips. “Not that I wouldn’t find that amusing, but I don’t want to be blamed for you getting hurt.”
Timothée dropped his hands. Not because of Val. But he knew it would be worse if he took off the choker. It wasn’t the choker that was wrong. It was everything about him. The magic that writhed inside of himself, coiling and slithering and searching.
Dark Star magic—the type of magic that had levelled kingdoms, that defied the gods, that had been banished.
My magic. That voice that was not his own spoke inside his mind. Blacken the sky until the gods have no home to return to.
Steal the stars.
Now there wasn’t something shuddering inside him, but all around him. The crystal fireplace sparkled and burst, and for a moment he swore he saw something—glowing eyes staring back at him from the flames.
He stumbled, tripped, and barely righted himself.
“What?” Val sneered. “More ghosts?”
“Like you care.” Timothée went to what he thought might be a bed. He threw off broken pieces of wood, and books, very old books, until he saw the semblance of tattered sheets and pillows. He wacked it with his palms a couple times, sending blooms of dust into the air. Then he picked up Yvaine and plopped her down on the dirty blanket.
Anger swirled inside him as looked at his roommate. “This is your fault. Why did you even come to me in the meadow? You made me catch that Dark Star.”
“It was that or nothing,” Val said simply.
Timothée had the oddest urged to shove him—but he was afraid if he put his hands on Val’s shoulders they would get stuck there. “I’d rather have nothing,” he said instead.
“You don’t know what nothing is—”
“And you do?”
“Imagine a horizon so vast there is no end.” Val reached up his hand, fingers coiling dangerously around Timothée’s choker. “Before you is a great sea, smooth as glass because there is no wind, and everything is grey, because everything that had brought colour to the world is gone, and nothing will ever bring that back. But somehow you endure—even though there is nothing to endure for, and you’re as still and grey as that vast horizon, that unmoving water. Until your blood solidifies to crystal, your skin hard as stone, and you are as alive as carved marble, a painted picture—nothing but an imitation of life. That, Greywick, is nothing.”
Timothée swallowed, realized he was clutching Val’s shirt. “If that was a poem, it did not move me. If that was a song, I’d say your voice lacked a certain cadence. And if it was a spell, it did not work.” Timothée trembled beneath Val’s gaze. “I’d rather be that than what I am.”
“We’ll see.” Val stepped away.
“One day you’ll understand what nothing is. And then you’ll know.”
Val walked to a corner of the room, wrapping a large black cloak around his shoulders, and slid to the ground.
Timothée kicked off his shoes. Then still in his clothes, crawled into the bed and soon felt the warm press of Yvaine overtop of his legs, her low purr the only sound.
He stared at the ceiling. “Where do you even sleep?”
No reply. It was dumb to think Val would talk to him.
But then the darkness answered, “I avoid it. If I can.”
Timothée rose on his elbows, saw the flicker of purple light along the boy’s jaw. He remembered when he’d first seen Val wandering the halls. He told me he couldn’t sleep then. “Why?”
Val gave a long sigh, tilted his head back. Wet strains of silverly hair slid over his shoulders. “Let’s just say there are things I’d rather not see when I close my eyes.”
Timothée wanted to ask more but held back at the hesitation in Val’s voice.
“Go to sleep, Greywick,” Val said, his voice lined with shadow and promise. “I won’t murder you…tonight.”
Timothée clutched Yvaine to his chest, lay back. Sleep caught at his edges, and somehow he knew he would sleep just like every other night.
Even wicked monsters needed rest.
✨Thank you for reading this chapter! Thanks to our Dark Star Discord members for suggesting some features of the Cauldron. We'll be seeing more of that setting soon!!✨
Here is Timothee's playlist. I hope you enjoy his mix of upbeat and melancholy songs.
Want to discuss this chapter and get behind-the-scenes information on Wicked Academia? Join us on Facebook or Discord! Our communities are welcoming, inclusive places to connect with new friends, talk to the authors and ask your burning questions, share fanart, and talk about all things Wicked Academia!
Want more Wicked Academia? Join our Patreon to get early access to chapters, bonus scenes, artwork, and NSFW content involving your favourite characters!
The next chapter is out today! Surprise! Enjoy this two-chapter week.