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16 - In Which Timothée Makes His Home in the Cauldron




A knocking on the door startled him awake. Timothée threw himself upright, causing Yvaine to jump off in a hissing fit. He blinked, eyes crusted and blurry. He’d been deep in a dreamless sleep.

Silver bands of moonlight peeked out from beneath the curtains, falling like a sheet over the sprawled-out boy on the floor beside his bed. Valentine Sun was laid out long, his hair like lilac ribbons around his face, one arm draped over his eyes, long fingers curled, his chest slowly rising and falling.

Can’t sleep, huh? Timothée thought. Just another one of Valentine’s dramatic lies. Val had been asleep. Asleep just below his bed. The thought was as unsettling as it was…some other emotion Timothée couldn’t name.

Val blinked awake, and his face was so soft, so very unrecognizable from the constant snarl. Val smiled. Timothée’s heart stuttered. There was an ethereal sort of beauty about him.

“Your hair is as wild as your eyes this night.” Val’s voice was low, lined with the raspiness of sleep.

A knock sounded again. Timothée jumped, fell, and tumbled over the edge off the bed.

Right on top of Valentine.

The blurry gaze and soft smile were gone so fast, Timothée thought he must have dreamed everything. “What are you doing, Greywick?” Val snarled, pushing against him. “Get off of me!”

Another knock, then: “Timothée, Val, are you awake?” Carmilla’s voice, dripping with the Kirrintsovan accent. “Come on! Class is going to start soon.”

Timothée was about to answer when Val’s hand clasped over his mouth.

“Do not let her in,” Val said.

And Timothée would have done anything he asked in that moment, with Val’s hand across his lips. When he opened his mouth to reply, he tasted Val’s skin, the same as he smelled: pomegranate and fire smoke.

Val just pressed harder against Timothée’s face, and his other hand coiled into the blanket on the ground. He looked…afraid?

“I don’t care what you’re doing in there—” The door open and Carmilla burst in, but her gaze didn’t fall on Timothée, partially sprawled on Val’s lap. Her eyes swept across the room. “What happened in here?”

Val’s hand dropped from Timothée mouth. Timothée almost laughed, then said: “So, the room’s don’t all look like this?”

“No,” Carmilla said simply, hard gaze locked on Val. “They don’t.”

Val pushed Timothée away and stood, running a hand through his hair, and pacing the room like a caged animal.

“Professor Barracus is waiting for you in the common room, Timothée,” Carmilla said, but her eyes didn’t leave Valentine’s.

Timothée stood slowly, feeling like a trespasser. In my own room, too.

He tugged on his boots and tried to tame his hair before backing out the door. He was halfway down the stairs when he had the distinct feeling of forgetting something. He looked down at his heels. Yvaine. He couldn’t leave her up there with Valentine, and who knows where they would send him in the Academy today?

Timothée sighed, then turned back up the stairs, breath already heavy in his throat. He was almost to the top when he noticed Yvaine, sitting a few steps from the door.

“There you are—” He cut himself off, heard voices from behind the door, urgent and frantic.

He knew he should grab Yvaine and head downstairs, but curiosity tugged on him like an anchor.

“So, you just expected no one to ever see what you did?” Carmilla’s voice. She sounded angry.

“I didn’t expect to have company,” Val snarled back.

“You’re unhinged. Do you have any idea what could have happened if you’d lost control of your magic—”

“I am always in control.”

“This room,” Carmilla stated, “is proof that you’re not. Watch your temper, Valentine.”

Timothée’s breathe caught. Val had destroyed the room…with magic? The stale smell of magic in the room told Timothée it must have been like that for a while. What had happened to make him do that? Timothée’s curiosity gave way to sadness, and he felt a strange kinship with Val as he imagined the boy’s dark magic spreading across the room, tearing it apart.

He knew what it was like to be out of control.

He had felt it last night. His blood hummed with the memory of it.

“How can you expect me to do that?” Valentine said, voice low and dark, “when you sent him up here?”

Carmilla gave a nasty laugh. “He’s just your roommate.”

“He took everything from me!” Valentine screamed, and it was the first time Timothée had heard him raise his voice. The sound was sharp as a blade.

So much for kinship. How could he have taken anything from Valentine? He just met him two days ago.

“You can’t lose what you never had,” Carmilla said. “Stop blending your dreams with reality. You’re losing sight of what’s really important.”

“Why would you do this to me, Carmilla?”

“You’re too clever to ask that question,” Carmilla stated. “If you stopped for a single moment and thought of the forest beyond the trees. About who he is and what he can do.”

Timothée only heard Val’s steady breathing, then: “He killed three of the those guards the moment he got the star. When his magic is supposed to be the weakest, when it was still bonding with his heart.”

“Exactly. Would you rather I let him cozy up next to Nathaniel or Erik?” Carmilla said. “Imagine what he could do once –”

Timothée couldn’t listen anymore. He was gasping, his heart sputtering in his chest. Those knights on the ground…he had killed them.

Blood rushed in his ears, and suddenly the choker around his neck felt too tight. He stumbled down the stairs. It couldn’t be true. He bumped into other students in the packed stairway. They yelped in protest. But his heart was racing, he couldn’t breathe, and he didn’t know where he was going, only that he had to get out of the stairwell. He stumbled out into the common room of the Cauldron and was hit with a wave of starlight through wide open windows. Every Dark Star student had their attention fixed on him.

It was like his presence had frozen everyone around him, a flurry of activity come to a standstill. They wore purple and silver uniforms, with texts in hand, or bags thrown over their shoulders.

He could only imagine how he appeared still in his grass-stained clothes from last night, with tears streaming down his face.

So much for a good third impression. First, smelling like the sewer, then losing control of his star, and now a teary mess.

“What did Valentine do to make you cry, Greywick?” It was Erik, the house leader. He leaned against the long table, a steaming mug in his hand. “Heard you were bunking up all the way at the top.”

Behind Erik, Starlings were brewing coffee and potions, the scent of nuts and earth filling the room. And now the silence was broken with the dimmest chuckles and anxious breath.

Timothée wiped a dirty sleeve across his face.

“That’ll be quite enough, Mr. Borstigsson.” A man stepped forward. Timothée distantly remembered seeing him on the field last night. He was the one who had called the knights off, who’d gotten Carmilla to help him. “I’m Professor Barracus, head of the Alchemist Guild.”

Timothée sniffed, the sound so loud in the silent Cauldron.

“Come with me, Timothée,” Professor Barracus said, then, “The rest of you get going. I don’t want a single one of you late for first class.”

A mumbling of “Yes, Professor” and the students went back to a silent sort of motion, a stiff return to routine.

Timothée studied the professor as they walked. He was tall with dark brown skin and hair shorn short. His clothes were not as crisp and formal as Setviren wore, no flowing robes. Instead, Professor Barracus favoured brown trousers and a cream cable knit sweater.

Timothée followed on Professor Barracus’s heels. Now they headed down the Cauldron’s tower, winding and winding, and through a hallway into another tower, then up, up, up again, until they arrived at a simple wooden door with a silver nameplate in need of a polish: Quincy Barracus. The professor ushered Timothée to follow in after him.

“This is my office.” Professor Barracus took a seat behind a large desk. The desk’s legs were polished branches, and the top was a large slap of granite, though it was hard to tell because it was so covered in papers and bottles and vials and coffee mugs. The room was no bigger than his dorm, but circular. Another offshoot tower.

Quincy Barracus’s office felt like a breath of Timothée’s old life. There was a large open window that spilled starlight and a station that had bubbling vials and little burners. The room was covered in shelves that overflowed with books and trinkets and scraps of paper held down with oddly-shaped rocks. A fireplace burned wood, not crystal. But it wasn’t until Timothée stepped fully into the room that he realized it was the lack of something rather than the presence of it that brought this feeling of home.

“You haven’t swallowed a star,” Timothée stated. There was no lingering presence of magic in the air, and Timothée couldn’t decide if he mourned the feeling or relished it.

Quincy motioned for him to take a seat opposite his desk, and Timothée slid into the worn leather chair.

“No,” Professor Barracus. “You won’t find any professors here who have swallowed a Dark Star.”

Timothée wiped his eyes again, sure his sleeve was slashing dirt across his face.

“I never swallowed a star, as I’m sure you sensed,” Professor Barracus continued. “I am but a humble alchemist amongst those with the power of gods.”

There was a meaning hidden under his words, Timothée thought, something said without really being said. But his mind was too muddled to piece it together.

“I’ll take you to wardrobe to find your uniform after this,” Professor Barracus said. “The other houses like to alter theirs with magic, but you’ll find our students can be just as creative in their own way.”

“Okay,” Timothée said.

Professor Barracus gave a long sigh then shifted through some papers on his desk and pulled out a folder. “Your class schedule is in there, and the books and supplies you’ll need. The shops in Selene Crescent will probably have enough to get you started.”

Timothée opened the folder and skimmed his timetable: History of Potion Making, Natural Foraging, Modern Potions and their Uses, Medicinal Potions, First Year Potions. The paper behind it was a list of supplies: parchment and ink, glass vials, and over half a dozen texts books.

His stomach sank.

The worry must have shown on his face because the professor added, “I’ve already asked Carmilla to show you around. It won’t be a problem.”

“That’s not it.” Timothée fumbled with the paper in his hands. “It’s just my sisters and I…I mean, we have a…we weren’t able to save a lot and—”

“You’re worried about the cost?” Professor Barracus said plainly.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to pay for all of this.” It seemed silly to worry about that right now, when it felt like his magic had almost killed him, when it had killed others, when he’d somehow unknowingly ruined his roommate’s life, and with this thing around his neck that made every breath a struggle.

“We have students from all walks of life here,” Professor Barracus said. “From the paupers to the princes, none of them go without. But in particular, Lady Kassandra will provide for you and your sisters; she’s already set up an account in your name.”

“W-why would she do that?” Timothée asked slowly.

“She’s…your adopted mother?” He said it like a question, and Timothée still wasn’t sure the answer.

But he was sure of one thing: he couldn’t keep going on like this. Pretending everything was okay.

“I shouldn’t be going to classes. I should be in the dungeon.” Timothée wanted to scream, but all the power of his voice was trapped in his throat. “I killed people.”

“Listen to me, kid.” Professor Barracus rubbed the bridge of his nose. “We put you on that field, we told you to catch a star. The fault lies with the Academy in not being prepared for…”

“Prepared for me,” Timothée finished.

And there was no denial. Professor Barracus didn’t seem the type to hide behind kind lies. But his words didn’t ebb the guilt simmering within. Timothée whispered, “I want to know their names. My fault or not, those deaths are…I need to know who they were.”

“I’ll see it done.” Professor Barracus narrowed his eyes at him. “Starting at the Academy is never easy, and I image in your case it’s going to be a difficult road. Did I hear you are roommates with Valentine Sun?”

He knew what the professor was doing, trying to draw the storm clouds of his mind, and focus him on lighter topics. But what the professor didn’t know was at the mention of Valentine, the storm clouds moved from his mind to sweep around his heart.

“I don’t think he likes me very much,” Timothée said.

“Valentine is one of the most brilliant students we’ve had in the Alchemist Guild for a long time. He’s only been here a few weeks, but he’s already managed to accomplish extraordinary things.” Professor Barracus looked out the window. “However, I do think he had a hard time his first few weeks, as all of them do, after they swallow that star. I don’t think anyone comes up to the Isle of Argos thinking they’ll inherit Noctis’s magic. It takes a special sort of adjustment.”

And again, Timothée felt a pull toward Valentine. Had he come to the school hoping to be a hero like Timothée, only to have his dreams dashed by dark magic?

“I think,” Professor Barracus continued, “he was just starting to find his stride here. He might be a little jealous of someone so inherently special showing up and claiming all the attention.”

“I’m not special,” Timothée said. “I’m just dangerous.”

“It wasn’t your fault, Timothée,” Professor Barracus said. “I’ll say it to the day I die. But if you really want to make sure everyone around you is safe, keep that choker on, and concentrate on your alchemy. There’s just as much magic in that as in the stars, you’ll come to see.”

“Yes, sir,” Timothée said.

“And Valentine will come around. I didn’t think anyone would ever want to climb all those stairs. It’s a nice room though.”

Maybe it was until Valentine destroyed it, and he wondered again at what exactly had happened in there. Val had used his banned magic, torn apart the room. But why?

“I almost forgot.” Professor Barracus fumbled in his drawer and dropped a small clear crystal on the desk. It shimmered a light lilac in the starlight.

It reminded Timothée of his eyes. His hair.

“What is that?” Timothée asked.

“It’s your quarra crystal,” said the professor. “It’ll be essential for navigating the school. All Starling students have them.”

Timothée picked it up; it was light and something under his blood hummed as it touched his skin.

“They’re created by Morning Stars and enchanted by Evening Stars. Think of it as your own personal identity. It’s connected to your treasury account, so you can use it to make purchases in the shoppes here. Tap it when you leave the Academy, and when you return. And your professors will tap them to tell attendance and make sure you’re not skipping class.”

Timothée closed his palm around it.

“Some students wear them as bracelets, clasps, or necklaces.”

“Or attach them to their chokers,” Timothée said, thinking of the purple stone around Carmilla’s throat.

“Yes, their chokers,” Professor Barracus said. “Keep it safe and close. There’s a lot you can do with that little stone. Maybe Mr. Sun can show you the ways of it.”

Timothée said nothing.

“I told your first class you wouldn’t be there today as I explained everything.” Professor Barracus stood. “I’ll take you to wardrobe and then show you to your next class. I believe it’s history, so at least you’ll recognize old Setviren.”

“Thank you, sir.” Timothée stood as well and started to the door when the professor cleared his throat behind him.

“I knew your father,” Barracus said.

And Timothée realized that this was the first person who had referred to his father as his father, not the man who raised them, not the former headmaster, not the thief, but father. He realized it filled a gaping part of him.

“I was a young man when he hired me,” Quincy Barracus continued. “He took a chance on a poor lad with no magic to speak of, but a desire to create it. Even if I could only do so with the proper mixtures.”

A young man? Aging must be an anomaly in a place like this. He knew those with powerful star magic, like all the Evening and Morning Star professors, aged slowly. How strange, he thought, to grow old so close to the stars.

“He raised you with compassion,” Professor Barracus continued. “Don’t let that fade, no matter what they say of you here. What they say of Dark Stars.”

They left his office and Professor Barracus led him back up to the Cauldron in silence, but Timothée’s mind was humming.

What Timothée couldn’t say to the professor, what he couldn’t express, was that it had been him. In control or not, the shadows were an extension of his arm, his hand, his entire being. And he had felt it all—every pierce of flesh, drop of blood spilled, and the life that had leaked into the green meadow.

And he thought of the words Carmilla had spoken to him after all of that: the Church and the Kingdom was afraid of Dark Stars.

And then that voice that was not his own spoke in his mind.

They’re not nearly afraid enough.

They don’t know what you can do.

But I do.


***


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