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17 – In Which Vivian Remembers the Cold Touch of Xydrious

Magic, it turned out, was very much like waiting for wax to set. When it did happen, it was slow and all at once.

She sighed, blowing the hair back from her sweaty brow. At least, she was hoping it would happen all at once. Vivian had been staring at the little dish of water for far too long.

She sat beside Marion in their Properties of Matter laboratory, a class that both first-year Evening and Morning Stars attended. Instructed to partner up with someone from an opposite house, Vivian had walked as fast as she could up to Marion. Now the two of them sat at a double desk in a spacious classroom with a glossy black floor. Magic crackled in the air but not in front of them.

The room was vast, with rows and rows of desks and cluttered shelves of materials lining the walls. There were normal supplies such as bowls and burners and vials, and then the more unnatural: jars filled with bobbing lights, glowing mushrooms, and glass globes of swirling gas. At the head of the class was a chalkboard and behind it, huge windows that stretched to the ceiling, and then became the ceiling, letting the starlight shine over them.

Although they didn’t necessarily need to see the stars to summon their magic, their professor said it made it easier, especially for first-years.

Professor Yuriana taught this class, and Vivian liked her immensely. She weaved between the desks on a floating chair. Darius had informed Vivian the chair was a clever ingenuity between houses after the professor lost the use of her legs. Professor Yuriana was an older Evening Star, with hair blue as ocean waves.

“It can happen that way sometimes,” Marion had whispered at the beginning of class. “Rayna told me. Occasionally your hair turns the colour of your star when you swallow it.”

Vivian had looked at her own chestnut-brown hair, then at Rayna across the classroom. She’d learned the Medihsan girl was a good friend of Khalid’s. She was small but made up for it with an utgoing personality. She knew everything about the Academy, and everyone in it.

“But Rayna’s a Morning Star and her hair is blue.”

A rare smile crossed her sister’s face. “Her hair’s not natural; a third-year Evening Star changed it. Rayna lost a bet with Tal and has to keep her hair blue until Hallow’s Eve.” Vivian had laughed lightly, and Marion continued, “I wonder if that’s why Valentine’s hair is purple, all the dark magic coursing through his veins.”

The way Marion said it: dark magic. So much disdain in her voice. Our brother has that magic, too.

Presently, Vivian turned her attention back to the professor, with the more natural blue hair. It fell in waves down her back. She was floating among the Starlings, observing and offering pointers. The beginning of the class had been a lecture on the properties of water, and now they had moved onto the practical assignment.

A small wooden bowl sat in front of her with a shallow layer of water. It had been the Morning Star’s job to summon water in the bowl, and the Evening Star’s task to turn it to ice.

It was supposed to be simple; it was supposed to be a natural progression.

It wasn’t any of those things.

No matter how hard she tried, or stared, or waved her hand, the water remained liquid. Her star inside of her was just a constant hum in time with her heart. And it didn’t help that every time she held her hand above the water, she knew Marion could see her shaking fingers, the sheen of sweat that appeared on her brow. Maybe she’ll think it’s from the task itself.

Marion’s face had turned bright red with the effort it took her to summon even a few drops of water. Her head had nearly blown straight off with Khalid casted a great stream of water in his and Darius’s bowl, until it spilled over in a huge puddle on the floor. Professor Yuriana had sent him off to locate a mop.

“But Teach!” Khalid had moaned. “You could just evaporate it with a wave of your wonderous hands.”

“I could,” Professor Yuriana responded, “but where would your lesson be then?”

Marion had muttered something about the divine justice of the gods.

Most of the students were doing a much finer job: summoning little pools of water, then freezing them into ice.

Vivian leaned forward, watching the Starlings in front of her. The Morning Star student had casted water to the top of the bowl, and the Evening Star girl closed her eyes and wiggled her fingers above the water. Vivian noticed there was a mark on the back of her hand, an ellipse.

Magic crackled in the air, a faint blue glow, and the water froze to ice.

“She makes it look so easy.” Vivian sighed.

There was a shuffle, and both the Morning Star and Evening Star girl turned around to face the sisters.

Vivian recoiled. She hadn’t realized she’d spoken loud enough to be heard; her face was completely red.

Or at least, it would have been, if she’d had any leeches. They were rationing them now, one a day, and no more. Until they could figure out…something.

But the Evening Star girl’s bright smile eased Vivian’s worries immediately. “Don’t worry, it took me forever to first summon my starcraft. It takes practice.”

Starcraft. It was what the Starlings called their magic. The word felt light and twinkling in her mind, like shooting stars themselves.

Vivian managed a tight smile back and nudged Marion to do the same.

“I’m Fiona, by the way,” the girl said. She had honey-brown hair and eyes the same colour. It reminded Vivian of the sweetest candles she used to sell at the shoppe, smelling of warm tea with honey. “I don’t think we’ve officially met.”

“I’m Vivian,” she said, “and this is my sister, Marion.”

“Everybody knows who you two are.” The Morning Star girl flashed a broad smile. “I’m Mara. Remember, I met you at the Cosmic Rite?”

“I remember,” Marion said slowly.

“Well, it’s just I haven’t seen you much since.” Mara ran a hand through her wild red hair. “You should get out of your room more; people will start thinking you’re a loner.”

Vivian knew her sister would warm up in her own time, hoped she would. But they’d only been at the Academy just over two weeks now, and it was all so new. Vivian had spent a few nights in the Den’s common room, watching the sunrise through the window, adorned with a stained-glass pegasus. But she’d been curled up on a comfy couch with Darius’s arms around her.

She didn’t think Marion had been so lucky in making friends.

People asked Vivian questions, of course, but she was mostly content to fade into the conversation, to listen and hear of the life of the other Starlings in her house. She knew the gossip they spilled of her and Darius, of the triplets in general. Tried to let it wash over her, like waves upon the sand.

Her eyes drifted to Darius now. He was assisting Professor Yuriana and helping some of the students who hadn’t got a handle on their magic. She and Darius hadn’t exactly clarified the nature of their relationship, but she was grateful for that. Talking about it would make it real, and Marion surely wouldn’t accept real.

“Well,” Vivian said, “the best way to get Marion out of bed is with something sweet.”

Mara slapped a hand down on the desk. “That’s it, you’re making cinnamon buns with Maeve and me next weekend!”

“Uh,” Marion stumbled, “alright.”

Fiona gave a little laugh. “I overheard you talking about hair colour. Coral Fletcher in fourth-year is really good at it. She’s been teaching me a couple of things.”

“Hear that, Marion?” Vivian poked her sister. “You could get your hair changed to bright orange for the All Hallow’s Eve Ball.”

Marion’s eyes widened and she clutched her beautiful golden hair. “Absolutely not!”

Vivian laughed, and the other two girls joined in.

“I’m really excited for the Hallow’s Eve Ball,” Fiona said. “I still need to make my own dress for it though. So far, I’ve made one for Tal, and a suit for Lando, and—”

“And you said you’d make me something!” Mara poked Fiona’s ribs.

“Wow! That’s amazing,” Vivian said.

“Making clothes is kind of my thing.” A blush appeared over Fiona’s cheeks. “I’m just starting to use my starcraft for tailoring. Some of the older Starlings specialize in it.”

Vivian looked down at her own uniform: a long-sleeved navy dress with silver trim on the sleeves. It was the nicest thing she’d ever owned. She wondered what it would be like to wear something especially made for her—

“I don’t even know if I’m going to the ball,” Marion said, leaning back.

Mara grabbed the ends of her wild hair. “Are you kidding? Seriously? Everyone’s been talking about how spectacular it is. You can wear a costume or a fancy outfit. I heard the school brings in a whole band to play music, and there’s dancing and entertainers, and more sweets than you could eat in your entire life. Pumpkin pie, and cinnamon tarts, and apples covered in sweet caramel.”

Marion’s mouth perked up at that.

“Well,” Mara said, “at least that’s what I’ve heard.”

“If you need any help with your outfits for the ball,” Fiona beamed, “don’t be afraid to ask me.”

“Thanks,” Vivian said, smiling at the two girls in front of her. She remembered watching Tilda Dovetail and her friends. Would she no longer have to look in on friendships from afar?

Her gut tightened.

There was still one thing that hadn’t changed since Wolfhelm.

She was still sick.

Still a vampire.

“I should try this assignment again,” she mumbled.

The conversation had distracted her, but she just wanted this class to end. Needed to get away from Marion before her sister noticed anything off about her. But it felt like her insides were eating themselves raw. She’d never had to survive on this little blood. But she knew she couldn’t ask for more. There was nothing any of them could do, except hope this school had answers.

The ravenous hunger was replaced with guilt. She knew there was another reason Marion was acting the loner with her house, not attempting to make friends. She’d seen her sister head straight to the massive library every night. “Studying,” she’d always say when anyone asked. But Vivian knew better.

Marion was looking for answers.

But there were no words in an ancient book that could cure the monster within herself.

Fiona and Mara wished them luck and Vivian turned back to the still very liquid water.

“Alright.” She placed her hand over the bowl. And although the steady thrum of magic beat inside her, it seemed none of it would leave her body.

“It can help,” a deep voice said, warm breath by her ear, “to think of a memory.”

Darius. Her heart twirled in her chest. But with him standing beside her, there was only one memory she could think of—that stormy night after her birthday party, his hands on her legs, his mouth on her skin. She shook her head and banished the memory before her fangs could drop.

Darius looked down without any judgment at the little dish of warm water.

“Expected more from a child of the gods, did you?” she said. Her voice was light, but she couldn’t stop the feelings. Weren’t they supposed to be better at this?

“Everyone needs to practice, to learn.” Professor Yuriana floated over. There was kindness in her deep eyes. “Even the Star Children. Mr. Störmberg is right. Think of a memory, a cold one, and bring the feeling of ice into your heart and your star.”

“That shouldn’t be too hard.” Darius smiled. “You grew up in Andúrigard. It’s always cold.”

Vivian closed her eyes and let herself drift away. Her memories glossed over the three years she had spent in Wolfhelm, though there certainly had been cold nights there, the three of them huddled together under threadbare blankets. No, she swept her mind back further, to the lavender farm in Seagrass.