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.
“Marion,” she spoke out loud though her eyes were still closed, fingers hovering over the water dish, “do you remember the Winter Solstice when we were ten? Timothée had been wishing and wishing for snow, and when we looked out the window, a few flakes were falling.”
“Yes,” Marion replied.
“Father bundled us up and we went outside, but the flakes hadn’t started sticking yet,” Vivian continued. “He went ahead and said he knew a spot by the beach, and when we got down there, there were piles of it. But…snow couldn’t possibly fall there, now that I think of it. The water would have washed it away…”
Vivian could almost feel the chill on her cheeks now. She shot her eyes open, saw the whole class staring at her. She focused on Professor Yuriana, asked, “My father—I mean, the former headmaster—he was an Evening Star, wasn’t he?”
“Professor Bram Cavald.” Recognition and sadness tugged at the edges of her face. “He was the most powerful Evening Star who ever lived.”
“He turned the seawater to snow,” Vivian said, her eyes closing again. She remembered jumping into fresh white powder. Making shapes as Timothée threw snowballs at them, their father tossing them up and down. They walked back to the cabin with frosted fingers and cold toes and frozen smiles.
“Vivian, you’re—!” Darius said.
Vivian shot her eyes open. Starcraft. A blue glow crackled around her. But her water hadn’t frozen to ice: it’d changed to soft snow that spilled over her bowl. Gasps sounded from around the classroom, and she turned to see snow spilling out of all the little bowls.
She felt her magic in every flake. Her heart nearly burst out of her chest.
“And the Greywicks do it again,” Khalid smirked from the back of the class, mop tight in hand.
Students cheered in delight, touching the snow. The snow she had made.
Mara barked a laugh. “Incredible!” Then with a wave of her hand, wind whirled through the air. “Something I’ve been working on.”
And the wind picked up the snow from all the little bowls, swirled it into the air, and just like that, it was snowing in autumn.
“Wonderful!” Professor Yuriana did not seem mad at this display of magic but rather clapped her hands together in delight. “We do not normally start upon snow until winter!”
Vivian gasped, her hands shaking. She could still feel it—her hold on the magic.
But Marion hadn’t said anything, not a single thing.
“Mare, what’s wrong?”
“It did snow by the sea,” Marion said. “It did. Why does everything have to be attributed to magic? Can’t you just remember it the way it actually was?”
She won’t believe that Father used magic. The realization sat like a hard rock in Vivian’s stomach.
Screams sounded through the classroom, and hail pelted the students. Vivian’s snow had become ice.
“Alright, alright,” Professor Yuriana said, calming the class. “With time, you’ll learn to keep a good hold on your starcraft and the changes that can occur.”
Professor Yuriana had explained it in one of their first classes. Evening Stars could make permanent or impermanent changes. But until their power grew, everything they made would turn back at sunrise.
Or her case, right now.
“Starlings,” Professor Yuriana said, “let’s get this cleaned up.”
“I have an idea,” Darius said.
Vivian looked over at Marion, knowing she should talk to her sister.
But then Darius grabbed her arm and there was the sharp spark of magic between them. He gasped, but then waved his hand, the blue ribbon around his wrist dangling. All the chunks of hail trembled on the floor then rose into the air, changing into foggy clouds.
The students began to cheer, applaud. But then the clouds moved, and twisted, shaping into words…
Vivian read them out loud: “All Hallow’s Eve Ball?”
Darius flicked his wrist, letting the clouds dissipate in the air, then turned to her. “Will you be my date to the ball, Vivian?”
Starling students hooted and hollered. And Vivian blushed under the attention.
Well, she would have if she could.
“See that?” Khalid came over, resting an arm on Marion’s shoulder. “If I tried that, I’d be in detention and foraging Chef Venneri’s mushrooms in the Enchanted Forest for a month.”
“I can only imagine the crude things you’d say if you could do that,” Marion groaned.
Khalid placed a hand on his heart. “Would you expect anything less?”
But their words floated away as Vivian lost herself in Darius’s storm blue eyes.
“I thought I already gave you the dance I owed,” Vivian said.
He placed his hand under her chin, tilting her face up. “That’s the problem, my dear. That dance has ruined me for all other dances. It’s you in my arms or nothing.”
“I’ll go,” she breathed. “I’ll go with you.”
There was a small cheer from the crowd, and Darius pulled her against himself, lifting her off her feet and kissing her temple.
And she should have been happy.
But she was only afraid.
She wrapped her arms around his neck as he swung her around, and she caught the joyful and awed gazes of her classmates: Khalid’s almost too big smile, her sister’s stoic face, the single tear running down Professor Yuriana’s eyes as she said, “What a romantic gesture. He is truly the prince of fairytales!”
As class dismissed, Marion grabbed Vivian’s arm and pulled her back, telling Khalid and Darius they would meet them in the dining hall soon.
“We need to talk,” Marion said, leading her down several halls until they made it to an abandoned alcove.
“Yes?” Vivian said when she was confident they were alone.
“I heard you stayed out with him the night of the party,” Marion said. “Walked into the forest and didn’t come back until way after sunrise.”
“How did you hear that?”
Marion avoided her gaze. “You have to know things here. To survive. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I thought…” Vivian bit her lip. “I thought you’d be disappointed.”
Marion pinched the bridge of her nose. “I’m worried, Viv. Did you sleep with him?”
“No.” Vivian looked down, knowing she owed her sister the truth. “We did…other stuff.”
Marion looked up and down the empty halls, then pulled her deeper into the alcove. “What about your…?” She tapped her teeth.
My fangs? This wasn’t her sister trying to be stealthy. She never mentioned the specifics.
“I was in control,” Vivian responded.
But that was a lie.
She’d managed to keep control for most of it, but the closer they got, the more she wanted him. And not just him, but the blood beneath his skin.
She knew she could never give into desire that way again, even though every part of her ached for it. How sometimes the looks he gave her felt like a touch, and she could only respond with a closed-mouth smile.
“You need to keep your distance, Vivian,” Marion said. And she knew her sister could read the lie along her face. “Until we find a cure.”
“Right,” Vivian answered.
“There’s answers here, I know it. We have time to find them.” Marion grabbed her ice-cold hands. “Have faith in me, big sister. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
Marion gave her one last look before heading back down the hall. “Aren’t you coming?”
“I’ll meet you there,” Vivian said. “I just forgot something in my room.”
Her feet started sagging the moment her sister was out of sight. And quickly, she made her way back to her dorm and locked the door.
She wasn’t sure if it was using her magic, being so close with Darius the other night, the lack of leeches, or just the ever-present enemy of time.
But she was getting sicker. So, so much sicker.
Marion was wrong. They didn’t have time. And maybe that was why she was so careless with Darius—because she knew she was running out of her last bit of humanity. She wanted to clutch every bit of life a dead girl could.
One more kiss.
One more day.
Before there was nothing human left of her.
Tears streamed down her cheeks, and she clawed off her uniform. Maybe she’d had a desperate sort of hope, a hope that swallowing a star would somehow fix her.
But if anything, it had made her worse. Drawn a deeper line between the human girl that could have been a god, and the monster the world made her.
She screamed as her uniform fell to the ground, and she truly felt unhuman. There was a deep need to shed her skin until she stood naked, gasping, and slow trickles of blood slid down her back and onto the floor.
But her own blood did not tempt her, nor the blood of her siblings. They had tried it one desperate night. The image was scorned into her memory: Marion bleeding Timothée’s wrist over a cup, like he was an animal. But that blood had made her sick. She’d spat it up and vomited over their tiny apartment.
There were so many students here…they trusted her. She could take their blood—
No, no, no.
She would rather become more monstrous than lose the last of her humanity, drink an unwilling human’s blood, and become a monster in a girl’s skin.
Even though she knew it would make her better, make her strong, allow her to taste food again, and dull the ache in her stomach.
Slowly, she turned and looked at her back in the mirror.
She had felt it, but it was so much worse than she suspected.
Two wounds slashed either side of her shoulders, though no one had ever hurt her there.
No, these wounds were coming from the inside.
Tentatively, she reached up and touched the pus-filled and broken skin. They were yellow and green and purple. Curved bones jutted from the torn flesh. Or maybe it was hard cartilage. She wasn’t sure. But she did know what they were the beginnings of and pushed the thought down.
Vivian scrambled on the floor until she found her black belt, then placed the leather strap between her teeth. Bit down. Then stood and braced her hands against the wall.
This was always the hardest part.
Eyes squeezed shut, she gave a muffled scream into the strap, as she willed the bones or whatever they were back into her body. They were a part of her after all, and she had learned to control this.
Pain lanced down her spine, and her toes curled, and she bit down hard, tasting the leather in her mouth. And then finally—a crack and release, and she straightened, spitting the leather to the floor.
She didn’t let herself rest and hobbled over to her mattress, carefully lifting it. She grabbed out a bottle of spirits and some long bandages she’d carefully snuck into her bag the night they spent in the infirmary.
Another spasm of pain rippled through her as she poured the liquid over her wounds. She carefully wrapped the bandage over her back and chest. After that, she wiped the blood from the floor with some extra bandages and tossed them in the bin. Then put her uniform back on piece by piece.
One more day of pretending to be human.
✨Thank you for reading this chapter! Mara and Fiona are special guest-star original characters from two of our first-month Patrons! Thank you to our lovely patron, and the creator of Fiona, Emily, for introducing us to the magical word starcraft ✨
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