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18 – In Which Timothée Happens Upon a Family Heirloom


AUTHORS NOTE:


This is our second week with two chapters- however, we've noticed when we send out two chapters, they sometimes stack in the e-mails.


So to make sure you haven't missed a chapter, check out the table of contents!


We noticed last week, Chapter 16 had way more reads than Chapter 15. So make sure you haven't accidentally skipped one!



“And another important thing,” Carmilla explained as they walked to class, “is to pay close attention. Professor Rosewyn is a bit of a mumbler, and if you mistake root powder for a rose petal, you’re going to be in serious trouble.”

“I’ll try to remember that,” Timothée said.

They cut their way across the school grounds. The rainy days of Singing Harvest Moon had swiftly ushered in the misty mornings of the Hunter’s Blood Moon. Dreary and cold, where greyness settled over everything. The stars hid behind a curtain of thick clouds.

Timothée had dutifully attended all of his classes. Each one was focused on one thing: potions. The history, the ingredients, the practical uses…everything except actually making them. The only class that wasn’t entirely about potion-making was the History of Thraina…or what Carmilla called ‘The Celestial Church’s Account of History’.

But today was his first day of Alchemy. This was the purpose of his house. If he couldn’t do magic, making potions and elixirs was the next best thing.

He and Carmilla walked into the classroom. The alchemy room had long wooden tables cluttered with glass vials, mortars and pestles, gas burners, and small trays of ingredients: herbs, flowers, clay pots, and things Timothée couldn’t name.

“My station is over there.” Carmilla squeezed his shoulder.

Timothée found an empty table at the back of the classroom. The equipment looked well-used, but that was typical of everything in the Dark Star house. His classmates were masters of reusing, recycling, and making everything better.

Yvaine hopped on the bench, and he stroked her black ears. She started to purr. No one else sat beside him.

That was okay. He didn’t need a partner. Sure, he was starting a month later than the other students, but he was a quick learner. He had snuck a look at Val’s books when his roommate was in the bathroom. Val spent an exorbitant amount of time in the bathroom applying all manner of powders and liners to his already beautiful face. It provided Timothée with lots of space to flip through his texts. They all seemed full of jargon he didn’t understand…yet.

It was a wonder he had been able to find anything in their room. After Professor Barracus had taken him to get his uniform (he’d found a purple vest that fit, and long checkered dark purple pants), he’d attended his first class of the day. Oddly, both Valentine and Carmilla were absent. He’d worried she’d been so mad about the destroyed room, she’d killed Val. But when he returned, he didn’t find his roommate’s dead body. He’d found a clean and organized dorm.

Two beds, two dressers, two study desks, and a fire burning purple crystals. There were still stains of darkness rippling up the walls, but Timothée was pretty sure nothing could get rid of those. Val had returned a little while later, looked him up and down, and sneered: “Does this room now satisfy the child of the gods?”

And without Valentine Sun, the room would have been perfect.

Presently, Timothée looked around the alchemy classroom. Val wasn’t here yet. Timothée snuck a glance at the professor at the head of the class. She was younger, with pale pink hair and a button nose. Green and pink flowers crawled up her white dress.

“Careful,” a smooth voice curled over Timothée, and he looked up to see Val leaning on his desk. Val wore a twisted scarf around his neck and a slim black shirt that clung to his narrow waist, tied with a corded purple belt…

“Or don’t.” Val gave him a strange look and straightened. And Timothée realized he had missed a whole string of Valentine’s words.

Timothée ran his hands through his hair. It didn’t matter. Val was probably just insulting him like usual. The two of them had formed a strange alliance over the last week—and by alliance, Timothée didn’t talk to or acknowledge Val, and Val didn’t lock him in any sewers.

“Whatever,” Timothee snarled. Val was already out of earshot, having settled into a spot beside Carmilla.

Val spent all his time with Carmilla. They ate together, they went to class together, they sat together, and the nights Val wasn’t in the dorm room, he was probably with Carmilla. Timothée’s sisters had told him how they used to be a couple—and for not being a couple anymore, they certainly spent a lot of time together.

But Timothée couldn’t hate Carmilla the way he hated Val. Every moment she wasn’t with Valentine, she was with Timothée. Taking him to and from his classes, pointing out what to avoid in the dining hall, and checking on him every morning before bed. She certainly offered more support than the official leader of the Dark Star house, Erik Borstigsson.

Life was…okay. He wasn’t great. But he was okay. If he couldn’t do magic then he could do the next best thing. He could create magic encased in glass.

And I’m not even here for magic, he reminded himself. I’m here for Vivian. To find a cure. Maybe that cure wasn’t in starcraft, but in alchemy.

The professor clapped her hands three times, drawing the class’s attention.

“Welcome to Beginner’s Alchemy.” Her voice had a hint of musicality to it. “My name is Professor Rosewyn. It is my understanding we have a new student.”

Here it went again. He was with the same students every class; they had all heard his lame introduction so many times. But the class shuffled and turned to Timothée regardless, and when he looked up, he was staring straight at Val’s smirking face, with a look that said he knew just how uncomfortable Timothée was.

Timothée slowly stood. “Hi,” he mumbled. “I’m Timothée Greywick. Uh, I’m excited to learn how to make potions.”

Professor Rosewyn’s smile got very long. “With alchemy, we do not just make potions. We find the very essence of matter and adjust it to our desires.”

Timothée wondered if he was going to be allowed to sit down soon.

“An alchemist’s passion is to always strive for more. By understanding what others have made, we can broaden our ideas and produce something new. The goal of the Alchemist Guild is to create seemingly impossible elixirs. Do not think it is too high a feat, even for first years. As a reminder, our own Mr. Sun created a brand new potion in his first month. It is already in review by the Guild’s council, and if I may be so bold, the talk of the alchemy world!”

Now the attention shifted to Val, who just blinked his long lashes, as if he, of course, hadn’t predicted the conversation shifting this way. Timothée glanced at Yvaine and rolled his eyes. He just wanted to sit down.

“Mr. Sun combined the brewing method of the Everlasting Memory Potion with ingredients like scorpion grass, amnesia root, and forget-me-nots for a truly incredible result.”

There was another impressive murmur through the whole class. Timothée tugged uncomfortably at the band around his neck and fell back into his seat. He should feel pleased that the conversation had been directed away from him, but he couldn’t muster the energy.

“So, you see, Mr. Greywick,” Professor Rosewyn continued, “even though you have a Dark Star inside you, even though you are the legacy of the God of Shadows, that does not mean you cannot still achieve great and good things for the Academy.”

There was that name again. God of Shadows. Noctis. The Dark Prophet had called Timothée that. And the portrait—the portrait that looked like him. His brother, Noctis.

“We know,” Rosewyn said, “that not all the gods’ gifts are good. We must make our own decisions for the betterment of Thraina. That is why you cage the cruel magic inside you.”

Almost involuntarily, all the students in the room touched their chokers, fingers brushing against the black bands. Timothée wondered if Professor Rosewyn had swallowed a star. If he squinted, he could almost see the faintest yellow glow around her. Morning Star.

No Dark Star professors. That’s what Professor Barracus had told him.

“When the last child of the gods reigned, darkness swept across the land. Black magic, vicious monsters: it was all brought forth by Dark Stars.” The class was eerily quiet, hanging onto the professor’s words. “Noctis has been dead a long time, and yet Thraina still bleeds from his past. When the next children of the gods were born, it was said they would heal the world and guide us home. We all thought the three lost, but you have been returned. Lady Kassandra believes you and your sisters will do great things, Mr. Greywick. And so do I.”

***

It turned out that being the son of the gods did not, in fact, make Timothée Greywick good at potions.

He rubbed away the red clay that covered his face, then hesitated. At least it was covering the flush of his cheeks as the class filed out around him.

He didn’t miss the snickers as other Starlings passed by, looking over at the red explosion on his desk. The assignment had apparently been an easy one. A simple growing potion for the school garden. However, Timothée had missed one step—or twenty—and his potion had bubbled and spilled and hardened all over his desk and the floor.

Two Starlings he’d only met briefly before stopped at his desk.

“Hey!” Fenix Dashwood said, a broad smile on his face. “Maybe Valentine can get you some of his Forget-Me-Lots potion and you try that again tomorrow?”

“Have a better start.” Nathaniel slithered up beside him.

“Really, there’s no shame in trying Val’s stuff.” Fenix leaned in close to Timothée. “Sylvester hit on Carmilla and got so rocked by her rejection, he drank the potion and now has no idea. Poor bastard still talks about trying with her someday.”

“You also took some of that potion, Fen. It would be unfortunate if you remembered what you wanted so badly to forget,” a cool voice said as Carmilla slid up beside them. “I could remind you¬—”

Fenix’s eyes went wide, and he stuttered, “L-lady Carmilla!” before he and Nathaniel exchanged worried glances and slunk away.

“Valentine’s potion has already become quite a bartering chip among our house.” She scrubbed the clay off Timothée’s nose. “If you take the potion, you can forget your last memory. But if someone reminds you of it, it will all come rushing back.”

Timothée shrugged out of her reach. He searched the crowd for Fenix. “What did he choose to forget?”

“Oh, he never took the potion—but he’s going to drive himself mad now thinking about it.”

Timothée laughed, following her out of the classroom and into the murky night air.

Alchemy was their last class of the night. He’d head back to the Cauldron to drop off his bag before finding his way to the dining hall for dinner. He wanted to read more of his potions book, determined not to make a fool of himself in another class. Most of all, he was tired of Val showing him up in every subject.

“I just wish I could be good at something,” Timothée mumbled.

“Oh, you are good something,” a low voice said as Valentine walked in step beside them.

Timothée's heart seemed to stop and pound at the same time.

He sighed and turned to his roommate. “What’s that?”

“Snoring.” Valentine smirked. “I barely get any sleep.”

Timothée furrowed his brow. “I don’t snore!”

Carmilla laughed as she watched them. “At least you’re getting any sleep at all, Val.”

“You’re a disaster, Greywick.” Valentine started to undo the buttons of Timothée’s vest.

“What are you—” Timothée started, then realized his buttons had been done up wrong.

“Disaster in life, disaster in potions,” Valentine murmured, long fingers sliding the last button into place.

“You may be top of the class now, Val,” Timothée said, “but just wait. I’ll get better. I’ll create and change things, and I won’t even need magic to do it.”

“Oh, Greywick.” Val smiled. “Who said we don’t use our magic?”

“What?”

“Follow me, little star.” Carmilla looped her arm through Timothée’s. “You’re not done learning.”

***

The Starlings returned to the Cauldron and Yvaine padded up to the dorm room. But Timothée stayed, watched as Carmilla pulled aside the large pantry, followed her and Val through a cobwebbed passage that went on and on and on.

The secret passage ended outside, and before him lay a rope bridge swinging in the wind. Night still blanketed the school, and he looked down upon the sprawling turrets and glass ceilings of the Academy below. The bridge itself led to a purple tower with a ramshackle roof. The whole thing had an odd lean to it.

“I’m not crossing!” Timothée yelled over the wind.

“Gather your courage, Greywick. I’m going to get things prepared.” Carmilla walked easily across the bridge, so carefully balanced she barely made it sway. Once across, she entered a door into the tower.

But Timothée stayed rooted to the spot.

“Are you scared?” Valentine taunted before dancing onto the bridge.

Timothée stumbled forward, not wanting to be left alone. He grabbed Val’s sleeve. “Wait!”

“Need me to hold your hand, Greywick?” Val said mockingly. But then he laced Timothée’s fingers with his own, and walked backward over the bridge, pulling Timothée with him.

Timothée let out an audible gasp as his feet stepped over the wooden planks, swollen with rot, and placed half a foot apart. Valentine’s grip was tight. The swaying made his stomach tumble over itself.

But then Val stopped, right in the middle of the bridge.

“What?” Valentine smirked up at him, lilac hair swooping across his face. “Afraid you’re going to fall?”

And Timothée was.

“But what a view,” Val said more to himself.

Timothée followed his gaze, barely able to register anything besides the touch of Valentine’s hands over his. On one side of the bridge was the intricate architecture of the Academy, and the fields and forests across the Isle of Argos. The other side showed the end of the Isle, a sharp drop off of rock and water leading to a sea of stars.

“You must think I’m terrified and bad at everything,” Timothée said.

Valentine raised a delicate brow. “I’m sure you’re only terrified and bad at most things.”

Timothée laughed. “Once, I even got told I was a bad kisser.”

“Oh?” Valentine said slowly.

Timothée flushed the moment he realized what he’d said. “I mean, I—”

“What?” Val placed his palm flat on Timothée’s stomach. “Are you wanting me to evaluate you in that too?”

“I—I shouldn’t have—” He was wavering now, and not just from the wind and the bridge. Val was looking up at him, his full lips parted, smile dangerously curved. He looked serious. Like this wasn’t all just part of a joke.

This has to be a joke. What sane person went from saying you took everything from them to acting like they might kiss you? But the wild glint in Val’s eyes reminded Timothée that the boy in front of him was very much not sane.

“You’re crazy,” Timothée breathed.

“You’re the one that’s crazy, Greywick. This is a dangerous place to try.” Val’s voice lowered. “The pleasure of it might make you pass out, and I don’t know if you’re enough of a god yet to survive a fall this high.”

“I wouldn’t pass out.”

“Are you so sure?” Val’s hand slipped under his vest, beneath his shirt, and his cold fingertips brushed Timothée’s bare skin.

“Of course,” Timothée said. “I’d be the worst kiss you’ve ever had.”

“That’s quite the statement, Greywick.” Valentine stood up on his toes, his chin angled up. “I’ve got to admit you’ve piqued my interest.”

And before Timothée knew what he was doing, he grabbed Val’s collar, pulled him closer—

“Are you coming?” Carmilla yelled, the door to the tower flying open. “Come on! We’re already late.”

Timothée stumbled back, felt open air, but Val grabbed his shirt, straightened him. “Remember Greywick,” he smirked, “don’t fall.”

Then he laughed the whole way over the bridge, without even taking Timothée’s hand.

Another one of his cruel jokes. I knew it. But he had fallen for it anyways. With shaking legs, Timothée crossed the rest of the way across the bridge and followed Valentine into the slanted tower.

“About time,” Carmilla said. “Welcome to the Secret Society of Star-Bound Exiles.”

The torches on the wall flickered, as if also bidding him welcome.

The small room was crowded. Timothée recognized first to fourth-year Dark Star students. Something crackled around them. His body hummed with it, and he grabbed his choker which suddenly felt too tight. None of the other students were wearing theirs. Shadows swam around their fingers.

“You’re practicing shadowcraft,” he whispered.

“We’re summoning that which our stars gifted us,” Carmilla said.

“Destruction?”

“It’s more than that, Greywick.” Val was in front of him, choker dangling between his long fingers. “Noctis was called the God of Shadows, but his magic came from the space between the stars. We don’t just summon darkness; we summon the very fabric that binds the universe together.”

A shivering dark shadow spiralled from Val’s palm. Timothée was captivated by it as he seemed to be by all things Valentine did. It wasn’t just a black shadow, but edged with flecks of purple and deep blue, flashes of white where it seemed to capture the flicker of light in the room and swallow it up.

Then as quickly as it came, the shadow poofed out. Val gave a self-deprecating laugh. “Still working on holding it.”

Someone came up and placed a tight hand on Valentine’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, that’s why we’re here to practice.”

Erik Borstigsson. This was the first time he had seen Val and Erik side by side. They were about the same height, but Erik held himself differently, a wide-legged stance and arms on hips, as if he needed to take up more space.

Around them, the other Starlings paused, shifted gazes to watch the interaction.

Val shrugged out of Erik’s grip. “Well, we can always look to our faithful leader for guidance.”

Erik opened his palm, summoned a swirling black ball. “Maybe you’ll achieve my talent in a few years, Valentine.”

Val gave a mocking laugh. “And maybe you’ll get to Greywick’s in ten, but I doubt it.”

Erik squeezed his fist shut, darkness dissipating, and red spotted his face. “What do you think, Greywick? Ready to show us if all that power was just a fluke?”

“I can take your choker off for you!” a bubbly voice said. A blue-haired girl popped up in front of Timothée.

“Huh?” Timothée stumbled back.

“I’m Rayna,” she said by way of explanation. Her skin was light brown and she was shorter than even Valentine. She wore a yellow dress with the emblem of a phoenix. What’s a Morning Star doing here? “Sif and I can assist you in taking off your choker.”

Rayna nodded to a girl with short black hair in the corner wearing a blue uniform, nose deep in a textbook.

“As much as the school might like to pit everyone against us, most of the students don’t see it that way,” Sif said, looking up. “I mean, at least a lot of us don’t. My older brother was a Dark Star. He’s graduated now, working in the army as an alchemist.”

“These chokers are created by Morning and Evening Stars.” Rayna bobbed up and down. “So if you say pretty pretty please, we can alter them so you can take them off whenever. And we’re so good at our jobs, the professors never know!”

“Take mine off?” Timothée said, even though he was now the only one in the room with his on. “We could get expelled. Or worse!”

“Is there anything worse than living without your freedom?” Carmilla’s voice was harsh.

Timothée wrung his hands together. “But what if…what if someone loses control?”

Carmilla bit her lip, hesitating. “What happened when you swallowed your star, Timothée…nothing like that has happened before.”

Of course it hadn’t. Because he was a freak. He would always be a freak. Always be different.

Rayna bounced up to him, blinked her big eyes. “So, what do you say, Star Child? Ready for us to take it off?”

Humming sounded between his ears, heartbeat becoming erratic with an unnatural cadence. A voice inside his mind cried: Yes, yes, yes. His magic screamed to be released.

“No.” He gripped his hand around his neck. Professor Barracus told him that if wanted to atone for what he’d done, he had to keep his choker on. “I’m not going to use my magic.”

There was a worried look on the other Dark Stars’ faces. He quickly added, “I won’t say anything about this though.” He wasn’t sure if what they were doing was right or wrong, but they certainly weren’t as dangerous without their chokers as he was.

Timothée wondered if Professor Barracus knew what was going on here. “Can’t the professors see all of us here with our quarra crystals?” He touched his own stone which Marion had fastened into a bracelet for him.

“It just registers as if we’re in the Cauldron. They don’t take note of us unless they have to. It’s alright, Timothée.” Carmilla placed a calming hand on his shoulder. “Why don’t you just watch for a bit? There are some books over there. We’ve tried to collect all the resources we could on Noctis’s shadowcraft. Though most of those have been destroyed or are kept very hidden by the Celestial Church. The copies we’ve gathered are missing pages or falling apart, but you might find something of interest there.”

Timothée’s heart leapt. He may not want to use his craft, but he could read about it. And Noctis had an army of vampires. Perhaps there were books about them here, a clue to help Vivian.

Timothée picked his way across the room. There were several tables, but also worn couches and chairs. The room was lit by flame torches, and a fire at the far end. It had the smell of musk and smoke. Bookcases lined the walls, and when he got up close, he realized Carmilla had been right: most of the books were more dust than paper.

“Looking for something in particular?”

Timothée turned to see a Dark Star student behind him. The first thing he noticed about her was the shock of bright yellow hair. It reminded him of the sunflowers sold at Seagrass’s market. Two buns stacked on either side of her head, and the rest of her hair was loose, beside duel braids that fell on either side of her face.

“I need to take a break from practicing,” the girl continued. “I read most of these books during my first year, though Carmilla was able to sneak some new ones out of her collection from Novagrad. I’m not sure I should have said that, but you guys are friends, hey?”

“Uh, I guess,” Timothée mumbled, taken aback by the girl’s forward nature.

“Oh, and I’m Jude.” She tilted her head, bat earrings dangling back and forth. “So, what are you looking for?”

He didn’t want to sound suspicious, but he probably wasn’t the only one with morbid curiosity. “Um, I’m kind of interested in vampires.”

“Oh, vampires!” Jude said loudly. “’Cause you got attacked by them in the square, right? I saw the whole thing! I thought I was a goner until you lit up like the bloody sun come to Thraina!”

“Yeah,” Timothée said.

“Well, if you’re curious about vampires, then you have to start at the beginning.” Jude stood on her tiptoes, fingers straining. “Hey, grab that dark brown book at the top and follow me.”

Timothée easily pulled the book down. The cover was scarce except for a few connected stars. A familiar constellation, but he could not name it. The letters were foreign to him.

“I can’t read this,” he said as he made his way over to Jude. She’d found a tucked-away window seat laid with comfortable cushions. Rain pattered on the shackled roof, slid down the window. A thin line of moss grew on the inside of the sill.

Jude patted the seat next to her. “That’s because it’s in Kirrintsovan. I’ll translate. That’s where I’m from.”

Timothée should have guessed from her accent. He sat down beside her and looked back over the classroom. Thankfully, most of the Starlings were now concentrating on using their magic.

Their shadowcraft.

Many of the fourth-year students mentored the younger ones. Well, expect Erik who had his own little group encircling him as he sliced various pieces of fruit with his shadows. But Timothée’s gaze fell as it always did: on Valentine. He was standing at a table, letting shadows flicker through his fingers like a deck of cards. A girl with the ends of her hair dyed bright red leaned on the counter beside Valentine, staring up at him with a wide grin.

“That’s Melissa Cormick,” Jude said. “She’s had a thing for Val since the beginning of the year. But looks like all her perseverance has paid off. To be honest, I never thought he’d actually go for her. Or anybody for that matter.”

Timothée liked that Jude was so blunt, that she talked to him without any of the flowery flattery some of the other students used. Her honesty was refreshing.

He bit his lip, watched how Val placed his hands under Melissa’s, how she pushed her wide hips back into his, and he whispered something in her ear. He watched as the shadows flick on and off of Val’s hands as if he couldn’t keep them long.

But Timothée remembered when they had been in the staircase, how Val had used his magic to hide them from Lady Kassandra. That had been no small feat. And the lashes of magic in their room… Why are you pretending to be bad at it? To get Melissa’s help up close? For some reason, Timothée thought it must be something more than that. Valentine had pretended with Erik as well.

Timothée let out an annoyed breath then looked back down at the book. “So, what’s this book called?”

“The Tale of the First Vampire: The Prince that Betrayed his Kingdom for a God.”

Something shook Timothée and his father’s words roared in his mind: The present is only ever an echo of the past. If Darius found out what Vivian was a vampire, would he choose her or his kingdom?

Jude flipped the text open and he inhaled the old book smell. The pages were so crisp with age they crackled.

“It began when a curious god left the stars and came to Thraina,” Jude said. “Noctis, the son of Rhaemyria and Xydrious.”

“Noctis,” Timothée repeated the name, and the sound trembled in his mouth as it always did. But he turned his attention back to Jude, captivated.

“It was there he met a prince, said to be the most beautiful person in all the world. And in the dead of night, Noctis stole the prince away.”

Jude turned the page and Timothée saw the abstract picture of a man made of shadows, and a beautiful prince with long blonde hair and piercing blue eyes.

“He was a Störmberg?” Timothée guessed.

“Yes, the youngest son of King Jørgen Störmberg the Conquer.”

Timothée almost laughed. No wonder he had never heard this story. The royal family would have hidden this blasphemous history as deep as they could.

Jude turned the page. “Then Noctis—and I’m paraphrasing a bit here, because this book is a slog—Noctis was mad at his mother. He’s pretty much mad at his mom in every piece of lore about him. Rhaemyria would not let him create, for she had already created the most perfect world.

“So, Noctis stole her most beautiful human and made him his own. He forced the prince to swallow a star of darkness, and it gave him the same magic we have now. And it turned his eyes and hair purple.”

Timothée looked over at Val, but then his gaze swept the rest of the room. A few of the students had that glint of purple in their hair and eyes, undertones catching the light.

“A legacy the magic of Noctis still grants some of us to this day.” Jude smirked. “But Noctis did not stop at just at giving the prince shadowcraft. He wanted to show his mother he could create a more powerful, more deadly, immortal version of fragile humans. Noctis gave the prince teeth that pierced flesh and let him drink his own god's blood.” Jude’s voice rose in cadence. “The blood of a god made the prince powerful, strong, and kept his youth, but it came with a cost. Noctis was the god of darkness, and his creations could not stand the morning's light. They could not survive on the bounty of the earth alone but needed to feast on the blood of humans. Though many say Noctis intended this, to have his creations best his mother’s.”

She flipped the page, and a picture spread across the whole book: Noctis, his brother, with his grey eyes. Blood dripped down his body, while the beautiful prince with red-stained lips fed upon him.

“Three Above,” Jude said, looking up at Timothée. “That could be a drawing of you. I mean, a more muscular version of you. But still, the resembles is uncanny. Let Erik call you a false god now.”

Timothée’s breath snagged. All of the Dark Stars were looking at him. They must have been as captivated with Jude’s story as he had been. He tried to look away but Val’s gaze caught his. He still had Melissa wrapped around him, but his lips were parted, the most unusual expression Timothée couldn’t name. Didn’t want to name.

Then he blinked and Val’s face was blank again. “Got something on your neck, Greywick?” Val said, laugher edged with raspy shadows.

Timothée realized he was touching his neck, the same place Noctis had been bitten in the picture. He dropped his hand, looked away from Val, and the snickering sounded around the classroom.

“Um,” Jude said, flipping the page, clearly uncomfortable with all the attention. “So thus, the prince was the first vampire, who became the Prophet of Stars, who stood beside the Shadow God and foretold the future of the path they would walk together: creating an army of vampires, and those who wielded the magic of the Dark Stars.”

The last page of the book had a portrait of Noctis and the prince dressed in armour.

“The Dark Prophet,” Timothée whispered.

“No,” Jude corrected. “The Prophet of Stars. Their armour is different if you look closely. See, the Prophet of Star’s armour is made up of many different types of metal, some stellarite and a bit of gravastarium. But I saw the Dark Prophet in the square. His whole suit was made of gravastarium.”

And with that, the room erupted in a flurry of words: those who had been at the square, and even those who claimed to have seen the Dark Prophet in Wolfhelm three years ago. Timothée didn’t want to think about his experience with the Dark Prophet, the way he’d moved and killed like a shadow given form. The way he’d almost killed his sister.

“So, what do you all think?” Erik’s voice rose above the clamour. “Is it the same prophet of years past, or a new hero rising?”

“I’d hardly call him a hero,” Rayna chimed in.

“Because you’ve never needed to fight not to be called a monster,” Erik said. “You don’t have a choker around your neck.”

“No.” Rayna’s gaze hardened. “Just prison bars around my country.”

Timothée blinked at her. He recognized her now, always sitting with Khalid in the dining hall. Maybe she was Medihsan, too. Prison bars…

“Be careful who you call hero, Erik.” Carmilla walked up to the Dark Star house leader. “The Dark Prophet tried to kill your cousin.”

“Darius is resilient.” That unsettling smile spread across Erik’s face. “Like a cockroach, a thing not too easily stamped out.”

An uncomfortable silence spread across the room until Fenix chirped: “So is the Dark Prophet just an impersonator of the Prophet of Stars? Or is he truly the ancient one returned? And who is he under that mask? What does he look like?”

“Maybe he wears it because he’s hideously marred,” Sif said dryly from the corner.

“I don’t know,” Carmilla said with a sultry rasp. “I like to imagine something else.”