Please be aware Wicked Academia is a new adult fantasy and contains mature themes. It is intended for audiences 18 years and over.
Eerie music drifted from under the ballroom doors. A calamity of low-pitched instruments, a cadence as beautiful as it was unnerving. It was All Hallow’s Eve, and the night of the grand ball had arrived.
Is it almost time? Timothée looked up and down the darkened hallway and shifted from foot to foot. His movements felt unnatural, arms and legs heavy, not used to the weight of his costume. It wasn’t that the armour didn’t fit. Each piece seemed moulded to his form, fitting him perfectly, despite the fact they had looked too big before he put them on.
It was just heavy. He wore a tight black shirt and pants underneath, but the rest of him was all metal and sharp edges. Panels of gravastarium glinted and swallowed any light that touched it. And then there was the cape. It wasn’t black, but the deepest purple, clasped on either shoulder with a pin shaped like a crescent moon and star. When he moved, the cape flowed behind him like a living shadow.
It reminded him of the cape the Dark Prophet had worn.
Buttery light spilled out of the ballroom door as Carmilla ducked into the hallway. She was dressed as Niya, the lightning hunter goddess, a disciple of Xydrious. She wore a close-cut electric blue dress, fashioned with a lightning bolt.
“It’s almost time,” she said.
“Aren’t we a little late?”
“It’s all part of the show.” She wet her thumb and slicked down a piece of his hair.
His much longer hair, thanks to a few talented Evening Stars. Tonight, he wasn’t just wearing his brother’s armour—he was becoming him. And what they couldn’t change with starcraft, they’d done with a different type of magic: makeup. His freckles had all but disappeared under a layer of powder, and dark kohl lined his eyes. He scrunched up his nose. It was sort of itchy.
“Remember, the moment you walk in you’re not Timothée anymore. You are the God of Shadows. Sif is going to dim the lights, Maeve will bring in a little spooky fog, and the rest is up to you.”
“All that attention.” Timothée felt sick just thinking about it.
“You said you wanted to be liked, that you wanted to fit in,” Carmilla said. “This is none of that. This will make them fear how much they want your love.”
“I’m a god that was banished, that was executed by his own mother for what he did. You’re talking about love?”
“Everyone craves darkness, Timothée.” Carmilla ran a hand along the armour. “All Hallow’s Eve is the only night they’ll admit it.”
Three taps sounded on the door.
“That’s the sign. Count to ten then enter.” Carmilla gave him a quick smile, then ducked into the ballroom.
He thought his heart might race out of his chest. How many seconds had it been? He was about to walk in front of the entire school dressed like…dressed like…
He couldn’t do it. Not like this. He couldn’t. Everyone would be looking at him. What would the professors think? And Val…
Ten seconds had to be up. The music from the orchestra stopped. He’d swallowed a star. At the very least, now he could walk into a room dressed up for All Hallow’s Eve.
With heavy gloved hands, he pushed apart the doors into the ballroom. The room was huge, and yet the only sound was his boots down the grand staircase. Starlings stopped in place, turning their gazes to him. This attention was different than he’d ever received before.
Tonight, you are the God of Shadows. That is what Carmilla had told him. His brother wouldn’t have been afraid of entering a room. He would have made every single person in it his. He’d take their love and their fear and their worship and become drunk on the power of it.
And tonight, Timothée would do the same.
Which seemed sort of silly, because in actuality, he only wanted all of that from one person.
Fog cut between his feet, making each step more purposeful. All the wide-eyed gazes, mouths open in awe, trembles of fear, filled him with a confidence he’d never felt before.
He stopped at the bottom of the stairs at the edge of the dancefloor. His long cape, which had flown behind him as he moved, now pooled at his feet. Timothée observed the ballroom.
He’d seen glimpses of the Celestial Academy’s ballroom before, but this was the first time he’d been inside. The room was decorated for All Hallow’s Eve; red, orange, and yellow leaves floated through the air. Woven pinecone and maple leaf boughs hung from the pillars, parts of them shining as if tiny stars were hidden inside. Gilded golden pumpkins were piled in the corners, carved with frightful expression. Everything was a mix of the terror and beauty of autumn. Pale ghosts drifted from the ceilings, while fake skulls and spiders were scattered amongst the tables of towering food.
And even the mask of Noctis couldn’t stop Timothée from wishing to try everything there, from the wild mushrooms and roasted squash with nuts to the towers of dripping chocolate and all the many types of pie.
The dance floor was the most magnificent of all. The ballroom was situated right at the edge of the Isle of Argos, this room built over a cliff itself. The dance floor, made of glass, looked down over Thraina. When the Starlings danced, they did so over the oceans and mountains and the stars of the world.
A whisper that almost sounded like a chant drifted from their lips.
God of Shadows.
The Greywick boy.
Timothée found his sisters’ faces in the crowd, a strange mix of pride and uncertainty. The professors ranged from amusement (Barracus) to outright fear (Setviren). And Lady Kassandra gave a strange, lingering look as she left the ballroom, knuckles white around her staff.
There was one person Timothée hadn’t seen, the one he had been searching for. Then he saw a glimpse of lilac, almost hidden by the shadow of a large pillar. Valentine’s gaze was not the awe or desire or even fear that played on the faces of the other students—it was that unreadable expression. Then a flash of sadness—no, disinterest—as Val turned away from him.
Timothée stepped forward, drawn to follow. But Carmilla grabbed his arm.
“So,” she said, her voice loud enough to carry. “Does the God of Shadows dance?”
“Yes,” he said. And it was true because they had been practicing. Every night after class, he and Carmilla had pushed his and Val’s beds to the side and danced across the tiny dorm room.
Carmilla had explained his illusion of fear and awe would shatter if he flailed on the dance floor like a fish gasping its final breath. So, they’d danced, while Val had made fun of his footwork and slouching, and just called him a disaster the whole time.
Timothée hadn’t told Val what his costume was going to be, and well, Val hadn’t asked. But now he was wondering if he should have. He supposed a small part of him had hoped Val would be, he didn’t know, impressed? But he’d looked about as disinterested in this as everything else Timothée did.
Everyone else was impressed though, Timothée thought. What’s his problem?
“Timothée,” Carmilla hissed under her breath, “lead me to the dance floor.”
He blinked and took Carmilla’s arm. As if on their que, the orchestra started a waltz, and the other couples made their way back to the dance floor.
Stars and sea whirled underneath them, and his stomach flipped. He forced himself to look up into Carmilla’s bright green gaze.
“So,” she said lowly as they started their steps, “how do you feel having everyone’s eyes on you?”
“Honestly?” Timothée said. “Queasy.”
“You’ll get used to it.”
They swung around the ballroom, and he felt himself fall into the practiced movements. He wasn’t a great dancer by any means, but this was enough. The song closed and as he dipped Carmilla low, she tilted her head back, short red hair skimming the glass floor.
He pulled her up and as she fell against him, whispered: “This room is enraptured with you, my little Dark Star.”
A crowd of awed faces watched him. He was sure he was blushing, not that anyone could tell under all the powder.
“You could ask them to kneel and they would,” Carmilla said. “So, what is it you want from them?”
He searched the crowd until he found him, back to the dance floor, standing at the drink station. It was done up like a mad alchemist’s experiment: twisting tubes and bubbling coloured potions, ready to inebriate and enchant. Was Val even wearing a costume? His lilac hair fell loose, and he wore a light low-cut shirt and tight dark pants and high shiny boots. And he wasn’t even looking at the dance floor. Maybe Val hadn’t even seen him come in…
Carmilla gave Timothée a knowing look. “Trust me when I tell you there are some things that are too dangerous, even for All Hallow’s Eve.”
Carmilla addressed the crowd with a flourish. “Now, who wants to dance with a god?”
As it turned out, a lot of people wanted the chance to dance with a god. And he was pretty sure it wasn’t the god Timothée Greywick, who glowed on moonless nights and only survived the Dark Prophet by sheer luck. It was the god he was pretending to be.
Timothée swirled around the dancefloor with everyone from first to fourth-years and even one of the cooks who said she needed to get her scare in for the night.
And not a single person called him by his name.
God of Shadows.
King of Vampires.
For someone who was banished, everyone certainly knew a lot about his notorious dead brother.
And now, so did Timothée. Every day after class, he’d gone back to the Dark Star tower, devouring the tales of Noctis: his conquests and struggles, his desire to create, and his ever-present friction with his mother. Their mother. Noctis may not have been good, but Timothée had grasped an essence of him between the lines of legends. A god with the magic to destroy, who tried to use it to create, whose creations had been hated and hunted.
Being hated…that Timothée could understand.
A waltz slowed to a stop and Timothée stepped away from his latest dance partner, a handsome second-year Morning Star student. He had deep black hair pushed back from his forehead with a pair of fawn ears.
“Hopefully I’ll see you later,” he whispered in Timothée’s ear. “This dance was fun, but I know how to make a heart beat in ways a waltz never could.”
Timothée’s stomach flipped over itself. That wasn’t the first offer like that he’d gotten tonight. He watched the Morning Star boy walk off. A crowd still hovered at the edge of the glass dancefloor, waiting. For him.
“I need—I need to get a drink,” Timothée mumbled, and tried to weave his way through the crowd.
He didn’t need to.
The crowd parted before him.
He couldn’t just blend in like he was used to. Something about this armour made him stand out. The boots added an inch of height to his already tall frame, and the wide shoulders and cape simply demanded space.
One thing this bold and beautiful costume didn’t change was his voice or the way he held himself. He could almost hear Carmilla telling him to walk straighter.
Is this what you wanted? he thought absently, directing his thoughts to the castle. For me to parade around and look ridiculous all night?
The castle didn’t answer back, but there was the slightest shift in the lights, like a blink, and Timothée felt a satisfied emotion roll through him. I guess that would be a yes.
Timothée searched the crowd until he saw his sisters over by the table of sweets.
Marion loaded up a towering plate of hard candies and pie and caramel apples before she led him to a quiet corner. Vivian placed a glass of cold clear liquid in his hands, and he drained it gratefully.
“What is that?” he asked. “It tasted so refreshing.”
“Water.” She smirked. “Looked like you could use it.”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “How long was I out there?”
“Almost an hour,” Marion said. “That armour is quite the fixation.”
There was something about her tone he couldn’t quite read. “You two must be getting so many compliments on your outfits.”
His sisters had dressed as legendary heroes from their favourite fairytale. Marion had a dress of stunning leaves, and delicate vines ran up and down her arms. With the help of starcraft, she’d even let an older student tint her hair deep red and her eyes a bright green.
“Whoa.” He grabbed Marion’s face. “I didn’t even notice your ears before.”
“Well, you can’t very well be an elven queen without pointed ears.” Marion ran a finger along the sharp ridge. “Don’t worry, all this will go away at sunrise.”
“Darius even got his ears pointed too.” Vivian smiled.
Timothée searched the crowd until he saw the Prince. It took a while to place him because his hair too had been enchanted with magic. It was now a rich earthy brown, tucked behind pointed ears. He wore a woodland tunic with a finely crafted woven belt. “Ahh, Zacarius the elf and Daisia, the Sapphire Ranger.”
Vivian smiled. “You need me to hunt something for you, little brother?” She touched the fake wooden bow on her back. Her costume consisted of a brown vest over a glittering blue tunic, and black pants. They were even stained with mud as if she’d just come out of the forest.
“A human and elf.” Timothée grinned. “Very star-crossed lovers of you two.”
Vivian’s smile wavered for a moment. That hit a little too close. He picked up a piece of pie.
“I saw Viv on the dance floor,” he said. “But where were you, Mare?”
Marion stabbed the cherry tart on her plate. “I was, uh, getting air.”
“With Khalid?” he teased. She’d tucked Khalid’s pirate hat onto the seat beside her.
“Never mind that.” She stared at him a little too intently. “You just…you just have a good time tonight, okay? Don’t let anyone ruin it for you. You deserve to have a good night, Tim.”
He stared at her, her crafted green eyes strange and unsettling. “Uh, yeah, okay.”
“Speaking of dancing,” Vivian said, “it looks like your crowd is getting impatient.”
Timothée shoved a huge bite of pie in his mouth. The flavour was delicious, full of nutmeg and cinnamon. “Ugh, yeah I guess.”
A part of him just wanted to fade into the background of the party like he normally would. Or take a huge plate of sweets back up to his room and place Yvaine on his lap and curl up with a good book. But Carmilla had a plan. They had a plan. After this, maybe people wouldn’t treat him like he was normal…but they would treat him differently.
Timothée cast one last look around the ballroom. Where are you? He hadn’t seen Val for the last hour. The drink table was crowded, but he’d clearly moved on, and he hadn’t danced with anyone all night. And he definitely wasn’t in the crowd waiting for Timothée to return.
“Lover boy went outside to get some fresh air.” Khalid swaggered up, resting an arm on Marion’s shoulder. He gestured to the huge double doors that led outside to the courtyard. “He was in such a state he rebutted even an offer of a dance from me! That boy knows how to break a heart.”
“Val…left?” Timothée put the plate of pie down. He wasn’t hungry anymore. Of course, Val would think himself above something like a ball. “Is he okay?”
“He’s fine! I checked on him. You know Val. Parties aren’t exactly his thing, especially when they’re not centred around him. Besides, you’ve got a whole bustle of people waiting to dance with you,” Khalid said. He was dressed as a pirate tonight: shiny boots, linen shirt, and all. “I can’t even get one thorny druid to take a poor scoundrel’s hand for a simple waltz. Wasn’t the Emerald Queen in love with a pirate?”
Marion laughed. “That was her daughter. And if you think you have even a semblance of Captain Saltir’s charm, then you’re kidding yourself!”
Khalid placed a hand to his heart. “Do the daggers of your words ever cease?”
Timothée bid goodbye to his sisters and made his way back over to the dancefloor like a prisoner condemned, where he was immediately surrounded by Starlings waiting to dance.
So, he danced.
He twirled back and forth amidst the low sounds of the orchestra. He wanted to enjoy this moment, when everyone’s eyes were on him, to truly feel like a god among mortals. But it was like his heart refused to beat. Maybe it was the fact that he knew all the attention had to do with his armour, or maybe it was something else.
As the night wore on, he decided he didn’t want to be Timothée Greywick anymore anyways. He didn’t want to think about what was bothering him. And he truly lost himself in the sounds, and the steps, and the revered looks. The long grazes of fingers down his arms, palms pressed against his hard chest, sensual whispers in his ears of the most intimate desires.
The darkness he’d brought on this haunted night was transforming the ballroom, transforming him. And no matter how many times he moved from end to end of the dance floor, there was always more people wanting him: to press against, to whisper at, to touch, to dance.
Between the songs, Starlings fed him tastes of cakes and pies, and begged him to lick the sugar off their fingers. They handed him drinks of bubbling sour apple, and wine so sweet it tasted like nectar. They ran their hands along his hair, and the ridges of his face, and told him he was too beautiful to be real, and he wanted to tell them his face had always looked like this, that he hadn’t changed at all.
He’d always been here.
But for some reason, he was starting to doubt even that.
Stars shifted overhead, showering them with new constellations through the glass ceiling. And he was taken up in a feisty foxtrot with an Evening Star girl, whose ballgown of roses blew pink petals into the air as he twirled her.
The ballroom doors burst open, blowing in cold air and fog and all the shadows of an eerie autumn night. And standing in the centre was the dark silhouette of Valentine Sun.
If the ballroom had been still when Timothée came in, it was now completely frozen. The only sound was Val’s footsteps and the drip, drip, drip, of blood.
Val’s lilac hair was windswept, and there was a rip in his shirt. His palm was extended out, a huge red slash across it that melted blood on the floor.
The crowd parted before him like fog. Students stepped back, forming a path the led straight to the middle of the ballroom. Straight to the dance floor.
And unfortunately, straight to Timothée.
He didn’t think he’d ever been so afraid in his entire life.
Val stopped in front of him and the Evening Star girl. His gaze roved over them as if he were critiquing a less than impressive piece of art. A casual stance, as if he hadn’t just brought the entire student body of the Celestial Academy to a standstill with his entrance.
“Move,” Val rasped.
The Evening Star girl scrunched up her nose. “Do you know how long I waited for this dance?”
From the corner of his vision, Timothée saw the Evening Star girl looking at him, but he couldn’t be sure, not with Val standing there.
The girl made a sound of indignation before huffing off, and then it was just him and Val and nothing else in the entire world.
“That’s better.” Val gave Timothée a look as mischievous as it was deadly.
“Val,” Timothée stammered. “Your hand—”
Val placed his bloody palm on Timothée’s neck. The other hand tangled in his long dark hair, and then with a wild glint, Val stood on his toes and kissed him.
Timothée could have choked on his surprise. Died from it. His heart raced out of his chest, blood humming in his ears. He tasted sour apples and pomegranate and starlight. Val tugged hard on his hair, and fingernails raked over his neck, and Timothée couldn’t breathe, and he never wanted to.
When Timothée had caught his star, when it had leapt down his throat, he had thought nothing would ever come close to that scorching heat, that sensation that had taken over his body and lit every nerve on fire.
Val’s kiss left it all behind.
He gasped for air and Val broke away, falling back down to the ground, a curved grin on his face. A bloody handprint streaked across the front of Noctis’s gravastarium armour.
And Val didn’t look satisfied. He looked ravenous.
Why? Why? Why? He stared at the flashing expressions over Val’s face. Not even one made sense.
Timothée opened his mouth, closed it.
Val just laughed, said: “It seems I skipped your line.” And he took Timothée’s hand in his.
“You want to dance?”
“We’re at a ball, aren’t we?” Val looked down. Sky and sea swirled beneath the glass floor.
“What,” Timothée stammered, “afraid of falling?”
Timothée put a hand on Val’s waist. He’d always been much taller than Val, but in this armour, the difference was staggering.
He glanced over at the orchestra, caught the stunned faces of the crowd. But mercifully, the music rose in cadence.
“Everyone’s looking at us,” Timothée said as they moved into step.
“Everyone’s been looking at you all night,” Val said, a bitter rasp to his words.
So, you did see me. Timothée wanted to touch his lips, wanted to ask Val a million questions, but it felt like they were dancing along the edge of a knife.
As they moved across the ballroom, he realized Val knew the steps far better than he did.
The song came to a close so fast—and Timothée’s heart shuttered with it. Would Val leave now? But Val just cast a withering look at the waiting crowd and did not remove his hand.
“Unless you’d prefer to dance with one of them.” His smile was positivity wicked.
Timothée managed to shake his head. “You are…”
“I am.” Val smirked.
The music picked up. He swept Val close, pressing their bodies together.
They fell back into the rhythm of another dance, and Timothée finally found his head clear enough to properly look at Val. Ripped shirt, blood around his choker, twigs stuck to his hair and clothes, and black smudges ran down his cheeks and rimmed his red eyes. Was he crying?
“What happened?” Timothée gestured to Val’s hand, the one still bleeding all over his armoured glove.
So, he was going to be like that. Timothée wanted to press more but decided to change his tactic. “Are you just dancing with me because you’re bored of sleeping with Melissa?”
Val blinked. “Who?”
Confusion crossed his features.
“You kissed her outside the Secret Society of Star-Bound Exiles, in the rain across the bridge!?”
“Oh.” Val laughed. “Her. She got annoyed right after you went inside.”
Val just shrugged.
Dancers now circled them on the floor, and conversation bubbled in the air, but there was a melody to the words, whispers as loud as any song.
Two names repeated over and over and over.
“They’re whispering names,” Timothée said. “Noctis and…the Prophet of Stars. Why?”
Val tilted his head back and laughed and laughed and laughed.
“Don’t you remember that book you read?” Val narrowed his eyes. “Let me remind you.”
Then he looped his arms around Timothée’s shoulders, pushed himself up and placed his lips to Timothee’s neck, right over the bloody handprint. Val’s mouth opened, long wet drags across Timothée’s throat.
The sensation was igniting, and he grasped Val’s shirt in his armoured hand. Val fell back, and Timothée realized his dance partner had been entirely off the ground. The song picked up. He dipped Val back, they were nose to nose, and blood was splashed across Val’s mouth.
“Now, do you remember?” Val said with a red-lipped grin.
The image from the book flashed back: the God of Shadows, and the Prophet of Stars drinking his blood.
Again, Timothée’s father’s words roared in his ears: The present is only ever an echo of the past.
And even though the blood was Val’s own, the look of Valentine in Timothée’s arms, desperate, wild, tattered, lips blood splattered…the sight of it did something to him.
Timothée had never felt want like this before.
He pulled Val up, somehow falling back into the dance. That he even managed to find the steps was beyond him.
“Why are they calling us that?” Timothée said.
“It’s obvious, isn’t it? Your costume. And,” a slow smile spread up Val’s lips, “the legends do say the prince was the most beautiful person in all of Thraina.”
“I think maybe it’s the purple hair.” Timothée laughed. But inside, he thought: I couldn’t imagine anyone, even a prince, being more beautiful than you. “So now you’ve finally got a costume: the prince stolen for vengeance.”
They twirled, stars spinning above and below.
“Or a prince stolen for love.” Val looked up at him.
And Timothée realized something terrible as he looked down at Val’s beautiful face, his eyes full of stars, his wild hair blowing with their movement.
“The tale of the prince with too many dreams,” Val continued, “who prayed to the stars. But the star turned out to be a man.”
Timothée didn’t remember anything about love in the text Jude read. But he was sure there were lots of legends. “The first child of the gods.”
Val ran his hands over the moon and star emblem on his armoured shoulder. “What if it wasn’t vengeance? Not at first. What if Noctis couldn’t bear the thought of the mortal prince dying? So, he changed him. He couldn’t make him a god, of course, but he…he made him something different.”
“But if that’s true, why didn’t he just stop at giving him the star? Why did he change him into a monster?”
Val’s red lips quivered, and Timothée couldn’t explain how, but he felt he was losing Val.
“So?” Val echoed.
“So, how does it end?”
Val tousled Timothée’s hair. “Who do you think I am, Setviren? Go ask him.”
The song ended.
They didn’t break away.
Val said: “How do you think it ends?”
Timothée dropped his hand from Val. And looked down at his armour, the cape of shadows now pooled at his feet. “Well, even if Noctis made it so the prince didn’t die…Noctis himself died. So, it’s tragic either way.”
“It is,” Val said softly.
Timothée looked to the crowd around the glass floor. Was this where the dance ended?
A few people began heading toward him. In a heartbeat, he made a decision, grabbing Val around the waist and pulling him back against him.
“Again?” Val painted another red line down the armour with the palm of his hand.
“Tonight, I’m the Gods of Shadows,” Timothée said. “It would only make sense I dance with the Prophet of Stars.”
Val fell easily into step. “No one here knows their history.”
“What do you mean?”
“Noctis would never dance with the Prophet of Stars.”
“Why not?” Timothée asked.
“The Prophet was his general. It wouldn’t make sense to dance with your general, would it?”
“Weren’t they lovers?” Timothée flushed the moment he realized what he’d said.