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22 – In Which Vivian Rewrites the Will of the Stars




22 – In Which Vivian Rewrites the Will of the Stars


Black smoke cut across the yellow sky, still rising from the charred bodies of those her sister had killed.

Marion had used her magic during the day when the stars were sleeping. She had saved them—by killing dozens of people.

Timothée too had killed after he lost control of his star when he caught it.

And shall I be next? Though it wasn’t her starcraft she was worried about.

Vivian shook her head and tried to disappear into the chatter around her. She’d been taken to a room beside the infirmary, a place for Starlings that had been treated, or who had injuries that were mild enough to wait to see one of the clerics.

Chairs had been set up around the perimeter of the stone room, and in the middle was a table filled with hot drinks and cakes.

She had thankfully been able to avoid close inspection by the healers by adamantly claiming she was fine, that there were students that needed their help more.

And that was true. Even this room was packed. The mercenaries may have been under strict orders not to kill, but it didn’t mean students hadn’t been hurt in the mayhem.

Well, that wasn’t exactly true. The mercenaries had been told to kill one person.

Tens of flying ships, hundreds of mercenaries, all sent to kill her brother and capture her and Marion.

Vivian was no expert on war and soldiers, but even she knew the expense that mission must have cost. And for them to get that close to the Academy, to get inside without the Archpriestess being aware…

Who was this Exalted One?

The vampire brothers…the Dark Prophet had called them the Phantom Two.

I can help you.

Vivian rubbed her neck. The one they named Allistar, there had been something familiar about him. But she was certain she had never met him before.

What would have happened if she had gone with him? Could he truly haved helped?

“Hey, is this seat taken?”

Vivian looked up to see Wren Ramsey standing in front of her. Wren was an Evening Star girl she knew from her classes and nights spent around the Den’s fire, sharing stories. Wren had a bandaged arm and a ripped sweater around her curvy waist.

“Please sit down,” Vivian said. “Are you alright?”

Wren held up her bandaged wrist. “I actually did this to myself. I think I’m the clumsiest person in all the Academy. I tripped on the stairs when Tal was leading us back to the Den.”

Vivian gave her a soft smile. “Well, I’m glad you weren’t attacked.”

Wren shook her head, long brown hair falling across her face. “Just by my own two feet. Don’t worry, the clerics said it was just a sprain, and they helped the healing along.”

Vivian looked to the clerics wandering around the room: Evening and Morning Stars who specialized in healing. They wore white robes with blue or yellow embroidery.

“How about you?” Wren’s hazel eyes looked over her with concern.

“Oh, I’m fine,” Vivian said. “Just waiting for Marion and Timothée.”

“I heard they were taken to a different ward.” Vivian looked up to see another Evening Star standing above her. Lando Nicoli held a tray full of cookies and hot chocolate. He shrugged when he saw Vivian and Wren's eyes on the tray. “The kitchen staff just brought these in fresh.”

Vivian took a steaming cup and sipped the hot chocolate. She couldn’t taste it, but still relished the warm sensation.

Lando sat down beside Wren. He was a slight boy, with light straight hair and oversized glasses. But there was kindness there. He often played the piano in the Den, bringing to life some of the ballads of the gods.

“Is it true?” Wren said, her voice low. “Did Marion use starcraft during the day? I heard she scared away all the mercenaries.”

Vivian was pretty sure most of the school didn’t know the true reason the marauders had attacked. She tightened her fingers around the cup. Smoke still curled outside. “Marion saved us…”

Fire had surrounded her, blazing, and for a terrifying moment, Vivian had worried that the fire had consumed her sister as well. But Marion was a Morning Star. From the Ashes.

“No one’s ever been able to use starcraft during the day,” Lando said.

Wren cleared her throat. “Well, actually…” Vivian and Lando turned to Wren, who lowered her voice. “It was said Noctis did not need the light of the stars to use his magic. And that is why it was so hard for the gods to overthrow him during the ancient wars. Even though they were gods, their magic was still bound to the stars.”

“Perhaps you three are like him,” Lando said excitedly.

Vivian looked down at her hands. She could feel the presence of her star inside her but had not even tried to call upon her magic during the day. Was she also able to use starcraft without the light of the stars, like Marion?

It was not the right time to attempt such a thing. She turned back to Wren, who was biting her lip. “The gods came to our world from the stars. Some legends say Noctis was born here, as were you. Perhaps your magic is different for it.”

“Vivian.”

She turned, saw Marion in the doorway, Timothée beside her. “We’ve been released.”

Her sister said it like she’d been in the Wolfhelm Dungeons, and not receiving Starling medical care.

Vivian bid goodbye to Wren and Lando and followed her siblings into the hall.

She glanced once more outside. Celestial airships hovered around the school. They had been arriving all day, bringing Celestial Knights and Störmberg soldiers to fortify the Isle of Argos.

Marion informed her that she’d heard Setviren had been released as well. Vivian was grateful for the professor's attempt to rescue them. His display of starcraft had been extraordinary…yet still the vampire brothers had defeated him.

And the Dark Prophet had shown up and made even the Phantom Two’s extraordinary starcraft look pitiful.

“They said we should rest,” Marion said. “But I’m sure I’ll get summoned by the Archpriestess or Setviren sooner or later.”

“I’ve never been so poked and prodded in my life.” Timothée rolled his shoulders.

“Well, they certainly left a mark.” Marion scowled. Vivian followed her gaze to a small red bruise on Timothée’s neck.

Timothée flushed. “Uh, that was something else.”

Marion sighed. “Where was that little freak anyways? I’m surprised he wasn’t right behind you.”

“Well, he couldn’t exactly,” Timothée said. “Val may have accidentally taken a rather strong sleeping draft right before we were attacked. I hid him and Yvaine in our bathroom. Ugh, he’s going to be so mad when I get back.”

Marion pinched the bridge of her nose. “You know what? I don’t want to know the details.”

Timothée shifted uncomfortably. “Did they find out why you could use your magic during the day?”

Vivian thought about telling her what Wren had said about Noctis. But Marion hadn’t even come to terms with the fact Noctis was their brother. She doubted Marion would want to hear that they shared something else with him right now

“No.” Marion looked up and down the hall. Celestial Knights were posted on either side. She grabbed Vivian and Timothée’s hands and tugged them into an empty classroom. “And I’m not done talking to you about your bad choices.”

Vivian studied her siblings. They looked ragged, tired. None of them had slept. Marion was still in the broken remains of her leaf dress. Only Khalid’s pirate jacket strung over her shoulders afforded her any sort of modesty.

Marion shut the door then rounded on Timothée. “Were you seriously thinking of going with him?

“No.” Timothée ran his hands through his wayward hair. He was barefoot. “It’s just…I knew he wasn’t going to hurt us.”

Marion’s eyes went wide. “You knew the scary murderer wasn’t going to hurt us? We are talking about the same person who attacked Wolfhelm and strung Vivian up with shadows?”

Timothée sighed. “I know this is going to sound crazy, but ever since I swallowed my star, I can feel magic. And his didn’t feel threatening. Even when he was fighting those two vampires, he wasn’t going to hurt them or us.”

“Maybe not until he lured you into his death portal,” Marion snapped. “You don’t seriously believe what he said about you, do you?”

Timothée swallowed. “He said his visions always come true.”

Marion let out a frustrated groan. “Of course he said that. He figured out his dark master is never coming back and he’s looking for the next best thing—which is you. I’m sure he would have said anything to get you into the portal.”

“But if he had really wanted Timothée to come,” Vivian said, “he could have just forced him. Any of them could have. We were no match for their powers, but they let us go.”

“What, are you saying we should send him a bouquet of flowers?” Marion rounded on Vivian. “And you’re not much better! You were stepping toward that darkness too.”

“What if that was a way to get better?” Vivian hugged her elbows against her chest. “I don’t want to be a burden to you.”

“Oh yes, I’m sure that vampire could make you better fast—by eating people. That’s not what we’re doing. We’re finding a cure to make you like how you were.”

“I know…” Vivian said softly.

“Listen, we’re all tired.” Marion sighed, then lightly gripped their hands. “We should get some rest.”

“I need to find Darius,” Vivian said.

Timothée furrowed his brow. “Are you okay, Viv? After what you saw and what he said…”

“He wouldn’t have meant it about you,” Marion said. “I’m sure of it. He doesn’t know you’re different than the others.”

“I—” Vivian faltered. The truth was, she didn’t know if she was okay. Hadn’t even let herself think of him, and the words he’d spoken, the images she’d seen…

“I overheard the clerics speaking,” Marion said. “They took him to a private ward. Apparently, he was getting unruly in the main room.”

“Darius?”

“Yeah,” Timothée said. “They had to call for Khalid to calm him down.”

“I need to… I need to see him,” Vivian said and went in search of the Prince of Andúrigard.

***

No one objected when she asked to see Darius. A cleric led her up a twisting set of stairs in the infirmary to the private medical rooms.

“He was quite adamant about leaving,” the cleric told her, “despite the wound in his shoulder, and the Archpriestess’s refusal. Although since his Medihsan ward was summoned, there’s been less yelling –”

The cleric broke off as they rounded a corner and voices carried down the stairwell.

Darius and Khalid.

The cleric bristled. “But perhaps even he does not work miracles.”

The cleric ushered her forward, bidding her farewell, and Vivian wondered why her steps felt so heavy. She paused outside the door.

“They cannot keep me a prisoner!” Darius’s elevated voice.

Khalid’s calm tone: “You’re not a prisoner.”

“I need to get to Wolfhelm. We have to summon the army and hunt him down—”

Vivian opened the door. “If you’re talking about hunting the Dark Prophet, it wasn’t him that attacked the school.”

“Vivian—” Darius turned to her. He was shirtless, save for the white bandage wrapped around his chest, and the blue ribbon tied on his wrist. He wore loose trousers and his hair had fallen across his eyes. There was a frantic expression on his face, but it softened when he saw her.

Khalid threw up his hands. “Vivian, thank the Three. Perhaps you’ll have better luck stopping the Prince from rushing off to call his army for one little prophet with a flare for dramatic story-telling.” He shook his head and left the room. “I’ll be back in a bit.”

Darius crossed to the window and stared out. Vivian wondered what he saw in the red of the setting sun.

She stepped into the room but kept her distance. Am I afraid of him? This was the reason she came. To see, to feel. If you knew what I was, would my blood splatter your flesh like the vampires in the past of stars?

“I’m glad you’re here,” he said without turning. “What do you mean it wasn’t the Dark Prophet?”

Vivian told him the details, the conversations between the vampires and the Prophet.

“The Exalted One?” Darius shook his head. “I’ve never heard such a name before. The Dark Prophet must be involved somehow. Why was he there?”

He saved Timothée’s life. Perhaps all of ours. “I don’t know,” she said instead.

Darius gritted his teeth. “I will not rest until I have that monster's head.”

He pushed away from the window and crossed to her. Her heartbeat quickened. But he stopped before her, and his expression tempered. “There is concern in your eyes.”

She had to look away from him, stare at the stone floor. Why did I come here?

Darius gently reached to put his hand under her chin, but she jerked away.

He dropped his hand, eyes widening. “Are you frightened of me?”

Incredibly. “Darius.” She looked up, realized she was crying. “You were covered in blood.”

“I…your fear is the Dark Prophet’s doing. I promise you. That isn’t who I am.”

She tried to steady her breath. She had to know what it all meant from Darius himself, and not just the memories of darkness. “So those images of you were false then?”

“Vivian.” Darius shook his head, and panic crawled up his features. “The Dark Prophet—he forced us to see his memories. He was trying to turn you against me!”

“Turn me against you?” Vivian said. “I just want to know the truth of it.”

“The truth of it…the truth of it…” His blue eyes were wild. “The truth of it…was that night he took everything from me. They stormed the castle, and pillaged and burned, and severed the heads of my father and my mother and piked them on the gates. They killed my little sister and then he came for me. He came for me, and I do not know who he found. But that is who the Dark Prophet showed you.”

The setting sun turned Darius’s hair a burnished gold, the ruler before her raw and open.

“I did not wish to deceive you.” His voice was hoarse. “Now you know I am nothing but the fraud of a hero. I never defeated a great enemy those three years ago. And there is something inside me I have no control over. A beast that will not be tamed.”

His words were a question: Will you still love me now that you see me? Truly see every wicked part of me? It was a question she desperately wished she could ask him of herself.

Tell him now. Tell him when he is raw and so are you…

Tell him.

“Darius,” she said, and her feet were moving on their own accord, crossing the room to him. She lay her head on his chest and wrapped her arms around his waist.

His movements were so slow and cautious, but he wrapped his arms around her. The tickle of the blue ribbon grazed her back.

I love him through his darkness.

He kissed the top of her head. “For a moment I thought you might leave.”

She pressed herself tighter against him. “Sometimes this world is cruel,” she whispered. “Sometimes it demands cruelness of us.”

I should tell him now…

“Darius, I need—”

“One day I will know peace,” he murmured. “And the souls of my family and the citizens we lost that night will know peace. Peace when I finally enact my vengeance.”

He pulled away and his hands were on either side of her head. He did not wear a calm expression. Something feral glinted in his gaze.

“And I swear to you now, Vivian, I will not let anyone harm you. I will keep you safe. Those filthy vampires will dare not get as close to you as they did this night.”

“The church has deemed me a child of the gods,” Vivian whispered. “My very existence is danger. That is why they were here.”

“It matters not.” Darius’s hands trembled on her face. “The gods could spirit themselves from the sky and they too would lay dead at my feet for daring to get too close to you.”

“Darius…” She stepped away from him, and he whipped around, pacing the room.

“You know what this world requires of me now. What the crown requires.” His voice was too fast, movements jerky and strange. “Do not be afraid. Do not think me above the value of life. It was only monsters I killed that night. They chose their fate when they discarded their souls to become creations of the night.”

Only vampires.

“I doubt all of them chose their fate.”

“Then I freed them of their monstrous existence with my sword.”

Tell him, a part of her mind still raged. She needed to know the truth, but she was terribly afraid. “What if instead of death, your sister or mother had the fate of being bitten? Would you think their souls gone?”

It was not telling him, but it was as close as her fragile heart would allow her to get.

But the Prince’s face did not even flash with consideration before he snarled, “I would have freed them too. It would be the only kindness left. And I would expect the same done to me.”

Vivian flinched, stumbled back.

“Vampires killed the man you called father. You of all people must understand this!” Darius threw his head back, pinched the bridge of his nose. “I know it a harsh light to see me in—to see the blood painted plainly on my face. But I have never taken actual life carelessly. I had to get to the Dark Prophet. Don’t you see that?”

“I—”

And she saw him, a valiant prince, who was kind and overflowing with love. But he was also hurt, and broken, and covered in blood.

And for a girl who craved blood more than anything, it was dangerous to be so close.

“I will not let anyone I love come to harm again.” He walked to her and grabbed her hands. “I swear it to you, Vivian.”

Love?

And she thought, I can love him still. And I will always love him. Every dark part of him.

I can love him still.

But he cannot love me.

He will never love me.

And if he does love me.

It will be the death of him.

And therefore, the death of me.

“I don’t want that of you, Darius.”

He shook his head. “What?”

“It’s clear to me now. This is where our fates diverge.” She swallowed and made herself stare into his face, even as it fractured.

She took a step back.

He looked down at the space between them as if the world had cleaved in two.

“Vivian…what have I done?”

“It’s not what you’ve done,” she said. “It is what the future holds, Darius. I see now your path, and I cannot walk it with you. I do not yet know what the gods want from me, but—”

He stumbled closer to her. “No. The stars brought us together.”

“They did.” But she did not believe all the stars were good. And if she continued with him, that end was blood, and blood, and blood.

If she told him what she was, and even if beyond any wildest dream, he accepted her…

Then what?

There could never be a vampire queen on the throne. And if they kept it a secret, and he was discovered…then it could be the downfall of Thraina.

One child of the gods had already destroyed the world.

She would not follow in her brother’s footsteps.

“I can’t let you go,” Darius said, and his voice was so low. “I can’t let this end. I lo—”

And she didn’t know if she could let this end either. She had never loved someone the way she loved him, and he was the only fate she wanted. He was the only thing she wanted.

“Darius, so much has happened to me. I can’t…” She wiped he eyes. “A moon ago, I was just a girl in a candle shoppe. Would you be fighting so fiercely if that was all I was now?”

She knew she was being unfair, that her station had no bearing to him. But small truths leaked out where the large ones could not.

“Yes, yes, of course.” And then Darius fell to his knees before her. “Vivian, Vivian…don’t go. Please.”

He took her hands. Her fingers slid over the blue ribbon, and she wished it was strong enough to keep them together.

“I would fight for you in every world.” His blue eyes were so wide. “I would run away with you if you wished it. Leave the crown and the gods behind. Tell me what you want, I will give it to you.”

“You care about Andúrigard too much for that.” She shook her head, and her tears flung to the ground. “Do not speak things you do not mean.”

“Then tell me what I can do, Vivian. I need you. I need you like the flowers need the sun, like the tides need the moon. Do not leave, please. Anything…”

“Your vengeance against the Dark Prophet,” she said. “Would you give that up?”

He startled, stood. “Why would you ask such a thing?”

Because it’s driving you to madness. Because I cannot ask of you what I truly wish.

Anger lined the edges of his words. “You would have that monster living, after what he’s done?”

“There are many monsters in the world,” she said simply. “What is one more?”

“If I said I would forsake him, would that make you stay by my side?”

She swallowed in a dry throat. “No.”

Darius let out a frustrated groan. “I do not understand you! What do you want from me? I cannot change the things I have done but I can—”

“I want you to let me go.”

His expression blanched and there were depths within depths in his eyes.

“Goodbye, Darius.”

“Vivian, I’ll—”

But she did not hear what he said. The door shut behind her, and she slammed straight into Khalid.

Of course, he had been listening.

“Get out of my way.” There was an unnerving calm to her voice as if the only way she could survive this was to suppress all her feelings.

Khalid gave her a startled look.

Vivian staggered down the steps, her ears ringing, heart bleeding.

Suddenly, someone grabbed her around the waist, hand covering her mouth, muffling her scream. She was thrown to the side and into the dark.

“Bite me.”

She blinked, eyes adjusting to the dark. She was in some sort of medical storage closet.

Khalid gripped her around the waist, and with his other hand, he had pulled down his shirt collar. “Bite me, Vivian.”

She tried to push away from him. “Khalid? What are you saying?”

“That’s why you ended things, isn’t it? You’re worried you’ll hurt him? Or do you actually care about all those he killed?”

“It was monstrous,” Vivian said. “But so was what happened to him. So am I. After all, this world makes monsters of us all.”

“Then be one and bite me.” Khalid tugged lower on his shirt collar, revealing his neck. She could see the veins clearly, hear the rapid beat of his heart. “Take my blood and get better, damnit. And go back to him.”

“I’m not drinking your blood.”

“You’ll die if you don’t figure something out soon.” Khalid tugged her closer. “I doubt you’ll survive much longer on your sister’s leeches.”

Vivian swallowed. Her fangs dropped involuntarily, and she knew how easily they would slide into his skin. “If I drink your blood—”

“I’ll be fine. It won’t kill me. I heard it happens all the time in the Kirrintsovan underground.”

“But you’d hold it over me. Make me do whatever you wanted.”

Khalid gave a frustrated groan. “I could already do that if I wanted to. I know your secret. I’ll even keep this one from Marion.”

His heart was frantic, and she could see the veins pulsing in his neck.

“Why would you do this?”

He blinked, then looked down at her. “For Darius. He loves you, Vivian, in a way I don’t think he’s loved anyone before.”

Was it as simple as that with Khalid? He would give his blood for Darius’s happiness? Or was there more?

Tears spilled over her cheeks. “I won’t become a monster for anyone or anything. Not even for Darius. Not even for love. I need to stay myself.

“But Viv—”

She opened the door. “If you want to help me, then go to him now.”

Vivian stumbled through the halls to the Morning Star common room. And she found Marion, and there wasn’t any victory or scorn in her sister’s face. She wrapped her arms around her and led her to her room. And somehow, Timothée must have heard because he appeared and folded Vivian into his arms with a soft, “Viv.”

And as the sun set, she lay there with her brother and sister and thought: For a monster without a heart, hers sure hurt a lot.


***

✨Thank you for reading this chapter! Wren and Lando are special guest-star original characters from two of our first-month Patrons!

Bonus Chapter

Want to know what Marion and Khalid are feeling now? And what Khalid thought of *that night*... read Marion's bonus chapter here!


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