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23 – In Which Timothée Follows the Voice in His Mind

23 – In Which Timothée Follows the Voice in His Mind

Timothée’s head was full of shadows and fire, and a voice that was not his own. After he had been released from the infirmary, Rayna had caught him in hallways, saying Vivian was in tears. Of course he’d gone to her. He’d spent hours sitting with his sisters until finally Vivian had cried herself to sleep. Now it was the middle of the night, and he crept out of the Morning Star common room.

Vivian had ended everything with Darius. His heart ached for her. Was it because of the things Darius had said during the Dark Prophet’s vision—killing the vampires? Maybe a part of it, but Timothée suspected it was much deeper.

Vivian was getting sicker.

And there was nothing anyone could do to help her.

It wasn’t fair. They were at the Celestial Academy for Fallen Stars: the most magical place in the entire world. There had to be answers.

Or had there been answers through the Prophet’s dark door? His head swam and he stumbled, catching himself on the wall.

The Dark Prophet.

It was you beside me.

Timothée ran a hand through his hair. More than anything, he wanted to collapse into his bed and sleep.

Well, there was something he wanted more, but that would require Valentine not killing him.

Would Val be angry? The last time he had seen Val, he’d been passed out in the bathtub from the overly potent sleeping draft Timothée had brewed. And then Timothée had refused to give him the antidote…

He pushed open the doors to the Cauldron. The main room was crowded. Classes had been cancelled and the dining hall and grounds were closed so everyone was here.

Timothée realized this was the first time he’d been in front of his classmates since the ball. The ball where he’d dressed as Noctis and ignored everything in the entire world except Val’s mouth on his.

Now he couldn’t ignore all the eyes that turned to him, staring at him in the doorway of the Cauldron: barefoot, with dried blood on his collarbone, and hickeys on his neck.

But there was no lilac gaze in the crowd.

“Ahh!” Erik Borstigsson laughed. “Our resident godling has returned. How did it feel to be rescued by your little sister?”

Terrifying, Timothée thought. Because while he may have played at being a god on All Hallow’s Eve, Marion had been one.

One of fire and death.

But he just looked at Erik lounging on the couch and shrugged. “Marion’s been saving me my whole life. And besides,” he added, “she’s older than me.”

Erik gave a grunt of indignation. He had a bandage on his arm and chest. Timothée noticed many of the Starlings nursed injuries.

The mercenaries were sent for me.

A wave of guilt flooded through him.

“Let our little godling rest, won’t you?” Carmilla rose from the crowd and grabbed his arm. “Come with me.”

He walked with her up the stairs toward his dorm.

“It seems you’ve had quite the night.” She ran a hand over the marks Val had left on his neck, then over his bandaged collarbone where Allistar’s rapier had sliced him. “Don’t worry. You can tell me all about it after you’ve slept.”

Timothée sighed then looked up the stairs. “Have you seen Val?”

“He came down a little while ago looking for you.”

Well, at least the potion didn’t kill him. “Uh, did he tell you what happened?”

“In great detail.” She scrunched her nose. “Are you nervous to see him? I wouldn’t worry. By the sounds of it, nothing much happened between you two.”

Timothée’s heart clenched. “I guess.”

“I know you had your little show in front of the ballroom. I’m sure it added to your intrigue. That Val is a quick thinker. We all play our parts of pretend on All Hallow’s Eve.”

Was that what Val had said to her? That it was all pretend?

“I thought…” What had he thought? Of course, it was a show. Val hadn’t even been willing to call him by his name.

“Listen.” Carmilla narrowed her eyes. “Valentine loves a spectacle, and that’s what you were last night. I don’t want you to get hurt. Val doesn’t do the whole Vivian-Darius thing.”

Vivian and Darius didn’t even do the Vivian and Darius thing anymore.

“It’s not like I haven’t messed around with people before.” Timothée’s entire face heated. “It’s just they haven’t been my roommate.”

Carmilla gave a twinkling laugh and shook his arm. “Oh, don’t worry, Timothée. By the sounds of it, what you and Val did was incredibly tame for him. I doubt he’ll give it a second thought.”

Timothée hadn’t stopped thinking about it except for when he was almost killed by an ancient vampire. And even then he had wondered: if he were to die, would Val ever wake up, and if he didn’t, would Yvaine eat his body to survive?

“Yeah, me neither,” Timothée lied, and ran a hand through his hair.

“You look tired, little Greywick. It must be exhausting to pretend to be a god and then be hunted like one all night.” Carmilla perked up on her toes and kissed his cheek. “I’ll see you after you rest.”

Carmilla hadn’t said anything he didn’t already know, but it made his insides roil anyways. What version of Val would be waiting behind that door? There had been so many different sides of him Timothée had seen last night.

But he still couldn’t think about the moment right before the mercenaries attacked when they were kissing. It had felt…different. Special.

Slowly, Timothée opened the door to his room.

The bookcase had been moved back to its original position. Val was lying on his bed, a book on his lap, and Yvaine at his feet, a purple bow around her neck.

“What did you do to my cat?” Timothée crossed the room and picked up Yvaine. Her dark fur was soft and brushed, and she softly blinked her blue eyes at him.

“Well, you insisted on us spending so much quality time together.” Val slammed his book shut. “Now she doesn’t look like a mangy stray.”

Yvaine gave a meow of indignation and leapt from Timothée’s arms.

“H-how…” Timothée stumbled. “How are you feeling?”

“Better than you apparently.” Val’s judgmental gaze raked up and down, stopping at the cut on Timothée’s collarbone. “You smell like smoke and blood.”

“About that…” Timothée said. “My sister decided to incinerate dozens of mercenaries in front of me, and I got sliced by a vampire.”

“How am I supposed to know when you poisoned me and locked me in the bathroom?”

Timothée grabbed a pile of his clothes. “You drank it yourself.”

Val’s expression gave him nothing. He was just lying there, wearing a dark purple shirt and loose pants. “I should have known you’d mess up even the simplest of potions.”

Timothée pushed aside the curtain that separated the bathroom from their room. He dropped his clothes and jumped into the shower, wishing he could wash off every bit of the night before. And not wanting to at the same time. What are you thinking, Val?

Timothée’s blood was still humming with magic. He’d almost forgotten about it, but here in this quiet room, he could feel it echoing again.

There had been such a draw to that door…

“So, you made enemies of a couple vampires.” Val’s voice was close. He must be standing right outside the bathroom.

Timothée shut off the water, threw on fresh clothes, and still behind the safety of the curtain, said: “They were here to kill me. That’s what the whole attack was for. So another Noctis couldn’t rise again or whatever. They almost succeeded too. But…but the Dark Prophet came. And he created this door out of his magic. And he wanted me to go with him—”

He drew back the curtain and Val was right in front of him. “Why didn’t you?”

It was at that moment he realized he had lied to Marion when he told her he would have never gone through.

There had been something waiting for him behind that door of darkness. “I almost did.”

Val turned, sighed. “Unfortunate. It seems like I’m still stuck with you in these close corridors.”

“Sorry for the inconvenience.”

He looked over his shoulder, lilac hair falling across his face. “I suppose I can endure.”

And then they were staring at each other, and Timothée realized the only thing he wanted to do was exactly what he had been doing right before the attack on the Academy.

Kiss Val.

I just want Val to like me as much as I like him.

“Don’t look at me like that.” Val didn’t break their gaze.

“Like what?” Timothée watched how the lines in Val’s jaws tighten, how the muscles in his neck moved when he swallowed.

“It’s unsettling.” Then Val was moving closer to him. “You really do call disaster to you.”

Timothée let out a long sigh. “What do you mean? It was only a fleet of ships and two vampire assassins.”

“They wouldn’t have gotten so close if you had just woken me up instead of locking me in here like a weak little cat.”

“Would you really have used your magic and risked your place at this academy, for me?”

“Is that so hard to believe?”

“A little…” Timothée stepped around him. He was exhausted, he wanted to sleep, he wanted to kiss Val. But he was terrified that any moment Val was going to laugh and say that everything that happened last night had meant nothing. “Last night I pretended to be Noctis. But what if I’m more like him than I thought?”

“You’re nothing like Noctis.”

“Enough like him for everyone at the Academy.” Special enough that you wanted to kiss me last night.

“All Hallow’s Eve is nothing but a night of pretend.” Val fell back to his bed.

Just like Carmilla said. Timothée’s heart stuttered. All pretend. Val hadn’t mentioned anything about them kissing or even tried to touch him again. He knew any moment, Val was going to laugh at him and how ridiculously desperate Timothée had been last night.

He walked to his bed, sat on the end. “Everything?”

Val looked sidelong at him, his lilac hair falling across his eyes. Then he smirked. “Well, Ti—”

Timothée shot up, started laughing. “Pretty fun though. Most fun I’ve had since I came to this school.”

Val gave him a strange look then rolled over, facing the stone wall. “Whatever, call it what you want. Don’t get all worked up over a little kiss.”

He won’t think twice about it. Carmilla’s right.

The words could have been daggers. A little kiss. But somehow, Timothée was still laughing, and it was verging on manic sounding. He needed to sleep. “Yeah, it’s not like we really even did anything. We didn’t even take off our pants so overall a pretty tame night for me, compared to everything else I’ve done.”

Val didn’t roll over, but said, “Like with the person who called you a bad kisser?”

“That was only one person,” Timothée said defensively. “And there were so many people in Wolfhelm who, y’know, wanted my, uh, attention. So, consider yourself lucky to be my first one here.”

Val did roll over at that. He rose on his elbows and glared. “I should consider myself lucky?”

Why was he mad? He was the one who called everything pretend. Timothée flushed. “Carmilla told me how it is with you—”

Val closed his eyes and tilted his head back so the ends of his hair grazed the back of his bed. “Oooh, Carmilla has told you all about me?”

Timothée threw his hands out to the side. “You’re the one who told Carmilla everything. She was just trying to help me.”

“And you like her help, don’t you?” Val’s voice lowered. “Likes when she smiles at you and makes you feel important? When she dresses you up and parades you around?”

Timothée felt tears prick the edges of his vision, but he would not let Val see him cry. “I know what you’re like, Val. The only thing you wanted from me last night.”

“I did have a great desire last night.” Val’s gaze was fire. “I most certainly didn’t get it from you. Because you were so afraid.”

“Because you were acting crazy!”

“Maybe I am crazy.”

Timothée swallowed in a dry throat. “Whatever, it’s clear what you want and I—”

“Yes, it would seem with Carmilla’s guidance, you know all about me. It’s clear you’re just as stupid as I always suspected.”

Timothée stumbled to the door.

“Where are you going?”

Timothée rounded on him. “To help someone I love. Because unlike you, I actually care about someone other than myself.”

“Don’t ever try to kiss me again. Go make someone else luckywith you.”

Timothée let in a shuddering breath. “Yeah, well, same. Just stick to your side of the room and I’ll stick to mine.”

He slammed the door behind him. He was past the point of sleepiness. He needed to do something.

For Vivian.

Who loved someone…and had someone who loved her back.

But it was only possible for them if Timothée could help her.

This school had answers.

And it had shown them to him.

He stormed out of the Cauldron and down the stairs to the main wing. He wasn’t exactly sure where he was going. But inside his mind, he was screaming.

Help me. Show me.

Help me. Help me. Help me.

Show me how to help her.

But the the walls stayed silent.

He knew his thoughts were too frantic, his heart too fast. He needed to calm down.

What had he thought? He’d show up and Val would have been worried about him, would have kissed the cut on his collarbone, and pulled him into bed? That Val would have understood the only reason Timothée hadn’t given him the antidote was because he cared about him?

Not in this world.

He had been so stupid. No wonder Carmilla had given him such a pitying look before he went up there. Maybe he’d salvaged a little of his dignity by yelling at Val.

But he had a feeling it had only made them both feel worse.

He slammed into something, and then Khalid was gripping his shoulder. “Hey, what’s going on?”

Timothée wiped his eyes. “I’m trying to help Vivian.”

Khalid gave a long sigh. He had changed out of his pirate costume, and now wore a leisurely version of the Morning Star uniform: a loose yellow top and brown pants. But he still wore his thick gloves. “How many people do I need to console in one day…night? Honestly, I’ve lost track of time.” His curly black hair fell across his face, and there were hollows under his eyes.

“I don’t need you to console me. I just need the school to answer me!” Timothée pushed away from him and stormed down the hall.

He heard a groan, and then Khalid strode after him. “Now, that’s too curious to ignore. Sleep will have to wait. What do you mean, little Greywick?”

Timothée hesitated, not sure if he should tell Khalid. He already knows our biggest secret.

In a sleep-deprived delirium, he told Khalid everything. Well, everything about the Academy’s whispering voice in his head. Everything from the first night to finding the armour. How the Academy castle sometimes felt like it had emotions.

And Khalid’s green eyes got wider and wider and wider. “So, that’s how Mills did it. I mean, you both did.”

Timothée shrugged. “It led me to the armour, so the castle must know things. It must have sensed I was like Noctis or something.”

Khalid put a hand to his chin, considering. “So, you think the Academy’s castle is sentient? Does this just happen in the school or elsewhere on the Isle?”

Timothée blinked, shocked Khalid believed him. “Just in the castle, but I haven’t exactly tried it elsewhere.”

Khalid looked up and down the hallway. With classes and extra-curriculum rooms cancelled, the halls were near deserted save for the occasional Celestial Knight, and that was new. Timothée had seen glimpses of them out the window, patrolling the grounds.

“And what exactly are you trying to do now?”

Timothée sighed. “I’m trying to help Vivian.”

He saw recognition in Khalid’s eyes. “Darius only just fell asleep, though I doubt he will be out for long.”

“There have to be answers here,” Timothée said. “I just have to find them. But the castle won’t answer me.”

“Well,” Khalid said, “the castle led you to Noctis’s armour. Did you say thank you? Maybe it wants something in return before it helps you again. Most exchanges, in my experience, are a give and take.”

“What could I possibly offer a castle?”

“I don’t know.” Khalid grabbed both of Timothée’s hands and placed them on the wall. “You’re the one who can talk to it!”

Timothée closed his eyes, felt the cold stone beneath his fingers. You led me to the armour of Noctis, he thought. Thank you. It was a great gift.

Nothing, then a pulsing awareness flooded through him. That voice that was not his own entered his mind.

You lost it.

Timothée thought, It was taken from me.

A pity.

I need your help again. I need to find a way to cure my sister.

She’s a vampire.

Timothée shuddered. Almost withdrew his hands, didn’t. She’s sick.

For a moment, there was nothing. Then: If you want my help, you’ll have to find me.

The world seemed to ripple and shake, then a purple light streaked across the stone walls.

Timothée grabbed Khalid’s arm. “Come on!”

He raced down the hallway with the Medihsan in tow until he passed a familiar row of portraits, and then another bend, and it was the same door he had Valentine had gone down his first night at the school.

The voice had been leading him there.

Khalid tried the door handle. “Locked.”

Timothée reached for it, and the door swung open.

“Y’know, after seeing two one-eyed vampires lead an attack on the Academy, that’s not the weirdest thing I’ve seen today.”

They started down the long twisting stairs, and Timothée felt decidedly less afraid than the first night he had been at the Academy.

They made it to the bottom of the stairs to a long torch-lit hall. To his left was the sewer. But to the right was a long corridor. It was where he had initially wanted to go, before Val tricked him.

The first of many games of pretend, Timothée thought bitterly.

There was movement far down the hall: a bobbing purple light, the sheen of white robes.

“That’s the Archpriestess,” Khalid hissed.

The awareness in Timothée’s mind throbbed, as if the voice were enforcing its presence. Do not get caught.

“We’re following her,” Timothée whispered.

Khalid let out a frustrated sigh. “I’d pray to the gods, but they’d favour her.”

Timothée turned to him, smirked. “Then pray to me.”

They crept down the hallway, keeping to the shadows. Archpriestess Kassandra was barely visible except for her silhouette, outlined by the glow of her purple staff. She moved briskly, just short of a run.

These halls did not have the polished stone of the upper levels. Moss crawled between the cracks and murky water dripped from overhead, puddling on the uneven ground. They carefully stepped over those parts as not to make a sound.

They were deep, deep, underground.

If you could be underground in the air.

“It would be a great tragedy if I were to die down here, Timothée,” Khalid whispered after it seemed like they had been walking for ages. “My body left to rot and never discovered. I should be put in a glass coffin for those to weep over my beauty being taken from this world too soon.”

“Shush, she’s slowing down.”

Timothée gestured to a pile of broken stone, just before the edge of the tunnel. They quietly crawled behind it, and Timothée had to clamp his hand over his mouth to hide his awe.

The hall opened to a grand cavern, solid rock walls, and a ceiling so high it faded to blackness. The Archpriestess stood before a door. It towered over fifty feet high, white stone that glistened as if none of the decay or moisture of the cavern touched it.

A deeply etched carving spanned the door: a towering man and woman, heads nestled together, cradling a babe in their arms. Timothée recognized the armour they wore. It was the same as the armour he’d found with Carmilla.

Rhaemyria, Xydrious, and their son, Noctis.

The Archpriestess slammed her staff into the ground, then rose her hands, flames pouring from her fingers. A wave of heat pressed against Timothée’s skin; fear plunged into his chest as he remembered the scorching heat of Marion’s flames, the smell of charred flesh. Kassandra’s flame dove into the deeply etched carvings, tracing them until the whole door came alive in flame. When every groove was filled, the light flared yellow, then disappeared. The door groaned and creaked, opening inward.

She picked up her staff and stormed inside. A great light pulsed from behind the doors.

“Let’s get a closer look.” Keeping low to the ground, Timothée shuffled forward, Khalid on his heels. Just as he was about to enter the room, Khalid grabbed his arm and pulled him to the side, so they were peering around the open door.

“Rule one of spying, kid,” Khalid said. “Never go into a room if you don’t know there’s a way out.”

Timothée nodded, then carefully peered around the door.

He had to squint, but then his eyes adjusted. A long staircase led down to a circular room. It had rock cavernous walls, and only a small circular perimeter of walkable space. The rest of the floor was a gaping hole, open to the world below.

A burst of fresh air blew over him and his stomach lurched as the clouds danced below them. If someone fell from the thin perimeter…

They’d fall all the way to Thraina.

We are at the very bottom of the Isle of Argos, he realized.

But then his attention drifted upward.

Hovering in the center of the room, right above the hole, was a massive cosmic cloud. Light and shadow swirled together with brilliant bursts of colour, like a living galaxy. It felt both immense and fragile. A celestial storm brewing beneath the Isle of Argos.

It’s you, Timothée thought. The voice in my head.

Well done, little Greywick.

Timothée’s heart beat frantically in his chest, but he forced himself to listen over the rush of blood.

The Archpriestess had a white-knuckled grip on her staff. She paced in front of the cosmic storm.

“How could you?” she snarled. Her voice was so full of rage that Timothée shuddered. “How could you let them land on my island?”

The cosmic cloud barely flickered in response.

“Do you have nothing to say for your incompetence?”

You never commanded me to stop ships from docking here.

It was the voice in his head, but this time it wasn’t talking to him: it was speaking to the Archpriestess.

“She’s talking to that thing…the castle,” Timothée whispered. “Can you hear it?”

Khalid shook his head. “I only hear her.”

“You could have stopped them,” the Archpriestess hissed. “You could have warned me.”

I keep Argos in the air. I take you where you wish to go. You never said anything about keeping away hired hands. Besides, your little phoenix took care of them quite nicely. Aren’t you proud?

A strange expression played over the Archpriestess’s face. It seemed too white, too inhuman under the swirling light of the cloud. Then her mouth twisted into a scowl. “You shall not be so careless again.” She slammed her staff into the ground and the purple light pulsed.

The cloud recoiled, a flare rising, and Timothée felt a sharp pain pass through him. He groaned, digging his fingernails into his palm.

The Archpriestess let out a cry of frustration, pacing back and forth. “Who would dare? Who would dare attack my Academy, my island, my students?”

The cloud’s shadowy ends playfully flickered in the air. You already know, the voice said, and Timothée detected a bitter satisfaction.

“He has not the nerve!” A flare of fire burst out of Kassandra. “Exalted One? Ha! He will learn my fury for coming after my children.”

She swept herself toward the door, turned back. “Do not play such games with me again.”

But games are all I have, and Timothée knew those words were just for him.

Timothée and Khalid crawled back into the shadows as the Archpriestess swept from the door, and it closed behind her.

They waited until her footsteps faded, and Timothée recounted the conversation to Khalid.

“The Archpriestess knows of the Exalted One then,” Khalid said, and the two of them stood before the door. “And this whole island is controlled by a glowing ball that only you and the Archpriestess can hear?”

“I guess so.”

“Well then, I suppose the next step is to get beyond this door.”

“I think that’s what the castle wants,” Timothée said.

“Alright then.” Khalid put his hands on his hips, looked up at the towering stone door. “I don’t think we’ll be able to just pull it open.”

“The Archpriestess used Morning Star magic,” Timothée said. “Can you use your fire?”

Khalid pretended to roll up his sleeves then stepped closer to the etched design. “I can certainly try.”

From his gloved palms shot fire, sputtering at the door. But it did not open.

Timothée bit his lip. “When the Archpriestess did it, her fire wove around the engraving. Can you do that? I think it’s like a lock.”

Khalid laughed. “I’m more about power, less about precision. I think we’re going to need a more powerful Morning Star.”

Timothée sighed. “I think we’re going to need Marion.”