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24 –In Which Marion is Told she Must Guide the Gods Home

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24 –In Which Marion is Told she Must Guide the Gods Home


Walking in the moments of pre-dawn was like walking in the space between worlds. The people on the Isle of Argos were drifting to sleep, tucked away in their dorms. But the rest of the Isle was awaking. Birds fluttered between the trees, frost melted off the petals of flowers, and the Glass Cathedral glowed with the first rays of light.

Marion walked up to the massive crystal structure like one condemned. It loomed before her a thing of immense beauty and immense power. It was strange that a structure made almost entirely of glass would exhibit such strength. As if it dared the world to attempt to break it.

The structure was oak and stone, but the walls were made of a mixture of clear and stained glass. Great crystal murals told legends of the gods and saints. The spire atop the cathedral was a masterpiece of colored glass, sparkling like a crystalized rainbow in the early dawn rays.

Marion’s heavy footsteps echoed as she walked up the stairs and stood on the veranda before the huge doors. She inhaled a breath of cold air; winter making its presence known to autumn. Her heart thundered in her chest, too hard and too loud for the peace of daybreak.

This time yesterday, she had incinerated dozens of mercenaries who attacked the school. She could think this thought. Know it to be true. But the weight of it refused to sink into her skin.

You have killed. You have taken life, one voice said.

And what of it? another snapped back. It was their lives or Timothée’s. Their lives or my and Vivian’s freedom. What would have become of us in their capture?

They were mercenaries. Hired hands. What life circumstances brought them to such employment?

Enough! Why must I martyr them? They were going to take the life of my brother. She looked down at her hands. Such soft things, capable of such destruction. She could not let these voices war within her. There was nothing that could be done to bring those souls back to life.

And there had been no other choice at the time.

We do what we must to survive.

But that decision had brought her here. To the Glass Cathedral.

Summoned by the Archpriestess Kassandra herself.

Marion swallowed in a dry throat. Wiped her sweaty palms on her fleece dress, feeling too hot despite the icy air. Was Kassandra going to expel her for murdering those marauders? The headmistress had taken down far more herself; she’d burned the air ships to ash, and the sailors with it.

Or did the Archpriestess want to interrogate her about Timothée’s sneaking? Just hours earlier, her brother and Khalid had told her of their mysterious discovery: a sentient force within the castle promising assistance. Marion would have to examine this fire lock for herself. But if Kassandra knew Timothée and Khalid had spied on her—

“Need help with the door?”

Marion leapt, the voice shocking her from her thoughts. She turned to see a boy dressed in Evening Star livery sitting with his back against the crystal railing that encircled the veranda. He had a sketchbook in his lap and stared at her questioningly.

She took a breath, placed a hand to her chest as if it could settle her racing heart. “You scared me.”

“Sorry.” He stood, ran a hand through his blue hair. “I wasn’t going to say anything, but you looked a little lost. I thought maybe you’d need help with those heavy doors.”

“I’m not lost.” Marion crossed her arms. “I know exactly where I need to be.” I just don’t want to be there.

“If you say so.” He shrugged. As he closed his sketchbook, Marion caught a glimpse of his artwork: fairies and winged insects filled the page.

“You’re Olivier, right?” She’d seen him and Vivian exchange sketchbooks in the dining hall.

“Yes. And you’re Marion Greywick. The one who wields magic from the sun.”

Marion held his gaze. The way he said it…there was no reverence in his voice. Not like how others had approached her all night, in awe of her power. Olivier said it matter of fact. She appreciated it.

It was a strange thing to receive gratitude for murder.

“What are you even doing here?” She looked him up and down. He was tall, with pale grey eyes that reminded her of sad poetry. She wondered if he was mournful from the battle, then remembered he always had this look about him, like he was floating through a world that was not quite the same as everyone else’s.

He picked at a hangnail on his finger. “I don’t sleep very well. It’s a nice place to draw.” He nodded up at the cathedral.

Marion followed his gaze. Despite the ravages the castle had received—particularly Archpriestess Kassandra’s office—the cathedral stood shining and pristine as if nothing had ever occurred on the Isle of Argos.

“For something made of glass, it sure withstood that battle well,” she murmured.

“Well, the cathedrals have been here thousands of years.” Olivier’s voice was soft. “I read Morning Stars crafted a special type of glass. And Evening Stars put it together. It’s said to be unbreakable.”

Unbreakable. Why did that feel like a challenge?

“A structure standing for thousands of years,” Marion mused. “You almost think they’d like to change things up.”

Olivier made a breathy laugh. “The Academy doesn’t exactly do change. Just look at Archpriestess Kassandra or the loremaster. Or even Professor Inga.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know. Certain Starlings can use starcraft to elongate someone’s life.” His tired eyes roamed over the cathedral. “And those three have been mentioned in pretty much every history book. The last big change to happen to the church was when the previous headmaster ran away—” He stopped, scuffed a toe against the stone. “Well, you know that story.”

Father. The headmaster.

Olivier walked down the steps, cast one last pale, sad glance up at Marion. “Whatever you’re looking for in there, I hope you find it.”

He disappeared in the morning fog.

Setting her jaw, Marion heaved open the huge doors and entered the cathedral.

A great weight fell upon her as she walked between the pews. The air was cold, not much warmer than outside. The vastness of the windows made the sky feel like it pressed down upon her. There was something in the echo of her footsteps that made her feel like she wasn’t alone.

Like everything that happened within this sacred space was watched from the stars.

If Marion were not so preoccupied with the pounding of her heart, the nausea in her belly, she may have better appreciated the beauty of the cathedral: the ornate designs on the flooring, the crystal pews, the statues that stood guard on the ends of the aisle and shimmered like pearls. But even with her nervousness, she thought the whole thing garish. A cathedral was a place for prayer. Did the gods listen better if you kneeled on a marble floor?

A tinkle sounded from the dais at the end of the aisle. From behind the backdrop of gauzy curtains stepped Archpriestess Kassandra.

Marion stopped. Couldn’t even breathe. She was too beautiful to take in. Beautiful in a way that was painful to look at, disturbing in its perfection.

The Archpriestess walked forward, staff hitting the ground like a third footstep. She wore heavy, wide white robes with golden detailing along the sleeve cuffs and down the middle. A golden rope was tied around the middle, tied loose enough not to give much shape. And little bells and ornaments were sewed over the robes, making her tinkle with each step.

Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle.

“Welcome, Marion. Thank you for joining me.” Her voice echoed as if it were coming from many places all at once.

Marion knew her manners, instantly couldn’t remember them. Managed an awkward curtsey.

“Come, sweet one. Stand here with me.” Kassandra held out her hand.

Marion walked with heavy steps toward the dais, wondering if her execution would take place here in private, or if the Archpriestess would arrange a spectacle. As she stepped beside her, eyes low, the Archpriestess touched her back in greeting. Marion shivered.

“Look here upon the apse. Do you know who that is?” Kassandra gestured to the semicircular vault in the ceiling. The mosaic of a woman, eyes closed, arms outstretched, made from pieces of coloured glass. Rays of sun radiated from her arms down to a field filled with workers below.

“It’s Rhaemyria,” Marion managed, voice rusty.

“Yes. She is called the First Phoenix, because like the legendary firebird, from nothingness does greatness emerge.” Kassandra smiled, though it did not reach her ice-chip eyes. “You have her power, Marion. And more.”

Marion looked down at her hands. “My lady, please understand. What happened yesterday was a fluke. I…I can barely summon the elements during lessons. There are students far more accomplished than me. I don’t know how—”

“Shush, shush, my darling.” Archpriestess Kassandra whirled upon her like a torrent of tinkling bells and white robes. She grabbed Marion’s hand with her free one, looked down at it with eyes wide and questioning. “What happened last night is a tragedy. A failure upon the part of my administration. That those demons had access to my school, my students—” Her gaze was wide, seeing memories in her mind. Marion’s fingers turned bone white as Kassandra held tighter, tighter. Then she released. Caressed the stone atop her staff. “Actions have been put in place to ensure it will never happen again.”

Marion tucked a golden curl behind her ear. “I’m just glad all the students and professors are alright.”

“Yes, of course.” The Archpriestess watched each of Marion’s movements with a strange sort of curiosity. As if Marion were some newly discovered bird and Kassandra the researcher. “One blessing did occur from such a catastrophe. The phoenix awakened.”

Please don’t let that be me.

“And that phoenix is you, Marion.”

Bother.

Kassandra walked across the dais, held her hand out to a sunbeam. Motes of dust trembled through it like constellations. “Wielding starcraft during the day is an incredible gift. One even Rhaemyria did not have.”

Marion stared up into the closed eyes of the mosaic goddess.

“Only one other being has ever been able to use starcraft during the day. Do you know who?”

Marion did know. Not because she’d read it or been told. But because she felt it. In the darkest whispers of her, she felt it.

“Noctis,” Marion said. “My brother.”

This, like murdering the mercenaries, was another thought she could think. But not something she could understand or take within her awareness. It was like saying she was sister to the Emerald Queen or Sapphire Ranger from those storybooks they loved as children. Noctis was no more than a story.

Rhaemyria was no more than a story.

And yet…

“Tell me, dear, does your sister also have such a gift?”

Probably. But Vivian was too weak to use the stairs without holding onto the railing, let alone practice magic. Marion said instead, “Not that she’s discovered yet. My brother might. If only you’d take his choker off and let him—”

The Archpriestess let out a sharp, mirthless laugh. “Does destruction hurt less during the day?”

Marion steeled her gaze in response, said nothing.

Kassandra ran her elegant fingers down Marion’s face. “You think me cruel for keeping the Dark Stars’ magic confined. But you are a sweet morning maiden. You have never seen the devastation a Dark Star can unleash.”

“Timothée is good,” Marion insisted.

“I know, darling.” Kassandra ran a hand along her staff, to the dark purple stone forged at the end. “And we must keep him that way.”

Marion stepped forward, hand in a fist. “I do not fear Noctis’s memory.”

The rising sun trickled through the glass walls, causing the Archpriestess’s staff to glitter. She stared at Marion with a cold gaze. “You should. Noctis wielded his magic without restraint. You do not know the evil that is Noctis’s creations.”

Noctis’s creations. Vampires.

“I do know that evil,” Marion snarled. “That evil killed my father.”

Kassandra turned away, bells clattering. She walked down the steps of the dais and out the aisle. Without turning around, she said, “Bram was a dear friend of mine, before his betrayal. I carry fond memories of him. Tell me, dear, if you can. What became of Bram?”

The memory was three years long buried, but with that single question, Marion could feel the cold wet night in Wolfhelm. Smell the rain and the lavender from their cart. Hear her father’s voice say her name one last time.

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All she could manage to Kassandra was a shrug. “Nothing much to say. He was another victim in the Dark Prophet’s massacre.”

For the briefest moment, a thousand emotions flashed through Kassandra’s pale eyes. And then her face was stoic once again. “You still hold onto this idea of him as father. You cannot accept that he stole you from your rightful home.”

“My home is Seagrass.” Marion’s voice was a breath. “And he was the dearest father one could ask for.”

Kassandra tinkled down the aisle, morning light illuminating her white-blonde hair. “And what did Bram tell you of your mother?”

“She died in childbirth. The tragedy of carrying triplets.”

Kassandra sighed. “How terrible for you to think of the blessing of your life a tragedy.”

Marion had not often wondered about her mother. Never needed to. Their family always felt so complete with the three of them and Father, and their little home among the lavender. Sometimes, Vivian would wonder what it’d be like to have a mother plait your hair. So Marion plaited Vivian’s hair. Or Timothée would watch the mothers in Seagrass carrying their children on their backs. So Marion would heave Timothée on your back, despite that he was taller than her.

“I’ve had no need for a mother,” Marion said plainly. And because this was the only control she had over the most powerful woman in Thraina she added, “And I never will.”

A cold breeze blew the curtains at the back of the dais, and Marion swore she heard the echo of dark laughter.

But Kassandra just stared at her, eyes as white as the smoke that drifted off the charred corpses. Her lip quivered and a pang of guilt surged up Marion. She’d meant to sting the priestess, but true pain filled her features.

“Of course, you don’t.” The Archpriestess stared at the floor. “Rhaemyria’s dream were but dreams. Dreams stolen by that man. My biggest regret is that I lost so many years with you.”

The sun emerged beyond the horizon of the Isle of Argos, filling the entire cathedral with bright orange light. Archpriestess Kassandra stood, a silhouette against the radiant sun. Marion was suddenly struck by the image. Such sadness encased within such power.

She was the Glass Cathedral, Marion realized. Strength and fragility intertwined.

Unsure what to say but desperate to escape the silence, Marion said: “Rhaemyria’s dream?”

“Come.” Kassandra held out her arm. When Marion approached, she engulfed her, sleeves wide like a wing. The Archpriestess walked them over to one of the walls, inlaid with a massive stained glass mural.

Marion knew the image of Rhaemyria and Xydrious instantly. They walked upon a vibrant meadow, each holding the hands of a small child with black hair. But their gaze was up at the stars, where sat other beings Marion did not recognize. The people in the stars reached down and wept.

“There are many legends of the gods. Some are based in truth, others are just fanciful tales. Even our dear loremaster doesn’t know the whole of all of them.” Kassandra winked, an unnervingly normal gesture. “But I shall tell you the true tale that Rhaemyria has told me, so you may know your mother’s wishes.”

Mother. Marion shuddered against Kassandra’s arm.

“You of course know that Rhaemyria was the First Mother, the goddess of creation. She created her consort, Xydrious. From their home in the stars, they made Thraina to their liking. And they made other gods to share the stars with them. And Rhaemyria crafted her most precious creation of all: humans.”

Marion stared down at the Archpriestess’s robes. Each little ornament sewed upon her gown was different: little yarn dolls amidst the bells. They may have been cute if not stitched by their necks upon her garment. Now as Marion stared, the dress became more of a wasteland, like the aftermath of a battle fought by string soldiers.

“So enthralled was she by the life she had gifted Thraina, she decided she wanted to walk among it. She, Xydrious, and several other gods left their home in the stars to walk among their creations. What a joy! On Thraina, the gods learned both the boons and hardships of life.

“But to feel so much for so long is such a burden. After thousands of years upon the earth, the gods grew homesick for the stars. But the problem was…” Kassandra’s eyes shone. “They’d spent so long among the humans, they’d forgotten how to go home.”

Marion raised a brow. This was a story not told in any liturgy or scripture.

“And so, Rhaemyria and Xydrious made their greatest creation of all: an earth-born son. Surely, a son of the First Mother and the First Father would wield such power as to guide the gods home.”

They walked to the next stained glass mural. Noctis stood among black flames, Rhaemyria and Xydrious weeping at his feet. “And their son did wield great power. But was prideful, and malcontent. He was jealous of Rhaemyria’s love for the humans, so he corrupted them. What a fickle, ungrateful boy.”

The windows seemed to darken, shadows replacing where the sun had been. Marion rubbed her arms against the chill.

Kassandra approached the mural, reached a hand up to Noctis. “But we know how this story ends. Noctis may have waged his war. May have corrupted Thraina with his vile creations. Destroyed so many of Rhaemyria’s beloved humans. But he failed. His mother ripped the star from his breast. The war was over.” A single tear ran down her porcelain face. “But how can a mother’s heart ever recover?”

Marion scuffed a toe against the ornate floor. Her stomach growled. She wondered if there was any food in the Nest’s kitchen. She wanted a snack, and then to sleep for a thousand years.

Kassandra dropped her hand, turned, and held Marion’s gaze. “Every legend you’ve heard tells you the gods returned to the sky. That they’re the ones sending the starfall. But it’s not true, Marion. Without Noctis, the gods could not return. They need someone to lead them.”

Marion looked around. She better not be talking about me. I can barely find my way to the dining hall.

“It’s you, Marion. It’s you who must lead them.”

Oh, bother.

Kassandra crossed the space between them, gripped the side of her face. “Your brother is a Dark Star. His power can never be unleashed. And your sister’s spirit is weak. It must be you, Marion. You are the Morning Star. Just like me. Like your mother. Embrace your starcraft entirely, little firebird. And when you are strong enough, the gods will show themselves to you. And you will all reunite among the stars.”

A great fear settled in Marion’s consciousness. She truly believes all this. In all of Thraina, the Archpriestess was second in power to Darius Störmberg alone. Or perhaps even more powerful. And she truly believed Marion would lead her beloved gods to the sky…

Prophecy was a drug; people were addicted to the idea of certainty. And so they would move earth itself to ensure this. Even the Archpriestess was a victim to her faith.

What opportunities could be seized by such radical belief?

Marion blinked her eyes, her thoughts strange to her. She didn’t want to exploit Kassandra’s ethos. She wanted Vivian to get better, and to back down to Thraina.

But until they’d figured out Vivian’s cure…if Kassandra trusted Marion, the more information she could gather about the sentient castle.

Marion put her hand over Kassandra’s. “I’ll do whatever I can.”

“Bless you.” Tears welled in the Archpriestess’s eyes.

Marion attempted a warm expression. “I should probably get some rest.”

“Absolutely.” The Archpriestess walked Marion to the front doors. “Starting tomorrow night, you will attend a private lesson with me each day.”

“A private lesson?”

“Of course. The sooner your powers grow, the sooner the gods reveal themselves.” She kissed Marion’s cheek. “They’re closer than you think.”

“Until tomorrow.” Marion turned and stepped out into the cool dawn. Private lessons with the headmistress. Fiery determination burned within her heart. I will open that lock and soon. And then the castle will pay me what is owed.

“Oh, by the way, Marion.”

She turned back to the Archpriestess.

“Word has it you’ve been spending much of your time with that Medihsan boy. The Prince’s ward.”

“Khalid? Yes, he’s…he’s a friend of mine.”

Kassandra smiled that strange smile, the one that made Marion think she didn’t know how to truly smile, and this was her best attempt at one. “It would be wise for you to find better company. Take it from someone who knows personally.” Her ice eyes glinted in the sunlight. “You can never trust a Medihsan.”


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**This scene has an extended version of a flashback of the night the vampires first attacked Wolfhelm and Marion's father was killed. You can read it by signing up for our Starlight Tier on Patreon. Click here to read now!**


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