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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.”


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?”