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26 – In Which Marion Feels the Yuletide Magic
Marion was quite used to living in a constant state of fear. She cracked up their survival in Wolfhelm to this innate awareness of everything and anyone that could hurt them. At this point, her fear was almost like a little friend that sat with her, lovingly warning her away from being too happy, too relaxed, with little reminders that all of it could be taken away in a moment.
What would she do without her fear?
Tonight, the night of the Yuletide Ball, there were so many things to be afraid of. The Greywicks and Khalid were going to sneak out of the party and attempt to crack the Archpriestess’s lock and enter the chamber at the bottom of the Isle.
That would be good thing to be worried about.
And yet…her stomach twisted for a different reason.
She swished in front of the mirror in her dorm room.
She looked like a childhood dream. Like how she imagined herself when she was a little girl, pretending she was a princess in a castle.
But her dress wasn’t fit for a princess. It was fit for a goddess. When Fiona, an acquaintance from the Evening Star house, volunteered to craft the three Greywick’s Yuletide outfits, Marion knew they would be spectacular. Fiona had a line-up of Starlings requesting her talents for ball gowns and suits; the last moon, her dorm room spilled with all manner of beautiful fabrics. But Marion hadn’t expected to look like this.
Her dress was the soft yellow of dawn. It was one-shouldered, emblazoned with a brilliant phoenix face. Diagonally over half the dress, fabric rustled like flame feathers, the firebird embodied. The rest of the dress shimmered a blush-gold. The full skirt made a lovely swishing sound, and she couldn’t stop twirling in the mirror and seeing how it moved.
This dress made her feel on fire.
It made her feel powerful.
Her blonde hair was swept up into a bun upon her head, a few curled tendrils framing her face. Gold glitter made her hair shimmer with each flicker of light. She’d applied her own makeup, taking her time to study the soft curve of her jaw, the apples of her cheeks, her wide-set eyes. Her face felt foreign to her. Three years had passed by, and she’d never noticed the way she’d changed, how her features had matured.
Who am I? she asked the mirror. Timothée and Vivian’s sister. Father’s daughter. A Morning Star. A Lost Star Child.
But who was she beyond that?
It was a dangerous question. If she stopped and looked inward, she might never be able to escape back out again.
Marion fussed with her skirt for the tenth time. That lovely, familiar fear raised its head again, pulling her away from questions about herself. She knew how to sit with this feeling.
Yes, she was going to break into a magically locked room today in hopes to cure her sister’s sickness.
But also…any minute Khalid Ali Bagheeri was going to knock on her door to take her to the Yuletide Ball.
It was a date. Their first real date.
And she was afraid.
Was she pretty enough? Interesting enough? She hadn’t been particularly kind to him. Should she be kinder? And she wasn’t charming like Rayna, or the other girls at the Academy. She should be charming tonight, shouldn’t she?
But how in the Three do you just become charming?
She paced back and forth in her room, skirt brushing up between her bed and dresser. She dug her hands through her hair, immediately regretted it and quickly fixed her bun. What was wrong with her? She’d never bothered with such idiotic questions around Khalid before. He was her friend. She needed to concentrate on their mission tonight. She needed to be confident in her relationship with Khalid. She needed to—
She needed to throw up.
Taking a deep breath and one last look in the mirror, she swung open the door.
Khalid Ali Bagheeri leaned on the doorframe and stared at her through a curtain of curly black hair and dark lashes. The mask he wore around everyone—the one of practiced charisma—vanished, and he gave her a genuine smile. Real happiness sparkled on his face. “Marion.”
And she melted. All the fear washed away, like a snowmelt after a long winter. Every terrible, insecure question disappeared from her mind, because she knew who she was at this moment. His light was so bright, there was no room to wander in the darkness of her heart.
She smiled back, wide and open. “Khalid.”
He looked her up and down. “I thought I’d finally outshine you, but I should have known what a fool’s errand that was. You are ravishing.”
She rose a brow. “And what are you wearing?”
He stepped back and held out his arms. He wore a green wool sweater with an emblazoned tree on the front. “Just wait!” Then he pressed the star on the top of the tree. The whole sweater erupted with light, blinking and flashing like the gaudiest Yuletide tree in existence.
“What is that?” Marion laughed. She grabbed his arm, examined the sweater. “How did you make it light up? Starcraft?”
A blush covered his cheeks. “No, I made it. See, a copper wire runs from the button here all the way down…” He narrowed his eyes. “Not all fabulous things come from starcraft, you know.”
He was so handsome, it made her angry. No one should look that good in a tacky sweater. “It’s very ingenious, Mr. Ali Bagheeri. You’ll certainly stand out.”
He winked at her. “I’m just kidding. I’m not actually going to wear this to the ball.” He threw the sweater off and tossed it on her bed.
Does he think he’s going to be back in my room to retrieve that tonight?
Underneath, he wore a dashing jacket and a yellow bowtie. He bowed low before her, held out his arm. “Shall we?”
There were all types of magic at the Celestial Academy for Fallen Stars, but Yuletide magic might be Marion’s favourite. It wasn’t created by the stars and wasn’t something you could see. But she could feel it in the ballroom, the wonder of the season.
A gigantic tree was placed in the middle of the ballroom, the branches decorated with tiny candles and crystal icicles and silver and gold baubles. Three intertwined gemstones sculpted in the shape of stars crested the very top: yellow, blue, and purple.
Marion couldn’t look around fast enough. White trees bordered the entire room, and ropes of holly dangled across the ceiling, smelling of lush pine. A bursting buffet table displayed pumpkin pies, bowls of mashed potatoes, roasted vegetables, cranberry sauce, and mushroom wellington.
And when she looked up at the glass ceiling, there were no stars: just dark clouds and falling snow.
It was oddly comforting.
If she had thought the students went all out on their outfits for All Hallow’s Eve, she was mistaken. Beautiful ballgowns and frock coats of every colour swished on the dance floor to a rousing orchestra of holiday hymns.
And there were Celestial Knights. Celestial Knights everywhere. At each end of the buffet, beside the conductor of the band, one posted at each window, and an entire host around Archpriestess Kassandra, sitting on her golden chair.
There would be no repeat of Hallow’s Eve tonight.
“So what do you want to do first? Eat? Get a drink? Have a dance?” Khalid wriggled his eyebrows at her.
Marion peered around the ballroom, distracted. “You know I don’t dance.”
“So what then?”
“Find Vivian and Timothée.”
Khalid laughed. “I should have known.”
They had already decided the Greywicks weren’t going to spend the entire party together. Their plan was carefully crafted. At midnight, when Kassandra was occupied with her formal greetings, they would excuse themselves from the party one by one. It would be easier to leave without suspicion if they weren’t all together.
But just because she wasn’t going to spend time with her siblings, didn’t mean Marion wasn’t going to keep a close eye on them.
She found Vivian first. Took in a breath. Tears nearly sprung to her eyes.
Vivian looked stunning. An ice queen straight from the storybooks. She stood looking out a window with a group of Evening Stars, including Fiona. Vivian’s brunette curls were woven over one shoulder with lace and pearls. Her dress was the sparkling blue of an Andúrigardian winter, long-sleeved with a bodice that shimmered like ice. The skirt looked like a frozen waterfall, different colours of blue tousling over one another.
She laughed at something one of her friends said, but Marion could see the hesitancy in her eyes. Don’t worry, Viv. This will all be yours soon enough. I promise you.
She flicked her gaze to the buffet table, where Prince Darius stood looking extremely perplexed over what vegetables he wanted. All of this and more.
“Little bit of a different entrance this ball, eh?” Khalid nudged her arm and directed her attention to the top of the stairs.
Three Dark Stars walked down the stairway with the swagger of a theatre troupe. Timothée was in the middle, with Carmilla and Val on each arm.
“That boy,” Marion groaned.
Though she had to admit it, her little brother looked fabulous. Fiona had dressed him in purple, with a brilliant topcoat. The underside of the tails was made with crafted fabric that glistened like a galaxy. His wild hair was oiled over to one side, giving him a strangely distinguished look.
Val and Carmilla looked equally as polished with their matching pointed stares.
Marion took a deep breath, looked up at Khalid. “Alright. Everyone’s here. But we’ve got several hours before our plan. What do we do until then?”
His smile was brighter than a thousand twinkling lights. “Well, isn’t that easy? We enjoy the party.”
**This scene has an extended version of the Yuletide party. You can read it by signing up for our Starlight Tier on Patreon. Click here to read now!**
Marion’s heart raged like fire as she and Khalid stood in the shadows of an empty hallway.
They’d crept out of the party right after midnight. Khalid had told Rayna they were going back to the dorm and weren’t to be disturbed for any reason; that rumour would get around quickly, covering any suspicion about their whereabouts.
And maybe, in a different life where they didn’t need to be sneaking around the castle, that would have been the truth. Khalid had kissed her. Marion touched her lips. Shivered.
A shadow moved and Marion jumped. But it was only Vivian. “I’m here,” she whispered.
“Did you get out okay?” Khalid asked.
“Yes, I just said I was tired. No one questioned that.”
Well, it would be the truth.
“I’m here!” Her brother slunk out of the shadows toward them.
“Did anyone notice you leave?” she asked.
“Yes, I told everyone, but don’t worry. I’d been playing up a stomach problem all night.” With a wild grin, he whipped a glass vial out of his coat pocket. “I mixed this gas up yesterday. It’s a blend of skunk cabbage, corpse flower, and egg. I’ve been secretly uncorking it every so often. Trust me, people were happy to see me go.”
Marion wrinkled her nose. “Disgusting.”
Khalid laughed and smacked Timothée on the shoulder, nearly making him drop his homemade stink bomb.
Vivian took in a deep breath and clenched her fists. “Should we do this?”
The Greywicks looked from one another. Shadows swirled around them and purple fire burst to life on a torch near them.
“It knows we’re coming,” Timothée whispered. “And it’s excited.”
Step by step, the sisters and Khalid followed Timothée down the dark, twisting path to the bottom of the Isle. Still dressed in their Yuletide attire, they looked an oddly merry bunch for walking through dripping stone halls covered in moss.
Marion’s heart thudded. A strange breeze kept flying through the hallways, tugging at her loose curls, and sending shivers down her spine. It almost felt like it was encouraging them to keep going, a voice without sound.
As they walked, Marion flicked flames off and on her fingers. She’d been practicing with Archpriestess Kassandra nearly every day. She hadn’t been sure what to expect from the headmistress; her lessons were cold, matter-of-fact. And yet…Marion could see the great power beneath the Archpriestess’s detached demeanour.
“You hanging in there?” Khalid whispered, coming up beside her.
Marion stared at her hands. “If I can’t do this…Vivian will be cursed forever. It will be my fault again.”
“Remember what we talked about outside? You didn’t do that to Vivian. It was the Dark Prophet. And this is your first step to regaining power over him.”
She blinked in the gloom. “What?”
Khalid stared straight ahead, hands in his pockets. “You’re going to change the world, Marion Greywick. And that comes with a few liberties. Such as destroying your enemies.”
Killing the Dark Prophet.
Would she ever be so powerful?
She looked down at her hands, at the flames that danced along her fingers. Imagined his shadows fleeing from her light.
If she could kill the Dark Prophet, there would be nothing to fear ever again.
And wouldn’t that be sweet…to replace her old friend fear with something more powerful?
Something like vengeance.
“We’re here.” Timothée’s voice.
They walked out into a grand cavern with a high arching ceiling. In the middle was a massive door of white stone.
Marion shuddered as she stepped toward it. The door towered at least fifty feet high, carved with the design of a man and woman, heads together, cradling a baby.
Mother. Father. Brother.
The words came unbidden to her thoughts. Yet…they felt true.
It was Rhaemyria, Xydrious, and Noctis. She knew this.
Their footsteps echoed as they approached the door.
“The being is through here,” Timothée said. “He’s waiting for us.”
Marion touched her hand to the cold stone. “And the lock? Where is it?”
“This is it,” Khalid said and motioned to the etched outline of the gods. “Kassandra laced her fire through the carving.”
Marion stepped back, examined the door.
“Do you need anything from us?” Vivian whispered.
Marion shook her head. “Just…stand over there.”
Her siblings nodded and walked back to the entrance of the cavern. Khalid squeezed her shoulder. “You’ve got this, kid.”
Marion felt the warmth linger on her skin from his touch. A little extra sunlight.
With everyone away, Marion felt truly alone before the door. Alone…except for the presence behind it. She could feel something wavering beyond the stone, an eager and hungry energy. Should this door even be opened?
No, no, no. The word thrummed in her mind, darted between the beats of her heart. Something deep in her awareness knewthis door should stay shut.
But she looked behind her to where Vivian stood.
Whatever they found beyond the stone, she would face it. For her family.
Marion started at the bottom: forged a flame and sent it shooting up the length of Rhaemyria’s gown. A bead of sweat dripped off her forehead. It was one thing to create, another to control.
The flame licked its way around the carving, outlining Rhaemyria in orange light. Marion stepped back, hand trembling as she grew her flame further, now round Noctis, alighting his baby face with fire. Finally, it traced its way across Xydrious, over his large hands and long hair, down his back. The flame reached the bottom of the door, the entire etching ablaze.
The door did not open.
Marion let out a staggered breath. Her hands shook from holding the flame. “Why isn’t it opening?”
She held the fire there for another minute, and still nothing happened. With a cry, she fell forward on to her hands and knees, light going out.
Three shadows covered her. Timothée tapped her back. “It’s okay, Marion. We can try again after you’ve had more practice.”
“I really thought you had it, little firebird,” Khalid said. “Next time for sure.”
And Vivian softly smiled. “Thank you for trying, Marion.”
Their footsteps echoed as they walked back to the entrance. Marion stayed there, on all fours, breathing like a trapped animal.
She’d gotten her fire all the way around. Why hadn’t it worked? Was it the pattern? The heat? The speed?
It could be any number of these things, and how would she know?
She wasn’t a god, despite what they said. All of it was religious publicity. She was just a girl who glowed on moonless nights.
She looked up. “Curse you,” she mumbled. “Curse you, false gods. Curse you, Xydrious. Curse you, Noctis. Curse you—”
The word whipped at her like arrows, bursts of wind tearing at her skin and hair, and ringing in her ears.
Filled with rage, Marion looked around. Who is screaming at me?
It was herself. It was the place within that knew the things she did not want to know. She stared up at Rhaemyria, eyes blurry with angry tears.
“If you are my mother, then your magic runs through me,” she growled. Marion staggered over to the wall, placed her hands on the stone, fingers extended, digging into the rock. She closed her eyes.
This door was made of the first Morning Star magic. Maybe Kassandra was right. Maybe Rhaemyria did talk to her and had gifted her with the knowledge of how to open this door.
If this was truly Rhaemyria’s door, and Marion was truly her daughter, the key was within herself.
Within the multimemory of a mother and daughter.
Marion’s blood was hot with starcraft, her whole body glowing with heat. Her phoenix dress wavered from the warmth, fabric glistening like flames. Marion felt her star within her heart, remembered the hot taste as she took it to her lips upon the Meadow of Shattered Stars.
“I am yours,” she whispered to her star. “Guide me.”
Bursts of heat radiated, turning the air wavy. Light shattered her vision, and she could feel her eyes roll up into her head. And a great sadness crept into her, a sadness more intense than she had ever felt before. Guilt, shame, agony…and betrayal. She blinked, looked around, but the world was a white blur except for the door before her.
And she knew she was not looking through her own eyes, but the eyes of Rhaemyria, thousands of years before.
A sob erupted from her throat, her voice, but not her voice. “You have made me do this!” she but not she cried. “You forced this act upon me!”
And her hands but not her hands reached out and touched the stone. A flame sparked on both ends of the door, an orange one blazing up the carving of Rhaemyria, a blue flame sparking up Xydrious.
“I asked for nothing!” she but not she cried again. “I gave you only love! What a wicked creature you are!” Boiling hot tears poured down their face.
It was their face. One, but both mother and daughter.
The flames slowly crawled through the etchings until Rhaemyria and Xydrious were alight. The only thing left was Noctis.
“I can’t let you go,” their voice softened. “You will stay here. With me. Forever.”
The flames mingled together, scorching through Noctis with bright purple fire.
Marion stared through Rhaemyria’s eyes at the baby Noctis. Their heart beat with love and anger and fear. So much fear, Marion thought she might never find her way through it.
Marion cried and yanked back, out of Rhaemyria’s body and memory. She fell upon the cold ground, herself once again.
Before her, the entire door was alight. And swinging open.
“You did it!” Timothée cried, pulling her back so she wasn’t hit by the door.
Her brother pulled her to her feet, and shaking, she looked around to see Vivian and Khalid smiling at her.
She had done it.
And as the door slammed open, they stared into the room.
Into a floating galaxy.
“Welcome, Greywicks,” the galaxy said. “At last, we meet.”
Thank you for reading this chapter! A big thanks to Emily (and her OC Fiona) from our Discord community for designing the Greywick's amazing holiday outfits! If you would like to see her designs please join our Discord!
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