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29 – In Which Marion Holds the Ice and Blood Together



In Which Marion Holds the Ice and Blood Together

Marion sat at her vanity, brushing her wet curls into a straight, tameable curtain. Her face was clear from the Yuletide glitter, body freed from the tight constraints of her dress, and skin warm from the bath. She wore a loose, lace nightgown and her bed, perfectly made, invited her under the rich gold covers and bountiful pillows.

The dormitory was quiet, all the merrymakers still enjoying the festivities of the Yuletide ball. She was doing all the right things to calm her racing heart: a bath, a brush, and many deep breaths. And yet…sleep would not come.

She’d done it. She’d reached into the multi-memory that lived within her blood and unlocked Kassandra’s sealed door. They’d made contact with the being powering the castle. There was hope for Vivian. Even if it felt far away.

She had solved one of Kassandra’s puzzles. She could do it again. Whatever it took, until that staff was hers.

And Khalid would help.

A warmth more intense than the hot water of the bath flooded through her. Now there was a puzzle she hadn’t solved yet. He’d lied. She’d yelled. They’d kissed.

And so much more.

Khalid was always going off about how not all fabulous things came from starcraft, how creating with your hands and wits was a form of magic in itself. How he’d made her feel after their fight…that had to be magic. No way a mere boy could make her lose her senses so entirely.

A slight knock. Her head whipped like a lash. She rushed to answer.

He was standing there. She knew he would be.

“I saw the light under your door,” Khalid said, voice low. “I just wanted to check you were okay. After everything tonight. If I was too—”

She yanked him into the room by the cuff of his silken night shirt, pulled his lips to hers. He made a muffled sound of delight and slammed the door behind him.

In a flurry of kisses, she mumbled, “Stay with me.”

He pulled away, face flushed. “Oh, thank the gods. I don’t think I would get a wink of sleep without you in my arms.”

Alright, fine. Maybe a mere boy could make her lose her senses entirely.

But as he dove into her bed, pulling the covers around him in a childish manner and giving her such a grin, she knew he wasn’t just a mere boy. He was Khalid Ali Bagheeri, smart and brave, and trying to do right by her family. That’s what mattered most.

Dawn was still a while away, and the party still raged on in the ballroom, but sleep called to her. She tucked into bed beside Khalid, his arms enfolding her in warmth. With a clap of her hands, the enchanted lanterns on the walls dimmed their golden light until the room was black, save the sliver of moonlight creeping out beneath the curtains.

Khalid’s eyes were closed and his breathing soft as Marion mumbled against him.

“How quickly you can sleep,” she murmured. “For one with so many thoughts, you certainly quiet them on demand.”

“There’s a time and place for worrying, Marion dear,” he mumbled. “I can’t solve any problems without sleep.”

She knotted her hand in his silken pajamas. How odd it was to willingly share a bed with someone. She thought of Vivian, alone in her dorm at the Den. What must she be thinking? Did she feel hope from the sentient castle’s promise?

Or despair that there were yet more obstacles to conquer?

Marion had seen the way Vivian stared at Darius on the dancefloor. Her sister had never wanted for anything in her life, except for the Prince. And it was the one thing she had given up.

“How long do you think it will take us?” Marion whispered.

Khalid sighed. “What?”

“How long do you think it will take us to free the castle?”

Khalid pulled Marion closer to his chest, patted her hair as if he could soothe her to sleep. “I don’t know. We don’t even know if we should trust that thing. Let’s worry about it in the evening—”

“But she’s hurting, Khalid. Vivian, that is. And Darius, too. Maybe if we told him our mission, he might help and—”

Khalid sat up. Clapped his hands. The room flooded with light. His face was stern. “Listen to me, Marion. I know Darius better than anyone. The only way we all survive this and save Vivian is if Darius never finds out. Do you hear me? Vampires slaughtered his family.” His green eyes flashed. “For him, you will find no mercy. No forgiveness. Only death.”

Marion swallowed. Darius had always seemed so calm-headed, if unassuming. And his love for Vivian felt pure. Surely, that was enough to overcome her affliction.

But she trusted Khalid. Of that, she had finally made peace. And he knew Darius in a way no one else could, in the way of brothers. If he said Darius wouldn’t accept Vivian, then it was a certainty.

So, they’d continue the plan, just the Greywicks and Khalid. And the castle.

“Alright, it was just an idea,” she murmured. “No need to get so upset.”

“If I’m upset, it’s because I’m worried you’re not taking me seriously.” Khalid’s black waves fell in a tumble over his eyes. “If Darius finds out, it’s not just Vivian you have to worry about. It’s anyone who’s helped her. You, Timothée. Me.”

“B-But…we’re the Star Children. And you’re the son of the prime ministers of Medihsa—”

“Won’t matter to Darius. He’ll see us all as traitors. And the Church has had an alliance with Andúrigard for generations. Kassandra wouldn’t be so quick to turn her back on Darius.”

A new fear spurred through her. “Darius will never find out, so we don’t have to worry about it.”

Khalid flopped his arm back over her. “Did you just say we don’t have to worry about it? That’s a new one.”

“Oh, go to sleep.”

He chuckled. “I’m trying.”

Marion rose her hands to clap the lights off when suddenly they flickered of their own accord. The golden crystals powering the lamps flashed to a deep purple, flooding the room in violet light.

“Is that a new trick?” Khalid murmured. “Not really your colour.”

“I didn’t do that.” Marion wrinkled her nose, clapped her hands.

The lights stayed purple. Then the drawers of her wardrobe burst open, one of her hooded capes falling from the hanger and draping across the floor.

“What’s going on?” Marion sat up.

The wardrobe shook and her boots fell out.

Khalid slowly rose. “An earthquake?”

“But we’re in the sky.”

“An…airquake?”

A rumble sounded through the room, almost like a deep sigh. And a shadow appeared in the violet light upon the door. A shadow cast where none should be.

A voice, echoing and distant, yet as intimate as if it were in her own mind, hissed: Sister.

“Sister?” Marion repeated, jumping out of bed, and heading toward the shadow. “What of my sister?”

“Who are you talking to?” Khalid cried.

The shadow wavered on the wall. Sister. Sister in danger. Hurry.

Then the shade disappeared.

Marion’s throat constricted. She turned to Khalid. “The castle’s warning me. Vivian’s in trouble.”

Within a minute, she’d flung the hooded cape over her thin lace nightgown, pulled her boots on, and tossed a large overcoat at Khalid. He hopped on one foot, yanking on a soft-soled shoe.

“You mean that purple light—?”

“The castle.” Marion ripped open the door. “But it didn’t tell me where to go.”

Khalid appeared beside her, pointed down the hallway of the dorm. “This way.”

At the far end, one of the torches flickered purple.

They sprinted through their dormitory, and out the quiet Nest. As soon as they passed one purple torch, another would spring to life with violet flame, leading the way.

Marion struggled to keep her breathing even. She had kept Vivian safe against all odds for three years. What could have happened in the few hours since she’d last seen her? Did Kassandra find out they’d broken into her room? Was the Dark Prophet back, or had he sent his monstrous duo to collect her?

Her throat was hot and tight. Fear made her flames simmer too close beneath her skin. She had to breathe, to remain calm. The phoenix could burst into flame and live. But she was still yet a girl.

On frantic feet, Marion and Khalid dashed into the main foyer of the castle. Standing there, hands gripped tight in his hair, was Timothée.

“You heard it too?” he gasped.

She nodded. No other words were needed.

Whatever this castle was…it wanted to help them.

The huge double-doors flung open. The hiss of Sss-isss-terrrr flew on the burst of cold winter air.

The three sprinted out into the moonlight.

Bitter wind tore at Marion’s thin nightgown. She wrapped the cape tighter around herself, grateful the castle had given her this advantage. Timothée and Khalid were both faster, coursing over the snow, scanning for signs.

“This way!” Khalid cried, pointing toward Selene Crescent. Every tall lamp flashed with purple light.

They sprinted through the quiet marketplace, and when there were no lanterns, the castle found other signs. A tree cracked and fell, directing forward. Water burst up from a pond and froze, the jagged edges aiming onward.

And when they ran through the trees and the very edge of the Isle lay before them, the only sign was the hurried hiss of the castle’s voice: Go. Sister. Save sister.

Dread like Marion had never felt before sank into her skin. She had never walked to the edge of the Isle of Argos, never longed to look below. It only served as a reminder that she was trapped in the sky.

Why would Vivian be here? What was Marion going to find at the edge of the world?

If she found Vivian dead…

No, she couldn’t think it. Wouldn’t. There was only the snow beneath her feet, the wind in her air, and the throb in her weak muscles as she ran.

Khalid was first, skidding to a stop on hands and knees at the very edge of the Isle. He looked up, and over. The wind tore like knives. “I don’t see anything!”

Timothée staggered backward, eyes shining. “She has to be here. The castle…led us here.”

Marion forced herself to stand at the precipice. Cold mist sprayed her face from a waterfall below, running off the side of the world. Leagues beneath them, the dark ocean tossed and turned. Marion envisioned herself falling, falling, falling, her fire streaking out from her, until she sank, extinguished in the sea.

But there was no sign of Vivian.

“Over here!” Khalid called. He pointed to footprints in the snow. “Look, two sets of footprints. One could be Vivian’s. But they just…disappear.”

“No, no.” Marion collapsed to the snow, cold biting into the knees. One set of footprints did look about her sister’s size. The others were larger, male.

An image flashed into her mind. A giant bat flying over Wolfhelm, swooping down into the dark alleys. Returning to flight with her father in its claws.

Heat rushed through her skin. Her nightgown became soaked as the snow melted beneath her. “No! No!” She whipped back to look at the castle in the distance. “You led us here! Show me where she is! Show me!” With her scream, flames licked over her body, turning her vision orange.

“Marion!” Timothée reached for her, shrunk back at the heat.

Marion dug her fiery fingers into the frosted ground and snarled to that voice in her head: “I did not come to this damned place for my sister to vanish without a trace. Stars fall to the earth in a burst of fire. I will send this whole Isle crashing to the ground in a blaze, and you with it, unless you show me—”

The voice seemed to chuckle. And then the ground shook.

“Get back!” Khalid cried, and yanked Timothée to the ground. Marion flung herself backward too, flames extinguishing amidst the snow.

A portion of the edge of the Isle began to rearrange, crumbling and rebuilding on top of itself. With a great crack, the ground settled. And before them lay…

A staircase. A staircase leading down the side of the Isle.

Khalid stood up, dusted snow off his silk pajamas. “Never a dull moment with you Greywicks.” He winked behind him at the Academy. “Or you, Castle.”

Timothée walked forward first, said with a gulp, “She must be down here.”

Marion followed behind her brother and Khalid. What would they find at the bottom?

The staircase led down into the earth. Ice-frosted walls rose above them. And the dimming light of the moon danced across the ice.

Marion smelled it first. Thick and coppery. She pushed past Khalid and Timothée, quickened her step.

And when she reached the bottom of the staircase and walked out into the cavern below, it was all she could do to keep from fainting.

They had found their sister.

Or at least, a version of her.

Vivian sat huddled with her arms wrapped tight around herself. She wore only a long-sleeved white undershirt, far too big on her, but her legs were bare. Back and forth she trembled, eyes wide and unseeing.

And her mouth…

Marion took in a sharp inhale of breath to calm her wild heart. Vivian’s mouth was covered in dried blood, staining her chin and neck.

And lying before her was a dead man.

Or mostly dead. Marion couldn’t tell at this point. But she did know that the Prince of Andúrigard’s lifeblood was draining out of him at this very moment.

He was completely naked except for his Yuletide jacket thrown over his lower half. And the blood. Blood covered him like a blanket, dripping down from his neck.

Marion wasn’t sure how Vivian and Darius got down here, but based on their state of undress, she could surmise the situation. She allowed herself one deep breath in and out to orient herself before Timothée and Khalid flanked her. One breath to let her heart run wild and her fear erupt within her mind.

And then it was time to get to work.

Ice and blood. Ice and blood everywhere.

And she would hold it together as she always did. She would find a way out of this.

She felt Timothée and Khalid’s presence behind her. They would not intake this situation so calmly.

“Viv!” Timothée rushed to their sister. He skidded on the ice and blood, collapsing beside her. As soon as he wrapped his arms around her, she seemed to awaken from her trance. Vivian blinked her big grey eyes and took in the situation. And then she screamed, clutching to Timothée, scrambling away from the cooling body.

“I’ve got you,” Timothée said, holding her thrashing body in his arms.

At the same time, Khalid screamed: “Dare!” He grabbed Darius’s face in his lap, feeling his bloody neck. “He’s alive! But his pulse…it’s so slow.”

Breathe in. Breathe out. “Now, now, all of you. That’s enough fussing. There’s work to be done.” Marion furrowed her brow and gathered her thin skirt in her hands. “Khalid, there’s handkerchiefs in the pocket of the coat I gave you. No, the other pocket. Hold it tight to Darius’s neck. We have to stop that bleeding.” She turned to her siblings. “Timothée, find some proper clothes for your sister. Your coat will do, yes. There are some pants over there. Straighten them out for her, won’t you?” Timothée let go of Vivian, scrambled to obey.

Marion sunk down before her sister. She didn’t look like a monster, even with the blood. Even with the swell of fangs behind her lips. She just looked sad. Marion placed two warm hands on either side of Vivian’s icy face. “Listen to me, Viv. I’m going to fix this. You’re safe now. I’ll keep you safe.”

But inside, Khalid’s voice warred in her head: For him, you will find no mercy. No forgiveness. Only death.

Vivian collapsed into her bosom, sobbing. Marion pet her head, held her icy body close. “I’ll keep you safe,” she whispered again to the creature in her arms with the inch-long fangs right by her neck. “I’ll keep her safe.”

Sickening spurts of adrenaline surged up her body. She could do this. She just had to stay in control.

“Marion,” Khalid said, eyes wide. “The bleeding’s stopped but he’s got barely a pulse. What are we going to do?”

“I didn’t mean to!” Vivian let out a feral cry, clawed at Marion’s back. “Is he—”

“Get her changed,” Marion snapped at Timothée, and pushed Vivian into her brother’s arms. She stood, paced. “We need to treat that wound properly. We can’t do that here.”

“We can’t very well take him into the Academy,” Khalid cried. “What will we say? Oh, he just got two perfect stab wounds right on his neck?”

“I’m thinking!” She kneaded the bridge of her nose.

Timothée looked up from wrapping his coat around Vivian’s shoulders. “My room. No one ever goes to the Cauldron. If we can get him there, we can treat him.”

“How will we get him there?” Marion said.

Khalid looked down at Darius’s pale face. “My skiff. I’ll run back and get it. I’ll fly Darius and Vivian up to the Cauldron.”

Marion nodded. “Everyone should still be at the ball. Timothée can run ahead and let you in. And I’ll sneak into the medical ward, get us some equipment.”

“Here, hold this against his neck.” Khalid held out the handkerchief to Marion.

She walked over, took the drenched cloth, pressed it tightly to the future king’s cold skin. He’s freezing.

“I’ll be back soon,” Khalid called, sprinting up the stairs.

“I’ll go now too,” Timothée said. “Prepare my room and get the window open.”

“Make sure that deranged roommate of yours is nowhere around,” Marion hissed.

“I’ll take care of it.” And then Timothée was gone too.

It was just Marion and two nearly-dead creatures.

Vivian had gone back to the same position as before they arrived: legs tight to her chest, arms wrapped around her knees, eyes staring at nothing. At least now she was wearing Timothée’s jacket and Darius’s pants.

Marion stared down at the Prince of Andúrigard lying naked on the ice. How pathetic he looked, pale and broken, covered in his own blood.

If Darius survived this, he wouldn’t just find out about Vivian’s secret. He would have been nearly killed by it.

A thought struck her like an arrow: Kill him. She could throw him off the edge. No one could stop her. Vivian would be safe.

No, no, she chided herself. She didn’t murder people, especially not future kings. They would find a way to save his life.

She pressed her hands on his ice-cold chest, felt the heat of her star’s fire warm her skin against his.

She’d find a way to keep them all safe. By love or by violence, whatever the situation called for.

***

Marion Greywick never assumed she’d be heaving an almost-dead, yet incredibly muscular, royal onto her brother’s bed or yelling at a vampire to get in the tub and wash the blood out of her hair, but here she was.

She and Timothée dropped Darius onto the bed, each breathing heavily. The Prince looked even paler than before, if that was possible. They’d pulled him through the window from Khalid’s sky skiff. Now, Khalid scrambled through the window himself. “There was a little ledge down below. Just left the skiff there in case we need it again to get them out of here.”

Marion nodded. “We need to get that neck bandaged. And his body temperature up. I need blankets. A warm washcloth. Hurry!”

Timothée and Khalid sprang to action. The sound of rushing water came from the bathtub, as Vivian obeyed her orders to wash the evidence off her own face.

Minutes of frenzied activity past by.

“You’re sure Val isn’t going to walk in here?” Marion asked as she wiped the last of the blood from Darius’s neck and began to bandage the wound.

“He’s still at the party. I looked in there before I came up,” Timothée said. “Besides, usually after big events he likes to stay with Carmilla.”

Marion gave him a side-eye. Was that jealousy she heard? It would be a favour if Valentine just made things official with the former grand princess. Timothée was far too sweet for someone with such a cunning smirk as Valentine Sun.

After Darius’s neck was thoroughly bandaged, and his body wrapped in blankets, Marion stepped back and observed her work. “His body temperature is up, and his wound is cleaned and bound, but his pulse is still slow.” She worried her bottom lip. “I’m…I’m not sure what to do about that.”

Khalid paced back and forth in the small room. The purple light from the fire cast strange shadows over his face.

“We’re going to save him, Khalid.” She placed a hand on his arm.

He tore away. “And then what?”

Marion’s breath caught. “What?”

“Weren’t you listening to me earlier tonight? You fix him. He wakes up. We need a plan for that, Marion.”

She’d never seen Khalid like this: anger and fear etched across his face. “We’ll…sort it.”

“You know what he’s going to do, right?” Khalid’s voice rose. “He’s going to kill her! He. Will. Kill. Her.”

A wail sounded from the bathroom.

“Be quiet,” Marion snapped. “You’re scaring her.”

Timothée rushed into the bathroom, tried to offer soothing words. Vivian kept wailing.

“She should be scared,” Khalid snarled. “There’s only one way she survives this.” His eyes flashed with emerald intensity. “She has to run.”

Marion took in a deep breath. “She’s not going anywhere.”

Timothée poked his head out from the bathroom, the steam making his curls droop. “Maybe Darius will understand.”

Khalid’s boots were heavy on the floor. “You don’t understand. None of you do! I was there the night of the massacre. I saw what those vampires did to his family. And what he did to the vampires. He’d mutter to himself in his sleep after that. I could hear him screaming from the other room, the threats he’d make. When he wakes up, Vivian is dead. And we’re all dead for helping.” Pure fear emitted off his face as he held Marion’s gaze. “I told you. Vivian isn’t the monster. He is.”

Marion slammed her hand on the wall. “What do you want me to do? I won’t send Vivian away. We’re staying here to finish what we started. Shall I let Darius die?”

No!” Vivian shrieked from the bathroom.

Silence echoed in the space between them.

Then, Timothée said quietly, “I have an idea.”

There was something in the reckless gleam in his eye that gave Marion pause. “Does it have to do with your deranged roommate?”

Timothée smiled. “It certainly does.”


***


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