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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.”


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 f