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7 –In Which Marion Learns The Truth Of Their Father



Marion Greywick believed the habit of wishing for things to be a very poor habit indeed. At the farm, Timothée languished his days reading stories and dreaming of adventures with far-off places and daring sword fights. Vivian took walks by herself down by the water, head as far in the clouds as the floating school. And meanwhile, Marion was quite content with what she had. It was easy. She had fields of sweet-smelling flowers, fulfilling work helping Father build the bouquets and turn the flowers to perfumes and candles and even icing sugar for cupcakes. And best of all, she had her family. Vivian, Timothée, Father…they were all so happy together.

Wishing became an even stupider thing when they came to the capital three years ago. Wishing wouldn’t bring Father back. It wouldn’t cure Vivian. They were not heroes in one of Timothée’s stories.

To wish was to play the fool.

And yet…Marion wished for a great many things in a single instant.

She wished they’d never come to Wolfhelm. She wished she had no idea what a vampire was or what they were capable of. She wished her siblings would listen to her.

And most of all, she wished her hair didn’t glow on moonless nights.

Marion’s legs were too shaky to run, so she scrambled over the cold cobblestone toward her sister. The Dark Prophet’s shadows had disappeared with him, and now great rumbling clouds moved in. A few fat raindrops smacked against the ground and sloshed in the puddles of blood.

Everything around them reflected white light; it glistened in the strangest way, brighter than torchlight, and without the comfortable flicker of fire. She should have chopped her hair all off, if only she hadn’t been so vain. But they were so careful not to be out on a moonless night… normally so careful…

Marion’s hair fell in knotted heaps over both shoulders. It glowed so bright, glittering like a hoard of treasure. More rain began to fall. On her hands and knees, she scrambled over to Vivian. Blood and dirt-turning-to-mud seeped through her dress as she scurried through red and brown puddles.

Vivian’s knees were tight to her chest, her arms wrapped around herself as she shivered on the ground. Marion flung herself over her sister. “Vivian! Viv, are you alright?”

Vivian opened her eyes. They were lit with the same glowing white light as Marion’s hair.

“Mar—” Vivian began. Marion shot forward and covered Vivian’s mouth with her hand.

“Lips closed,” she hissed. “They can’t see.”

Vivian’s starlight eyes were wide and frightened. Rightfully so. The vampires might be gone but there were still foxes in the chicken pen. Marion just wasn’t sure if she and her siblings were the foxes or the chickens yet.

“Can you stand?” Marion asked, helping Vivian sit up. Feeling returned to her: cold rain creeping down her spine, the pain in her hands and knees from falling, the shouts of the guards and the calamity of the remaining crowd. Not yet. She needed to stay numb, stay in control, for just a few minutes longer. Get Vivian up. Find Timothée.

Run.

Rain pounded down, but it did not dull the shine of Marion’s hair. She was grateful for the rain—it would wash away the blood. That would make things slightly easier for Vivian at least. Her sister trembled in her arms as she forced her to stand. The ground glowed brighter as Timothée staggered forward.

He was a vision.

Everyone in the capital loved to talk of their gods, praise them and honour them. Marion had seen no miracles in her life. If there were majestic gods in the sky, they certainly would do well to come down to Thraina and improve it a mite. But if there was to be a god who walked the earth, it would look like Timothée. He shone like starlight itself, his very skin lit up in a twinkling glimmer.

“Mare! Viv!” Timothée rushed forward, then stopped suddenly, bringing a hand to his temple. A large laceration cut across his left brow. His hair was matted with blood. Vivian let out an anguished moan.

“We have to get out of here,” Marion said hurriedly. “While everyone’s distracted, we have to go—”

But as Marion looked around, trying to find the best way to escape, her heart stuttered to a stop. Every single person—from the terrified citizens, to the royal guards, to the waking loremaster, to Carmilla Vladimirovna who had saved Timothée’s life and chased away the Dark Prophet, to Khalid Ali Bagheeri and his flickering green eyes, to the future ruler of all of Andúrigard—was staring at them.

“Bother,” Marion said.

Timothée scooped up his ragged black cat. “Why’s everyone looking at us?”

“We’re glowing, Tim,” Vivian rasped.

They had broken the one cardinal rule their father had set for them: never go out on a moonless night.

It was no stranger than vampires who drank blood to survive, or a school floating in the clouds, or students who swallowed stars. All the Greywicks did was glow. But Marion knew in the Kingdom of the Three, different meant dangerous.

Yet, no one was wondering where that monster, the Dark Prophet, had run off to. No one was cheering for the Kirrintsovan ward who had stabbed him and chased him away. They were all just so focused on their bloody glowing.

But maybe Marion couldn’t blame the guards for not immediately searching for the Dark Prophet. The way his magic had sucked the warmth from the air, commanded shadow…if all Starlings were dangerous, then that kind of magic was pure evil. There was no defence against such reckless hate…

The Prince took a staggering step forward. “Vivian…your eyes—”

Marion had no time to wonder what Vivian could have possibly done in one simple afternoon to have this prince so enthralled with her. They needed to run. Her heart pounded against her chest. She looked wildly this way and that. There had to be a way to escape…

Her eyes caught on Khalid. His arms were crossed, and his gaze was focused on her. The hint of a smile appeared on his face. Not a kind smile, but a curious one. Then he leaned over to Loremaster Setviren who was just regaining consciousness. Whispered something without ever taking his eyes off Marion.

The loremaster looked at Khalid, eyes wide and mouth dropping to an O. Then he looked back at the triplets.

Marion was about to drag her siblings through the circle of guards and take their chances in the crowd when Prince Darius spoke: “Vivian…”

Marion pushed her sister behind her and laid a glower on Darius. Prince or no prince, he would not take her sister. He was an affiliate of the Celestial Academy. To their core, Starlings were wicked. She would fight to the death—

Khalid stepped forward and placed a hand on Darius’s shoulder. “Dare, if there ever was a message from the gods, this is it! You found them. Of course, Xydrious would send them to you. It’s them. The saviors. And you found them.”

Darius looked around without focusing. “I found them…”

“They’re here,” Khalid said breathily, looking from the Prince back to the glowing triplets. “Rhaemyria and Xydrious have blessed your kingdom with their children.”

Marion’s throat went dry. She didn’t like the way Prince Darius was looking at them, how the guards shifted from foot to foot. And she certainly didn’t like how fast Khalid was moving as he rushed back to the loremaster and put his lips to his ear and pushed him forward. Only Carmilla was still, hands crossed in front her chest, watching and waiting.

The loremaster looked like he could barely speak. He hadn’t taken his eyes off them to even blink. Tears streamed down his face, mixing with the blood from his head wound. He stumbled forward toward them, then looked to the sky, hands held wide. Like a crack of thunder, his voice boomed across the courtyard, louder and stronger than any mortal man’s voice should be. “Blessed be the citizens of Andúrigard! Though the Fallen Darkness sends his demons, Rhaemyria protects us! The Mother Goddess has sent us her greatest gift in our greatest need! Blessed be the future King, for he has found this gift!” Setviren turned to the three of them, back to back, circling and staring out at the silent crowd. “The Lost Star Children have been found!”

“Now,” Khalid was behind them, voice low, “would be a good time to join hands.”

Marion looked to her siblings. Timothée shrugged. Vivian’s eyes were locked on Darius. “Oh bother,” Marion snarled, but she was out of ideas. So, she took her siblings’ hands.

Together, they glowed like all the fallen stars in Thraina. The faces of every citizen lit up. A gasp rippled through the people. A few cried out.

They stared at the Greywick children like they were the brightest stars in the sky. And maybe they were.

And Marion had the strangest feeling that she would never be the same again. That she never could.

Once a star falls, it cannot be hung back in the sky.

“Rhaemyria and Xydrious’s three lost children!” Setviren cried out. “The Star Children have been returned!”

Darius appeared before them, bathed in white light. It suited him, this light. He looked every bit the holy king he would someday be, covered in rain and blood and starlight. And the future King of Andúrigard dropped to his knee in front of them.

Carmilla was next, walking out into the glow with her head held high. “What a spectacle,” she said as she dropped to one knee beside the Prince.

Then Khalid walked out from behind them. His smile seemed even stranger in this light. “So, the little leech girl is actually a wishing star,” he said. Then he fell to his knee on the other side of Darius.

Marion knew as she looked out at the crowd, all fallen to their knees around her siblings, that she was no wishing star.

Because her wishes never came true.


 

Rain pounded down on the roof of the carriage. The lamps lit along the streets rushed by in a blur. It was strangely comforting, staring out the window, watching the streets of Wolfhelm rush by. Marion had never travelled in anything that went so fast; the closest was riding in the back of Father’s wagon as his old donkey, Murdie, pulled them along. They’d sold Murdie to a neighbour for a single verdallion and a sack of potatoes.

The capital did look beautiful in its wet dark flashes of light. And the seat of the carriage was fine scarlet velvet, luxuriously soft beneath her hands. And it was warm in here, despite her soaking wet hair and clothes and the loud patter of rain on the roof.

But even the finest carriage was no better than a prison.

Her siblings sat beside her. Vivian was in the middle, nervously twiddling her thumbs. Timothée stared out the window with a glassy gaze, Yvaine, the ugly cat, on his lap. And Loremaster Setviren nervously sat across from them taking tiny wispy breaths in through his nostrils. He was awash in the white light of their glowing.

Despite the heavy rain and the clatter of the wheels and the trot of the glorious grey horse pulling the carriage and the incessantly annoying sniff sniff sniff of Setviren’s breathing, it felt achingly silent. They were being taken to the castle, but she did not know why. It had all happened so fast—the vampires, the glowing, the bowing. Then they’d been ushered into a carriage and driven through the city toward the castle.

“Are we prisoners?” Her voice sounded like breaking glass.

Setviren’s little breaths stopped but his nostrils stayed flared. “P-Prisoners? Gracious no! What say do mere mortals have over the children of the gods?” Then he laughed to himself as if it were the funniest thing he’d heard all night.

The triplets looked at each other. Unspoken words flew between them. This man had obviously not recovered from his incident with the Dark Prophet. And yet…

The Lost Star Children have been found!

Everyone had bowed. Even the bloody prince of Andúrigard had bowed.

Marion wondered how much it would hurt to fling herself from the carriage.

“Sir, I think you’ve made a mistake,” Vivian said politely. Enough time had passed she was able to open her mouth safely again. “We are not…children of the g-g—” She struggled to get the word out and ended up blurting, “We’re just the Greywick children.”

“Oh my dears,” Setviren said, watery eyes wide. He sat forward and clutched Vivian’s hands. It would not be so strange if he thought them icy cold, for they had been out in the rain and shock would keep the warmth from your fingers, too. “Twenty years we’ve searched for you. High and low, across Thraina, across Andúrigard, from Kirrintsova to Medihsa. All this time, you’ve been right under our noses.” He searched their faces. “And you do not even know…”

Marion crossed her arms and blew a wet curl out of her face. Of all the bothersome ploys to get themselves caught up in—

Timothée sat forward. “Who’s been looking for us?”

Setviren blinked. “Lady Kassandra, of course.”

The name sent slithers up Marion’s spine.

Why must we hide, Papa?

Yes, Papa, why? I want to see the floating school!

Children, it may be called a school but it is a hive, run by a priestess of wickedness.

“Lady Kassandra,” Marion repeated. “The Archbishop of the Church of Celestial Three.”

Setviren closed his eyes as if just hearing her name was a soothing balm. “Indeed.”

“Why would she be looking for us?” Vivian said.

Setviren opened one eye. “Why, she’s your adoptive mother, of course.”

Every time the loremaster opened his slimy mouth, it was like a dart, tearing at her skin. Marion’s lip curled back. “We have no mother but the one that died in childbirth nineteen years ago.”

The loremaster wrinkled his thin nose. “Who told you all these things?”

Vivian said, “Our father, Barnum Greywick.”

Setviren stared at her, the hollows of his eyes purple and cavernous. The bandage around his head had already bled through. He reached into his robes and held up a cube of stellarite, like the one Prince Darius had shaped into a sword.

The air felt like it was crackling into glitter and a blue glow surrounded Setviren. Star magic…he’s using star magic! Marion flung herself back against the seat. She’d never been this close to anyone using this heinous power—

The cube of stellarite began to shape. Setviren held it aloft in one hand, and with the other he molded the air, like an artist with clay. The cube responded to the precise movements of his fingers…changing, altering.

Until it formed the bust of a man.

Tears sprung to Marion’s eyes. How…how did this church minion know? The shape of the eyebrows, the scar across the bottom lip, the depth of the eyes reflected in the shining navy metal… Her fingers dug into Vivian’s knee, a silent plea: Don’t say anything.

But it was not Vivian who needed the reminder.

“Father!” Timothée cried, lurching forward so hard, his cat yowled.

The loremaster kept his face steady. “This figure…you recognize him?”

Marion snarled, “Never seen him before!” but was interrupted by her brother reaching for the bust.

“It’s Father,” Timothée said, long fingers running across the bust’s chiselled jaw. “How did you know what he looked like?”

Setviren took the bust back and, with a snap of his fingers, dissolved it back into a cube. Marion’s body tightened as her father’s face disappeared. The loremaster gave a pitying smile. “My dear children all this time…you’ve been deceived. No wonder you know nothing of your true nature.”

“True nature?” Marion spat. “All I know is we were cajoled into this carriage only to be told about legends and fairy tales from a stranger claiming to know our father!”

The Lost Star Children was a favourite myth among the pious of the kingdom, which was everyone. They were kept in daily prayer, celebrated during starlight showers, painted into murals on the stone wall outside the castle. Marion cared for it as much as she cared for the legend of the fallen star, or the gift of magic, or the creation story, which was not at all.

“It’s no story, dear one,” Setviren said calmly. “Your father…where is he now?”

“Dead,” Marion said.

Setviren’s nostrils flared. “And he lived in the capital with you?”

“No,” Timothée said. “We lived on a farm on the coast. When he died three years ago, we came out to the capital ourselves.”

Marion didn’t want to tell this man anything about her father or their life before. It felt like each word was seizing away the precious few fragments of her life, and she’d never get them back.

“And all that time at the farm…did he ever tell you of the gods? Of the Lost Star Children?”

We had much more important things to learn about than fables made to keep the people in line, Marion thought bitterly, but had enough sense not to say it aloud. Everyone in the kingdom loved the Three, because if you didn’t, you best love swinging at the end of a rope.

“He told us of the Celestial Academy,” Vivian chimed in. That was true of course. He told them of its wickedness, how it converted people into soldiers for the church. How the floating school would turn and twist you until there was nothing left—

“Ah, I suppose he would,” Setviren said. “He was the former headmaster there.”

“What?” the triplets said at once.

Setviren sighed. “Your father, Mr. Greywick, can only be Bram Cavald, the greatest Evening Star professor the Celestial Academy has ever seen.” He folded his hands on his lap. “And your kidnapper.”

“Lies,” Marion snarled. She turned appealingly to her siblings. “We do not have to listen to this. We’re not under arrest. They can’t force us to go to the castle.”

But Timothée stared at Setviren as if he could find answers in those damp eyes. “He did…he did know an awful lot about the school, Mare.”

“It should be Lady Kassandra telling you this story,” Setviren said phlegmily. “But alas, all you have is me. So, I shall do my best to tell you. As you know, the Mother Goddess Rhaemyria lives among the stars with her husband, Xydrious. After the fall of their first child,” Setviren flashed a strange look at Timothée, “Rhaemyria was determined to send a new savior, a new child, to Thraina to right the wrongs of her first. She spoke to Lady Kassandra and told her it was so.”

Convenient, Marion thought.

“Twenty years ago, Rhaemyria sent her and Xydrious’s gift to Thraina. But instead of one savior, she sent three. Three babies given to Lady Kassandra to raise until they were old enough to enact the will of the First Mother and save Thraina. It was said the day you arrived, the stars were as bright as the sun, and all the lesser gods danced in celebration.” Setviren’s voice rose and fell in an erratic cadence. He had one of those faces that was finely wrinkled but with the foolishness of a young man, so one could not be certain how old he was.

“But only days after the children arrived on Thraina, they were stolen. The headmaster and trusted confidante of Lady Kassandra, Bram Cavald, spirited the children away in the night and were never seen again. Until now.” A smile grew on Setviren’s face. “Rhaemyria has saved you from your kidnapper and deemed it time for you to rise and—”

“By saved us from our kidnapper, do you mean killed our father?” Marion said. Hot anger rushed through her chest. None of this was true…she was no child of a god sent to save Thraina. That was too preposterous to even consider. Her father…he couldn’t have been the headmaster at the Celestial Academy. He hated the place, hated the Archpriestess.

But could that have been why he stole them away?

“I know this must all be overwhelming. Especially after everything you’ve been through. Rest tonight and tomorrow we will make the arrangements.” Setviren leaned against the seat of the carriage and closed his eyes.

“Arrangements for what?” Vivian asked.

“To travel to the school and meet Lady Kassandra, of course.” He didn’t even open his eyes. “It is imperative you begin your studies right away.”

“Us?” Timothée gasped. “Study at the school?”

“Of course,” he said. “It is the Celestial Academy for Fallen Stars, after all. It is meant for you.”

The rain continued to pound and the wheels clatter and the horse trot, but Marion could only hear the heavy thump of her heart against her chest. And just as she could not stop the rain from falling or the carriage from moving toward the towering castle in the distance, she could not stop the school from twisting her heart already.

And finally, she understood why Father had always been so afraid.


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