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8 – In Which Vivian Realizes She’s In Love

Vivian was hot. This castle felt so hot. Maybe that was because she had only ever known a cabin that always was damp with salt spray from the stormy sea or a dripping apartment that grew frost on the inside of the windows every morning.

Now, she wore a long-sleeved wool dress, standing in a lavish room that had not one, but two, roaring fires.

The Greywicks had been ushered straight from the carriage, surrounded by a tight line of guards on either side and through huge doors and long hallways of the castle. It had all happened so quickly, Vivian could not even stop to wonder at the splendour of it all.

After that, they had been stuck in the castle infirmary. A palace physician, a graduate from the Celestial Academy for Fallen Stars, had come to examine them. Marion had screamed all sorts about that—until the green-haired man, Setviren—had brought in a non-magical doctor. Marion had still grumbled at that, but less so.

She had to thank her sister in those moments. She could tell the physician had wanted to poke and prod them all night but Marion had adamantly refused. Thank the stars. She didn’t want anyone looking too closely at her.

Then they’d be stuck in what looked like a drawing-room. Outside, they’d overheard a great deal of arguing between Setviren and some others. She swore she’d even heard Darius’s voice.

The last she’d seen of him had been when he’d bowed in that raining square. The Prince of Andúrigard had bowed to her. She could barely comprehend it.

Finally, the door had opened, and Setviren, as well as a whole host of guards, had led them down more twisted halls until they’d be ushered into a new set of rooms.

And now, she, Marion, and Timothée were standing in a giant room all alone. Yards and yards of silken curtains hung from the towering windows. The floors were covered in plush rugs, and the room had three beds heaped with blankets and feather pillows. Gilded gold-covered every inch of the place, from the doorframes to the fireplace mantle to the posts of the bed.

A single pillow from this room could pay for everything in her little candle shoppe thrice over.

Vivian sat down on the edge of the bed and sunk deep within it. Everything in the room seemed too soft, too clean, compared to the world outside. Compared to the Greywicks.

They looked normal now. With the thick velvet curtains covering any starshine through the windows, Marion’s hair looked its usual golden, and Timothée’s skin was merely pale and freckled.

It was the first thing Marion had done when they were alone in the room. Shut the drapes as tight as she could, as if she were ashamed of Vivian’s eyes, of her hair, of Timothée’s skin. As if hiding from the light could protect them.

But nothing could hide what they were, what they’d done.

Setviren had called them the children of the gods.

How could that be possible? Vivian’s thoughts raced. Deep down, she’d always know she wasn’t the same as everyone else. But still—

Marion shoved a cold jar into her lap. “Here,” she said. “You should eat these.”

“Are these Sigrud leeches?”

“What of it?” Marion dismissed the question with a wave of her hand.

Vivian wrinkled her nose but sucked one between her lips. Blood exploded in her mouth as she chomped the wriggling creature in half. She hated Ms. Sigrud’s leeches; they always had a stale rose taste to them.

When she was done, Marion tucked the jar back in her bag, then handed her a dried mint leaf. Vivian chewed it thoroughly, lest her siblings have to endure her leech breath. They should try eating one, she thought bitterly as the taste of mint filled her mouth. Only after she ate leeches could she could taste anything but blood.

Marion’s eyes were heavy upon her.

“We don’t have to, you know,” Vivian said quietly.

“Have to what?” Marion asked. “You don’t even know what I was going to say.”

“We don’t have to run away again. We could just—”

“Go see the Archpriestess?” Marion’s lip curled. “At that school? Dad wouldn’t even let us look at it when it was in the sky! What would he say if he knew—”

“He can’t say anything.” Timothée scooped Yvaine off the ground. “He can’t ever know because he’s dead. And now we’ll never figure out why he hated that school so much. Why he was so afraid of it.”

“Why he was so afraid of us,” Vivian said. “Setviren knew who we were right away. That’s more answers than Dad ever told us.”

Marion scoffed. “Setviren’s a fool. People like that will believe in anything. I know there’s magic in this world. There’s lots of strange stuff. And we’re part of it. But just because we fit some line in an ancient text doesn’t mean we’re the Star Children.”

“Haven’t you ever wondered why we’re like this?” Vivian asked.

“Of course.” Marion flashed her steely gaze from Timothée to Vivian. “But when did we stop trusting Dad? He said never go out on a moonless night. Never look up at the school. And now you’re ready to go there, all because some fanatic with green hair says so? Or is this about the Prince?”

It was and it wasn’t. Vivian walked to the pitcher of water, poured some into a crystal glass. She swirled the cold liquid around her mouth, washing away the last taste of the leeches and mint, then spit it back into the cup. Darius had come into her life like a flash of lightning. But she couldn’t go back to how it was before. None of them could.

“I want to go to the Academy,” she said softly, knowing the words were a betrayal. “I want to know what’s above the clouds.”

“I believe that Dad wanted to keep us safe,” Timothée said. “But we haven’t been safe. Not for the last three years. And Vivian is getting…uh…”

Is getting worse. They never said it. Never voiced it outright. But it was true. She was too skinny, too pale. She touched the protruding bones of her shoulders. And if she dared let her siblings know about…

Marion gave Timothée a sharp look. He’d done the taboo: he’d almost talked about it. Maybe they all lived with a secret sort of hope that if they didn’t mention it, maybe it wasn’t true. Maybe she wouldn’t get any worse.

Vivian couldn’t stand when Timothée and Marion looked at her like that, dissecting her with their eyes. Searching for the parts that were the most wrong, the most monstrous. As if they could identify and hide those parts, and then the rest of her would be normal.

“I’m just saying,” Timothée continued, “no matter what, things are bad. At least at the Academy, we could find answers about ourselves. About Dad.”

“What, are you planning on enrolling now?” Marion crossed her arms.

“Why not me?” Timothée said. “Why not face this danger head-on instead of forever running? I could do it. I…I could be accepted.”

Marion let out a haughty breath. “Noble and brave Timothée doing something he’s dreamt about for years and masquerading it as heroism.”

“I haven’t—”

Marion rounded on him. “You don’t think I haven’t noticed the stories you’re always reading, of Starlings, and wars, and the gods? How when Argos flies over, you still peek at it?”

“I—” Timothée ran a hand through his hair. “I’m trying to help. If that weird green-haired man was right, we were born at that school. It’s where we came from! All I know is I can’t go on like this anymore.”

“On like what?” Marion put her hands on her hips.

“Surviving! Slithering in the dark.” Timothée was shouting. He never shouted. Yvaine jumped from his arms. “Dad was hiding something from us! It’s past time denying it! Haven’t you ever wondered where we came from? Why we glow on moonless nights, and why Vivian can—”

“Enough,” Vivian yelled. They both looked over at her.

Marion rubbed the bridge of her nose. “You’re right. This is enough. Enough of silly dreams and fairy tales. Tonight, we sneak out of this terrible place.”

And that was that.

There would be no talking her out of this one. Because her sister still had the fear of it all, the fear their father had laid brick by brick. And no matter what Vivian wanted, she had the fear too. Layered so many times, all she could do was follow her sister.

“Marion!” Timothée said, then looked pleadingly at Vivian. “Viv?”

Vivian couldn’t meet his hurt gaze. “You’re both hungry. Let me find you some food. Setviren said we could ask the butlers for anything. We can discuss it later.”

“I can do it,” Marion started. “You should rest—"

“I’ll be fine,” she assured, not wanting another lecture. Between the heat of the fire and her siblings’ tempers, she needed a moment to herself. She popped out the door, closed it quickly behind her, and let out a shuttering breath.

She hated when it was like this. When they were fighting. If…if she had never gotten sick, at least she could feel united in their pleas. But now she was different, and all their arguments always seemed to circle back to her.

She knew they wouldn’t discuss anything later. That no appeal or quest for answers would ever make Marion go to that school. And if Marion didn’t go, then neither would she or Timothée. They would stick together, no matter what.

She looked up and down the hall. No one to ask for help. When Setviren and a host of other very official-looking people had brought them to their room, they hadn’t been explicit with the instructions. Setviren had said they would bring them anything they needed, that they were to rest and recover. He repeated again and again how excited everyone was they had been found. She hadn’t been told to stay in…

He hadn’t made her feel like a prisoner. So, she was free to wander the halls if she wanted… right?

Something soft brushed against her ankles. Yvaine. “You best be careful,” Vivian whispered. “We don’t belong in a place like this.”

The little black cat, bearing more appearance to rat than feline, blinked her yellow eyes.

“Now to find some food for those cranky pants.”

Yvaine padded off down the gilded hallway, and Vivian figured it was as good of a direction as any.

The halls were long, with towering ceilings. She craned her neck back to see they were all painted with constellations. If she had gone to school in the capital, she would have learned all about Rhaemyria and Xydrious, their fallen son, and all the lesser gods that ruled under the Three. But while her father had taught them to read and write and the history of Thraina, he had never told them stories of the gods above.

Why had that been?

They rounded a corner and Yvaine let out a startled hiss, darting back around Vivian’s legs. There was someone standing in the hall.

“Hello,” Vivian said.

Carmilla Vladimirovna turned her attention from one of the many oil paintings on the wall. She had changed from the regal attire she’d appeared in earlier, and now wore a simple grey shirt, a long red scarf, and…trousers.

“I’m surprised Setviren let you out of his sight,” Carmilla said. Her words were thick with the cold Kirrinstovan accent. “I’ve never seen him in such a state.”

“I think my sister scared him off for a little while,” Vivian said, a surprising smile to her words.

“Right. The girl with the glowing hair. Quite fascinating. All three of you are.” Carmilla stepped toward Vivian. “What are you doing wandering the halls?”

“I’m looking for food.”

“Follow me.”

Vivian and Yvaine trailed after the former heir to the Kirrintsovan Empire. She was quite a bit shorter and smaller than Vivian yet held so much more confidence and authority in every movement. Vivian had only caught a glimpse of it, how Carmilla had stabbed the Dark Prophet. She had saved them all with her bravery.

“There’s a huge gathering of nobles in the royal meeting room,” Carmilla explained as they walked. “If you thank Setviren for anything, it’s that he’s keeping that horde away from you. He insists the first person you talk to be Kassandra.”

“Kassandra,” Vivian echoed. “Archpriestess Kassandra of the Celestial Academy?”

“Archpriestess and headmistress,” Carmilla said. “Been so for about 20 years now.”

Setviren had said Bram Cavald had been the head