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Love and Starlight, Jasmine & Sophie
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Please be aware Wicked Academia is a new adult fantasy and contains mature themes. It is intended for audiences 18 years and over.
*This scene takes place one year before the opening events of Wicked Academia. Carmilla Vladimirovna is on a summer holiday, granted by Andúrigard, to her hometown of Novagrad in Kirrintsova. Whenever she is in Kirrintsova, she spends time with a mysterious boy named Valentine Sun.*
My Dearest Carmilla,
I hope you are having a delightful trip visiting Kirrintsova. I know the people will be very happy to see you. Astrid has provided me the itinerary of your royal duties. It seems you will be partaking in a grand tour of the lake country. I do hope you get a chance to taste the blini and smetana you always go on about!
Setviren has kept me busy with a tour of my own, and I find myself at a loss of how to spend my days with both you and Khalid away.
I am awaiting the day that we are again reunited. I miss your clever wit and striking smile.
Thinking of you fondly,
High Prince of Andúrigard
“Thinking of your fondly? That prince will be the death of me, I swear.”
Carmilla crumbled the letter between her fingers and turned to see Valentine Sun standing behind her.
His lilac hair was dishevelled, voice hoarse, and the buttons of his shirt askew. He’d either just woken up from being passed out drunk, or just finished fucking someone. Based on the huskiness of his voice, she suspected the latter.
“Oh,” she chimed, “are you jealous none of your daily conquests have sent you love notes?”
She registered the immediate stiffness in his body, the intake of sharp breath. Blyat, she swore. That had been the wrong thing to say. If she had to hear him go on and on about his Morbris one more time, she’d throw herself off the tallest tower in Yurievlin Fortress.
He snatched the paper out of her hands. “Darling, if this is a love letter, it's drier than the Nyhari Desert.”
Valentine walked the length of the grand dining table and slumped in a chair, eyes flicking back and forth over the page. He waved his wrist to the servant at the door. “Water.”
Carmilla sagged over the polished table, stretching her arms out long, and wiggling her fingers. Moonlight crawled along her back from the open balcony behind her. They were in the most humid months of summer, and the whole fortress, the whole country, felt sticky with it. Even during the night, her chambers felt like a sauna.
Novagrad’s summers were hot and the winters cold. There was no in-between. No lazy spring filled with blooming flowers, or creeping autumns of red trees and crackling leaves, like in Andúrigard…
The servant returned with a glass. Val drained the water in a single swig.
He didn’t seem affected by the heat, always perfectly tousled. Silvery light glinted off his pale skin, the curve of his cheeks. She watched the water bob down his throat, his elegant fingers tight against the glass.
He caught her gaze. “Remind me why you’re with the Prince again?”
“He’s the most powerful man in the world.” She sat upright.
Valentine’s grin grew bigger. “Is that what you think?”
She walked the length of the long dining table. The dinner had been long cleared, and only a few servants lingered in the doorway. At this hour, no Andúrigardian nobles would visit. Besides, none of the aristocrats liked to climb all the steps up to the Princess’s wings. It’s a very nice disguise for a cell.
It would seem the rest of the night was hers.
“What were you doing in my rooms?” She answered Val’s question with one of her own. “Or should I say who?”
The look on his face was always the same, a subtle mask of regret or shame. It was hard to describe, but she’d known him long enough to recognize a pattern.
Sometimes she got the urge to shake him and scream in his face: “Your old lover won’t care! He’s dead! He’s dead.” It was a fact Valentine couldn’t seem to accept or forget, no matter how much he drank or how many Kirrintsovans he fucked.
He numbed himself with pleasures. The only time she ever saw any light in those lilac eyes was when they poured over maps together, voices rising in cadence with plans and dreams of a different future.
“What can I say, Carmilla?” He smirked. “Your staff are just so delicious.”
“Only the staff?”
Heat crawled along her body as his gaze caressed her. “You could have joined us.”
“Unlike you,” she said, “I have actual work to do.”
Work included keeping Astrid Hjalmarsson, the steward from Andúrigard, happy. And that meant presenting herself as the perfectly dutiful ward. But work also included secretly talking to the lords and staff that were still loyal to the Kirrintsovan Empire, those who had never and would never fully accept Andúrigard’s rule. With that information, she could truly calculate how her people were doing.
“Of course you do,” Valentine said with a knowing turn. His eyes flicked over the letter again. “Gods, what a bore.”
Carmilla couldn’t help but tease him. “Darius is kind, and brave, and a prince.”
“I’m nothing like that.” Valentine dangled the letter over one of the candles. The flame caught.
Red light roamed over his features, turning the ends of his pale hair into wavering flames. He was as beautiful and dangerous as the fire that danced before him.
“What if I wanted to keep that?” She stood, letting the strap of her light dress fall off her shoulder.
“Oh, Carmilla darling, the day you get sentimental is the day I start attending church.”
Carmilla smirked at him, then walked to the balcony. It was huge and square, and the muggy night’s heat washed over her. Her rooms were on the highest level of Yurievlin Fortress. This had been her home long ago, the castle she was born in. The view of Novagrad was familiar yet startling in its beauty all the same. The capital city encircled a large lake, with rolling hills beyond. She could picture tiny specks over the hills, with threads dangling in the air around them. Kites.
The Festival of Kites was next moon. A longstanding tradition. It was one of her only memories of this place—before the Blood War. Going to the hills with her parents, her two older brothers, and the kites they had made themselves.
She remembered she used to be so cross, fingers sticky with glue, hair matted with sticks and tissue. She distinctly remembered crying: “I’m a princess! Why can’t I have a kite made for me?”
But her mother smoothed down her hair. “It’s our tradition, sweet one. As you build your kite, you say your wish for the year. You say it to the paper, and the wood, and to the colours you choose. When your kite flies high enough, the gods will hear your wish and grant it.”
That year, Carmilla made her kite and wished for a spotted pony. Instead, she’d been given a war. There had been no more Festivals of Kites for her after that.
She leaned over the balcony. Perhaps if she batted her eyes and asked nicely, Astrid would let her attend. But there were no wishes she would trust the gods with.
The Andúrigardian embassy that now ruled Kirrintsova let her do what she wanted, mostly, if she didn’t draw attention to herself. If she didn’t interfere in any of the actual ruling. She was a prop, a display to look pretty, and say a few perfectly crafted words in front of the crowds.
Those were the worst moments: looking out over the people, her people, forced to say how wonderful her time in Andúrigard was. She heard the things they whispered under their breath, the traitor princess, the wolf’s whore. She wished they could see it—the fire that burned under her skin, the same fire she saw in her people’s eyes. It would take more than eleven years of Andúrigardian rule to squash the Kirrintsovan Empire.
Her summer recesses in Kirrintsova had been part of the initial treaty. They had been more torture than respite. Kirrintsovan was full of ghosts. At least in Wolfhelm, she had a routine. She knew how to survive each day. Before the massacre, she could smile and laugh with the King and Queen who treated her as well as they treated their own daughter. Even when the memories came. Like when the King would tuck her into bed beside Celeste, and she saw his face splattered with blood as he beheaded her father and then her mother. How they’d piked their heads outside the gate until the crows ate the very last of them as a reminder to those who stood against Andúrigard, to those who would dare use the magic of the Dark Stars.
Every year it had been torture to come here, to walk these halls of blood memories. Until three years ago, when she found hope among the haunted corridors.
It was when she met Valentine Sun, a boy just as broken as she was, whose shattered pieces matched hers. She had formed a connection with him when she thought she could never form one again. She had needed to fix something, and he was the perfect project. Only recently had she realized he was fixing her as much as she was fixing him.
“Whatever are you plotting now?” Valentine leaned beside her, following her gaze over Novagrad.
“How if I don’t have a bath soon, I’m going to die.” She could tell him of her true thoughts. She had many times, of the pain of war and how it felt to be a prisoner in her own home. But there were only so many nights they could wallow. Right now, she wanted something else. A distraction.
Valentine tilted his chin. “Well, I’m afraid the little prince is too far away to draw you one with bubbles and rose petals.”
She bit her bottom lip and purred, “That is a shame, isn’t it?”
And then Valentine was in front of her, caging her against the balcony’s edge with his arms. “This would be so much more difficult if you had any guilt betraying your prince.”
“Maybe I do.” She gasped as his lips moved along the column of her neck.
“You’re a liar, Carmilla.”
She was. She had never been fateful to Darius, not through the first of their relationship, when they had been so young, nor recently when they had come together again. He had betrayed her first after all, by keeping her a prisoner.
She looked Valentine up and down and then walked inside.
After all the summers, she had ensured her personal staff were truly loyal to her. Enough ears and eyes among the fortress allowed her to dispose of anyone who would send any word back to Andúrigard of her wilder exploits.
“Run me a bath,” she said to one of the servants.
Carmilla entered her room. Silken draperies of brightly coloured fabric hung from her ceiling. Taffetas, throws, and pillows spilled over the floor from her massive bed. The walls were decorated in gold leaf with intricately painted images of dancing bears and great forests. Moon-tinged light spilled onto the marbled floor.
Carmilla walked to the far side of the room and parted another set of curtains, revealing a clawed metal tub, filled with steaming hot water.
“Thank you,” Carmilla said to the servant girl. “I won’t be needing your assistance anymore tonight.”
They were alone again, and she heard Valentine fall into the bed across from the tub.