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NSFW Bonus Chapter - In Which Starlings Play a Game of Hearts and Chance

Here is a preview of a Patreon exclusive scene. In Which Starlings Play a Game of Hearts and Chance is a 48-page long scene told through the POVs of Khalid, Timothee, Vivian, Valentine, and Marion. It relays the Starling’s adventure in Wolfhelm as they play a game of Spin the Bottle. By subscribing, you help us work toward our goal of being full-time authors.

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.


Timeline

This scene takes place after Chapter 25 but before Chapter 26



In Which Starlings Play a Game of Hearts and Chance


Khalid


There was nothing that symbolized Yuletide in Wolfhelm like grand fireplace mantles decorated in pine boughs, the smell of fresh gingerbread baking in the oven, and Starling students getting completely inebriated on spiced wine.

Khalid Ali Bagheeri strode through the Frosted Fang Tavern, hands filled with spilling pints of mulled ale. He threw smiles left and right, lifting the heavy pints in toasts to friends across the tavern. A lively tune filled the space from a fiddler in the corner. The pub was crowded, every table bursting with first-year Starling students.

Rayna always went all out on her birthday.

Besides a brief flight over the castle with Marion, Khalid hadn’t been back in Wolfhelm since the night the Greywicks decided to glow and change his life. Now as he looked out the tavern’s window, the familiar sight of dusty snowfall and cobblestone glistening in the lamplight brought a strange sense of comfort.

Rayna had rented the entire tavern as a venue for her birthday and invited pretty much every student in the first-year cohort, including the Dark Stars. Ground leave was granted with special permission on weekends, and the Starlings were going to make the most of it.

At least, all of them except for a certain distressed trio.

Khalid slammed the pints on the table before Marion, Vivian, and Timothée. “Three above! You’d think it’s a funeral, not a birthday party. Have a drink before we’ve all caught your glooms.”

Marion scowled up at him. “It’s only nine at night. It feels like I’m having alcohol for breakfast.”

Khalid shrugged. “Not my fault Wolfhelm follows normal hours.” Immediately, he regretted his words and looked around. It was too loud for anyone to have heard him, and the Greywicks were so new to the world of starcraft they probably wouldn’t think twice about it.

But he had to be careful.

Existing with the night was normal for Starlings.

He tugged on his gloves and summoned a grin. “Anyway, what’s wrong with alcohol for breakfast?”

Marion just grunted and lay her head in her arms. Vivian and Timothée both stayed silent, matching grey eyes shifting around the tavern.

Khalid knew there was more than mere tiredness troubling the triplets.

Rumours swirled from students and professors alike. And Khalid knew every single one. It had taken him two moons, but he’d fully solidified arrangements with the cooks, the cleaners, a few of the teaching assistants. And of course, Rayna reported anything she heard from her contacts in each house. There was nowhere in the Academy where he didn’t have eyes and ears.

Except the room at the bottom of the castle.

But all good things came with time.

The newest rumours were particularly troubling. When Vivian had said she couldn’t manage attending Rayna’s party, Khalid knew he had to make it happen. Too many people were noticing her missing class, barely eating anything, her near translucent skin. He’d tried to put his own rumours at work: Darius had ended things with her and completely broken her heart. But at some point, her sickness would become too much for even his schemes. She had to keep up some semblance of appearance.

Marion had made her up with rouge and curled her hair, but there was a weariness in Vivian’s eyes that went beyond a lack of sleep. It was a sickness of the soul.

If only she’d taken me up on my offer, Khalid thought. Now that would have been interesting.

The youngest Greywick was disturbed for the reason he was always disturbed. Valentine Sun had gotten under his skin and settled there. Timothée ran a hand through his thick brown hair and leaned back in his chair, staring at Val with the subtlety of an avalanche.

Khalid followed his gaze, stared at the Dark Star boy, all nonchalant posture and detached bemusement. Khalid still wasn’t sure what to make about the strange relationship between the godling and Valentine Sun.

Still wasn’t sure if Val was smarter than all of them, or just another emotional idiot.

“Fine,” Marion groaned. “I’ll participate.” She took a glug of the pint.

And then there was Kassandra’s little firebird.

Marion’s new lessons with the Archpriestess were the most perilous predicament of all. A necessary play of events that could either ignite his plans into an inferno or smother them out completely.

“Why are you staring at me like that?” Marion rose an eyebrow.

“You’ve got foam on your lip.” Khalid took her chin in his hand, drifted a gloved thumb over her parted lips.

Who said work couldn’t be fun, too?

Marion blushed that delicious shade of peach, looked down.

Across the tavern, Khalid’s gaze got stuck in blue fire.

Darius stood in the corner by the fiddler, looking at Khalid like a kicked puppy.

He hates fiddlers.

“As fun as you three are right now,” Khalid said, “you can’t hog my magnetic personality all to yourselves. I’ll be right­—”

Vivian followed his gaze. “He can’t even be around me.”

“Trust me, you don’t want to be around him right now.” Khalid patted her shoulder, felt the bones and weakness as she shuddered under his touch.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire, Khalid thought as he crossed the tavern to Darius. He kept a toothy grin plastered on his face, pointed to some students dancing on his left, a thumbs up to the group of Dark Stars using alchemy to change the alcohol content of the punch bowl to his right.

“Brother!” Khalid opened his arms in greeting. “You made it!”

Darius barely responded, his face a stone mask. He and his cousin Erik Borstigsson had come to Wolfhelm a day early to discuss the Dark Prophet’s latest endeavours with the current regent, Darius’s uncle and Erik’s father.

“You’re always with them lately,” Darius said, eyes on the Greywick’s table. It wasn’t said like an accusation, but with sadness. A child whose favourite playmate had found another.

“Not always with them, brother.” Khalid feigned a laugh, trying to maintain a lighthearted façade. “It’s not my fault Marion can’t go anywhere without toting those two around.” He wrapped an arm around Darius, looked up at the much taller boy. He was more familiar than his own reflection, from the shades of blond in his hair, to the thin line of his mouth. Of all the people in the world, it is you I understand the most. Of all the people in the world, it is you I love the most.

Of all the people in the world, it is you I lie to the most.

“I’m leaving. I’ll stay at the castle.” Darius shrugged Khalid off.

“Ah, come on, Dare! It’s Rayna’s birthday. You deserve a night to unwind.”

“How can I enjoy myself?” A thousand words flashed through Darius’s ice chip eyes. Then they started coming out of his mouth. “Every time I look at her, it’s like I’m trapped in a chasm of pain. I don’t understand, Khalid. Her siblings have slain. Why does she fear me and not them? Am I truly the monster she thinks I am?”

By the fucking Three. Now was not the time for a Darius breakdown. Tonight was about bonding. Gaining the student body’s loyalty and love.

And Khalid had three moping godlings and a future king on the verge of leaping on a table and reciting sad poetry.

It was time to bring out the emergency plan.

With his right hand, Khalid gripped Darius’s shoulder. His left hand held tight to his side. With a deft flick of his head, his black curls fell across his eyes, so his gaze shifted to the left, unseen by Darius. Rayna was dancing on the bar, while Morning Stars shot bursts of fog around her. But she always kept one eye on him.

Quickly, Khalid used his gloved hand to signal while beginning the long list of platitudes that kept Darius on this side of sanity, even if by an inch.

Rayna took a shot, fingers in a particular pattern upon the glass. Then she leapt down from the bar with such grace that should be impossible for an inebriated person. Her movements changed as she stumbled over to Khalid, a stagger that would be positively convincing to anyone else.

“Prince Darius! You made it to my party!” Rayna gripped Darius’s arm. “I’m so excited!” Her short blue hair bounced.

“Err, yes. But I was just on my way out—”

Rayna’s adorable face, all giant eyes and pert nose, formed into the biggest frown. “You can’t leave. I was just about to start a game!”

“I wish I could, but—”

At that moment, another figure stomped up to join them. Shorter than Darius or Khalid, with a scowl to rival an angry badger. “Cousin, are these Medihsans bothering you?”

Erik Borstigsson crossed his arms and smiled his slimy smile up at them. He was dressed in traditional Störmberg attire instead of a Dark Star uniform. As if he wanted to remind everyone that he had ties to this city.

Ties, but no claim.

“What are you doing here, Erik?” Rayna glared at him. “This is my party and I distinctly remember not inviting you.”

“And I distinctly remember signing off on all the Dark Star’s ground passes, so unless you want me to go back and tell Professor Barracus about all the unsavoury activities happening at your party, then I’ll stay.” Erik gave an annoyingly smug expression. “Besides, I had important business at the castle.”

“He jumped in the carriage with me.” Darius shrugged. “Anyway, I’m leaving.”

“A wise choice, cousin. I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times. The Medihsans are a bad influence.”

Khalid and Rayna rolled their eyes in near synchronicity. Khalid had grown up with Erik’s torment. And he understood from a young age why he was on the receiving end of it.

Darius had always preferred him. Preferred him, a foreigner, a prisoner, to his own blood. Erik had never recovered.

“Be quiet, cousin,” Darius growled. “Each word you speak reveals your stupidity to the world.”

Red candlelight flickered across Erik’s choker. “Thought you’d finally wisen up once we got to the Academy, but here you are, still cavorting with the traitors. You’re making a good choice by leaving before they can dig their claws into you anymore—”

Darius moved in a flash, grabbing Erik by the shirt. “You know what, cousin? I am going to stay with these Medihsans. And I’m going to play whatever game they want.”

“Fabulous.” Rayna winked. “Because we’re playing Spin the Bottle.”

***

Rayna had outdone herself. How the Three she convinced the Greywicks, Darius Störmberg, Carmilla Vladimirovna, and the handsome but obnoxious Dark Star Sylvester to participate in Spin the Bottle was beyond even Khalid’s comprehension. No wonder we’re in this together. Somehow, Erik had managed to squeeze himself in.

The group sat at a table by a big window, some on a bench against the wall, the rest in chairs. Khalid had squished a chair between Marion and Vivian, grabbing both their hands and squeezing them in excited encouragement. They gave him identical eye rolls and crossed their arms in the same motion.

Darius sat directly across from them, looking as if someone had replaced the real boy with a wax model.

Rayna, who sat on Vivian’s other side, held up an empty wine bottle. “You all know the rules. You spin the bottle and whoever it points to…you kiss!” She gave a delighted giggle. “No re-spins unless it lands on a relative. And whoever is kissed gets to choose who spins the bottle next. Any questions?”

“Just one.” A dark rasp cut through the din of the party and a shadow fell across the table. Despite his small stature, Valentine Sun had the presence of a falling moon. “Are we students at the most prestigious academy in all of Thraina, or are we animals, motivated solely by base lust?” His lilac eyes shot a glance at the baby Greywick.

Khalid noticed the change in Timothée, the widening of his grey eyes, the look of fear…or relief. He squirmed, as if not sure to get closer or farther away from Sylvester. Squirmed as if he were not comfortable in his own skin.

“Oh, shut up, Val.” Carmilla’s thick Kirrintsovan accent made her tone even more cutting. She tossed her blood-red hair. “Just admit you want to play and sit down.”

The only sign that her words affected him was the tightening of a muscle in his jaw.

“You’re…you’re going to play?” Timothée stuttered.

Val flicked his hawk’s gaze from Carmilla to Timothée, a predator changing its prey. “Would you rather I not? Afraid I’ll win?”

“There’s no winning in Spin the Bottle,” Timothée muttered.

Val dragged a chair over, sat at the end of the table between Sylvester and Marion. Gave a satisfied smirk. “There is when I play.”

“Ugh.” Marion put her head in her hands. “How did I get roped into this? It’s Yuletide. Can’t we just sing carols or something?”

“Next time we go to a party, we’ll be sure to invite Setviren, and you can sing all the holiday hymns you want,” Khalid snarked. “But for now…birthday girl, start us off.”

Rayna gave another giggle and leaned forward on the table. She was short and slight, a large amount of menace in a tiny package. Getting to know Rayna taught Khalid one of the most important lessons he’d ever learned: never assume anything by anyone’s appearance.

The Morning Star house thought her free-spirited and fun-loving. Little did they know how cunning the Nest’s party girl was.

“Here goes nothing!”

The bottle spun, spun, spun darting passed nervous and excited faces until finally stopping…

“Well, what do you know.” Khalid put his hands behind his head. “That bottle knows what it’s doing.”

Rayna covered her eyes and squealed. “Oh, Khalid!” Her fingers moved in the subtlest of motions, crossing and uncrossing: How do you want to do this, boss?

Khalid spied Marion out of the corner of his eye. She sat up straight, dark brows downturned.

He chuckled, rubbed his nose, fingers tapping: Let’s give them a show.

Rayna feigned a mischievous look and leapt up on the table, crawling toward him like a panther.

“Hah!” Erik pounded a fist on the table. “They can corrupt each other!”

“You’re just jealous, Erik,” Rayna murmured. “Don’t act like you haven’t been staring at me for the last ten minutes. You wish I spun on you.”

Erik’s weak denial drifted into the background as Rayna stopped before Khalid, dragged her hands through his hair. “His bad luck is my good fortune,” Khalid said.

Marion’s fiery gaze settled on him as Rayna nuzzled into the side of his neck, bit his earlobe and tugged.

“I thought it was a kiss,” Marion snarled. “Not grovelling over each other.”

Rayna gave a chiming laugh. “Want to join in?” She winked. “It’s my birthday, so I get to change the rules if I want.”

Marion huffed and crossed her arms, gaze entirely too focused on the table in front of her.

Rayna dragged her sharp nails across Khalid’s face, then attacked him with an open-mouthed kiss. She tasted like sugary alcohol. Khalid kissed her back, sucking on her tongue.

I know it hurts now, little leech girl, Khalid thought, but it’s all part of the journey. You’ll recover.

Marion wouldn’t know that kissing Rayna was like taking a stroll: a fine, enjoyable activity, but without any real thrill. And he knew that feeling was mutual. They’d been working together too long for this to be anything other than a show.

And a show it shall be, Khalid thought as his hand moved to Rayna’s back, ready to pull her onto his lap—

That’s when he saw the face in the window.

“Gah!” Khalid yelled, falling backwards in his chair.

Rayna sat up on her knees. “Khalid! Are you all right?”

“Carmilla! Let me out!” Darius cried, looking from Timothée to Carmilla, who had him trapped on the bench. “I must help Khalid! He has fallen and may be grievously injured!”

Carmilla laughed under her breath, crossed her legs. “A little pain will do him good.”

“Agreed.” Marion scowled down at him.

“Don’t trip over yourselves to help me up.” Khalid rubbed his bottom. “But seriously…I saw something. A ghost in the window!”

“He’s right.” Sylvester narrowed his eyes. “Look over there. There’s something creepy staring in.”

Vivian pushed a lock of hair behind her ear. “Wait…is that?”

“It’s not a ghost,” Marion said, voice flat. “That’s Huxley Macgregor.”


END OF PREVIEW

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