Updated: Nov 8, 2021

If Timothée compared himself to the heroes of all the stories he’d read (which of course he wouldn’t, because that would get him laughed at by his sisters), then he was on track with some of his favourite legends. He had the pleasant childhood (lavender farm), the deep sadness (dead father), a fateful encounter with an archenemy (Dark Prophet), and a pathway to destiny (the Celestial Academy). All he needed now was to fall in love and overcome great evil.

But he noted quite unpleasantly that most heroes didn’t have older sisters constantly trying to thwart said destiny.

Setviren had left them to rest in the infirmary. There were no patients currently, just beds with green-grey sheets and grey-green curtains hanging around them. There weren’t even any windows, this part of the castle tucked snugly into the middle of the Academy.

Setviren had not seemed overly pleased to leave them in the infirmary. In the two days since Timothée had known the loremaster, he had only seen him as flustered once—and that was when the vampires were attacking the city. “The West Wing is for the Evening Stars, the East is for the Mornings. And of course, you can’t stay in the tower. Don’t want you anywhere near there.”

Timothée never found out what the tower was. But they were without a house of their own, so the infirmary it was. With the hard beds and cool stone floors and carts full of bric-a-brac: vials and glass pitchers that flickered in the light of the room.

The infirmary wasn’t lit by candles. Strange crystals in fixtures along the walls cast pastel pink, purple, and teal light.

Timothée picked up a bottle. It was filled with a vibrant liquid and a fading parchment label, which written in elegant handwriting read: Vitality with the essence of bergamot and hibiscus – V. Sun – 1st year

“Timothée!” Marion snapped. “Don’t touch that.”

He fumbled, barely catching the potion, and set it down. He walked back and sat on the hard bed across from his sisters. Yvaine curled up at the bottom and flicked her tail.

“This place is enchanting, but we’re here for Vivian,” Marion said. “We can’t let the glamour of it get to us.”

“Or the enchantment of green eyes.” Vivian raised a brow and smirked.

A flush broke out over Marion’s face. “No, of course not.”

Timothée studied his sisters. They were beautiful. Back in Seagrass, many of the village boys had fallen loopy in love with them. But none of it was ever serious. By the time they lived in Wolfhelm, well, Vivian had kept her distance from everyone, and Marion barely had time for Huxley MacGregor.

Darius was clearly infatuated with Vivian, which caused all sorts of problems they couldn’t properly talk about. And Timothée hadn’t seen Marion quite so hateful of anyone ever—which clearly meant she was infatuated with Khalid. Did that mean he was destined for Carmilla…

She had saved him from the Dark Prophet, and she was beautiful…but she was cold.

But not quite so cold as Lady Kassandra.

“How come she didn’t let me kiss the staff?”

His sisters blinked at him. “What?”

Timothée picked at an invisible thread on his shirt. “Lady Kassandra let both of you kiss her staff. But she didn’t offer it to me. She didn’t seem to like me very much.”

“Think nothing of it.” Marion began fluffing her flat pillow. “That lady’s a kook, like the rest of them. Probably the kookiest.”

Vivian looked down nervously and began rubbing her arm. “I’m sure you’re right, Mare, but…”

“But what?” Marion gave a lemon-suck face.

Vivian’s eyes shone. “I swear when I kissed the staff…it said my name.”

Marion’s hands stilled on the pillow. Her body tensed. Then she returned to fluffing, more aggressively this time. “I’m sure it was nothing. We’re all over-tired and overwhelmed. We’ll play the priestess’s little game, but she’s no mother of ours.”

Something sat wrong in Timothée’s belly, twisting and turning. A memory that could only be felt, not recalled.

“There was something odd about that staff,” Vivian pressed. “I just know it.”

“It was made of gravastarium.” The memory clicked into Timothée’s mind like a key in a lock. The forbidden metal. “Just like the Dark Prophet’s sword.”

“Another reason not to trust this place,” Marion said. “That lady outlaws a metal then hoards an entire staff of the stuff? And she called Father a thief and traitor. What a bother!”

Vivian slipped beneath the stiff-looking bed sheets. “A bother it may be, but tomorrow we become a part of it. If we’re going to go through with this, we’ll have to swallow a star.”

Timothée could barely stifle his smile. His thoughts turned to the ceremony tomorrow. All this time, he’d thought himself stuck as a poor baker boy. That he’d waste his life away in the slums of Wolfhelm, with only his books for adventures. Maybe Marion was right, and it was all nonsense. But it had given him this chance.

To wield magic would be to change his entire life. He’d never be a nobody, ignored or loathed by society.

He was going to be a Starling.

This would make a very good story.

Marion, on the other hand, did not seem enthused about the idea. She tentatively climbed into her own bed, wringing at the sheets.

“What are you worried about, Mare?” Timothée leapt beside her and wrapped his arms around his shoulders. “You’re not going to get all burnt up. You’ve got the strongest heart I know!”

“It’s not just that,” Marion snapped. “Didn’t you notice on our way in? Gold and blue uniforms only. And haven’t you been listening to Setviren? Morning Star this, Evening Star that. There’s another house, you know. And they treat them like lepers.”

Timothée thought of Carmilla in her purple uniform, the black choker tight around her neck. “The Dark Stars.”

He’d heard the stories. To swallow a Dark Star meant to have your magic bound. Maybe it has something to do with that strange choker Carmilla wears.

But that wouldn’t happen. Not to the Greywicks.

They would be heroes.

Timothée squeezed his sister tighter. “You worry too much! Jenny Cotswood told me it’s very rare to swallow a Dark Star. They’re the smallest house. Only one in a hundred catch a Dark Star.”

“Well, I have very rotten luck,” Marion mumbled.

“Aren’t Dark Stars supposed to wield the magic of Noctis?” Vivian whispered. “The same magic he was banished for a millennium ago?”


The name echoed in Timothée’s head, a haunting chorus. Reverence and agony.

Shame crept into his words as he whispered, “The Dark Prophet…he looked at me and called me Noctis. Why?”

Marion clicked her tongue. “Are you sure he was calling you Noctis? He’s a raving cultist. He was blathering on and on about Noctis before he tried to murder Vivian’s prince.”

“But what if Noctis is really our brother?” Timothée urged.

Marion patted his hand. “I have one brother, and he is right beside me.”

Timothée wanted to be reassured by her words, but he wasn’t. Because the Dark Prophet had called him Noctis and in that moment, that name had belonged to him more than his own.

“Let us focus on the task at hand and do what we’ve always done.” Vivian’s steel-blue eyes shimmered in the low light. “Take one step at a time. Whatever happens, we’ll get through it together.”

Timothée kissed Marion on the head, then did the same to Vivian. He settled into his own stiff, hard bed. There was no telling what time of night it was. The wee hours, leading toward dawn, probably. They’d have to get used to sleeping during the day, like Starlings.

The infirmary was night dark, besides the pale glowing crystals along the wall. The lights had dimmed as soon as they’d laid down to sleep. As if the room had been waiting for them. He squeezed his eyes shut. He knew he was exhausted, could feel the heaviness in his eyes.

Something slithered into his mind: a whisper, someone’s breath brushing the curls from his forehead. He shot up, throwing his hands out, but there was no one there.

Vivian and Marion slept peacefully on either side of him.

He rubbed his ear; he swore he’d heard someone whispering to him. He lay back down, eyes wide on the ceiling.

A cold chill slithered from one end of his mind to the other: This way.

He shot up. The voice was coming from the other side of the door.

“Hello?” Timothée whispered.

The crystal lights on the walls blinked in response.

He carefully looked over at Vivian and Marion. If he were to wake them, they would just say he feared being in a new place and tell him to go back to sleep. But he had heard something.

He swung his legs over the bed, and Yvaine, who had been sleeping, gave an angry growl and hopped over to Vivian’s bed.

“Fine,” Timothée whispered, “I’ll go alone.”

He was only wearing a light long-sleeve shirt and pants; both had been given to him at the palace. The sleeves were a little short, and the cuffs of the pants hung just over his ankles. He tugged on his old boots, laces undone, and shuffled out the door.

A frigid breeze travelled through the room, strong enough to make him stumble. He swore the breeze carried words: This way. Except…there could be no breeze. There were no windows.

It was cold without a blanket, even the starchy green-grey one, and the halls had a silence that hadn’t been there earlier. But it was approaching dawn now, and that was when the Starlings went to sleep. So, who is whispering?

He turned a corner. Curved windows with polished golden frames lined the long hall. Grey autumn light dusted through the windows, confirming his suspicion: not yet dawn. Outside, a dark sky was heavy with swollen clouds, and rain pierced down in sheets.

Timothée turned corner after corner, looking for any source of the voice. The Academy was built with huge, polished stones, and each hallway was lit by those crystal light fixtures. He passed suits of armours holding flags of the Celestial Church and Andúrigard. Regal doors were closed along his path. Some had small scrolls hung outside listing the names of different classes: History of Thraina, Study of Celestial Bodies, Astronomical Arithmetic.

This way, this way. Now it felt like the voice was demanding from between his ears. He knew he’d heard it before but could not place who the voice belonged to.

There was something unsettling about the only sounds being the echo of footsteps, the pattering of rain. And that voice in my head.

He rounded another corner and realized he was going deeper to the centre of the school, his path now lit by those pulsing crystal lights. He came to a huge hallway, one he recognized from earlier when Setviren had ushered them in. It must be one of the main corridors through the school.

Giant portraits covered this hall, all the way to the ceiling. He had to crane his neck to take them in. He wanted to stop and examine them, but the whisper in his mind became more insistent: This way. This way. This way. He caught glimpses of vast landscapes of Thraina, but most were paintings of the night sky.

He passed by a small alcove. A shadow tremored from within. There’s someone in there. Timothée slowed his steps, then turned back. This way, the voice in his mind hissed.

But he was curious and peered into the shadowy alcove. It was lined with more paintings, and suits of armour, and someone stood at the end staring up at a huge portrait the light didn’t reach.

Turn around, the whisper said.

Timothée began to obey the voice, carefully turning around so as not to disturb the figure. But he stepped on his bootlace and stumbled forward. Reaching out to steady himself, he grabbed onto a suit of armour. It clanged loudly as he crashed to the floor, amidst the steel chest plate and gauntlets. The helmet rolled loudly, very loudly, down the alcove.

The person at the end didn’t flinch. They must have known I was there, even before I made any noise.

They turned as the helmet clanged its way toward them and stomped their boot down upon it.

A crystal light fixture flared to life, revealing the figure in a fuchsin shimmer. It was a boy, a student…a Starling. He wore the broken parts of a uniform, the dark purple cloak inlaid with silver stars thrown over one shoulder, a grey shirt partly buttoned, dark navy pants rolled up above his pale ankles, and low-cut boots.

“It isn’t wise to wander the halls once the sun rises.” The boy walked closer to Timothée.

He was…he was beautiful.

Beautiful in the way a lightning storm was beautiful: deadly, striking, enchanting.

His hair was so light it could almost be called grey, rippling with lilac shadows. His eyes were that colour as well, as bright as the lavender flowers on their old farm.

And Timothée was sitting in a pile of broken armour, looking like a complete idiot. He felt annoyed about it. “Well, it’s hard to sleep when someone’s whispering outside my door.” He stumbled to his feet, clattering the armour some more. “Was that you? Were you using magic?”

The boy stared at Timothée, the way one would study the most fascinating book. Timothée would gladly lay his pages out to be read. “I was wondering when our paths would cross, Morbris.” He spoke his words slowly, in a cunning, distinguished voice, rasping slightly at the edges, like a brittle winter tree. Then he turned from the alcove and started down the hallway.

Morbris? Timothee was pretty sure he didn’t even want to know what that meant. “Hey, wait.” Timothée trailed after him, his annoyance shifting to curiosity. “Was it you doing magic?”

“How could I do magic?” The boy laughed darkly and touched something at his neck. A choker, like Carmilla wore.

He’s a Dark Star! So it’s true. They do have their magic bound.

“Don’t tell me you’re like all the other first years,” the Dark Star boy continued, “saying the castle is haunted.” He cast a discerning glance back. “Come on now. I expected more from you, Timothée Greywick.”

Timothée stumbled. “How do you—”

“Know your name? All of the Celestial Academy knows who you are. Everyone’s enthralled with the Lost Star Children. Information spreads as fast as light here.” The boy turned around, hair falling across his face. “We all have stars after all.”

Timothée was so struck by him—the bright spark of his eyes, the knife-edge curve of his smile, the effortless elegance in which he moved—that he couldn’t think of anything to say, didn’t even realize it was his turn to say something.

The boy scrunched his nose. “Hearing ghosts again?”

“You know my name,” Timothée said. “What’s yours?”

“Valentine Sun.” His long, elegant fingers stroked the violet stone on his thick black choker.

Timothée hadn’t expected the boy to offer his name so freely. He mouthed the word silently. It sounded as strange as it did familiar.


The whisper in his mind echoed him, the voice the same but different all at once.


Timothée, startled, grabbed Valentine’s wrist. And Timothée didn’t think Valentine could look more displeased if he’d looked down and saw a big fat rat crawling up his arm.

“I heard the whisper again, Val.” He dropped his hand.

“What did you call me?”

“Val.” Timothée’s cheeks burned.

Crystals flickered along another hallway. Timothee was sure that hall had been dark before. He stepped toward it.

“That way, huh?” Valentine said, mirroring his steps.

“You heard the whisper too?”

“Maybe this school is haunted. Stars know I wouldn’t be able to go in search of the mystery if I wasn’t following behind the Timothée Greywick.”

The Timothée Greywick. His cheeks burned. For once, he was glad the halls were so dark.

Timothée followed the pulsing crystal lights, and the whispers in his mind dulled to an encouraging murmur.

He wasn’t imagining it. Val heard it too.

He gave the boy beside him a quick glance. A Starling. Someone he would take classes with, and eat with in the dining hall, and even walk around the grounds with. If Dark Stars were even allowed to do that sort of thing. It would be a shame if they weren’t allowed to spend time together because they were in different houses.

In Seagrass, Marion and Vivian had several friends. And even though they tried to invite him, no one was ever interested in talking to him. It was like he was an eel, and every friendship he ever tried to make just slipped off him.

“Why do you need me?” Timothée asked.

“You’re a Star Child, aren’t you?” Val replied. “So you must be brave. Setviren recounted great tales of you three from the events in Wolfhelm.”

Did scaring vampires away with glowy skin count as bravery? He certainly hadn’t felt brave, flat on his back with the Dark Prophet’s sword about to impale him.

Val didn’t know that. It didn’t sound like he had been among the Starlings who watched the ceremony.

“Well,” Timothée said, running a hand through his hair. It fell and flopped over his eyes. “There were a lot of vampires there.”

“How many?”

“At least fifty. Led by the, y’know,” he lowered his voice, “the Dark Prophet.”

“Oh, the Dark Prophet.” Valentine arched a brow. “I did hear he returned. Everyone assumed the little prince got him years ago. I’d love to hear your firsthand account.”

Timothée couldn’t remember the last time someone was interested in anything he had to say. Certainly not his sisters, nor the customers at the bakery, or Lingrint or Jenny Cotswood, or the fake witch from next door. Occasionally Yvaine, but she didn’t count because she was a cat.

Valentine seemed genuinely interested. The crystal lights on the wall played off his sharp cheekbones and flashed in the lavender shine of his piercing eyes. The mint and turquoise and pale pink light painted his pale face and hair in every colour.

“Well, Prince Darius was lying defeated on the ground, and my sister was in trouble, and I saved her and,” he captured Val’s gaze, “the Dark Prophet came after me.”

“He did?”

“And then, I knocked him to the ground and—” Timothée lowered his voice, took a step closer, “the Dark Prophet ran away.”

“Ran away from you?” Val’s eyes widened.

Timothée shrugged. “You could say that.” It would be a lie, but you could say it. He may have left out a couple of details.

“Well, it would be a pity if I crossed you, then.” Val stepped closer and his voice dropped in a way that made a shiver course through Timothée’s body.

They were standing close now, whispering alone in the hallway. Uneven strands of lavender hair fell on either side of Val’s face. His hair was cut shorter in the back. It looked soft as it fell across the delicate planes of his cheekbones.

And Timothée realized he hadn’t replied. He wasn’t sure how much time had passed. It could have been a second or a thousand years.

“Your freckles have a pattern.” Valentine’s voice was pitched so low Timothée wasn’t sure the words were meant for him to hear. “A very distinct part of the night sky.”

Timothée was pretty sure even the darkness couldn’t hide how red his cheeks were.

“Why are you awake?” Timothée swallowed in a dry throat. “Don’t Starlings usually go to bed around this time?”

“Couldn’t sleep,” Val said simply, and Timothée felt like there was more behind his words.

“I know what you mean.”

Val turned sharply. “Did you hear that?”

Timothée blinked. He hadn’t heard anything that time, but he had been…distracted.

“Follow me.” Val took off down the twisting hallways until they came to a wooden door with a rounded top and brass handle. Val tore it open. A stone staircase spiraled downward.

“Are you sure this is the way?”

“What?” Val crossed his arms. “Are you the only one allowed to hear things?”

Timothée followed him. If Val trusted him, Timothée could do the same.

Candles dripping hot wax lit these walls instead of crystals, and soon Timothée lost count of how long they’d been walking.

He wanted to say something to Val, to ask about the school, about catching a star, but every time he was about to, he’d catch a look at Val’s face, the curve of his full lips, or the brush of candlelight along his hair, and end up swallowing his words.

An urgent whisper shuddered through him, and the candles flickered and pulsed in response. This way. Timothée stumbled and grabbed the wall.

Val whirled. “What?”

“We’re going the right way.” He smiled. He wasn’t entirely sure why he was smiling, because following the orders of a ghost or whatever was calling him, was certainly not the best idea. Especially after his father had warned him about this school.

But he’d never ever done anything adventurous with anyone.

And certainly not with a beautiful Starling.

“Stop smiling.” Val got that look again, like a rat was crawling up his arm, but this time the rat was Timothée’s face. “We’re exploring a haunted castle, not heading to the Yuletide Ball.”

Timothée ran a hand through his hair. Now he was imagining Yuletide, feasts, and glowing trees, and…a ball?

Pressure grew the deeper they went, and he felt dizzy with the constant spiral. Acrid moisture seeped down the side of the walls. Moss and dirt now covered the previously clean stone. They must be deep underground now…

Could it still be considered underground if you were floating above the air? Timothée wasn’t sure.

“So, how was catching your star?” Timothée asked. “Tomorrow night –”

“Stop.” Val held out his arm. Timothée stumbled into him.

He heard it: not whispers, but the clicking rhythm of steps. Then a different light bloomed along the walls.

“Someone’s coming,” Val said.

“What do we—”

“Leave it to me.” He slammed Timothée against the stone wall. White specks sparkled in his vision.

Val lifted one hand to the black choker around his neck. His fingers danced over the gem. It loosened and fell into his palm. He closed his eyes and tucked the choker into his pocket.

Timothée withheld a gasp. I don’t think it’s supposed to do that.

The rhythm of steps grew louder. He knew he shouldn’t be down here. What if it was Setviren and he sent him all the way back down to Wolfhelm?

“Val—” Timothée hated the wavering in his voice.

Val’s hand clasped over his mouth; the light ends of his hair brushed Timothée’s shoulder. “Try not to scream.”

Why would I…

Dark shadows spooled at Val’s feet and wrapped around their legs. Timothée did make a sound, muffled against Val’s hand—because this boy…this Dark Star…

It was all true. Dark Stars did have the power of Noctis.

Run and catch a falling star

To you heart, bind flame and flare

But mind the dark and mind the tricks

For Noctis, you must beware

The children dream of light and fire

They dream of a starlight throne

But the sky is made of not just stars

Light is never alone

Darkness waits for its masters return

Or a child who will serve the part

For the legend of shadows sings its truth

A Dark Star seeks a dark heart

The nursery rhyme leapt back into his head like a haunting chorus.

The light on the walls grew brighter, the clicks of the steps louder. Shadows wrapped around their bodies.

Timothée felt the shadows and didn’t feel them. It was like the brink of cold at winter and the ever press of heat under the Red Corn Moon.

The hard stone grated against his back. Val’s chest pressed so hard against Timothée he thought his ribs might crack. Val was shorter than him, so Timothée’s mouth was in line with his forehead.

Val’s fingers curled on the stone wall, and he swept his gaze up, so now their faces—

Timothée swallowed.

“Don’t breathe,” Val hissed.

Timothée was going to pass out.

Shadows covered them entirely. The candlelight grew brighter and brighter until Archpriestess Kassandra came into view, long robes trailing, gravastarium staff held tight in her hands. Her beautiful face was fraught with worry and the tiny bells and ornaments sewn into her clothes jingled as she walked.

This hallway was too narrow. Even shrouded in Val’s shadows, she would certainly see them. Val locked eyes with Timothée. The shadows wavered, pulsing along his edges. His brows knit in concentration—and the Archpriestess passed through them and continued up the stairs.

Timothée’s heart flipped in his chest. She hadn’t just passed around them…she’d passed through them.

He didn’t move after one breath, then two, or three, and he thought he’d stay like that forever with Val’s chest pressed against his own, and the shadows wrapped around them.

Then the shadows fell away, dripping off him with the consistency of water that didn’t leave him wet.

Val didn’t back up. He could feel the frantic pulse of Val’s heart against his chest.

This was so different than dusty bakery storerooms or mouldy attics. The energy between them felt like a living thing. Was this the spark all his stories had talked about? Because, by the Three, it felt like the air might explode if he took another breath.

A hot rush of desire pooled through him as he felt Val’s heavy breath on his neck. So new. So different. It was immediate, demanding, urgent. He remembered how long it had taken with Lingrint, with Jenny, the others. It had often taken a long time to feel anything. But now—

He bit his lip. Being this close to Val was deliciously uncomfortable. Timothée shifted slightly, felt something against his thigh, and then Val tilted his face up.

A rush of ecstasy flooded through Timothée. Maybe, maybe, this beautiful, enchanting boy wanted him. Timothée took a shallow breath, and with great difficulty shifted his chin down to look at Val. Their faces were so close, Timothée noticed the wavy strands of his brown hair falling on Val’s forehead.

Timothée shuddered and closed his eyes, trying to gain some focus. But it was even worse. His other senses were heightened. The scent of pomegranate, the twinkling linger of magic in the air. He felt with sharpened clarity every place their bodies touched, the crushing pressure of Val’s chest, the sharp bones of his hips, the intoxicating hard shape of him pressed against Timothée’s leg.

Their rabbit-fast breath was an uneven cadence, the only sound in the cold stairwell.

He flicked his eyes open. Val was studying him with a calculating gaze. He dropped his gaze to Val’s lips, so full on his delicate face. He wanted to grab him, to spin him around and push him against the wall and kiss him until they were both dizzy with it.

But that was something only people who were good kissers did.

Val pushed him away and stumbled down a few stairs. His face was twisted, brows curved, like he’d been frozen into a snarl. Like he was furious. But it was so quick, the blink of a star, that Timothée almost thought he imagined it.

What just happened? “So…you’re a –”

“Indeed I am.” Val reached into his pocket, pulled out the black choker and slipped it on. “Let’s get this over with.”

Timothée trailed after him again. Val’s shadows had disappeared, but it still felt like a cloud hung over him. Had Timothée done something wrong?

Down and down they went until finally, the stairs opened to a dark hallway, filled with crumbling stone. It smelled like earth and something foul Timothée couldn’t quite place.

“I think we’re getting close,” Timothée said.

There was a fork ahead: to the left was a small metal door. To the right, the hall continued into darkness.

“This way.” Val headed toward the door.

Timothée stood still at the fork, eyes trained into the darkness of the path to the right. This way. A slight breeze lifted his long curls. “Wait. I think it’s—”

“I heard something from in here.” Val opened the metal door. “After you.”

Timothée shrugged and went in. They could always explore the hall after if this was nothing. It would make their adventure last longer. He wanted to ask Val about magic. He knew it was rare to catch a Dark Star. He had so many questions, he’d follow this boy anywhere.

The first thing he noticed when he entered the room was the smell: a reeking, heavy musk, like rotten eggs. The candlelight from the hall flickered into the room; there was a circular walkway around a pit filled with—

The door slammed shut, and the light went out.

Something terrible stuttered in Timothée’s heart.


He took a breath, gagged. The putrid air was thick as soup. “Val?”

From the other side of the door, Val spat: “Just because you glow, it doesn’t make you powerful. Or chosen. Or important to anything…or anyone.” His voice was muffled through the door, but Timothée could hear the venom behind his words. “You don’t know what some of us have given up to be here. And you just waltz in and claim the castle is talking to you?”

“Val, I didn’t—” Timothée stuttered against the door.

“That’s not my name,” he snarled. “Have a good day, Greywick. Let’s see if shining bright can help you out of this one.”


No answer. Timothée pressed his hands against the cold metal handle and pulled.

The door was locked.

He wasn’t surprised.

“Valentine,” he said again, but his voice didn’t carry, and it didn’t matter if it had. The Starling had left.

What had he done? Why was it always like this? And damn the Three, why did it smell so bloody bad in here? He slammed his fist against the door. Then slid down against it.

He was shaking, and he clasped his elbows to stop the frantic movement. Damn, damn, damn. He realized he was crying and roughly wiped his face with his sleeve until his eyes burned.

After about an hour—there was no way to tell time in the dark—he realized Val had never heard the whispers at all. Everything had been a scheme to lock him in here. He had been such an easy target, the new kid who knew nothing about the Academy.

But what had he done to make Valentine Sun hate him? His mind raced with a thousand possibilities. Because of the prophecy? Because he was some idiot kid wandering the halls during the daylight hours? Because of the way their bodies had pressed together?

In the end, it didn’t really matter. Timothée knew why. It was just who he was, who he had been his whole life.

He didn’t dare walk further into the room, not with the ledge he’d glimpsed earlier.

After about three hours, light poured in from high above and something sloshed down in front of him, slopping into the pit.

And that’s when Timothée realized he was locked in the waste pit.

There was really nothing for it. The next time it opened, he yelled up for help. It took three more times before someone heard him.

“We’ve been searching everywhere for you!” Setviren said when he unlocked the door. He was wearing silky green pyjamas and a long nightcap. “How ever did you find your way down here?”

I was tricked by an evil Starling, Timothée could have said. But he just mumbled, “I got lost looking for the lavatory.”

“Well, you certainly found a part of it.” Setviren wrinkled his nose. “Of all the places a child of the stars could end up!”

The walk back to the infirmary was awful. Broad daylight streamed through the windows. The Starling students should have all been asleep, but someone must have told them the new kid was covered in shit and had to be rescued by the loremaster. Valentine, no doubt.

By the time Setviren led Timothée through the main building, the halls were crowded with blurry-eyed Starling students wearing nightrobes and pyjamas. A crowd gathered, following him with stares and whispers. And not the wonderous kind he and his sister had received yesterday.

The students covered their mouths and wrinkled their noses.

No wonder. He smelled like a pit.

So much for a good first impression.

“I trust you can find your way back from here,” Setviren said with a yawn as they walked through the main hallways.

Timothée nodded and shuffled back, clinging to the wall, looking down at his feet and untied boots. He walked past the alcove where he’d first seen Valentine, standing before the painting.

He felt drawn to approach.

He hadn’t looked at the painting before, not really. But he stood in front of it now. Something clutched at his heart. The painting was of a battlefield, littered with blood-laced bodies. Standing on a mountain of dead, with a cape of shadows and black armour, was a god. But Timothée knew that face: the dark brown hair, the curve of his mouth, the grey eyes. Timothée knew that face because it was his face. It very well could have been a portrait of him.

Heart racing, he tracked his gaze down to the bottom of the portrait, where the gold title card lay.

“The Battle of Silverdrop Valley, Noctis, God of Shadows.”

“Noctis.” The name was heavy on his tongue.

This terrible destiny around him—there was no going back. Marion could say they weren’t the star children. She could say their glowing was just a coincidence. But she was wrong.

This was who he was. Who they were.

Noctis was their brother.

That was the name Dark Prophet had called him, and no wonder. Timothee looked exactly like the fallen God of Shadows.

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Updated: Oct 6, 2021

Here is a preview of a Patreon exclusive scene. This scene is 21 pages long and follows Carmilla and Valentine during a steamy summer night. By subscribing, you help us work toward our goal of being full-time authors.

Love and Starlight, Jasmine & Sophie

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Author’s Note:

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,

Darius Störmberg

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.

“You’re needy tonight.” She turned to look at him. “Are you jealous of that letter?”

He just lounged back on the pillows, and that curved smile slithered up the side of his face.

You’re doing it again, she chided herself. Putting emotions onto him. It was a favourite game of hers, to look at him and try to guess which of his emotions were real, and which ones he simply pretended to have. He was quite good at it: pretending to be a man of feeling. So far, the only one emotion she knew without a doubt was real was his sadness.

She slowly unclasped the buttons of her dress, let the whole thing slide to the floor. Curls of steam drifted up from the tub.

Valentine stared at her, admiring her body the way one might admire a marble statue: aloof fascination from a purveyor of all beautiful things.

Carmilla stepped into the water. It was boiling hot, enough to alight her skin. But she had no fear of pain. She lowered her entire body into the water, savouring the biting heat. The strong scent of bergamot and neroli infused the steam.

“Careful, darling,” Valentine purred. “You wouldn’t want to burn yourself.”

Carmilla leaned back, letting the crimson strands of her hair dangle in the water. “On the contrary, I quite like the idea of being made of fire.”

“Of course, you do.”

She marvelled at the dark rasp of his voice. Unlike her, he did not carry the thick Kirrintsovan accent with the rolling R’s and pronounced V’s. It had an intonation all its own, like smoke and crackling embers.

The pillows beside Valentine began to rustle and then a thatch of floppy blond hair emerged. Valentine arched a brow. “You’re still here, are you?”

The thatch of hair turned into a pale face, and narrow shoulders, and a thin, naked chest. A young man shook off the coverings of pillows and blankets, his eyes were dusty with sleep, droplets of drool running down his chin.

Carmilla gave a low chuckle. “Leaving your toys around, Valentine?”

The young man’s sleepy eyes opened, and he realized the former princess was staring at him. And she was naked.

Might as well give him a show.


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Updated: Nov 8, 2021

Vivian’s father never spoke of the Celestial Academy for Fallen Stars. Not unless he was making a point of how horribly evil it was. But that had not stopped Vivian from hearing about the Cosmic Rite.

Thraina was full of magic but magic only came from one source: falling stars. And catching falling stars was only permitted at the Celestial Academy once a year.

A cold chill spread through the air as Setviren led them into the dark and murky night. Dozens of students followed behind them as they left the stone trappings of the Academy and headed toward the Meadow of Shattered Stars.

Some of the Starling students held lanterns, while others used their fingers to direct small bobbing lights in front of them. Low, murmuring voices of excitement echoed in the quiet night.

There had never been two Rites in a year, never an exception in all the centuries the Academy had existed. But as Setviren had repeated multiple times, they were exceptional.

Vivian certainly didn’t feel exceptional, shivering beneath Darius’s cloak and feeling like a big imposter.

Timothée and Marion walked beside her. Timothée’s hair was still damp, curls only now forming. Marion had insisted he stay in the bath until all the stink of the sewer-pit left him, and sadly Vivian could still catch a whiff of it on him.

Honestly, she thought, locked in the sewer room by a beautiful lilac-eyed boy. Only Timothée could manage that, and on his first night here.

Though she would have a few choice words for that boy if their paths ever crossed. They’d spent the rest of the day in the infirmary, and Timothée had been gloomy for all of it.

She reached out and grabbed his hand, squeezed it three times. “Tonight, you’ll catch your star.”

The thought seemed to brighten his mood, and he flashed a smile. Of them all, Timothée had dreamed of this the most.

A figure came into view at the horizon of the meadow. Lady Kassandra.

Vivian could barely take such beauty in. With each step they drew closer, Kassandra appeared more goddess than woman. She was dressed in such ornate grandeur, any queen would pale beside her. Her gown was orange and fire-red. The colours wove together like rippling flame. A sparkling gold breastplate was bespeckled with jewels, shining every colour. Her white-blonde hair was piled upon her head in tiny braids and Vivian wondered at the poor soul who was trusted with the Archpriestess’s hair. Her headpiece was a golden tiara with a massive red ruby at the centre. Layered red and orange glass spread out from the sides like wings.

“She looks so powerful,” Vivian whispered, unable to hide the awe in her voice.

Marion gave a loud huff. “If she’s so powerful, how come she wasn’t able to find her three lost children? Seagrass isn’t even that far from Wolfhelm! She’s nothing but flash and no substance.”

Marion’s words were dismissive, but they held a truth. If the church really was as powerful as it seemed, how come they hadn’t found them before?

Vivian crossed her arms and tucked her hands into her sleeves. Her stomach twisted and clenched, but it was not in fear. It was in guilt.

She had tried to convince Marion this was the right course, because it felt like the right course. But if what Setviren said was true, and their father truly had been the headmaster here…then why had he taken them away?

This was where they were meant to be…where she was meant to be. But she still couldn’t help but feel the tremor of wrath her father would have if he’d been alive, if he knew where they were going, what they were about to do…

This was a betrayal to his memory.

They approached Lady Kassandra and she raised her arms out in greeting. Flowing fabric, the colour of flames, glittered from her wrists to her breast plate. It looked like wings of fire. Then Vivian remembered: the Archpriestess was a Morning Star, a disciple of Rhaemyria. The phoenix was a sacred animal to the goddess.

“Welcome.” Her voice carried like thunder on the wind. Though she smiled at them, the glinting black staff in her hand and the host of Celestial Knights, faces shrouded by white hoods, kept the expression from feeling warm. “You have reached the terminus of destiny. Behold, the Meadow of Shattered Stars.”

Vivian looked past the Archpriestess and her knights. A steep hill sloped downward to a great field beyond. It carried such a familiarity, for a moment, Vivian felt like she was home. The rolling plains were sapphire in the night, like deep ocean waves frozen still, and the moonlight sparkled over white rocks, clustered together like seafoam.

But as vast as the field appeared, the sky was huger still, swallowing up the horizon.

Her eyes trailed back to the crowd of students. One stepped forward and her heart quickened. Darius. His blond hair fell across his brows, and he wore a heavy navy cloak with silver embroidery and crystal buckles. His gaze caught hers, as stunning and bright as the sky beyond.

She hadn’t seen him since they arrived at the school.

“My my.” Setviren’s gaze was trained upward. “There has not been such a night in some time.”

“The stars have been waiting for you,” Lady Kassandra’s voice rang. “The gods have opened up the heavens in celebration of your arrival.”

Setviren turned to the children. “We usually have an extensive ceremony with speeches before all this, but Lady Kassandra wishes you to begin training with your classmates straight away.”

“These are extraordinary times, my friend,” Lady Kassandra said calmly.

“Yes, yes, of course,” Setviren replied. “The Prince, his wards, and the missing Star Children, all starting in the same year…ahh, how the stars have aligned.”

Marion’s eyes flicked from the sky to the loremaster. “So, what do we do?”

Setviren said simply, “When the stars fall, you catch one.”

Lady Kassandra narrowed her eyes at the loremaster then stepped forward. “One of the falling stars is meant for you. Perhaps a star of the morning, blessed by the goddess Rhaemyria.” Her voice lowered a pitch. “Or one of Xydrious, an Evening Star.”

And what of the stars of Noctis? Vivian thought. Dark Stars. She cast a glance at Timothée, and a chill ran through her.

After he’d taken his hours-long bath, he’d led them through the halls, all the way to a portrait of the fallen god.

“Do you still think this is all a big coincidence?” Timothée had pointed at the portrait. “He looks like me…or I look like him. And not just me. Look closely. Vivian’s eyes, Marion’s lips…he’s our brother!”

Vivian had turned to Marion, expecting some further denial, but she’d been staring at the portrait as if it were speaking to her.

Finally, Vivian had said: “That’s why we’re here. We need answers.”

Her mind turned back to Lady Kassandra, whose rich and ethereal voice held captive all the watchful students. “The star will come to you and hover in your hands. That means it has chosen you. You must not let the star touch the ground, for then it dies. Once a star has chosen you, place it between your lips, and its celestial magic will bind with your heart.” Her glass-bright eyes held each of them still. “Catch a falling star and the world becomes yours. Create new destinies. Change your fate. You shall become Starlings and Thraina shall bow before you.”

Then with an elegant flick of her wrist, Lady Kassandra bid them forth unto the field.

“I wish there wasn’t an audience,” Marion said, casting a distasteful glance back at the throng of giddy students.

Starlings gathered at the crest of the hill. Clumps of blue and gold uniforms spread out on the cold grass. Some had even brought quilted blankets and steaming thermoses.

Timothée too was gazing at the crowd, but his eyes were frantic, almost as if he was looking for someone.

“Don’t worry,” Marion said. “If Purple Eyes returns, I’ll have a word with him.”

“W-what?” Timothée stuttered. “No, I—I mean, it’s fine.”

“Would you prefer I clock him in the nose? Remember when I did that to Evvie Thorson? She never teased you again!”

Timothée groaned, skittering down the hill, and away from the crowd. His little black cat trailed dutifully at his heels.

“What, she deserved it!” Marion shrugged. “I better go after him. You get ready.”

“’kay,” Vivian said.

She watched her sister run after their brother. Here, on the crest of the hill, the stars looked stuck in the sky. She couldn’t imagine them falling like rain.

A warmth spread over her, and she knew who approached even before she turned. Darius touched her shoulder. “I wish I could help you out there.” He flashed a rapturous grin. “But I don’t think you’ll need it.”

“I appreciate the thought.” She looked down, then back up at him. “I’m sorry, I still have your cloak.”

“Keep it.” He traced a gentle hand down her arm. “I tried to find you after class, but Setviren assured me you were well asleep. He actually threatened me if I disturbed you.”

“He threatened you?”

“Yes.” Darius cast an anxious look over at the loremaster. “As much as I wanted to see you, I’m rather attached to my—” He coughed, cutting himself off.

“It’s alright. I’m just glad I get to see you before all of, well, this.”

“Remember what I said? The stars will line up to greet you.” He tucked a curl behind her ear. “I do believe the stars were made for you, Vivian.”

Something shot across the vast blue of his eyes, a single white streak. Vivian whirled so fast Darius had to catch her in his arms. There it was! A white blur across the horizon—the first fallen star of the night.

As if on a silent cue, other stars shook and rattled from the sky, dropping from the tapestry of black. They sparkled with sharp edges as they drew closer, then burst up in sparks as they hit the ground.

Vivian realized the rocks she thought scattered across the field were not rocks at all but fallen stars—uncaught and dead.

It was forbidden to collect dead stars. Well, forbidden for anyone except Starlings. If legend held true, that was how they made their mystical weapons of stellarite.

“They’re so beautiful,” she whispered.

Darius still had his arms around her, and she leaned into him. “You said you’ve never seen a starfall. Isn’t that so?”

“Only glimpses of them,” she whispered, ashamed of the fact. “My father never let us out during one.”

“The man who stole you,” Darius said.

Was that who he was now, who he would always be?

What about the man who had carried her on his shoulders, laughing as he dunked them both into the cool waters of the Seagrass surf? The man who toiled in the lavender fields to get enough verdallions to buy them each a spinning top for their sixth birthday? What about the man that tucked them into bed at night, swearing he would keep them safe? The man who had given his life to do so…

She blinked away hot tears then concentrated on the crowd before them, on the sea of gold and blue coats. Setviren spoke with two other official-looking people, one a middle-aged woman wearing a hooded cape of gold, the other a handsome man in a purple waistcoat.

“Everyone’s watching us,” she whispered.

“Everyone’s watching you.”

She wondered if it was more than just her being a Star Child. That perhaps standing so close to the Prince of Andúrigard might be drawing the students’ attention.

“Go get your star,” he whispered in her ear.

“’kay.” She took a deep breath. The night air was cold as she stepped away from his warmth.

Her throat was a bone dry no amount of water could quench. She forced her hands into fists so no one would see them trembling.

Each step squelched with mud as she descended the grassy hill into the meadow. Her siblings awaited her in the field. Stars flew down like scattered showers, bursting upon the ground in brilliant sparks.

Marion and Timothée turned to her as she approached.

“Does anyone remember what the instructions were?” Timothée grinned.

“Don’t tell me you were daydreaming during our first lesson?” Vivian poked his arm.

Marion gazed up at the sky. She didn’t appear to have heard the joke in his words. “Catch a falling star and the world becomes yours. Create new destinies. Change your fate. You shall become Starlings and Thraina shall bow before you.”

Vivian and Timothée exchanged a glance. Their sister’s eyes were faraway, lost in the symphony of raining stars.

Then Marion drifted from them, moving as if in a dream. Her long hair billowed behind her. And it couldn’t be, because it wasn’t a moonless night, but Vivian swore she saw Marion’s hair sparkle.

“What is she doing?” Timothée asked.

“Shush,” Vivian whispered. “I think she’s…”

Marion looked like a stained-glass painting, her body alight with starfall. Celestial bodies plunged around her, but she weaved between them. She was a dancer, and the stars were her music. Her eyes were curiously glazed: an artist selecting paint, a writer trying different pens. A farm girl collecting the best lavender.

Then her eyes darted up the hill toward the students. Toward Lady Kassandra. They blazed with fiery starlight. And a star descended before her.

Vivian’s little sister became a silhouette against the star’s light. It burst brightly around her, illuminating the moors. Even the blades of grass seemed to tremble in anticipation.

Marion held out her hand. Her hair blew upward, lit up like a halo. Gusts of celestial wind whipped her dress against her legs, but Marion did not flinch. The star bounced tentatively around and then gently descended into her palm. Marion did not look at the star as she brought it to her lips: her gaze was locked with Lady Kassandra’s.

The star touched Marion’s lips, and then white light radiated down her throat, through her chest, to her heart. Marion’s hands flung out to the side, fingers spread wide. Her head shot up to the heavens. A brilliant golden light ignited around her.

Then there was another sound: a triumphant cheer. On the hill, a crowd of golden uniforms leapt up. Balls of fire, sprays of water, and clouds of snow erupted in the air. The Morning Star screamed and hugged each other. The whole lot of them raced down the hill, a howling mob of bright yellow light. “Morning Star!” they cheered. “Hail Rhaemyria! A Star Child is a Morning Star!”

And Khalid was at the front of it all. He scooped Marion into his arms, lifting her off her feet and twirling her around. She must have been in a good mood because she actually let him. Even through the dark horizon and star shower, Vivian could see the smile on her little sister’s face. It was so unfamiliar. She didn’t think she’d seen her sister smile like that in a long time.

Vivian cast a look up the hill. In the glimmer of a falling star, she could see the shine of tears down Lady Kassandra’s cheek, a shaky and emotional smile. The middle-aged woman in the golden cloak who Setviren had been talking to earlier approached the Archpriestess. To Vivian’s surprise, they embraced, sharing a hug.

“Guess Marion doesn’t have such rotten luck after all,” Vivian whispered to Timothée, only to realize he had drifted off to another part of the field.

Well, there was nothing much to it then—she might as well get on with trying to catch her own star. She wanted to ask Marion how’d she done it and so quickly. But that was probably one of those invisible rules that Lady Kassandra knew and everyone else knew, but no one ever spoke aloud.

She tried not to look back at the peering eyes of the crowd or the hollering group of Morning Stars and walked to a quieter part of the field. The grass was wetter here, and her boots sunk into the marshy ground. Little pools looked like portals to another universe, with white light reflecting throughout them.

She closed her eyes and tried to make herself as serene as possible, like Marion had seemed to be. Light flashed against her lids. But when she opened her eyes, the stars still fell around her, none of them hovering nearby.

She tried to focus, but her mind was wandering. She couldn’t help but think of Seagrass, where all the food tasted like sea salt, and the warm grit of her father’s hands, a place where she still belonged in the same world as Marion and Timothée.

Salty tears fell from her eyes. She was worlds away from them. A fear that had coiled deep in her heart slithered its way out.

What if it wouldn’t work? What if she was too sick? She still glowed the same as before, still knew the warmth of the sun, and the taste of bread. But still… What if I’m too far gone?

“Please,” she whispered. “Stars, please.”

She tilted her head back and gazed up. Her hair fell loose from her bun and tumbled down her shoulders. Looking up like this…it was just her and the stars and nothing else. Misty lines streaked across like sky, making it look like a spiderweb.

There was a storm of stars spinning, raining down in sweeping circles.

And she thought again of her father, who was not her father. But if that were so, then why had he had the same wave to his hair as Timothée, the same stubborn grin as Marion, and had she only imagined the same flecks of blue in her and her father’s eyes?

She didn’t want to cry, but it was happening anyway, her gaze still skyward. The stars were falling so hard, and they had the most particular sound as they shimmered past, the lightest twinkle on the piano, or seashells tossing in the waves, or the smooth chime of ice breaking.

The stars were singing and dancing. And she needed to as well.

She moved until she was twirling and twirling, and water splattered her ankles and the hem of her dress. And the stars were ribbons of white light spinning ‘round and ‘round her. Breathless and broken, she saw above her one star, hovering above her head. An odd sort of halo.

Her feet slowed and with her vision still spinning, she shot her hand up, straining her fingertips until they brushed the glittering edge of the star. It was a ball of light, a million colours and none at all.

Slowly, it shifted into her grip. She clasped it, and it was as frozen as ice and hot as a flame. Quickly, she cupped it in her palms and brought it to her body.

“It would seem,” she whispered, “we’ve got a great deal to live up to. If you want to jump into that nice pool of water, I won’t blame you.”

But she did not fear it leaving, because somehow, she knew this star was hers, and she was its. It cracked and sparkled in her hands, giving her its answer.

Slowly, she brought the cupped star to her lips and let the light press against her face. Something surged inside her chest, and she was suddenly filled with a great weight. A heaviness gripped her feet, and her blood hummed beneath her skin. And for the first time in so long, she was unafraid.

Vivian Greywick swallowed the star.

Her vision contracted until she was surrounded by the heavens: the black tapestry of night and pinpricks of stars everywhere she looked. She seemed to be moving at a great pace, sailing through the cosmos, herself and yet more.

“Vivian,” a voice said from all around her. “My Vivian. Forged by starlight.”

It was her father’s voice.

She kept speeding through the night sky until a bursting white light appeared ahead. She could stay here among the stars…but the light beckoned her. She must return to the earth. Her star had fallen for her.

Vivian’s eyes shot open, and she was again upon the meadow. But she was surrounded by a shimmering blue glow.

The magic of the Father God, Xydrious, hummed beneath her skin. But for whatever reason, all she could picture was her father—who was not really her father at all.

“Evening star,” she gasped.

And the word was echoed by an applauding crowd atop the hill, and loudest was the brilliant cheer from Prince Darius himself.

She touched a hand to her heart.

An Evening Star—their fates intertwined tighter still.

One triplet a Morning Star, one an Evening Star…she cast her gaze to the Meadow of Shattered Stars, where her brother stood all alone.

What fate awaited Timothée Greywick?

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