He picked up a lantern that he had, presumably, set on a nearby table. A dim orange light pooled out of it, seeming as though to illuminate a mist that wasn’t clinging in the air. It smelled of burning oil, saltwater, and the filth that clung to the walls and saturated the hull.She let her fingers run over the metal of her prosthetic hand. It was cold and its edges were blunt enough that they did not outright cut into her skin. She pressed the pads of her fingertips in harder as she rubbed the metal. Threat of her father’s retribution or not, she still had to face a man whom she had helped to break further. Gareth had hardly done anything to force her hand. She was simply too much of a coward to stand against him. Unlike Kassidy.
“Starlight,” Kassidy said, as if testing out a new word. “She is powerful enough to match Alise?”Cailean slumped back. “She will know how to protect you from Alise.”Maeve let out a long breath through her nose, a strange queasiness washing over her, turning her legs to jelly. “That is a no,” she said. “We have to go, Kassidy. Before someone finds us skulking down here.”And even through her best efforts, Maeve could hardly sleep that night, with the first taste of a chance of freedom on her tongue. Like a meal prepared by a royal chef, so decadent and rich that it hid the smell of the poison that laced it.
Her magic grew warm in her chest. The blood witch had killed Reina. And it must have been her who brought Shana here and kept her contained.She rolled onto her stomach, gritting her teeth against the pain from the ropes. It was moonlight that was granting her some illusion of light. The lantern that hung amongst the stars at night. With a storm, she could rend the building to its foundations. But with the stars and the night whispering against her skin, she could preserve her energy. Patience. Patience. Be patient, Shana.Shana was no fire sorcerer. She had no inherent flames woven into her magic. Whatever fuelled her magic, that which did not come from the storm, it came from the night, from the constellations and the stars that made them.Stars burned, and so did she.
“I can offer you only my light, my earthbound star.” A breeze tousled her hair as the voice spoke, like a warm breath preluded by a mother’s kiss. “Take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. Take solace in my gift. Storms are strong, but they dissipate like smoke on the wind. Stars burn for aeons.”Through her eyelids, a light flickered on. She traced in, even with her eyes closed, as it danced in front of her face.“Still, always remember,” said the voice, whispering now. What felt like a hand graced her chin. “Stars die too. Don’t expend all of you at once. All that pressure will burn you inside out. Don’t let yourself collapse, Shana.”
She had been taken from home. She had been taken and she was gods only knew where and Reina was dead. Her eyes grew hot and her vision blurred at the edges. She gripped the windowsill until her knuckles went white, until it felt like electricity singed her nerves, needles digging through the flesh of her fingers and pressing into her bloodstream. She wanted to scream, wanted to let out the tempest boiling in her stomach.A hot tear dripped from her cheek instead. A second. She let go of the windowsill to wipe them away, breath coming in quick, sharp snorts. Her hands tingled from the intensity of her grasp.
“Go back to sleep, Madigan.”Stars burn for aeons.She clenched her fists. Let the storm die around her, the wind gone limp and quiet and somewhere far outside, where it suspended itself only in memory. Her legs gave out beneath her and she hit her knees hard on the wood but gritted her jaw hard enough to make her focus.In her mind, she imagined clouds that veiled a starry night. A moon so full it looked about to burst, showering the whole world in silvery light as pure as the heavens themselves. She drew the light that peered in the window, drew on her gift from the constellations.Her right hand and arm, the one paralysed, flicked on like a struck match. Starlight glowed so bright she had to avert her gaze, twisting herself in such a way that she could still see the blood witch, but was not blinding herself by her own magic.The witch’s face, which had been coolly concentrated with the bitterest trace of delight, shifted now to outright horror. Shana revelled in it.
Her throat tightened. “Mamá never swam with us,” she said softly. She remembered the despair on Mamá’s face as she looked out at the water, but never crossed the ocean’s threshold. Hardly ever even strayed close enough for the water to kiss her feet. When Maeve was younger, she hadn’t understood why. Mamá had always spoke of the water as though it were her closest friend, someone she loved very dearly. Maeve had fallen in love with the sea from the way her mamá spoke of it, and it was the one thing she had loved that hadn’t left, besides Kassidy.She understood now. Mamá could swim and touch the sea, but she could never return. Maeve knew Mamá had loved them, and now, since she had been brought aboard her father’s ship, she knew the pain that her mamá had endured all those years, bound to the shore. Maeve would never belong to the ocean the way her mamá had, but she knew what being taken from home felt like.And the sea, though it may claim her forever only in death and not the way it could claim her mamá, still called to her.
Though Maeve felt as though the world froze over for a moment—tiny crystal of ice forming in her hair and frigid water stilling the blood in her veins—a seagull interrupted that moment of shock. She blinked, swallowed hard against the winter claiming her throat, and let out a long, long breath.She killed Alise. Alise was dead.
“Open your eyes, my tiny nightlight.”Shana was suspended somewhere, choked with darkness. Everything was fuzzy, like her whole body was coming into focus. Pain centred from somewhere faraway, sinking in slowly like water she had put her hand in that was slowly boiling. Or rather, her head, and her arm, because those were they points where the agony was coming to life.I need to sleep.“No.”She tried to shake off the intrusive voice. She was so tired, and wrapped in the darkness, she didn’t want to rouse herself. The edges of consciousness were starting to press into her, trying to needle her into a tendered and bruised wakefulness.“You must wake up, Shana.”
Maeve glanced up, partially from instinct. But she also wanted to see if Mamá would follow Kassidy, if she would go back to the sea. An even smaller part of her whispered that, if Mamá swam in the ocean again, that she would never return. It was silly, of course, Mamá couldn’t live there anymore. But the village people still whispered that she would. People who came from the sea always went back to the sea, and its call would be too strong for her to resist one day.But Mamá only sat up and shook her head. She still smiled at Kassidy, but Maeve was old enough now that she could see the sorrow in her mother’s features. The longing, the way that Kassidy might stare at a plate of fresh cookies.Sometimes, Maeve wished she could go and live in the sea. That one day, she might find her own skin, and she would be free to wander the ocean as she pleased.
"I hope—" She swallowed, her throat gone utterly dry. Celeste hovered beside the table, and Nadia dug her nails into her palms. She forced herself to meet Celeste’s gaze. "I’d hate to see you come in second place." That was as close as she was going to come to saying I hope you win.Celeste’s expression softened, something Nadia could have called worry but didn’t dare to dancing across her face. Then Celeste nodded curtly, twitching a bit awkwardly in a way Nadia hadn’t seen before. "I think it’s far worse to die for something you don’t believe in."And then she left.
The click! of the lock inside the door echoed behind her. She turned around. [Redacted] had locked the door."[Redacted]? Why did you—"He crossed the room, to her, in two intent driven strides and wrapped a hand around her throat.
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