a/n: hey, thanks for checking out Starry Veins! This is the novel I wrote for Round V of LMS, and it's still a first draft! While I don't discourage any feedback, I prefer not to receive feedback on grammar! I'm not polishing this draft up yet, so I'm not as concerned about editing. I am, of course, open to all feedback, but I ask that you keep this in consideration! Thanks <3
While the others had been invited to a dinner and dessert around their gracious hosts’ hearth, Cassius was nested in the barn with Artemesa.
He’d been invited with the others, but he was plagued by an ailment he didn’t fully understand. Warm and merry as it sounded, he didn’t want to see everyone in high spirits or celebrating when tomorrow loomed on the horizon like a distant and black storm front.
“Am I being too dramatic?” he asked Artemesa, who was carefully preening her feathers beside him. She paused as he spoke, then lifted her head.
“You like the boy a great deal,” she offered, though it was a largely unhelpful statement.
Cassius knew he liked Hypatis a great deal—that was exactly the problem.
Artemesa snorted at him and resumed preening. “In my experience, you are frequently dramatic. It’s in your nature. Though you believe this to be a bad thing, which is what I don’t understand.”
He rolled onto his back and stared up at the ceiling. “But I shouldn’t feel this much, right? I don’t even know if he likes me back. Cadelia certainly doesn’t. Hypatis would have kissed me by now if he did, wouldn’t he have?” Cassius kicked at the nearest haybale. “It doesn’t matter anyway, since they’re leaving.”
Rain hummed out a din on the roof, echoing through the barn. The dreary sound filled his ears. The rain had started earlier in the day and had not relented, turning the outside to brown sludge and all the snow left to mush.
Artemesa was staring at him. He didn’t have to turn to see, he could feel it. She was curious about something, trying to work something out. He didn’t like it.
“What are you scared of?” she asked, cocking her head to the side.
Cassius shut his eyes. “I’m not sacred. Just put out that they’re leaving.”
She reached over and nipped him. He squawked and leapt to his feet, away from her. She glared. “I know what it is you are feeling, and I know you’re upset about more than that. You can’t li—”
The barn’s side door slid open. Artemesa scrambled towards the stacked bales to hide and Cassius moved to stand in front of the place she hid.
But when he peered around the stacks of bales to see who it was, he found Alanna. She was damp from the rain and looked more sullen than he felt.
Ever since they had seen Jax, Alanna had returned to her previous state of melancholy, as though Isadora and Mishal had left anew all over again.
“We’re not finished with this,” Artemesa hissed, re-emerging from the hay once he relaxed at the sight of Alanna. She began preening again.
They were finished with it, but there was no use in telling her that.
He stood and stepped towards Alanna. “I thought you were inside with the others.”
No longer obscured, he spotted she was holding two tin dishes with a shallow groove in the centre. The smell of cinnamon and cherry wafted through the air. He’d already eaten, but found his hunger refreshed at the sweet aroma.
Alanna held one of the dishes out to him. “I wanted to bring you some,” she said. She offered him a dim, but honest smile. “Tell Artemesa I’m sorry I couldn’t sneak her a slice.”
“She can hear you well enough,” he reminded her. He took the dish and settled back on the wooden, dusty floor, crossing his legs. “Thanks for this.”
“You’re welcome. Ember was going to bring some out, I think, but she was playing a game with Cadelia by the fire.” Alanna sat down in front of him and began poking at her slice of pie with her fork.
The rain grew softer, but no less constant. Cassius nibbled at his pie contentedly. Alanna hardly even picked at hers.
“Alanna?” he tried.
Alanna’s brow furrowed. She didn’t look up at him.
He set his down his dish and fork. “Little Pika?”
She mumbled something too quiet for him to hear. His gut wrenched into knots. Please don’t have more bad news.
“Come again?” He was practically whispering himself now. Like if he kept quiet, maybe, he couldn’t hear something he didn’t want to.
Alanna looked up and met his gaze, pale eyes glistening. “I want to go to Isa. I don’t want to go to Chromium.”
His heart plummeted. Artemesa cooed behind him, pained, but he ignored her and the jolt to his own system. To be honest, he hadn’t even thought of that.
Getting to see Isadora again… He would do just about anything to see her again. He missed her like crazy. Getting to have her nearby again, having everyone back together again…
“But Ember wants to go to Chromium,” he said, heart fluttering like a frantic butterfly. “It’s safer for us there, even Jax said so. The Grey Masks can’t get us there.”
“It’s what Ember wants,” Alanna said. “But I want Isa and Mishal back. We know where they are, and I’d feel safe with them.” She set aside her pie and leaned forward until her face with an inch or so from his. “You miss her too?”
His throat felt dry. “Why would you even question that? I’d train with Enoch every day for a month to see her again.” He winced. “I’d train with Mishal for a month to see her again.”
“Then let’s go to the City of Bells instead. Let’s see her and Stormy again. Margaretta can’t turn us away because home isn’t safe anymore.” Her nose wrinkled. “Ori will agree with me too, you know how much they want to go.”
He pulled away from her. The rain had begun to hammer on the roof again, so loud now it was near deafening. With it, his pulse roared in his ears.
“But Ember wants to go to Chromium,” he repeated numbly. His own voice was faraway and distorted.
Alanna drew away as though he’d shoved her. Her pale eyes reflected the lantern light like mirrors as tears glimmered unshed in them like a glass covering. “I thought you’d do anything to see her again. I thought you’d want to.”
“I did!” he said. “I do!” His cheeks flushed hot, so much so it was almost feverish. “Have you talked to the others?”
But her brows and face set like stone, her expression closing off, as his panic drummed louder in his ears. “No, because I thought you’d be on my side.”
“I am on your side. What am I even saying?” He laughed very nervously. “There are no sides! We have to decide, all of us, on where we’re going! Maybe they hadn’t even thought of them, of Isadora and Mishal, and they’ll realise once you tell them.”
Alanna stared at him fervently for a moment. Then, in a great sigh, whatever fight and anger had overcome her dissipated. The tears she had held slipped from her eyes and fell like the rain outside. Sobs began to wrack her body.
Cassius’ chest ached fiercely. He opened his arms and Alanna crawled towards him. Once close enough, she collapsed into his open arm. He held her and blinked rapidly to stave away the sobs rising in his own throat.
“I miss them, Raz, I miss them so much. I—I’m so scared. I mi—miss them.” Alanna buried her face in his chest. If she said anything more, he did not hear it.
I miss them too.