Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language.
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
Hypatis tapped Cassius on the shoulder as the others began to ready for the caravan, incoming in just under an hour.
“Hi,” Hypatis said, flashing him a smile as they ducked away from the others, not quite out of eyesight.
“Hi,” Cassius said, breathless all of a sudden. He was glad for the cold in this moment, because it meant his hands couldn’t possibly be sweaty.
It was hard to hold Hypatis’ gaze because of how badly his stomach was fluttering, but at the same time, Cassius couldn’t pull himself away. Hypatis was still smiling, but it was rueful now, as he gently reached up and brushed his fingertips against Cassius’ cheek. Cassius blinked, his breath leaving him all at once now, completely.
“I’m sorry we’re parting so soon,” Hypatis said softly. “You’re really sure that you don’t all want to come with us? There is safety in numbers. Chromium’s pretty far.”
The lightness that made him feel airy turned heavy and sour, weighing down in his chest and his stomach at the mention of Chromium. Alanna hadn’t said anything yet, and so neither had he, but it was hanging above them like an unwanted raincloud.
“Are you sure you want to be going towards the contention point?” he countered. “Summermount and Glacier’s Keep don’t exactly have a good history together, and you’ll be walking right along with them if you go.”
That earned him a smile. “Caddy and I will be fine, though I will miss you. But I didn’t pull you aside to talk about my sister.” Something darkened in Hypatis’ eyes, for just a second, before it vanished.
Cassius’ face flushed and he laughed nervously. “Uh, and what did you pull me aside for?”
Hypatis’ cheeks went red. “I wanted to give you a going away present,” he said.
Had Hypatis not kissed him then, he might have rolled his eyes, for as sweet as it was, it was horribly cheesy. Also, the eyeroll might have been Ember’s influence, so maybe he wouldn’t have.
It was much better than the time he had tried with Ori once, to see what it was like, and Hypatis was a much more active and pressing partner. But it was still nothing like the way Isadora had described it. It was warm, and damp, and his heartbeat thundered in his ears, but there was nothing especially magical or life-changing about it.
Hypatis pulled away, but he was still close enough that Cassius could feel his breath ghosting over his face. He kept his eyes shut, savouring in the way his face warmed and the thrill rushing through his veins.
From somewhere nearby, Cadelia whistled. Closely followed by Alanna’s cries of, “Ugh!”
He pulled sharply away with another nervous giggle but found that Hypatis was also chuckling under his breath. His cheeks were red as Cassius was sure his own were.
“I think that might be our cue,” Hypatis said. He took one of Cassius’ hands and patted it with his own. “I know I’m not leaving this instant, but I still want to say it now, properly. Goodbye, Cassius.” He smiled. “You’re an enigma.”
Cassius frowned. “Is that a bad thing?”
Hypatis shook his head. “It’s an interesting thing.”
He smiled, a little uncertain, and ducked his chin. “Goodbye, Hypatis.”
Then Hypatis was gone, back beside Cadelia. His sister slung an arm around his shoulders, shot a glance over her brother’s shoulder towards Cassius, and winked. His face heated and he tried to hide it by covering it with his hands.
Footsteps crunched in the damp grass as someone slid up next to him. “That one for the poetry books?”
He kicked in Ember’s direction, but with his hands covering his eyes, he missed by a mile. She laughed as he dropped his hands and glared, half-hearted, at her. Then he began laughing with her.
“Any better than Ori?” she asked.
“Way better.” He frowned. “I hope I wasn’t dreadful at it. What if I was terrible at it?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. Isn’t it weird? Smushing your mouths together?”
He wrinkled his nose. “Well, yeah, when you put it like that.” He glanced back towards the others again, and found Alanna watching him with the kind of intensity made worse by what a striking, icy blue her eyes were. He swallowed and ducked his head. “Hey, Em. Jax… uh, he told us where Isadora and Mishal are.”
When he glanced back, she was frowning at him. “Sure, I know, what about it?”
“You don’t want to see Belle and Mishal again?”
She looked towards the ground and toed a loose rock. “I do, but they’ll be off going to the ruins. Jax said so, remember? Who knows how long they’d be there, or how much effort it would take to try to find them. Besides, that’s like, a whole season’s ride or something with the chance the Grey Masks will come back. Enoch’s tough but there’s a bunch of them, isn’t there? Chromium is closer. Why?” Her frown deepened. “You want to go there, instead of coming with me.”
“I didn’t say that,” he protested. “I was asking.”
“But you’ve thought about it.” She glanced up and sighed. “We knew they were going to be gone a while. We’ve never had a chance like this. I’ve wanted to see Chromium since forever, you know that. Home is gone, only the Sun and the Moon know where our parents have gotten too, and maybe they took the road west to Chromium. I don’t know. I know Chromium’s got the best smiths and the hottest forges in Stellarsyl.” She bit her lip, and suddenly, she looked vulnerable. “Cassius, if anyone is going to know about strange fire magic, I doubt I’ll find it anywhere but Chromium.”
The pieces clicked. He let out a sharp exhale. No wonder she wanted to go to Chromium, only why hadn’t she just said that in the first place? “A thousand years ago, I would have told you to climb up the mountains and see if you could find yourself a phoenix.”
She smiled. “It might be hard to learn from an extinct bird.”
They shuffled back towards the others, but as soon as they had drawn closer, Alanna glanced up. She looked determined. Cassius’ chest contracted.
“I’m going to the City of Bells,” Alanna said, and glanced towards him. “I’m going back to Belle and Stormy.”
Ember looked taken aback, and even Ori raised their eyebrows. “But we’re going to Chromium,” Ember said.
Alanna shook her head. “You’re going to Chromium. But I don’t want to go there. I want to see Mishal and Isadora again, and we know where they are, and the Citadel is gone, and Mishal will keep us safe.”
“Hang on, we can’t split up,” Ori said, frowning deeply now. “The Grey Masks will pick us off like a magpie spotting a silver bracelet.”
“Or not. Maybe it’ll be harder for them if we split up,” Alanna shot back.
Ember crossed her arms over her chest. “But we’re not splitting up, we’re going to Chromium.”
Alanna’s nose wrinkled. “I’m not going to Chromium. I’m going to Isadora and Mishal. And I’ll probably find our parents on the way, and I’ll tell your mums what you’ve done and that you didn’t come back when you could.”
“Enoch was going to take us to Chromium. You can’t simply go to the City of Bells, not alone,” Ori said.
Cassius wrapped his arms around himself and Ember side-eyed him. She squinted. “You knew about this, didn’t you? That’s why you brought this up before. You want to go to the City of Bells, not Chromium. You want to go with Alanna.”
He glanced over towards Alanna. She watched him with wide eyes, hopeful eyes. She looked small, smaller than he remembered. She’d done her hair back into a plaited bun, sloppily, but he knew it was one of the ways Isadora used to pin her hair back. She’d tried to recreate it.
His heart burned and he looked away. “No,” he said, almost too soft to be considered words at all. “No, I’ll come with you to Chromium.”
Footsteps squelched in the ground. Danica was stepping towards them, moving away from Hypatis and Caddy who looked surprised but curious, watching her walk away, then exchanging a look.
“Hypatis and Caddy can look after themselves,” Danica said. She crouched down, not low enough to drag anything along the muddied ground and held out a hand to Alanna. “If it is truly your wish, I’ll take you south to reunite with your family.”
Alanna’s eyes were glistening with tears. She sniffled and nodded at Danica, then threw her arms around Danica’s neck. She whispered something Cassius couldn’t hear.
Ori looked bewildered. “That’s it? We’re really splitting up?”
Ember’s shoulders had tightened, and she stared at Alanna like she’d been hit in the teeth. “Yeah,” she said, voice thin and drawn. “Where are you going?”
They looked between the two groups. Cassius had little doubt in his mind where they were going to go, and it came as no surprise when they tilted their head and said, “I… I really would like to see the ruins.”
Enoch, leaning on the barn nearby, crossed his arms over his chest. “Well,” he said. “This is the worst fucking idea I think I’ve ever heard.”