Doubt the Stars Are Fire

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Chapter 3 - The Sky Has Fallen

She had the same dream. Leda suddenly took that desperate breath, and when she did she was in her bed, sitting up. Her nightdress was damp with sweat, her head reeling.

It must’ve been a starless night or very early morning. She couldn’t tell.

She heard the faint confusion of distant voices and feet in the house. Leda glanced at the edge of her door, and she could see a light shine through for a moment before her bedroom knob tuned. Before she could think, her door flung open. Cyrilla, the housekeeper, was levitating a warm orange orb of light in her hand as her sharp, grey eyes searched for Leda in the dark.

“What’s happening?” Leda’s voice was deep and clear.

When Cyrilla detected where she was, she placed the orb by the door and grabbed Leda’s bathrobe.

“Dreadful things… just dreadful…” Cyrilla was muttering as she hurried to Leda’s bed, holding out the white, frilly thing for her to put on.

“What?” Leda pushed, but she could see Cyrilla’s deeply wrinkled face was contorted with what appeared to be anguish. Leda didn’t dare say more, as she pushed her arms through the sleeves silently and wrapped the robe around herself.

“Follow me,” the orb flew back into Cyrilla’s palm as they made their way down the hall. Leda had to jog to keep up. The house was dimly lit, as though the servants were in a hurry to provide some kind of light. But as the two quickly ran down the long, grand staircase that curved into the foyer, the front door was just closing, and Leda watched as a shadow passed from the door and into the house. Cyrilla and Leda followed after as they passed various rooms, all the doors shut tightly. Leda could just see the faint outlines of things from the moonlight that poured in from the French doors at the other end of the house.

And when they finally turned into a room, Leda saw that the room was peopled, and they certainly were not servants. Gemma sat closest to the fire at the other end of the room. She looked very much the picture of elegance and restraint, even when Leda could tell that she looked very much distressed. Around her were several faces she did not know. The one other person that she did know was her cousin, Soler.

When Valentina disappeared, Leda hardly gave her sister's Fating another thought. Until that moment, when all those eyes and faces that were half-obscured in the shadow of the blue night turned to look right at her.

“What happened?” The words were out of her before she could think: she was so frightened by all this that she could not separate the urgency to know from her fright. She didn’t know which came first.

“Sit, Leda,” Gemma quietly gestured to a chair.

But Leda didn’t move. And Soler stepped toward her and took her hand. The gesture was so alarming to Leda that she began to noticeably tremble. Soler was always distant but courteous with Leda. To touch her, especially as tenderly as he did in that moment was shocking. Blood rushed through her ears as she collapsed in a chair near her aunt and in full view of the faces that stood before her.

But she no longer looked at the faces. She fixed her eyes in their shoes. She knew something was going to happen. Something directly involving her. This was a trial, and if she didn’t look at anyone she could delay her doom.

A voice started to speak, but Leda couldn’t hear it. Blood was still rushing to her head, and time felt as though it had stopped or sped up, she wasn’t sure.

It was when Gemma reached over and touched her niece's hand that had been lying limply on the arm of the chair that Leda started.

“My dear?” Gemma angled her head at Leda with concern, “do you understand?”

Leda drew a sharp breath— “what?”

The voice had come from a man and he knelt down in front of Leda, trying to comfort her.

Led could see he had a sharp, fox-like face. He was older, handsome. He wore the deep gold and chartreuse colors of the ruling sovereign over warlocks, belonging to the Pantaleon coven.

“There’s been a disaster, Miss Stryker— in the East.”

Leda glanced at her aunt. She felt a wave of cool relief, but by the grim look that creased Gemma’s face, it still had to do with her.

“A disaster of unmet Fate.” The man continued carefully.

“Valentina...?” Leda looked to Gemma suddenly, tears rushing to her eyes.

And the mention of Valentina’s name Gemma looked away, as though she were about to cry.

“It has to do with her, yes,” the man went on. “Her Fating ceremony has passed...”

“The sky has fallen in the East.” Soler finished quickly, almost angrily. And there was a collective shift of apparent discomfort and restrained distress in the room. Gemma pressed her gaze into her son, but it was necessary.

Leda’s heart began to beat.

“We have to find her,” Leda choked, dangerously close to tears.

“Enough people have died already-- we don't have time,” the man in the red damask shook his head.

Gemma raised her hand and drew a breath.

“This is an unprecedented disaster, my dear,” Gemma did not let go of her hand, “and because of the enormity of it, we think it’s because your sister's Fating ceremony was not performed in time.”

Suddenly the room was deathly quietly. Leda could feel everyone’s gaze on her, but she didn’t understand. Something was coming next, but it was like looking down a dark tunnel when Leda stared back into Gemma’s lavender eyes.

Leda shook her head— what? What is it?

The fox-faced man and Gemma exchanged glances.

“We must replace your sister— it’s imperative we do.”

"You, my dear," Gemma said in a deep, firm voice.

Leda stared into her face. And then her blood ran cold, and Gemma must’ve known when Leda realized. She leaned over, squeezing her hand.

“Leda, this is not how any of us wanted it—“

But Leda’s chest began to rise and fall rapidly. She shook her head, "I can't do this!"

Terror was climbing from her stomach and up to her sternum, and Leda felt as though she were suddenly in a free-fall. Tears spilled down her cheeks.

"Don't make me do this," her voice had shrunk to a whisper.

"We will find a way," Gemma suddenly knelt in front of her.

But Leda buried her face in her hands. She wanted it to be a bad dream. She wanted to wake up. She wanted Valentina to come back.

And when she squeezed her eyes shut, all she could see was hot, glittering gold, pouring like a waterfall.

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