The Starlight QuestRachel Morgan
CITY OF WISHES
5: The Starlight Quest
CITY OF WISHES
5: THE STARLIGHT QUEST
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Copyright © 2019 Rachel Morgan
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In a world of fae, vampires and shifters, Elle is human, bound to her stepmother by a slave charm. Her only hope is to wish for her freedom. But can she pay the price the Godmother demands in exchange?
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This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or, if real, used fictitiously.
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All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written permission from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For more information please contact the author.
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About the Author
Elle stared through a giant window at a world of bare trees, rugged rock formations, and dark, winged creatures swooping across an eternally gray sky. She was standing in one of the many lounges of a palatial vampire home in the Jade Eternal Night, vaguely aware of the Godmother’s presence somewhere behind her. She raised her hand and gently placed her fingers against the glass, her mind still fixed on Dex. She had refused to leave the throne room until several of the Godmother’s new guards—vampires with enhanced abilities—had lifted Dex’s unconscious form and carried him upstairs to one of the bedrooms. When Elle had made certain he was comfortable—and after lingering a few extra moments in case he was about to wake up—she gave in and followed the Godmother through the house into this lounge, where the wall of glass was larger than in any other room they’d passed, and the view more striking.
Elle let her hand slip away from the window and fall to her side. There were so many emotions she should be feeling. Elation at finally, finally being free of the slave charm. Relief that Dex wasn’t about to die from a poison-laced stab wound or the Darkness that had been eating away at him for years. Fury at the Godmother for not only taking the enhanced vampire army as her own instead of setting everyone free, but also tricking Elle into making another wish. But all she felt was stunned.
“Come and sit,” the Godmother said from behind her.
Elle turned and glared at the woman. She hated everything about her, from her short, perfectly styled white hair all the way down to her elegant black heels. “No. I will not sit.”
“Very well then, but I have a lot to tell you, so—”
“You’re the one we should have been worried about this whole time. Not a vampire heir who wants to be king. You.” Okay, so apparently she was feeling something after all. And that something was definitely anger. “Considering all the wishes you’re capable of granting, you’re probably the most powerful living faerie in the world. It might be impossible for anyone to kill King Belaric, but you’re the one who gave him that power, which means you can probably take it away. And if you haven’t taken it away until now, it’s because you’ve been waiting until the moment is right for you. Did you want to get your hands on the enhanced vampire army before making a move? Is that what you were waiting for? Oh yes, and let’s not forget that you were also waiting to get that memory out of my brain—the one about the ritual that gives vampires magic—so you can make your new army even stronger.”
“I don’t need memories of things I already know,” the Godmother told her. “And when I said it was time to tell you a story, Elle, I didn’t mean my story. I meant yours.”
“I gathered as much,” Elle snapped. “You’d never reveal anything about yourself.” Since it seemed likely she would be in this room for a while, she decided it might be a good idea to sit after all. She moved away from the window and chose the seat furthest from the Godmother. Whoever had done the decorating in this room had gone a little overboard with the color scheme: turquoise curtains, a red couch, cushions covered in splotches of turquoise, red and white, and a turquoise wall opposite the window. But it was tastefully done, and Elle couldn’t exactly blame anyone for wanting to fill this drab, gray world with some color.
She sank onto the red couch and folded her arms tightly over her chest. “So, if this story is all about me, are you going to finally tell me about my strange memory-wiping ability? Which apparently doesn’t wipe memories at all. How did I not know that memory was still there in my head? And why can’t I see all the other memories I’ve taken over the past few years? And how did you know that memory was there? How did you pull it out of my head?”
The Godmother let out an impatient sigh. “I know everything there is to know about your gift, Elle. I’m the one who gave it to you.”
Once again, Elle found herself in that stunned space in between a multitude of emotions. “You … what? Why?”
“If you’ll let me start at the beginning of the story instead of continuously prattling on, you’ll find out.”
Elle sent another glare the Godmother’s way, then pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. She was far too curious not to want to hear what the Godmother was about to tell her, but she needed to get a few things straight first. “Did you lie about Savoy sending some of his vampires to try and take you down after the masquerade ball?”
Without a pause, the Godmother said, “Yes, I did.”
“And you lied to me the first time I made a wish. You told me the prince was just as bad as his father and so I shouldn’t have any problem killing him. But you know just about everything, which means you probably know Dex is nothing like his father.”
Indignation burned in Elle’s veins. She couldn’t help raising her voice as she continued, “So why should I believe anything you’re about to tell me?”
The smallest frown creased the Godmother’s brow. “Because this is a story I have no reason to lie to you about.”
“And that, right there, could be another lie!” Elle shouted.
The Godmother switched her scepter—the wooden staff topped by a red gem that controlled the vampire army—from one hand to the other. “Well, I’m going to say what I have to say anyway, and at the end of it, you have no choice but to go on a quest, whether you believe me or not. We made a deal, Estelle. Don’t forget that.”
Elle pressed her lips together as she pictured Dex lying unconscious in a room not too far away. Yes, she’d made another wish, but only because the Godmother had essentially forced her into it. But it was worth it, she reminded herself, thinking of the dark wisps of magic that would occasionally swirl beneath Dex’s skin and in his eyes, slowly killing him. She’d wished for the Godmother to heal him of everything, and that included the Darkness.
“Fine,” she said. “Tell the story.”
The Godmother settled back in her chair and crossed one leg over the other. “Let me begin with the woman who was nanny to the two Belmont princes roughly twenty years ago.” Elle almost retorted in a mocking tone that that was surely someone else’s story and not hers, so why would the Godmother share it? But she kept her lips sealed for fear that the Godmother might change her mind about sharing anything. “Though Liana was fae and in the employ of the royal family,” the Godmother continued, “she did not share the Belmonts’ view of humans. In fact, her best friend was a human woman. Your mo
“So you lied about that too!” Elle blurted out before she could stop herself. “I showed you that picture of them on Dex’s phone, and you said you didn’t know anything about it.”
“Correct. I know nothing of that specific photo. Where or when it was taken, or what the occasion was.”
“Are you kidding me?” Elle asked in disbelief.
“No, I am certainly not kidding you. Sometimes, Elle, you need to be specific when asking questions.”
“As if that would have helped,” Elle muttered. “You would have just lied if I’d asked you something more specific.”
“Perhaps. Anyway, Liana accidentally found her way beneath the palace library one day and into the archives. A vast room of historical documents. Her curiosity got the better of her, and she ended up reading some of them. One particularly ancient document—preserved by magic and probably the oldest document there—was tucked away among the others. Perhaps someone had attempted to hide it, but Liana happened to notice it. She opened it and read it, and she discovered …” The Godmother shook her head slowly, a smile creeping onto her lips. “A shocking secret.”
“What secret?” Elle whispered.
The Godmother inclined her head to the side. “You asked before how old I am, Elle. I still won’t be answering that question, but you no doubt know that I am old. Very old.” She paused, then added, “Old enough to remember a time when humans had magic.”
Elle opened her mouth, but no sound came out. She replayed the words in her mind, but she couldn’t make them fit together in the way the Godmother apparently intended.
“Oh good. I’ve finally said something so shocking that I’ve rendered you speechless.”
“That … can’t be true,” Elle whispered.
“Or perhaps not,” the Godmother sighed. “But yes, it’s true, and that is the secret Liana discovered. Details of the quest that allowed humans to obtain magic.”
“Humans … had magic?” Elle shook her head. “No. Someone would know. People would know.”
“People do know. Not many, of course. And they all happen to be the sort of people who are happy to keep the information to themselves. The dead vampire heir. Some of the people working with him. A few very old fae. Certain rulers around the world.”
“Does King Belaric know about this? The document was inside his palace, so—Wait.” Goosebumps drenched Elle’s skin. “Does Dex know?”
“I’m not sure about King Belaric, but I doubt his son knows. Chevalier Adex Norville Belmont has a strong sense of justice and would want the whole world to be aware of this information. If he knew, you would most likely know by now.”
Elle relaxed a little at the reassurance that Dex probably hadn’t been keeping this life-altering secret from her. “But I still don’t understand how it’s possible for so few people to remember something like this. If humans once had magic, that would have been a fundamental part of life at some point.”
“Yes. But history is written by the conquerors.”
“The fae,” Elle said.
“Yes. They wanted slaves, so they imprisoned humans, killed those with magic—because not everyone had it—and destroyed all records mentioning the quest.”
“But the Blood War wasn’t that long ago. Only a few hundred years. How could all record of humans having magic simply vanish in that time?”
“I’m not talking about the Blood War. That was between fae, vampires and shifters. Humans weren’t involved in the struggle for power because they were all slaves by then. I’m talking about long before that. Many hundreds of years ago. Back when humans ruled parts of the world, just like the other High Races.”
Elle gaped at the ancient fae woman sitting across the room from her. “No way.”
“Yes way. Everyone ended up fighting back then as all races sought to claim more territory. The fae won, because they’ve always been the most powerful. That was when they began wiping out all knowledge of the quest and of humans possessing magic. Humans have been slaves ever since then. Over time, of course, vampires and shifters grew in power. They began taking back certain territories, we ended up with the Blood War, fae still came out on top, blah, blah, blah. That was all far more recent.
“Now, back to Liana. The quest and humans possessing magic wasn’t the only thing she discovered in that document. There were also details of how a vampire could obtain magic by taking it from a human who had successfully completed the quest and received magic. Liana was stunned by this revelation that both humans and vampires could possess the kind of power the fae had. She shared it with your mother as soon as she had the chance. Your mother shared it with your father, as well as several friends, and unfortunately someone close to Nazario Savoy got wind of this information. So Savoy captured Liana and learned the full truth from her. Then he killed her. It was at that point that your mother summoned me and made a wish.”
Elle’s breath caught in her throat. “She—she did?”
“Yes. She knew what Savoy planned to do—capture humans and use them to give vampires magic—and she didn’t know how to stop him. So she summoned me, explained everything, and asked me to stop him. I said I wouldn’t do that. I had my own reasons at the time for not wanting to get rid of Nazario Savoy. So instead she wished for him to forget everything he’d learned from Liana. I agreed to that, but my price was that you, her daughter, would be the tool that made him forget.”
“Why?” Elle demanded. “You probably could have snapped your fingers and made it happen. Do you set all these terrible prices simply because you like toying with people?”
The Godmother stared into the glow of the gem atop her scepter. “Partly. Where’s the fun in life if you can’t play around with people? But it’s also because people need to know that everything in life comes with a price.” Her gaze shifted back to Elle. “You must make sacrifices for the things you truly want.”
“And my mother actually agreed to your price? She was happy for me to be the tool that would make Savoy forget?”
“No, she wasn’t happy at all. At first, she refused. She tried to negotiate, just like you did when I asked you to kill the prince. But I wouldn’t budge. I told her to truly think about it. Was she willing to put you at risk in order to save dozens, hundreds, possibly thousands of humans? At first, she said no, but I could tell she was torn. Then she asked for some form of additional protection over you. To that, I agreed. I didn’t actually want you to die, Elle. I wanted you to succeed. But I also wanted your mother to know that there is always a risk when playing around with wishes.”
“And then I accidentally ended up killing Nazario Savoy, so look how that turned out. You should have done it yourself.”
The Godmother shrugged. “These things happen. Plans rarely work out perfectly and one must always be prepared to make a new one. Anyway, you and your mother were both protected and managed to get away from Savoy’s people. I’m not sure how she and your father hid you after that. I had no further involvement with your family.”
“So you just left me with this strange ability and didn’t care how I used it?”
“Correct. And your life has been far more interesting than it would otherwise have been, has it not?”
“My life has sucked! Salvia might never have enslaved me if not for my ability. I would have been no use to her. She probably would have kicked me out of her house, which would have been far better.”
The Godmother’s eyebrows rose a fraction. “Perhaps not better for the stepsister you love so much. And you wouldn’t have met and fallen for a prince.”
“Oh, well that makes it all better then.”
“You’re getting sidetracked, Elle. I still need to tell you about the quest. The Starlight Quest. The journey you’re going to go on in order to obtain magic for yourself.”
Again, Elle’s lips parted but no sound came out. The Godmother was right. She had been getting sidetracked. Caught up in her anger, she had completely missed what this giant secret might mean for h
er. Magic was possible for humans. She was human. Therefore magic was possible for her. “Is this like … real magic?” she asked faintly. “Like the fae’s Essence? Not just the simple shifter kind of magic or vampire kind of magic?”
“It’s very much like the fae’s Essence, yes. The quest requires you to journey into one of the Never Woods and make it safely to a lake at the very center, where you’ll take the magic from within the light of a star. Sounds simple, but the Never Woods are dangerous—you’ve no doubt heard the nursery rhyme—and you’ll face obstacles along the way. Due to legend and superstition, the Never Woods have remained largely untouched over the centuries, and ancient magic and strange creatures still lurk among the trees. But if you follow the instructions along the way, and if you take a member of each of the other High Races with you, which is one of the quest’s requirements, you should make it.”
Elle frowned as she processed this information. She knew the nursery rhyme the Godmother had referred to. The line ‘Never go into the Never Woods at night’ was one most children knew. And it wasn’t only night that was dangerous; the poem included lines about every other time of day as well. It also warned that those who did venture into the Never Woods would lose their minds. There were several areas around the world where neverwood trees grew, but having never lived near any of them, Elle hadn’t been in a situation where she needed to consider whether the nursery rhyme might be true. Until now. “So … that part in the nursery rhyme about people losing their minds …”
“Might happen,” the Godmother replied. “Like I said, the magic is ancient. It can have strange effects on people.”