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The Starlight Quest, Page 2

Rachel Morgan

  “And you want me to take other people with me? What if they end up losing their minds or getting hurt?”

  “It isn’t what I want. That’s what the quest requires.”

  “And you’re forcing me to go on this quest as the price I must pay for a wish, so you kind of are forcing other people to get involved.”

  The Godmother chuckled, though Elle couldn’t see anything funny about the situation. “How will I get to one of these Never Woods?”

  “I’ll send you there. Then you’ll receive instructions at the start of the quest. A messenger who knows your intent will appear.”

  “Uh, okay. So it doesn’t matter which Never Woods I go into? Do they all have a lake at the center?”


  “And then … you said something about the light from a star?”

  “Yes. You know stars have magic, don’t you?”

  “Um, yes, I think so. I mean, there are spells that incorporate starlight, so … that makes sense, I guess?”

  “And we’re all made up of stardust. All meaning humans as well.”

  Elle’s frown grew deeper. “Um … what?”

  “Cosmic dust. It’s falling all the time. It forms a small part of all of us, therefore we all have some small trace of magic. It’s what allows you to absorb a whole lot more magic into your being at the end of the quest.” She waved her hand in a dismissive manner. “But all will be explained to you at the appropriate time.”

  “Of course,” Elle grumbled. “Because it couldn’t possibly be as simple as you giving me step-by-step instructions right now.” She hugged her knees tighter to her chest, then opened her mouth to ask another question—but the words died on her tongue as something occurred to her. Goosebumps rose across her skin. Her heart thudded a little faster. “The quilt,” she said. “The one my mother made. It has stars all over it, and all those different embroidered lines about stars. ‘It’s written in the stars.’ ‘Look to the stars.’ That wasn’t just because she had a thing for stars. It was because she knew.”

  The Godmother smiled. “Indeed. I told you I liked that quilt.”

  “I wonder why she and my father didn’t go on this quest.”

  “I don’t know either, I’m afraid.”

  “So is this what Savoy’s been doing? Vincenzo Savoy. The vampire you just killed. He’s been sending all these humans he’s abducted on a quest?”

  “Yes. He always had a rough idea of the knowledge you took from his father, so he must have been working ever since then to find out more. Presumably he discovered details of the quest, along with part of the process that then allows vampires to take that magic from humans. But he clearly never found out how to complete the process, given that he was still looking for you. Without that last piece of the puzzle, he would have to keep sending humans on quests and keep taking magic from them. A tiresome process, especially considering not everyone who attempts the quest survives. I’m sure Savoy lost plenty of the humans he abducted.”

  “That’s terrible!”

  “It is what it is. Essentially, Elle, you have to prove that you’re worthy of receiving magic.”

  “So all other High Races are born with some form of magic, but humans have to prove themselves worthy? How is that fair?”

  “Perhaps you’ve been living under a rock, Elle—”

  “In an attic, actually.”

  “—but no one in the history of the world has ever said that life is fair. This is simply the way things are. If humans want magic, they have to earn it. Then, if vampires want it—over and above the basic magic they already have—they can take it. None of that is fair. It’s just life.”

  Elle let out a heavy sigh. “So you want me to convince a faerie, a shifter and a vampire to go with me into one of the Never Woods and complete this quest.”


  “Why?” That was the most important question. Gaining magic seemed like a good thing. If humans had magic, then they had a right to freedom, just like the other magical High Races. This would change everything. No one could force humans into slavery. Perhaps they could even be rulers again one day. And, of course, there was that not so tiny voice in the back of Elle’s mind reminding her that this would make her Dex’s equal. He’d said he didn’t care that she was human, but other people would. Without magic, no one would ever think her worthy of being with a prince. But with magic, no one could ever look down on her. Aside from possibly dying or going crazy in the Never Woods, Elle could see only positives. And that was the part that made her most suspicious.

  “Why not?” the Godmother countered. “Don’t you want magic?”

  “Maybe I do, but that’s not the point. I’m asking why you want me to have it.”

  “Perhaps I believe it’s time for humans to reclaim their former power.”

  Elle shook her head. “I don’t buy that. You said you’ve been around many hundreds of years. You’ve had plenty of opportunities to set the record straight. You’re only doing it now because you hope it’ll benefit you in some way.”

  “Well, of course. Everything I do benefits me in some way. But that doesn’t mean it won’t benefit you as well.”

  “So you’re not going to tell me?”

  The Godmother laughed. “Of course not. I’m not sure why you expected otherwise.”

  “I’m not sure either,” Elle muttered. Footsteps moved toward the lounge, and Elle’s eyes shot toward the door, her heart lurching as she wondered whether she’d find Dex standing there. But it was one of the vampire guards.

  “Excuse me, Godmother,” she said. “We’ve spotted someone lurking in the distance among some rocks. It appears to be a male vampire.”

  “Ah. Must be Azriel. How interesting.” The Godmother looked at Elle. “Didn’t he refuse to come any closer?”

  “Perhaps he decided to make sure you followed through on your promise. You know, to destroy that thing?” Elle jerked her chin toward the scepter.

  The Godmother stood. “Let me go and see him. I’ll make sure he understands he’s not needed here anymore.”

  “Wait!” Elle jumped to her feet. “You’re not going to hurt him, are you?”

  The Godmother gave her an amused look. “Concerned for the vampire who tried on numerous occasions to abduct you? How sweet. But don’t worry, I’ll send him on his way without harming him.”

  “That’s because I’ll be harming you!” a voice bellowed as someone raced past the guard. Magic sparked and arced across the room. The Godmother vanished in the blink of an eye, and Dex crashed into the couch she’d been sitting on just as it went up in flames.

  “Somebody has to stop her.” Dex paced the lounge as magic glittered around him, drying off his sopping wet clothes. He’d extinguished the flames with a fountain of water that gushed up from the burning cushions, and ended up a dripping wet mess. Moments later, at least ten more vampire guards had filed into the room. They were now lined up in front of the door and against the turquoise wall. Elle stood between Dex and the guards.

  “I know, but it can’t be us,” she told him. “At least, not yet. I have to pay the price for another wish first. And if you kill her before then, I don’t know if that might undo—”

  “You made another wish?” Dex stared at her, aghast.

  “I had to! You had a knife in your chest, and I didn’t know if you were dying. But, Dex, just listen.” Elle hurried closer and gripped his hands in hers. “I wished for you to be healed completely. Completely. She took the Darkness too. It’s gone.”

  With parted lips and heavy breaths, Dex’s eyes traveled Elle’s face. He shook his head. “What?”

  “I’m serious. I saw it rising away from you. Wisps of shifting shadow leaving your skin and disappearing.”



  “But …” He shook his head again. “That can’t … Are you sure that’s what you saw?”

  Elle’s smile stretched wider as she nodded. “I wished for her to heal you of
the Darkness, along with anything else that was wrong with you, and I watched it leave your body. It’s really gone, Dex.”

  In one swift motion, he took her face in both his hands and pressed his lips hard against hers. For a long moment, everything else fell away, and all that existed was the two of them. His mouth on hers, and her racing heart, and the flush that warmed her skin. “Thank you,” Dex murmured, then slid his arms around Elle and pulled her tight against his chest. “But you shouldn’t have done that,” he added quietly as she nestled against his neck and he rested his chin on her head. “You put yourself in her debt.”

  “I would do it again.”

  “Elle …” He pulled away from her, shaking his head.

  “Would you have done it for me?”

  His expression hardened, and for a heart-stopping moment Elle thought she’d been wrong about him. Maybe his hatred of the Godmother was so ingrained in him that it was stronger than any feelings he’d developed for her. But then his shoulders drooped and his eyes slid shut. “Yes. I would have. Of course I would have.”

  “Well there you go then. No one wants to deal with her, but when you have no other option …”

  “I know. But, Elle, she’s the Godmother. She’s insanely powerful on her own, and now she has a vampire army as well. An army she’s probably going to give magic to. She’s far more of a threat than Savoy was. She’ll probably come for the Astranerican throne, and I have no doubt that she’ll succeed where Savoy failed. She will defeat my father. She gave him his power, and she can take it away.”

  “I know. The exact same fears have been running through my mind. But I haven’t yet paid the price she asked of me, and I’m afraid that if she dies now, her wish magic will somehow be undone and the Darkness will return to you. So please just … just leave her. Let’s get this price paid and then worry about getting rid of her.

  “I’m almost too afraid to ask, but what is it? What’s the price?”

  Elle couldn’t help the grin that spread across her face. The Godmother’s story—the true history of humans, and the promise of magic—was so astounding, Elle was still in awe. “I think you should sit down for this.”

  Dex frowned. “If it’s that bad, why are you smiling?”

  “It’s not bad. I mean, maybe it is. I don’t know what her motive is, so that’s scary, but it’s … it’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever heard. Just come and sit.” She led Dex away from the smoldering couch toward one that was still intact, and as they sat, she began the Godmother’s story.

  “Cress says she can’t,” Dex said with a sigh, lowering his phone and leaning back in the lounger beside Xander’s pool. “She can’t leave the apothecary again, and she has a daughter to worry about.”

  “Of course, I completely understand,” Elle answered. Part of her was secretly relieved Cress had turned her down. She’d already done so much for Elle, and now Elle was asking her to go on a dangerous quest with no guarantee of emerging safely on the other side. She’d been feeling guilty since the moment Dex suggested they ask her.

  The Godmother had given Elle twenty-four hours in which to find a faerie, a vampire and a shifter to accompany her on her Starlight Quest, before they were due to meet at a location approximately two hours from Vale City. “And don’t attempt to betray me. I will be intensely disappointed in you, Elle.” Elle had rolled her eyes at that, but beneath her sweater, a chill had skittered across her skin. She didn’t want to find out what the Godmother’s disappointment looked like. Besides, this was a price she actually wanted to pay. The possibility of receiving magic at the other end? The knowledge that this would change everything for humans? It thrilled her. She suspected there must be some twist or trick along the way—that was the way the Godmother worked, right?—or perhaps the whole thing was a lie. But she kept thinking back to her mother’s quilt. All those stars. It couldn’t be a coincidence, could it?

  After the Godmother sent Elle and Dex on their way, they left the Jade Eternal Night and headed for Xander’s home. Elle spent the night in one of the guest rooms while Dex returned to the palace to make sure his parents hadn’t sent out a search party for him. “He disappears all the time,” Xander had told Elle when she expressed concern about whether Dex would be able to get away again. “His father doesn’t notice, and his mother should be used to it by now. He won’t have any trouble getting out again. If this quest thing takes more than a day or so, they’ll probably kick up a fuss. Start blaming vampires for kidnapping him or something. But the Godmother said it shouldn’t take long, right?”

  Elle had given a noncommittal shrug at that point. The Godmother had said it shouldn’t take too long, but that was if nothing went wrong. For now, Elle’s first step was to find three people from three different races willing to go with her. After she’d explained the whole thing to Dex—and after he’d questioned the Godmother repeatedly in an attempt to figure out if she was lying—he’d said there was no doubt he would be the faerie accompanying her. Then he’d suggested asking Cress and one of his vampire allies. But someone else had shown up at Xander’s home this morning before Elle could ask anyone.

  “At least you’re sorted in the vampire friend department,” Alissa said, waving from a lounger on the other side of the pool. The sun had set roughly twenty minutes earlier, allowing her to put away her dark umbrella and throw off the blanket she’d draped across most of her body.

  “Thank you,” Elle said, for what might have been the hundredth time. Early this morning, Alissa had managed to contact Dex via the same chain of people her brother Azriel had originally used. She’d been worried ever since Azriel returned home alone, furious that the Godmother had tricked him and then sent him spinning through the air away from Savoy’s home before depositing him on the bonnet of the limo he’d borrowed. Though he had tried, he physically couldn’t get any closer to the house after that.

  Azriel had disappeared then, leaving Alissa to get in touch with Dex to find out what was going on and how she could help. Dex wasn’t particularly excited about a vampire who’d attacked him twice joining them on their journey through the Never Woods, a fact he had made known numerous times throughout the day. “We were already sorted in the vampire friend department,” he reminded Alissa now. “I do actually have other vampire friends.”

  “I’m sure you do, but Elle doesn’t, and this is her quest.”

  Elle met Dex’s gaze and gave him an apologetic smile. “You did mention that your vampire allies haven’t been able to help you in any way other than providing information,” she reminded him quietly, “since they all have families they’re concerned about.”

  “Yes, but that changed on the night of the Moonlight Masquerade when some of them got involved.”

  “But they still have families,” Elle pointed out. “Just because they’ve risked their lives once doesn’t mean I want to ask any of them to do it again.”

  “I don’t have a family to worry about,” Alissa said loudly, sticking her hand up again as if she were a student in a classroom volunteering to answer a question. “Well, I suppose I do, but they can take care of themselves. I don’t have children or a partner or anything.”

  Elle gave Dex another shrug and quietly added, “I don’t mind her coming with us. She kind of is like a friend, I guess.” She’d spent so many years as a slave with Sienna her only companion that she’d almost forgotten what it was like to have a friend who wasn’t also her sister. Alissa had shared her home, her clothes, her food and books, and now she was accompanying Elle on what could very possibly be a life-changing journey. That was the kind of stuff friends did for each other, right?

  “See?” Alissa said. “Friend. That’s me.”

  Dex looked at Elle. “I guess if we can’t trust her by now, then we never can.”

  “Exactly,” Alissa replied.

  “Our bigger problem,” Dex continued, “is that we have to leave in an hour to meet the Godmother, and we still need to find a shifter to come with us.”

>   “I’ll ask Astrid,” Xander said, leaning forward on his lounger. He’d been quiet for so long that Elle assumed he’d fallen asleep. Perhaps he had been sleeping, given the way he was now stretching his tall, tanned frame from side to side while yawning. He patted his pockets, pulled out his phone, and stood as he said, “I’ll call her now.”

  “Astrid?” Elle asked Dex as Xander walked away with his phone pressed to his ear.

  “Wolf shifter. I think you’ve met her, actually. Well, not officially, but she was there the night of the Moonlight Masquerade.”

  Elle cast her mind back and remembered a young woman she’d first thought was human. Tangled, honey-colored hair and pretty eyes. But the pupils of those eyes had changed shape when lamplight shone on them, revealing that she was actually a shifter. “Okay, yeah, I think I remember her.” She watched Xander pacing slowly across the lawn, just out of earshot, wishing she could do some pacing of her own. Though she currently reclined in a lounger, she was anything but relaxed. Her hands twisted together in her lap and her left foot kept bouncing. Every now and then she would lean forward and lift the bottom of her jeans to check her right ankle. Then she would look up and meet Dex’s eyes. He would quietly ask, “Still gone?” and she would smile and nod as that thrill—she was free! Finally!—raced through her body once more. Then she would sit back as nervous anticipation thrummed throughout her body again.

  “Okay, Astrid’s in,” Xander said, walking back toward the pool. “She’ll be here in half an hour. She doesn’t actually believe this whole quest for magic is real. She’s pretty sure the Godmother is sending us on a wild goose chase—”

  “Which could very well be the case,” Elle muttered.

  “—but she said if it is real and a human is about to end up with magic, she wants to see it with her own eyes.”

  “I’m in too!” The voice belonged to Olly, who rushed from the direction of the house toward the pool, pushing his pale hair out of his eyes as he went. He’d been around for lunch earlier, then disappeared again. “A human gaining magic is the most astounding thing I’ve ever heard of. I’m not missing it for anything.”