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READ THE FIRST TWO CHAPTERS: Starfall (The Starlight Chronicles, #0.2) by P.S. Malcolm

Centuries have passed since Adrina's death, and Julian—now Jason—has dedicated himself to redemption in her honour. She and the Starlight Princess have been reincarnated, and Julian must face his haunted past in P.S. Malcolm's second Starlight Chronicles novella, STARFALL, out this August!


 

PART ONE

TWO YEARS BEFORE


CHAPTER ONE

JASON


THE ICY WIND TORE AT MY COAT, BUT IT DIDN’T BOTHER ME. I’d been numb for years—I didn’t feel anything anymore.


We’d been on foot for days now. Brinley led us through the treacherous mountain pass—myself, and two other royal army members. I called them by their last names, Greyson and Beaumont.


We were just a handful of the few military members who had remained in the Starlight Kingdom after Theodore claimed the throne. It had been our mission ever since to and the angels,who had fled and gone into hiding. Clever beings, they were—and insanely hard to track down.


The majority of the Starlight Kingdom’s army had been made up of angels before the overthrowing. They were elite beings with ancient ties to Goddess Titania. We suspected their loyalty to her and the Starlighters was what had caused them to flee—after all, the treaty had banished Urenphian kind after Shade had murdered Titania. For Urenphians to now be ruling Titania's domain was treacherous.


Tiny flakes of snow battered us, catching in my eyelashes, but I pushed on. Maybe once, I’d have dreaded taking a step further, but since that terrible day three years ago, my desires were empty to the core.


Nothing mattered anymore except one thing.


“Hand me that,” Brinley said to Greyson. He was a short man—thin and in his middle thirties. He was holding our only lantern as the others had burnt out a few hours ago. The wind was picking up, and the mountains were sloping upward, gathering more snow by the minute. Shadows fell from the ranges, darkening the pass even more in the snowstorm.


Brinley edged up the slope steadily, the snow sinking beneath his heavy boots, peering ahead against the constant flurry of grey flakes. It was a wonder the storm didn’t lift his skinny figure and carry it away.


“There’s a cave ahead,” he informed us. “We should wait out the storm.”


“But the trail...” Beaumont replied gruffly, wiping flakes of snow from his unruly beard with the back of his hand. “We’ll lose them if we stop.”


As if we were ever going to reach them. We’d been on their trail for the past three years, and yet, we never quite caught up to them.


“We’ll lose our lives if we don’t,” Brinley replied firmly. Though small in frame, nobody messed with Brinley anymore.


I didn’t say anything. Instead, I followed as he led us up the slope and into the cave. It wasn’t much warmer, but the wind was off our backs for now.


Shivering, the group collapsed to rest in the cave, huddling together for warmth. It occurred to me that I should be shivering too, and when I pulled up the sleeve of my linen, fur coat my arm was trembling, hairs standing high on my arm.


I didn’t feel anything.


“We need to light a fire,” Brinley said, beginning to dig into his supplies sack.


Fire...


My throat tightened, and I had to turn away from them. Wordlessly, I ventured deeper into the cave almost thoughtlessly. All I could focus on was distracting myself from what would only be a painful reminder.


The cave was dark, I used my fingertips against the rocky surface of the wall to guide me along as I walked. The rough surface grounded me as the cave sloped down—we’d stopped at the hilt of the mountain pass, and on the other side of these mountains were ocean and cliffside, so it made sense that the cave had eroded over time. The result took me deeper and deeper underground. It was slushier here—I could feel the dampness growing on my fingertips.


Perhaps this cave was home to a creature I should fear. I didn’t, though. My sword was heavy at my side, and I’d had years of training at this point. Fighting was the only other thing that helped distract me. It was my outlet, and it had become my best skill.


I descended in the darkness for a few minutes, until I noticed a strange blue light. It was soft and weak, but it lit the tunnel well enough to illuminate a corner.


Narrowing my gaze, I walked very quietly towards it. As I got closer, I heard voices.


For the first time in a long time, my heart actually skipped a beat. I couldn’t place the emotion at first, but then I recognized it.


Hope...


After all this time...could it really be?


As I got closer, I began to notice the source of the light—blue glowworms covering the roof of the cave. I also noticed tiny streams beginning to emerge from crevices in the cave, forming a larger stream that was partially frozen in ice.


Sitting at the edge of the stream was...


The two men had stiffened, their gazes already locked onto me—as if they’d sensed me the moment I’d stepped into the cave. In seconds they were on their feet. One had dark hair and almond shaped eyes that seemed to cut into me like razors. The other had bronze hair and seemed less sharp—but still wary.


The first one bared his teeth, wings sprouting from his back as he plucked a handful of deadly sharp feathers from his wings. I grabbed my sword, my eyes narrowing like slits.


I’d promised to help Theodore find the Starlight Princess. It was my only chance of seeing Adrina again. But in order for that to happen...I had to become immortal.


That meant taking an angel’s essence.


A loud rattling sound from downstairs woke me with a start. It took me a moment to place my surroundings as I sat up in bed.


All around me were storage boxes, and the roof of the attic slanted down towards me. Next to me was a window, and if I peered down I could see Ophelia tending to her morning chores over in the barn carrying buckets to milk the cows and stacking hay. She’d tended this farm her whole life...it was her driving passion.


I let out a steady breath and climbed out of bed, the dream fading quickly from my mind. I’d been dreaming of my past, but it had happened centuries ago...that life was behind me now.


It didn’t take me long to head downstairs and join the rest of Ophelia’s family in the kitchen. Her parents sat at a round breakfast table, with newspapers and fruit, coffee and juice.


They were Shadeows—the last two to carry their vows through the centuries. Over time, Theodore’s influence had fallen away, along with the Starlight Kingdom, and the Urenphians had given up hope and ceased extending their vows.


The vows were what gave Urenphians their power—only through a vow could a Shadeow pass their power on and create Chards. Chards then went on to become Shadeows once their previous Shadeow died, effectively replacing them. Ophelia’s parents had yet to choose successors to carry on their vows and become Chards. I’d been silently hoping they would choose not to pass on vows at all.


Being bound by a vow of my own, it was my sworn responsibility to continue assisting the Urenphians will until they existed no more. I could not convince them to drop their vows even if I tried.


I was stuck at their side, as their guide and their helper—and soon, I would have to find new candidates to continue the vows, as I always did.


Even in their elderly years, Ophelia’s parents were still beautiful. Liani had once had long, red hair, like her daughter. Old age had only turned it snowy and white, enhancing her beauty as it sat on a pedestal of fair skin. Her husband, Marcel, still had well-tended skin, and practically non-existent wrinkles.


Those were just some of the perks of being a Shadeow. With power came changes to the human body, which had manifested in a physical form.


As the couple had grown older, they had moved in with their daughter, Ophelia, on her farm. They had always stayed close, so she had welcomed the opportunity to have them live with her.


At that moment, Ophelia came in the back door, wiping the sweat from her brow and letting out a hu1. Her eyes landed on her parents and she smiled.


Ophelia had not inherited any power from her parents—Shadeow power was a purely contractual bond. She’d grown up living a normal life, and now, well into her forties, she knew nothing at all about her parents and their true purpose. All she knew was that they were old, retired, and they loved her.


She didn’t know that they would kill in a heartbeat to follow their vows, or that they had used their powers against others to serve their own desires time and time again.


“Morning, cousin,” she said to me as she walked past, ruffling my hair. I grimaced. That was the cover we’d come up with—I’d known Ophelia’s parents since they were in their twenties. I’d been by their side over the years, but I’d never aged a day.


While Ophelia had only seen me once or twice growing up, it would certainly raise questions as to why I still appeared to be in my teens. Her parents had told her I was a distant cousin and looked very similar to her ‘second uncle’ who had been around in her youth. The story we had come up with was that I’d been sent here to attend school after being expelled back home for misbehavior.


The reality was that with Ophelia’s parents growing older and weaker, we needed to find them successors to pass the vow along to. It was my job to find suitable candidates—meaning I had to be here with them. As such, I’d taken up residence in one of the upstairs bedrooms for now.


“Do you need any help out on the fields?” Marcel asked his daughter, passing a cup of coffee to her. The aroma was so strong that I felt more awake just inhaling it. She smiled up at him.


“No, Papa—I have it all under control,” she promised, as she bustled around reaching for jars of jam and cutting slices from a fresh loaf of bread—Ophelia loved homemade food, and she made everything from her own jam to a sourdough loaf every day.


Marcel took a seat across from me as I chewed slowly on a piece of the bread. We heard a bustling sound from the stairwell and moments later, Liani appeared in the doorway.


“Good morning,” she breezed gently, as she entered the room wrapped in a silk white robe. She noticed me and exchanged a look with her husband before turning to her daughter, “Ophelia, darling, I don’t suppose you could help me with something upstairs?”


Ophelia floated to her feet. “Of course, Maman.”


She grabbed her co1ee, and then they were gone, leaving just Marcel and I alone.


“How is your progress, Julian?” Marcel asked, calling me by my real name as he sipped his own coffee slowly.


I averted my gaze, a weariness growing inside of me. The idea of starting again from ground zero, re-training two new people, for...what? The millionth time?


Every time I did this, a century would pass. We would spend time looking for the Starlight Princess, following nudges that came to each Shadeow as if they were gut instincts. Every time, we would find nothing, and the cycle would repeat itself—forcing me to seek out two new candidates who were desperate enough for power, who would do anything to get their hands on it.


I was tired of waiting for Adrina...and tired of playing this game.


“There are no problems,” I said finally, my tone blank and devoid. “You’ll have a Chard by the end of the month. I know where to start looking.”


“Good,” Marcel praised, adding more sugar to his coffee and then stirring it with a spoon. He studied my expression, with his ever so calculating gaze, before adding, “you’ve been good to us, Julian. Thanks to you, we’ve been able to live out a normal life. Had I been stuck in the life I had before this...I doubt I would have made it this far.”


There was a sincerity in his voice, and I felt a twang in my chest.


It wasn’t uncommon for me to get along somewhat with the Shadeows over the years, but most of them had been bitter at heart due to their previous circumstances. Most of my candidates came from a hard upbringing. The vow was their way out—their second chance at life.


Theodore and many other Shadeows had used their vows to pass along knowledge and power in the form of nudges. A sort gut instinct to guide new Shadeows, you could call it.


Still, with their magical lifespans getting shorter, and the extent of their powers growing thinner through each extension of the bond, I had to wonder if the original power and influence those Shadeows had passed down to each person was finally starting to wear off for Liani and Marcel’s line...the way it had for every other Shadeow who had ceased passing their vow on.


“Thank you,” I mumbled finally, taking another bite from my bread.


“I hope these next Chards don’t let you down. I can’t imagine what it’s been like for you, all these years. I’m sure you’re ready for all of this to come to an end.”


More than you’ll ever know, I thought. Liani and Ophelia returned, and I got to my feet.


“I’d better head to school,” I said, reaching for my backpack. Ophelia’s eyes widened.


“Oh, I’ll take you,” she said quickly. “I have to go into town anyway, and it saves Maman the trip,” she said, giving her parents a sweet smile. Their expressions softened in return.


I could drive, obviously. But I’d thought it better to keep up with the pretense, for the sake of my fake identity as a tenth grader.


At least, for now.


 

“Have a great day!” Ophelia said, as I stepped out of her truck and joined the crowd of students heading into the school. If there was any place to 4nd a troubled, susceptible target who would do anything to gain power, it would be here. I’d learned the hard way that the younger the person was, the better—it meant I had more time before I had to repeat the cycle again.


So far, I had been attending Lorelei High School for two months. It was as you’d expect any high school to be—tedious and beyond my many years, but I kept my head down, turned my work in, and focused on the task at hand. The sooner I found two new Chards, the sooner I could drop out and go back to searching for the Starlight Princess.


As I walked down the hallway towards my locker, I passed a group of guys from the football team. Their golden boy, Adam Bauer, was in the middle surrounded by his friends as they goofed and laughed. They caught my eye and I watched them pass, an idea coming to me.


I hadn’t scoped out the football team yet. My eye had been on other students—looking for signs of bullying and detachment. It couldn’t hurt to investigate the team and see what kind of people the players were.


Once I’d grabbed what I needed from my locker, I found a noticeboard to see when the team had events. Their next game wasn’t for a while, but to my surprise they were holding tryouts this week. It was the perfect opportunity.


My homeroom was near the office, which meant I had to walk back the way I’d come. I’d nearly reached it when I noticed a man with blond hair step out from the office, along—side our science teacher—who was beaming.


“Thank you for setting this up,” he was saying, shaking the blond man’s hand. “I know the students will find the tour really interesting.”


“Not at all,” the man breeze back politely—I saw it then. The way his skin seemed to shimmer under the lights. My eyes narrowed into slits and I tensed up.


An angel.


I hadn’t seen one in thousands of years. They’d become masters of evading and hiding. I never expected to see one in a place like this.


After my encounter taking the essence of the angel we had caught to grant my immortality, I’d never been lucky enough to catch one again. Even though my intentions from that point forward had just been to talk to one. I’d travelled for weeks at a time seeking scholars, searching for answers and clues, trying to understand the Starlight Barrier and figure out when the princess might return...


I’d always been told the angels would know best. Pity I could never catch one.


I couldn’t lose this chance.


The angel walked out of the school, and the bell rung at that moment, but school was my last concern. I hightailed it to the front doors, pushing through and racing down the steps. The angel was already at the footpath and getting into a sleek, black car.


Shit.


Being careful not to make it obvious I was following him, I headed for the bike rack. A student was hurriedly trying to lock her bike up and get to class—and I swiftly placed a hand on the rack and leaned towards her.


“Hey,” I said. “I need to borrow your bike.”


She frowned at me. “No way,” she said, grabbing the lock for her bike.


I bit back an irritated growl. The problems normal people thought they had were nothing compared to what was at stake if I didn’t stay ahead of the Shadeows. I needed to catch that angel and I didn’t have time to convince her otherwise.


My hand shot out to grab her arm before she could click her lock in place around the bike chain.


“You’re going to be late to class. I promise I’ll bring it back,” I said, and pulled her off the bike. She cried out in protest—but I didn’t have time to worry about it. I was going to lose the angel.


I pulled the bike from the rack, jumped on the seat and took off down the path, her screams echoing after me. The angel’s car was already halfway down the street.


I pedaled harder, 2ying by pedestrians and weaving along. The car turned a corner, so I jutted the bike off the path and flew out into the throng of cars. Beeps sounded in protest as I swiftly dodged them and tore around the corner.


The car was taking the back streets, heading out of Lorelei. If he left town, I didn’t think I’d be able to keep up with him—unless I hijacked a car, but that would be trickier.


Sweat had broken out on my brow, and I panted as I pedaled furiously. The wind tore at my clothes as I zig-zagged—never quite catching up to the car but always able to see it in the distance. It turned off to head up a slope at that point, and I realized where the car must have been heading. There was only one thing up that way.


The observatory.


I didn’t need to keep up anymore—which was a good thing, because I was panting so hard I probably would have passed but if I hadn’t stopped. The hill was too steep, and I had to walk the rest of the way, pushing the bike with me.


When I got to the top sweat was running down my face and jaw. I wiped it away with sleeve of my leather jacket, before walking the rest of the way to the observatory entrance. The sleek black car was parked out the front.


The glass doors provided a clear view into the foyer—where a male with light brown hair and glasses typed away at a computer behind the front desk. He looked up as I walked in, and the motion bought to my attention the shimmer on his skin.


Another angel?


“Can I help you?” he asked me politely. I bristled a little. It had been centuries...but I couldn’t help but worry he might recognize me as Theodore’s head knight.


“Maybe,” I said, leaning carefully on the counter to scan the length of the observatory. It was empty aside for the equipment, constellation maps and hanging planet models. The angel studied me, noticing the speckles of sweat still sticking my fringe to my forehead.


There was no ordinary book that could tell me the information I wanted to know—believe me, I’d looked. I also doubted they would reveal any information to me without trusting me first.


I just didn’t know how to gain their trust yet.


Thinking hard, I tried to recall something from my past memories that might help, but all I could think of was my dream from the night before...


GRABBING THE CUFF OF HIS SHIRT, I PULLED THE ANGEL UP TO meet the vial and forced it down his throat, ignoring the way he struggled helplessly.


Then, I drew my sword and cut just enough to let his right arm free and grabbed his hand.


“Give me your essence until there is no essence left to give,” I demanded. I could see fear and reluctance in his eyes, but he couldn’t stop himself from transferring the strange energy into my body.


I’d read that angels could use their essence for healing, strengthening and other bene!ts on humans. If they gave too much, or if it was taken from them, they would turn into monsters.


There was no other way to turn myself immortal than to take an entirety of essence from an angel. I’d found the incarnation months ago in the library for this transformation—which I began to recite—and felt the essence reacting to it as it was absorbed into my body like a surge of energy.


The angel grunted in pain, turning visibly pale before my eyes. His grip on my hand was weakening, and I noticed strange, black lines forming on his skin.


Behind me, I heard Brinley and the other men draw their swords to ready themselves.


I could feel a shift in my body from the essence—but there was no notable, physical difference. It was simply a feeling of knowing that it was working.


However, everything about the angel was transforming in front of my very eyes. His eyes turned black—the pupils exploding like ink to cover the whites of his eyes. Razor sharp teeth formed from his old teeth as he snarled. I felt something pinprick on my hand. Blood began to seep from the knuckles our clasped hands as claws grew from his !ngers, digging into my own flesh.


I grimaced but couldn’t pull away yet—it wasn’t done.


The angel began to thrash wildly against the restraints. Finally, the feeling of warm essence transferring into my body faded, and I instantly ripped my hand from his grasp and shuffled back as he roared.


SOMETHING WAVED IN FRONT OF MY EYES, AND I BLINKED QUICKLY.


The angel behind the desk was staring at me, trying to get my attention with his hand, and reality crashed over me once more. His eyes met mine with suspicion, clearly wondering why I’d walked in here, spaced out, and now had guilt plastered all over my face at the mere sight of him.


My cheeks felt hot and a pit had formed in my gut. I didn’t realize how hard I had been clutching the desk until I looked down and noticed how white my knuckles were. I let go, flexing the ache from my fingers, and looked back at the angel. He was still frowning at me.


I couldn’t be here.


“I have to go,” I muttered darkly, stepped back again. At that moment, someone appeared in the doorway, his eyes locked onto me. It was the blond angel I’d followed, and his lips were pulled into a thin line.


“Don’t let him leave,” he ordered.