Althea Altair was the daughter of Adilene and the Clarene, but she was given form by the Firebird - and so, she took his colors and form and donned his cloak, and from her birth in flames served her father as messenger and confidant.
She could see no farther than the fire of her father - that screaming, crying bird that longed for connection. She could not see the star that had fallen when she was born, nor could she feel her heart - the one that she had been born without, as no Red Court or fire-bearer can wear a heart of flesh - beating alongside that of the star.
But the star could see her.
(The star could feel, every day, the heart that beat with hers and ached and sang in her chest.)
Althea was strong and stunning and a fire all her own, but she did not see past the bowl she held for each heart that gave itself to the Red Court, to the Firebird. She could not see past the sacrifice and blood. There was nothing more for her. There were only the hearts and only the fire. She had known nothing else, and if she at times pondered over the hollow in her chest - for she had opened herself up to find nothing there - she did not long dwell on it.
But the star felt those doubts like she felt the fire of her twin, and she walked the world in search of her until blood flowed from her feet and blossomed into chrysanthemum beneath her. She plucked five of each color that became, and she walked on until she came to that Red temple where Althea lay, holding that bowl of hearts, resting and hollow.
The guards at the door barred her entrance and demanded her name.
"I speak with the sound of bells and with my voice bring forth death to contentedness; I am Lilibell, hand of the Dierne, speaker of Fear* and twin to the woman inside. You will not bar me entrance."
The guards could not refuse a twin, and so shifted to let her pass, blood trailing along the stone and turning to garnet as she walked forth.
Lilibell came to that great, opulent room where Althea lay, and she did not knock but entered as if it were her right, and she saw the other half of herself sitting with a bowl in her hands, and her hearts were still at once.
Althea did not know the woman standing before her, but she felt for the first time the hollow in her chest filling.
"I am here to take you from this place," Lilibell said, and she dropped each chrysanthemum into the bowl of hearts, and they did not burn.
Althea felt for the first time the beating of a heart, and she tossed the bowl from her and stood and embraced her twin and murmured adoration after adoration and prayer after prayer, for she had never known the love she had been born without, but now that she had seen it she could not let it go.
"Ignore what I said before; I don't want any less anymore," she cried. She tossed from her the colors of her father and took on a cloak of her own red and took the color of her sister to her eyes so they glowed black and fled from that home that had been so, so hollow.
But it was the first time she had known the beating of a heart, and she did not know what to do with it. They walked across the world, but her hands burned and coals fell as tears from her eyes and her hair was colorless and she so rarely smiled. She frightened those she met and clashed with those that reached for her. "She is like Mallory," people whispered. "She does not smile. She thinks herself above us."
And when she dared to reach for another, they would recoil with burns on their skin.
"Give it time, you will see; the world has room for you," Lilibell begged. But even her sister and her heart could not convince her to stay, and she longed for the silence of her hollow home and the heat of burning hearts, and she returned once again to that Red temple.
Lilibell came again, but Althea could not forget how the world turned to ash beneath her feet and she could not bear to leave the safe warm rooms of her home again. Lilibell sat at the door of the temple and felt each pulse of want and sorrow that Althea had, and she waited, but Althea did not come. She contented herself with the duties her father gave and dared only to touch those whose skin she knew she would not burn.
Lilibell could stand no more the sorrow that her sister denied feeling, and she left the temple and took to the River to find the mother who could drown all feeling and birth something new from the waters of her body. But the Ophelia had a price, and she held forth one dripping hand for Lilibell's heart.
"You may keep your sister's heart in your breast, but you must give yours to me and let it become one with the River of Time," the Ophelia said. And with that power all stars possess, Lilibell reached into her chest and tore her heart from herself and let it drown in the River Ophelia to be one with time.
"As you wished, your sister shall be free," the Ophelia said, and she snapped her soaked fingers and from the halls of the Red Court was heard a great cry, and Lilibell felt her remaining heart burst into flame as her sister was transformed from faery maiden to wild horse - a unicorn, all aflame. She cried to the Ophelia and asked what she had done, but the River was silent and unspeaking.
Lilibell ran to where her heart led, but Althea ran ahead and ahead. But flame did not burn in her wake but flowers of all colors - red, gold, and white; blue, yellow, and black. Lilibell ran past them all and begged her sister to stop, but Althea was wild and reared up and resisted any bonds, and the more Lilibell held tight the harder Althea fought.
There was no bridle or saddle for her, but still Lilibell tugged at her mane and demanded she be still. Althea fought until she could aim her horn at her sister and pierce her breast and take with her the last heart Lilibell had, but as she reared forward roses and poppies burst forth between them and Althea fell into herself - no longer a wild unicorn but herself entirely, naked and bloody with hair like crimson and eyes like death and skin like the moon. Roses and poppies and chrysanthemum burst under her body and curled around her sister - shocked and panting but unharmed - and there they lay until Althea rose and said:
"I am free."
Lilibell looked then and feared that perhaps freedom meant she would no longer be Althea's, perhaps freedom meant abandonment, but Althea lifted her sister into her arms and walked with sand leaking from her feet into the world - her touch still burning but her heart uncaring for those that could not hold her.