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What Stars Do Best

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It was an altogether quiet and unassuming night in both Wall and Stormhold, when one twinkling star was knocked from the sky.

In that one second, that one heartbeat, that one streak of light, the night flared to life for a boy named Lance, a warlock named Lotor, and a prince named Shiro.  For they all knew what a fallen star meant.  They all knew what a fallen star could do.  And they wanted, more than anything, to claim that star for their own.

What they did not understand, each in their own way, was that they were wrong.

For a star was not an easy thing to possess.

 

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Humming a drinking ditty to himself, Lance put the finishing touches on his masterpiece, the ultimate setting for wooing, the greatest idea he’d ever had.  This was going to work.  Finally, after years of flirtations and throwing rocks at windows and begging for even a second of Nyma’s time, he was going to get what he wanted.  A kiss.  Her hand in marriage.  True and genuine attention, something she had yet to give him.  He really wasn’t picky.  He would take any of the above options.  Anything for her to notice him.

She was marvelous.  Funny, beautiful, and challenging.

And confusing.  Very confusing.

Shaking his head, Lance put his hands on his hips and grinned at the blanket, the candles, the picnic basket, and the bottle of champagne that had cost him most of his savings.  There was no way she could refuse him after this.  The stars were out and the moon was bright—the perfect atmosphere.

Nerves bubbling in his stomach, Lance adjusted his jacket and straightened his back.  It was time.

Setting off for the village, sincerely hoping that the wind wouldn’t knock down any of the candles and start a fire that would burn the whole place down—though Nyma would be worth even that—Lance finished the song he’d been humming earlier, steps feeling light.  It had been a long time since he’d been so confident about something.

When he got to her street, he found a pebble on the ground and tossed it at her window.  Hardly any time later, she cracked it open, her blonde hair spilling out and waving in the wind.  Rolling her eyes, she said, “What is it tonight, Lance?”

“A picnic.”

Yawning, she said, “I’m not terribly hungry.”

“More for me then,” he said, his smile fading as he realized this was already going terribly.  All the confidence he’d managed to build while he was alone and daydreaming traveled down his body, into his feet, and out into the ground.  Still, he wasn’t one to give up.  “There’s a whole bottle of champagne for you, though.”

“You can’t afford champagne,” she laughed.

“If you don’t believe me, you can always come and see.”

She stared at him for a moment and then shook her head, laughing exasperatedly.  “Oh, alright.  You’re lucky I have nothing else to do tonight and that you look so fetching in that jacket.  I’ll be right down, darling.”

Grinning, Lance waited, rolling onto the balls of his feet and back.

A minute later, she opened the door, stepping out in a floaty white dress, her hair down, and a small, pleased smile on her face.  Approaching him, she strung her arm through his and said, “Lead the way, handsome.”

Together, they strolled to the spot Lance had painstakingly prepared.  He was a ball of excitement, practically bouncing, anticipating her reaction.  Glancing at him occasionally, she would roll her eyes and smile Lance’s favorite smile.  It wasn’t kind or gentle, but it was full of life, full of a spark that Lance understood.

When they reached the blanket, Lance let out a small breath, happy that it looked unchanged.  Glancing over at Nyma, he saw her violet eyes widen.  She gasped and released him, stepping forward, hovering her palm over some of the candles.  Spinning back to him, she laughed delightedly, taking both of his hands and dragging him towards the blanket.  “This is amazing,” she said.  “Did you really do all of this for me?”

“I did.”

“You’re so cute,” she said, sitting down, spreading her dress out around her in a circle.  “Pop the bottle of champagne, would you?”

“You got it,” Lance said, joining her, keeping a little distance for the sake of propriety.  Opening the basket, he took out the bottle and removed the cork.  He was about to mention there were glasses when she stole the bottle from his hands and took a large swig, keeping her eyes on the stars.  Staring at the long line of her neck, Lance sighed.  God, was she lovely.

“So,” she said, taking another drink, “what’s the occasion?”

The nerves settling back in, Lance dug through the rest of the basket and pulled out the food he wanted.  “Sure you don’t want to eat anything?”

“Very.”

“Because there’s lots of…”

“Lance, darling, whatever you have there, I can buy better.”

“That’s true,” Lance said, leaning back on his hands and staring at the sky.  There was something comforting about the stars, the vastness of the sky.  Whatever happened tonight, it wasn’t even a speck of importance to them.  Those stars had been witness to a situation like this millions of times.

Nudging him with her shoulder, she tilted her head and smiled.  “Aren’t you going to answer my question?”

Swallowing, Lance steadied himself.  “Can’t I just want to spend time with my best girl?”

Humming, she nodded.  “Yes, I suppose.  I should really get home soon, though.  I’m expecting Sendak early in the morning.”

“Sendak?”

She nodded, carefully prying the chunk of bread Lance was slowly consuming from his hands, breaking off a small piece and placing it in her mouth.  “Oh, yes.  He’s been traveling ever so long and I’m terribly excited to see him.”

“I thought he was leaving for a month.”

Laughing, she slapped him on the arm.  “It’s been a month, silly.”

“Oh.”

“Don’t look so sad, darling,” she said.  “I’m sure we can still spend time together once I’m married.  I’m sure a little dalliance on the side would be thrilling.”

“Married?” Lance choked, feeling sick to his stomach.  All this work for nothing.  Surely there was something he could do.  Nyma had to know Sendak didn’t care about her.  Not really.  She had to know there was someone so much better for her out there.  Getting up on his knees he said, “Don’t marry him, Nyma.  Don’t.  He left you for a month and I’ve been here, with you.  Has he ever held you while you cried?  Has he ever picked you flowers?  What has he done for you, Nyma?  What?  Because I would do anything for you.  I would take a ship to the other side of the world, fetch you whatever you wished for, I’d go make my fortune if you’d wait for me, I’d cross the wall, I’d…”

“You’re so dramatic,” she sighed.  “No one crosses the wall.”

“I would do it.”

  Resting back on her own hands, she said, “I know that, darling, but that does me very little good.  Sendak is handsome and rich.  So very rich.”

“There’s no guarantee money would make you happy.  I don’t have much money and it’s really not so bad, I swear.”

“I disagree.”

“At least I’d love you.  God, Nyma, would I love you.”

Pulling her shift closer around her, she sighed again.  Her hand found the champagne bottle and she took three long sips, before she opened her mouth, about to talk.  Lance could see that she was on the verge of breaking his heart and he brought his knees up to his chest, curling up in anticipation, when a flash of light traveled across the sky, disappearing at the horizon, falling somewhere beyond the wall.  Eyes sparkling, Nyma said, “Oh, how beautiful.  Wasn’t that beautiful?”

Coming up with an absolutely insane idea, Lance blurted, “I’d go get you that star.”

“What?”

“I’d bring you that star.  If you’d marry me, I’d bring you that star.”

Smiling, Nyma leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.  “My very own star?  Truly?  That would be marvelous.”

“Really?” Lance grinned.

“Really.  Bring me that star, Lance.”

“I will,” he swore solemnly.

Laughing, she rose, leaving the champagne bottle uncorked and the crumbs from her bread scattered all over the blanket.  “Now walk me home.  I have an early morning and an engagement to delay.  It’s going to take all of my energy.”

Hopping up, leaving the candles and blankets—he’d come get them later—Lance took her arm and escorted her back to the village, absolutely elated.  Sure, he would have to cross the wall and find a piece of shiny, metallic rock, but he could do it.  After all, it was for Nyma, the most beautiful girl in the village.

 

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“Sir,” Ezor said, carefully pushing back on of the red dusty curtains of Lotor’s bed, “I have news.”

“What is it?” Lotor sighed, closing his eyes.  He was tired.  He was always tired these days.  It had been so long since he’d felt energized.  Young.  There was a little star left, but he was saving for it a special occasion.  A special occasion that would probably never come.  All his magic, all his work over the years, and he would end up wasting away on this bed, with an old, ugly crone serving him.

“A star has fallen.”

Bolting up, he pushed himself out of bed, trying to ignore the creaking of his bones, and stumbled to the cages lined up on the wall, filled with animals that no longer screeched, simply because they were too tired to do so.  That was a relief.  Their screaming had been tiring.

Finding a chicken—this was a small piece of magic, he didn’t need something large—Lotor carried it to a long wooden table, picked up a knife, and cut its head off.  Then he sliced it open, taking a quick peek at the liver.  Ezor didn’t lie.  There was a fallen star, somewhere to the west.

Leaving behind the animal—Ezor would clean it up—Lotor hurried over to the shelves on the left wall.  The junk they’d managed to collect over the past hundred or so years was ridiculous.  While he was gone, perhaps he would have Ezor work on sorting through it all.

As he searched for the box with the star, he said, “You will stay here while I go in search of the star.  I may call on you for help.  While I’m gone, make this place fit for a king.  Once I’m back, that is what I will be, what we will be.”

Smiling, Ezor said, “And what a delight that will be.  I do miss my skin.  It was so smooth and clear.  And my magic, of course.  Do you think you could start teaching me again, once you find the star?”

“Of course,” Lotor said smoothly, meaning every word.  It was the one thing he enjoyed about Ezor.  She’d been a magnificent student.  Intelligent and interested, though prone to distraction.

Laughing, she clapped her hands together and set about cleaning.  Watching her for a second, Lotor sighed.  That would be slow going.  Neither of them could walk very fast.  Nor could they work for very long before tiring.  They, after all, were on borrowed time.  They’d been on borrowed time for longer than most people lived.  But what was the point of possessing magic if you couldn’t be extraordinary?

Finding the box, he let out a soft sound of happiness, and tugged it out from underneath stacks of paper and bottled spleens.  Some toppled to the ground, but he paid them no mind.  Setting the box on the same table that he’d just removed the chicken’s head on, blood slowly staining the wood, Lotor cracked it open and smiled down at the light spilling out.  Cupping his hands, Lotor gathered the remainder of the stars heart and swallowed it down, closing his eyes to focus on not gagging.  There was, of course, nothing pleasant about the procedure, but that was as it should be.  In order to live forever, he dealt in murder and blood.  This was a part of his punishment, among other things.

Feeling magic once again pulsing in his blood, Lotor went to a mirror and watched as he transformed back into who he had been over fifty years ago.  His hair grew out, silky and strong.  Every part of his body lengthened, his skin tightened, and his eyes filled with light.  Closing his eyes, Lotor listened to the beating of his heart.  This was what it was to be alive.  This is what he waited for.

Reaching for the warmth low in his stomach, Lotor flicked his fingers and the dusty, dank room filled with light, candles on the chandeliers flickering to life.  With another flick, the dust floated away, up into the sky.  With yet another, he was wearing more appropriate clothes, dark green, closely fitted, and smart.  There was more he wanted to do, but he forced himself to stop.  He would have to be careful with his magic.  He’d had to use it at least once, just to remember what it felt like, but now, he would have to practice restraint.

“Wow,” Ezor said, coming up beside him in the mirror.  “I’d forgotten.  I’ve quite missed your face, sir.”

“As have I.”

Extending to the tips of her toes, using his arm to keep herself stable, Ezor’s dry, cracked lips pressed against his cheek.  “Find us that star.”

“I will.  Have no doubt.  There’s no escaping me.”

With that, Lotor strolled to the doors of their palace, pushed them open, and strolled out, runes clattering in his pocket, knife in hand, off to seek his star.

 

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In the royal palace of Stormhold, Prince Shiro was staring out the window of his room, gazing up at the sky, asking something of it, just not entirely sure what.

His mother was dying and he didn’t know what to do.  It would be soon now.  As was tradition, she would be setting him a task, something to prove to both his council and his people that he was fit to rule.  He had no idea what it would be, but that was the least of his concerns.

His biggest concern was how terribly he was going to miss her.

A knock on the door shattered through his thoughts.  Bidding whoever it was to come in, he retreated from the window to his desk and poured himself a glass of water from a pitcher.

Matt, his manservant, entered, bowing.  “Your Highness, Her Majesty wishes to see you in her room.”

“Alright,” he sighed.  “Does she…never mind.  I’m sure I’ll see for myself.”

Eyes saddening, Matt whispered, “She does not have long.”

Nodding solemnly, Shiro passed Matt by, not sparing him a glance.  Normally, he would muster better than that, but he was finding it difficult to do anything but remain in his room, alone, attending to whatever duties he could.  That was his duty, after all.  Taking care of the kingdom where his mother could not and hoping she could continue to taking care of what she still did until he was ready to take her place.  He wasn’t sure he ever would be.  To him, there was no one who could do what she did.

It didn’t matter what he thought, though.  He was going to have to be ready.

When he arrived at his mother’s room, her manservant opened the door for him.  Stepping inside, he lingered at the edge of her bed, unsure what to do or say.  She was lying in the middle, heavy quilts piled around her, her gray hair spilling across the pillows.  Her breaths were shaky and rattling and her eyelids were hanging low on her eyes.  “Shiro, sweetheart,” she whispered, “come here.”

Doing as he was bid, Shiro sat down on the edge of her bed and grasped her hand.  “You look lovely today, Mother.”

Laughing tiredly, she patted his hand.  “You’re a good boy.  Help me, would you?”

“With what?”

She attempted to sit up and Shiro quickly placed his hands on her shoulders, helping lift her and keep her steady.  With shaking hands, she removed a necklace from around her neck, the ruby bright and red.  Carefully, Shiro lowered her back into the pillows and she cupped the necklace in her hands.  Bending down, she blew on it gently and the red faded, the ruby turning clear, as pure as starlight.  “I have thought of a task for you,” she said quietly.

“I assume it has something to do with that necklace.”

“You would assume correctly,” she smiled.  “All that you must do is find it.  When you take hold of it, the ruby will turn red.  Present it to the council and they will make you king of Stormhold.  If I die before you return, they will rule as one body.  Is that acceptable to you?”

“Of course.”

“Very well,” she said.

In Stormhold, everyone had a little magic.  Some more than others, but the queen had known since she was young what would be required of her in life and she’d saved much of her magic for this moment.  Willing the necklace to hover in the air, she said, “Go to the window.  Watch the skies.”

Nodding, Shiro stood and went to the window, pushing back the filmy curtains.  There was a breath of movement behind him and then the necklace whooshed past his ear, flying higher and higher, until it left the atmosphere, a flash of light all that was left of it.  Not long later, a streak painted the sky, a star falling from the heavens into the realm of Stormhold, somewhere to the northeast.  Stars didn’t fall often.  It wasn’t a regular enough occurrence for Shiro to assume anything other than his mother’s necklace had knocked that star from the sky.

He would have to seek that star.  For it had his necklace.

And maybe he would have its heart, as well.  That would certainly save his mother’s life.

“Go,” she said.  “The kingdom will be well until you return.”

Bowing, Shiro exited the room and went to his, calling for Matt.  It wasn’t long before Matt was there, ready to do as he was asked.  Together, they packed for the trip and when Shiro asked Matt to come with him, needing someone to take care of the more mundane tasks, but more than that, needing the company, Matt didn’t protest for a second, simply packing his own bag and shouldering it.

They went to the stables, loaded up their horses, then struck out into the night.

 

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As Keith fell from space onto Earth, he idly wondered why, out of all his brothers and sisters, he’d been the one to get struck by that damn necklace.  What could those humans possibly be doing, anyway?  What possible reason could they have for casting that eyesore into the sky?  They couldn’t very well get a necklace back from space.  If it hadn’t hit him, they never would’ve seen it again.

It was a long fall, wind buffeting him, and he supposed he was scared.  The place he was going wouldn’t treat him kindly.  He’d seen that much, whenever he’d cared to gaze at the earth in boredom.  And, frankly, he did prefer his place up among the stars.  At least he belonged there.

But it was hard to summon the proper amount of fear right now.  This was the most exciting thing to happen to him in a millennia. 

It wouldn’t be much too exciting until he was stranded on earth, alone, probably injured—the landing wouldn’t be kind, after all—and prone to all the things humans suffered every day.  Eating and bathing, for example.

Honestly, it was all just really inconvenient.  This had not been in the plan and he would’ve preferred if it had stayed out of it.

Sighing, he closed his eyes and let the wind block out his thoughts.  Soon, he would hit.  It was going to hurt.  A lot.  That was also inconvenient.

He’d probably create a massive crater.  That was something.

In the middle of wondering if his family would miss him, Keith struck the earth.  It felt like all his bones were shattering, like he was seconds away from dying, but he was very conscious that he wasn’t dying. 

For awhile, he laid there, eyes closed, getting accustomed to his new body.  It was strange being contained in something so small, so compact, so human

One of his legs was broken.  Probably.  He was relatively sure that was something that could happen to bones.  Either way, it hurt quite a lot.  Walking would be a struggle, which was unfortunate, because he would need food eventually.  And sleep.  And there were almost definitely people on their way to murder him and it would be excellent if he could get out of this crater before that happened.

Letting out a low groan, he opened his eyes and sat up. 

With a small swell of pride, he saw that the crater he’d created was quite large.  At least he’d left his mark on this stupid place.

Beside him was the necklace.  Picking it up, he cradled it in his hands.  For a second, he thought about leaving it here in this crater—good riddance—but then he lifted the chain up over his neck and tucked it beneath his shirt.  The damn thing had knocked him from the sky.  If nothing else, it was his now.

Struggling to stand, swearing under his breath as his leg kept giving out, Keith eventually managed.  The first thing he did was look up at the sky, eyes trailing to the place he’d been, the sky there now dark.  The second thing he did—well, that happened to him—was fall back to the earth, something heavy, warm, and making an obscene amount of noise crashing into him.

 

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“Where are you going?”

Slowly turning, Lance smiled warily and said, “Nowhere?”  The pack on his back suggested otherwise, but if he pretended it wasn’t there, maybe his father would to.

Instead of doing that, his father rolled his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest.  “I’ve said that before in my life and nowhere was never the place I was going.”

Sighing, Lance fell into a chair and said, “Across the wall, actually.”

“Why?”

“Star,” Lance mumbled.  “It fell and Nyma wants it.”

“Ah.  Nyma.” 

There was a long silence and Lance reluctantly looked up at his father, eyes pleading.  “I know no one ever crosses the wall, but I’m pretty sure it’s the only way I’ll ever get Nyma to marry me and I’d at least like to try.  You’re not going to stop me, are you?”

His father shook his head.  “No.”

“Oh.  That’s unexpected.”

Laughing, he said, “Son, there are people who cross the wall.  It’s not a safe place, exactly, but it’s not any more dangerous than it is here.  Probably.”

“No way.  People really cross the wall?”

Sighing, his father stood and headed for the stairs, gesturing that the both of them should go up into the attic.  “It’s time I told you something.”

Shrugging, Lance followed.

 

“Wait, wait, you crossed the wall?”

“Yes.”

“And you had sex with some random woman?”

His father sighed.  “Yes.”

“And that random woman is my mother?”

“Do we really need to go over every detail of the story?”

“Yes!”

“Then, yes.”

“Huh.  Alright.  Why did you have to tell me that?”

“Because she left some things for you.  They might be helpful.  After all, she’s of that land and whatever insight she has is going to be more helpful than anything I have to say.  I wasn’t there very long and I spent most of it…”

“Having sex.”

Laughing shortly, his father dug around in a box and pulled out a roll of parchment.  Handing it over, he said, “For you.”

Unrolling the parchment, removing a dark candle that was nestled inside and setting it beside him, Lance began to read.  It was short, but sweet, his mother detailing the situation she’d been in when she’d discovered she was pregnant and how impossible it was for her to keep him.  Then she talked about the candle, explaining that if he lit it and thought of her and only her, he would be taken to her.  When he finished reading, his father handed over a small flower.  “Snowdrop,” he said.  “She told me it would keep me safe.  It’s yours.  Please, stay safe, Lance.  You’re the only family I have.”  Suddenly remembering something, he pilfered around in a different box and handed what he grabbed to Lance.  “There’s also this piece of string, the string that witch used to hold her captive.  I’m not sure what use it is, but it’s also yours.”

“This candle…”

His father nodded.  “I think that it could take you to your star.  Or it could take you to her.  Whichever you choose.  It’s up to you.”

Picking up the candle, Lance shifted it from hand to hand, the wax cold and smooth against his skin.  As he stared at it, he wondered what he should do.  The star would give him Nyma.  No, correction, it might give him Nyma.  But, this, this could give him his mother.  No question.  And for most of his life, Lance had dreamed of finding his mother.  His father rarely talked of her.  Lance had thought it was because it was too painful, but it was simply because he hadn’t known her well.  Still rolling the candle, Lance said, “What did she look like?”

“Absolutely beautiful,” his father said.  “Long black hair, light skin, and blue eyes.  That’s what you have of hers.  Otherwise, I’m afraid, you’re all me.”

“Not a bad thing,” Lance said, smiling.  Then he stood and held out his hand for a match.  Prepared, his father struck one and handed it over.  Taking the match, Lance lit the candle and said, “I’m going to find her, Father.”

The candle flared and before he knew it, there was a sharp tug on his navel and he was traveling fast and far.  It was such a surprise that he forgot to think of his mother.  He forgot to think of much of anything, too focused on holding onto the candle.

Hardly any time had passed when the world began to slow and he was crashing into someone, toppling them to the ground.  Groaning, he lifted himself onto his knees and blinked slowly, realizing that whoever he’d barreled into was below him and that they were glaring at him, looking distinctly put out.  “You are not my mother,” he said.

The man’s frown deepened.  “Are you sure?” he asked, voice dripping with sarcasm.

Shoving off the ground, Lance started babbling.  “But I’d decided to search for my mother.  I shouldn’t be here.  I should be with her.  Of course, I did lose track of what I was thinking, because I really did not expect the candle to do that, and…oh my god, of course.  Hey, whoever you are, have you seen a star?  Judging by this crater, it probably fell here.  That would make sense, because that’s the only other thing I would’ve thought of.”

“Have I seen a star?” the man asked, sitting up.

Lance nodded.

“You mean the star that was minding its own business in the sky until it got knocked out by the ugliest necklace in existence?”

“Sure?”

“I’ve seen it.”

“Really?” Lance said, brightening.  “Where?”

Groaning, the man fell backwards, lying spread-eagle.  He was mumbling to himself and Lance grew irritated, wondering when this man was going to respond.  It wasn’t that complicated of a question.  Then the man sat up, ran a hand through his hair, and said, “I’m the star, idiot.”