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Zodiac Academy : Restless Stars by Caroline Peckham & Susanne Valenti

Restless Stars

by Caroline Peckham & Susanne Valenti


Book 9 in the Zodiac Academy Series

Orphans. Changelings. Princesses. Queens.

We are all and nothing now, our fate weighed on the scales of the stars and counterbalanced by the forces that oppose us. The shadow of the false king spreads as thick as oil across the kingdom we were born to rule, and none remain untouched by its darkness. Our crowns lay within reach if only we can claim them. All souls are at risk now and when the final battle dawns, a new regime will rise. The time for the true reckoning is upon us and we have proven ourselves as savage as our father, as brutal as our mother, and as wild as the Elements which roar through our veins. We can only hope it is enough. When the last sword strikes the final death in this game of fate and fortune, only one side will be victorious. The Starfall Legion charges at first light. And our destiny rides upon our shoulders as we rush into the end. All hail the True Queens. May our rule last longer than this night.



Violence, Death, War and War Crimes, Captivity


This took me a while to get through.

No hate on this book, but it was long. And frankly, I haven't been in the mood to read romantasy lately - even though I have been looking forward to this book. I took multiple breaks throughout to read a rom-com (or arc) to satisfy my mood reading.

Now that I think about it, I still haven't even read the extra chapters yet that I got for pre-ordering.'

I also think it's a bit of me thinking that Zodiac Academy was dragged out too long.

Also, Beyond the Veil bored me so much that it kind of ruined Zodiac Academy's excitement for me.

So there were a few reasons why it took me so long to get through this book.

The first part of of my review will be spoiler free, for those of you who haven't read it yet. I will get into my spoiler filled review below that, but don't worry, I will warn you ahead of time.

I'm not sure how I feel about Restless Stars.

While I loved the ending, it took too long to get there.

Which is hard to say, because honestly, some of the best moments in this series is moments that happen between these characters that don't involve the war. I guess at nine books in, and with how thick they are, I feel like it's gone on too long. I was just ready for Tory and Darcy to take the throne, and it still took a long time.

One can argue that the length of the war in this series is more in line with reality than other books. It was definitely not sugar coated and was very brutal.

But everything was tied up.

Well, for the most part.

Everything except introducing readers that haven't read Darkmore Penitentiary to that series (currently unfinished), and introducing a new storyline that I will admit, has me incredibly intrigued. But I will discuss that in the spoiler section of my review.

I can easily say the best part of this book was when everyone was together. While I will always love the romance in these books, there is just something about all these power players on the same pages together that just makes the series fun, even in the darker moments. It doesn't surprise me that the weakest parts of the book is when they are separated. Luckily, we don't get too much of that.

While I love this series (I mean, I bought special editions for the trophy shelf, which is expensive here in Canada), I'm glad we can finally say it's done. Not because I ended up hating the books, but because the Twisted Sisters loved to torture our favorite characters, and they needed a happily ever after, damn it!

Okay now ... spoilers below.

Darius and Tory - I knew there would be consequences to Tory taking Darius's soul from the underworld, but it honestly wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. The stars, while pissed, seemed to forgive them by the end. Considering they were at war, it seems like it wouldn't be a difficult curse to have - getting as many souls as possible to the Ferryman. It honestly seemed to work out a little too well. But I mean, considering in the epilogue chapters, she did end up having 2 sets of twins and a set of triplets, all boys ... so maybe the stars were punishing them. HAHA. I really loved those epilogue chapters.

Lance and Darcy - Ugh, I love these two. Considering how much the Twisted Sisters liked torturing our poor Orion, I'm glad they got a happily ever after. Those epilogue chapters were so frigging sweet. Daddy Orion is all kinds of hot, and I love that they stuck true to themselves despite being royals, and lived a simple life with a couple of kids. Absolutely perfect for them.

Seth and Caleb - I'm really glad the will they/won't they be together didn't last too long, because the lead up has been building up for a few books now. The sisters finally moving on from Caleb discovering this part of himself, and them both at least admitting they want one another was great, but I do wish they had done that in the eighth book, so we could have gotten more of their relationship in this one. However, I appreciated that it didn't take long for them to admit their feelings for one another.

I do wish the sister's didn't make them mates. At least they are a different type of mates, which I appreciate. I also loved the overall humor of Darius fucking with them, and how in the end, it didn't even matter that they kept the secret, because everyone knew anyway.

Their epilogue chapter was also perfection. Serious perfection! Not just because of them loving one another, and them getting surrogates to each sire a child and raise them as twins. The Pegasus scene. OH MY GOD I can't describe the cackle I let out that years after Zodiac Academy, this prank still lives on, and Seth believes it. A fucking plus.

Max and Geraldine - This was a couple I was expecting to be mates. Max is serious. Geraldine is nuts. Like, I love that character, and she is fun, but she can also be a headache, which is why this entire time I was sure they had to be mates. But as I said up above, I would have hated that too. I want the mates trope to be rare. And the idea of two people who are completely different from one another choosing to be with each other and love that deeply? That's sweet.

Ruthless Boys - I'm so happy we got more of them together this book. I mean, we did in the last book as well, but we get even more here. It just makes their happily ever after in Ruthless Boys that much sweeter, because their family has gotten so much bigger now. That chapter where Seth had to protect Gabe's son was hilarious, and sweet, and just goes to show how much all these people love one another.

Tharix - This is a storyline that I believe is being hinted at, and I want to read it. I loved that despite his origins, he wasn't a slave, which is honestly what I suspected. He questioned. He learned. He craved ... a family. I wasn't sure if I would like it, but the more I read him and Darius on page, and the banter between them, the brotherly bond grew very naturally. In the epilogue chapters, I'm glad he is around, but he seems sad. I hope the sisters have a story lined up for him, because I need him to get a happily ever after. Perhaps the Ferryman is waiting for him to do something to prove he is who he says and wants to be, and not what he was born to be. Maybe then, he will let him pass on. Because I suspect when we see him again, the others will be all gone to the veil, and he will be left alone.

Or not alone. I guess there is all those children too.

Xavier, Sophia and Tyler - I found myself bored by his storyline. I mean, it lined up, but I could have done without it. I did enjoy where he once again embarrasses himself. Poor Xavier has no luck.

The Dead - Do I think we needed Beyond the Veil? No. At least not as long as it was. I think we could have done without it, and still appreciated the dead being allowed to help in battle. It was nice to see everything reunited with their loved ones though. Especially Seth :( That poor guy lost most of everyone.

Clydinius - I still don't think this storyline was needed, and I found myself bored with this storyline. It felt weak compared to the rest of the series in all honestly.

Lionel - My god his death was really dragged out to the end, huh? Satisfying, yes, but fuck.

Lavinia - I've been so over her, and I feel like she was dragged out too long as well. It was great to see her go, though.

Washer - Okay, as gross as he is, the chapter he sacrificed himself was fucking sad.



Lance: “Tell me, brother, how many stars did you have to fuck to be given another chance at life?”

Darius turned to him with a smirk creeping across his face.

Darius: “No stars, Lance. But your dad took it like a pro.”

Geraldine: “Lead me to the Dragoon,”

Geraldine: “The goons have finally accepted their goonishness. Each of you have found your place and it is upon your nellies before the great and all-powerful Phoenixes.”

Lance: “I knew they’d kneel eventually,”

Orion taunted, and I shot him an amused look as the Heirs all bristled from her words.

Max: “Less of the goon talk, Gerry,”

Geraldine: “Oh, but my dear salmon, don’t you see? You have taken off your too-large boots and placed your toe beans into slippers that fit your goonish feet at long last,”

Geraldine said, batting her eyelashes at him.

Geraldine: “It is most becoming.”

Max: “I-”

Max looked like he was going to argue, then faltered.

Max: “Becoming?”

Geraldine: “Yes, you loon of a lampfish, my Petunia has never jittered so much as it does now for you!”

Geraldine ran to him, stamping her mouth to his, and they fell into a PDA I didn’t care to watch.

Whatever Clydinius’s plan was by impersonating us, Darius would see through the deception and come looking for us.

So, I guessed that made me his motherfucking damsel.

Tory: “I didn’t risk death to bring him back. I fought it. My heart was ripped clean from my chest the moment I found his body on that battlefield. It broke me in a way I can’t even put words to. I was lost, destroyed entirely, and utterly without hope. But there was one simple way for me to reunite with him, Darcy.”

Darcy: “What do you mean?”

I took a knife from my belt, turning it in my palm before aiming it at my own chest and arching a brow at her as the tip pressed to my skin.

Tory: “The Veil is never far away.”

I shrugged, and she sucked in a breath, snatching the blade from my hand as if I might have plans to follow through on that act now. I gave her an echo of a smile.

Tory: “There was only one thing that stayed my hand, Darcy.”

I brushed a lock of blue hair out of her eyes, tucking it behind her ear.

Darcy: “You wouldn’t leave me,”

Not a question, a fact.

Tory: “Two halves of one whole.”

Lance: “They don’t need a wicked little witch telling them whether their Order is worthy. They don’t need segregation and persecution. There is only one thing in this world that makes a Fae less than any other. And that is the weight of their soul. So tell me, Honey…”

I leaned down to glare at her with a sneer.

Lance: “If the stars weighed your soul in the scales of Libra, would they find it heavy with sin? Would they see the tarnish of prejudice and cruelty upon the essence of all you are? Because I was born within the stars of justice, and I can see it plain and clear. Beneath the false face of beauty you wear, is nothing but a monster.”

The fact that Highspell was bald with a bumpy, wart-bound head was the least of her ugliness, because right there in the centre of her face, instead of a nose, was a huge, veiny, flaccid cock. Balls and all, perched neatly beneath her eyes.

Highspell: “Don’t look at me!”

she cried, making the tip of the thing flap against her chin.

Seth ran forward to get a better look, his expression saying he was having the time of his life.

Seth: “Oh my stars, is it functional?”

Highspell: “Shut up!”

Highspell screeched, and we all laughed.

Seth: “What? I’m just asking what everyone’s thinking. Like, do you pee through it, can you smell with it? Wait, does it get hard?”

Highspell: “No one is thinking that!”

she shrieked, the cock bouncing against her lips with the force she used. Seth glanced back over his shoulder.

Seth: “Max? You were thinking it, weren’t you bud?”

Max: “Totally,”

Seth: “Cal?”

Seth asked, looking to him, and he nodded, then Seth turned to me.

Seth: “You’re thinking it, aren’t you moon friend?”

Lance: “Well, yeah, I am actually,”

I said, letting the moon friend comment slide as I examined Highspell’s face again. I mean, holy fuck, how did one even end up with a cock for a nose?

Seth: “You’re here, and stars be damned, Darius Acrux, if you don’t start telling us the hows and the whys and what it’s been like and how you’ve felt and whether you were even a person beyond The Veil, I’m going to lose my mind. Or maybe you were just a floaty little ghost spiraling away through space and time, all alone, or were you with other ghosties? Or perhaps you were just a puff of a cloud, with no thoughts at all as you sailed through the mystical beyond going weeeee-”

Lance: “You’re drooling,”

Lance deadpanned, taking a step into the space and picking up a ring with a sapphire inlaid into it, the gold band forged to appear as if a pair of wings clutched the jewel.

Darius: “I’m hard as fuck too, but that’s not the point,”

I replied, plucking the ring from his hand and pushing it onto my little finger.

Lance: “Maybe that’s how we win this war. Just lay a bunch of treasure out for Lionel to see, then sneak up and cut his throat while he’s jerking off over it.”

Darius: “Where would you find the treasure to tempt him with?”

Lance: “Err, right here, asshole.”

Lance waved a hand to indicate the room at large, and I narrowed my eyes at him.

Darius: “No. Because this is all-”

Lance: “If you say ‘mine’ again, I’ll probably have to give you another spanking,”

Lance: “The greatest of them fails at flame, the weakest is its daughter,

Lance recited immediately. Damn, I’d never been so pleased that he was a nerd.

Lance: “Can I at least have the Guild Stone?”

My fingers tightened around the precious turquoise stone, and I had to fight against the urge to move my arm behind my back for good measure.

Darius: “Later,”

Lance: “Now,”

I pursed my lips, holding my fist out to him, but my fingers stayed curled around it.

Darius: “I can keep it safe until-”

Lance: “Bad Dragon.”

Lance shot me in the ass with a whip of air magic and used his fucking Vampire speed to snatch the stone from my fist while I was distracted.

Lance: “I think I might have to get that tattooed on me somewhere,”

Lance taunted.

Lance: “‘Darius’s greatest treasure’ would look great across my chest.”

Darius: “Fuck you.”

I dipped my fingers into his pocket, taking the Guild Stone and sliding it right back into my own pocket instead.

Lance: “Fuck you harder – I know you like it rough.”

Seth: “She’s bossing everyone about and making a load of statements about the world all falling into line and everything in the universe being right at last – honestly, if I’d realised bowing to the Vegas would make her go this batshit, I might have reconsidered."

Tory: “Does Orion know you adopted the giant furball?”

Tory asked in amusement.

Darcy: “Yep.”

Tory: “And did he try to stop you?”

Darcy: “Obviously.”

Tory: “But you adopted him anyway.”

Darcy: “Duh.”

Darcy: “It’s me. What can I do to prove it?”

Lance: “No need, Blue,”

Orion said, taking me in with a piercing look.

Lance: “I’d know you anywhere.”

Caleb: “Yeah, that’s fucking romantic and all, brother, but I require more proof than that,”

Caleb said, narrowing his eyes at Tory.

Seth: “Well, I love him. He’s got all the best qualities. Fluffy? Check. Deadly? Check. Cute in a murderous kind of way? Check. What’s not to like?”

Tory: “Darcy’s great at taming feral creatures. Just look at Orion. All grumpy and twisted up inside once upon a time. Now he’s…well, actually he’s still those things, but he’d do anything for her. I think the Shadow Beast might be the same.”

Lance: “Thanks for the comparison,”

Geraldine: “Don’t get high up on your gander cushion now, Seth Capella. You have bowed to the True Queens and so, in true regal and stately fashion, you must offer them the finest fringles you can frangle.”

Seth: “I don’t know what the hell that means, but this is my room. And I might have bowed, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to bend over and let the queens fuck me with a strap-on Phoenix dildo.”

Darcy: “Are you taking me to a sneaky kitchen?”

Lance: “Yes, and it’s staff only access, so I’ll be sure to punish you for it later,”

he muttered, throwing me a heated look that made me bite my lip.

Lance: “You licked her,”

Seth: “Ha, yeah. What’s the matter, are you jealous?”

Seth lunged at Orion in a bid to lick him too, and Orion’s fist came out so fast that Seth only missed it by nearly falling on his ass.

Seth: “Rude,”

Seth: “They’ve all headed to King’s Hollow. Let’s go. I have so much shit to tell you on the way.”

Lance: “I can just carry Blue and we’ll meet you there.”

Orion moved to pick me up, but I gave him a look that warned him to stop being an asshole, and his shoulders dropped as he gave in to my silent demand.

Geraldine: “You’re a queen! They are more than honoured to serve you. Poor Douglas would have no purpose at all in life it weren’t for the mighty A.S.S., would you Douglas?”

She gestured to a blond man carrying a box, and he bowed his head pitifully.

Douglas: “None whatsoever,”

Geraldine: “There, see?”

Seth: "So, listen moon friends, while we wait for the world to combust again, I need to tell you everything about my cocktastrophe with Cal.”

Seth: "We fucked like heathens when Venus was in retrograde, and the moon was all cold and full and mysterious. But then our parents walked in-”

Darcy: “Oh shit,”

I breathed as Orion released a low laugh.

Seth: “Yeah shit, Darcy. Yeah. Shit."

Darcy: “That’s great. But really, I think the rest of our group would love to know about you two.”

Lance: “Literally no one could care less,”

Orion said dryly, and though his tone left a lot to be desired, he was kinda backing up my point.

Max: “Your dead dad has been giving my dead mom the eyes apparently,”

Max muttered icily, glaring at Orion as if it was his fault.

Lance: “Really?”

Orion asked curiously, but Max’s eyes simmered with anger.

Max: “She’s waiting for my dad. Tell your dead father to back the fuck up.”

Lance: “Sure, I’ll just light a scented candle and whisper my wishes into the flames as soon as I locate my aromatherapy set,”

Orion deadpanned, and Max’s scowl grew.

Max: “Well you’d better do something about it,”

Darius: “I think it’s cute. You’re both practically step-brothers now.”

Lance: “Fuck off,”

Darcy: “You’ve got a lot of new followers, and oh…”

I scrolled through the posts he’d been tagged in, a hell of a lot of them featuring fan art of Orion naked in various poses. There was a group linked to most of them called the Ori-Hoes.

Darcy: “It looks like you have a fan club,”

I said, laughing as I showed him the artwork.

Darcy: “There you are in a barn lounging on a haybale - with your dick out. Oh and there you are climbing an apple tree – with your dick out. And, oh look, this one has immortalized that time you rode bareback on a horse through that cornfield. With your dick out.”

Orion gave me that stern teacher look like I was somehow responsible for the porno art, and I only laughed harder.

Tory: “Yeah, we’re all tagged in a bunch of weird shit like that. Darius has some creepy ones of him in a coffin.”

Darcy: “With his dick out?”

I guessed, and Tory nodded woefully before we cracked smiles at each other.

Darcy: “It was a game, wasn’t it?”

I accused, my magic coiling from me unnoticed.

Darcy: “Turning up that late every day, then occasionally shooting in the second the class entered the room – you were just fucking with everyone.”

Lance: “That seems like a petty power play to fuck with young and fragile Fae minds,”

he replied innocently, and Darcy laughed.

Rosalie: “Even the moon has turned to look at the two of you. The twins who defy fate itself. And I get the feeling the carnage that trails in your wake is only the beginning of your tale. The world itself will shake when it hears you roar as one.”

Darcy: “You can see the dead?”

Darcy gasped, whirling back to Rosalie who shrugged innocently.

Rosalie: “That would be an incredible talent to possess,”

she said, not giving a clear answer on whether she could or not.

Rosalie: “And did you?”

Rosalie asked, her eyes flicking to my flaming wings, her eyes dancing with secrets.

Darius: “I did,”

Rosalie: “Then it would seem that not all men are as thick skulled as they so often appear. You should hurry if you want to see Gabriel – they’re getting ready to leave.”

Lance: “She’s strange,”

Darcy: “I like her,”

Gabriel: “I saw the moment you came crashing back through The Veil with that brute of yours,”

he breathed, his smile pressing to my cheek while I kept him locked in my arms.

Tory: “Stubborn always was my best feature,”

I joked, even as I clamped my eyes shut against the tears which were trying to break free.

Gabriel: “A chain around the neck of a stone heathen,”

Gabriel muttered, drawing my focus back to him.

Leon: “I’m keeping notes,”

Leon piped up, waving a handful of paper scraps at us, each scrawled with random phrases like ‘beware the goat’ and ‘turnips on a Sunday = DEATH.’

Tory: “What are-”

I began, but the dark-haired Lion shifter, Carson, cut me off.

Carson: “Ignore the idiot,”

he growled, casting Leon a disparaging look.

Carson: “I’m writing down every word accurately.”

Leon gasped as if mortally offended.

Leon: “My interpretations are accurate! Don’t come crying to me when a turnip brings about the end of the world.”

Carson rolled his eyes and Dante sighed.

Darius: “I have very mixed feelings about my memories of that chamber,”

Darius muttered to me, leaning in close so that his lips skimmed my ear at the words. I knew he was trying to distract me from my pain over having to say goodbye to my brother again so soon.

Tory: “Oh?”

I asked, pretending not to know what he was referring to, but it wasn’t like I could easily forget the way we had defied the stars down there with Caleb.

Darius: “I have never been so close to ecstasy and murder in the same moment as I was then,”

he said, nipping my neck just like I remembered him doing that day.

Darius: “But you did scream so prettily when I-”

Lance: “Vampire hearing, asshole. Save it for when you’re alone, yeah?”

Orion grouched from behind us, and I broke a laugh even though there were still tears in my eyes.

Darcy: “I love seeing you surprised,”

Darcy commented, prodding his cheek. His gaze slid to her, a grin twisting his lips.

Lance: “I’d have thought you’d be used to it by now, considering since we met, you’ve upended my life at every turn.”

Darius: “Well it wasn’t much of a life to upend, to be fair. With your Sad Sally Saturdays, seeing how quickly you could find the bottom of a bourbon bottle.”

Lance: “At least I didn’t go on lone motorcycle drives at sunset, listening to dramatic classical music,”

Geraldine: “The Queens have come to interrogate the prisoners,”

Geraldine announced, and I wondered if she planned on announcing everything we did from now on. If she decided to start telling the world every time I needed a shit, I was going to have to draw a line.

Irvine: “The king is no fool.”

Darius: “He’s no king either,”

Tory: “However did you manage to get so far ahead in your studies if all you ever do is repeat the same thoughts over and over again? I’m honestly surprised none of the other Heirs murdered you before now.”

I growled to let her know I wasn’t pleased about being ditched in favour of some dusty tome, and she flipped me off as casually as breathing.

Darius: “Those directions seem pretty vague. If I told you to meet me by the path near the river where the oak tree grows, then you’d have no fucking idea where to-”

She placed a hand over my mouth, and I growled at her. Roxy turned to look at me over her shoulder, her green eyes sparking with the kind of trouble that we both knew I’d be following her into headfirst and cursing her out for ever suggesting.

Tory: “Oh, my poor, sweet, linear-minded Dragon. Thank the stars you didn’t have to come get me from death or you’d have been a very old man before you ever figured it out.”

Tory: “The Ferryman,”

she replied simply, and I almost missed a step in my surprise over that.

Darius: “And why the fuck would you want to meet with him again?”

Tory: “I dunno. Maybe he’d like to hang out? It’s gotta be lonely paddling up and down the river of death all day. He’d probably like a visitor.”

Darius: “Didn’t you tell me you knocked him off of his raft into the river and the power of his fury almost ripped the soul from your chest as you escaped him?”

Tory: “Yeah. Good times.”

Seth: “We were just trying to figure out which one of us would survive the longest on the moon, and these assholes keep saying it would be Max, even though it would clearly be me.”

Darius: “Max has water magic. You’d need water and air on the moon. So Max wins.”

Seth: “I can make coconuts. Besides, when I was on the moon, I scouted the perfect crater for a moon base.”

Darius: “Oh, have you been to the moon?”

I asked as if surprised by this news, and Seth’s face dropped.

Seth: “You know full well that I have been to the moon. But if you’d like me to remind you of all the things that I did while-”

Darius: “I used to be quite impressed by the fact that you’d been to the moon. But then I went to death and back and the moon kinda lost its appeal.”

Seth: “The moon could never lose her appeal,”

Max: “You have to admit going to death is cooler than going to the moon,”

Max agreed, and Caleb snorted a laugh while Seth gaped at us in horror.

Seth: “Are you comparing the lowly bowels of the underworld where every Fae and their pet lizard will one day end up anyway to the great and bulbous form of her majesty the moon? When I was on the moon, I saw all kinds of things, like-”

Darius: “I saw all kinds of things in death too,”

I replied, holding Seth’s gaze for several seconds before purposefully looking at Caleb, who stilled under my scrutiny.

Caleb: “Like what?”

he asked, the amusement slipping from his tone.

Darius: “Oh, you’d be surprised at the depravity I witnessed. Not to mention the bare-faced lies some people tell their closest friends. Honestly, I thought I knew the people I love best in this world, but there are some secrets hiding among us which would shock the entire kingdom if they came to light.”

Seth: “I don’t know what you mean,”

Seth said, his voice higher than usual. I just shrugged, turning my focus back to the Vegas as they worked and ignoring the pointed looks which were passing between two of my best friends.

Darius: “That night, another couple came in here and fucked in your bed.”

Tory: “What?”

she hissed, steadying herself on her feet and turning to look at the room which was still in a state of disarray.

Tory: “Who?”

She stalked towards the bed angrily, gasping as she picked up a huge, glittering, Dragon cock dildo between two fingers and brandished it at me.

Tory: “Who would do this?”

she snarled, tossing it away from her like it was contaminated.

Darius: “Seth and Caleb,”

I told her, watching the way her eyes widened at the news before a bark of laughter escaped her.

Tory: "Those assholes. I knew Seth was into him, but I never realised Caleb liked him back.”

Darius: “Apparently he likes him a whole hell of a lot,”

I replied tersely, the memory of being trapped in this room in ghost form while the two of them fucked each other senseless was pretty hard to scrub from my skull.

Tory: “How do you know? Did you watch them? Was it hot?”

Darius: “No, it wasn’t fucking hot, Roxy. It was two of my best friends going at it in my wife’s bed. It was the furthest thing from hot.”

Tory: “Hmm,”

she said skeptically, taking hold of the edge of her blanket and tossing it back to reveal a bottle of lube and a butt plug.

Tory: “Shit. They really went for it, didn’t they?”

Darius: "You know what that means, don’t you?”

Tory: “Umm…that they want some privacy from the interference of assholes and probably didn’t think any ghosts would be perving on them while they hooked up?”

Darius: “I wasn’t perving on them. And your mom and dad were here too.”

Tory: “What?”

she blanched, dropping the edge of the blanket and moving away from the bed.

Tory: “Why do ghosts perv on the sex lives of the living?”

Darius: “They don’t. It’s a long story. The point of which is that my asshole friends came here and had sex in my wife’s bed and have decided to keep their little affair secret from all of us. I ended up stuck here watching far more of it than I ever wanted to know about, let alone see, and I plan on getting revenge. So I’m going to let them keep their little secret. And you’re going to help me fuck with them.”

Tory: “Oh, I like this,”

she said, her eyes glimmering at that idea like I’d known they would.

Darius: “Yeah you do.”

Caleb: “How long will this take?”

Caleb asked as the seconds dragged into minutes, and a muffled thump echoed from somewhere inside the compound.

Tory: “Not as long as getting fucked by a Werewolf,”

Caleb: “What?”

he asked, his head snapping around to look at her and I smirked.

Darius: “Longer than getting fucked by a Vampire though I’d say,”

I added thoughtfully.

Darius: “You know, because of the speed thing.”

I felt his eyes on me but I innocently looked up at the cloud-covered sky like I was hunting for a star among the darkness.

Caleb: “That’s not a thing,”

Tory: “So you think the Werewolf would finish first?”

Roxy asked curiously, her head still inside the box, a faint glow from her Faelight illuminating one side of her straight face. She was damn good at this.

Caleb: “He…what…I dunno. How would I know that?”

Caleb asked, glancing at me again, and I shrugged.

Orion maneuvered me under one arm and Tory stepped closer with a scowl.

Tory: “This is the part where I pretend to be your man-bag, isn’t it?”

Lance: “Come on. Get under my arm like a good little purse.”

Darius jumped off his back, clapping him on the shoulder.

Darius: “Good boy. I’ll give you a sugar lump later.”

Lance: “And I’ll shove it up your ass,”

Darius: “Why must you be so reckless?”

he sighed, but a smile touched the corner of his lips.

Darcy: “I guess it’s the Savage King’s blood in me,”

Darius: “I don’t know. After meeting your mother, I’d say she gives you both the reckless streak,”

Captain: “Don’t make a single move, Princess.”

Darcy: “Queen, actually,”

Darcy: “Where’s Darius?”

Tory: “There’s a huge gold nugget back there. He’s trying to carry it,”

Tory said in amusement.

The sound of Darius grunting and huffing came from beyond the door and he stepped through it, trying to pull a gigantic golden nugget after him, but there was no way it was going to squeeze through the doorway. Tory took his hand, forcing him to look at her.

Tory: “That isn’t going to fit through, Darius. You need to leave it.”

Lance: “She’s right, man. You’ve gotta let it go.”

Darius looked between them in anger like he was trying to find a way to refute their logic.

Darius: “But it’s mine.”

Tory: “It can be yours. But it has to stay here.”

Tory tiptoed up to kiss him and he gripped her waist, distracted from the gold by the girl who was far more precious to him than it.

Bertie: “We call it the Void. A place under the mountain, buried so deep that no sunlight has ever seen the inside of it. Rathmaron came from there one day, many years back now. He’s a monster of the earth, a creature long thought extinct that creeps between the crevices of the under land. We had to seal it off after he started feasting on the officers.”

He shuddered.

Bertie: “Rathmaron’s venom paralyses you, but you stay awake through it all.”

He whimpered.

Bertie: “The only thing you can do is scream, and oh how they screamed. For days, it went on. We tried to rescue them but more were taken. So the captain ordered us to seal it off while the beast was…feeding.”

Lance: “Well Rathmaron sounds like a fucking delight.”

Orion groaned and sat up, his right arm dragging along the couch as he did so.

Lance: “I feel like a zombie. Rahhh.”

He pushed to his feet, his left foot scraping along the floor as he tried to get control of it, and he startled chuckling manically.

Darcy: “You good?”

I asked, bracing him as he stepped forward and nearly crashed into the fridge.

Lance: “Never better, bootiful – bewtiful – bluetiful,”

he laughed, staggering sideways and crashing into Darius.

Tory: “Awoooo.”

Tory raised her hands in the air, cupping Darius’s cheeks.

Tory: “Look, it’s a full moon.”

Darius: “What’s the matter with them?”

Darius demanded, holding Tory tighter and hounding after Bertie.

Bertie: “Well, um, the antivenom has a few side effects.”

Bertie gave him a guilty look.

Bertie: “Nothing that will last more than a few minutes.”

Darius: “You’d better be right about that,”

Darius snapped, and Bertie flinched.

Tory: “The moon is shouting.”

Tory looked over at me then gasped.

Tory: “Hey – it’s me! Hi, me!”

She waved and I waved back with a snort of laughter.

Lance: “That’s a whole lot of cows,”

Orion murmured as he took in the rows of agents, stumbling into me and I caught his arm.

Lance: “I’ve got a lot of milking to do. It’s gonna take me all night.”

Darius: “That’s the High Commander of the FIB,”

Darius said in disbelief.

Lance: “She’ll take quite some milking,”

Caleb: “Alright, I’m seeing someone. But we’re keeping it secret.”

Darius: “Is she embarrassed to be with you?”

Darius taunted, lazing back in his throne-like chair. It was getting late and everyone but the core group had gone to bed, leaving us all hanging out in The Orb celebrating our victory at the FIB impound. Me and the fam. The pack of dreams. Man, this was peace if ever I knew it.

The FIB agents who had turned on Lionel had all come to stay on Rump Island, bolstering the ranks of our army ever so nicely, and if that wasn’t worth a few beers, I didn’t know what was.

Max: “Maybe it’s the other way around,”

Max sniggered.

Max: “Is she a Walrus shifter who keeps her teeth out in Fae form?”

Caleb: “Fuck off,”

Darcy. Of course it was Darcy. She knew me now, almost as deeply as the Heirs knew me, and in some ways she knew me more. Because she had known the cruelty in me, the vicious streak that painted my heart black. How far we’d come from being enemies, walking these paths, me stalking her like prey and her despising me with all the ire she had to give. Now, I couldn’t imagine my life without her, a friend I treasured to the moon and back.

Darcy: “Phoen?”

Seth: “Yeah, as in Phoen Dream. I can’t exactly call you babe anymore. Feels weird.”

She smiled.

Darcy: “Well, I’m not calling you Wolfman. And you’d better not be planning on calling Tory ‘Bitchy’.”

Seth: “Why? I think she’d like it.”

His head cocked to one side and a smile played around his lips.

Caleb: “Down on your knees for me already? What a good pup.”

Doubts were kicking in, and I was one negative thought away from cancelling this whole idea and never revisiting it again. But then the moon winked at me in the sky, and I knew she had my back. She was in her waxing gibbous phase tonight, almost full but not quite, teasing the world with that little shadowy part she kept hidden. It was like she’d dressed up for the occasion, wearing a dress with a slit up the leg, showing just enough skin but not giving away the whole bakery with the muffin. You dirty little gibbous.

Seth: “Sorry, babe. You understand though, right? I mean, have you seen him? He was made for me. At least, I think so. It’s all kinda fucked. But I’m going to fix that. And you’re gonna make sure it all goes smoothly tonight, yeah?”

The moon glittered a little, amused by me and I grinned, swatting a hand at her.

Seth: “It was too damn easy to fall in love with you when I already loved everything about you, Cal,”

Caleb: “Show me,”

I ignored his bossy tone, pushing up onto my elbows and giving him a cool stare.

Seth: “If you want something, come and get it, Cal. Don’t think you can use that asshole tone on me and get what you want.”

Seth: “You talk big for someone whose pretty lips are all red from taking my cock.”

He released my shaft and reached around to slap my ass hard enough to leave a print there and make me growl.

Caleb: “I could say the same thing about your pretty ass.”

The crinkle of a wrapper drew my attention and I looked to Seth in surprise, finding him awake and pushing a square of chocolate into his mouth. He gave me a grin as I caught him, tossing the empty packet aside, and I placed down my Atlas.

Seth: “Tory left that out for me yesterday. In the bottom of her sock drawer under three concealment spells and a decoy bar which she’d laced with laxatives – I ate that too but I’m fine now. This one was the one she meant for me to have.”

Darius: “How were the berries, Seth? Did you find a lot of them?”

Seth: “Erm…yes. Yes, I did,”

Seth confirmed, sticking with his ridiculous lie.

Darius: “I wanna learn,”

Seth: “Learn what?”

Darius: “I wanna learn from the big, bad Wolf. Can you give me a really thorough lesson, like you did for Cal?”

I fell utterly still, my gaze narrowing on Darius while I maintained an entirely expressionless face, but those words…those fucking words were a near echo of what Seth had said to me the night we’d had sex for the first time.

Seth: “A lesson in…”

Seth exchanged a panicked look with me, but Darius finished the sentence for him.

Darius: “Hunting for berries like you two have been for the last two hours. You must have found some really good ones with all that time,”

Seth: “Oh…yeah. Any time, man. I didn’t know you liked berries so much,”

Seth said, giving me a relieved look, but I wasn’t buying it. I narrowed my eyes at Darius as he picked up his mug of coffee and he gave me a taunting grin over the rim of it before taking a long sip.

Darcy: “It’s going to be dangerous,”

Darcy said with a glint of exhilaration in her eyes.

Seth: “There might be monsters,”

Seth added with equal fervour.

Geraldine: “Off to the wandering wilds we go,”

Geraldine announced ominously. She started to coil the map up, and I got to my feet.

Caleb: “We’re all going?”

I confirmed, glancing between the others.

Tory: “It’s a cursed city where all who enter are known to die,”

Tory said with a shrug.

Tory: “Of course we’re all going.”

Seth: “Don’t look so sad, moon friend. You can be rough with me sometimes, it’s okay. I’m irresistible, so I know how hard it must be for you to try and hold back all the time,”

Seth said to a scowling Orion, wrapping an arm around his shoulders and guiding him through the gates next.

Darius: “Yeah, Caleb finds it almost impossible to resist Seth too,”

Darius agreed as he followed them with Darcy right beside him.

Darius: “I’ve seen him pouncing on him and pinning him down, doing anything he can think of to get his mouth all over-”

His words fell away as they disappeared through the gate and I frowned slightly, exchanging a look with Tory.

Caleb: “Why did he say it like that?”

Tory: “Like what?”

she asked innocently. Too innocently. Tory didn’t do innocent.

Caleb: “Like me biting Seth is…”

I trailed off, the truth of what it was sticking my tongue to the roof of my mouth as I realised I was probably only going to dig myself a hole by saying anything more on this. Xavier, Tyler, Sofia, and Washer slipped through the doors ahead, leaving us to bring up the rear.

Tory: “Like it’s kinda hot when you pin him to a tree and drag your mouth all over his body?”

Seth: “What ya doing?”

Lance: “Concentrating,”

Seth: “On what?”

Lance: “Those.”

I jerked my chin at the symbols and he looked that way too, falling quiet. But stars forbid the Werewolf could stay quiet longer than a minute.

Seth: “What do they mean?”

Lance: “Maybe they mean you’re breathing in my personal space, Capella.”

Seth: “Oh, don’t Capella me. I’m not your student anymore. We’ve had a lot of quality time together since then, moon friend.”

I ground my teeth, ignoring him. Don’t kill the Wolf. Blue has a fondness for it. A misplaced fondness, but still.

Seth: “At least our banter will keep us amused while we’re trapped together.”

Lance: “It’s not banter,”

I said, shaking my head.

Seth: Sure it is. That’s what we do. We have this back and forth. You pretend you hate me, and then I’m all adorable and you end up cracking a little smile, then we continue about our day. It’s what moon friends do.”

Seth: “Look, bro. I get it. Me and the other Heirs were assholes. But we were under so much pressure, you have no idea. And me and Darcy? We resolved that shit. We became friends – hell, better friends than I ever could have imagined being. And when you were in prison, I was there for her. Every day. I showed up, because she needed me and she was hurting, and I knew part of me was repenting for all the fucked up shit I did. But I just plain cared about her too. She reminded me of who I was without all the layers of politics and ruthless power claiming I’d been molded for. And honestly, I’ve never felt more like myself since I let all that shit go. I know Darcy means the world to you because she pulled you from the dark, but she pulled me out too.”

Seth: “What am I gonna have to do to make you move past it? Whatever it is, I’ll do it. Because you and me, we’re meant to be moon friends. I feel it. Right here.”

He jabbed a thumb against his chest.

Seth: “And that’s the spot I feel all my moon inklings.”

Lance: “Maybe it needs the blood of an idiot. C’mere.”

Seth: “Fuck you,”

he laughed.

Seth: “Look, snuggling is going to save our asses. And to be honest, I’m feeling somewhat unstable right now. My Wolf needs are demanding I have cuddles and an emotionally bonding conversation.”

I shoved to my feet, regretting every footstep I took in his direction, but what choice did we have? I wasn’t going to die in here. And it wasn’t like me and him hadn’t…’snuggled’ before. By the stars.

Seth: “There you go. You can lay your head right there.”

I gave the very naked Wolf a deadpan stare.

Lance: “I’m not using your fucking boxers as a pillow.”

Seth: “You’re pretty fussy for a guy who’s about to freeze to death.”

Lance: “Why are you naked?”

I gritted out.

Seth: “Because we still have our Order gifts.”

He grinned big.

Lance: “That’s true,”

I said, my heart lifting. He could turn into a giant fluffy Wolf that couldn’t talk. It was perfect.

Seth: “Get yourself cosy and I’ll be your blanket. You can get naked too if you want, and then you can make a thicker bed with your clothes.”

Lance: “No, Seth, I will not be getting naked.”

Seth: “Suit yourself. But don’t forget that I’m your hero. And this will be the second time I saved your life.”

Lance: “Debatable.”

Seth: “Nah. Fact.”

Lance: “Shift already, will you?”

Darius: “Not much of a challenge,”

Darius commented as he withdrew his axe from the head of another monstrous rat.

Darcy: “Shh, the city of doom is probably listening and it’ll up its game,”

He smirked.

Darius: “Scared, little shrew?”

Darcy: “For myself? Nope. I just don’t want Tory to have to claw her way into death again to get you out.”

I gave him a teasing grin.

Darcy: “I’ve got to protect my big brother-in-law for her sake.”

He blew out a breath, his lips lifting at the corner.

Darius: “Well, your father’s an asshole.”

Darcy: “He is?”

I asked, disappointment falling over me. Darius glanced up and down the street before leaning in close to speak to me in a low voice.

Darius: “The best kind of asshole.”

The wind stirred around us, and Darius raised his brows.

Darius: “If you heard that, Hail. You misheard it.”

Darius: “Are you planning on walking right through the door that creepily opened just for us?”

Darcy: “It’s either that or continue circling these streets aimlessly. I think we have to do what the city wants us to do.”

I tried to step forward again, but his grip only tightened.

Darius: “Gwen.”

Darcy: “Darius.”

I arched a brow. He sighed, releasing me.

Darcy: “Death’s made you into a cautious old man,”

I jibed, striding toward the door with my sword raised and the tingle of Phoenix fire in my palms.

Darius: “Bullshit,”

he hissed, coming up right behind me.

Darius: “I just don’t want you getting your head eaten by a monster rat because you have slower reflexes than me.”

I threw my elbow back into his gut and he barked a laugh.

Darcy: “What were you saying before your super-fast reflexes didn’t stop me from elbowing you?”

Darcy: “If you keep calling me Gwen, I’ll stab you in the ass with my sword.”

Darius: “Go through the creepy door, she said,”

Darius taunted.

Darius: “Nothing bad will happen, she said.”

Darcy: “I never said nothing bad would happen. I said we need to do what the doomed city wants us to do.”

Darius: “Same difference,”

Lance: “Morning, beautiful.”

I turned, finding Lance Orion walking this way wearing his letterman Pitball jacket over his school uniform. For a moment, I thought his dark eyes were pinned on me, but he swept on by and grabbed Seth Capella, sinking his tongue between his lips. The two of them kissed like no one was watching and I darted past them, leaving them to that overt display, moving to sit beside Tory and Diego.

Caleb: “By the stars…”

Caleb appeared, his eyes following Washer before he dropped onto the couch.

Caleb: “If I wasn’t a taken man, and one taste of Washer wouldn’t put me in Darkmore…I’d shoot my shot with that professor.”

Seth: “I can’t believe you’re dating her though. Come on, bro, she’s our enemy.”

Caleb: “Which makes it even hotter,”

Caleb said, man-spreading in his chair. I cursed as Geraldine noticed him, running over at such speed that she held her breasts to stop them bouncing. She landed on his lap with a noise like a yowling alley cat, then sank her tongue between his lips. Caleb groaned, pulling her closer and when they parted, she caressed his cheek and whispered,

Geraldine: “My fancy fang-dangler…bite me like a wild grouse in a windy meadow.”

The vision dissolved just like that and we were back in the sealed room, staring at each other in disgust.

Darius: “What the fuck?”

he blurted, wiping his mouth at the mere idea of it being so close to mine.

Darcy: “Ew, ew, ew.”

I backed away further, my skin prickling uncomfortably.

Darcy: “That was fucked up. Why does the creepy city want to make us kiss?”

Darius: “Fuck that hat kid. He had his hands all over my wife.”

Darcy: “Yeah? Well Lance made out with Seth.”

I shuddered. Darius roared a laugh.

Darius: “That’s kinda funny.”

Geraldine: “Take heart, for we fight on the side of what is just and true.”

The little scoff he gave was clearly a wordless agreement to my assessment, nothing could thwart us in this quest. I knew it in my bones.

Max: “No. You’re not drinking that potion, Gerry. For all we know, it could put some bond on you and Orion that makes you crave his cock.”

Lance: “He could have just transported us to wherever he wanted us to go, but no. We must endure the dramatics instead,”

Darcy: “You love the dramatics.”

I nudged him playfully, then started down the hillside.

Lance: “I don’t have a diary, Blue,”

he drawled, keeping pace with me.

Darcy: “Your journal then.”

Lance: “I take notes of any important information we gather. I don’t write entries about my day, bitching about my misfortunes and mindlessly writing my crush’s initials in a heart.”

I snorted a laugh.

Darcy: “Not even a little heart just for me?”

Lance: “Alright, just for you,”

he said gruffly, and my smile grew.

Arnold: “Is this the destructive one? The one who murdered the sacred guardians in the lake then unleashed an ancient race of demons in the belly of our divine library?”

Darcy: “Ah, so you’ve met my sister. Sounds like she made a great impression.

Lance: “Watch your mouth or I’ll make use of it as punishment.”

Her eyes brightened at my tone, her nails biting into my chest.

Darcy: “Make use of it? And what would you have me do in penance?”

Lance: “You know exactly what I want from you,”

Darcy: “The book’s gone,”

she said with a frown, and I slid a hand under her, pulling it out from beneath her bare ass.

Darcy: “Oh, there it is.”

She bit her lip guiltily.

Lance: “Arnold won’t be pleased,”

Darcy: “He’ll never know,”

Arnold: “He will know,”

Arnold called through the door.

Arnold: “Because you did not have the courtesy to cast a silencing bubble.”

Darcy: “Oh shit, sorry Arnold,”

Darcy called, but her laughter did little to soften the blow.

Leon: “Oh, come on. Don’t just say no like a grumpy grandpa. This will give you dreamless sleep for two whole days. It’ll give you the rest you need to recover. And when you piss your pants or shit yourself, I swear to you, Gabe, I won’t just leave you all soiled in your chair.”

He walked over to me, patting my shoulder.

Leon: “I’ll make sure Dante changes you every hour, dude, like, no lie. I’ll have him scrubbing your crack ‘til it gleams if I have to, okay? I’ve got you. You won’t wake up with a crusty-”

Gabriel: “Your love knows no bounds. But no. I don’t want some fucking sleep potion and a diaper.”

Leon: "Maybe when you tell them, you could leave out some of the doom and focus on a few happy thoughts. Did the stars give you any of those?”

I shook my head.

Leon: “Not even one?”

Gabriel: “No.”

Leon: “Okay, well, right, cool. How about I do the talking then? I can put a positive spin on anything. We’re all gonna die? Well let’s get the party started in the afterlife, huh?”

He tried to smile, but I could see the terror in his eyes as he leaned closer to whisper to me.

Leon: “Not to pressure you or anything, but I like totally need to reach legendary status before I go out, bro. I know, I know. I’m pretty legendary already, but I’ve got plans, Gabe. Big plans. And also…I really like being alive along with everyone I love being alive. So could you find a way to save us all? But like I said, no pressure.”

He clapped me on the shoulder then pulled me to my feet.

Gabriel: “No pressure, hm?”

I said with a frown.

Leon: “Maybe a teeny tiny bit of pressure,”

he said, holding his finger and thumb close together.

Leon: “You’re really not wasting any minutes, are you?”

Leon said, adjusting my aluminum hat again.

Leon: “Just keep this on and baste it with oil twice a day.”

Gabriel: “No.”

Leon: “I think you’ll find it helps.”

Gabriel: “I think you’ll find it in the trash can shortly,”

I said, taking a pinch of stardust and handing him the pouch.

Leon: “You’re as grouchy as a snake in a top hat today,”

Geraldine: “Simmer down. I am quite aware it is hotter than an otter’s patchouli in here now that the fine specimen of our becoming Seer has entered our vicinity, but we must wrangle our Petunias and Long Shermans, so that we might focus on the task at hand.”

Max: “Gerry,”

Geraldine: “What-ho, dear fellow? I am but a Fae who cannot help the wandering of her waters. But do not worry, my salacious salmon, I only desire your butter upon my bagel.”

Geraldine: “I know well the ways of your Order and since deciding to tangle in your nets on a more permanent basis, I have educated myself further still. I am well aware that on occasion you will need to leave our bed during the night and head out to enrapture another with your wily ways. Fear not, I can cope with a few hours alone in bed. What I cannot cope with is the flip flopping of you resisting it.”

I tipped my head back, allowing the moonlight to spill over me in the most flattering way, tensing my muscles just a little to show them off and give the summoned Fae a good show when they arrived.

Darius: “Stop posing, asshole, it’s me.”

I turned at the sound of Darius’s voice, sighing as he disparaged a perfectly impressive Siren Spelling and folding my arms in protest to his flippant tone.

Max: “You’re supposed to be all awed and impressed, staring at my mouth and desperate for this kiss,”

I told him, scowling in irritation.

Darius: “Yeah, well maybe I was the first few times, but it kinda loses its shine on round four.”

I huffed out a breath, then hopped down from my rock, but I didn’t go any further because he was the one who had been Song Spelled so he should come to me.

Max: “If I’d known it was you, I wouldn’t have put it off for the last few days,”

Darius: “No, you’d have been up on that rock since the crack of dawn, desperate for night to fall so you could lure me to your special boulder,”

he taunted, beckoning me to him, but I just narrowed my eyes and held my ground.

Max: “I’ve lured you here, asshole. Come to me or spend the night stuck in this circle of magic. That’s how it works,”

I said. Darius sighed like this was all some hassle to his precious time, then stalked the remaining distance to me. He didn’t waste time, grabbing hold of my cheeks and stamping his mouth to mine in a firm demand for the magic to be sated and this interaction to be over. His no-nonsense approach beat Seth’s though. The last time I’d summoned him to me, he’d brought candles to try and set the mood.

Elise: “If he is in the sky, who has he left my son with?”

my wife snarled, and I leaned into The Sight for that answer, a frown drawing my brow low.

Gabriel: “Stars no,”

Elise: “Who is he with Gabriel?”

she demanded, a fiery blaze in her eyes.

Gabriel: “This is too terrible a fate,”

I breathed, fear ripping through me as I saw so many deaths coming for my son that it cleaved my heart apart. No, not him. Why is my son with him?

Leon: “Gabe,”

Leon growled, slinging an arm around my shoulders and damn near choking me.

Leon: “Who the hell is he with?”

I stepped closer to my wife, wiping a line of ash from her cheek, knowing she was about to lose her shit and I was damn well ready to lose it with her.

Gabriel: “We need to go now. Seth motherfucking Capella has him.”

Darius: “What are you?”

I growled, my heart pounding with distrust, my mind whirling with unease.

Tharix: “Funny. I was hoping you might tell me.”

Seth: “This is your fault, you know. You’re all small and weak and fragile. Just a squishy little lump with no magic. If you’d grown up a bit quicker, we wouldn’t be in this mess.”

The boy cocked his head at me, his dark, curly hair all blown about by the storm that Dante had cooked up before we’d made it down here.

Luca: “Wolfy,”

he said, pointing at me.

Seth: “Yeah, yeah. You don’t get a free pass just because you’re tiny and cute. I should be out there fighting. I’m a warrior.”

I pounded my fist against my chest and the little guy mimicked me.

Luca: “Wolfy,”

Seth: “Fuck,”

Luca: “Fuck,”

Luca echoed.

Seth: “Exactly. Okay, little dude. We’re gonna go on an adventure.”

Luca: “Venture!”

Seth: “Uh huh. We’re going out into the wilderness where some big bad Dragons are waiting for us. If we see one, we have to hide and be really, really quiet. Can you do that?”

Luca: “Sss,”

he hissed, pressing a finger to his mouth then chewing on it.

Seth: “I’m gonna take that as a hell yes,”

Darcy: “I love you, Tor.”

Darcy squeezed my fingers between hers briefly.

Tory: “Love you more,”

I replied, gripping her back as I shifted again, my wings returning so we could take to the sky together. Steam hissed from my body as the lake water evaporated under the heat of my flames.

Tory: “Now let’s go kill that bitch.”

Gabriel: “Close call, Dante. Taken out by your own kill, what would the Oscura Wolves think of that?”

Then I turned to Luca on the ground, lifting him into my arms and wiping the blood from his cheek.

Luca: “You awoo,”

he said excitedly, clapping his little hands.

Seth: “I did,”

I said with a smirk, the rain pelting down on us and washing away the tinge of blood on our skin, my long hair a mess of wet strands.

Seth: “Now give me your best awoo while I strap you back in place.”

Luca started howling like a newly Emerged Wolf pup and I strapped him onto my chest again with vines, checking his helmet was secure before heading off through the trees.

Orion nodded, taking Luca wordlessly and the kid smiled up at him.

Luca: “Fangs, Ori! Fangs!”

Orion bared his fangs at Luca and he cheered in his arms, making me hope he wasn’t scarred for life by all the blood and death he’d just witnessed.

Orion petted my shoulder for a second and I glanced at him.

Lance: “You did good, mutt,”

he said quietly, and I swear he had only said it because I wasn’t able to reply. But I could damn well lick his face. I lunged for the lick, but he darted away with a burst of speed, tossing a knowing grin back at me before racing into battle.

Darius: “Well if it isn’t my dear, traitorous, murdering father,”

he purred, his words a promise of my bloodshed, and my hands trembled as I took him in, my eyes refusing to accept the truth of what I saw, my rage slow in the face of this fear.

Darius: “Did you miss me?”

Darius: “My wife, one of the True Queens, strode into death and stole me back from the hands of fate,”

Darius replied before the…thing Lionel had addressed could make any comment.

Darius: “She and her sister are more powerful than you can comprehend. They are capable of far more than you could even imagine. And they are coming for you.”

Darius: “Can’t leave you alone for five minutes without carnage breaking out,”

he grumbled against my mouth.

Tory: “Can’t let you out of my sight without knowing you’ll go creating carnage of your own,”

Gabriel: “Doom!”

Gabriel cried suddenly, making us all flinch in surprise.

Gabriel: “Fire, bloodshed, carnage. Xavier lying in a pool of blood, Caleb’s head on a spike and-”

He cut himself off sharply, gripping the edge of the table and scrunching his eyes shut as he fought against the vision.

Seth: “We have to go now and strike at Lionel before any of that happens,”

Seth snarled, leaping up from his chair. Washer got to his feet too.

Washer: “I shall lead a battalion out at once. I shall sing a song of dread so potent that Lionel will quiver in his teeny-”

Gabriel: “Forget it,”

Gabriel snapped, taking hold of Seth’s arm and yanking him back down into his chair.

Gabriel: “Fate shifted again, that won’t come to pass.”

My lips parted on some response to that, and I glanced across the table to Caleb who touched two fingers to his neck as though checking it was still very much intact and his head definitely wasn’t going to end up on a spike any time soon.

Geraldine: “Come now, did Urgut the Urgent give up when he foresaw his death in the face of a lake?”

Xavier: “I think that story ends with him drowning despite his refusal to accept that fate,”

Xavier replied, but Geraldine ignored him.

Geraldine: “Did King Buront pale in the face of the army of Inor?”

Darius: “That guy definitely died – didn’t he get his head cut off in battle?”

Darcy: “So polite these days. There was a time when if you wanted to speak to me, you’d throw me over your shoulder and march me off to your office.”

Lance: “You’d be a fool to think those days are gone.”

Lance: “I still think-”

Darcy: “That you have double standards? Forgiveness for me, but none for him?”

I arched my eyebrows and Orion’s lips pressed into a hard line.

Lance: “My standards have always taken exception when it comes to you. You get a free pass for being you, the rest of the world does not. But if you think that means I won’t still bend you over my knee and remind you of what an asshole I can be, then go ahead and challenge me to prove it.”

Lance: “Come straight to my office when you return.”

Darcy: “Did I just get detention?”

I teased and his gaze glimmered wickedly.

Lance: “Sometimes I think you miss me being your professor.”

Darcy: “You’ll always be my professor.”

I touched my lips to his again, and he released me, letting me step back.

Darcy: “Ready?”

Tory: “Yeah, you just need to return your pony to the stable.”

Tory stepped forward to pet Orion’s arm and he gave her a dry look.

Lance: “Well since I’m just a pack horse, I guess I can’t give you the gift I have in my pocket. Ponies wouldn’t do something like that.”

Tory: “Come on, let’s go see the Oracles. They might have seen something about this war that no one else has, and maybe they hold some answers about the Guild Stones.”

Darcy: “You mean the three women you had an orgy with? Can’t wait.”

Tory: “It wasn’t an orgy. I just had mind sex with Darius while they watched and sort of…felt it through me.”

Darcy: “Oh right, sorry, I thought it was something really weird, but now I know they just had sex through you, I completely understand,”

They glanced up as if feeling my eyes on them, and I offered them a grin before flashing a peace sign at Seth and winking.

Seth’s lips popped open and Caleb elbowed him in the side, hissing something in his ear which I couldn’t hear but it made me chuckle like an asshole all the same.

I strode through the door without so much as a word to them, enjoying the way they scrambled to react every time I taunted them over their secret affair.

Tory: “Did you carry a picnic hamper all the way across campus for me like Little Red Riding Hood?”

she laughed while I balanced the thing on the chair beside the tub and opened it up. I snorted.

Darius: “Yeah, baby, I did. And what big eyes you’ve got, grandmama.”

She laughed again, batting her lashes at me.

Tory: “All the better to see your bullshit with, my dear.”

I grinned, taking the steaming plate of nachos from the hamper and placing them on a floating tray of ice I cast for the purpose. She reached for them, but I batted her hand aside and lifted one to her mouth myself.

Darius: “And what big lips you have,”

I added while she let me feed her with an amused expression that somehow bordered on disdain. But she was my queen as she so enjoyed pointing out, so I was going to play the obedient subject. Predictably she moaned while she chewed, licking those fantasy-inducing lips of hers before replying.

Tory: “All the better to kiss you with, my dear.”

Tory: “So tell me,”

she said, her eyes brightening as something occurred to her.

Tory: “How did you enjoy making out with Max?”

I snorted.

Darius: “That was the fourth time I’ve been Siren Spelled by him. It wasn’t all that thrilling aside from the star yanking him away during it.”

Tory: “How much tongue did he use?”

she pushed as she finished the last of her nachos and I tossed the plate back into the hamper.

Darius: “Sorry to disappoint you, baby, there was no tongue.”

Her eyes narrowed.

Tory: “Oh, come on, don’t lie to me. I’ve been trapped in his lust web before, I know how it goes.”

Darius: “Lust web? Nah, Roxy there’s no lust in his magic. If you felt that then it was all between you and him.”

She pursed her lips irritably.

Tory: “So you’re saying that the full on make out I had with him was entirely unnecessary to the magic?”

Jealousy flared through me at the thought of that despite it being way before the two of us and knowing that there was definitely nothing between them now.

Darius: “It requires a kiss. Closed mouth works just fine. Maybe you made out with him because of your sex addiction-”

Tory: “Oh fuck you,”

she laughed loudly, splashing me aggressively with the water and making sure that any part of me which hadn’t been wet before definitely was now.

Tory: “I love you, Darius Vega,”

Roxy said, her eyes falling closed as she settled herself against my chest where the pounding of my heart thumped against her ear.

Darius: “I loved you first,”

I told her, tightening my arm around her and letting my eyes shut too.

Xavier: “You don’t have earth, you can’t cast the shields,”

Lance: “Fuck the shields. Hit me here.”

He tapped his jaw.

Xavier: “What?”

I balked.

Darcy: “I’ll have a go,”

Darcy offered with a hopeful grin, and Orion shot her a heated look.

Lance: “Get back in line, Miss Vega. You only broke one shield, break the other one before your time is up or I’ll make sure you regret it,”

he warned, then turned to me again.

Xavier: “I need some advice,”

I said, clearing my throat. It wasn’t like going to my big brother about this was my preferred course of action, but I didn’t want the Spares knowing my issues. It was too damn embarrassing.

Darius: “On?”

Xavier: “Well,”

I glanced away then back to him, heat coursing up my neck.

Xavier: “It’s a sex thing.”

His expression skewed a little.

Darius: “Is it those gemstones on your dick? Are they chafing?”

Xavier: “No,”

Darius: “Is it an ass issue? Have you got that ass infection again?”

Xavier: “No! I was eight when I had that.”

Darius: “Yeah, but things can, you know, repeat.”

Xavier: “It’s not an ass infection,”

I snarled, remembering the mortifying moment when my big brother had taken me to a healer and just as I’d bent over to show them the problem, a whole host of trainee healers had walked in to observe my asshole too.

Darius: “You didn’t trap your dick in a fridge drawer again, did you? Because your naked midnight feasting is a hazard, Xavier.”

Xavier: “Could you please stop listing the most mortifying moments of my life and listen to what I have to say?”

I demanded and Darius chuckled, clearly fucking with me.

Darius: “Mom died for us. And she’d fucking do it all over again because that’s what we do for family. I’d do it for you, and I damn well know you’d do it for me. That’s the way of war. It hurts, and it’s unjust, and those who live or die is all down to the flip of a coin. But it’s not your responsibility to keep everyone here. Sometimes shit happens that none of us can control, and it’s not fair, but that’s life, Xavier. Hell, I know how quick it can be lost. Don’t waste the time you have here feeling bad for the time you’re given. No one deserves free air in their lungs like you do.”

Darius: “I’d be nothing without you. My childhood only held any happiness because you were in it. Without you, I never would have had something to fight for. I would have become Father’s puppet long before I ever considered breaking away from him. You were the reason I resisted him. You, Xavier. Because I love you. You’re my fucking brother, there isn’t a universe I’d want to exist in without you.”

Lance: “Right, well. Good luck, or whatever the fuck,”

Max: “That rhymed,”

Man: “All hail the True Queens!”

Max: “Damn straight. All hail those fiery fucking hellions.”

Tory: “Yeah, about the whole ‘sticking together’ part of the plan – we kinda bullshitted you on that. Geraldine helped us map out a route through the mountains to get to Lionel’s evil lair and I’m sorry dude, but your scaly Dragon ass won’t fit.”

Darius: “Roxy, if you try to go down there alone, I’ll throw you over my shoulder and tie your ass up to stop you. That’s not just dangerous; it’s fucking suicide and none of us can follow you into that crack of hell.”

Tory: “Oh baby,”

I purred, spreading my arms out wide either side of me as I gave him a sweet as pie smile and he broke into a run in a pointless attempt to stop me.

Tory: “Don’t threaten me with a good time.”

Geraldine: “That is a wager I will most certainly snaff, but what is on the line, oh golden Lion? Do you have the badgers to place something of true glitz at risk of being lost to a greater candidate?”

Geraldine asked, wiggling her brows. I looked to Gabe, not entirely sure what she’d just said.

Gabriel: “She accepts your bet,”

he translated.

Gabriel: “As do I. But what does the winner get?”

Leon: “Oh, hey buddy,”

I whispered, taking him into my hand.

Leon: “Are you a friendly little froggo?”

Gabriel: “Leon,”

Gabriel gasped, looking at the creature in horror.

Geraldine: “Holy hippopotamus, that’s a galad frog,”

Geraldine hissed.

Leon: “He’s ga-lad to see me,”

I said, tickling his head.

Gabriel: “That’s one of the most poisonous creatures in the northern hemisphere. Put. It. Down.”

Geraldine: “The poison will make you hallucinate like a hogwired hermit,”

Geraldine said, matter-of-fact.

Geraldine: “Then your brain will melt and drip right out of your nostrils like a melted candle.”

Geraldine’s face twisted, turning into a magpie that cawed at me. Caw, caw, caw, it went. Saying things only a bird would know how to reply to. But I was no bird, I was a beast, the king of the jungle.

Gabriel had turned into a banana swinging from a tree. A plump, fat, ripe banana. Good for the eating. But I had work to do before I could peel him out of that juicy skin and take a bite.

I tucked my new frog pal into my pocket and ran into battle, leaping out from behind the tree and round-housing a Nymph right in the face.

Shrieks went up from my Nymphish enemies, charging towards me, but the ground had turned into a dance floor, and the call of music carried through my head. I pranced along, spinning and pirouetting, sending flames bursting out from me in every direction. Screams joined my music, a symphony of violence turning to lyrics that sounded oh so beautiful.

Nymph 1: “I’m burning!”

Nymph 2: “Ahhhh!”

Nymph 3: “My eyes!”

I sang along with them, releasing a song I didn’t even know the words to, but the stars gifted them to my lips.

Leon: “Dieeee, dieeee, diee.”

Gabriel: “Leon!”

Gabe roared and I flopped onto my back, staring up at my giant banana friend, all yellow and dangly. The Christmas tree tried to hug him from behind, but Gabe twisted around and cut its head off with a black sword and it turned into tasty bubbles. I gasped in horror, shoving to my feet and grabbing hold of the banana.

Leon: “I’ll eat you for that. You’ve ruined Christmas. There’ll be no presents for baby Riblet now.”

I took him from my froget (my frog pocket) and held him up to his banana father. Riblet croaked and the banana tried to grab him with his big banana arms.

I felt judged. By him. By the stars. By Riblet. Fuck Riblet. That skeevy little turncoat.

Leon: “Did I win the bet at least?”

Gabriel: “No,”

he said with a frown.

Gabriel: “Geraldine won. You took down one Nymph and eight trees though, so…”

Leon: “Did you know I was gonna do that today? Did you see me fucking this up?”

Gabriel: “No, Leon. If I had, I would have stopped it. You are so very fucking hard to predict,”

he sighed. I smiled.

Leon: “That was how we kept you from seeing us when Lionel had you.”

Gabriel: “Yeah, it has its merits. But sometimes I worry I can’t protect you like I can the others.”

He squeezed my arm in concern and I smiled sadly at him.

Leon: “I love that you try, bro.”

Xavier: “She really is out of your league. I dunno how you managed to bag her.”

Darius: “Fuck you,”

I grunted.

Darius: “And it was brutal persistence until I ground her down,”

Xavier: “Oh that’s romantic. Kinda fucked up, too.”

Tharix: “Is that how it is? I was born of a rotten tree so I must be a rotten fruit? Is bad and good all there are? And can you really claim to be either?”

Tory: “Let’s hope we aren’t remembered as the queens who unleashed a plague of monsters onto their own kingdom,”

I panted, running as fast as I could for that sliver of darkness which stretched away into the canyon far beyond and our one chance of escape.

Darcy: “Better that than the queens who were killed by said plague of monsters,”

Man: “By order of the great King Lionel, I-”

Tory: “King Lionel can get fucked!”

Darcy: “Right up the ass with a pinecone,”

Darcy agreed and without needing to say a single word more, we both yanked on the magic tethering us to those vines.

Darcy: “Did you miss us?”

Darcy asked, her eyes glittering in the face of the chaos.

Tory: “We got side-tracked releasing monsters,”

Tory said like that was a totally normal thing for the two of them to have been doing.

Darcy: “And the star cleaned the shadows,”

Darcy said as I released them.

Darius: “Which means?”

Darius frowned.

Tory: “Fuck knows. But I need a coffee.”

Tory let her wings flutter away.