Chapter Twelve: Afraid of Truth

By the time evening fell, there were torches and lanterns all over the square of the small village. It was almost as bright as daylight. There were lights in the trees and on poles, and beside fire lights there were magical white lights glowing cheerfully, though they had a habit of moving around. There was a band tuning its instruments to one side. The banquet was about to begin.

Everly and Jack were making their last preparations. Everly – who had sewn her own dress – was dressed in a deep bluish-purple dress that hung completely off her shoulders. The billowy sleeves were light since it was summer, but the skirt was full and bustled. Jack wore the green dress that Captain Shakespeare had given her, but this time her younger companion had helped her twist her hair into an elegant bun at the back of her head, allowing some curls to escape. Everly chose to let her hair tumble down her shoulders and back in its silky brown waves, only pinning the front back from her face. Neither girl wore jewelry, but Abigail assured them that it was scarce in this village so they needn't worry.

As soon as the sun vanished over the horizon, the music began and so did the dancing. For a moment, everything was lost in a whirlwind of color as everyone found his or her places. Everly found herself swept into Alvar's arms into a dance that he and Shakespeare had taught her. It was exhilarating, and she couldn't help but laugh with delight.

When she saw how much her friend was enjoying herself, Jack couldn't help but smile. She stood with Abigail to help prepare food and drinks for the soon-to-be tired dancers. Between songs, one friendly-looking man asked her to dance, but she politely declined. She wasn't one to dance with strangers.

As the initial rush declined, Alvar and Everly returned to where Abigail and Jack were standing. The princess's cheeks were flushed from happiness, which made Jack grin.

"If I may," Alvar said, smiling, "I would like to ask the most beautiful woman in the village to dance with me."

Jack gulped, knowing he was talking about her. Which was why she was surprised when he turned to his mother Abigail, holding out his hand.

"You young rascal," the older woman said playfully, and took her son's hand. She went to dance with him while Everly rested and took over her position with Jack.

"So what's it like?" The woman in green asked her younger companion to take her mind off of her own thoughts.

"What?" Everly asked.

"Knowing that these are your people. Since you are a princess, you have some sort of authority over them."

The younger woman frowned. "I guess I didn't think about it that way. It's hard to go all your life as middle class and then suddenly be thrust into royalty. It hasn't really settled yet." She paused as a nightingale fluttered down towards her from a tree. When she held out her hand, the bird perched on it, chirping a friendly greeting. "Is it always like this?" Everly asked Jack suddenly. "With the animals? Do they treat all royalty this way?"

"It must be your star blood," her friend answered thoughtfully. "Because to my knowledge animals are attracted to Queen Yvaine, yet scurry off as soon as King Tristan shows his face." Then she carefully handed Everly some cherries from the stacks of food in front of her.

The nightingale, when Everly presented the food to it, cocked its head curiously, and chirped at her again.

"It's all right," she told it, "They're good to eat."

He considered her for a second, and then pushed his beak into one of the berries, eating heartily.

The women just shrugged at each other.

After another few minutes, the music slowed. Abigail rejoined Everly and Jack, and greeted the nightingale as if it was another person. Nervously, it chirped to Everly again and then fluttered back to wherever it had come from.

"Well I say," Abigail said, "Do you always entertain the local wildlife like that?"

Everly smiled. "Animals just come to me," she said truthfully.

Alvar wandered over presently. He went straight to Jack and leaned on his elbow towards her on the table. She started, just realizing that Abigail had cut his hair short. It was much neater.

"Dearest Jack," he said, grinning, "There are rumors about the dance floor that you can't dance."

Forgetting herself, Jack retorted, "Of course I can dance!"

The warrior shook his head. "You've refused an invitation to dance. The only possible reason to do that here is because one cannot dance."

Jack thought back to the friendly man who had invited her to dance earlier and grimaced. This must have been why no one else had asked her. "I can dance," she said again.

"Of course you can," Alvar said nonchalantly, with a now bored expression on his face. Then he held out his hand. "But you'll have to prove it."

The woman blushed furiously, realizing what he'd led her to. Still, she couldn't back down now. That would be letting him win.

"All right, come on," she said, and took his hand and walked briskly to the center of the dance floor, nearly dragging him behind her, to his amusement.

And just because it was Jack's luck, the next song was a slow four-beat that called for couples to step together and spin in slow circles. She wondered if Alvar had planned this, and figured that he must have. However, she proudly put her hands in their proper places, one on his shoulder and one in his hand, and began the steps she knew so well.

She was transported back to a time when she and her twin brother were younger, trying to manage their estate without their parents in the early years after their death. An older relative – whom Bendel had kicked out once the curse set in – had come to care for them, and had taught them both how to dance. This simple step was the first they had learned, as a brother and sister couple. Relaxing into the dance, Jack closed her eyes. It had always helped her concentrate.

Back at the table, Everly had taken Jack's place serving food with Abigail. But the sight before them absorbed both women, and no one bothered them. They were too busy watching Alvar and Jack dancing.

"Look at how well they fit together," Abigail sighed wistfully.

Everly, who was getting over her misgiving about Alvar's age, had to agree.

Jack was startled when she noticed that the warrior she danced with had come closer. His cheek was resting against the side of her head, their bodies so close that she could feel his body heat. She blushed, and tried to pull back, but his hold was firm. If she could have seen his face, she would have seen that his eyes were closed and his face was completely relaxed and calm. Swallowing hard, she forced herself to relax as well.

As if he noticed her submission, Alvar pulled back. Surprising herself, Jack heard a noise of protest pull itself from her throat.

The warrior smiled, and leaned his forehead against hers. Both pairs of eyes closed this time, and both pairs of feet were almost completely still. There was so much Jack wanted to say in that moment, but there was no way to say it, no words for it. Her heart was pounding in her chest and she felt she had to swallow to keep it from pounding its way on up out of her throat.

Everly and Abigail, had they been sitting, would have been on the edges of their seats. As it was, the princess was biting her nails in an un-royalty-ish fashion. Both women let out gasps, however, when suddenly Jack broke from Alvar and walked quickly – Everly could tell she was trying not to run – towards Abigail's house.

"Well, that was interesting," Abigail said, blinking.

The young princess beside her sighed. "I'll talk to her. She's probably tired."

"All right, dear," Alvar's mother said warmly, turning to intercept her son, who was walking towards them, a dazed and hurt expression on his face.

Not wanting to face Alvar's pain, Everly fairly ran towards the house. Once she got past the main crowd, no one noticed her passing. She cursed the dress she was wearing several times. It just wasn't suited to running.

She found Jack in the room they had shared, furiously darting about the room packing.

"If we're leaving, you need to give me a reason," Everly sighed.

Jack paused. "You could stay here."

"But I won't."

"Fine. Get changed into your men's clothing then, and your hat. We're going to see my brother." With that, she turned away from Everly. The younger girl could see the red tips of her friend's ears though, and suspected that this sudden running had more to do with Alvar than with her brother. Still, she didn't question Jack.

Both girls dressed in men's clothing and the newsy hats and packed their belongings as fast as they could. Covered by darkness and the noise of the party still going on outside, they stole down to the barn where the horses were kept. The animals perked up at Everly's approach, but the women were only there for Lincus. They didn't have the heart to take Excalibur from his owner, but Lincus had taken a great liking to Everly, and since they had bought him at Nighthelm neither girl felt as bad about taking him. The gelding seemed excited to help them, but Excalibur whinnied worriedly after them.

Not waiting to see if he had given them away, Jack attached the packs to Lincus's saddle, swung herself onto his back and helped Everly up behind her, and the girls galloped away.

It was early morning before they stopped to rest. The horse was sweating profusely, even though it had been a cool night, and tripping over his own feet. Jack rubbed him down with a rag while Everly set up blankets for sleeping. They had set up under the drooping branches of a large tree, so the light was dim and they would be protected from sight. The sun had just left the horizon behind when horse and humans slept.

Back at Alvar's farm, the great warrior was brushing Excalibur's gorgeous coat, making it shine in the morning sunlight. He was deep in thought, so much so that he never heard his mother come up behind him and lean on one of the willow trees.

Abigail knew her son well. The great stallion's coat was already nearly glittering in the sunlight, so there was no reason for Alvar to be brushing him so heartily. She also knew that her son had been watching the Lady Jacqueline ever since he first set eyes on her. The wise mother understood that the look she had seen on Alvar's face when he danced with the young woman had been an expression she had never before seen on him. He had radiated contentment and deep desire. He didn't have some fickle emotions that were as fleeting and wild as one of the town colts. No, Alvar had all the emotions of a man, and he concealed them well…except from his mother.

"Alvar, why did you let her go?"

A muscle twitched in the back of Alvar's neck, the only indication that Abigail had taken him by surprise.


"Lady Jacqueline."

"I didn't let her go. She ran."

"And yet you haven't gone after her. I saw you at the dance, Alvar. I know the way you held her wasn't the way you've held other partners. You two mold together perfectly. You are each other's match. Why didn't you chase her down and bring her back?"

"Mother," Alvar sighed, turning to face the woman. "She left of her own accord. I…I scared her."

"I don't think it was you who scared her."

"I've scared her at least three times now," Alvar frowned. "There is no reason why she shouldn't run from me, when given the chance. I moved too quickly the other night and frightened her. I knew she had trust issues, I knew I was pushing things too far too fast and I scared her away. I don't deserve her. She is much better off leaving me as she did. Naturally, that woman had to take my horse along with her." He snorted playfully, but his acting did little to conceal the pain Abigail heard in his voice. "She couldn't leave without some sort of defiance."

"She has slipped out of your vision, out of your hold, several times before, Alvar, but never has she escaped from your life," Abigail said softly, putting her hand on his shoulder. "She wasn't afraid of you."

"The look of panic on her face indicated otherwise," Alvar said gruffly, untying Excalibur's lead rope from one of the willow's limbs.

"She was afraid of herself, my son. She felt something last night, something she hadn't felt before, and she didn't know what to do about it. What is Jacqueline's first reaction when things happen that she can't control? You've watched her for years. What is it she always does when she's afraid?"

"She draws a sword and brings it slashing across a man's chest," Alvar said, gesturing to the wound on his chest.

"She runs, Alvar, then she fights. And every time she's run from you, you've caught her, then you've both fought, and she ends up getting closer to you every time. She needs you, and you need her. Go after her. You know where she went."

"How do I know where she went?" Alvar said, resting his elbows on Excalibur's back and looking across at his mother.

"You have an uncanny ability to know where people go," Abigail smiled.

"And why exactly should I go after her?" Alvar asked, an eyebrow arched. "Of what benefit has she been to me? She runs away from every move I make."

"Because you love her," Abigail said firmly.

"How should I go about courting someone who has no interest in me?"

"Gently, like when you trained Excalibur," Abigail said, fondly patting the stallion's neck. "He was wild and afraid, and he had severe trust issues. He was slightly abused when we found him running like a mad horse on our property. You took him in, cared for his needs, and then sought to build up a relationship. Show Jacqueline you want to take care of her. Take care of her kindly, and then, when you've built up that trust, seek for more. Like you did for Excalibur, you have gone to Jacqueline, always meeting her, tending to her needs. Keep doing that, gently, and instead of seeking her out, let her seek you. Excalibur began to seek your attention, to crave your affection. It's time you gave Jack that opportunity. Care for her, but let her come to you to further things."

"You know, Mother, you are a very wise woman," Alvar smiled, hugging her close. "And you have a woman's wiliness."

"Go after Jacqueline, you scoundrel," Abigail laughed, hugging her son tightly in return. "Don't hunt after her as a warrior, or even as a lover, but as someone who has true concerns for her. She'll see your sincerity and she'll be drawn to it. Just like she's a wild horse, treat her as though you want nothing else in return. She'll be drawn to you, just like every other woman."

Alvar chuckled and then took Excalibur's halter off the horse.

"How about you and I go and get provisions ready for my journey, ay? And pack plenty of rope. I may need to bind and gag her in order to bring her back."

Abigail laughed and took her son's hand as he led her back to the house.

Jack awoke with a start in the middle of the afternoon. A unicorn had visited her dreams again, this time with the information that some stores of ruby illuminite were missing from a mine near it's territory. Illuminite is a mineral found scarcely anywhere in Stormhold, and nowhere in our world. Different kinds of it – sapphire illuminite and emerald illuminite, for example – have different uses. Ruby illuminite travels great distances when thrown, and gravity has almost no affect on the pieces once thrown. Jack had long been suspecting that Bendel was using stones of this nature to bring down the stars he murdered, but now her suspicions were all but confirmed.

They had to hurry, before he killed another of Everly's kin.

As soon as possible, the women and Lincus were off again. This time, in order to save Lincus, they kept him at a brisk trot for most of the journey, with nearly half-hour walks every once in a while. When they walked, the girls would get off of his back. It was dangerous for him to be as tired as they had worn him the night before, and the last thing they wanted was for him to injure or kill himself trying to keep going for Everly.

They didn't travel roads. Jack was paranoid that someone would recognize them. But she knew the way home, and when she was unsure, Everly discovered she had the uncanny ability to point the way. This perplexed both of them, but they didn't dwell on it. They spoke very little, both absorbed in their own thoughts.

This time when they stopped, it was about midnight.

"There is no way we are going near that place in the dark," Jack told Everly when they were bedded down and Lincus (who was in much better shape than he had been the night before) was taken care of, "And it will take us a good few hours of travel to get there tomorrow. I want to get there sometime in the morning."


Jack laughed harshly. "Because that's when it's safest. The drunks have all either gone home or are still passed out in our great hall. And if they do wake up, they are so hung-over that they aren't much of a threat."

Everly remained silent. Jack waited for her to go to sleep before she dared shut her eyes.

True to Jack's desires, they arrived at the place that had been her home in the grey early morning. As soon as he got a whiff of the air that came from the place, Lincus's head shot up and he snorted nervously. Jack patted him encouragingly, and he slowly walked forward.

"We'll have to leave him in the stable," Jack said to Everly.

The princess gulped, suddenly as nervous as the horse. Here she was, visiting the home of the man who had murdered – by last count – almost fifty of her family members, and had at their last meeting nearly tried to take advantage of her small body. Of course, whatever made him the sort of man who would do such a thing had worn off and left him a gentleman at least temporarily, but Everly still didn't trust him. What would happen if she and Jack were caught? She shuddered to think.

Lincus was placed in the stable, and the women entered the house from the side door. It was the sort of house that could be described as a quaint country house, or as a manor, for it had qualities of both. Bendel's house wasn't nearly as large or imposing as Garris's palace, but he had far more land. It had many rooms but they all branched from one main hallway.

It was into this hallway that the two women crept. There was no one in the house as far as they could tell. No horses were in the stables besides Bendel's, and there was no one in the great hall. The house was totally silent.

They stopped at the first room they came to. Jack remembered it as a sort of reception room where guests had been invited for tea when she and Bendel were children. But her twin brother had since converted it into a sort of armory. She moved on.

Everly was about to follow her when something caught her eye. She walked over to a rack of swords on one wall, towards the one that had glittered in the light from the open doorway. It was shorter than the rest, but the blade was nearly five inches in width. Oriental designs were carved into the blade, and the hilt was made of black leather. There was a matching sheath beneath it, which had the same markings embossed on the black leather in silver. The princess didn't have much experience with weapons, but she could see that this was a rare and beautiful weapon.

"Amazing, isn't it?" a voice said behind her, and Everly jumped and whirled.

Bendel had come up behind her, while she had been studying the oriental sword.

"I bought it from a trader at the Wall market," he continued, coming to stand next to her so he could run a finger lovingly down the flat of the blade. Then he turned and smiled at her. "Hello" he said, "I didn't recognize you before." Abruptly, his face changed. The icy edge had crept into his blue eyes and when he turned them on Everly she felt frozen to the bone. "You're the one who wasn't so appreciative of my previous advances."

Suddenly terrified, Everly stayed frozen to the spot as he reached up and slid the newsy cap off of her head. Her braid, which had previously been twisted inside the hat, fell down her back. Smiling, Bendel took it in his hand.

Without thinking, Everly slipped to the side and took the oriental sword from the wall, nearly dropping it. It was much heavier than the daggers she was used to using. But she took it in both hands and raised it so it pointed at the man in front of her.

He laughed. "Silly girl," he said, raising his hands as if in surrender. But before she knew what was happening, he too had retrieved a sword from the wall and brought it crashing down on Everly's blade.

His blow was so hard that her arms felt as if they had been jarred from their sockets. She held onto her sword as best she could, but he was already swinging for another blow. Surprising herself, she moved to the side and felt his blade slice a few hairs from the bottom of her braid. Going back to the dagger training she'd had with Alvar, she brought the sword into a more defensive position in front of her, just in time for another jarring blow from Bendel.

"Everly!" Jack's voice suddenly came from the hallway. She had heard the fighting and was running to help her friend. "Everly! What –?" She had seen her brother, frozen with his sword raised to strike Everly again.

About five expressions crossed Bendel's face in five seconds, and both girls could see them. First was a spark of happiness, replaced by a mask of rage, then suspicion, then pain, and finally a sneer of contempt.

"My dear sister," he said, casually lowering his blade to knock Everly's from her hands. "So nice of you to come see me. So tell me, how is your new master? I trust he's complied to my wishes."

Jack's face was contorted with pain as she heard this crueler version of her brother speak to her. Still, she answered as if speaking to him before his curse.

"I ran away, Bendel." She said calmly. "He would have mistreated me, as you know. This is Everly, my friend. We're in it together."

The look in Bendel's eyes flickered. He blinked several times, trying to make up his mind about something. He shook his head, then seemed to come to a decision.

"Of course you are welcome to stay here with me," he said, spreading his arms in mock welcome. "Until your escorts come after you, of course." He took them both by the arm so that he walked between them. They had no choice but to follow him. Both women were scared, not knowing what his curse would prompt him to do or how often it had control of him. All they could do was wait and watch.

He took them to where Jack had stayed when she and Bendel were children. Everly glimpsed dusty furniture, as if nothing in there had been touched for years, but she lost her view as Jack was thrown into the room and the door was shut. Bendel locked it from the outside.

Everly was horrorstruck. She was now alone with this man of multiple personalities, and Jack wasn't here to protect her! Alvar wasn't either, and from the way they had left there was almost no chance of his turning up to rescue them. Her heart jumped to her mouth when Bendel pulled her closer to himself.

He opened his mouth to say something, but then his expression changed. Once again, the ice left his eyes and he was the gentleman that had taken her back to her room after giving her a dreadful fright. He loosened his hold on her and said, "Those rooms across the hall from Jack's are yours to use while you're here, as long as you don't try to leave the house without me. Here," and he gave her the key to her room.

They had been there for four days. Even though Bendel had given her keys to her own chambers, he had adopted Everly as a sort of pet – since his curse side ordered him to take her as his own while his honorable side refused to let him – and kept her at his side almost constantly. He even made her sleep in his room, though he allowed her a pallet on the floor. Still, there was always the invitation that his bed would be warmer than the floor.

Two nights out of three, Everly went to sleep on her pallet in the floor only to wake up in the bed in the room that he had given her. At first she had been confused, but then realized that during a rare moment when his curse didn't control him he had carried her back here. She knew it must have been him.

Jack stayed in her room. She was locked in, only allowed out for meals with Bendel and Everly. It was driving her stir-crazy, but there was no way she could escape. She had hoped that by coming here she could find out some way to end his curse, or some way to at least stop him killing all the stars in the sky. But she was stuck.

Everly wanted to help her friend, but she didn't know how. Bendel had hidden all of anything she possessed that resembled a weapon and very rarely allowed her to leave his sight. Often, he made her walk arm in arm with him. It was almost impossible to leave him.

They were sitting at the evening meal at the end of the fourth day. Bendel sat at the head of the table, with Everly to his left in the seat of the lady of the house. Jack was on the far side of Everly, only slightly annoyed that her friend sat in the position that was rightfully hers. Everly couldn't help it.

"My dear," Bendel said to Everly, ignoring his twin sister completely, "I have a surprise for you tonight."

Both women stiffened.

He rolled his eyes. "None of that nonsense. Everly, I would like to take you on a hunt tonight. The weather is promising."

The two women knew exactly what kind of hunt he meant. The younger bit her lip and looked to her companion. Or she tried. Bendel caught her chin and turned her to face him. She stared straight into his blue eyes, which were suddenly so close to hers that she could feel his curly dark blonde hair brushing her forehead. Temporarily, she was lost. Then Jack squeezed her hand encouragingly, bringing her back to earth.

"Alright," she breathed.

Bendel smiled, a rare look of genuine happiness on his face, and moved away.

After the meal, Bendel accompanied Everly to her quarters and waited outside her door while she changed into breeches and the shirt she had stolen from Alvar so long ago. They were more conducive to the riding she and Bendel would be doing. Pulling the clothes on, she felt a wave of sadness. They made her think of the warrior she and Jack had left, who had become much more of a father figure to her than Humphrey had ever been. Come to think about it, Alvar was old enough to be her father! She missed him, and wished Jack hadn't wanted to run from him.

With a growing sense of dread, she opened the door to find Bendel still waiting for her. She tried to smile at him, but it was a struggle to take his arm. She didn't know what to do about this murderous hunt they were going on.

Jack's brother may have seemed friendly to Everly, but he certainly didn't trust her. He took every precaution against her escape. He let her ride Lincus since she was familiar with him, but tied the blue roan gelding to his own bay mare with complicated knots that the young woman couldn't even hope of solving. He also didn't let her near anything even remotely sharp so she wouldn't try to cut the rope. Feeling sick, she clutched Lincus's mane tightly, more for emotional support than anything else, and followed Bendel and his mare out into the woods.

They rode at a brisk trot for about an hour, then slowed to a walk. Everly was hopelessly lost – it was so dark she couldn't see anything except what was illuminated by a torch Bendel had lit. She felt as if she was going to throw up.

"Don't be scared," her male companion said, mistaking her expression. "I'm hunting stars. I know they are dangerous and evil, but I will protect you from this one. She came down by herself; I didn't even have to get her down myself. That makes her an extra challenge."

Everly felt bile rising in her throat, but forced it down. This would not be the most opportune time to throw up.

As they kept walking, Bendel kept his voice low, as if he was letting Everly in on a surprise he had for someone he loved instead of creeping up to murder one of her family members. Of course, he didn't know that she was related to the stars, and she didn't plan on him finding out.

"Usually I let a band of my men take them out," he was saying. "But I want to handle this one myself. I told you, the ones that come down by themselves are extra dangerous…"

He kept going, but Everly was trying not to listen. She had closed her eyes and was willing with all her might that help would come for the star before Bendel got to her. She hoped whatever powers she might have due to her mother included getting help.

Suddenly she saw something shimmering to her left. It was a unicorn, hidden in the brush. Bendel didn't see it, so Everly didn't say anything.

The unicorn seemed to look her in the eye, and she got a vague feeling that it was going to help the star that had fallen. She also got a very specific feeling that it was going to take the star to the palace of Stormhold, for King Tristan and Queen Yvaine would have a way of getting her back in the sky. But the unicorn was going to need Everly's help.

Gulping, Everly made up her mind. She would have to find some way to distract Bendel so the unicorn could get the star to safety.

Bendel pulled the horses to a stop. "We need to go on foot for a bit," he told Everly. So they got off the horses and the man tied them to oak tree branches as thick as Everly's leg. Then Bendel took her arm excitedly and led her forward. She noticed now he had a bow and a quiver of arrows strapped to his back. They made her shudder, but she was thinking about how she was going to distract him.

They crept forward in silence. Everly could smell burning wood, conceivably from the crater the falling star had made. The smell brought back memories of the last star she had seen hunted by Bendel, and the bile rose in her throat again.

Be strong, she commanded herself, someone down there is depending on you.

She wasn't comforted by her words, but they helped her to focus.

They came to a copse of bushes at which Bendel dropped to his knees and motioned for Everly to do the same. Crawling forward, they came to the edge of the crater. The star woman had gotten to her feet and was wandering around, trying to find a point at which she could exit the crater. She was cradling one arm to her chest that must have gotten hurt in her fall. Though Bendel didn't see, Everly saw the unicorn hovering in the trees a couple hundred feet to their left, waiting for an opportunity to come out into the open without being seen.

Now was the time. Everly could only hope the unicorn understood that.

"So, thank you for taking me out here," Everly said in slightly-louder-than-conversational tones, moving herself in front of Bendel. "Alvar wouldn't take me anywhere."

The icy look that meant the curse had control was in Bendel's eyes when he glared at her, willing her to be silent so he could focus, but even though it terrified her to death Everly ignored it and put on her best pout face.

"I mean really," she continued, sliding herself closer, "He was so cruel. He gave me no attention at all. I don't even know why he bought me. I just sit around all the time, he doesn't touch me or take me anywhere." This time, she added to the pout a bit more lower-lip-quivering. "I feel so alone."

Something changed in Bendel's eyes. The icy edge didn't leave, but a flicker of sympathy transformed the rest of his face.

Gathering her courage, Everly threw her arms around his neck.

The man was taken completely off guard. He had no idea how to react; his brain completely fried. Instinctively, he placed his own muscular arms awkwardly around the young woman holding him. For a brief moment, they held each other. Bendel was thinking of how nice it was to actually hold a woman in his arms besides his sister; Everly was calculating how long it would take the unicorn to get the star out of the crater and how long she would have to keep this up.

She needn't have calculated. After a moment, Bendel suddenly stiffened and threw her away from himself. She landed hard on her side and rolled, but was soon crawling to the edge of the crater, hoping she had distracted him long enough.

She had. Bendel let out a sound of rage as they saw the unicorn – bearing the star – fairly fly out of the crater and into the woods beyond. Everly breathed a sigh of relief.

In his curse-driven anger, Jack's brother grabbed her roughly and almost threw her onto Lincus's back when they reached the horses. They rode at a hard gallop towards his home.

After a while, Jack had finally managed to escape the prison that was her room by breaking the lock with a process involving several heavy books and hairpins. Remembering what the unicorn had told her about ruby illuminite missing from a nearby mine, she stole up to her parents' room, where she knew Bendel spent a lot of his time. Or he had before Everly. The important thing was, there was a balcony attached to her parent's room that gave a phenomenal view of the sky.

When she reached the door, she paused. She knew that she only had a limited time before Bendel and Everly returned, and there was no way he would miss her broken door. Still, this was her parents' room. A flood of memories threatened to overwhelm her, and she had to blink them back as if they were tears. They still managed to weaken her though.

The door was unlocked, so she let herself in. The sight before her almost made her heart stop.

All over the room, there were stones of ruby illuminite. They glittered orange in the darkness like sparks from a fire, scattered over the floor in a trail that led to the balcony. She gulped nervously, knowing how many stars had lost their lives on this floor, or because of the stones on the floor. She swayed and crouched with her head between her knees. For a few minutes, it was all she could do to breathe.

Then she did what there was no avoiding. She stepped onto the balcony. And crumpled.

There was a large black spot in the sky, devoid of any light. The fifty stars Bendel had already killed had all come from around the same area.

Jack faded in and out of consciousness from the shock. She only became fully aware of her surroundings when someone – Bendel – took her by the scruff of the neck and dragged her back to Everly's room. He threw her in, and she heard the door lock.

"Hello, Jack."

She turned to see Everly smiling at her. The younger woman looked as if she had been dragged by one arm all the way from the stable to the room they were both locked in (which, in fact, she had) and yet she was happy about something. Jack gave her a puzzled look.

"You should be so proud of me, Jack," Everly said slightly weakly, "I saved someone's life. I saved the star's life. That's why – your brother – is in such a bad mood."

Jack couldn't do anything but hug her young friend as hard as she could.