Her hair was such an intense gold, Varen could spot it even in a cluster of blond heads. The insipid blue-and-yellow uniforms did nothing to diminish her beauty as she clapped twice and smiled widely at an imaginary audience.

"The other's pale around her."

Varen's eyes fluttered closed for a moment before he turned to see Pinfeathers leaning against the brick wall of the school, pale lips curled into a smirk.

"I wish you'd leave." Varen said with little heat behind the words; he knew Pinfeathers would never listen anyway.

"Never thought you'd stoop so low as to simply watch her." Pinfeathers snickered. "You're more ghoul than I, friend."

"I'm giving her a ride home." Varen muttered. "Might as well watch for now."

It was at that moment that Isobel was vaulted into the air, sunlight-colored hair spinning out around her head like a halo. Her face was screwed up, concentrated, though a small smile graced her lips.

She fell back to earth; the Morningstar being cast back to hell, and Varen's stomach lurched slightly. He didn't trust the backstabbing little bitches to catch her. To protect her from the hard reality that most humans faced—but somehow she always landed perfectly, triumphant grin worth that moment of panic.

"You hated her once." Pinfeathers remarked quietly. "Back when all you dreamt of was my world."

"Your point?" Varen asked through gritted teeth, mind momentarily overwhelmed with dark trees and cloying mist and hair as black as raven's wings.

Pinfeathers pushed off the wall and walked over to Varen, laying his clawed hand on the other boy's shoulder. "You should hate her now."

"I know." Varen ducked his head. "I tried."

"Try harder." Pinfeathers sighed, the exhalation a cool gust against Varen's neck. "Do you remember the story of Poe's most beloved bride?"

"Virginia." Varen closed his eyes momentarily. "I will not let what happened to her happen to Isobel."

Pinfeathers looked up as Isobel walked, laughing, to the locker rooms. "Can you just see her skin rotting off her bones? Her lovely face covered in sores—"

"Shut up!" Varen snapped. "I will protect her."

Pinfeathers leaned close, his voice a whisper in Varen's ear. "How could you possibly protect her from Mistress? What kind of power do you hold?"

Varen looked over at his ghoulish friend, the boy a twisted mirror of himself. "I would give my life for her."

Pinfeathers shrugged. "Poe died in madness, Varen. Virginia died from jealousy. That is your fait, regardless."

Isobel was walking towards him.

"I can change my fate." Varen said forcefully, clenching his fists. "I now have reason to."

Pinfeathers laughed, bitter and short. "Humans."

Then he was gone.

Varen exhaled softly, biting the inside of his cheek until he tasted blood. She was so beautiful, so warm.

But, like a candle burning against an endless abyss, that warmth could only last so long.