A Dark and Hollow Star – Ashley Shuttleworth

THE FLOOR ALECTO KNELT on was a glittering sea of black marble Мecked with diamond white. Such a perfect mockery of the night sky, this was the closest she’d felt to the heavens in some time. Admittedly, Alecto couldn’t remember when she’d last found comfort in such a place, but it was strangely reassuring now to imagine she could sink into the starry stone beneath her and vanish altogether. How wonderful it would be to vanish—to simply cease existing, and disappear. Now that her revenge was complete, there was nothing left to tether her here, or anywhere else for that matter. She felt no guilt for what she’d done and no fear of whatever came next. Not even pain could rouse her from her apathy. To ensure the safety of those who’d gathered for her trial, enormous iron stakes had been driven through the sleek membrane of her unfurled wings, pinning her to the Мoor. The touch of such a poisonous metal should have been excruciating, but Alecto felt it no more in her wings than she felt that same corrosive iron eating away at her shackled wrists—which was to say, notatall. Alecto was facing death for her actions. She could still taste ashen bone in her mouth and smell burning Мesh in the air. She could even hear the echoes of her rage reverberating from the yawning pit her soul had become. Yet for all of this, Alecto wasat peace. She wasrelieved. She hadn’t been expecting that—not to this degree, at least.

She hadn’t been hoping for iteither. She’d taken revenge, straightforward and simple, and hadn’t acted with the fool’s belief that vengeance would change anything. Tisiphone—her beloved sister, her dearest friend—would still be dead, and that wasa truth Alecto could never recover from. “Do you have anything to say for yourself, Erinys Alecto?” Alecto raised her head. An emotion clawed its way out of the darkness of her heart and shaped itself into the razor-wire parody ofa smile. “To say for myself?” She laughed. It was a hollow sound, an ugly sound, but it was hers. The laugh was fury of a diАerent sort, and Alecto would make sure that it would be a sound these gathered powers would never forget. Alecto slid her gaze to the throne—a throne that writhed with living tongues of Мame and twists of billowing wind—and locked eyes with the goddess who sat there: Urielle, Goddess of the Elements, Lady of Chaos. Urielle was queen of the largest Infernal domain of the Immortal Realm.

Urielle, Alecto’s mother. “Well,” Alecto replied as her rasping laughter died oА. “I think it’s safe to say the title of Erinys is no longer mine.” Unease rippled through the guards, who lined the room like pillars. Murmurs rolled like waves from the rest of the crowd—so many people Alecto had once considered friends, now craning their necks to bear witness to her humiliation. Everyone liked a show. Loyalty meant surprisingly little to Alecto’s people. Beside the goddess stood Erinys Megaera, the only sister Alecto now had left—however much they disliked each other. As Alecto expected, there was no love for her in Megaera’s gaze. No pity.

Alecto would be replaced when this was over—so, too, would Tisiphone. The realm’s respect for Alecto’s grief would no longer delay what was inevitable. Other immortals would be trained to Йll Alecto’s and Tisiphone’s roles, and the Furies would be three once again. Perhaps Alecto should have cherished her eldest sister a little better, but there was no altering the past —she knew that well. Megaera might once have loved her, but that had been some time ago, and now all that shone in her steely glare was disgust. Out of everyone, only Urielle remained impassive, though Alecto could see a torrent of emotions deep within her infinite black eyes. “There is no humor in what you’ve brought before me,” said Urielle, her voice as smooth as undisturbed water but hard and cutting as jagged stone. “You stand accused of murder, Erinys Alecto. You took eleven mortal lives without permission—lives unmarked for death. Your actions this night in the name of vengeance have not only violated the laws that govern our realms butalso the very oaths you swore when you became a Fury.

To these accusations, how do you plead?” “To the crimes?” Alecto took no time for thought. “I plead not guilty.” Megaera snarled. “I saw you.” In the flare of her temper, her wings burst wide. The gathered crowd shrank back in a scattered shower of gasps. Beautiful things, those wings. Gossamer soft, neither leather nor feather, and black as beetle shells. They were great enough to span the room behind the throne. Alecto’s wings had once been just as glorious.

Now they were pierced and tattered and singed down to smoldering rags, like the sails of the gutted ship she’d left to haunt the waters. “I was the one who dragged you from that ship you set ablaze—with StarЙre, no less!” Megaera was trembling with rage. “Your tantrum tethered eleven souls to the ocean Мoor and to a Мame even eternity cannot extinguish. I was the one who pulled you from the devastation you unleashed upon the Mortal Realm, and I was the one to witness your unrepentant delight in your victims’ suАering. Do not deny the truth!” “You mistake my meaning,” Alecto drawled. “I freely admit to all crimes you accuse me of. I did it, yes. I simply don’t feel guilty aboutany of it.” Megaera opened her mouth to retort, but Urielle silenced her with the wave of her hand. “The punishment for these violations is Destruction,” Urielle continued.

Destruction, not death. Immortals didn’t die, they were Destroyed. Unmade. Their souls were ground down to dust and thrown back to the stars to be woven into something else—someone else—but not reborn, as mortals were. For what she’d done, Alecto would be erased from existence altogether. It wasalmosta blessing. “I’m happy enough with the destruction I caused to accept your gracious offer,” she countered. “Erinys Alecto!” At last, the goddess’s emotionless mask broke. She rose from her violent throne and descended the dais, Йery sparks igniting at her heels with every step. In Urielle’s anger, she Йlled the chamber entirely.

The space around her Мared lightning bright. Alecto winced, but she refused to drop her gaze. “I have made thee. I can unmake thee just as easily,” the goddess declared. “Do you truly show no remorse for your crimesagainst me? You have no regretabout seeing my Law—a Law that you swore to uphold—now broken at your feet?” My daughter, you were meant for so much more than this. Her mother’s words were gentler in Alecto’s head than how they were spoken, but they were no more welcome. I am meant for whatever I choose, Alecto scathed in return. Aloud, she added, “Goddess Mother, I can unmake myself, and have.” For a moment, Urielle stood frozen. Then she sighed.

“So be it.” The goddess raised a hand, and the shadows in the room began to twist away from the walls. “Erinys Alecto, you are hereby stripped of your name.” The shadows lashed out like angered cobras. Launching themselves at Alecto, they wound tightly around her body. “You are stripped of your rank.” The shadows began to constrict. Alecto struggled. She grunted and groaned and gnashed her teeth. Her satisfaction with her revenge had placed her in the eye of her own storm—in a calm that had belied her rage—but she was sailing out of it now, back into the dark and thunderous tempest of her eversimmering anger.

“You are stripped of the privilege of your oГce. You see Йt to dole out punishment to mortalsat your own choosing, and so your own punishment will be to live forever among them.” Alecto blinked up at her in surprise, but Urielle wasn’t done. “You are expelled from the Immortal Realm. You are expelled from the Sisterhood, and from my favor, and from my heart. I banish thee to the Realm of Mortals and tether your eternity to its soil.” At last, Alecto’s storm broke free. “No!” This wasn’t what she’d wanted. She’d been counting on Destruction—on release from the torment inside her own head—not this banishment her mother was inМicting, this eternal torture, trapping Alecto forever in her anger and grief… “I have never needed your name!” Alecto seethed. The shadows coiled around her throat, but she ignored them.

“I have never needed you, you coward. You have failed, Goddess Mother!” The tighter the shadows squeezed, the harder Alecto struggled. She threw her all into this Йght, pitching forward with every ounce of might she could muster. In the process, her wings tore further around the spikes that kept them pinned down, but still she continued to rage. “You’ve failed. You’ve failed Tisiphone! You’ve failed me. I will never forgive what you allowed to take place—what you allowed to go unacknowledged and unpunished. You are no mother of mine, no goddess of mine!” Alecto could only see in slivers now, but it was too late for the sorrow beginning at last to soften Urielle’sexpression. When this sympathy was needed most—when Tisiphone had needed this understanding, and after, when Alecto had Йrst come to the mother she’d once adored so Йercely, in grief so profound she’d hardly been able to speak—it had been withheld in favor of Law. Alecto’s actions were her own, she knew that full well, but if Urielle didn’t see the hand she’d had in her daughter’s fall from grace, Alecto didn’t care to make her see it now.

It was done. She was done. Urielle bowed her head. “I did fail you, my daughter.” “Nausicaä,” said Alecto. Nausicaä. A beautiful, mortal name. “Burner of ships,” it meant, and she couldn’t think of a more Йtting title. Her revenge had altered her in a way that could never be undone, and if they weren’t going to Destroy her, Alecto—Nausicaä—would not preserve what she no longer was. She would wear her crimes like a badge of honor.

“Nausicaä,” the goddessamended. The brief glimmer of sadness in Urielle’s gaze was the last thing Nausicaä saw before the shadows sealed themselves around her fully, but the storm inside her raged on. “I EXPEL YOU!” she bellowed. Though she had no way of knowing whether the goddess heard her, she continued to shout until stars burst behind her eyes and her consciousness began to fade. “I EXPEL YOU FROM MY FAVOR! I EXPEL YOU FROM MY HEART! I EXPEL YOU, AND I WILL NEVER LOVE YOU AGAIN FOR WHAT YOU’VE DONE TO ME!” Forget that you loved me, if you must, but please… do not forget you loved at all, and do not forget you loved so fiercely it made you the best of your name. Oh, Nausicaä wouldn’t forget she’d loved her goddess mother. She wouldn’t forget she’d loved Tisiphone. She would remember both, and in remembering, she would never allow herself to feel that love again. Much like that whaler and its disgusting crew—and among them the mortal who thought he could make fools out of Furies—all of them burning forevermore at the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean, Nausicaä’s rage would survive the ages, and it wasall that she would be. It wasn’t until she found herself on her back, blinking up at the too-cheerful blue of the Mortal Realm’s sky, that she realized she’d succumbed at last to the shadows.

She was no longer in the throne room of the Infernal Palace. Her family, her former friends, the freezing starry marble… All were gone, but her mother’s Йnal words still echoed in her ears. You still have it in you to be what the stars design, my daughter. “Tch,” she scoАed. Fisting the grass that carpeted the rolling plains of wherever in the Mortal Realm she’d been discarded, she ignored the tears that clung to her lashes like the dew around her. It was no longer up to the stars to decide Nausicaä’s fate—they’d lost that privilege in their treatment of Tisiphone. Her fate was now up to her, and if the oh-so-powerful deities weren’t brave enough to Destroy her, she was going to make them regret letting her discover just how satisfying it was to watch things burn

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