Once, in a time long ago, in a world beyond our own, three goddesses gathered to celebrate the dawn of a new queen. Many who’d traveled across the land and skies, through time and through space, had brought gifts of gold and jewels, of rich silks and precious crystals.
But the goddesses three wished for more unique gifts.
They considered a winged horse, but news came that a traveler had flown in on one, making it a gift for the new queen.
They debated gifting her with beauty beyond compare, with wisdom or uncommon grace.
They couldn’t make her immortal, and knew from those who were that this was both blessing and curse.
But they could give her an immortal gift.
“A gift that will shine for her¸ for all time.” Celene stood with her friends, her sisters, on the sand, white as diamonds, on the verge of the ink-blue sea, lifted her face to the night sky, to the swimming moon.
“The moon is ours,” Luna reminded her. “We cannot give what we are pledged to honor.”
“Stars.” Arianrhod lifted her hand, palm up. She closed her eyes, her fingers. And smiling, opened them again. Now in her palm a jewel of ice glowed. “Stars for Aegle, the radiant.”
“Stars.” Now Celene held out her hand, opened it. She held a jewel of fire. “Stars for Aegle, who will shine like her name.”
Luna joined them, produced a jewel of water. “Stars for Aegle, the brilliant.”
“There should be more.” Celene turned the burning star in her hand.
“A wish.” Luna stepped closer to the sea, let the water lay cool kisses on her feet. “A wish from each for the queen, and into the star. For mine, a strong and hopeful heart.”
“A strong and questing mind.” Celene held the fiery star aloft.
“And a strong and adventurous spirit.” Arianrhod raised both hands, one holding the star, the other lifted toward the moon. “These stars to shine while worlds turn.”
“They shed their light in the queen’s name for all to see.” The Fire Star began to lift into the sky, and the star of ice, the star of water with it.
They spun as they rose, showering light, over land and sea, pulled toward the moon and its cool white power.
A shadow passed under them, a silent snake.
Nerezza glided across the beach toward the water—a shadow smearing the light. “You meet without me, my sisters.”
“You are not of us.” Arianrhod turned toward her, with Luna and Celene flanking her. “We are the light, and you the dark.”
“There is no light without dark.” Nerezza’s lips curved, but fury lived in her eyes, and with it the early blooms of a madness yet to fully flower. “When the moon wanes, the darkness eats it. Bite by bite.”
“The light prevails.” Luna gestured as the stars flew now, trails of color in their wake. “And now there are more.”
“You, like supplicants, bring gifts for the queen. She is no more than a weak, simpering girl when it is we who could rule. Who should rule.”
“We are guardians,” Celene reminded her. “We are the watchers, not rulers.”
“We are gods ! This world and others are ours. Only think of it, and what we can make from our powers combined. All will bow to us, and we would live in youth and beauty forever.”
“We have no desire for power over the mortals, the immortals, the demimortals. Such matters bring blood and war and death.” Arianrhod dismissed the notion. “To crave forever is to dismiss the beauty and wonder of the cycle.” She lifted her face again as the stars they’d made spilled their light.
“Death comes. We will watch this new queen live and die as we did the last.”
“She will live a hundred years times seven. This I have seen. And while she lives,” Celene continued, “there will be peace.”
“Peace.” The word hissed out between Nerezza’s sneering lips. “Peace is nothing but a tedious lull between the stretch of the dark.”
“Go back to your shadows, Nerezza.” Luna dismissed her with a careless wave of her hand. “Tonight is for joy, for light, for celebrations—not your ambitions and thirsts.”
“The night is mine.” She slashed out a hand, and lightning, black as her eyes, sliced the white sand, the dark sea, and arrowed up toward the flying stars. It cut through the streams of light moments before the stars found their home in a gentle curve at the base of the moon.
For an instant the stars trembled there, and the worlds beneath them trembled.
“What have you done?” Celene whirled on her.
“Only added to your gift, sisters. They will fall one day, the stars of fire, ice, and water, tumble from the sky with all their power, their wishes, the light and the dark combined.”
Laughing now, Nerezza lifted her arms high as if to pluck the stars from the sky. “And when they fall into my hands, the moon dies for all and ever, and the dark wins.”
“They are not for you.” Arianrhod stepped forward, but Nerezza carved black lightning through the sand, left a smoldering chasm between them. Smoke streamed up from it to foul the air.
“When I have them, this world dies with the moon, as you will. And as I eat your powers, I will open others long sealed. The pale peace you worship will become all raging torment, all agony and fear and death.”
Through the smoke, she lifted her hands, glowing in her own desire. “Your own stars have sealed your fortunes, and given me mine.”