The story was told, generation by generation, in song and in story, until time misted it into myth and legend. But some believed, as legends brought comfort.
And some knew the story as truth.
That in another time, in a realm as old as the sea, three goddesses created three stars to honor and celebrate a new queen. A star of fire, a star of water, a star of ice, meant to shine over all the worlds, they forged and brightened with wishes for a strong heart, strong mind, strong spirit.
These, the moon goddesses, stood as guardians over the worlds, as watchers of gods, demigods, mortals, and immortals. Though of the light, they understood war and death, blood and battle.
There was another, of the dark, whose great thirst, whose unquenchable greed blighted her heart to black. Nerezza, the mother of lies, cursed the stars even as she coveted them. On the night of their creation, she winged her power to them as they flew to the sky, enspelling them. One day, by her curse, they would fall from their shining curve around the moon.
When she possessed them, all three, when she held their power, the moon would die, the light would cease, and she would rule over the dark.
So it was that the moon goddesses—Celene the seer, Luna the kind, Arianrhod the warrior—gathered their magicks to protect the stars.
But such things require sacrifice and courage, and eons of hope.
The stars would fall; they could not stop this fate, but they would fall in secret, and remain in hiding until a time, in another realm, when those who came of them united in the quest to find and secure those stars.
Six guardians who would risk all to keep the stars from Nerezza’s evil hands.
To save the light, and all the worlds, the six would unite, would offer all they were to the quest, and the battle.
Now the six, from lands far-flung, had come together, had forged their bonds, their loyalties, had shed blood and given their own to find the first star, so the goddesses met again.
On the white beach where they had birthed the stars in joy and hope, they gathered under a moon full and ice white in the dark sky.
“They have bested Nerezza.” Luna took the hand of each of her sisters. “They found the Fire Star, and have put it beyond her reach.”
“Hidden it,” Arianrhod corrected. “And cleverly done, but none of the stars is beyond her until they are home again.”
“They defeated her,” Luna insisted.
“Yes, for now, yes. They fought bravely, risked all in battle, gave all for this quest. And yet . . .”
She looked to Celene, who nodded. “I see more blood, more battle, more fear. Strife and dark to face where terrible pain, terrible death can come in an instant and last for eternity.”
“They will not yield,” Luna said. “They will not.”
“They have proven their courage. Courage is truer when there is fear under it. I do not doubt them, sister.” Arianrhod gazed up to the moon and the place where for so long three sparkling stars had curved. “But neither do I doubt Nerezza’s hunger or her fury. She will hunt them, and she will strike again and again.”
“And will enlist another, a mortal.” Celene stared into the sea, its black glass, and saw the shadows of what might be. “Whose hunger is a mate to hers. He has and will kill for prizes less vaunted than the Stars of Fortune. He is poison in the wine, a blade in an offered hand, snapping teeth behind a smile. And in Nerezza’s hands, a weapon, keen and swift.”
“We must help them. They have proven themselves, we agree,” Luna reasoned. “We must be allowed to help.”
“You know we cannot,” Celene reminded her. “Every choice made must be made without our interference. We have done all we can, for now.”
“Aegle is not their queen.”
“Without Aegle, without this place, without the moon and we who honor it, they have no world. Their fate, our fate, all fate, is in their hands.”
“They are of us.” In comfort Arianrhod tightened her grip on Luna’s hand. “They are not gods, yet more than mortals, each one with their own gift. They will fight.”
“And as important as battle, they will think, and they will feel.” Celene let out a sigh. “And they will love. Mind, heart, spirit, as much as sword and fang and even magicks. They are well armed.”
“So we trust.” Flanked by her sisters, Luna lifted her face to the moon. “Let our trust be their shield. As we are guardians of the worlds, they are guardians of the stars. They are hope.”
“And valor,” Arianrhod added.
“And they are canny. There.” Smiling, Celene lifted a hand, gesturing to the swirl of color streaking over the sky. “They pass by us, through our world, hurtling toward the next. To another land, to the second star.”
“And all the gods of light go with them,” Luna murmured, and sent her own.
For an instant, like a single beat of wings, Annika scented the sea, heard the voices lifted in song. Here then gone, a blur within the blur of color and speed, but it swelled in her heart like love.
Then came a sigh, and the echoes of sighs, another kind of music. Bittersweet. And this washed through her like tears.
So with joy and sorrow mated in her heart, she fell. Tumbling, spiraling, spinning in a breathless rush that added a reckless thrill and a quick panic.
A thousand wings beat now, a thousand and a thousand more, with whipping wind, a wall of sound. And color flicked away into the dark as she landed abruptly enough to lose her breath.