“Long, long ago, the beings of planet G-23 did not know the art of war. But the future, with its winged ships and armored spacesuits, dragged them out of their peaceful stasis. Ava Maria saw the first encounter from the port window of her room, her twelve-year-old human fingers against the reinforced glass.”
Long, long ago, the beings of planet G-23 did not know the art of war. But the future, with its winged ships and armored spacesuits, dragged them out of their peaceful stasis.
Ava Maria saw the first encounter from the port window of her room, her twelve-year-old human fingers against the reinforced glass. A small dagger rested on the sill, an ancient artifact from Earth that she had never needed to use. From her window, she glimpsed the beings’ high cheekbones and pointed ears. Their skin seemed to shimmer like a mirage.
Humanity called the beings of G-23 the Fae, a word self-explanatory and easy on the tongue. The word, Fae, promised the sort of benevolence and wisdom, immortality and grace, that sharp-eared beings had been depicted with in myth.
But this was not so.
None of this was so.
You are not the Fae for which you have been named. This is an appearance crafted from human myth, an illusion of skewed sunlight designed to put the humans at ease. For you knew they were coming.
This is the reason you were sent.
The memory is still clear in your mind. Your queen gathered together both sides of your planet Grandrane: the half always stricken with night and the half drowned in vicious sun.
On one side of the hall stood your sisters of midnight. Their hair — twisted, laced, and braided up into intricate loops — grew as long as nature allowed. Their skin was as pale as the low-hanging moon, and as riddled and pockmarked with scars. Their pupils were as dark as black holes, wide and all-consuming.
You observed them from beside your kin of sunlight. You were markedly different from those who lived in the sun’s shadow. Every kin of yours had hair cut short or buzzed to a fine fuzz. Your skin was marked as well, though with the sun’s freckles and burns. Your eyes had the same golden glow as your favored and closest star.
Before you, your queen raised a hand.
The children of night summoned their scimitars, blades curved like the arcs of the shooting stars that sacrificed themselves to make these weapons. Beyond the halls of this palace, this coliseum, the night sky grew a bit darker for its loss.
You latched onto your own solar flare, twining the flame and light between your fingers until a broadsword solidified in your palm. Its gleam was blinding. Above you, the sun exhaled part of its strength.
Your queen brought down her hand, and both sides charged as one.
Your numbers were evenly matched, a soldier of sun to every messiah of midnight. Where blade met blade, sparks smoldered in the air. It was impossible to tell whether they were specks of moon or sun.
The sparring was short. It was not designed to be to the death. This was how each warrior found her partner on the planet of Grandrane. In the clearing dust and smoke, there were laced hands and matching grins.
Your own partner gave you a feral smile, one with nocturnal fangs, and a hand to pull you off the ground. You spat out a wad of the shimmering gold blood and took it.
Now with a crowd of mixed dark and light, your queen finally addressed the heart of the matter: The Congregation of Many Stars had called upon your race to stop the inexorable invasion of the human conquerors. Humans, who had already decimated their own planet, sought to colonize elsewhere. Somehow, this uncivilized race, one that has only managed long-distance space travel in the last century, had wiped out every other effort to halt their progress. Their innovation and intelligence may have been lacking, but their weaponry was all-destroying. You were the Congregation’s last resort.
At this, your queen seemed to find amusement. It was no secret that Grandrane was feared. Across the universe, you were called the Star Stealers. The Many Stars thought you took too much for savage purposes — coveting other planets’ stars for your own games of war — but they would rather have you as allies than enemies. And, your queen smirked, the Congregation of Many Stars didn’t seem to have complaints now that they had called upon you to fight for them.
So begins your war.
You leave Grandrane for G-23, as the humans have named it, purposefully placing yourself in the mankind’s path as they catalogue the universe in such binary things as letters and numbers. You don the guise of their fabled Fae, refracting sunlight for perfect human features and sharp ears, and masquerade as a familiar face in a vast and unknowable space. For long days and long nights, you live in your structured pairs like mortal twins, one sister’s eyes always open, always watching, always waiting. G-23, with its unpredictable and infernal rotations of light and dark, does not work as Grandrane does. It is during your night’s retreat that the first human vessel is spotted.
By the time humans make first landfall in their bubbled helmets, the sun has wiled its way back to the zenith. Midnight’s children have already sunken into their counterparts’ shadows, making your numbers appear half of their true value.
You play nice for the first two days, ignorance feigned and eyes wide and innocently blinking. You nod to their questions, show them your homes made of twisted roots and hollow trees. You blink prettily and preach of living in harmony with nature and the universe.
At night, you and the humans sleep. At night, your dark sisters sneak onto their ships, glean what they can of weaponry and tactics, and report back.
“Enough of this,” they hiss on the third night. “They are a weak race. Have you not seen the way they shield their eyes from the sun? How their skin burns beneath it? What they wear is not armor. It is life support for their feeble organs. We trained for eons before they walked, much less flew. Let us not waste any more time.”
“Then let us be done with it,” you whisper back.
You are glad the humans have not shown themselves to be creatures of honor and mercy. If they had, perhaps you would have abided by an honest duel. But as it stands, they have destroyed more planets than you have stars, so you feel no guilt at slitting sleeping throats.
Their blood does not glow as yours does.
Of course, the sheen of your light-made weapons and their gurgled cries wake the others, but you have advantages: doubled numbers, surprise, and your enemies’ ignorance. The hilt of your broadsword rests heavy in your hand, the heft of it most clearly felt when you slice through their brittle metal. The arc of its swing leaves a trail behind it, a burning afterimage. They meet your swords and scimitars with guns and bombs, but the heat of your stolen fire burns away their lead. It is not a fair fight, but you knew this when you agreed to the war. Humans do not specialize in close quarter battles, not when they are in their thin spacesuits and subject to their own shrapnel and radiation. This you knew and planned for, like so much else.
Once the fighting begins to die down, it is clear who the victors are. Covered in blood and space dust, you are as savage as your foes.
You personally deal the final blow, ripping a gash into the side of their beached spacecraft. Metal melts, drips, and cools. Pressurized air seeps away. You look back at the fallen, every empty-souled human heaped on the ground.
And then… pain.
Something sharp stabs you in the back. The horrible cold of steel sliding through you brings with it a pain you know heralds death.
You turn, sword dissipating as your energy slips away, and see a young girl clutching a dagger, golden with your blood. She is dying, already gasping away her last breaths, but she is smiling something wicked at you. You recognize that smile. You are her only revenge.
You smile back.
Ava Maria has always been a creature of vengeance. There is something sick and satisfying about finally taking it — the feeling of resistance against her dagger and having sticky, blood-stained fingers. There is something depraved about it that calls to her.
The strange part isn’t the death creeping through her lungs. This she saw coming. The strange part is the Fae’s smile at her. It is a smile of pride. It is a smile that says Ava Maria is the only redeeming thing this Fae has seen of humans. It is a smile that says Ava Maria belongs in the Fae’s afterlife with other women and warriors, not in a human’s heaven. It is smile that says you are like us. Your thirst calls for blood like a Star Stealer. You desire retribution and bloodshed.
In her revenge, Ava Maria understands.
Ava Maria and the Star Stealer meet death together.