AUTHOR’S NOTE: The Star and the Ocean underwent structural revisions in September 2016. This particular chapter can now be found as the new chapters 24 and 25. I highly encourage you to read from these new chapters instead!
Chapter Twelve – Why do you think I brought her to you?
Welkin gently deposited Em’s unconscious body on the couch before moving into the kitchen. May didn’t bother asking what they were looking for.
Instead, she sat on the floor next to Em’s head and watched her numbly. A part of May wanted to reach out and softly stroke the side of Em’s pallid face until she woke up. Another, much stronger part, willed her to keep her hands to herself.
Despite all the time they had spent getting to know one another, Em still kept something from May. Something that, with what little Welkin had let slip, was somehow just as devastating as her being part Star. May swallowed dryly and tried to tell herself she wasn’t hurt by the secrecy.
It wasn’t as if she had been completely honest with Em either, after all.
“Don’t be angry with her.”
May jolted violently as Welkin’s voice cut through her reverie. The Star stood above her, holding out a steaming teacup. May had been so caught up that she hadn’t even heard to water come to a boil.
“No.” She shook her head and looked away. She knew she was being rude but she was too upset to care.
Welkin pressed, undeterred. “Please, May.”
A slave to her manners, May relented with a sigh. She took the cup with a slight nod of thanks and sipped at the tea politely. Instantly she felt the drink swirl through her belly and chase away the chill that had settled in her bones.
“Again, I ask you to not be angry with her,” Welkin said, still standing close beside her. “I begged her to keep her secrets to herself. As it is, she has already told you more than she’s told anyone else. I hope that fact can provide you with some degree of solace.”
May pondered this for a moment before she spoke. Was it really supposed to make her feel better?
“Tell me everything,” she said without looking up from her teacup. “After what just happened, I think I deserve to know.”
Welkin hummed thoughtfully, circling slowly behind the couch and trailing a thin hand along its edges. They paused across from where May was crouched, the three of them in line like planets in orbit.
“On this island, your people follow the legends of the Moon and the Ocean and the Earth and the Sun, correct?”
May tensed, uncertain where they were going with this question. “Sort of, I guess. Some people more than others.”
Welkin nodded sagely, continuing their circuit until they came to a delicate perch on the far arm of the couch. “And you know something of the Stars now, I presume?”
With her mouth shut tight, May opted to nod in reply. She worried she’d say something stupid about how the legends of the Stars weren’t as important in the local lore – that she herself had hardly given them a second thought before Em came along – and how horrible it might be to admit that to Welkin’s face. She reasoned they probably already knew, but still…
“In some parts of this world there are people who worship the Stars as devoutly as someone from the islands might revere the Ocean,” the Star said as if they had just peeked in on May’s thoughts, making her shudder. “They follow our legends and rules as their law. Does this make sense?”
May nodded again. “I suppose so.”
Welkin turned their beautiful face toward the still-open sliding door. “Many years ago a piece of a wishing star fell to Earth in error.”
Frowning, May couldn’t help but interrupt. “But Em told me the Stars don’t grant wishes.”
“If that were true, she wouldn’t be here,” Welkin replied, their tone akin to that of a schoolteacher gently correcting a student. “It is a rare thing, but we do grant the occasional wish when it makes sense. May I continue?”
Embarrassed, May averted her eyes and mumbled an apology, which Welkin ignored.
“The Star council responsible for this Earth turned to a particularly devout group of followers to help find the missing star piece.” Welkin continued. “And find it they did. But instead of informing the Stars, the followers chose instead to harbour it selfishly for their own gain.”
Welkin paused, drumming their long fingers along the back of the couch. Their face was impassive, and May found it disconcerting that she couldn’t get a read on them.
“While the group had always intended to eventually return the wishing star, greed proved to be an exceptionally powerful motivator. The followers soon became at odds with one another; some wanting to do their duty and return it, others wanting to make use of its power. Any human in possession of a wishing star has the ability to make a single wish of it, something I’m sure you can imagine would be quite attractive to the average person.”
“Despite the wishing star’s potential, those who remained loyal to the Stars informed us of the others’ transgressions. But before the wishing star could be retrieved, it was stolen. The council was furious.”
Fascinating as Welkin’s story was, May was growing impatient. She screwed up her courage to interrupt a second time.
“I’m sorry,” she said, peering up at the Star from her place on the floor. “What does this all have to do with Em and bringing people back from the dead?”
Welkin hesitated, pressing their lips into a thin line and looking anywhere but at May. Then, with a sigh, they spoke again.
“The woman you know as Em is not the same person who was born to Astrid. You see, after the wishing star went missing, the followers who had remained loyal to the Stars went to desperate measures to stay in our favour. As they searched for the star they also hunted down and destroyed any trace of the selfish wishes that had been made on it. In most cases these wishes had been for material wealth, power, beauty; the standard objects of human desire. But, like Astrid, a few of the wishes had been for children.”
Fear settled in the pit of May’s stomach. She knew where this story was going but she didn’t want to believe it.
“But Em was different! You helped Astrid have her. She had nothing to do with the wishing star. ”
“No,” Welkin agreed. “But she also made no secret of what she was, and these followers are not in the habit of taking chances. Humans have a great capacity to do terrible things out of fear and anger.”
Shaken, May took up Em’s hand and held it tight. “What did they…”
She wasn’t sure how to ask for the answer hanging between them.
“Audrey,” Welkin replied, an answer to a different question.
May blinked. “What?”
At last, Welkin’s golden gaze landed on Em. Their face was etched with sadness as they watched her sleep.
“Her name was Audrey then. In the beginning, before they found her.”
The feeling drained from May’s extremities, the way it did when she found herself looking down from a great height. Her mouth dry, she could only muster a whisper.
“Did they kill her?”
Welkin nodded solemnly.
A heavy breath escaped May’s lips as she tried to comprehend what the Star was telling her. “But then, how is she not dead?”
“By virtue of a very unorthodox and imperfect process that involved harvesting what was left of Audrey’s life force and providing her with a new vessel in which to reside.”
May knitted her brow as she deciphered Welkin’s words. “A vessel? As in, a new body?”
“Of course,” the Star replied. “Although building a new body is a skill I myself do not possess. I had to call in a debt owed by an acquaintance of the earthbound and, shall we say, mythical persuasion for that.”
Welkin continued. “But as I said before, there is no perfect way to bring someone back from the dead. Em is Audrey, as best as I could salvage her. You need to understand there is no easy way to collect an evanescent soul, but I did the best I could. Even with assistance, there was still need to fill in blank spaces with pieces of myself and ultimately, of another, to make her strong enough to live again. Em as you know her is as much of Audrey as possible, while at once someone entirely new.”
Welkin paused, collecting their thoughts as they watched May carefully.
“I never did right by her,” they admitted quietly. “I wasn’t there for Audrey the way I should have been. This, I thought, would be my way of of making up for that. She still thinks I did it for Astrid. That it was because I loved her mother that I brought her back. I did not realize how much I hurt her.”
Confused, May met Welkin’s gaze and held it. “Hurt her how?”
“I gave her a new life without once considering whether or not she would want it,” Welkin replied as though this should have been clear.
“How could she not want a second chance at life?” May asked, incredulous at the thought.
Welkin’s face was heavy with sadness. “I felt the same. I thought I was giving her a chance to live without fear of persecution. I had no idea how terrible it would be to wake up as a new person; with feelings and memories you can’t connect to, friends and family you can’t return to because, even if you did feel the same way about them, people aren’t supposed to come back from the dead. She is not who she once was.”
May mulled this over. If she had been asked to imagine what it would mean to cheat death, she never would have fathomed it looking like this. But of course the sacrifices would be devastating. A gift like this could never come cheap.
“I asked her to be careful,” Welkin said. “Once she was finally through being angry with me, I asked her to keep her abilities a secret. I did not want her to draw attention to herself a second time. But I had no idea how much loneliness I was damning her to by asking her to hide. Settling in to this new life has been… challenging for her, to say the least.”
Without warning, Em sat up, startling May and Welkin both. She said nothing, pulling her hand from May’s gentle grasp and hovering her way to the door as quickly as she could.
“Emanthy, wait.” Welkin stood. It took May a moment to realize they were saying Em’s name in full; not once had she mentioned it was short for anything.
“Don’t let me interrupt,” Em snapped without looking at either of them. “You’ve been doing a fine job of airing my dirty laundry all on your own.” Em threw open the door and escaped across the threshold into the night. The door slammed shut behind her.
May made to stand – she wasn’t about to lose Em to the ocean again – but Welkin’s firm grip held her in place. From their hand radiated a calming warmth that wrapped around her pounding heart and lulled her into passivity.
“Just let her go,” Welkin said softly, guiding her to sit on the now-empty couch. “Everything will be fine.”
A drowsy sensation crept along the edges of May’s mind.
“But, I want to help her.” Her words came out slowly.
Welkin smiled at her kindly. “You already are. She trusts you, after all. And I would not say it if it were not true.” Those long, warm fingers pushed May’s hair from her face. Her eyes grew heavy. “Can you keep a secret, May?”
“Mhmm,” she replied weakly.
“I’m so tired of hiding and I’m tired of being alone. I just want to live my own life with someone who understands me.”
Outwardly, the only sign that May understood was the quickening of her breath. Inside, her mind reeled with the horror of having her own secret wish – the same one she had whispered up at the night sky for years until Em had told her someone was probably listening – being recited back to her verbatim. She was mortified.
“You want the same thing,” Welkin whispered as they clasped her face gently between their palms.
May pushed her mind through the encroaching cloud of sleep. “We do?”
Welkin leaned close, their forehead pressing into May’s. Her vision flared white as the Star began to glow.
“Why do you think I brought her to you?”
Before she could answer, May’s mind gave way to the weight of fatigue. She fell into a deep sleep.
If you’re an artist who’s interested in doing an illustration for a future chapter of The Star and the Ocean, please contact me about commission opportunities!