It was the chill in the bed that woke Priva up.
Groggy and bewildered, she glanced around the room and found it empty. The other side of the bed was still made up. She had spent the night alone.
“What now?” she grumbled, dragging herself out of bed.
She pulled on a sweater and made her way down the hallway. The room Rue and Connor shared was empty too, soft morning light streaming in through the windows. Priva zoned out for a moment, watching the lazy dance of dust motes through the golden rays and listening to the sounds of life coming from the kitchen.
Downstairs she found the couple buzzing around preparing breakfast. Their bright-eyed toddler, Gaten, was already happily babbling away from his chair at the table.
“Oh, Priva!” Rue gasped, catching sight of her out of the corner of her eye. “I’m sorry, did we wake you up?”
“Nah,” Priva said with a shake of her head. She could feel the bed-headed disarray of her kinky black hair as she moved – she must have looked as tired as she felt. “Have either of you seen Jeremy yet this morning?”
Rue and Connor exchanged a glance.
“No, why?” Connor asked slowly, poking at the eggs he was working on in his frying pan.
Priva frowned, knowing they were already thinking the same thing she was. “He didn’t come to bed last night.”
Connor sighed and pulled the pan off the burner. “Do you want me to check?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Priva waved him off. “I’ve got it.”
With slightly more intent, she marched off toward the study – the misleadingly elegant name the friends had given to the basement den. Before she even reached the door, she knew her assumptions were correct. She pushed in without knocking, smothering her urge to barge in swinging.
“Please tell me you weren’t down here all night,” she huffed, arms crossed.
Jeremy peered up at her over the screen of his laptop. He sat on the floor, stacks of papers and notes strewn around him in every direction. If the chaos didn’t give away his long hours spent in the study, the dark circles beneath his eyes.
“Why?” he asked. “What time is it?”
“Morning.” Priva assumed her inflection would be dangerous enough she needn’t explain why that was a problem. Still, this was Jeremy she was talking to.
“You have to see this,” he told her, ignoring her comments altogether. Priva narrowed her eyes, glaring in a way that would make any normal person fear for their safety.
Behind her, footsteps padded down the stairs.
“Jeremy, is everything alri- ah, fuck. C’mon, dude. What are you doing?” Connor glanced around the room, surveying the mess in dismay.
“I’ve found something.” Jeremy beckoned them over with obvious excitement. “Seriously, you guys have to come see this.”
Priva rolled her eyes at Connor, who sighed.
“We’ve been over this,” he said gently. “We’re not doing this anymore.”
“Independent aerial suspension and self-propelled flight,” Jeremy barreled on as if Connor hadn’t spoken. He waved a manila folder over his head before flicking it across the room. It skidded to a stop at Connor’s feet. “Projected energy shielding and energy manipulation. Sound familiar?”
Connor raised an eyebrow and bent to collect the folder. While he flipped through its contents, Priva rubbed her temples.
“What are you getting at, J?”
Jeremy didn’t answer. He watched Connor expectantly, his expression tense.
“You think it’s a Wish?” Connor asked.
“When have we ever seen a Wish that can do all that?” Jeremy chided, looking as fed-up as Priva felt.
“Jeremy.” Her voice was laced with caution. She didn’t want to have to say it. After all this time she didn’t think she’d have to. And yet, here they were, still having the same ridiculous conversation.
“This is different and you both know it,” Jeremy snatched his notebook from beside him and jumped up from the floor. “According to reports she was spotted three days ago using all of these abilities in an attack somewhere in a remote mountain town.”
“Who?” Connor held up a grainy printed photo of two women in matching uniforms – one petite with short waves of rose gold hair and the other icy-skinned with alarmingly blue eyes and silver hair. “One of these girls?”
Jeremy tapped the ghostly-looking woman earnestly. “Her.”
“Does that look like Audrey to you?” Priva snapped. The air seemed to be sucked from the room as soon as she said it. She instantly regretted her tone but she was tired of this conspiratorial nonsense – the woman was dead.
“How else do you explain it?” Jeremy growled back.
Connor glanced between them anxiously. “Maybe she’s another Starborn.”
“Seriously?” Jeremy rounded on him. “You know the Stars would never allow another mess like that to happen again. Welkin would be dead. Or whatever the Star equivalent of dead is.”
Priva bristled. “Well, it’s certainly more plausible than-”
“Guys?” Rue’s voice cut in from upstairs. Connor jerked, instinctively picking up on the lilt of concern in his partner’s voice.
Together the three darted up to the main floor to find Rue peeking between the blinds of the front room, Gaten tucked protectively in her arms.
“What’s wrong, love?” Connor hurried to her side. He leaned forward to see what she was looking at. His blood ran cold.
“What is it?” Priva shifted uneasily from one foot to the other. It was clear something was very wrong.
Before either of them could answer there came a heavy pounding on the door. The four friends looked to one another, eyes wide and fearful.
“It’s them,” Connor murmured, striding over to the door.
“What?” Priva hissed, her skin prickling with apprehension.
“We’re not due for a check-in,” Jeremy whispered what they already knew. His eyes darted to the basement stairs and back again.
Another round of pounding shook the door. Gaten whimpered in his mother’s arms.
Connor cleared his throat and turned the lock; it was against the rules not to answer it. On the stoop stood a veritable team of Loyal agents, including their regular liaison and, to everyone’s surprise, Melanie. Rue and Priva shared a worried glance with one another. If the unscheduled visit wasn’t cause enough for concern, Melanie’s presence certainly was.
“Move,” she barked, pushing passed Connor into the house. She still had her motorcycle helmet tucked beneath her arm.
“What’s going on?” Jeremy demanded, more forcefully than any of the others would have dared.
Melanie turned on the spot and faced them all with an arresting air.
“There has been a development,” she announced, her voice dripping with barely contained displeasure. “And you four are going to help us get to the bottom of it.
As subtly as possible, Connor met Jeremy’s gaze.
Before resuming to give Melanie his undivided attention, his mind flitted to a thought that only moments ago he wouldn’t have dared believe to be true.
Perhaps Jeremy had been onto something after all.
And if he was, it didn’t bode well for them.
The rest of the Loyal contingent stormed inside, shutting out the rest of the world with a slam of the door.
No, this didn’t bode well at all.
[The end of Book One! Ready for more? The sequel, The Wind and the Horizon, is currently updating on Wednesdays and Fridays!]
Banner art by @flowerveil