Content warning: Strong language
“I’m sorry.” Rue glanced apologetically between her husband and Jeremy. “But we aren’t getting anywhere like this.”
Stepping forward, she gently lifted a silver chain up and over her head. Hanging from its delicate links was an ornate locket with a detailed design in a rainbow of candy-like enamel inlays. She offered it to Em but when she hesitated, May took it instead. Carefully, she popped the cover open, revealing the photo inside.
Connor, a bright smile lighting up his handsome face, held in his arms a laughing child. The toddler had Rue’s brown skin and dark, fluffy curls but his green eyes were carbon copies of Connor’s.
“That’s our son.” Rue’s voice caught as she pointed at the photo cradled in May’s hand. “Gaten.”
“He looks so sweet,” May murmured.
Her mind was already racing across thousands of miles back to her nephew, Omi. Depending on when the photo was taken, she figured Gaten was probably close to the same age as him. She could picture Omi now, playing in the sand on the beaches of Omea, proudly holding up the spiked coil of a conch shell he had just unearthed; a new addition to his growing collection.
Her heart clenched at how much she missed him.
“He is very sweet,” Connor agreed, putting an arm around his wife’s shoulder. Slow tears snaked down her inked face. “And happy and perfect. He’s the light of our lives.”
The sound of Omi’s laughter bubbled in May’s memory. She glanced down at the locket again and swallowed, her throat dry.
“What’s happened to him?” Em asked, her voice breaking May’s train of thought. Em’s eyes were trained on the locket too – she didn’t seem capable of raising them to look at Connor, or Rue – not even at May – anywhere other than at Gaten’s smiling face.
“They took him,” Rue answered quietly. “The Loyals took him from us.”
Em tensed. May gasped.
“Why?” May asked, the question coming out louder than she meant it to.
Connor rubbed his brow; he looked as though he hadn’t gotten a full night’s rest in weeks. Rue wrapped her arms around his waist and tucked her face into the crook of his neck.
“To answer that, we need to tell you more about us,” said Priva, taking over to give the grieving parents a moment to themselves. “It’s complicated.”
With gentle hands, May placed the locket back in Connor’s palm before hopping up to sit on the edge of the counter. Em sidled up beside her and draped an arm over her knees. They were ready to listen.
“You know the Loyals are after you, but do you understand why?”
“Sort of,” Em lied. She felt it safer to say as little as possible. “Something about a missing wishing star and stolen wishes or something like that.”
Priva rubbed the back of her neck in thinly veiled frustration. “That wishing star fell to Earth over three decades ago. An organization of Star worshippers sought it out but became divided about what to do with it when they found it. Some people actually used it for their own gain, wishing for all kinds of things – money, love, beauty, prestige. But the people we know now as the Loyals were exactly that – loyal to the Stars. They considered these ill-gotten wishes to be affronts to the Stars and took it upon themselves to destroy them. Unfortunately, some people had wished for babies – innocents like Connor and Jeremy and me.” She nodded at the others to make her point. “And getting rid of Wishes like us meant murder.”
“People were dying. So a couple of Wishes started fighting back. Connor was one of the first, along with…” She hesitated, eyes darting from Em to her friends and back again. Em and May exchanged a quick, surreptitious glance. “Some others. Jeremy and Rue. Me, eventually. We spent years operating in secret. We called ourselves WIND – Wish Identification, Naturalization, and Defence – and tried to get to human Wishes before the Loyals could.”
“What did you do with the Wishes when you found them?” May asked.
“Anything it took to keep them safe,” Priva replied. “Sometimes they already knew what they were and just needed to be warned. Others needed help escaping and starting new lives.”
She folded her arms and closed her eyes with a sigh. “But it was an exhausting way to live. Constantly staying one step ahead of the Loyals meant never being able to rest. We always had to be looking over our shoulders, living on the run, even after all the known Wishes had been found.” – At this, May kept her expression as impassive as possible. – “Which is why when the Loyals eventually came to us with a treaty, we decided to take it.”
“We thought it was the best thing for everyone,” Connor blurted. He sounded like he was confessing to a crime. “As far as we knew, we had found the last of the Wishes. The most important part of our work was done. And besides…” he looked down at Rue, whose face was still pressed against him. “When we found out we were expecting, our priorities had to change.”
“So we agreed to their terms,” Priva continued. “We gave ourselves up in exchange for some semblance of freedom.”
May shook her head. “I don’t understand. If the Loyals wanted to get rid of all the Wishes, why would they negotiate with you? Why wouldn’t they just… you know.”
“Kill us?” Jeremy offered. An awkward silence hung for a beat before he continued. “It’s not like they hadn’t tried. But by this point they had realized their self-righteous bullshit wasn’t gaining them any brownie points; all the Stars wanted was their wishing star back.”
“But the problem there was that the wishing star had been stolen years earlier,” Priva said. “While the Loyals had never stopped looking for it, they certainly hadn’t gotten any closer to finding it. Eventually someone in that mess of a cult decided we might be the key to figuring out how to find it, which is where the treaty came in.”
Beside her, Jeremy sneered.
“We could hand ourselves over to the cause or spend the rest of our lives running and hiding from their network. At the time it seemed like a fair enough deal – finding the wishing star and getting it fuck out of here would make everyone happy. Instead we wound up signing up to let them use us just so we can go on living our lives like normal people.” He scoffed, tugging down the collar of his shirt to reveal the tip of a thick, silvery scar in the centre of his chest. “Of course, ‘normal’ to these people means treating the Wishes among us like lab rats, among other things.”
Em gave a start, her nails digging into the flesh of May’s arm.
From his corner, Dom cleared his throat, making everyone jump – they had almost forgotten he was there.
“And Gaten?” he asked. “What did all this treaty business mean for him?”
Rue pulled back at last, drawing in an uneasy breath. “Gaten was the first child to be born to a Wish.” She gave Connor’s hand a squeeze. “This made him very interesting to the Loyals, but they never made a move on him. We figured he was protected by the treaty like the rest of us.”
Her lip quivered as she clutched the locket to her breast. “But we were wrong. We wrong about everything. And them taking him from us was just another betrayal we’ve been powerless to stop.”
Again, Em twitched – a jolt racing down her limb from her core. May watched helplessly as Em clenched her eyes and licked her lips the way she always did when her mind was beginning to slip.
“But why take him now?” May asked, rubbing Em’s shoulder gently as her mind sifted through everything they had said, lining the pieces up in her mind like clues in a game. “What happened?”
With darkness in his eyes, Jeremy turned his glare to Em.
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