It took longer for complete darkness to fall at this latitude, but the Emandi didn’t mind. A few extra hours meant very little to a creature who had already seen many millenia pass.
The moon was dark and the stars glittered overhead like ocean spray frozen in time. In the distance a hazy green glow reached faintly across the sky. It was a perfect night to watch the aurora, and the show was just getting started.
The Emandi had made their way high into the upper alpine, where the air was thin and the lights would feel close enough to touch. They coiled their sleek feline-esque body into an orb atop a weather-worn boulder and blinked slowly skyward with their pale, icy eyes. The aurora grew, colors of purple and red joining the streaking green and dancing across the endless expanse of sky to a muted song. The intensity of the colors reflected on the Emandi’s short silver fur, making the creature smile.
Being one of the oldest creatures in existence – an original child of the love between the land and the sun – the Emandi had borne witness to all of the earth’s wonders. They appreciated every single one of them, but had a special place in their heart for the aurora. For hours the Emandi sat in the frigid mountain air, the plush gossamer mane that floated atop their shoulders and down their chest provided a comfortable shield against the elements. It was a peaceful place to be for anyone capable of surviving in such unforgiving terrain.
A flash cut across the sky, bright enough to briefly outshine the aurora and catch the Emandi’s attention. Their eyes followed the light as it careened downward into the dark forest at the base of the mountain, close to where the Emandi made their home.
“How curious,” they purred and set off to investigate.
The Emandi took their time coming down the mountain. They dawdled through the forest, pausing to lap from a glacial stream and watch nocturnal creatures scurry hither and fro as the underbrush grew denser in the lower elevation. A brilliant white light filtered through the trees, growing brighter as the Emandi closed in.
At last, the creature stepped into a small clearing, lit as though it were midday. Standing at its center was a tall, glowing figure draped in golden robes with a sour look puckering their otherwise beautiful face.
“Why, Sita,” the Emandi hummed pleasantly, easing back onto a pair of powerful hind legs. They rolled their shoulders back and drew themself into a human-like posture. “What a surprise.”
“I do wish you wouldn’t call me that,” the Star replied with a scowl. Owing to their musical language, Stars had names that were impossible for any earthly creature to pronounce – save for perhaps the birds. That the Emandi had decided to name them as they saw fit remained a sore point for many of them.
“Give me a name I can pronounce and I will cease at once. Now, to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”
The Star regarded the Emandi critically before answering.
“I’m looking for the one you earth creatures call Welkin.”
“Well, that’s peculiar. Is it not unusual for your kind to lose track of one of your own?”
“Not when they’re in exile,” Sita admitted darkly.
The only sign that this news surprised the Emandi was a sharp flick of their thick tail. “Exile, you say?”
The Star didn’t respond.
Making a thoughtful noise, the Emandi settled back on their haunches. “If Welkin is in exile, I can’t imagine it matters where they are, so long as they’re not up there.” They gestured skyward with an articulated finger from one of their forepaws.
“In this case it does,” Sita replied. “Welkin’s exile comes with certain… terms. We are concerned they may be breaking them.”
“Fascinating.” The Emandi’s tail flicked again. “This punishment sounds poorly thought out to me. Rushed it, did we?”
Sita glowered. “Have you seen them or not?”
“I haven’t seen Welkin in, oh, three years? Perhaps four. Is that helpful?”
“You’ve had no contact more recent than that?” the Star asked, to which the Emandi shook their sizeable head. “Would you even tell me if you had?”
“I have no vested interested in being dishonest with you, Sita.”
With their lovely lips pressed into a tight line, Sita deliberated privately before giving a curt nod. “Very well. Should your paths cross, we would appreciate it if you didn’t mention this conversation.”
Flick, flick went the Emandi’s tail.
“I’ll take your request into consideration.”
By the sneer on their face, it was clear that Sita wasn’t happy with that response, but there wasn’t much to be done about it. The Star’s light intensified to a blinding brightness, and the Emandi closed their eyes until it dissipated with a fading whistle.
The forest was filled with darkness once more. Glancing up between the shadowy trees, the Emandi could see a patch of sky; in it the aurora continued to dance.
“Oh, Welkin. Dear friend,” the Emandi murmured to themself.
“What kind of trouble have you gotten yourself into this time?”
— End of Book 2 —