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In May’s dream, the world was a black, inky void.
At first she thought she was the only person in existence, wandering silently through nothingness; lost and alone.
And then she tripped.
She fell face-forward, sprawling without injury onto the dark. When she hoisted herself up onto her elbows, she glanced back at what she tripped over and let out a choked wail.
Floating in the emptiness, eyes closed and covered in blood, was Em. Her face was mottled with the same bruises and gashes that May had suffered at the hands of Melanie, and a red, seeping stain blossomed across her shirt from the center of her chest.
May scrambled to Em’s side in a panic.
“They found you,” she sobbed, her trembling hands searching Em’s neck for a pulse. “No, no, no, they got to you too.”
Fat hot tears fell from May’s eyes, splashing down onto Em’s icy skin and diluting the smears of fresh blood like watercolor paint.
“Wake up, Em,” she sobbed, holding her face between her palms. “Please, open your eyes.”
She shook Em’s shoulders with a firm grasp, her frantic pleas echoing through the dark and barren world that surrounded them. Something in May’s mind convinced her that she was too late, and she collapsed over Em’s body in a hysterical heap.
A soft touch on the top of her head startled her. May sat up with a gasp and found Em, now inexplicably void of injury, smiling down at her.
“I knew you could do it,” the Star whispered, looking at her with proud and loving diamond eyes.
May shouted with joy, flinging her arms around Em and holding her tight. She looked at her again, breathless with relief. Em pulled May up until they were face to face and pressed a chaste kiss to her lips. It was a gesture that filled May with happiness and longing, but for some reason her body seemed incapable of reciprocating.
Em tried again with another gentle kiss and, again, May’s body was sluggish to respond. It was confusing and frustrating in the way dreams are when things don’t work the way they’re supposed to. Em pressed harder. Slowly, with her mind growing fuzzy around the edges, May felt her body begin to respond.
Em’s kiss tasted like wine.
“Oh, May,” dream Em whispered in a voice that jostled May’s mind.
It wasn’t Em’s voice.
It was Mila’s.
May’s eyes shot open to find herself surrounded by a different kind of darkness. A warm body writhed against her own beneath the covers, another kiss smothering her lips. Her sleep-addled brain tripped over itself at the sensation of a hand sliding up her shirt.
“I’ve missed you so much,” Mila’s voice murmured, her lips moving against May’s cheek.
“Mila,” May gasped. “Stop it. What are you doing?” She squirmed, trying to hoist Mila off and wriggle free, but her legs were tangled in the quilt and a sharp stinging from the scar on her chest nearly took her breath away.
“Oh, come on,” Mila crooned, shifting so that she straddled May’s hips and intertwining their fingers like tight laces. “You can’t tell me you don’t still think about us.”
“Get off of me!”
Mila attempted to kiss her again, getting only May’s cheek as she turned her face away.
“We’re both alone! This is our chance.”
May was now completely awake, panic pulsing through her. Her mind screamed like a siren, her body reacting to being pinned yet again. But this time she was stronger – not to mention sober – and she had the upper hand. Bucking her hips, May ignored the searing pain in her chest and twisted. With Mila’s center of gravity thrown, all it took was a shove to send her sprawling onto the other side of the small pull-out mattress. Hissing through the pain, May scrambled to her feet and gently massaged her scar.
“Wait,” Mila cried, reaching out for her. “Please, wait.”
“Mila, that’s enough,” May shouted. “You need to stop.”
As May fumbled to get away from the bed – the living room was so cramped with the couch mattress pulled out – Mila began to cry.
“I’m so sorry,” she howled. “I just thought-”
“No,” May snapped, cutting her excuse off at the bud. “We’re over, Mila. We had a chance and you threw it away a long time ago. End of story.”
“I was scared.”
May scoffed. “No, you were selfish. Clearly you still are because you’re married. And even if you weren’t, I’m in love with someone else – someone who actually loves me back.”
She stood at the foot of the pull-out and watched Mila sob. Even in tears Mila was beautiful, her soft cheeks flushed and dark, seductive eyes glistening. But now when May looked at her all she saw was a spoiled and pitiful creature.
“I don’t love him,” Mila moaned, punctuating her confession with a sad hiccup. As if she thought her words would make any sort of difference to May, she reached out a trembling hand. “I was alone and scared and I didn’t know what else to do.”
A part of May wanted to be surprised by Mila’s admission and even her audacity to use it to try and lure her back in. But May was no longer blinded by the charms of first love. With a shake of her head she turned and marched toward the door.
“I’m sorry you’re unhappy, Mila. But that’s not my problem. Not anymore.” May stooped and hauled her pack onto her shoulder with a wince. “It’s time for you to learn how to clean up your own damn messes.” She yanked the door open, a cool blast of night air washing over her like a refreshing tide.
Sparing one last glance back, May narrowed her eyes. “And stop calling me Maybe – you don’t get to do that anymore.”
It was so early – too early to be at the shipyards already – but May had nowhere else to go. Bundled tightly beneath Em’s hoody, May slumped down at the edge of a dock and let her legs dangle over. She was exhausted and angry, so much so that she couldn’t bring herself to care about being out in the open anymore. The dull throbbing in her chest had ebbed, and thankfully a quick glance down the front of her shirt confirmed that she hadn’t reopened her wound. Huffing, May arranged her pack behind her, leaning back on it to watch the sunrise and listen to the ocean roll around her.
As the night sky faded into dreamy shades of violet and gold, the shrieking call of gulls interrupted the serenity of the morning. May tipped her head back and watched them circle and dive, some hopping cautiously up the dock behind her or watching her with unblinking curiosity from the lamp posts above.
Then, amid the flurry of white and grey feathers, a dark mass caught May’s attention. She sat up and twisted to get a better look at the creature as it flapped its massive black wings, landing only a dozen paces down the dock. It was a bird, but not a gull. Every inch of its huge body – it easily dwarfed the gulls – was sleek black. Thoughtful eyes peered back at May. From its large, curved beak it let out a raspy caw that sounded eerily out of place.
And it was. May knew this was no island bird. She had seen the species before, high in the mountainous terrain of Tenna. Dom had told her all about them when she first spotted a pair circling in the sky; she had been struck by their enormous size and freakishly knowing gaze.
“A raven,” she whispered, watching the displaced bird with the same sense of awe. “What are you doing all the way out here?”
The raven cawed again and released what looked to be a crumpled piece of paper from its taloned foot. With a few rapid pecks, it opened the paper and tilted its head left and then right, giving each eye a chance to inspect whatever was on it. Then the raven looked back at May.
Another caw. This time the raven snatched the paper up in its beak and fluttered over to where May sat with flabbergasted stillness. Up close, the bird was even bigger than she had imagined and she involuntarily shrunk away when it got close.
Unperturbed, the raven tossed the paper down and scooted it toward May with its beak. It watched her expectantly and, when she didn’t move, it cawed again, making her jump.
“Am I supposed to take that?”
Carefully she reached out, but the raven was already distracted with pruning itself. The paper was grubby and of a thicker stock that she anticipated. Turning it to face the lamplight, May gasped, nearly dropping it when she saw her own face smiling back at her.
It was a photo Em had taken of her back when they were on the run. In it, May sat on a blanket, smiling over her shoulder at Em as they perched on a hilltop watching the sunrise. It had been one of the first photos they sent to Dom to let him and the rest of the search and rescue team know they were safe.
“How did you get this?” May marvelled, turning the photo over in her hands. That’s when she spotted the writing. It was a note, short and unquestionably written in Dom’s child-like scrawl.
Something huge has happened.
Can’t say much in case Fargus is intercepted.
May raised an eyebrow at the bird. “Are you Fargus?”
Her question elicited a caw and a couple quick dips of the raven’s head that uncannily mimicked a nod.
“Did Dom send you?”
Another caw and a nod. May remembered Dom telling her that ravens were freakishly smart and, as a forest spirit, it made sense that he’d be able to convince one to send a message on his behalf. She reread the note and considered it carefully. There was always a chance that it was a trap, but what if it wasn’t? After all, if there was a way to ensure a message was nearly impossible to trace, May figured sending it by raven was probably a good way to do it.
“How do I know I can trust you?” she asked, feeling a little foolish as she did so. Fargus replied with a full body shake, dark feathers fluffing momentarily before gently settling back into place.
“Are Dom and the others safe at least?”
Would it be crazy of her to trust a bird?
Making a detour to Tenna threw off her plan – she had intended to head straight back to the Rookery in hopes that the Murder’s criminal ties could help her track down her birth parents. Her eyes traced the words ‘something huge has happened’ again and her heart picked up its pace. What could that mean?
Biting her lip, May gazed out across the ocean. Her eyes fixated on the horizon. Going to Tenna meant delaying the only thing she wanted – putting an end to the Loyals once and for all so that she and Em could finally be together again. But deep down May knew she wouldn’t be able to live with herself if she ignored Dom’s request and something happened to him or the others.
“Okay, Fargus,” she said, turning back to the patiently waiting raven. “Tell Dominic I’m on my way.”
With a few excited caws, Fargus took to the air and flew eastward in the direction of the mainland. May pulled herself to her feet and watched the bird’s dark silhouette disappear. Behind her a ship’s horn sounded.
Once more, May looked across the sea.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, her fingers tracing the groove of her absent ring. She fantasized that wherever Em was, she was looking down at it and thinking of May in that same moment. “It might take a little longer to finish this than I originally planned.”
The sun broke the horizon, its first rays reaching across space and time to warm May’s face with a gentle caress.
“First, Dom, then the wishing star.”
She smiled, bright and wide.
“And then, us.”
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