The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Thirty Two

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[ CW: strong language, sexual content ]

Marina’s big house was fairly quiet for the rest of the day, especially considering how many people were in it. The party spent most of the afternoon napping and getting cleaned up.

Some time after three o’clock, Em jolted awake and glanced groggily around the room until she remembered where she was. It came back to her slowly: the memory of crawling along the couch and flopping down onto her stomach between May’s splayed legs. May had been lounging there, reading the computer reference book Marina had loaned her; Em fell asleep with her arms wrapped around May’s middle and her face resting on her stomach as it rose and fell with each gentle breath May took.

“How long was I asleep?” Em asked. She peered up at May, who lifted the book she was still reading to peek back at her.

“Not sure,” May admitted. “Maybe an hour?”

Connor strode into the room carrying a basket full of fresh laundry.

“Do you guys mind if I fold in here?” he asked. “Rue’s sleeping upstairs.”

“Knock yourself out,” Em replied with a yawn, snuggling back down onto May who set the book aside and began combing her fingers lightly through Em’s hair.

Connor was almost finished his chore when a sleepy-eyed Rue wandered downstairs.

“Feeling better, love?” he asked when she walked up for a quick kiss and to survey his progress.

“Much better.” She smiled warmly.

Marina breezed into the room and grinned when she saw them. “Everyone’s surfacing! Who’s up for a drink or two?”

Without waiting for a response she unlocked a magnificent liquor cabinet and pulled out glasses. She then went to retrieve wine from the kitchen as everyone made their drink selection. Before striding back into the room she called up the stairs to the stragglers. “We’re getting drunk without you!”

Soon Jeremy and Priva joined them. They were disheveled, but it didn’t appear to have been from sleep. Em and May exchanged knowing looks when the pair passed them on their way to make their drinks, but they kept their teasing remarks to themselves.

“Oh, man.” Marina sighed happily, settling back with a very full glass of wine. “I can’t remember the last time I got drunk. I think I’m overdue.”

“We’re not getting drunk,” Connor laughed. “But don’t let us stop you.”

“For those prepared to party,” Em raised her glass of whiskey to Marina. “We salute you.”

They all clinked their glasses, a chaotic moment of reaching arms trying to make sure no one was missed, and toasted to being together, regardless of the circumstances.

For everyone but May and Em, the conversation flowed naturally, especially once the alcohol started to lighten the mood in the room. No one wanted to talk about the present and so those who shared a history dipped into the wells of nostalgia. They rehashed memories, retelling increasingly funnier stories until they gasped for breath between their laughter.

May and Em sat on the far end of the couch, edging closer with every sip from their glasses. At first they tried to stay cognisant that Jeremy was right there, regardless of the fact that he hadn’t looked at them once since entering the room. But as the whiskey worked its magic, they seemed to forget that anyone else was in the room. Em coiled an arm around May’s slender waist and nuzzled into the curve of her neck. She planted kiss after kiss – playful in the beginning, then slower and seductive as they worked through their second and third drinks – along May’s jawline and shoulder. Between kisses she’d whisper things in May’s ear that left her crimson-cheeked and giggling.

“One day I’m gonna buy us a big house like this one,” Em told May in a matter-of-fact, whisper-yell. “And you can just spend all day lounging around in fancy lingerie like the fucking queen you are.”

“Shhh, everyone can hear you.” May grinned and kissed Em to silence her.

Em replied by mumbling something against May’s lips that sounded a bit like, “I worship you.”

The only sign that Jeremy heard any of this was the subtle bouncing of his knee.

It wasn’t long after that May excused herself, slipping upstairs to use the washroom.


Jeremy didn’t realize Em had crept away too until he rose to fix another drink and found her missing. Squaring his jaw, he tried to focus on the promises he had made; one to Rue to try harder to be pleasant to the girls, made in the throes of gratitude that came with having survived his beating in the alley, the other to Priva. That afternoon she had made him promise to stop obsessing over the past – to see her, the one standing right in front of him. He had promised to try and it must have been enough for her; they made love for the first time in ages.

He thought of the sex, imagining the feeling of Priva’s silky skin under his and the look on her face as he moved between her thighs. Her moans of pleasure, her nails digging into his shoulders, the genuine happiness she radiated as they laid together afterward.

He reached out and took her hand. He could try.

“I know what we’re missing,” Marina announced, sitting up quickly. “Music!”

Priva snapped her fingers. “Didn’t you say Myles plays guitar now?”

“Yes!” Marina pointed at her, clearly into the direction Priva’s train of thought was headed. “It’s in his room!”

Priva looked to Jeremy expectedly. “Go get it, boo! Play for us!”

Jeremy blinked up at Marina. “Where’s his room?”

“Third floor. First door on your left.”

Without arguing – he was trying to be better, after all – he got to his feet and made for the stairs. He hadn’t realized just how much he’d had to drink until standing; his head swam with the early stages of his buzz.

As he stepped onto the second floor, Jeremy paused. To his right the staircase continued upwards. But to his left he saw the bathroom, open and dark. Across the hall was Em and May’s room, the door open just a crack. Everything was quiet.

That’s weird, he thought with a frown. He had been sure they had sneaked up here to fuck. A slight flurry of concern rose in his stomach.

Against his better judgement, he tiptoed toward the room. Perhaps they had simply passed out like a couple of lightweights. But what if they weren’t in there? He tried to push down the paranoid voice in his head, honed from years of fighting and fleeing, that screamed something might be wrong.

He held his breath as he peered through the miniscule opening in the door. From there he could see the bed, made and empty.

A sudden rush of movement took him by surprise as a pair of bodies tumbled into his line of vision from somewhere hidden by the door. Jeremy had to bite his bottom lip to keep from gasping out loud.

A tangle of peaches and cream; May had pushed Em up against the wall, kissing her fiercely. Their shirts had already been discarded, their hands were everywhere.

To Jeremy, the world seemed to fall away. He stood, paralyzed; knowing he needed to walk away but helpless to do so.

May dragged her teeth lightly against the tender flesh of Em’s throat. Head back, Em welcomed May’s assault with a breathy moan.

Kisses were peppered across Em’s collarbone as May groped under her lover’s bra with one hand and worked the button of her jeans with the other.

Get out of here, Jeremy’s brain shouted at him.

But he couldn’t. He was transfixed by the ecstacy on Em’s face as May’s hand plunged down the front of her pants and pressed into her warmth.

He knew that look, he remembered it perfectly. Her quiet noises of passion were exactly the same.

All at once, memories of when he was the one in May’s place came back to him like a crashing wave.

It didn’t matter what she looked like or what she called herself: Jeremy knew Audrey when he saw her.

At last he was able to tear himself away from the door. He staggered to the staircase and heaved a few deep and rocky breaths.

Go upstairs, he coached himself. Get the guitar. Go downstairs. Figure your shit out.

From down the hall, Em cried out softly.

Figure your shit out.


By the time the girls slunk back downstairs, the sitting room was filled with the sound of guitar strings and drunken singing.

“Welcome back, ladies,” Priva announced loudly, drawing everyone’s attention to the blushing pair as they slid back into their spot on the couch.

“Look,” May laughed, trying to come up with an excuse and failing.

“Listen,” Em said, with just as much success.

From his chair, Jeremy fiddled with the guitar pegs, adjusting the tuning. He didn’t look up as he launched into another song.

The notes were familiar. May recognized it as the song she and Em had performed at the flat in Luxton; the first song she learned to play herself.

“Hey!” She turned to Em, smiling. “It’s the song you’re always singing!”

But Em didn’t answer. She wasn’t smiling either.

Instead her gaze was fixed on Jeremy’s hands as they danced over the strings.

“Wait,” Em muttered, squinting. “How do you…”

Her eyes grew wide. “Oh, fuck.”

“What’s wrong?” Connor asked, glancing between Em and Jeremy.

“Imagine how surprised I was when you two started playing this song,” Jeremy said, his eyes still trained on his instrument as he finished the melody. “This, the song I wrote for Audrey.”

The final note reverberated itself into silence. No one spoke.

“She’s the only person I ever played it for.” Now he looked up. His eyes were cold.

“Isn’t that interesting?”

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The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Twenty Three

[ Beginning | Previous Chapter ]

Content warning: sexual/physical assault mentions, PTSD trauma, sex

With each day that passed, the awkwardness and tension lifted. Though Jeremy remained cold toward May, she found herself warming up to the other members of WIND.

According to Priva, it would take three more days for the group to arrive at a small town called Luxton where they would be able to take a brief rest and resupply. The town was a stop along a train route that would take them to their next destination; the city of York.

“You’re amazing with these maps,” May remarked as she hunched beside Priva, watching her trace the path they would follow with the tip of her finger.

“I’d better be,” Priva laughed. “Cartography is in my blood.”

“How so?”

Priva pointed to a signature in the bottom corner of the map. It didn’t register as anything familiar to May, but Priva was clearly proud of it.

“My great granddaddy drew this map himself when he explored this range as a young man,” she explained. “People think we’ve found all that’s worth seeing in this world. But there are still so many remote places waiting to be understood. I even like to map out the places I’ve been, just in case I’ve seen something other explorers have missed.”

“That’s incredible!” May was so enthralled that she listened to Priva explain the finer points of cartography and tell stories about her great-grandfather for half a day out on the trail, hanging on every word.

After dinner the following evening, May was helping Rue clean up when she noticed the far off look in her eyes as she gazed into the dying fire.

“How are you holding up?” May asked kindly.

Rue started slightly. “I’m sorry. I was just…”

“Thinking of Gaten?”

There was a heartbeat of silence. “Yes.”

“I can’t even begin to imagine how you’re feeling,” May said. “I have a nephew back home and I love him like crazy. Don’t tell Em this, but when we first went into hiding I would wait for her to fall asleep and then I would cry because I missed him so much.”

“Oh, May.” Rue pressed a hand to her heart. “That’s awful. I’m so sorry.”

“No, don’t be!” May balked. “I only bring it up because I thought that was bad. I was a mess over it. And yet here you are, going what you’re going through, and you’re being so brave about it. Gaten is going to be so proud of you.”

Eyes glistening, Rue still managed to smile. “That’s a very sweet thing to say, May. Thank you.”

They worked for a couple more moments in a silence that was lighter than a moment earlier.

“So, you like kids then?” Rue asked, unexpectedly continuing the conversation.

May grinned. “Yeah. I mean, I spent a lot of time looking after my nephew and he just… I don’t know. I guess kids just have a way of giving you a whole new perspective on things.”

“They sure do,” Rue agreed, laughing.

The more May got to know these people, the better she felt about the dangerous journey they were on together.

She also felt like she was getting a better sense of who Audrey might have been. The person Em had once been often felt like a ghost to May, haunting just out of her line of sight. But the more she learned about the people Audrey had known and loved, the more that spectre seemed to take shape. While Jeremy’s thorny disposition had left May wondering what kind of person could love someone so perpetually hostile, the others gave Audrey more dimension. May could imagine being friends with these people. She could imagine Em being friends with them too, and although May recognized that she still had virtually nothing other than a notion to go on, she couldn’t help but wonder if Em and Audrey were quite as different as her lover insisted they were.

As for that lover, the pair did what they could to make sure the circumstances didn’t come between them. Long after the others fell asleep, May and Em would keep one another awake, rolling and rocking in the throes of love and lust as best they could while trying to stay as quiet as possible.

May loved crawling between Em’s legs, using her tongue to guide her in the darkness as she teased and tasted, feeling Em tremble and buck against her. Em preferred to use her hands. With one she would pin May down while the other worked its magic. The night was like a blindfold that kept May tense with anticipation; each touch was a surprise so overwhelming that it took every ounce of willpower May had not to shatter the silence of midnight with her passion.

On their last night in the woods, long after the lovers had exhausted themselves into sleep, May awoke with a violent, heat-pounding jolt. She sat up, breathless and terrified. Frantically she tried to remember where she was by reminding herself of where she wasn’t.

“It was a dream,” she whispered into the darkness, feeling hot tears slide down her face. “He’s not here. It’s not real.”

Beside her she could feel the softness of Em’s naked body and the gentle rhythm of her breath. She was, somehow, still asleep and May couldn’t bring herself to wake her.

But her nightmare – the feeling of Kane’s greedy mouth on hers, his hands in places they had no business being – refused to release her from its grip. Her lungs panicked for air and her heart wouldn’t stop racing. To May, the world seemed to be tipping, threatening to cast her off into a full fit of panic. Knowing she needed to move – to do something – she crawled, trembling from beneath the covers and pulled on her clothes before staggering out into the cold of the night.

Free of the tent, May doubled over, gasping for breath and pleading with herself to calm down.

“It’s not real,” she wept as quietly as she could. “He can’t hurt you anymore.”

“May, it’s Connor,” she heard in the darkness. “Don’t be frightened.”

Through tear-soaked eyes, May peered around but it was too black for her eyes to focus.

“Connor? Where are you?”

A match flared, illuminating him from where he sat beside the fire pit, a heavy blanket over his shoulders. “Would you like to sit?”

May’s flight instincts were still firing wildly in her mind. It was a struggle for her to overcome the impulse to shrink away, but slowly she shuffled to where Connor sat and lowered herself down beside him just as the match burnt out.

“I’m going to put the blanket on you. Is that okay?” Connor asked, his voice soft and steady.

“Yes,” May whispered back.

In the darkness she felt the full weight of the blanket gently drape across her shoulders. She clutched at its edges, drawing it closer around her body; she hadn’t realized just how cold she had been before now.

They sat in silence for a long time, until the blindness of night came to feel like a hiding place and May felt her heartbeat slow.

When her lungs were at last able to have their fill and her mind had ceased its noise, May looked into the void beside her where she knew Connor was sitting.

“Why are you out here?” she asked.

She heard him release a long, slow exhale. “The same reason you are, I’d imagine.”

“Did you have a nightmare too?”

“Is that what it was?” There was a hint of skepticism in his voice, so faint May wondered if she imagined it.

May considered his question in the privacy the night’s black shroud afforded her; she’d had plenty of nightmares before, but when she really thought about it, she knew this one was different.

“Maybe not,” she admitted finally. “It’s more like a… I don’t know…”

“A flashback?”

She ruminated on the word.

“Yes, I think so.”

Connor hummed. “Me too.”

Questions leapt to May’s mind at his subtle confession, but she wasn’t sure it was her place to ask them.

“We don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to,” Connor said as if reading her mind. “But if you’d like to, I’ve been told I’m a good listener.”

This made May smile despite herself. “I’m not sure why it happens. Something happened to me – was done to me – years ago. Sometimes I relive it in my sleep.”

“Trauma is like a ghost that way; sometimes it doesn’t like to be ignored.”

“What about you?” May asked. ”I mean, we don’t have to talk about it either but-”

“It’s okay,” Connor assured her. “I’ve had a lot of time to get familiar with my ghost. I’m not sure how much you know about the different Star worshipping groups; there are a lot of them out there. My uncle is part of a fairly conservative group that only acts on direct command from the Stars. They opted not to pursue Wishes because, technically, the Stars didn’t sanction the hunt in the first place. But they also frowned on the illegal Wishes.”

Connor paused to sigh. May waited in polite silence.

“I was still pretty young when the Loyals were formed and began hunting down Wishes. My parents thought the safest place for me was in hiding.”

“So they left you with your uncle?” May ventured.

“It was a good idea in theory; the Loyals didn’t suspect such a stringent group of harbouring a Wish. But, like I said, this group didn’t approve of the Wishes either, they just weren’t willing to destroy them. Needless to say, I wasn’t treated very well.”

“They didn’t… hurt you, did they?”

“Very much so.”

The wind passed, rattling the tree branches above them.

“Connor, I’m so sorry.” Already May was feeling terribly guilty for having asked.

“Don’t be,” Connor replied. ”Like I said, I’ve had plenty of time to learn to live with what’s happened to me.”

“But that doesn’t make it alright.”

“No, and it’s not always easy, but I’m doing better now than before. I’m proud of how far I’ve come.” Even in the darkness, May could tell he was looking at her now. “Besides, I’m not the only one out here with ghosts.”

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Ko-Fi May

The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Twenty One

[ Start from the Beginning | Previous Chapter ]

By the time May, Em, and Priva returned to the campsite, Connor already had the fire blazing with a satisfying crackle. Rue busied herself with food prep while Jeremy had been tasked with creating small tin foil bowls for everyone. They took turns layering their bowls with meat, potatoes, and eggs, positioning them delicately on a camp grill once the coals were hot enough.

The snapping fire was the only sound as the group sat wordlessly, waiting for their meals to cook. May watched spits of ash pop from the flames and drift skyward into the darkening sky. The sherbet colours of twilight gave way to night by the time Connor inspected his bowl and deemed dinner to be ready.

May wondered if the tension around the fire had been in some part the result of empty stomachs. As she collected her meal, she felt the mood lighten as everyone tucked into their food, and decided now might be a good time for casual conversation.

“Back to camping,” she said with a sigh, dropping back down beside Em, the edges of her foil plate pinched between her fingers.

“Hey,” Em remarked, looking mildly scandalized. “I thought you liked camping.”

“I like some parts of camping more than others,” May replied with a wink.

Em rolled her eyes dramatically.

“Kids these days,” she grumbled, earning her playful kick in the ankle from May.

The comment raised curiosity in Rue.

“How old are you two, anyway?” she asked.

“Twenty-five,” May answered, distracted. She leaned over to survey what was in Em’s plate. “Yours is cooked better than mine.”

“That’s because I’m a pro,” Em teased. Then, turning her attention back to Rue, “I’m, uh, a bit older.”

At this, Priva laughed loudly.

“You saying you’re a cradle robber?” She grinned at Em who mirrored her expression.

“Ha! Not quite that bad.” Em scooped a hearty forkful from May’s plate and shoved it in her mouth. After swallowing, she continued, “Still, I almost passed out when I realized my girlfriend was just a wee babe.” She turned to look at May. “Yours is fine, by the way.”

“You’re not that much older than me,” May defended, digging her own fork into Em’s plate. The utensil pierced the foil bottom, catching in a way that May hadn’t expected. Her hand slipped, sending the plastic handle snapping backwards and striking Em’s breast with a sharp thwap.

“My boob!” Em cried, choking on laughter and clutching at her chest. “You got me right in the tit!”

May doubled over, breathless in a fit of gasping laughter and tears, unable to reply.

Everyone but Jeremy succumbed to the first true bout of laughter since the two groups met, a moment of pure weightlessness that made the night feel a little less dark and the stakes a little less dire.

“So, how’d you two meet, anyway?” Jeremy asked, his question stopping the laughter dead.

May’s heartbeat stumbled. When she and Em decided to lie, they hadn’t taken the time to fill in the blanks of their cover story. Hoping her own panic wasn’t showing, May glanced at Em and found her to be a picture of calm.

“Maybe’s a dancer,” Em said, a goofy lovesick smile on her face that left May flushing. “I was in the audience one night when she was performing and I was instantly smitten.” She gave May a wink. “I’ve been her biggest fan ever since.”

That night in Omea’s community theatre – the night everything changed between them – flashed through May’s mind. She could still see Em standing in the wings, wide-eyed and marveling, watching her take the stage for her final performance of the night. Was this what Em was thinking of as she spun her tale? May had never asked Em what it was that pushed her over the delicate line between friends and lovers; that there might have been some truth to Em’s story made May giddy.

“Of course!” Rue’s face lit up. “We saw you dance at the circus. How long have you been performing?”

“Since I was in school,” May replied, delighted by Rue’s interest. “I’m self-taught though, so sometimes it feels like I’m making it up as I go.”

“She’s selling herself short,” Em insisted.

“Self-taught?” Connor look gob-smacked. “I’m impressed.”

“Me too,” Rue agreed brightly.

“Thank you,” May gushed. But elated as she was to have a chance to talk about one of her truest passions, she wanted to steer the conversation away from her and Em. “What about all of you? I’ve been so curious to know more about Wishes. I mean, I know what Wishes are but…” she shrugged, struggling to find the right words. “What does that mean for you? Is it different than being human?”

Sure, she was playing dumb to a certain extent. But this was the first time she had ever met other Wishes; she was curious about what she might have been missing. Em’s attempts at distancing herself from her past had often made her answers to May’s questions vague or indifferent. May figured this was a chance to learn more about herself as much as the others.

Connor rubbed his chin, mulling over her question. He looked to his friends. Priva shrugged.

“I guess for the most part it’s not that different,” he admitted. “We’re born to our mothers and, if we’re lucky, we live our lives and die when we’re old. The only difference we’ve noticed – aside from how we come to be, of course – is that every Wish has their own unique ability.”

May blinked in a way she hoped conveyed naive confusion. “What kind of abilities?”

“Something we’re naturally very good at,” Connor replied. “Think of it like a talent on steroids. Everyone’s is different. Mine is my strength.” He gestured back to the massive dead tree they were using as firewood and May picked up on the implication that he had felled it singlehandedly. “Nothing too fancy here.”

“Mine, on the other hand, is very fancy,” Priva said, sounding rather proud of herself. She leaned forward and grinned. “I don’t have to sleep.”

“That’s only partially true,” Rue quipped, giving Priva a cutting look. “She can live on very little sleep. One night’s worth for every three or four days awake.”

“Killjoy,” Priva pouted.

If this was a reason to be any less impressed, May didn’t see why.

She looked to Jeremy expectantly. “What’s your ability?”

Arms crossed, Jeremy studied her for a moment before answering.

“Perfect memory.” He tapped his temple, his expression impossible to read. “I don’t forget anything.”

“Oh.” May smiled. “I’ll bet that comes in handy.”

Jeremy didn’t reply.

“What about you, Rue?” Em cut in on the awkward silence filling the space between May and Jeremy.

Rue laughed. “Oh, I’m not a Wish.”

May looked at her in surprise. “Really?”

“Yep.” Rue set her bowl down and settled back beside Connor, leaning gently into his side. “My place in this little family is kind of different than the others. I come from an ancient line of astromantic druids.”

Now genuinely confused, May frowned. “What does that mean? Are you human?”

“For the most part. But way back, in the beginning of human history, my people came to be specifically because of the Stars.”

The firelight danced, reflected in Rue’s magnificent golden eyes. May’s breath caught as she remembered why they had seemed so familiar.

“Were they Wishes?” May asked.

“No.” Rue’s eyes – the same otherworldly gold as the Star called Welkin – creased in the corners as she smiled. “They were Starborn.”

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The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Nineteen

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“We need to lay low and travel carefully,” Connor had instructed. “If the Loyals learn we’ve found you before we’re ready to stage the handover then we’re screwed.”

According to WIND, the Loyals had informants everywhere. To avoid rousing suspicion from potentially prying eyes, the group would have to leave as faint a trail as possible. No travel that required identification; cash only, aliases as much as necessary. May and Em didn’t mind – they were familiar with the best practices of runaways by now.

No one cared who you were when you took the bus, and travelling by dark was a good way to keep a low cover, which was how the group found themselves riding a night bus headed east. May and Em sat away from the others, as they would whenever they were in public. May was grateful for the many hours that lay between them and their next destination; she felt like she could breathe for the first time since climbing out of Dom’s truck.

She leaned into Em, her legs curled up beneath her. She was supposed to be sleeping, but with the space to breathe had also come the stillness her mind had been waiting for. It took advantage of the silence and filled it with a barrage of worries.

Beside her, Em fidgeted.

“Can’t sleep either?” she whispered, her voice just audible over the monotonous din of the bus.

Em gave an affirmative grunt.

Glancing up, May watched Em toy with a lock of dark hair. In their hasty packing, Em had the foresight to take one of her stage wigs – the long black one she used for their Moon and Ocean routine. May had trimmed it to a reasonable length and tucked her own hair beneath Em’s old ball cap. It wasn’t much as far as disguises went, but it was certainly better than nothing.

“On a scale from one to ten, how goth do I look in this thing?” Em asked, gesturing at the wig with a dramatic flourish.

May chuckled. “Ten. Very witchy.”

“Ooh, witchy. I can get into that.” Em wrapped her arms around May and let her cheek rest atop May’s head. “How are you holding up?”

Chewing her lower lip, May debated whether she should share the latest addition to her growing list of concerns. She hadn’t had the chance to tell Em what happened with Jeremy back at the motel.

Em broke her train of thought with a squeeze. “Babe? What’s on your mind?”

May sighed and decided to go for it.

“When we were back at the motel, Jeremy pulled me aside and told me he wouldn’t put up with me slowing things down.”

Em snorted. “Classic Jeremy.”

“He said he wouldn’t let me ‘get in the way’.”

“He doesn’t know you’re a Wish,” Em said, shrugging lightly. “He, Connor, and Priva have their abilities; him and his perfect memory, Connor and his super-Wish strength… have I ever told you that Priva only needs like, a handful of hours of sleep per week? And I mean, Rue may not be a Wish but even she has experience resisting the Loyals. Jeremy probably thinks you’re just an ordinary human, and if that were true, he wouldn’t be wrong in thinking you were in over your head.”

“Interesting,” May bristled. “That wasn’t what I thought he was implying at all.”

Em stared down at her quizzically before she clued in.

“Ah, you think this is about Audrey.”

“Can you blame me?” May tried to keep her voice down. “Ever since you told me the two of you were engaged I haven’t been able to-”

She was cut off by Em shifting out from beneath her. Righting herself, May twisted in her seat to see Em sitting pin straight and frowning at her in the flickering shadows.

I was never engaged to him, May,” she spoke tersely, her words simultaneously hurt and offended.

May’s heart dropped. “I’m sorry. I meant-”

Em grabbed May’s hands and held them tightly.

“Babe, I need you to believe me when I tell you that Audrey and I are different people.” Her intensity was impossible to miss, even as she whispered. “Please, tell me you understand.”

“You can’t blame me for being confused,” May hissed, the fear and frustration she had been suppressing bursting the holds of her patience. “I still don’t even understand why Jeremy expected you to be her. These are her friends – people who loved her. And here you are asking me to keep this all straight as if it made any rational sense to begin with.”

Sighing, Em sat back and took a moment for both their sakes. It was difficult to see her in the darkness but May didn’t need her eyes to know Em was studying her carefully.

“You’re right,” Em agreed at last. “I’ve been asking you to suspend your disbelief without giving you much reason too.”

May shook her head. “I’m not asking for you to placate me, Em – I’m asking you to help me understand. Please?”

Leaning back against the window, Em hummed thoughtfully. She gestured for May to join her, and she did, nestling into her as best she could across the uncomfortable bus seats.

“Where do you want to start?” Em mused, lacing her fingers with May’s.

“Tell me why Jeremy thought you would be Audrey,” May replied. She remembered the tattered security photo he had shown her when he first stormed into her life. “Do you look like her?”

Em chuckled softly. “Not really. Audrey wasn’t a ghost like me. She had her mother’s super thick, brown hair and this warm, honey brown skin that I’m guessing came from Welkin, like her eyes.”

“Her eyes?” May asked, peering up at Em and trying to imagine her painted in Audrey’s pallet.

“Gold,” Em answered. “Just like the Stars.”

May mulled this over, curiosity tugging at the corner of her mind.

Em continued. “She was a bit shorter than I am. Smaller in generally, actually. It’s like when Welkin built this new body for me they made everything about it… more. Bigger. Stronger. It’s as if they thought…”

She trailed off. Her expression was distant.

“As if they thought making you stronger might keep you safe,” May finished. Em’s physical strength had never escaped May’s notice – even now she could feel the firmness of her body beneath her own. She could imagine Welkin – like any parent – wanting to do whatever possible to protect their child, especially after what happened to her.

“Yeah,” Em breathed.

May swore she could feel the fissure Welkin’s disappearance left in Em’s heart widen from where she lay against her.

“So what was it then?” she asked, trying to pull Em back from the edge of despair. “What tipped Jeremy off?”

Beneath her, Em squirmed with unease.

“My abilities,” Em explained. “All Wishes have a distinctive natural advantage; like you and the way you can master virtually anything with only a little bit of study. But the things I can do – the levitation and manipulation of energy – only a Starborn can do that.”

“A Starborn? Are there more like you; people who were parented by a Star?”

Em shook her head. “Not anymore. We were a bit more common thousands of years ago but that’s it.”

Fear settled over May. She sat up and looked at Em in a panic. “If that’s the case then they all know. How could they not?”

“Babe, people don’t come back from the dead.” Em’s voice was calm and steady. “What Welkin did for me is unheard of. Jeremy might be holding out hope, but the others are probably looking for the logical answer. They likely think I’m another Starborn, just like the Loyals do. Our job is to come up with a convincing story and stick to it, okay?”

May toyed with her ring, her anxiety relentless despite Em’s self-assured tone. “Okay. So you’re a Starborn. We’ve never heard of Audrey or Welkin.”

“Right.” Em cupped May’s cheek. “Just another secret love-child between a Star and some earthly creature. Maybe we can tell them I’m half-elvish. That could be fun.”

“Sure,” May laughed weakly, trying to shrug off her apprehension.

In the darkness, Em kissed her; soft, slow, intoxicating.

“It’s going to be okay, my love,” she whispered against her lips. “Trust me.”

May swallowed and nodded, breathless.

With a gentle tug, Em pulled May back against her, wrapping her in her arms and offering her body as a makeshift bed. “Let’s try to get some sleep, okay?”


It took only a moment for Em to drift off, the rhythm of her breath joining the concert of bus noise.

For May it would still be some time before sleep took her.

She could say she was okay as much as she liked.

She felt anything but.

[ Read Next Chapter ]

Ko-Fi May

The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Sixteen

[ Start from the Beginning | Previous Chapter ]

“This is easier said than done, but don’t take it personally.” Dom was trying to make the best of Em’s sudden and very unexpected departure. “She probably has no idea she hurt you.”

May turned to him with an icy stare. He winced accordingly.

“I know you think that’s supposed to help, but it’s really not working,” she said.

“Noted.” Dom raised his hands in surrender.

“Yes, she has every right to be freaked out and upset.” May could hear the octave of her voice rising. She didn’t care. “But this affects both of us. We should be working this out together. And if she doesn’t realize that taking off like this would hurt me-”

“Maybs,” Dom placed a hand on each of her shoulders and exhaled. “I know you don’t want to hear this but I don’t think this is the time to make this about you. Em loves you but she needs a bit of space. She’ll come back to you when she’s ready.”

He was right – she didn’t want to hear it. But with every second that passed, it sank in that he might have a point. With a heavy sigh she stepped away until she backed into the cool metal side of the trailer. She slumped against it miserably.

They were outside, watching the sky, waiting to see if Em would return. Every time a star flickered May’s heart skipped, but it was never her. Dom dropped himself onto the steps and together they let the moments slip by in silence.

“What happened to her hair?” Dom asked eventually, intruding on the stillness of the night.

When Em had tumbled into May’s arms, her ballcap fell to the floor to reveal her once long, shimmering locks had been chopped short.

“It’s easier to hide under hats and wigs this way,” May answered absently, gesturing at her own head. “We tried colouring it but it wouldn’t take. Her body just rejects stuff like that. Wouldn’t even take a tattoo.”

“A tattoo?” Dom raised a quizzical eyebrow.

“We were supposed to match.”

“Are you telling me you got a tattoo?”

May shot him a mischievous look. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”

Chuckling softly, Dom looked skyward.

“I really fucked up, didn’t I?” he asked, his voice heavy with defeat. “If it’s worth anything at all, I really did think I was doing the right thing. But I guess the road to ruin is paved with good intentions.”

May smiled sadly.

“Don’t beat yourself up over it, Dom,” she said. “I think I would have done the same thing.”

Dom groaned in reply, dropping his head into his hands.

“Are you alright?” May shot upright in alarm.

Fast as a blink his form appeared to flicker.

“I’m sorry to do this to you now, Maybe.” Dom grunted as he pulled himself to his feet. “But it’s been awhile since I’ve spent time in the forest. My magic is getting weak.”

“Oh no.” May watched as he flickered again, revealing a flash of roots and foliage. “Your glamour is slipping.”

It was so easy to forget what he really was. In a way it was the same with Em.

If someone told me a a couple years ago I would one day be surrounded by magical creatures and not be phased by it, I would have laughed in their faces, she thought as she reached a hand out for Dom.

“Come on.” She motioned for him to follow. “I’ll take you to the woods.”

The walk to the outskirts of town took some time and by the time they arrived, Dom’s human form had been replaced by the hulking silhouette of his true self. May could just make out the points of elk-like antlers reaching from his crown of lush greenery and vines, and the glint of his inky eyes reflecting the moonlight.

“Ahh.” His exhale sounded like the wind passing through mountain pines as they ambled into the forest’s edge. “Better… al…ready.”

“I’ve never seen you like this.” May squinted through the darkness. Even in the shadows he was an impressive thing to behold. “Not properly anyway.”

Dom held out his hand and let her run her fingers over what were previously his fingers.

“I can’t believe I spent most of my life thinking magic only existed in myths and legends,” she mused. Dom grunted in what she realized was supposed to be a laugh; his capacity for human speech was now as gone as his glamour.

“Will you come back before we have to meet them tomorrow?” she asked.

He nodded before turning slowly.

May watched wordlessly as he disappeared into the trees. She stood for a while, letting the breeze send goosebumps racing along her flesh. The sound of crickets distracted her from how very strange it felt to be completely alone for the first time in ages.

Eventually the chill of nighttime made her shiver and she decided she had no business lurking in the dark any longer. She took a meandering route back to the circus grounds, shuffling her feet down a quiet road. Aside from the crickets and the occasional passing car, the world was peaceful and still, which is why, when the sound of weeping drifted from somewhere ahead, May paused to listen.

The sorrowful sound came from the lit parking lot in front of the building she was coming up to. She hesitated before continuing, unnerved by what she might find. The cries sounded more heartbroken than distressed and May didn’t want to intrude.

Stepping lightly, she crept along in the shadows of the building, peering around the corner into the lot. She gasped. Sitting on the curb, her knees drawn to her chest, was Rue. Her shoulders shook with each sob.

May glanced up at a poorly lit sign that read Willows Court.

“Shoot,” she hissed under her breath.

The door to one of the motel rooms creaked open. May ducked low and watched as Jeremy stepped over the threshold and closed it behind him with a quiet click.

“I’m sorry, J,” Rue sniffed. “I was being too loud, wasn’t I?”

Jeremy took a seat on the concrete beside her, giving her shoulder a nudge with his own.

“Nah, I just couldn’t sleep.”

Rue mumbled and the pair fell into distracted silence. From their expressions May could tell their thoughts were taking them to complicated places.

“I’m really sorry, Jeremy,” Rue said, snapping him out of his daze.

“For what?” he asked.

“That she’s, you know…” she shifted awkwardly. “That she’s not her.”

Jeremy went stiff.

“It’s fine,” he muttered, staring off into the darkness so he didn’t have to meet her pitying eyes. May shrunk back, worried the intensity of his gaze might allow him to spot her in the shadows. “It was stupid of me to think she was somehow still alive.”

“Not stupid.” Rue leaned her head on his shoulder. “Just hopeful.”

Giving his head a small shake, Jeremy tried to loosen up. He peeked down at his friend and took her hand in his own. “Speaking of hopeful, how are you holding up?”

Rue’s mouth puckered and for a moment May thought she might start to cry again. Instead she let out a slow, shaky exhale and closed her eyes.

“Do you think they’ll say yes?” she asked quietly. “Do you think they’ll help us?”

Jeremy frowned. “I wish I could say yes, Rue. Audrey would have. But-”

“She’s not Audrey,” Rue finished, sitting back up and pretending to fuss with her hair so she could wipe discretely at a stray tear. “And they don’t know us and they don’t know Gaten.” Her voice cracked, her breath fluttered. Now she let the tears slide. “It was so dumb to think they would they ever agree-”

“Hey,” Jeremy stopped her, draping a long arm around her quivering shoulders. “Don’t do that. She might not be Audrey but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a good heart, right? Who knows, they could still surprise us.”

May pulled back. As quietly as she could she backtracked and found a sidestreet to take instead. Before she knew it she was running, pumping her legs as fast as they would carry her until her lungs seared with the effort.

But it didn’t matter how far or how fast she went – she couldn’t outrun the memory of Rue’s sadness. Her mind flashed between the image of Gaten in the locket to every mental photograph she held dear of Omi. If it were him, she’d be just as devastated.

If it were him, she wouldn’t think twice about doing whatever it took.

She didn’t stop until she reached the circus gates. Breathless, she doubled over and let the weight of the truth crash down over her.

It was stupid.

It was dangerous.

May peered up at the sky with all its winking stars and wondered what her own would say when she told her what she was thinking.

They had to do it.

They had to save Gaten.

[ Next Chapter ]

Ko-Fi May

The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Eleven

[ Start at the Beginning| Previous Chapter| Next Chapter ]

Content Warning: Strong language

For a heartbeat no one spoke.

Em’s wide eyes, filled with surprise, flickered from one face to the next, her grip tightening reflexively around May’s shoulder.

“Dom, what the fuck?” she demanded. She looked ready to run or fight, whichever was necessary first.

Holding his palms up in surrender, Dom kept his focus locked on her. He could sense her mix of fear and anger from where he stood. A part of him wanted to bridge that gap, to coax her down to a peaceful place with a compassionate touch. He knew her well enough to stay back. His heart ached, reflecting on how he had hoped his first reunion with these friends would go; so different from the scenario he found himself in now.

“Please, Em,” he begged. “These people need your help. You’ve got to know I wouldn’t have lead them to you if I didn’t believe that.”

And that was the problem – Em did know Dom believed he was doing the right thing. He was so good, and helping people was in his nature. For the first time she regretted not being more honest with him, for waiting so long to tell him her truth in what wound up being just a hastily abridged version anyway. She didn’t know what these people told him but there was no way he could have realized just how far away from them she had hoped to stay. For that she had no one to blame but herself.

Despite having tried to avoid it, Em eventually let herself look at the man gaping at her from the centre of the room. His dark eyes were troubled beneath a mess of unruly red hair, his expression that of someone who had just been slapped – hard. His companions glanced uncomfortably between him and Em, none of them speaking until the blond man with sad green eyes cleared his throat.

“We aren’t here to hurt you,” he said, his voice gentle and low. “But he’s right, we need your help. We’ve been trying to find you for a long time and we hope you’ll hear us out.”

Em licked her lips and let out a shaky exhale. It took her a moment to reply.

“Why us? Why me?”

The man opened his mouth to answer but it was his redheaded friend that stepped forward.

“It’s a long story, so we should probably start from the beginning.” He offered his hand for her to shake. He didn’t smile. “My name is Jeremy.”

May let out a barely audible gasp, flinching imperceptibly to everyone but Em, whose arm was still draped protectively around her. Instead of acknowledging May’s surprise, Em took Jeremy’s hand and gave it a single, firm shake.


The moment between the two seem to hang, but around them their friends exchanged wide-eyed glances. Everyone was tense.

At last Jeremy pulled back his hand and gestured to his companions.

“This is Connor,” he said of his blond friend. “His wife, Rue. And that’s Priva.”

Jeremy watched Em’s face carefully as he spoke, looking for something he didn’t seem to find as she nodded curtly in turn from Connor, to the golden-eyed Rue, and finally at Priva, who at least gave a slight wave back. In response, Jeremy frowned deeper and looked away, missing the way Em’s knuckles faded to white as she gripped at the loose edges of May’s shirt – the only hint she was reeling.

Another deep breath. Em slid her hand – clammy with nerves – to the small of May’s back and rolled her shoulders so she stood a little taller.

“I see you’ve already met my girlfriend, May.”

A person would have to be dead to miss the shockwave that shot through the room. May forced a small smile and resisted the urge to press tighter into the protection of Em’s side. She wasn’t sure what had happened but she knew the mood had gone from bad to worse. With anxiety swelling inside her she watched as Connor, Rue, and Priva glanced at one another but said nothing. Between them, May could see Dom holding his breath.

Jeremy remained locked on Em, his jaw tight and his expression stiff.

“It’s nice to meet you both,” he said at last, turning away as he did so.

May met Em’s eyes.

She wondered if Em could tell he was lying, too.

[ Next Chapter ]

The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Nine

[ Start at the Beginning | Previous Chapter | Next Chapter ]

The wait was almost too much.

As soon as the show ended, Dom, Jeremy, and the rest hurried through the crowd and hunted for the usher who had shown them to their seats.

“I’m afraid Lenore won’t be available for a while yet,” she told them. Her voice was sympathetic but her answer was infuriating. “She’s one of the performers, you see. They don’t take any guests until after the rest of the audience has left and they’ve had a chance to freshen up. I’m sure you understand.”

Jeremy elbowed his way in between Dom and the usher.

“What about the dancers from the Moon and Ocean act?” he asked, sounding breathless. “They’re the ones we’re actually looking for.”

Dom couldn’t suppress his groan as he watched the usher’s expression fall. Just like the boy at the ticket wicket, she took a moment to think before answering.

“You’ll still need to talk to Lenore first,” she said at last. “How about you just wait in the stands? Someone will come find you when she’s ready.”

Before anyone could argue to the contrary, the usher turned and disappeared into the slow exodus of patrons making their way out of the tent. The chatter in the air was still excited as people rehashed their favourite moments from the show – eyes alight with the magic they felt they had witnessed – but for Dom and the others excitement had given way to anxious tension.

They did as the usher suggested and returned to the stands to wait. Dom made a point of sitting off on his own, hoping to avoid Jeremy and his questions. But Jeremy kept to himself as well, pacing along a row of seats with a furrowed expression while his friends whispered to each other in low, hurried voices.

“Who the fuck is this Lenore person and why do we have to go through her anyway?” Jeremy growled, throwing his hands up after what must have been more than an hour of waiting. The tent seemed quiet now and it was hard not to feel as though they had been forgotten. “We’re wasting-”

“I’m the leader of this outfit,” boomed a voice from the entryway through which they had come. “And no one gets to my performers without going through me first.”

Lenore – a woman who appeared to be in her mid-fifties with close cropped greying hair – strode toward them with an unmistakable air of authority. She paused a handful of paces away from the group and scrutinized each of them one by one.

“Now what’s this I hear about you asking after my girls?” she barked. At this distance, Dom noticed her reptilian-esque eyes and the bony protrusions that jutted out from the peaks of her cheekbones and crown of her forehead. He recognized her from the show as the performer who had danced with fire, and he made a mental note that anyone who could make flames look like well-trained animals was not one to be tested.

“Ma’am, my name is Dominic,” he began, stepping up and turning on what had often been described as his most disarmingly charming smile. “The performers we’re looking for are friends and former colleagues of mine. We were really hoping to see them.”

With a harsh laugh, Lenore shook her head. “I don’t think so, buddy.”

Dom pushed onward, careful not to let Jeremy sneak a word in edgewise.

“Please, we’ve come a really long way.” He hesitated. He didn’t want to lie for fear of being found out, but… “They sent me an invitation to watch them perform.”

Lenore still wasn’t buying it.

“They didn’t say anything to me about it, which means you’re probably full of shit.”

Exasperating as it was, Dom was grateful for Lenore’s steadfast gatekeeping; at least it wouldn’t have been easy for anyone of ill-intent to get close to the girls.

The others didn’t see it the same way. In a flurry of voices they came at Lenore as one, talking and shouting over one another with questions and demands. Lenore opened her mouth and Dom knew at once they had blown it – she was going to toss them out – when a new voice cut through the noise.

“Dom? Is that you?”

The chatter ceased. In unison, every head turned to the closest entrance, where a pair of faces peeked back at them. One belonged to the boy from the wicket. The other was that of a rosy-haired woman with dark blue eyes and constellations of freckles splashed across her face. An elated smile lit up her features.

“Maybe!” Dom cried, opening his arms to catch her as she tore out into the open and lept up to greet him. “Look at you – your hair’s gotten so long!”

Scrubbed free of her stage make-up, May Alana was positively glowing. Dom marvelled at what time on the road had done to her: not only had her soft waves grown long and wild, tumbling over her shoulders, but even under loose studio clothes he could tell how much stronger she was. He could feel the firm muscles that wound up her arms and down her back as he crushed her into his embrace. Her skin had lost its sun-kissed island radiance but she still looked happy and healthy.

“I can’t believe you’re here!” May squeaked, taking a step back to see him better but keeping her fists clutched at his shirt sleeves. “When Bertram said people were here to see us I wasn’t expecting it to be you!”

Over May’s shoulder, Dom watched Lenore throw a stern look at the wicket boy – presumably Bertram – who went scarlet and ducked out of view.

“Is everything okay, Ginger?” Lenore sounded wary. “Do you know them?”

As if in reply, May pulled Dom into another tight hug. She tilted her face until her mouth met his ear.

“Who are these people?” she whispered as quietly as she could.

“I’ll explain later,” Dom murmured back to her. “Who’s Ginger?”

“I am. Just roll with it.”

Pulling back, May beamed. “Yeah, they’re friends. Everything’s okay, Lenore. Thanks for looking out for us though.”

At this Leore actually smiled, relaxing her stance ever so slightly.

“Of course. You know me: family first. Sorry for being hard on you, folks – you can never be too careful in this business. Ginger, honey, will you tell Rosemary to stop leaving her costumes on the dressing room floor? Fool girl doesn’t seem to want to listen to me and I’m about ready to kick her ass.”

May laughed. “Sure thing, Dragon Mama. We’ll go find her right now.”

She took Dom by the hand and lead him to the exit, motioning for the others to follow. When he was sure Lenore was well out of earshot, Dom ducked his head and whispered.

“Is this Rosemary who I think she is?”

A grin cut across May’s face as she winked.

“You’ll have to wait and see.”

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Ko-Fi May

The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Five

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Content warning: Strong language

Dom burst through the back door of Duke’s and out into the dark alley.

The door crashed behind him but he didn’t stop. What good his half-drunk brain thought running away would do wasn’t clear, but he did it anyway. Arms pumping furiously at his sides, he ran like his life depended on it.

It was no use. With a primal roar, Jeremy launched himself at Dom, tackling him to the ground. Given how small and lean Jeremy was, Dom would have been impressed had he not been the one slammed into the gravel and dirt.

There was a struggle; a mess of confusion and fists. In the end the booze worked against Dom’s coordination. He found himself staring through bleary vision up at his assailant.

“Why did you lie to me?” Jeremy demanded, one fist clutching Dom’s collar, the other cocked and ready.

Dom winced and sputtered, trying to right himself without doing anything to encourage a beating.

“Answer me!” Jeremy hauled Dom onto his knees with a force that did not fit his size. “This is fucking important!”

“What do you want with her?” Dom shouted back, wrestling his way to his feet. His bearings were coming back to him. He focused on the forest just beyond the next row of buildings, calling for support in case things came to that.

Trina and Matti scrambled out into the alley, clamouring through the back door like animals on the hunt.

“Hey!” Trina bellowed, storming over to where Jeremy stood blocking Dom’s path. Matti scrambled in her wake. “What’s going on? Let him go!”

To Dom’s surprise, Jeremy released his grip, letting him go without averting his intense glare. Dom rolled his shoulders and stood up straight, returning the stare with one of his own.

“You haven’t answered me,” he growled. “What do you want with Em?”

There was a flicker of uncertainty in Jeremy’s eyes and he licked his lips before answering. “We need her help. Why did you lie about knowing her?”

Trina and Matti, flanking the stranger on either side, flashed Dom looks that mirrored his own skepticism.

“Because you’re not the first person to come sniffing around here looking for her.” Dom took a step forward into Jeremy’s personal space. Jeremy didn’t flinch at the display of dominance. “And we’re not about to sell out a friend.”

With a sharp inhale, Jeremy’s demeanour changed. No longer on the offensive, his shoulders slumped and his expression fell.

“So the Loyals have already been here,” he muttered, more to himself than to the others.

Dom tensed.

With a huff, Trina stepped up. She flexed her fingers, the tips calloused from scaling mountainsides, before balling them into fists.

“Who is she to you, anyway?” Being petite in both frame and height didn’t stop Trina from holding her own in an altercation. She was a swing-first kind of girl and it was evident just by looking at her.

Jeremy eyed her fists before giving both Dom and Matti withering looks.

“Listen,” his voice was calmer now. “I’m not trying to pick a fight-”

“Could’ve fooled me,” Trina snarked.

“We’re not looking to hurt her,” Jeremy pressed on, ignoring the interruption. “But I mean it; we need her help. Do you know where to find her?”

The three friends shared another look.

“No,” Dom answered, his voice impassive.

“Why does it have to be her?” Matti asked, less confrontational than the others. “Can’t someone else help you?”

Jeremy rolled his eyes but corrected himself when he caught Dom glowering in his direction.

“No,” Jeremy answered through clenched teeth. “If she’s who I think she is, it has to be her.”

Trina scoffed.

“And who exactly do you think she is?”

Closing his eyes, Jeremy let out a long, slow exhale. He seemed to be weighing his options between being honest and possibly getting somewhere or keeping what was clearly an uncomfortable truth to himself.

“She looks different, but I’m sure it’s her.”

His next words sent a shock through the trio.

“She’s the love of my life.”

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Ko-Fi May

The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Four

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Content Warning: Strong language

“Do you think we should be worried?”

Trina was four drinks deep and hunched over the table, whispering conspiratorially. It was evening now, yet the mysterious group of strangers was still top of mind for the SAR team these many hours later.

From their regular table at Duke’s Pub, Dom and Matti cast uneasy glances around the room. It felt dangerous to be talking about this in public. Then again, they had been there for a while and inhibitions were getting lower by the sip.

“Well, I sure am,” Matti admitted, picking nervously at the label on his bottle of beer. “What do you think they want from Em?”

Dom shifted uncomfortably in his chair and frowned into his drink.

“I don’t know,” he replied gruffly. “But hopefully everyone remembers to keep their mouths shut.”

When Em had finally confessed her secret to Dom – thanks in no small part to May’s insistence – she made it clear the woman pursuing them likely would not be the last of her ilk to turn up in Tenna. Dom may not have understood who these Loyals were but he recognized danger when he saw it.

To help ensure Em and May’s safety he had charged the rest of the team with keeping her existence a secret. They had devised elaborate stories – practiced their lies until they felt like truths – and spread the word around town that, should anyone come asking about their former teammate, the best response was to deny, deny, deny.

Em was a charismatic sort, and even though her time in Tenna had been relatively brief, people were keen to do what they could to take care of someone who had spent so much time taking care of them.

Sure enough, strangers had come to the remote mountain town – first in droves to investigate and later in smaller numbers until the flood dried up completely – and everyone had stayed the course. Still, every visit from someone who asked too many questions put the team on high alert. Dom in particular found it difficult to relax until the strangers eventually gave up and left Tenna behind.

But there was something about this new group that felt different to Dom; something less militant and more desperate. Whomever they were, Dom got the sense they weren’t part of the regular outfit that came sniffing around after his friends.

“Sammy’s drunk again,” Trina noted, derailing his train of thought. “Duke really has to let that guy go.”

Dom lifted his eyes to the bar where, sure enough, the youngest bartender on staff was laughing loudly over his own glass with a group of patrons on the wrong side of the bar. He was supposed to be working.

“What a mess,” Matti tutted with a disapproving shake of his head.  “Can you imagine if we got drunk on shift like that?”

“To be fair, our line of work is a little bit different than his,” Dom retorted. “Serving drinks when you’re hammered isn’t quite as problematic as trying to save lives.”

Matti shrugged. “Fair enough, I suppose.”

“Whatever. Duke still needs to fire him,” was Trina’s two-cents worth.

From there they let the conversation shift from subjects of worry to shop talk and idle gossip. Trina made eyes with a scruffy hiker across the room while Matti bemoaned the trouble he was having sourcing a part for one of the team vehicles.

“I love it here – I really do. But, damn, sometimes being so remote drives me nuts.” He waved his now empty bottle around with inebriated gusto. “They said it’s gonna take a month to get this thing all the way up here. What a joke!”

“I hear ya, bud.” Dom reached out to pluck the bottle from his friend’s hand. He threw back what was left in his own glass and stood. “Another round, kids?”

His friends nodded, Trina half-heartedly offering to pay knowing full well that Dom would say no just like always. It was a comfortable routine between the three youngest members of the team – Dom more so in spirit than actual age – and they all appreciated the predictability of it.

By now the pub was crowded with Friday night revellers. Dom had to push through the mass of people milling and dancing, throwing smiles and ‘hey, how’s it goings’ to one familiar face after another. The bar itself was especially busy and a quick scan showed Sammy was nowhere in sight.

“Great,” Dom muttered, pressing in closer to the counter in search of another bartender. Amara, Duke’s daughter and bar manager, was swamped at the other end of the room. Her face was flushed and scowling as she picked up the slack for her flighty co-worker.

Placing Matti’s empty bottle on the bar, Dom was steeling himself for a long wait when he felt someone tap his shoulder.

“Dominic, it’s Sammy.” His neighbour Luis leaned in close to be heard over the boisterous crowd of the pub.

“Yeah, he’s gonna get his ass fired if he keeps this shit up,” Dom replied.

Luis shook his head and Dom suddenly noticed the panic in his eyes. Hitching a thumb over his shoulder, Luis stepped to the side so Dom could see Sammy, face aglow with intoxication, sitting at a table by the far wall. He was talking loudly, his hands animating his words.

Sitting across from him, back to Dom, was a man with wild red hair.

Dom’s stomach bottomed out. He realized what Luis was trying to tell him and lurched forward, barrelling unceremoniously through groups of friends and strangers alike and eliciting scandalized shouts and curses as he went.

Wordlessly he tried to signal for Sammy to stop talking, to shut his mouth for the love of all that was good in this world.

Sammy raised his glassy eyes and, spotting Dom just steps away now, smiled.

“There he is!” Sammy boomed so loudly the din in the room seemed to fade away. “That’s the guy I was telling you about. He worked with the girl you’re looking for. Tell ‘im, Dom!”

The red-haired man turned in his seat, his eyes narrowing in on Dom with a look that could scald.

Dom wasn’t imagining it: the room had fallen silent.

Jeremy Parker got to his feet.

“I knew you were fucking lying to me.”

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Ko-Fi May