The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Sixteen

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“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.


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Ko-Fi May

The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Fifteen

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You want to blow up the treaty.

It had been a life-changing moment for Audrey. There she was, thousands of miles away from where she was supposed to be, staring down the one person who, until a handful of minutes ago, she had trusted more than anyone else in the world.

And he lied to her.

So what if I do?” Jeremy snapped, anger and frustration getting the better of him at last. “Is this really how you want to live the rest of your life, Audrey? Lab rats under constant surveillance?

Of course it wasn’t how she wanted to live out the rest of her days. But if they wanted to free themselves of the suffocating conditions of the treaty, it couldn’t be like this.

“The question you should ask yourself is whether this is how you want to die. Because I know my answer. Do you?”

Jeremy threw his hands up and stormed away from her. “You’re being dramatic. Neither of us will die over this. We’ll get these fucking things out of us and then we’ll go back for the others.”

He looked back at her, his expression softer now.

“Please, Audrey. We have a real shot here.”

Without thinking, Audrey’s fingers traced down the center of her chest where, beneath the soft fabric of her sweater, a scar marred her flesh. The devices she, Jeremy, Connor, and Priva now lived with, nestled next to their hearts and tracking them like spies, seemed like the better end of the deal back when they made it. They hoped understanding more about them as Wishes would encourage the Loyals to see them as people.

But instead Audrey and her friends traded one form of imprisonment for another. The Loyals were always with them. The treaty came with strict rules and check-ins and repercussions for stepping out of line… Was this freedom?

Was the sacrifice worth it?

Audrey took a shaky breath and let herself meet Jeremy’s desperate gaze.

“Where do they think we are right now?” she asked.

“On vacation.” Jeremy took her hands in his. “A romantic getaway of sorts.”

Despite her anger, Audrey let slip a soft chuckle. It had been romantic, at least romantic by their standards.

At least until she caught onto Jeremy’s plan.

“You realize what they’ll do to us if they find out?” Her voice was the tiniest of whispers.

Jeremy pulled her to him. Pushing the dark curtain of her chestnut hair away from her shining golden eyes, he smiled down at her.

Gently he pressed a kiss to her mouth, working her lips until he felt her relax against him.

“They won’t,” he assured her in a tender voice. “I promise.”

Even then she knew it was a promise he wouldn’t be able to keep.

***

It was rare Em experienced a breakdown May couldn’t help fix. And if May’s touch – her embrace, her kiss – wasn’t enough, there was always the water.

On only two or three other occasions, water hadn’t been an option. When those breakdowns came, all May could do was hold tight.

From where she sat, rocking gently with her arms wrapped around Em, it looked as though her lover was falling apart. Choking and sobbing, Em clasped her hands over her ears, screwing her eyes shut and trying to shut out the barrage of cosmic noise. The trauma of her mind ripping back and forth between who she was and who she used to be, coupled with a heightened sensitivity to the energies pulsing around – the ones that are always there but no one else seemed to notice – left her screaming and thrashing.

This breakdown did not surprise May. A part of her wondered what coming face-to-face with people who once meant the world to Audrey might do to Em. The fallout was as bad as she had feared.

So May rocked her, letting Em know she was safe with whispered words. Dom sat beside them, rubbing rhythmic circles on Em’s back. He had seen her lose control before, but never like this.

“Is there really nothing we can do to help her?” He watched the scene with sad eyes.

May shook her head, acutely aware of its weight through her exhaustion.

“We have to ride it out. She’ll come around, eventually.

“This is hard to watch.”

“Imagine how hard it must be for her.”

They lost track of time while they waited, but as the night wore on Em’s breathing slowed and the screaming ebbed. May thought she had fallen asleep when a groggy voice punctuated the silence.

“What did you tell them, Dom?”

Dom sat up with surprise. “What do you mean, Em?”

Em peered over her shoulder, twisting in May’s still firm embrace. “Do they know who I am? Who I used to be?”

“I think they thought they did,” Dom admitted. “At least Jeremy did. But once they saw you-”

“What did you say?” She sounded more awake now, her voice tight with urgency.

“I told them the truth,” Dom said. “That your name is Em and you’re not whoever they thought you were. I told them I could help them find the person in the picture, but that was it.”

Em let out a slow exhale as May gave her a tight squeeze.

“Thanks, buddy.”

Dom sat back and ran his hands through his hair. “I thought it was important. When they told me about the kid, I thought you might want to make your own call-”

“Poor Dominic,” Em teased. “Always has to be a hero.”

He didn’t have it in him to argue.

“What do we do now?” May asked. She had bought them some time, but they still had a decision to make.

Em pulled herself up to sit, wobbling and looking around sluggishly as though she’d had too much to drink.

“I don’t know,” Em mumbled, lurching to her feet and staggering the few short paces to the door. “I need to think.”

“Wait.” May scrambled up and after her. “Where are you-”

But before she could finish her sentence, Em threw open the door and launched herself into the air.

May could only gape after her as Em disappeared skyward without so much as a goodbye.


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Ko-Fi May

The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Twelve

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Content warning: Strong language


Connor broke the awkward silence that followed Jeremy’s words.

“Do you know who we are?” he asked point blank.

It was a loaded question. Em’s mind tripped over how best to respond.

“You just introduced yourselves,” May pointed out, rescuing Em from herself. Em could have kissed her.

Rubbing his face thoughtfully, Connor considered them both.

“Let me come at this another way.” He wasn’t flirting with the edge of anger the way Jeremy had. His voice was steady and unflinching, like that of a therapist trying to connect with his patient. “We know about you.”

Em folded her arms and stared him down. “Know what?”

“About what you can do. That you can manipulate the energy around you and use it to help you fly, and as a weapon.”

“You realize what we did tonight was just an act, right?” Em drawled. “Smoke and mirrors. Rigging and clever lighting and shit like that.”

“We’re also not the only ones who know what you can do,” Priva cut in, ignoring the way Em mocked them. “But you already knew that, didn’t you?”

With an exaggerated shrug, Em gave a cheeky grin. “Well, there were an awful lot of people in the audience tonight.”

“A full house, I’d say,” May chimed in without missing a beat.

“Same with last night, if I remember correctly.”

“You’re on the run,” Priva snapped, interrupting their banter.

“Says who?” Em asked, sounding incredulous.

“Says your girlfriend.”

Em followed the accusatory point of Priva’s finger to where May stood gaping.

A flare of crimson flooded up May’s neck and across her face. She looked back at Em apologetically. “Dom asked about Ginger and Rosemary. I didn’t-”

“Whatever, it doesn’t matter,” Em waved her hand as if the details were trivial. “Half the people in this circus are on the run from something or someone. Did you know running away to join the circus is an actual thing people do?”

Jeremy stood abruptly from the small chair he had taken to haunting in the corner.

“How many of them are running away from the Loyals?” he asked, mimicking Em’s snark. “Is Melanie after them, too?”

This time Em kept her mouth shut. May bit her lip, becoming preoccupied with the ring on her middle finger.

“We know that’s who you’re running from,” Connor said, his voice a soothing balm after the many barbs and sharp tongues of his friends. “We know about Melanie; how she was there the day that photo was taken in Tenna.”

In a split second, Em re-lived that day in her mind like a film on fast-forward. The argument with May leading them both to a woman in danger. Em’s flagrant use of her otherworldly abilities not only saved her but got the attention of Melanie, a Loyal agent who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. She and her organization of devout Star-worshipping Loyals had made it their business to hunt down anyone they assumed had been influenced by a missing wishing star. Em knew first hand just how vicious they could be in their misguided efforts to appease the Stars, which was exactly why she and May were still in hiding.

That Melanie and her cohorts were still after them wasn’t surprising. But if word of this pursuit had reached the people from her previous life, Em knew their situation was far worse than she had previously thought.

“What does it matter to you?” May asked, breaking the haze of Em’s troubled thoughts. Despite her stress, Em couldn’t help but smile. It made her proud to see how much May had come into her own, especially since they had fled the island of Hoku. The woman she met just over a year ago that fateful evening on the beach wouldn’t have been so brazen.

Connor smiled as well, the corners of his mouth creeping shyly skywards.

“It matters very much, actually,” he said in that gentle voice of his. “Over the years we’ve made it our business to protect anyone targeted by the Loyals and the way they try to scrub out anything that may have resulted from a missing wishing star.”

May opened her mouth, prepared to play dumb as long as necessary, but Jeremy cut her off.

“Don’t,” he snapped. “You’re going to pretend you don’t know what we’re talking about but we all know you do. This shit is exhausting and we don’t have time for it.”

Pursing her lips, May looked to Em. The pair exchanged a cryptic look.

“We know what you can do,” Jeremy continued, pointing at Em. “And we’re not fucking stupid. We know your abilities have something to do with the Stars.”

“Fine,” Em huffed, throwing her hands up. “Maybe everything you’ve said is true. Maybe it’s not. But it doesn’t matter. We don’t need your help. We’ve got this. But thanks anyway. C’mon, babe.” She took May’s hand and pulled her toward the door.

Jeremy stepped in front of them, blocking their escape route.

“If we could find you, what makes you think they won’t?” His eyes bored into Em’s, holding them with an uncomfortable intensity.

Em glanced over to Dom. He was hunched, his features pinched with shame, but he did not look away.

“I said we’ve got this,” Em growled through clenched teeth. She made to push past Jeremy, daring him to stop her with a glare, when Rue cried out from behind them.

“Wait!” Her voice was pained, desperate. “You may not need us, but we need you.”

“Please, my son’s life depends on it.”


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Ko-Fi May

The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Two

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Dom leaned his head back and closed his eyes.

In the quiet of the forest he let the crisp morning air envelope his body while the first rays of morning sunshine warmed his face. He swayed in place, keeping time with the natural rhythm of the trees. Every bird song, every snap of twigs or skittering in the underbrush let him know all was well in his first home.

He appreciated these quiet mornings – the ones that afforded him the time to sneak away from Tenna for a few hours and let his glamour fall while he reconnected with the forest. He needed this time to rejuvenate his magic.

To a passerby, Dom would be easy to mistake for a tree of some kind. Vine-like tendrils sprouted from his skull and cascaded down the dark, earthen clay of his shoulders, fluttering in a short-lived breeze. The clay of his body gradually darkened to black, reaching roots at his feet and fingers. With slow, deliberate movement, Dom lifted the ends of his vines and surveyed how they were coming into bloom with a satisfied smile.

Spring had always been his favourite season.

When he was ready – refreshed and revitalized – Dom lurched back toward town. With each step his glamour rose until at last he strode from the tree line as a smiling, contented woodsman.

“Welcome back!” Trina called as she spotted Dom ambling into the courtyard of the Tenna Search and Rescue headquarters. “Mail’s here.”

She waved a small stack of envelopes over her head, taking great pleasure in watching Dom’s face light up.

“Another one?” He picked up his pace, trotting to the large bay doors of the garage where the rest of his team chatted over steaming mugs of coffee.

Karin, sitting atop a skid of fresh supplies, raised a hand to shield her eyes from the sun and shouted back to him. “We’ll know once you open it. Hurry your ass up, boy!”

Dom reached the others and, after a brief game of keep-away on Trina’s part, surveyed the manila envelope that had arrived that morning. The size of it was a little unusual, but the regular markers were all there: the carefully printed address (always directed to him) in familiar chirography. There was never any return address, only a tiny, hand-drawn star in a corner on the back of the envelope.

A giddy rush surged through him when his eyes caught sight of the star. Without pause he slid a finger beneath the fold and tore the paper open in one smooth swipe.

“What have they been up to this time?” Mattie craned his neck to watch over Dom’s shoulder as he pulled from the envelope a folded piece of heavy stock paper.

“Looks like a poster,” Dom muttered in reply to a different question altogether. He unfolded the paper with gentle hands and surveyed its print in surprise.

A title in exciting, hand-sketched typeface was splashed above an image of three brightly coloured acrobats tumbling through the air.

“A circus flyer?” Trina balked, poking her head over Dom’s arm to get a better look. “Why would they send us this?”

“I was hoping for more photos,” Sean grumped over his mug. “What’s this supposed to mean?”

Sean sulked surprisingly well for a man of his intimidating stature.

But Dom simply grinned.

“It means they’re brilliant.”

After the team finished passing the poster around, Dom stole away with it up to his dorm. In his closet he pushed aside the hangers of jackets and shirts, exposing the back wall. He surveyed the collage of photos and postcards he had pinned to the space and mentally mapped out what would have to move to make room for the poster.

It had been close to a year since Em and May had last been in Tenna. Dom remembered that day vividly – the day he helped his friends flee a mysterious pursuer from Em’s past. It was the same day Dom learned the truth about Em; it still baffled him that he had been so close to a living Star without realizing it.

But even with the truth being as shocking as it was, Dom never once wished anything but the best for his former lover, nor for the woman she now found herself devoted to. And so, when he received the first mysterious envelope containing a single photograph, he was relieved.

It had been a photo of May, beaming at the camera over her shoulder. He assumed it was Em capturing the image of her girlfriend kneeling on a blanket. Beyond her the sunset was frozen from their perch atop a grassy hill.

The images that followed told a story of roving adventure. Usually they were of May, Em ever the photographer. May learning to play guitar around a campfire in the company of fellow backpackers. May, her face painted in bright and vivid colours, dancing with strangers in a lively street festival. May hanging like a sloth from a high tree branch in what looked to be a rainforest with a wide, childlike grin stretched across her freckled face.

When Em was in the photos, she was usually captured in candid moments almost out of frame: helping prepare a meal in a communal kitchen, kneeling excitedly amidst a herd of long-eared goat kids, napping in a heap on the bank of an emerald coloured glacial lake. And in the rare picture that featured them both, they were shining, happy, and overflowing with love.

Dom smiled as he rearranged the collection, living vicariously through their documented travels. He had no idea where they were, but for every unmarked envelope he received, he at least knew they were alive and well. He tacked the circus poster up in the freshly cleared space and sat back on his heels to survey his work.

When he stood to close the closet, the sound of frantic footsteps stole his attention.

“Dom,” Matti hissed, sticking his head into the room. His face was ashen with distress. “You need to get downstairs.”

Before Dom could ask why, Matti swallowed hard and answered his unspoken question first.

“There are people here,” Matti whispered, looking fearful. “They’re looking for Em.”


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Ko-Fi May

 

The Wind and the Horizon: Prologue

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Welkin was in trouble.

Not that the Star was unfamiliar with punishment from their own kin. Bestowing a human child to an ailing woman in secret had been bad enough.

But this was different. There would be no redemption this time.

The Star was a prisoner. Their unrelenting need to visit Earth and dabble in the lives of humans had long since been a source of anger and frustration amongst their peers. But this latest trespass had the entire celestial council responsible for Earth in an uproar.

<<It was unthinkable for you to befriend that human girl and grant her an unauthorized wish,>> scolded one incensed Star. <<But to circumvent her daughter’s death? Tensions are high enough among our faithful without your foolhardy meddling.>>

Welkin remained silent. It had only been a matter of time before the council – the Stars responsible for Earth and its place in the greater Plan of the Universe – found out about Emanthy. Welkin didn’t need to exacerbate the situation by admitting that, given the chance, they’d do it all again if they had to.

<<The fallen wishing star and its ill-gotten wishes are still causing problems,>> said another of Welkin’s peers, this one more fretful. <<We’re having a challenging enough time containing the disruptions they’ve caused to the Plan without one of our own creating more. Why would you do something so asinine?>>

<<You wouldn’t understand,>> Welkin replied, unable to hold their opinions close any longer.

The other Stars crackled at Welkin’s defiance. What they said was true – despite their close link to life on Earth, none of them had connected with it the way Welkin had. All these Stars knew was how each living thing fit into the Plan, how the planet’s existence was meant to unfold over a dizzying number of millennia.

While these celestial beings saw the planet’s story as one great tapestry, the minutiae of its creatures were lost on them. They didn’t understand grief. They didn’t understand love.

Welkin did.

Yet not every human experience was unfathomable to the Stars. They were all familiar with notions of loyalty and duty. There was a kind of beauty in the order they kept, and Welkin had all but set it all ablaze.

<<We understand your selfishness jeopardized the Plan yet again,>> came the booming reprimand of a Star best described as a leader within the council. They were sympathetic to Welkin’s misguided affinity for life on Earth, but it was no longer prudent to turn a blind eye. <<We serve at the pleasure of the Universe, not our own desires.>>

Rebellious indifference swirled within Welkin, reminding them of Emanthy. The memory of their daughter – the knowledge they would likely never see her again – stung. They imagined this was how Jeremy, Connor, and the rest had felt when they lost Audrey.

If there was one thing the Star had learned, it was the worst part about love was the inevitable pain that came with it. The humans Welkin loved taught them that.

<<What’s it going to be?>> Welkin wanted nothing more than to get the trial over with. <<Will you snuff my light and be done with me once and for all?>>

It was a bold thing to say – to goad a Star into ending another’s existence. But Welkin was tired and haunted by their many mistakes. To be done with it all hardly seemed the worst option.

<<No,>> rumbled the leader. <<We will not take on the burden of relieving you of yours. You have a choice: stay among your kind and never return to Earth again, or fall.>>

If Welkin had need to draw breath, they would have found theirs stolen away.

This ultimatum was worse than being snuffed out.

<<What kind of choice is that?>> Welkin asked.

<<A fair one, given the circumstances,>> the leader replied. <<We hope you’ll choose wisely.>>

Welkin observed their kin. The decision held colossal weight, but the answer came easily.

<<You should know my answer without posing the question,>> they stated.

<<I fell a long time ago.>>


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Ko-Fi May