Chapter 1

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ONE



With a long, crooked branch, I trace a circle in the sand, then peer into the dusky sky. A squawking flock of black birds flutters through the streaked palette of colors while a warm wind caresses me.

I'm at peace.

"You've made it, my dear. I always knew you would."

I stiffen, feet planted, and tear up before I even see his face. But it's in my mind: the sideburns that accent the chiseled jawline; the thin mustache that offsets his handsome features with a boyish charm. I don't want to discover it's just my imagination, a voice in the wind. A far-fetched wish or a dream that'll never come true.

He rests a hand on my shoulder, turns me around until we're face to face. Dazzling and soft, kind and mysterious—the eyes of Zephyr the Magnificent, Greenleigh's only living magic.

"Daddy?"

He pulls me to his chest, enfolding me in an embrace I've yearned for, needed, for so long.

"How—?"

"Never mind the how, my daughter." He lifts me up and spins me, his sleek, black cape twirling around us. "You're here with me now. That's all that matters." He sets me on the ground, then crouches before me, traces the scar on my cheek. His eyes glisten with deep emotion, mirroring the darkening ocean. "So"—he places a hand on my belly—"I'm going to be a Papa, eh?"

"Yes." I nod through a whirlpool of emotions, both joy and devastation. "I'll name him after you, Daddy. If he's a boy."

"When will you tell Jax? Won't he be overjoyed at this news?"

"I can't tell him. Not yet."

My daddy stands, smoothes my short, brown hair back from my face.

"Please, don't leave me again," I beg.

"Joy . . . you know what this is—"

"If it's a dream, I don't want to wake up! I want to stay with you!"

"You must stop this, my girl. Be strong. Now isn't the time for weakness. You've come so far, but your journey hasn't ended yet."

"But I don't know what's real. Or who to trust."

Dark water rushes in around our feet, the sky has grown black. Nightfall, with not a single star in sight. Even the moon has disappeared, obscuring my daddy's face. "You will always find the answers you seek inside of you. Trust your inner light to guide you, my daughter. And trust those who are awake, both human and not."

"You mean the machine people Raffai helped? Like Smudge?"

"Yes. They have their secrets, but . . ." He pinches the end of his mustache with a wink. "Don't we all?"

The water has risen waist-high now, the air thick, stifling. He's ripped away from me, a swirling coal wave surging between us.

"Dad!"

With arms outstretched, the ocean steals him into oblivion. "Be the light, Joy . . ." A fading echo.

"No!" The water rises over my head, my mouth fills with it. Water everywhere, filling up the sky, drowning the horizon. I surrender to the ocean floor, welcoming that eternal solitude.

I've lost him again.

There's no reason left to live.

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