At this point, May assumed she must be dreaming. To hear Em's name uttered out loud made her head spin and her heart race.
"I don't understand," she whispered. The weight of her confusion ushered in a fresh headache, and she massaged her temple in an effort to concentrate. She knew she had heard the word Emandi before, but she couldn't quite place when or in what context.
Emandi tutted in mock indignation. "Of course the Star has left me out of the tale. How rude."
"What tale?" May felt like she was reading a book that had pages torn out. She was clearly missing something important.
"The tale of Emanthy's rebirth, of course," Emandi responded, their tone matter-of-fact. "Welkin may have supplied the life force but I am the one who created her body."
All at once the pieces clicked into place. May realized where she had heard the name before: it had been from Em as she told the members of WIND – the friends and loved ones from her previous life as Audrey – that she had been reborn with the creature's help. Except May has assumed this was some kind of fabrication spun to keep them from asking questions she didn't want to answer. After all, Em had never said anything to her about it.
But if May reached further back into her memories – back to when the Star known as Welkin first told her the truth about Em – she vaguely recalled them mentioning they had turned to another entity for help bringing their daughter back to life. Why, she wondered now, hadn't she thought to ask about it?
"She's beautiful, isn't she?" Emandi asked, snapping May from her gobsmacked daze. They had leaned in close and spoke in a hushed, almost giddy voice that seemed out of character for a creature so majestic. "My finest, most intricate creation. You can't blame me for giving her my name. After all, don't all great artists sign their masterpieces?"
Emanthy. Emandi. Thinking about it now, May was surprised she hadn't drawn some kind of connection sooner.
"She even kind of looks like you," May pointed out, gesturing to their silver fur – the same shimmering color as Em's hair.
"Indeed, the resemblance is uncanny." Emandi's mouth stretched into a sharp-toothed grin. They seemed quite pleased she had noticed. "Although Welkin drew the line at giving her my eyes. Something about not wanting to draw unnecessary attention to her. As if anyone in their right mind could ignore her." They sniffed dramatically. "I suppose it was just an excuse to inject some of the human mother into the final design. I'm nothing if not amenable to compromise but Welkin couldn't even bring themself to admit it. Silly Star."
"Human mother?" May's brow furrowed. "Do you mean Astrid?"
Emandi inspected their paw with an air of disinterest. "I believe that was her name, yes."
May frowned up at the shadowy cave ceiling and wondered how Em felt about that artistic decision. How did it make her feel to see her mother staring back at her every time she looked in a mirror? A constant reminder of what she had lost; of the past she so desperately wanted to leave behind.
Breath hitching, May was suddenly overcome by how badly she missed her.
A thoughtful humm from Emandi distracted her from heartache. She glanced back and found them regarding her closely.
Emandi stood. "We should take care of that." They pointed at May's chest.
"How?" May asked, curiosity mixing with unease.
She watched as Emandi, graceful for a being so large, moved about the cave. They didn't answer her question. Instead, the cat retrieved a deep cast iron pot from one of the shelves and filled it from what looked to be a spring-fed pool visible just at the edge of the shadows. After setting the pot over the fire, Emandi turned.
"I'll return shortly." They waved to May's bloodstained clothes. "I will need access to your wound, so do what you must."
It took a moment for May to realize what they meant. As Emandi vanished into the night, May plucked at her collar and sighed. Moving slowly, she unzipped her jacket and slid the sleeves down her arms easily enough. Her shirt proved more challenging. Despite her delicate and methodical movements, the pain was impossible avoid. By the time she tossed her sweaty, bloody shirt onto the cave floor. May was almost too exhausted to feel self conscious or awkward. Because they irritated the sensitive healing skin of her scar, she hadn't been wearing a bra. It had perhaps been the first time in her life she was grateful to be small enough to go without. Still, her exposure was unnerving, so she bundled herself beneath the cleanest looking quilt and waited.
Emandi was gone far longer than she anticipated, so much so that her fatigue eventually took over.
May didn't realize she fell asleep, so when the sound of rustling nearby roused her she experienced a moment of disorientation. The light and warmth of the fire was obscured by a large shadow towering over her. She peered up with bleary eyes to find Emandi watching her, motionless.
Her eyes snapped open at the sight of them.
But it wasn't a giant cat-like creature looming over her that gripped her throat with fear.
It was the sight of Emandi's mouth, soaked with dark, fresh blood.
* * * * * * * * * *
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The Fire and the Sky (Book 3 of the Starborn Series)Fantasy
Separated from her Starborn girlfriend, Em, and the rogue group of Wishes known as WIND, May Alana knows she can't go back to life she once knew. Now, armed with a family secret that could help put an end to the chaotic power of the ruthless Loyals...