Chapter Eight

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"I told you she'd know right away," Dom murmured. Trina rolled her eyes and slapped a wrinkled ten dollar bill into his waiting palm.

May had a million questions, but they could wait a minute longer. Breathless and on the verge of tears, she rushed forward into Welkin's waiting embrace. She clung to them tightly, and refused to let go.

"The last time I saw you, you were being swallowed up by a wall of light," she cried, releasing them only so she could look them over. "What happened? And why do you look like this?"

There was a moment of tense silence. While Welkin smiled at her, May sensed the shuffling and side-eye being shared between the others.

"Do you guys want some space to talk?" Karin asked, stepping up to be the mature one in the room. "To get caught up?"

"I just need to know what's going on," May stressed. She hated being the only person who didn't know what was happening. She still clutched the folds of Welkin's robe between in her fist as if she let go they might vanish before her eyes.

"It's alright, Ms. Price," Welkin assured Karin in a steady voice. They looked back to May. "You deserve answers, May. I didn't want to leave you and Em. I didn't want any of this to happen." For a moment they looked uncomfortable — embarrassed. They licked their lips and took a deep breath. May couldn't help but notice; she had never seen them take any kind of breath before because it hadn't had to. "I was seized and made to return to the celestial court to stand trial for my crimes."

"Crimes?" May's brow furrowed. "What did you do?"

Welkin laughed weakly. "Come now, May. Nothing about my involvement with you, Emanthy... with Astrid..." They took a moment to compose themself. May — who had always considered the Star to be a steadfast pillar of wisdom and control — found their newfound vulnerability unnerving. "I have been breaking my kinds' laws since the day I fell in love with Astrid. It was bad enough that I had granted her an unauthorized wish to give her a baby. But resurrecting Audrey's soul and creating Emanthy..."

"Oh no." May was horror struck. She knew very little about how things worked in the celestial court, but it hadn't crossed her mind Welkin had broken their rules.

"Don't pity me," Welkin said, giving May's arm a reassuring squeeze. "I knew my meddling in human affairs would catch up with me one day. I just hoped I would have time to see you both to the other side of danger before that happened."

"But how?" May asked. "What did they do to you?"

"I was cast into exile. Stripped of my power and forced to live out a mortal life as a human. According to the Council it was a fitting punishment considering my inability to leave human life alone."

Sean, with his thick muscled arms folded across his broad chest, scoffed. "That sounds about as effective as me grounding my daughter to her room but letting her keep her damn phone. You get to be with the people you love as a person. How is that a punishment?"

"It's deeper than that, Sean," Dom said. He looked to Welkin with sorrow in his eyes. "It would be like if something forced me to stay human for the rest of my life. I like being Dom, but I'm a forest spirit first and foremost. It would be like losing the biggest piece of yourself and being forced to live a lie."

"Plus there's the whole "mortal" bit," Trina added. "I guess that means you'll die eventually?"

"Eventually, yes," Welkin confirmed.

Something about the idea of Welkin's love, first for Astrid and then for their daughter, being considered meddling enough to damn them to a mortal life struck May as incredibly unfair.

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