Chapter Forty-Five

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The orb of energy in Em's hand extinguished with an electric fizzle. For a moment, the whole world was black — void-like in the absence of her light. May blinked hard a few times until the swaying shadows of the field's unplowed grasses came back into focus. Somewhere close by, those grasses rustled.

"Keen eye, May," Welkin's smooth voice cut through the night. Em's body went rigid, her eyes impossibly wide. "Apologies for frightening you."

"It's you," she whispered.

A few paces off the trail, Welkin stepped close enough for the couple to see their face. The Star's normally stoic expression melted at the sight of their daughter. The weak light that streamed from the farmhouse caught their golden eyes and the glaze of tears within them.

"Oh, Emanthy. How I've missed you."

Welkin extended their arms and Em did not hesitate: she darted forward, feet skimming the ground, and launched herself into their waiting embrace. Despite the many questions swirling in her head, May hung back and let the small family enjoy their tearful reunion.

"I'm so mad at you," Em said, though she didn't sound it at all. She sobbed, her arms clinging desperately around Welkin's neck. "Do you have any idea how worried I've been?"

"I know, and I am so terribly sorry. You must believe that I would have reached you if I could."

Em pulled back, kissing the Star's cheek as she did. Her eyes scanned them from top to bottom. "Look at you! May said you were made human but I had no idea— Welkin, you're beautiful!"

At this, Welkin laughed. It was a sound so rare that it made May jump with surprise.

"If you insist," Welkin said, glancing down at themself with thinly veiled disdain. "Though I'm not sure I see it, personally. I'm not sure how you humans get on in these bodies of yours, to be quite honest."

"Oh, Welkin." Gently, Em laid a tender hand against their cheek. "Did I do this to you?"

"No. Whatever happens to me is my fault and mine alone. I need you to understand this."

May took a tentative step forward. Feeling a little intrusive, she crammed her hands into the pockets of the motorcycle jacket she continued to wear despite it being too large and not hers. "I'm glad you changed your mind."

Welkin gave her a sad smile. Keeping one arm wrapped firmly around Em's shoulders, they reached out the other to May. Grateful, she accepted the offering, and let Welkin pull her in for a group hug.

"I've been thinking long and hard about what you and Jeremy said. I've been away too long. Just once, I need to be there for my daughter."

Em tipped her head into their shoulder, burrowing into the folds of their lowered hood. "Stop that. You've always been there for me. I'm sorry for being such an ungrateful bit—"

"Emanthy, listen to me," Welkin said, cutting her off with a sharp and urgent tone. "Both of you. I need you to hear this."

May and Em stood up straight and shot one another wary glances.

"What's wrong?" May asked.

Welkin sighed sadly. "The reason I would not come inside—the reason I did not come to you sooner, Emanthy—is because I have been forbidden from doing so. As part of the conditions of my exile, I am not to see or speak with you again."

"What?" May choked. "Welkin, why didn't you say so earlier? What are you doing?"

"What does that mean?" Em's voice rose a frantic pitch. "Are you going to get in trouble again?"

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