Chapter Sixty-Three

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Em floated with a sense of serenity that she knew at her core was a lie.

She knew she was in trouble. She knew she shouldn't have felt as peaceful as she did. But she didn't have control over either of those things, not so long as she was under water.

Under different circumstances, she would have welcomed the quiet the water provided; the way it cut her off from the constant noise of the universe. That was something she used to go to great lengths to attain. There was never a moment when Em wasn't aware of how her celestial lineage connected her to the unseen magic that permeated everything and everyone. When she was Audrey, the constant hum had been bearable. But once she was reborn and forced to carry two sets of memories inside of herself, it was as if she was living in an echo chamber and feeling everything twice as much. It was exhausting, but she managed.

For the most part, anyway.

And in the times when she couldn't manage, there was always the water.

That is, until she met May. Being in May's arms and on the receiving end of her smile, her kiss, Em had discovered that it was possible to find stillness and calm without depriving her senses. With May, she had finally found peace.

Em clung to those memories — of her and May and the steadiness they found in one another. She could feel everything else slipping away. For every whisper of her essence the Loyals siphoned from her, she forgot things. Their sudden absence was like air rushing out of her lungs through invisible punctures she had no way of patching, slipping through her grasp and out of reach before she even had a chance to register that a new fissure had formed. All she could do was watch the things that made her who she was vanish and wait to suffocate in the void they left behind.

So she had to prioritize. If there was anything she would be allowed to keep until the very end, she chose to remember that her name was Emanthy, she was Starborn, and she was desperately in love with May Alana.

She was repeating these three things in her mind like a mantra when she noticed the tableau outside her chamber change. The steady diligence of the researchers charged with stealing her essence became frantic and chaotic when someone hurried to Wyndam's side and whispered something in his ear. Em watched, curious, as he flew into a rage and barked orders she could not hear. His soldiers, the ones who stood watch in the room just in case Em somehow managed to escape, scrambled out the door.

Slowly, Em reached out and pressed her palms to the glass, drifting closer so she could get a better look. She was staring at the back of Wyndam's head when he whipped around to glare up at her. What, she wondered, could she have possibly done to anger him now? Wasn't she giving him everything he wanted?

The moment hung silently between them, thick as the glass that separated Em from the rest of the world.

And then he turned and left her there, with nothing but questions swirling in her ever-darkening mind.

*

Rue and Priva were waiting at the door, and it was hard to tell which of them was angrier.

"No. Absolutely not," Priva said, planting herself firmly at the threshold so no one could enter.

"C'mon, Priva," Connor sighed. He ran a hand through his hair and gazed at her dolefully. "Can we please talk about this inside where no one will see us?"

Priva cut him a dark and furious look. "There's nothing to discuss."

"For fuck's sake," May snarled with a roll of her eyes. She shoved past Priva, ducking under her outstretched arm and into the front room without pause. "We don't have time for your self-righteous bullshit."

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