Kip’s nose wets my palm and I survey the scene. The Celestials reform, coalescing from the galaxy of tiny stars into their humanoid figures once more. Where Major had opened the portal beneath the harbingers there’s now nothing but shimmering blackness like the rest of this strange surface.
I release a shuddering huff, sitting down hard. I side-eye Major. “Couldn’t have waited any longer to open that?”
He shakes his head. “They were starting to follow. Had to catch them before they spread out too much.” He cocks a brow. “I knew you’d manage.”
“Please don’t ever have that much faith in me again.” I laugh wryly.
“Thank you.” The Celestial’s voice brings my gaze up, and I stand, shrugging awkwardly. “The harbingers have been cast out. They will not be able to breach the borders of their own realm for some time.”
And thank goodness for that. Adrenaline leaves me shaky and weak in its wake.
“You both must leave now. This is no place for mortals.”
I glance at the shimmery, beautiful, eerie landscape and nod. “You can say that again.”
“Thank you for returning Kipestrias.”
I blink, then chuckle. “Kip’s full name is Kipestrias?”
The Celestial inclines her head.
I look down at the star-dog grinning up at me and feel a pang at having to leave him here. But he seems at home. With his own kind. I would not deprive him of that.
I kneel and ruffle the star-dog’s ears. “I’ll miss you, Kip.” Even though I’ve only known the playful creature for a couple days, it feels like forever.
Kip’s tongue lolls, eyes sparkling with a smile.
“He says he’ll see you next time,” Major fills in for me.
I smile at Kip, then straighten, brushing stardust off my pants. Goodbyes were never my favorite.
The star-dog prances around me once, then bounds away toward the silvery trees, tail flailing joyfully.
“This is where we part ways too.” Major eyes me. “It wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been.”
I snort. “Yeah, same to you, partner.”
The corner of his mouth twitches, and I accept that as uproarious laughter from Major.
He gestures to his watch. “Where do you want to go?”
I hesitate, faced again with a vast unknown, not unlike before I met Major just a few days ago. At least now… something of the aching grief has eased. Now perhaps I can find a new purpose. I shrug. “Drop me back at Holuvian.”
Could I join a crew? Become a merchant? Learn a trade?
Major grunts and turns away slightly, but curiosity gets the better of me. I snag his sleeve. “How come you can hear Kip?”
He half turns back, brows raised.
“I can see him because of the wish my parents made after the Void took my brother,” I clarify. Same reason I can survive oxygenless in space. “How did you come to have the ability to communicate with animals?”
Major shakes my hand off his sleeve and huffs out a breath. “I made a wish too.”
I straighten. “You did?” What exactly had he wished for?
He nods curtly. “The harbingers forced me to wish to help them find the Celestials, but it didn’t quite go as planned.” His lips twist into a humorless smile. “Wishes don’t work well when you’re under duress. Your words wish for one thing, but your heart wishes for another. Stardust gets confused. In the end, I suppose it did turn out to help them find the Celestials though.”
I stare. His answer only gives me more questions than ever before. The harbingers forced him to wish for them? Perhaps wishing stardust doesn’t work for them so they have resorted to stealing other peoples’ wishes. Is Major the only one they’ve done this to?
If harbingers are using humans for wishes, and Celestials are protecting humans from harbingers… it makes sense why the harbingers want to kill the Celestials.
But even that brings me full circle. If defeating the Celestials is only a sidetrack, what is their true goal?
Knowing the harbingers, it can’t be good.
I look up at Major again, frowning. “How did you come to be with the harbingers in the first place?”
A wry smile tweaks the corner of his mouth. “A favor. For your father.”
I gape. “What do you mean?” Why would my father ask him to go to the harbingers? What does my family have to do with these void-beasts?
Major shrugs. “He said he’d owe me one. Now you’ve paid off that debt.” He starts to turn away, but I scramble after him.
“No! Wait—” I grab his shoulder. “Why did my father send you to the harbingers? What did he want you to do?”
Major hesitates, then his lips press together. “I was looking for someone.”
My eyebrows lift. “Who—?” Even as I ask, a suspicion forms in my gut.
My eyes must ask the question, because Major shakes his head. “I never got close enough to find anything out. And before you ask, no, I’m not going back.” He grimaces. “You’re on your own, kid.”
He steps back and taps at his watch, summoning a portal to Holuvian at my elbow. The green vortex tugs at me, drawing me closer. My mind spins with a thousand questions, but Major’s scowl promises that he won’t give me any more answers.
But I will find them. There are so many pieces of this puzzle and I’m not certain how they all fit together, but I’m determined to figure it out.
The harbingers, Major, my father, my… brother. Even my own mysterious gift-slash-curse. It’s all connected.
And now I know what I’m going to do next. I’m going to find out what’s behind all of this, once and for all.
I will find the truth.
Resolve building in my heart, I step backward through the portal.