Find him, Starlight.
Irene didn’t hear the words. They arrived in her head, a thought or compulsion carried in the air she breathed, through her lungs and into her blood. The waxing moon watched her. A yellow pupil on the universe, focused on her alone. The light sliced through the row of trees, illuminating the uneven path.
She stumbled forward, propelled by the words. Gravel should have shifted under her feet, and the night must have hummed with sounds of living things—insects and coyotes that lived in the darkness. But she sensed nothing. As her body cut a wake in that stillness, Irene experienced only the echo of the words.
Her father’s words reaching through everything. The ground, the air, her skin and bones and guts, all quaking from the volume of his voice in her head.
The moon’s spotlight dragged across the scrabble and dirt ahead. She floated, following the shifting yellow beam as it passed over the flats between the dark hills. The light slowed, centering on two figures. A man and a child.
Her heart raced. The man was someone she sought. Needed to find. Her brother, Wes. A yearning knotted in her, a need to run to him. Grab hold of him before he could disappear again. But her body would not cooperate.
Save him, Starlight.
She followed them into a corridor of plants—a strait of aridity cutting through the sea of lush and spindly leaves tickling her skin. Wes and the child disappeared in the shadow of a stout tower squatted over the field. She waited in the thick miasma of flavors seeping out of the vast sprawl of vegetation—skunk and pine and rust that pinched her sinuses.
Through the thick shield of leaves, she could see the platform above. Her brother reappeared there. The boy followed moments later, his small face peering over the railing and down. Wes patted the child’s back and stepped away.
An unfamiliar sensation took her. Not the words rattling her bones. Something more coherent and focused. A warmth that tickled her scalp. Cascaded down her nerves. Into her stomach. Pressing against her from the inside.
A bloom of joy warmed her cheeks, her arms light and hands tingling as bliss came. The field reacted with her—the tang on her tongue thickening, thin fronds creeping deeper into her personal space.
Something split in her face. Her fingers floated to her mouth as a crunch echoed through her skull and into her ears. A sharp welt swelled under her right ear as her jaw cracked in two.
The terror lasted a moment—a fraction of a breath of that tainted air in the field. Yet her heart slammed against her ribs. Irene’s vision shook, watery with tears.
A new sound rose. A rumble in her chest that gurgled up her throat and erupted in a scream as her body tore itself apart.
And it felt wonderful.