Concealed by the shadows of the forest canopy, I raised my bow and drew my arrow.
Stay right where you are, you furry little shit.
My gaze locked on the squirrel with pinpoint precision. Standing poised and silent, my super-heightened Elkie senses performed a dozen, split-second calculations—angle, attitude, articulation.
Time to meet the pointy end of my arrow.
I let the string go.
My arrow whistled through the air and pierced the squirrel straight through the heart, propelling it backward into the tree, where it struck the bark with a comical twang.
A smile tugged at the side of my lips. My Elkie instinct was satiated. For now.
Suddenly, the sound of slow clapping came from behind.
I swirled, grabbing a fresh arrow from my quiver, and adopted a shooting stance, aiming into the undergrowth.
Gus, my best friend, emerged from the shadows, twigs sticking from his strawberry-blond hair. “Follow the trail of carcasses and they’ll lead you to Theia Foxglove,” he said, wryly, as he flicked leaf crud off his shoulders.
My adrenaline faded. I lowered my bow. “I have a lot of rage to get out.”
Gus sauntered over to the tree and yanked the arrow out, making the squirrel swing back and forth like a pendulum. “No shit,” he said, holding it out at arm’s length with a disgusted look on his face.
Gus wasn’t your typical Elkie. He never carried his bow and arrow, he was all thumbs and two left feet, and he possessed zero instinct to take his anger out on furry critters. He was a tub-of-ice-cream kind of guy and had the paunch to show for it.
“What’s your plan here, Theia?” he drawled.
I shrugged. “No plan. Just kill things.”
He rolled his eyes. They were the brightest, most unique hazel color, so much prettier than my typical Elkie mud-brown ones.
“It’s your last hour in Bear Mountain—”
“I don’t need reminding.”
“—and you’re going to waste it symbolically shooting your stepfather-to-be?”
I tensed. “Don’t call him that.”
Two days ago, Mom dropped on me the bombshell to end all bombshells: she was engaged. To an old college boyfriend from New York. Who just so happened to be William Geiser, the mayor-in-waiting. And that in forty-eight hours we’d be moving to the city to live with him. One sleep before the first day of senior high.
You don’t need to be Elkie to want to kill stuff after hearing that…
Gus gave me one of his looks. “Theia. William Geiser is about to become your stepfather whether you like it or not.”
I took the arrow from him and yanked the carcass off. “Actually, by the time of the actual wedding, I’ll be eighteen,” I said, testily. “A legal adult. An independent. So as far as I’m concerned, William Geiser won’t be a step-anything to me. He’ll basically be nothing.”
Gus smirked with approval. “Savage.”
“Besides, if Mom actually cared about whether I accepted him or not,” I continued, on my soapbox now, “she would’ve told me he existed before accepting his proposal!”
I finished my tirade by flinging the squirrel carcass into the undergrowth. Leaves rustled as the corpse flew through them. A flock of magpies took to the air, flapping huffily at the intrusion of a dead creature into their otherwise peaceful existence. I squinted to see if Mom’s familiar, a woodpecker, was hiding among them, but they appeared to be normal, non-magical magpies.
“Are you done?” Gus asked.
I could feel the heat of fury burning my cheeks. I took a breath. It was ragged with anger. “For now.”
Gus rolled his eyes. He took me by the shoulders and peered into my eyes with a stern expression. “No one’s saying what’s happening to you is fair,” he implored. “Or that Vivian will win a ’Most Thoughtful Mother of the Year’ award any time soon. Or even make the shortlist, come to think of it.”
I narrowed my eyes. His words rang hollow. Gus loved my mother’s whole melancholic, faded-beauty, old-money routine, because it was the polar opposite of his own cloying, nervy, kiss-bestowing mother. I’d personally prefer a mom who didn’t treat me like Satan’s spawn. Or, you know, just one who cared enough not to uproot me and switch my school the day before senior year…
“What we’re saying, T,” Gus continued, “is that this whole angry, squirrel-killer thing you’ve been doing all weekend? It’s not fun for anyone.”
“Well, I’m sorry to have ruined the vibe,” I muttered, sarcastically.
Gus sighed, wearily. He let go and leaned back against a tree, leg crooked. I knew he was losing patience with me and the tantrum I’d been throwing all weekend, but I just couldn’t help myself. The mountains were my home. In the city, I’d stick out like a sore thumb. A pointy-eared, sore thumb.
“Tell me what’s really on your mind,” Gus said.
He was changing tactics. It was the radical-acceptance technique our school counselor was so fond of. Accept reality. Your feelings are to be felt. Etcetera, etcetera…
My hands clenched into fists. “I don’t want to move. I don’t want to start a new school. I want to finish senior year at Sunny’s.”
“Because it’s more comfortable?” he challenged.
“Because… because I’m not the only person with pointed ears, for starters. I’m not a forest freak, here. I’m not some weird, uncultured country bumpkin who just stumbled out of the bushes.”
Gus nodded, knowingly. “You don’t want to stand out.”
“I don’t want to spend my final year of high school constantly checking over my shoulder, in case I get jumped on by a Shapeshifter or Werebeast or something!”
Gus shot me a disapproving look, like he expected better of me than to resort to such tired old stereotypes.
“Sorry,” I mumbled.
He accepted my apology with a small nod, then waved me on to continue. He really was seeing himself as something of a Freud now.
I began cleaning the blood from my arrow so that I had an excuse to avoid eye contact. “I don’t want to wear a uniform like someone from a Catholic schoolgirl fetish fantasy. And I don’t want to hang out with Mom’s new fiancé.”
“Because…” Gus prompted.
My chest sank. Gus’s counselor routine was actually working.
“Because… because I’m mad Mom replaced Dad so quickly,” I said, with a big exhalation. “It’s not even been a year since he died.”
Gus nodded, knowingly, like I’d finally gotten the right answer on a test. And I had, in a way. That’s what this whole squirrel-killing spree was about: Mom moving on from Dad so insultingly quickly.
Gus came over and hugged me. He was super squishy. It was one of the best things about him. No one hugged quite like Gus.
“I understand, T,” he said. “I miss your dad too.”
I let my pent-up anger flow out of me. “It’s not like I’m stupid,” I murmured into his chest. “I know Mom stopped loving him years ago. But remarrying her college sweetheart? So soon? It disrespects his memory.”
Gus’s bear hug tightened. “Look at it this way. Your mom will be so distracted with this new guy that she won’t have time to nitpick your every move anymore. You’ll get to live in a big house. Make new friends. Maybe fall in love. I always pictured you with a big dumb Neanderthal on your arm.”
I moved out of his embrace and smacked him playfully.
He flashed me a cheeky grin. “I mean it! There are moon-class boys in New York, Theia! Moon-class BOYS! Hairy weres. Skinny Vanpari.”
“Not everyone is as horny as you,” I replied.
“Horny…” he echoed, dreamily, looking off into the distance. “Big, beefy, horned Daimons…”
It was true. My dating pool, as well as my horizons, were about to expand significantly. I’d spent seventeen years in the predominantly Elkie community of Bear Mountain, doing all those traditional Elkie things that other people thought made us “backward”—horse-riding, farming, fishing, and hunting with sacred arrows. I’d grown up in the same forest as my ancestors. I’d roamed the same hillsides. My experience of the world had been limited to the boundaries of my safe, small community, where Elkie were the majority, and the only other species were the Fae. But there are a lot of different types of people in this world, and I don’t know any of them.
Some have powers, some do not. Some belong to the sun-class, like Gus and me, the rest the moon-class. Some are nocturnal, some diurnal. Most groups keep to their own type, most types to their own class, but now I was being given the unique opportunity to mix everything up.
“How will I cope at Sunny’s without you?” he lamented. “We had so many big plans for senior year. Hanging out under the bleachers. Avoiding all organized sporting events.”
“Blowing off senior prom,” I added.
“Exactly. I bet you’ll go to prom at your new school.”
“At Zenith?” I scoffed. “Ew. No. I won’t.”
Gus laughed. “Zenith? Sounds like a brand of condoms.”
“A school with a name that extra will have an equally OTT prom. There’ll be a ballroom. A fountain, probably. Ice sculptures. You won’t be able to resist.”
“I will. Because I’ll be outta there the second I pass my eighteenth birthday.”
Gus raised an eyebrow. “Sure… Because living in a mansion in a buzzing city will be such a bore. Going to all those bars, clubs, and coffee shops during twilight. Sounds terrible.”
He was being sarcastic.
A few centuries back, suns and moons adopted this rule: “Those from the moon walk the earth at night, while those from the sun find their peace in the light.” Cute, huh? Put legally, it means suns are diurnal and moons are nocturnal and it’s meant to stop us pointlessly slaughtering the crap out of each other. But since there’s such a thing as twilight, which is halfway between each, happens twice a day, and is by definition neither day nor night, the aforementioned slaughter continued. Eventually, the guys who wrote the laws got so annoyed, they said if we couldn’t share, no one could play, and introduced the Twilight Curfew. Here in the mountains, in my sun community, all five stores shut well before the sun begins to fade, anyway. But in big cities like New York that are shared by both classes, things are a little more complicated. The sun stores that are meant to close before the moon-class awake push back their closing hours, the moon stores that are meant to open after the sun-class have gone home open earlier and earlier, and basically the law turns a blind eye because… money. Beyond a whole lot of shopping getting done during twilight, I guess a lot of making out does too. Most government buildings are shared (money, again), so you end up with one bunch of high schoolers finishing for the day while another bunch begin, and passing one another in the middle. And making out.
“You think I’m being a big baby,” I said to Gus. “You really mean to say you wouldn’t be pissed if it happened to you? At all?”
“I would be thrilled if it happened to me!” he exclaimed. “You have no idea how much it sucks to be the only gay in the forest.”
He was right. As great as our forest community was, it could be a tad regressive on certain matters.
“Are you still coming out to your folks tomorrow?” I asked him.
As loving as Gus’s parents are, they still expect him to join the military after high school, just like every other Redfern male before him. Gus, on the other hand, was planning on flouncing off to fashion school.
“They’ll hear it from someone else otherwise,” he explained. “Better to do it on my terms.”
I felt for him. The one upside of having a cold, aloof mother and a dead dad was that there was no one I cared about disappointing.
Just then, my cell phone tinged. I returned the blood-free arrow to the quiver on my back, and tugged my cell from my pocket. I’d received a message from Mom. That wasn’t like her. She usually sent her woodpecker familiar to pester me.
Where are you? it read. The moving van is here. Am I supposed to load your boxes by myself?
My stomach dropped to my toes. The van was early. There can’t have been much traffic for it to get here from New York so quickly.
I darted my head up from my phone.
“Gus, I have to go,” I said, hurriedly.
“Now?” Gus repeated, looking immediately crestfallen.
“Yes, like now, now. The van got here early.”
“But—” he began.
But he didn’t get to finish his statement, because a sudden rustling from the undergrowth triggered our Elkie senses, and we both froze in perfect synchronicity.
The back of my neck prickled. My pupils dilated, my peripheral vision sharpening as I scanned left, right, up, down. There was something in the bushes. Watching.
No, not something. Someone.
A little gasp escaped my throat. I was staring into the unmistakable slate-gray eyes of a Vanpari.
“You seeing what I’m seeing?” Gus said, quietly, out the side of his mouth.
“Uh-huh,” I whispered in return.
Vanpari belong to the moon-class. They’re urban dwellers. The closest Vanpari settlement is in New York City, fifty miles away. Seeing a Vanpari in the mountains in the middle of the day is a bit like seeing a nun at a nightclub.
Suddenly, the hedges rustled. The Vanpari had sprung from his hiding place and bolted through the thickets, disappearing in a blur.
“Hey!” I cried after him.
But Elkie speed is nothing compared to Vanpari speed. The boy was already little more than a smudge in my vision.
Gus turned to me, his mouth hanging open with astonishment. “What the actual heck?”
All I could do was shake my head. The Vanpari boy had looked about our age, but with round, terrified eyes. Intrigue swirled in my mind.
Just then, something glittering on the floor distracted me. Lying by the tree trunk was a silver chain.
“He dropped something,” I murmured, pacing over to the spot he’d been hiding. It was some kind of medallion: a silver crescent moon on a chain. “Looks like a moon-class talisman.”
Just then, my phone pinged again. It was my mother. Again.
If you’re not here in five minutes, I’m throwing your boxes in the trash.
I took one last, curious glance at the spot where I’d seen the Vanpari boy, then pocketed the medallion, and hurried home for the last time.