The small stone skipped across the moonlit water, rippling the river into tiny waves, and it reminded me of what it was like to fly. The slick, black surface illuminated with the reflection of the stars and moved against the wind. The full moon shone against both. A stone collided with mine, and they sunk to the riverbed. I smiled, tossing another, and the nameless shade followed my game, hitting mine until they sank or skipped past. We’d been sitting together for over an hour, but I still hadn’t told her why I ordered her to leave for two days. She hadn’t bothered asking either.
“You’re quiet,” she said, breaking our eerie silence as if we’d never had one before. I tried to remember a moment we hadn’t spoken, and I couldn’t recall. We were always talking about something. I tossed a pebble as her purple eyes grazed across my peripherals. She sighed, and she pulled her knees up to her chest. I barely glanced at her, but her porcelain face was filled with worry, and my stomach churned. I was tired of making everyone around me feel negatively. It seemed like it was all I was good for. “I killed someone the other night,” I said, knowing it was a partial truth. The simulation wasn’t a real person, but it felt like a real person, and killing her wasn’t what was bothering me. Fudicia was. Her purple eyes met mine, but they didn’t widen. “Really?” “She was a light,” I said, feeling guilty for the lie. “She wasn’t real; just a simulation my trainer created.” I shook my head, more bothered by the fact that I almost struck Pierce. “But she seemed real, and I can’t get her face out of my head. It’s like I’m having nightmares, but I’m awake.” I exhaled and realized I’d forgotten to breathe. My chest was tight. The mysterious girl listened, seemingly unfazed. “Why’d you kill her?” she asked, laying her cheek on her knees. Her eyes never left mine. “I had no choice.” She smiled. “You always have a choice, Shoman.” “I won’t in battle,” I said, grabbing a stone and chucking it at the water. It didn’t even skip. She tensed up. “What kind of battle is this? It’s nine months away, and you’re stressing out about it—” “Because people are going to die,” I said, collecting a handful of stones. “Like the Lewinskys?” I dropped the stones, and her eyes widened when I went rigid. “How do you know about that?” “It was a guess,” she whispered. My chest pressed against my ribs. I’d just revealed another part of my life. The Lewinskys were shades. They’d died in the Dark, not in their home, and now this girl knew. “Don’t worry,” she said, leaning over to push my leg. “I figured no one knew. The death just sounded strange to me.” I raised my brow. “Who’d you hear it from?” She shook her finger. “You told me I shouldn’t talk about my human identity. I can’t tell you that.” So she wasn’t going to slip up, even though I did. For once, I wished our facial structures, along with our bodies and clothes, didn’t morph when we did. I’d know who she was then, and I could assess whether or not her knowledge was a threat. She picked up a rock from between us and tossed it between her hands. “What’s it like—killing someone?” she asked, avoiding eye contact. “Wonderful.” This time, her purple eyes widened, and she nearly snapped her neck to meet my eyes. I chuckled, shaking my head back and forth. “Don’t get me wrong,” I said. “I never explained how Urte got me to do it.” “Urte?” “My father’s guard.” “And your guard?” she began. “Was it that girl with the white hair?” I froze. “When did you see her?” “The first night we met,” she said, blinking. “She came out of the forest looking for you.” I stretched my arms, forcing my shoulders to relax. This girl knew too much, especially since I thought she’d left before Camille exposed herself, but she hadn’t.
“That was my guard,” I said, wanting to know exactly how much my trainee had picked up. Had I really been that careless? “But how did Urte get you to kill the light?” she asked, returning to our original conversation, and my jaw hurt. “I couldn’t at first,” I said. “I don’t want to believe I’ll have to one day.” She sucked in breath. “This is real, isn’t it?” I nodded, and she scooted closer. Her black hair whipped in the wind and brushed against my exposed arm. I watched it flutter over my chest. “Urte told me to concentrate on the person I cared for the most,” I began, whispering. “And I could let the light live if I wanted my loved one to die.” She reached over and laid her hand on my leg. I grabbed it, and her fingertips moved across my palm. “I didn’t hesitate after that.” “That must have been difficult,” she said, and I shook my head. “Not when I was choosing between the light and you.” She tensed, and her fingernails dug into my wrist. Heat rose from her palm, and I felt her hand shake as her shoulders rose. “Shoman—” “Don’t think of me differently,” I said, interrupting her before she could clarify our friendship. But she was holding my hand. “I used you, because you are the closest person I have. You’ve helped me more than you know. Honest. I don’t want you to think it’s anything more than that.” I added the rest telepathically, “The only reason I’m sane is you.” Her pupils grew. “Did you—?” “You can talk telepathically, too,” I said, hoping the exposure of powers would relax her. “It takes time to tune your energy and match it to others, but I’m sure you’ll figure it out.” She beamed, letting go of my hand to plop backward onto the grass. She lay on her back, giggling, and grabbed my sleeve. “Come here,” she said, tugging me toward the moist dirt. “What?” I felt the water seep through my T-shirt, but I didn’t shiver. I rolled over to stare at her. “Why are we doing this?” “Just lay with me for a second,” she said, lying by my side. “It’s not that hard.” I tried to look at the stars, desperately trying to see the beauty she obsessed over, but it looked like a sky to me. Nothing more. Just little balls of fire and light against the blackness of night. Nothing special. “I still don’t see the point of this,” I said. “You’ll see in a minute,” she said, and I heard the grass shift as she rolled over, laying her head on my chest. I stiffened, but she grabbed my arm and wrapped it around her torso. “Your heart is racing,” she said, relaxing against me. “Mhmm,” I hummed. Why was she doing this? Slowly, I placed my hand on her arm, and the coldness of her skin tickled my fingers. She was colder than me, but the closeness of another body was so warm. I’d forgotten what it felt like. “Why are we doing this?” I whispered into her black hair, my eyes locked on the night sky. “Because,” she whispered back. “It’s calming.” “You’re strange.” “And you’re stressed,” she said. I laughed, and her head followed my chest as it rose and fell. “You’re trying to help me?” She tilted her head back and met my eyes with a smile. “I don’t think killing that light girl is what’s really bothering you.” “Why do you say that?” She returned her ear to my sternum. “Urte found a way to make you comfortable with killing. Your silence is too strong for something resolved,” she said. “And I haven’t forgotten about what you said two days ago.” She laid her hand on my stomach. “What happened?” I held my breath. “I’d rather not talk about it.” “You’d rather not talk about it or you’re not allowed to talk about it?” she asked, and I smiled.
She knew I wasn’t allowed to talk about everything in the Dark. “That’s what I thought,” she said, taking my silence for an answer. I sighed, running my hand over her thick, black hair. “I think my father is hiding something from me.” I waited for her to speak, but she remained silent, listening. “I heard him speaking to the other elders—about my weakness,” I said. “But I don’t know my weakness. They’re keeping a part of the prophecy away from me.” “I don’t know the prophecy,” she said, and I patted her shoulder. “I know,” I said. “But I still can’t tell you.” She breathed and her shoulders rocked as she adjusted. “I know.” “But I think the weakness has something to do with the prophecy,” I continued, unable to stop myself. “My guard disagreed. She didn’t want to hear it at all.” “The white-headed girl?” I nodded, my head pushing against the grass. “Her name is Camille.” “Why does she look different from you and me?” “What do you mean?” I asked. The girl tapped her nails against my stomach. “She has white hair and dark eyes,” she said. “You and I have dark hair and light eyes.” I was calm, but surprised she’d observed something so definite when comparing the three of us. She saw the pattern from the beginning. “So you noticed?” I asked, unsure how to explain. The girl nodded, but she managed to keep her head on my chest. She didn’t want to move. She was too comfortable. And I was, too. I didn’t want her to leave. “Camille’s a half-breed,” I said, allowing the heavy words to fall from my lips. “She looks like a light, but she’s both.” “Why doesn’t she look like a shade instead?” “Genetics.” I shrugged. “She looks like a Dark member during the day and a Light member at night.” I spoke before realizing the amount of personal information I’d revealed. I cursed and sat up, nearly pushing the girl off me. She grabbed my arm. “What?” she asked. “What’s wrong?” “Nothing,” I muttered, rubbing my temple. How could I be so stupid? Camille’s life as Teresa Young could’ve been jeopardized. The girl’s face fell, and she moved away. “You told me something you aren’t supposed to,” she said, and I shook my head. “No, I didn’t,” I lied. “I know what Camille looks like during the day,” she spoke without hesitation, and I stared at the purple-eyed girl. I couldn’t even be mad at her; it was my fault. “I shouldn’t have said that.” “But it’s okay,” she said, trying to touch me again, but I moved away. She placed her hand in her lap. “I’m not a light.” That I know of. “I know.” “No, you don’t,” she said, shaking her head. “If I’ve learned anything from you, it’s to remain private. I understand your frustration, even if you don’t believe I do.” She returned to lying on the grass, and her purple gaze traced the sky. “It must be hard for Camille to look like something she hates,” she said, never reaching for me. “I never look like a light.” I frowned, knowing she’d just exchanged personal information for trust. “You shouldn’t tell me anything about yourself,” I said. “Don’t trust anybody else—no matter how close you are to them.” Her purple eyes squeezed together, and her brow furrowed. “Can I trust you?” she asked, and I plopped down next to her, lying on my stomach. “That’s your decision.” She turned her face, inches from mine, and stared at me. “I trust you, Shoman,” she said. “More than anybody.” I froze from her words. How could she recognize her emotions, let alone express them so easily? I could barely stand my own conscience. Sharing it with someone seemed impossible, yet I had with a girl I barely knew. I didn’t even have a name for her, shade or human, but I didn’t need one to know her. “I trust you, too,” I said, returning to our conversation, my mind racing with possibilities. I didn’t want it to end, and I definitely didn’t want it to end because of the Marking of the Change. If anything, I wanted to survive—not for my kind, but for trust, for friendship, for another being. I’d found something to live for, and I wasn’t going to die, even if I didn’t know the entire truth before I made the promise.