The Heavestone library was closed due to construction. They were going to put in a new little area with a skylight and glass walls so that people could bask in the sun or relish in the rain- at least, if Heavestone would ever have rain instead of a repeat of the same day over and over. So I grabbed an old backpack and packed it like Boney would have and set out for the closest one in the Land of Shadows.
Mom stopped me before I could even leave the house.
“Where are you going, Eponine?” she asked, her voice soft. There were dark circles underneath her eyes, like she’d slept the same exact amount as I had. The thought should have bothered me. “We already have people searching for Boney. We don’t need- I don’t want you-”
“I just want to go to the other library. That’s all.”
“Eponine…” Mom moved closer to me, catching one of my hands, dragging me back further away from the front door. I tried to pull away, but she held fast. “I don’t want to lose you to Miralay. Not… not with the recent developments-”
“Why?” I yelled, immediately regretting it. I sharply jerked my arm. Mom let go of my hand. “Nothing’s changed as far as Mordern knows. You let me out before-”
Mom sighed and shook her head. “Fine. Just… be careful, okay? And if you see Serlis anywhere, you be sure to bring her straight back here.” She moved in for a hug, enveloping me in several layers of her nightgown. “And maybe bring me back something as well.”
There are three rules I have to follow when I go out into the Land of Shadows, no matter what I’m planning on doing. Mom came up with them at first when I was much younger, but since then, they’ve gone through many revisions to deal mainly with two things. That I was growing up, and that, when I was eleven, Mordern spent an inordinate amount of money on a series of public campaigns advising Earthen people to turn in any suspected Miralayans to them. The government could have done something- should have done something- but apparently the protective laws my forefathers had when they moved to Miralay only apply to fully-fledged humans.
The first rule is that I have to have a phone on me at all times. A pretty standard rule- in fact, it’s kinda stupid to waste an entire rule on it.
The second rule is that I have to pay for everything with cash. Credit cards require an actual identity and are too easily tracked, and anything else requires a bank account and an actual address, neither of which I have.
The third one, I broke today.
I was sitting in the back alcove of the library room, the one with the young adult books full of cliché things like angsty vampires and overdone rebellions. Behind the three shelves of books was a row of couches, all with absurdly high backs and facing away from the main area so all one could see when nestled in there were the glass panels stretching up to the ceiling. Some fast food restaurant was visible across the street, so if one was bored of tracing one character’s arduous journey of finding her long-lost love, they could simply glance up and snicker at the backup in the drive-through simply because of a broken ice-cream machine.
Understandable; have a nice day.
It should have been paradise. A stack of books were at my feet, taken from random sections of the library- some of the aforementioned trope-filled fanservice manuals, a soon-to-be-outdated history of video games, and an instruction booklet on how to make gay ice cream. In my lap, splayed open, was a memoir of a former Miralayan. It was dangerous reading something like that in the open, I know… but I couldn’t help myself.
Until she came along.
I didn’t move in time to keep her from strolling into the alcove and lightly nudging my book stack with her foot- the entire thing toppled over, spilling onto the floor. I bookmarked my book and moved to fix it, but she took a seat right by me as I leaned over and shoved me off the couch with her foot. I somersaulted off the couch, landing a few feet away.
“Hey!” I rolled over and picked myself up, sliding whatever books were in reach towards the couch. “What was that for?”
The girl crossed her long, slender legs. A smirk hinted itself on her face. “I found one. You. But it’s okay.” She winked. “I won’t tell.”
My palms began to sweat. She knew. She knew I was a Miralayan and she knew what I looked like and she was going to turn me in-
People say that they’re not going to tell anyone, but somehow they always end up lying!
The girl leaned over and scooped up all my books, depositing them in a neat pile on her right side. She patted to her left, inviting me to take the very same seat that I’d just been at a moment ago, waiting until I sheepishly took it to drape her arm behind my shoulders. Her touch was cold like a dead body.
Not that I’ve ever been around a dead body…
“So what’s an alien like you doing all the way out here in the badlands of Vermille?”
Don’t look at her body.
“I’m not an alien. And what I’m doing is none of your business.”
Damn, this is difficult.
“Or is it?” She leaned in closer, close enough that I could smell a faint lemony tinge in her breath- past gum, perhaps? A few strands of her dark hair fell onto my shoulder. “You feel threatened. I can feel it. I don’t blame you.” She glanced at my books, then back to me, a clearly calculated move. “I’m Tox. One of Miralay’s best alien hunters. Or an immigration officer, if you want to put it that way, but I’m not all that interested in holding up laws.”
I instinctively jerked away from her, mind racing through all the different ways I could get out of the library and away from this girl, how pissed the librarians would get at the books just left lying around, whether or not yelling would help my chances of getting away or whether it would just alert other people to my otherness. But her arm shot out faster than I could decide and clutched my forearm, yanking me back to her. Before I could comprehend what was going on, there was a sharp sting in my forearm- and then she let go of me, letting me sink back onto the couch.
There were three possibilities I could think of. A tracker, or a poison, or maybe just a ragged fingernail.
I don’t know which one I preferred in that moment.
“I’ll give you a few days of freedom,” she whispered as I winced, rubbing where she’d injected me with something. “And then I’m gonna find you again and decide what I want to do with you.”
“You’re… not taking me back to Miralay?”
She shook her head, this time an unbridled laugh escaping from her. A few people on the other side of the partition of the alcove turned their heads in annoyance. “Nah. Just keeping you on your toes.” Her voice dropped back to a whisper. “Honestly, kid, be more careful in the future. I’m not an actual hunter, but I could just have easily been. I’m gonna escort you home, okay?”
I shook my head, eager to be rid of her and continue my self-imposed perdition in that alcove. “No thanks.”
“Why not?” She reached into her shirt and retrieved a pendant- just like mine. The two of them began to glow softly as she winked. “Just give me an address and we’ll be off.”