✨ Chapter 12 ✨

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Marian wrinkled her nose at Blaine's hand-me-down human bicycle as she adjusted her helmet. "Better than nothing, I guess," she murmured, wishing Glistens were allowed to own cars or, better yet, motorcycles. She longed to feel the rush of wind against her human cheeks, a sensation similar to when her wings carried her in firefly form.

She lifted the kickstand with her foot, mounted the bike, and rode forward.

Streetlamps brightened, lighting the sides of the road as the sun began to set. Something about the nighttime made the borough of Applewold, Pennsylvania seem larger than it was. The adjoining river made it a perfect environment for lightning bugs. Not to mention crickets. Marian smiled at the chirping sounds, knowing she wasn't alone in the world.

Her smile faded when she neared the Minikins' house, which refreshed memories of the fight she'd had with her friends earlier that day, in the park across the river. The gate closed off an empty yard. Lamps burned brightly behind several windows.

Marian kept her eyes on the road before her, determined not to notice whether light shone from Sal's basement window.

Her focus was broken by the chill of a shadow.

She braked at the same time her breath stopped.

Illuminated by the streetlights, a stretched, warped image of a long torso with a head topped with horns lay across the road. Horns curled at their edges. Not a mere shadow, it was the dark reflection of a rabbit.

Marian looked up. "You! What are you doing here? Get out of here," she shouted. Her stomach clenched with fear for Sal and her family.

The rabbit stirred but kept its position, regarding Marian with a look of interest. A shadowy tongue passed across its lips.

"There's no way you're feeding on me." Marian dropped the bike and transformed. If the rabbit's not after the Minikins, maybe it's after Minx. Her helmet failed to shift along with her; it fell to the ground and clinked.

With a deep, determined breath, she opened two pairs of wings.

A slight movement took place in the shadows below as the rabbit edged away from the firefly.

Marian brightened her glow and neared, knowing rabbits couldn't feed on Glistens when in firefly form. Her anxiety over Minx heightened. Stuck in her human form, she can't transform in order to protect herself.

Flapping her wings furiously, Marian made a beeline toward the rabbit.

To her surprise, the creature shrieked and backed away before springing forward into the darkness.

Marian brightened and followed, her glow trailing glitters of light behind her.

The rabbit twisted through houses and trees until it reached the edge of the river. Moonlight reflected off the water's surface, except where the bridge to the park loomed above the river. But instead of crossing the bridge or leaping into the water, the rabbit stopped.

Marian glowed more fiercely, letting the oxygen in the air fuel her bioluminescence. Cold light reached the ground below, including the outline of an opening in the dirt. A Rabbit Hole. She gasped. Had she been in human form, the hole's diameter wouldn't have been much larger than her foot.

Covering its eyes, the rabbit shrieked. Its torso and body stretched upward into a thin, elongated cylinder of shadow. One of the beast's horns reflected a bead of light before both horns straightened and followed in line with the rest of the blur. With a shrill cry, the rabbit plunged through the hole and faded into the depths below.

Marian relaxed her wings and landed at the edge of the Rabbit Hole. Is it afraid of me? Of my light? She considered transforming back into her human form before shaking her head and lifting her wings. While I'm out here, I should check on Minx.

During the flight to Minx's house, Marian mused at how different the rabbits that concerned Glistens were from those humans knew about—the soft, fluffy kind. It's funny how some humans hunt rabbits, rather than the other way around. "Maybe they have the right idea," she grumped. Wouldn't things be different if instead of being hunted by rabbits, Glistens became the predators and the rabbits became the prey?

Marian sighed. Out of the corner of her vision, she sensed a twinkle of light. Across the street, she spotted another firefly perched on a blade of grass. It's nice to know I'm not the only Glisten on guard tonight. She flickered, pulsing her light to acknowledge her fellow Glisten. Intent on her mission, she didn't look back to see whether the other firefly replied.

Minutes later, she arrived at an open window that framed a bedroom with a soft blue glow. Minx lay in her bed, breathing evenly.

Marian smiled as she approached. Her ward's eyes were open.

"You're back." Minx sat up and smiled. "But I didn't call."

"I was worried about you," said Marian, disguising her voice. As soon as the words left her mouth, the meaning behind what Endrik had told her earlier that day became clearer. We worry for those we care about. Marian couldn't shake the feeling that, in that moment, she undoubtedly cared for Minx. And would do anything she could to help her get better. "How are you feeling?"

Minx shrugged. "I've been resting all day. The humans thought I looked well enough to reduce my medicines." She rubbed her bandaged hands. Her usually smooth voice shook slightly. "It's nice not being tethered to an IV drip tonight."

When Marian said nothing, Minx continued, "I miss my freedom the most—being able to come and go as I please. To hide. It was my favorite part of transforming into a firefly."

Marian's glow dimmed as she searched for ways to lighten the mood. "And to think how little humans like flies," she said in her deep voice.

This prompted a chuckle. "But a firefly's a type of beetle," said Minx, "not a fly. And it's not like we disappear during the day." She shrugged. "Humans don't know that because Glistens tend to stay in human form during the daytime."

Marian tilted her head to the side. "You recite the Glisten canons like you've memorized them." How awful for someone so smart to have to be held back and possibly fail. "If you've been sneaking to classes this time of year, then you must be in summer school," she added, hoping to give Minx less reason to suspect they were classmates.

Minx frowned. "Embarrassing, isn't it?"

"I suppose," Marian said cautiously. "But I can't judge. Students could be there for all kinds of reasons."

Minx shrugged forward and removed her bandages. The bite marks were slightly faded and seemed to be healing.

After tearing her eyes away from Minx's wounds, Marian said, "Why don't you mention your illness to your teacher? I could report it to her for you, in my firefly form so the source remains anonymous. Maybe if she understood the situation, she could help, or at least let you make up the work later." And maybe if Prof. C knows about this, she could help Minx and I wouldn't have to worry about breaking my promise...or losing my friends.

Scowling, Minx said, "You promised not to reveal my secret. If Professor Caustica knew what was happening, she'd judge me as much as the students would."

Marian frowned. "You don't know that," she said, even though she suspected the same. "But don't worry. Your secret will be kept until you give permission for it to be broken."

Minx exhaled a breath. "I know, I know. With everything else that's been going on, the last thing I need is a fight with my Guardian." Leaning back against her pillow, she yawned.

"I should go now," said Marian, amused at howdifferent this side of Minx was from the guarded front she normally showed inclass. "Call me if you need anything."

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