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Ch. 17 - Campfire Stories

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The Wished huddled around the fire as the sun set and the moons crossed on the horizon. Strange mixtures of human and animal features surrounded her; light and shadow flickered across faces, turning them into outlandish jack-o'-lanterns. Lacey didn't know any of these creatures by name, so she just listened to their banter.

The white moon rose higher, missing a sliver of itself as it waned. Some of the Wished left for bed and others arrived to take their place. These were the night creatures.

More than once, those around her spoke about the Night Mother, and Lacey finally figured out they were talking about the white moon. Back home, Riley and the other hunters often talked about the moons with feminine pronouns, and Lacey had never asked why-content to wait for initiation night. Without choosing or being chosen, and without an initiation, she was being thrust into the world of hunters. It was what she always wanted; she just never imagined it would happen like this.

Had the attack really only happened yesterday?

Lacey hoped the Night Mother was watching over Devan, and the hunters of Pine Ridge. But not Goeden and the cats. Was She selective like that?

Would the Night Mother watch over Lacey? Suddenly, she quailed under that placid face. She tried to imagine what Mama would say if she had seen Lacey's hand on the dagger in Devan's leg. Maybe the Night Mother didn't know. The attack had happened during the day, under the red moon. But the moons crossed paths twice a day. How could they not whisper news to each other?

By the time Cooper arrived, the moon was well along its arc through the stars. Cooper sat down beside Lacey and leaned her shoulder against her briefly in encouragement. Then she gathered some strips of leather to braid into a rope.

Lacey smiled. Cooper watched over her, even if the Night Mother did not.

"Cooper?"

"Hmmm?"

"If this moon is the Night Mother, does the red moon have a name?"

"The Watcher. Don't they teach you that in your village school?"

Lacey laughed. "No. They teach us that the orbits of the moons are ellipses."

"Are they really?" Cooper asked, absently.

"I was born when the Night Mother was full," Lacey said, after a pause. She searched the white face for a hint of forgiveness.

Cooper set down the strips of leather and turned her attention to Lacey. She had been preening the strips more than she had been braiding them and her rope was hopelessly unfinished.

"I mean when I was Wished...when I became human," Lacey said. "The night Mama wished for a daughter."

"Your mother wished for you?" Cooper asked. "I've never met anyone who didn't wish their own wish."

"You wished to be like this?"

"Not quite." Cooper's eyes shifted briefly, toward a young coyote wearing a butcher's apron. "I wished to be bigger, so I could protect my kits."

"And this is what the well gave you?"

"Well, I am bigger. But my kits ran away from me, and I never saw them again." Cooper began stroking the pieces of leather once more, this time her mouth moved as she counted silently.

A fox-girl had entered the circle. She looked around with a smug smile and dropped a string of game on the ground behind the log they were seated on. Then she tucked her impressive tail into her lap and wiggled in between Cooper and Lacey.

"I wished for my fur to be brighter red, I was jealous of the poppies in the field," said the fox-girl.

Her form-fitting coat of fur was indeed redder than any fox Lacey had ever seen. But Lacey couldn't figure out how any of these wishes translated into making animals more human.

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