The Nocturnals IV – Mariah Montoya

The Nocturnals IV – Mariah Montoya

August 2021

In a world where each day and night lasts thirty years, Detective Joah Cadshaw and his new partner, Misla Crane, have been captured by the monsters who lurk in the Eternal Night—the Nocturnals. The only way to escape and return to daylight, Joah comes to realize, is to learn the Nocturnal language and pretend to be one of them.

After Joah and Misla master telepathy, Prince Kal leads them to a nearby mountaintop, where the Nocturnal queen interrogates the two about their past motives. Why, she asks, did they kidnap and kill those who wanted to join the Nocturnals? Why did they call those people “infected”?

What Joah and Misla learn will shape their futures forever. The Nocturnals have only been trying to warn them of a massacre lying ahead, a wicked deal made between a king and a crook. The Sunsetters are in danger, and their leader, General Aoif Deckler, has betrayed them all.

Part 4

Prince Kal closed his eyes to avoid watching the anguish crumple the alien’s face.

He poured forth his memories instead, allowing the foreign guests to access his wordless thoughts, all the sights and sounds and smells of a cruel cycle sixty years ago, when he had just reached manhood. Back before they were forced to Move.

It was finally sunset. His people had been hiding from the scorching heat of daytime for thirty years, unable to step outside, forced to hunker in the shadows of their towers. Kal had never seen the moon; it was always washed out by sunlight, a faint white halo among the clouds. Oh, he had dreamed about it, though, that piercing disk pinned to its black curtain of night sky.

Now the beastly sun was actually sinking into a bloodred grave over the sea, and twilight would soon sweep over them, and he’d be able to bask in the moon’s pool of light at last.


It was his mother. He had been squinting through the window in a turret on the fourth floor, watching the rays of sunset stroke the dappled water; he jumped when she swept around the corner. The queen was swaddled in her usual silk cloak that would shield her if she were to accidentally stumble into sunlight. Kal had thought she’d scold him for exposing himself at the window, but her thoughts were harried, choked.

Kal, come with me. There is a commotion in the Grand Hall. It seems a Diurnal has snuck into the castle. I want you close to me, in case there are more.

Not a sunman. A Diurnal. One of those strange people who, despite their name, followed sunrise or sunset religiously, Moving every few years to avoid the heat of day and terrors of night.

Prince Kal wrapped his cloak tight around his body and raced after his mother, through the twisting halls where firelight flickered from steel brackets. They cut across the indoor courtyard, past the tinkling fountain, and eased open the doors of the Grand Hall together.

Nobody noticed them. Their cloaks blended into the shadows, but King Isce and his guardsmen had taken their own off; the glowing patterns on their skin highlighted the alien-looking creature screaming and writhing in their midst.

Reddish mops sprouted from the Diurnal’s head, and strangely muted clothes hugged the curves of his body. His ears were large, ugly, and crimped, sticking out from the side of his face. Nothing about him glowed.

You have broken into our domain. Killed two of my sentries, Kal’s father snarled. He was sprawled in his usual spiked stone chair, unflinching, though his patterns flared. Why?

I know what you do to my people, the Diurnal hissed, trying to wrench himself from the grips of the guards. I know how you—how you… infect them! You lure them away.

Beside Kal, Queen Usai’s thoughts fluttered in alarm, but she didn’t let them extend beyond their bubble hidden in shadows. Kal knew why she was afraid, though—the Diurnal knew their language, had unleashed his thoughts as if he were a native. They, on the other hand, had never been able to make those peculiar sounds of speech the Diurnals practiced.

Well, said the prisoner, I followed some of them, followed them away from the High Road, all the way here. It took them twenty cycles just to reach your fortress. Clever, making your food prance to you instead of catching them yourself. You don’t even have to leave your roost.

Now Prince Kal and the queen passed confusion, though Kal sensed dread lacing his mother’s thoughts. Food? What did the alien mean, food? The sunmen brought them carcasses to eat during the day, when they couldn’t afford to step outside, and during the Eternal Night they scavenged for carrion themselves, but when had they ever lured—?

A screech from behind him. Kal ducked as a great horned owl swooped through the cracked doorway and landed with a flump on King Isce’s patterned shoulder. The owl shook its body—feathers floated outward—and wretched: the corpse of a vole, slimed with mucus and blood, poured onto King Isce’s naked lap.

Lowering his head, the king extended his spiked tongue, wrapped it around the vole, and reeled it into his mouth. When the owl took off again with another screech, King Isce extended his hands, as if to say, See?

That’s not what I mean, pouted the alien. You don’t just lure owls.

The king laughed before Kal could form any kind of half-baked conclusion. Air puffed in quick waves from his lips, and humor riddled his next words.

Fine. You’ve caught me, Diurnal. I have my ancestor’s taste, I will admit. When your people wander past us so willingly, just within reach… when I can sense the abilities some possess, the abilities to understand us, to answer our calls… but why have you come here, Diurnal? Have you come to scold me for my choice in dessert?

Queen Usai gripped her son’s elbow, her nails piercing his skin. She tried to pull him away, back through the doors and away from the truth, but he wrenched himself from her grip. He stared at his father. He had never loved the man, but… would he really prey upon Diurnals? Living Diurnals, nonetheless? Walking, talking Diurnals?

I have come, the alien panted, to offer you a deal.

The Grand Hall silenced. Kal and his mother stiffened in their efforts to close their minds, to not make a sound. King Isce leaned forward.

A deal? What could you possibly offer me that—?

A year ago, my mother got sick, said the Diurnal. I met with our general, begged him to send scavengers to find some medicine. He’s the one with the authority to make those decisions, you know. He met with me, alright. Told me he couldn’t help me. Said he needed to use the scouts and scavengers to find more ship supplies, or else we wouldn’t have enough vessels to take everyone across the Green Sea when the Eternal Night comes. And my mother died.

King Isce stroked his jawline, where one of his glowing designs angled crookedly from a scar. I don’t understand what this has to do with me. What do I care if a nomad dies?

He chose the Dirt Slummers over my mother, said the alien. The Dirt Slummers! They squabble and fuck and overpopulate, and he chose them. Meanwhile, my mother was a prominent member of the community. An inventor. She created the magnetic watch strapped to General Glade’s own damn wrist, but he let her die! No, he should’ve left the Slummers behind, abandoned them to the Eternal Night like he abandoned her.

King Isce said nothing. Blood still smothered his lips. Kal tried to control his shuddering breaths. He thought of their castle cellar, piled high with the bones of rodents and sometimes even mammals. Were there other creatures trapped inside? Creatures with mops of hair and crimped ears and plain skin that his father had lured from the High Road over yonder?

Help me overcome General Glade, the alien said. Help me take the general’s place, and you can have all the piss-poor schmucks you want. No need to lure them. I’ll give them to you. You can lock them in that cellar of yours, let them rot to the ripeness of your liking. Help me fight, and I promise—in sixty years, when the poorest, dirtiest of us have squabbled and fucked and overpopulated again, I’ll give you them again. And again, and again, for as long as I live, for as long as my children lead in my place. Help me kill our general, and you’ve got yourself a feast.

Now Queen Usai’s nails sunk deep into her son’s arms; blood oozed from the curved indents, like a trickling frown. This time, Kal let her tug him backward, but not before he heard his father ask, What’s your name, son?

And the alien replied, Aoif Deckler, Your Highness.

How long had Joah known General Deckler? Since he was a boy, as young as Damien, and his school had hosted a career day where all the professionals—miners, healers, scouts, scavengers—had ringed their wheeled gymnasium, thrusting out fliers that said things like:




When General Aoif Deckler himself had walked into the room, his hair already salted with white, the students had oooh’d and ahhhh’d, turning away from their current interests. Joah remembered straightening in his crisp school uniform, breathless as he watched the general march to the center of the gymnasium and hold out a neat stack of business cards. His classmates had streamed around the man, and by the time Joah got to him, there were no business cards left.

“Ahh, you’re too late, sonny,” General Deckler had said, chuckling. “Well, that’s okay. I’ve got in here,” he said, pulling another, smaller card from his inside pocket, “my real contact info. Can’t have all you little tykes sending letters to my office, can I?”

“No, sir,” Joah had said, taking this newer card with delicate, trembling fingers.

“No, indeed. Say, you’ve ever thought of being a retriever?”

“My granddad was one, sir. But he retired before he crossed the Green Sea.”

“Your granddad! Tell me, what was his name? I must know…”

So it had begun: Joah’s relationship with the man he had come to trust, the man he’d always admired even after he’d been fired. Yet he could not deny the sincerity of Prince Kal’s memories. Nocturnals could withhold, but they could not, Joah had learned, so blatantly lie.

His chair seemed to sink deeper into the snow. The fire ringing them had dwindled to embers, and the cold of the mountaintop bit his body with frosted teeth. To his right, Misla was looking up at the stars, as if hoping to find an answer etched somewhere in the aro sky. To his left, Damien’s fingers fidgeted on his lap, and now Joah knew what the boy had meant when he had said “My mother would’ve been the first to die if I hadn’t come to the Nocturnals.”

Damien’s mother was a Dirt Slummer.

After witnessing what happened in the Grand Hall, Queen Usai said now, using her voiceless speech like thoughts sent along a cold gale, my son and I snuck to the cellar. There, we found a handful of Diurnals… decomposing among the skeletons of other creatures.

She seemed to sense the lingering question rising, smoke-like, from Joah and Misla’s tilted heads: why let them decay? Of course, Joah thought he knew the answer, but it made him feel sick, and he wondered if he’d ever be able to stomach meat again. Maybe he’d eat those raindrop-sized seeds for the rest of his life.

We cannot digest fresh produce or flesh like you do. We eat what is abandoned by the sun. Although the land and its vegetation doesn’t die during the Eternal Night, there are enough plants and animals that do. We clean it all up, so to speak.

Joah thought back to that mysterious tower at sunset. At the bone fragments crunching beneath his feet. Then he thought of the seeds again, seeds that had also been left behind by whatever squirrely creature had hoarded them. The Nocturnals were, in the truest sense of the word, scavengers. They were not predators. Yet King Isce had obviously accepted General Deckler’s offer. He had agreed to hunt and capture and kill.

And now, sixty years later, he was about to do it again.

“You’ve been infecting us all this time,” Joah said aloud, “to warn us of an upcoming massacre? A massacre like the one before?”

He realized his mistake when Misla inhaled sharply and the Nocturnals made a collective twitching motion, as if the sound from his lips had struck them with a spark of electricity: there was a reason the Nocturnals didn’t make noise outside their protective netted cave. In the Eternal Night, when light and sight were scarce, sound exposed you to the monsters lurking in shadows.

They all waited, breathless, for something to happen, but there was only the creak of trees and snapping of branches in the distance as the wind broke into a howl.

I’m sorry, he said. I forgot. I—he was so shocked at what he had learned that his thoughts had turned into speech. The beasts they’d thought of as ever-evasive ghosts, always trailing them, always hypnotizing and luring their people into the darkness, had only been trying to stop them from the real darkness that waited for them at the Green Sea like an open jaw.

I never loved my husband, Queen Usai said, her sharp-angled shoulders relaxing slightly in the absence of a night beast. It was an arranged partnership. When we saw what he had agreed to, I begged him to reconsider, but…

A yowl cut through her words like a bloody ax.

The surrounding Nocturnals jumped from their seats, the feathers on their skulls bristling. Damien sprang to his feet too, and Joah saw the glint of a pole clasped in his small, muddied hand. The embers had died. Through the last torrents of steam rising from the snow, a curled set of horns bobbed over the mountain’s edge.

The Calic, Queen Usai moaned.

A massive reptilian cat prowled into view. Scales covered its sleek body, and horns protruded from its jawline, curving upward like spiked ears. Its tail whipped behind it like a snake. Its eyes, each the size of Joah’s palm, glared at the mountaintop party with slanted fury.

Queen Usai opened her lipless mouth and made a strange screeching noise. It was far more terrifying than if she had screamed instruction inside her own head: it was the rickety, rusty howl of a throat that never got used unless the enemy was already upon them.

The Nocturnals flew together, forming a tight knot within the circle of chairs. Joah grabbed Misla and Damien and pulled them into the tangle of limbs. The Nocturnals’ glowing designs burned orange, and when they started swaying in unison, their mass of bodies waved like open flame. Joah was reminded, suddenly, of the mass of birds that had attacked him and Misla on the High Road on their way to retrieve those who had been left behind.

The night beast paused. Its lips curled backward, revealing a clutter of yellow, needle-like teeth. Mid-sway, the Nocturnals pulled out those identical poles, and the mountaintop roared and crashed with waves of that rising sound: a cacophony of grinding screeches from a hundred unused throats. They were trying to scare the beast away.

Damien slipped from Joah’s grip and ducked under a Nocturnal’s legs.

“Hey, kid!” Joah called, reaching out for him, but his hand was slapped away by an elbow, and Damien had already disappeared in the thickness of fiery bodies. “Come back!”

His voice was lost in the screeching discord. The boy had weaseled his way out of the fireball and now stood, exposed and alone, in the monster’s warped shadow. His pole tumbled from his fingers into the snow. Compared to the crouching cat, Damien was nothing but a rodent. A single one of those curved claws would impale his chest like a sword.

What are you doing, child? Queen Usai cried.

Let me talk to him. I always wanted a cat, came Damien’s voice, and the roar plummeted like an arrow arcing to the ground. The swaying stopped as everyone watched.

Joah saw himself, as if through a ghost’s memory, picking up that green strip of fabric in the High Road’s collection of dirt. Only now it was Damien Fertheli reaching a palm toward the cat, and Joah heard Lupita’s sniveling voice as clearly as if she stood beside him now: “He loves how wild they are, but I—I always told him no. I shouldn’t have told him no,” and Joah didn’t have time to break from the Nocturnal huddle.

The cat leapt forward in a high arc, claws extended.

The Nocturnals moved in unison: left hands clutching the front of their poles, right hands gripping the back, they twisted each half in opposite directions as if unscrewing a lid.

Darts shot from their weapons like flaming arrows. Most ping’d against the cat’s shelled skin, but two found its eyes, another its gaping mouth, and the beast shrieked in midair.

A flash of movement. Damien flew sideways as one of the Nocturnals, a slender one with dotted skin patterns, shoved him out of the way. The cat landed with a harrowing THUMP on top of the Nocturnal, right where Damien had been standing moments before.

Its serpentine tail kept thrashing for what felt like forever, its eyes blinking palm-sized beads of blood into the snow. Joah and Misla unglued themselves from the jumble of bodies and raced toward Damien, wrenching him backward. Frost had actually formed on the boy’s eyelashes where tears would have clung. His lips had turned blue, and his fingers felt like icicles.

As the Nocturnals streamed around them to move the beast off their friend, Joah caught Misla’s eye. Their breath fogged out in front of them, merging in midair above Damien’s stiffened hair. Joah didn’t need the Nocturnal language to understand the shine in Misla’s eyes.

We need to go home, she was saying. We need to save our people.

Back within the humidity and warmth of the netted forest, they buried the Nocturnal who had saved Damien along with the parts of the Calic that had crushed him: a claw ripped from the paw, scales sawed from the chest, a strip of leathery skin from its chin. The rest of the beast had been picked apart to be eaten or used in other ways, to respect the beast itself, Queen Usai said, and in honor of the Nocturnal it had killed. The Nocturnal would live on in the blood they used for paint or the sinews that they would strip and use to make baskets, blankets, and bags.

His name was Gritz, Prince Kal told them as they watched Queen Usai herself push dirt into the grave, using one of the Calic’s femurs like a shovel. They were only a few paces from the cages Joah and Misla had been living in, where the soil was loose and moist. Beyond Queen Usai’s shoulder, Hickory Glade had crawled to the door of his own cage and pressed his face against the twining fibermud that contained him, watching her cover the grave.

Damien was standing rigid as a bone, staring at the patches of the Nocturnal’s face still visible beneath the clods of dirt, at the dots on his skin that had faded like cold coals. Joah could hear the horrified whispers inside the boy’s head—he had not meant to get anyone killed. He had only meant to tame the great cat, to ride the Calic to dawn so he could save his mother.

Because Damien’s mother, along with the rest of the Dirt Slummers, was in danger.

“It was a good idea, kid,” Joah whispered, clapping a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “But we’re going to have to find another way to reach the Green Sea in time. Maybe the river…”

Even as he said it, he knew the river wasn’t fast or strong enough to carry them, even on a boat, to the point where the sun would still be winking on the horizon. How many moon cycles had they been stuck here? Twenty? Thirty? Joah had lost count, but he knew it might be too late.

Queen Usai straightened from her shoveling, her earrings clinking.

There is a way to get to your people in time. I am sure they have yet to reach the Green Sea, though they will soon, much too soon. If you can just get fuel for the Shooting Star…

“Shooting Star?” Joah asked. “What do you mean, Shooting Star?”

At his mother’s nod, Prince Kal conjured an image of that strange contraption at the back of their netted cave, squatting in the middle of the High Road like a fat metal toad. A machine. The Nocturnal version of a silver steed. But instead of wheeling across the landscape, it…

Flies, Prince Kal confirmed with a nod. We didn’t make them. My father found them long ago, a dozen of them, half-buried in rocks near the Green Sea. He said they looked like fallen metal stars. He spent years trying to figure out what might power it, but nothing worked… until a sunman—what your kind call a Leather Skin—told him to try the very thing the sun people suck from the stems of perennial trees. The sunmen were our slaves, you see, Prince Kal added, his forehead wrinkled with shame. They brought us carrion during the daytime. And supplies.

He paused.

They were the ones who killed so many of your people for my father and Aoif Deckler.

Joah jolted. Leather Skins had always seemed the opposite of a Nocturnal. They were like far-off sun gods, epitomes of light, fighters of night. To imagine them as slaves, forced to murder and drag bodies back to their master, was like trying to imagine the moon swallowing the sun.

Yes, the moon does occasionally swallow the sun, Prince Kal said with a wry twist of his lipless mouth. There are other communities of Nocturnals and Leather Skins, you know. Some choose to Move every thirty years. Some choose to Stay and hide from the heat of the day or dangers of night. My father chose the latter. He built our fortress on the edge of the Green Sea where he’d found the starships. But every thirty years, when daytime kept us in our towers, the nomadic Leather Skins would come around. And he would enslave them.

“How?” Misla asked. “How could he even get to them, let alone enslave—?”

Some could communicate with us just like you are communicating with us now. My father used our language to lure them, to overpower them, to cripple them and force them into servitude. And they—the slaves—gave us the secret to the Shooting Stars, the fuel we needed to ignite the machines and travel the aro faster than the moon can rise and fall. The fuel was too bright and hot for us to touch, but the Leather Skins could gather it for us…

And now Joah heard a new word flutter from Prince Kal’s mind like a single moth. But it was a word that somehow snapped the pieces—the mystery of the Eternal Night—together.


It’s what the trees and other perennial vegetation of the aro hoard in order to survive the thirty-year night, Queen Usai said, pausing in her efforts to fold Gritz within the aro’s eternal embrace. They collect excess energy from the sun, convert it to sap, and store it in an underground vault where it flows like a river from one forest to the next.

Joah imagined a horde of roots wiggling beneath the aro, reaching for a steaming liquid that ran like golden blood through the veins of the aro.

And this same sap can be used to fuel the Shooting Stars, Queen Usai said. When he discovered this, my husband sent some Leather Skins to mine more of it a few hundred kilometers out west. This was about a decade before Aoif Deckler approached him with the deal of a lifetime. Her thoughts oozed sarcasm, and Joah briefly wondered how long a Nocturnal lifetime really was. Longer than his, by God. Ironically, the largest sunsap reserve runs alongside your High Road. A good latitude, I assume. I believe you’re already familiar with the access point?

Within the aged, streaked mirror of her mind, Joah saw that strange conical tower again. Only now he understood what it was for: an entrance to a tunnel that led to the very thing keeping the aro alive during the Eternal Night. The thing Leather Skins consumed. The thing that would have fueled King Isce’s flight across the sky. Because if there were other communities of Nocturnals, of course a tyrant like Isce would have wanted to soar over the rest of them. To dominate the world. To ascend in a way his wingless body never could.

To reach the moon.

“We need to mine the sunsap, don’t we?” Misla said after a lengthy stretch of silence, in which Queen Usai resumed shoveling dirt into the grave at her feet. “You have a Shooting Star, but you don’t have fuel. We need to fill the tank, so to speak.”

Queen Usai bowed her head so low, she looked in danger of toppling into the half-filled hole. She steadied herself by spearing the aro with the curved edge of the Calic bone.

The starship we have with us now—Kal and I stole it and used it to fly after your general about a year after the Leather Skins dragged all those corpses to our cellar. This was long after the sun had gone down, when it was safe for us to do so. When we finally touched down on the other side, we’d caught up to sunset again, and our tank was near empty. We’ve been dragging the starship with us for the last sixty years, but I do believe it would still work. If you want to save your people from this—Queen Usai brought the femur bone to her lips; her tongue shot out and spiraled around it like King Isce’s had in Kal’s memory—you’re going to have to gather sunsap, yes.

“We’re not Leather Skins, though,” Misla said. “What if it burns us?”

Queen Usai smiled.

I have no doubt that bathing in the stuff might kill you, she said. I would be careful not to touch it. But your bodies can withstand direct sunlight whereas ours can’t, so I’m quite certain you’d be able to go near it, to collect it as carefully as you’d gather fire.

There came a laugh from behind her, high-pitched, yet guttural. Hickory’s eyes glimmered at them from within his cage, and Joah saw his grimy face splinter into a grin.

“You’re not miners! This sunsap thing you mentioned, or whatever the hell it is… you think it’s as easy as skipping down a tunnel and cuddling the stuff to your chest? No. You don’t know a thing about caves.” Hickory’s eyes targeted Joah, and they glowered at each other with the pin-straight ferocity of shooting darts. “You didn’t even know what a damn lantern was. You’ll never make it without the light of the moon or these wretched flies buzzing around.”

Joah glanced at Misla. For the first time in three cycles, he let himself remember Hickory standing over her again, berating her, laughing… he let himself remember the squishing slice of Hickory’s ax through his wife’s neck. His chest squeezed from the injustice of it all. How fitting, how perfectly goddamned ironic: they needed a miner to save their community in time.

But no, there had to be another way. He squinted at the pieces of Hickory he could see through the fibermud walls. “What’s down there, then? What’s in these caves you know so well? Tell us what to watch out for.”

Hickory laughed again, his fingers curling around the ropes of his wall.

“Well, sometimes there’s no good air to breathe. You’d never know until it’s too late and you’re choking on the gases of underground. Sometimes the walls come crashing down around you. It’s never happened to me, because I know which signs of weakness to look for, but oh, it’s happened plenty of times to others.” His smile widened. “Sometimes there are creatures. Giant insects the size of a dog. Snakes and spiders and scorpions.”

Damien’s tiny chest rose and fell in awe struck breaths as Hickory continued describing the monsters that might or might not stop them from accessing the fuel they needed. Joah could feel the boy’s thrill and eagerness, like a rapid heartbeat drumming up his neck, and he remembered the old Dirt Slummer’s words from so long ago: Damien liked to dig. Yes, he did. And Damien would beg to come with them. In truth, Joah wasn’t willing to separate from the boy until they returned to sunset and saw him safely in his mother’s arms.

Was he willing, then, to lead the child into the unknown, without a guide to protect them from the beasts lurking underground? Beside him, Misla bit her lower lip and shook her head.

“I can help you,” Hickory said now, the faintest crinkle of earnestness replacing those creases of his manic grin for the first time. “Let me out, and I’ll help you find this… this sunsap. I just want to get out of his ruddy cage. I want to see the light again. Please.”

Joah looked at Queen Usai, who shifted the last piles of dirt overtop Gritz’s grave. Her blue-black feathers lay flat against her skull as if wilting. She set the femur bone at her feet.

To free your people, she said, sometimes you need to free your monsters too.

Prince Kal led them back toward the High Road, the glow of his figure swaying like a condensed sky of stars. Joah followed with tight unease, clutching a dart-loaded rod that Queen Usai had lent him. Misla marched beside him with Hickory’s ax in one hand and his old lantern flickering in the other. Hickory glared at those hands as he slouched after them, his own locked behind his back with the snakish metal that had once handcuffed Joah too.

Damien—bless the kid—ignored their tension. He skipped around the peeling trees and hummed school tunes, inspiring a good number of Nocturnals to peek from their braided houses with hawkish eyes. Their thoughts of farewell rang in Joah’s mind like Moving bells.

Yes, finally; they were Moving again.

“Hey, Prince,” he said when the High Road finally appeared between trees. They weaved their way to the Shooting Star contraption squatting upon it near the back of the cave, and he asked his next question voicelessly, so that Hickory wouldn’t hear. Why do you call us aliens?

Kal stared at the sunflies haloing the starship’s metal head like a fiery crown.

You call us monsters, he said hesitantly, but we have our own beliefs about your people. That you aren’t native to the aro. That you came from the sky in a hundred starships centuries ago, and have since abandoned those starships. That you’ve forgotten where your people come from. I mean, he added, the Leather Skins can thrive in any time of day—all 180 degrees. We can flourish during all shades of night. But you—you’re bound to a small, twelve-degree section of evening. Your bodies weren’t built for such a fluctuation in light and heat. It’s as if you weren’t made for this planet. As if you really are aliens.

The prince scrutinized them, ripping his gaze from the lifeless starship. They were all wearing silk cloaks to protect them from the bite of a cold night once they left the netted cave. Joah and Misla also shouldered supple, stretchy bags filled with dozens of ceramic jugs that they would fill with sunsap when they reached the vault beneath the conical tower.

“Why?” Joah asked suddenly, his thoughts forming a new question. Why did you bother to warn us? Why were you so persistent all these years, if you think of us as aliens?

Prince Kal flexed his fingers, staring at the swirls on the back of his hands.

It was more of an escape, at first. After the servants started serving us those Diurnals on a platter, my mother and I didn’t want anything to do with our fortress anymore. We flew—just her and I—away from it all, to the other side of the sea. We should have brought some others with us. Aro knows there were hundreds of enslaved Leather Skins and subjugated Nocturnals who would have loved to escape his regime too.

This didn’t make sense, though. Why the hell was there a whole village of Nocturnals if Prince Kal and his mother had flown off alone? For a moment, incest crossed Joah’s mind, but no… not enough time had passed for the two to have reproduced so quickly. And two couldn’t create hundreds.

“What’s incest?” Damien asked aloud. Hickory gawked at him.

“Never you mind that,” Misla said, glaring at Joah. “Go on, Prince.”

My mother and I Moved with the night. We always loitered just behind the brink of sunset, never too far behind your new shiny general and his new shiny power. But we visited other communities of Nocturnals along the way. Some were whole cities to the south. Others were tribes to the north. No matter whether they Stayed or Moved every few decades, we kept hearing the same story over and over: a Nocturnal king from across the sea had sent stars flying over their heads, dropping acid on their people and land.

Joah imagined poison raining from the clouds and gave a low whistle. That was one way to piss off the whole world. It was also a fine way to keep all your subordinates from running off to other cities or tribes. Like an abuser killing off his victim’s resources to the outside world.

When we told them what King Isce had done to the Diurnals, they were furious, Prince Kal continued. They thought your kind strange and foreign too, but that perspective didn’t make them feel better about your slaughter. We collected the most passionate ones along the way. Activists, artists, allies of all sorts. They wanted to come with us, to help stop it from happening again. His internal voice cracked. They’ve been helping us call out to your people for sixty years.

So it was more than just guilt, the reason Queen Usai had been so intent on warning them. It was outrage. It was a fight for justice. It was an aro-wide attempt to halt evil in its tracks.

A lump bobbed in Joah’s throat as they turned away from the metal star and began walking the High Road. A thick layer of moss now caked the pavement, muffling their footsteps.

It’s as if we’re already in the tunnel, huh? Misla said, smiling a little.

We’ve always been in a tunnel, in a way, Joah said. Always heading in one direction, just following the High Road endlessly, blindly believing in General Deck—

Again, Deckler’s betrayal washed over him. Misla pursed her lips and nodded. Joah glanced sideways at her. His breath stuck inside his throat.

Her braids were knotted and frazzled. The ghost of a bruise still yellowed her eye. Dirt highlighted the smallest wrinkles in her forehead, and veins were starting to pop like tattoos in her temples. But she was somehow beautiful in her exhaustion, in her endless determination to keep marching forward, and Joah couldn’t hide his urge to hold her again like they’d held each other in the conical tower. To touch her, to kiss her…

I’m sorry, he said, embarrassed, before his thoughts could expose more of this strange internal heat. Beside him, Damien stifled a snigger, and he sent a wordless warning at the boy.

I didn’t hear anything, Misla said, passing him a wink.

A bluish glow the size of a coin highlighted their exit ahead. Joah let himself fall into musing silence as they approached it. He hadn’t yearned for a woman since Blair. The desire felt awkward, clumsy, like he’d swallowed a lit cigar that was puffing out tendrils of guilt inside his stomach. He could just imagine it: his last night with Blair. She was whispering about babies, her lips cold against his earlobe, and her hands were creeping beneath his shirt, hardening him… but suddenly Misla’s warm body flumped onto the quilt between them, and it was her fingers stroking his skin, and Blair dissolved in a wisp of moon-colored smoke.

Be prepared for anything, Prince Kal said, cutting through his visions.

Joah held up his rod. Misla gripped the ax with whitened knuckles. Hickory grumbled something about his tied hands, but nobody paid him attention as they ducked beneath stray fibermud tails hanging from the ceiling and entered the night.

Darkness had suffocated almost everything. Only the crooked remains of cotton trees rose toward the sky, which blazed with stars. As they crept down the High Road and passed these stumps, however, Joah saw tiny orange buds blossoming from the naked branches.

This phase of night is like grief, Prince Kal said. It’s as if the world has to grieve the loss of its sun before it can grow again. But after a few dozen moon cycles, the leaves come back. New grass grows. Animals you wouldn’t dream of creep from their hideaways. Kal stroked his rod. That’s why we have to be on the lookout. The Calic is the only beast that dares attack us in high numbers, but other things can rise from the mud if we’re alone.

Damien, it seemed, couldn’t control his excitement as the conical tower rose in the distance. The boy’s breath fogged in front of him in quick bursts.

This was where I first heard you clearly, he told Kal. You told me how to find the door.

Yes, Prince Kal said. I sensed the Calic prowling around the outskirts of our camp and wanted you to hide out somewhere safe until I could reach you. But that didn’t go quite as planned, did it? Here, Kal glanced at Joah and Misla. No, it hadn’t gone to plan—because Joah and Misla had found the boy and frightened him into running away that very moon cycle.

As the tower loomed closer, Joah saw flicks of Damien’s memories: he watched the boy stumble toward it and run his fingers along the outside wall, until he found a small notch and pressed his hand against the metal plate below it. Instantly, the walls slid apart with a rickety screech, revealing a gap like a popped-out tooth that now, cycles later, stared them in the face.

My father didn’t want the Leather Skins getting in or out on their own, Prince Kal said, so he made the door respond to cold fingerprints, not hot ones. In fact, the Leather Skins he sent to mine this sunsap never came back. He didn’t want them spilling the secret of where the reserve was, see. There aren’t many reserves as big as the one you’re going to.

“You mean the Leather Skins are still in there?” Misla asked, hushed, staring upward at the coned roof as if she could see watchful windows. “They could be in there right now? We didn’t see any—”

Oh, my father wouldn’t have let the Leather Skins live. After his guards obtained enough sunsap, he killed the ones who’d mined it before flying the starships back to our fortress by the sea. Prince Kal shrugged off his bag and tossed it to Damien, who caught it with quick fingers. Go on in and see for yourself. I’m sure their skeletons are still there.

“Hang on.”

This was Hickory. He was whipping his head back and forth between Misla and Prince Kal, as if he could tell they’d been whispering to each other but didn’t quite know what they were saying. “All this talk about something being in there. I need my hands free. What’s the point of me coming along if I can’t even punch a beast in the mouth, huh?”

“No,” Joah said automatically, his jaw twitching with the effort to stop himself from punching Hickory in the mouth. “No way we’re untying you.”

Apparently there was a way, though. With a swift look at Prince Kal, Misla strode forward and stuffed the rusted handle of the old lantern into his mouth. Hickory tried to jerk away, but Kal held him in place until he bit down, eyes narrowed.

“I’ll untie you,” Misla said. She would have sounded sweet if her eyes hadn’t been reflecting the glint of the ax now grasped with two hands. “But if that light falls, I won’t hesitate to bury this blade into your heart. A blow for a blow, okay?” And she pointed at her chest, where her burn scar marred the soft place beneath the collar of her shirt. Hickory’s doing.

Gagged by his own handle, he couldn’t do anything but nod.

Joah wasn’t going to make the mistake of undermining one of Misla’s decisions again, but he couldn’t quite look at her as he nodded goodbye to Prince Kal. It was enough to make his stomach writhe, the stench of Hickory’s sweat and shit. For his wife’s killer to walk beside them, free-handed? After the scene he’d come upon in the woods? Nauseating.

You can do it, Prince Kal said. Just be wary, and not just of him. Remember, the Eternal Night may be… protective of the only thing keeping it alive for the next thirty years.

Joah drew a deep breath, gripped his rod, and pressed forward into the tower. Misla, Damien, and Hickory followed.

Inside, bone fragments haloed that conical hole leading downward like a toilet bowl, but this time Joah focused on the bones he couldn’t identify. As his eyes adjusted to the denser darkness, he squinted at a round one near his feet.

“Was this here the last time we were in here?”

They gathered around the object, which flickered in the light of Hickory’s lantern. It was like a disk of shiny gray cartilage, umbrella-shaped and sprouting a stem of bone like a mushroom. Damien squatted to inspect it more closely.

“That’s not a bone,” he said solemnly. “It’s a shell. Or part of a shell.”

Gazing around, Joah saw dozens more littered around the room. He must have been too sick or worried to have noticed them the first time he had been here, but Damien was right—the objects were shells, and they had been abandoned here as surely as the skeletons of other creatures had.

The remains of Leather Skin slaves.

“I wouldn’t—” Joah began, but Hickory had already bent to scoop up the shell at their feet. He held it by the stem and hugged it to his chest so that it looked like a shield.

His light didn’t fall.

“Okay,” Joah said, nodding to the edge of the hole in the ground. A narrow staircase wound down its rim into even more darkness. “You can go first, then.”

Hickory grunted agreement and shuffled his way to the staircase. Joah wrapped his cloak tighter around himself as he followed suit. The hole seemed to exhale frost, and when he took his first step down, he felt like a man sinking through a frozen lake.

They moved carefully, pressed against the side of the winding wall, which roughened into dark, wet rock halfway down. The light from Hickory’s lantern bobbed in front of them. Joah hadn’t realized how much he had been depending on Prince Kal’s skin until they reached the bottom, where murky water pooled on the ground. Here, the lantern only illuminated a few meters in front of them. A narrow channel, like a rocky throat, seemed to lead endlessly onward. Wiry white roots waved from the cracks in the rocks like hair in wind.

“Well, Glade?” Joah said. “See any booby traps? Are the walls going to collapse on us, or can we keep going?” He half-wanted to be told to stop, to turn around, to ascend.

Hickory struggled to talk through his rusted handle.

“There nothin’ here. Keep going.”

They splashed their way forward. The lantern flickered. The roots sprouting from the walls became thicker and longer, and they seemed to be swaying, wiggling like worms. Twice, Joah did a double take, thinking he’d seen a snake shoot from the mud as if to strike them. But no, it was just one of those tapered roots, and the lunge must have been a trick of the eye.

Hickory kept his Leather Skin shield in front of him. The air thickened the further they trekked, until puffs of hot air beat their faces. Hickory raised his shield. It blocked the worst of the heat, but the groundwater still wavered with steam that pricked their ankles.

There’s something in here with us, Damien thought. His dark hair shined and curled with sweat. I can tell by the

They turned a corner. Misla’s sudden scream was gagged as something—thick and long and flexible—shot from the mud to wrap around her throat.

In that fractured moment when the spin of the aro slowed and Misla lurched backward toward the mud of the tunnel wall, Joah understood perfectly. It wasn’t snakes or spiders or scorpions that squirmed beneath the conical tower. It was only the roots of the Eternal Night.

And the Eternal Night would defend itself from thieves.

Joah rushed forward as more roots, some thick as tubers, others skinny as vines, wrapped themselves around Misla’s body, pinning her to the mud. He yanked at the one choking her throat, but it only tightened, and Joah felt the sticky mucus coating its wood like a leech.

“Get off her!” he bellowed, wrenching and punching and kicking at the things that strangled her. The rosy flush in her cheeks was draining to her neck. The roots had pinned her arms above her head, and even the ax she had been holding disappeared in the squirming mess.

The light behind him dropped. A hand shoved him backward.

“Take that, you little fucker,” Hickory snarled.

He pressed the shell of his Leather Skin shield against the root around her neck. It contracted like a branded worm, shrinking back into the mud.

Misla gasped. One by one, Hickory pressed his shield against the roots until they shriveled or wilted, releasing her from her rigid confinement. Joah could hear a sharp tssss as the shield made contact with each one. The shell was hot, had been absorbing the heat ahead of them like a beetle’s back. That was probably why the Leather Skins had been able to mine the sunsap—not just because they could withstand the heat, but because their shelled armor grew as hot as the sunsap itself and allowed them to pass undetected.

Joah fished his rod from a steaming puddle. He didn’t remember dropping it, but it wouldn’t have been any use against the roots anyway… the dart could have missed and struck Misla instead. Now he pointed the rod at Hickory’s back as Misla slumped to the ground and Damien scrambled forward to help her up.

Hickory withdrew, saw Joah pointing his rod, and gave a wheezing laugh.

“You’re really gonna kill me for saving your new lover?”

“No,” Joah said, “but I’m going to keep this right here until Misla picks up her ax.”

Hickory’s laugh was broken by a cough, a hack, and a flying wad of spit that landed near Joah’s shoes. “I have a shield, Cadshaw. Better think twice before one of those darts bounces off and gets you in the eye. Or… no, don’t think twice. Just do it. Let’s see.”

He tossed the Leather Skin shell from hand to hand as if preparing for a sports game, but Misla had already seized the ax. She stood there, panting and gripping the weapon with both hands. A red bruise noosed her neck. For a moment, she looked at the dead lantern lying half-submerged in a pool of water at her feet and seemed to consider following through with her promise to kill Hickory despite his reason for dropping it. Then her shoulders sagged.

“The sunsap’s got to be close,” she rasped. The tears in her eyes swam with light: an orange glow highlighted a widening in the tunnel ahead, where more tapered roots swayed from the ceiling like tentacles. “Hickory, you go first with your shield. I’ll follow with—”

“Misla,” Joah started. “Let me do it. I’ll chop those things to pieces if I have to.”

“No, I’ve got this. You just watch him.” She jerked her head at Hickory. “Make sure he doesn’t try anything funny.” She threw a ragged braid over her shoulder. “Come on.”

Joah didn’t dare argue, not with that same fierce determination clenching her jaw like when she’d decided to go after Damien. They pressed on. The air shimmered with heat waves. Hickory held his shield out, but the shell could only block so much. Joah watched the back of Misla’s cloak bloom with sweat as she swung at stray roots, and he couldn’t help but gape in awe until beads of his own sweat rolled into his mouth—she’d been burned more than the rest of them, but still she plunged onward, wearing her newest burn like a goddamned necklace.

Don’t make me blush, Misla sent back to him. My face is hot enough as it is.

Before long, the roots thickened into a squirming nest, crisscrossing and twisting and braiding together like the fibermud walls. Misla grunted as her movements quickened: raising the blade—thwack. Raising the blade—thwack. Whenever a stubborn one tried to twine itself around her arms or legs, Hickory pressed his shield against it and the thing would cringe away.

The tunnel curved again. Misla chopped through a final thicket. They rounded the corner.

“I’ll be damned,” Joah whispered, hushed.

They were on the edge of what looked like an underground river spreading from left to right, where the tunnel walls had split into a T. The liquid was thick, bubbly, and golden, radiating a furnace-fueled heat that reminded Joah of the fabled molten rock spewing from mountains in the north. More roots waved from the muddy ceiling, while others had sunk into the slow-moving stream to drink the sunlight they could no longer capture from their leaves.

Damien crouched and ran a finger through the sludge on the edge of the river. He winced as it no doubt blistered his skin.

“Strange,” he said, staring at the surface of sunsap with eyes that reflected its fire. “I don’t know of a single bug or slug that could survive this heat…”

“But?” Joah said, suddenly anxious at the awed gape of the boy’s mouth.

“But we’ve been following a trail of mucus for the last few dozen meters or so. Whatever made it went straight into the river. And whatever it is, it’s bigger than us.”

Indeed, Joah could see the thin white film slathering the rocks and mud at their soggy feet now that Damien had pointed it out. He shivered for the first time since entering the tower.

“Okay, let’s move fast, then.” He dropped his bag and rummaged through the capsules within. A single liter would fuel a hundred kilometers, Queen Usai had told them, so they’d only have to fill five or six to fly themselves to the Green Sea, where the sun would still be winking on the horizon. “Damien, can you hand me the capsules while I fill them?”

They got to work. Joah positioned a capsule on the edge of the river until tails of sunsap rolled into its open ceramic mouth. When the container had filled to the brim, he screwed the lid back on and returned it to Damien, who passed him another empty one. Misla and Hickory stood guard on either side of them, poised to shield or hack if something were to lunge their way.

It happened three capsules down. The tip of Joah’s thumb grazed a drip of sunsap. He cursed, popped his thumb in his mouth, and hissed when it burnt his tongue.

Misla jolted toward him, relaxing her hold on the ax, and Joah saw the quick, spinning arc of Hickory’s Leather Skin shield: it flew through the air, plopped into the sunsap, sank into its depths, and disappeared. Hickory had chucked it aside to spring for Misla’s ax.

For half a second, they wrestled with it. The blade swung dangerously close to Misla’s nose. Hickory yanked. Misla released her hold, fell back, and howled as the roots behind her twined around her waist and began reeling her in again.

No,” Joah said.

He made to stand, dizzy with panic—how foolish could Hickory have been, tossing aside the Leather Skin shell that had saved Misla last time? But when Hickory staggered around with the ax raised like a flag, a crazed smile ripped his face, and Joah knew the man neither knew nor cared that the woman he used to love was clawing and retching and dying once again.

In a flash, Joah scooped up his rod, pointed it at Hickory’s throat, and twisted. A dart whizzed outward but stuck into a swaying root above his head instead.

Hickory charged, swinging his old weapon with a roar. Joah raised one of his capsules like a shield, but it was no Leather Skin shell. The ceramic shattered as the blade struck it. The sunsap from within poured onto his chest, and he fell in a writhing spasm to the riverbank. Heat waves curled around his neck, and his chest pulsed with scorching agony.

I’ll bury one of those sleek darts in your head,” Hickory jeered. “Remember telling me that, Cadshaw? Remember threatening me?” He pressed his boot against Joah’s throat, pinning him to the hot, rocky ground, searing his skull. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep, bitch.”

Hickory brought up the ax again, and Joah’s vision turned white. He knew he was about to die, knew his neck would split like his wife’s had. From what seemed like far away, Misla was still shrieking.

Then the river exploded in a flurry of tiny, burning droplets that peppered Joah’s cheeks with new pokers of pain.

Hickory howled. Joah squinted in disbelief at what he was seeing: a hunched figure rising from the depths of the sunsap, one hand clawing its way toward the bank with long, blackened fingers, the other pushing against the sunsap with the Leather Skin shield that Hickory had thrown in. The figure hoisted itself upward, sunsap dripping off its shelled body, and fixed its beetle-like eyes upon the ax reflecting fire in Hickory’s hands. It didn’t have a dozen eyes, but the rounded marks on its shell of a face looked like a dozen eyes.

Leather Skin, Damien cried from across the cavern.

Joah knew the boy was right, but he couldn’t see how it was possible. My father wouldn’t have let the Leather Skins live, Prince Kal had told them.

Yet here one stood, apparently immune to the heat of the sunsap, its hands curved like pincers, mucus oozing from its face. It wasn’t leathery by any means, but its skin was like a snail’s armor, like the shell in its grip.

“You.” Hickory’s hand trembled with the effort to point a finger at the creature.

You, the Leather Skin said back, a single voiceless word that escaped its mind like steam through volcanic cracks in the aro. It raised the shield in its pincer. Where did you get this?

Hickory, of course, didn’t hear. “You,” he said again, staggering around. Ruddy blotches had sprouted all over his face. “You’re a Nocturnal. A true one—”

Stop. The Leather Skin pointed at Hickory’s ax with a hairy finger. Drop the weapon. There shall be no more murders here. This place is sacred.

Joah tried to stand, but collapsed in a panting heap. He had to get to Misla. Across the cavern, Damien was pouring sunsap from the capsules onto the roots that bound her, but he was only succeeding in pissing the things off, it seemed; they would retract and snarl forward again, wrapping around Misla’s ankles and wrists as she thrashed in their grip.

Joah began crawling toward them, never mind the mud that blistered his palms and knees through his pants. But Hickory saw him and seemed to decide, with a vicious scowl, to finish Joah off before attending to the monstrous creature before them. He raised his ax again.

The Leather Skin hurled his shield. It struck Hickory’s raised wrists, and the ax spun from his hands, landing with a thwump a breath from Joah’s fingers.

Hickory screamed and dove toward the Leather Skin instead, closing his hands around its shelled throat. The creature’s eyes popped in their sockets for a moment, bloodied with shock—then it twisted, and soon both monsters were writhing in each other’s grips.

Joah wrenched his gaze away from the humanoid insect that had once stared at him from the poster on General Deckler’s office wall. He crawled around the ax, grabbed the shield wobbling beside it, and dragged the thing toward Misla across the cavern. He shouldered Damien aside and pressed the shield against the roots coiled around her.

They retracted like worms touched by sunlight. Misla fell forward, coughing and gasping, onto her hands and knees.

“We need to fill the capsules,” she panted, her voice hoarse, “and get the fuck out of here. This place is going to kill us.” She made to stand, but crouched back down when the spinning mass of Hickory and the Leather Skin shot past them.

“You killed my grandfather,” Hickory was panting. “They drew pictures of you.” He rammed his fist into the other’s ash-black jawline. “You’re the Nocturnal I’ve been waiting for.”

I’m not a Nocturnal, the Leather Skin spat, trying to close his pincers around Hickory’s throat. The Nocturnals killed everyone here but me.

And Joah got flashes of the Leather Skin’s memories: when King Isce’s men had executed the others, this one had slipped away, had taken refuge in the sunsap and remained here for more than sixty years. But now the skeleton of one of its fellow slaves had sunk into its home, and the flicker of Hickory’s blade had brought that violence back with blunt force.

So they spun in circles, a boulder-like man dancing with a humanoid creature on crooked scuttling spider legs. Hickory’s fury had cracked his face into a million pieces, and the heat rash scaling his skin made him look less than human. He pummeled the other again and again, rooted in his belief that the creature in his grip was a Nocturnal, that it had killed his grandfather so long ago and sent Hickory’s family cascading into poverty. Executing the Infected had never been enough for his revenge. Now he had the opportunity to kill the actual thing he thought he hated.

“Hickory,” Joah choked out. “Hickory, open your mind.”

Hickory didn’t hear. He had knocked the Leather Skin to the ground and was thumping a fist into his face… a fist that bounced back; unfazed, the Leather Skin closed his pincers around Hickory’s throat again and threw him sideways… They rolled closer to the sunsap.

“Hickory!” Joah was suddenly shouting. “Listen to him. He didn’t kill your grandfather, it wasn’t him! And the ones like him never wanted to! It’s a whole lot more complicated, dammit! OPEN YOUR MIND AND LISTEN.”

But Hickory either couldn’t or wouldn’t listen. He ripped himself from the Leather Skin’s hold and plunged for his ax.

The Leather Skin barreled toward him and wrapped his arms around the man who would, if left unchecked, turn him into a headless corpse, as his fellows had been so long ago. The pair seemed to hover sideways in an embrace for a small eternity, the ax handle slipping from Glade’s beefy fingers like a stubborn fish: going…going…gone.

Then Hickory and the Leather Skin toppled into the river as a single unit. The sunsap embraced them both in a slurping kiss, swallowing Hickory’s scream whole.

Silence. Damien’s eyes were round as moons. Misla was still panting. Holes riddled her clothes where the splatters of sunsap had burned her, adding to her collection of scars. Various parts of Joah’s body flared with blistering heat. The chill of the Eternal Night sounded like bliss, yet he and the other two waited, breathless, for Hickory to emerge.

After a dozen heartbeats of silence, Joah knew he never would. The Leather Skin would be laying his body to rest beneath the blood of the Eternal Night.

He glanced at the remaining ceramic containers lying in the water at their feet. They needed to fill the things and get away from this underground gut of fire before it cooked them. They needed to ride the starship to daybreak and save the Sunsetters from being killed or collected like cattle. But Joah felt mesmerized by Hickory’s death. At how it had happened.

If Hickory had let himself become Infected, he would have known the truth of things. He wouldn’t have gone for a guiltless Leather Skin. He wouldn’t have raised the ax on Joah. Hell, he wouldn’t have swung down on Blair’s neck all those years ago. He would have heard her thoughts as Joah had led her—God, led her—to her death. He would have understood that the real threat was a corrupt general and a king waiting for them on the edge of the Green Sea, not a crazed woman in shackles or a slave who had been hiding from violence for over sixty years.

But Hickory had not opened his mind. And now he was gone. Blair’s killer was gone. Misla’s abuser was gone. The man who would have executed Damien with a smirk on his face was gone. He was gone along with the ignorance Joah might still be harboring if he’d never ventured into the Eternal Night.

All that remained now were the capsules of sunsap, the three of them holding each other, and a suffocating tunnel of boiling grief. And Joah was ready to find his way out of it.

“C’mon,” he told the others. “We have a sunset to catch.”

See the conclusion of “The Nocturnals” next month!

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