CHAPTER THIRTEEN: THE LAST PHONE CALL
Their hostility did not stop the elementals from approaching humanity in peace, but none of the elementals could expect the savagery of the humans.
Ms. Arellano insisted that her daughter’s new boyfriend shouldn’t have to wade home through the snow. I stammered out my thanks, Maya buried her face in her hands, and I rode along with Ms. Arellano.
Maya hadn’t come with us, so I was enjoying the silence just fine until Ms. Arellano ruined it by saying, “So you’re a yeti.”
I choked and had a coughing fit, inwardly wishing a curse on whatever natural forces made auras visible to other elementals.
Ms. Arellano cast me a sly grin. “And a hunter, too. I’ll admit, that’s a new one. I’ve never met a yeti who hunts his own kind. I don’t think I’ve ever met an elemental hunter, actually.”
I aimed for sarcasm, but my tone sounded like a question when I said, “I believe in being progressive?”
“I hope so, Jeremy. There’s already been too much blood spilled between hunters and elementals. You might be able to help mitigate that.”
My anxiety melted away in the face of an actual conversation. “That’s what I’m going for,” I said, “My family’s got the worst offenders – they need someone to hold them back.”
“A yeti reforming the hunters,” Ms. Arellano mused as she pulled up to my house. “If you ever need help, you can count on me and Maya.”
“Thank you,” I said, “And thanks for the ride.”
As I walked, I had to squint to see past the sunlight’s reflection on the snow. Once inside, I blinked a couple of times to help my eyes adjust to the darkness inside. The house was apparently empty, though I shouted that I was home and Aunt Marlene called out to acknowledge it. The lights were off in every room I passed through, with snowy afternoon light streaming in through the windows. I left the light off in my bedroom, enjoying the feeling produced by the blue-white light from outside.
I sat on my bed, pulled out my phone, and readied my parents’ number. Then I sat there, staring at the bright, cheerful green button that would call them.
Why am I still hesitating? I asked myself, Why am I nervous?
Maybe my mom wasn’t a yeti. Maybe I was some kind of anomaly, and I really was alone. If so, I wondered how they would react. They’d walked away from their lives as hunters, but a lot of people could carry prejudice with them as long as they lived. What if there was something darker, more sinister going on? Maybe I was adopted. Maybe I was a changeling, switched at birth and put into their family as a saboteur, and their real son was still out there somewhere.
I took a deep breath. I pressed the green button.
My mom answered on the third ring.
“Hey mom,” I said, failing to keep the strain out of my voice. “I, uh, thought it was time for us to catch up.”
“Yeah, it’s been a while,” said my mom. I could hear her smile, but I could tell it was hesitant – she’d sensed my stress. I pictured her, probably working on her laptop at the dining room table. She had brown hair, like me, and her blue eyes were much paler than mine. Then I pictured her movements, with such ridiculously effortless strength and balance. I remembered the way she always seemed to have superhumanly fast reflexes and to know where I was at all times, as though she could hear my heartbeat.
“So what’s been happening?” she asked. “We haven’t heard anything since you left.”
“It’s been pretty crazy,” I said, “Wait one second.” I checked to make sure that no one was listening outside my door, and I locked it behind me. “I’m getting along well with Stephanie. Not so much with Blake.”
“Really? Why not?”
“He’s kind of a fanatic about the anti-elemental dogma,” I said. I flopped down on my bed and stared up at the ceiling as I spoke. “Stephanie’s best friend is a witch, though. And I think it’s stupid to hate elementals, personally. I mean, it’s not like they can control the fact that they’re born with magic.”
“Right. Your dad and I always thought the rest of his family was a little intense about it.”
“Exactly,” I said. “How come you never told me much about your side of the family?”
“My parents are kind of solitary. They don’t like visitors, even family. I haven’t talked to them for a couple of years.”
I gritted my teeth for a second before saying, “It’s snowing here, you know.”
Silence stretched out much longer than it should have.
“In August?” asked my mom. Her voice was a bit higher-pitched than normal. Weird, I’d never heard that tone from her.
“Yeah, that’s what happens when you get two yetis into the same place,” I said.
More silence. I wondered how many hints I’d have to drop before my mom would allow herself to understand what I was saying.
“I’ve seen the one we’re hunting,” I continued. “His name is Blood-Shard – ” I stopped talking abruptly as my mother exclaimed a few words I’d never heard her say before. I blinked at the phone for a moment before finishing, “And of course there’s me.”
I heard a distinctly non-human growl from the other side of the phone before my mother’s voice returned, sounding utterly calm, but also cold and business-like. “Jeremy, you need to get out of there as soon as you can. Don’t get involved.”
My mouth fell open. “What? No.”
“I’ve met Blood-Shard before. He’s ruthless and deranged. I wouldn’t join his cause, and he thinks that I died in one of his attacks. He’s dangerous, Jeremy. You need to get out.”
“I’m not going to do that, mom.”
My mother paused. “Why not?”
I felt fury rise within me at the injustices that Blood-Shard had committed. “People. Are. Dying. I am not going to walk away and save myself when I can still help them.”
My mom sighed. “I was afraid you’d say that. Be careful, Jeremy.”
The anger in me latched onto a new target, but I kept my voice carefully neutral. “You mean like how you were careful to give me all the information I needed before sending me on a hunt?”
“I sent you hunting so that you would be able to defend yourself.”
“From other elementals or from hunters?”
“But you didn’t think that my species was important information?”
“I wasn’t sure you’d be a yeti,” my mom said quietly. “It’s pretty common for kids to be born human, even when both parents are the same kind of elemental.”
I growled, and the sound was almost identical to the sound I’d just heard my mother make moments earlier. “So you’ve met Blood-Shard before,” I said. “Have you ever met a phoenix named Finn Williams?”
“Is he there?” asked my mom, startled.
“So you do know him.”
“Everyone knows him. There are only a couple of phoenixes who aren’t complete recluses. What’s he doing there?”
“Far as I can tell, he lives here.”
“Alright. If you stay close to Finn, you have a chance. He’s powerful. I don’t want you involved, but as long as Finn is there – what?”
I listened as the rumble of my dad’s voice crackled through the phone line from somewhere behind my mother. I frowned as the sound started breaking up.
“Your father says that he’s sure you can handle it,” said my mom. There was a note of pride in her voice. “You can, Jeremy. But please be careful. Your father didn’t want you to be a hunter at first – he was bitter about everything that’s happened with his family – but this is how you learn to survive.”
“By doing it,” I said.
“Exactly. We love – ”
There was a sudden deafening static noise, so loud that I jerked the cellphone away from my ear. I stared at it for a second, then lifted it back up to my ear. The static continued, and I couldn’t hear even a trace of my mother’s voice. I checked the display, and after a second my phone ended the call automatically. Worse, my phone had lost signal entirely.
I stepped outside my bedroom and immediately heard voices downstairs. I went down the stairs and saw the rest of the family talking in the living room. Blake scowled like he always did when he felt threatened, and Stephanie’s eyes were narrowed in thought. Uncle Timothy and Aunt Marlene were answering questions in tandem as quickly as my cousins could ask them. Neither of them showed obvious concern, but I could see how stiffly they were holding themselves.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
Uncle Timothy fixed his eyes on me, and I saw something in him that I’d only seen a few times before. He was steeled for battle. “Blood-Shard’s using magic,” said my uncle, “He’s somehow put an enchantment around the entire city that cuts off the powerlines and wireless signals. He’s trying to cut off our communication.”
I tapped my right hand against the hard form of the cellphone in my pocket. “So anything with a battery…”
“Still works,” said Aunt Marlene, “But won’t for long.”
“The worst part’s the barrier, though,” said my uncle. “He’s using a spell. Nothing’s getting in or out. We’re trapped here with him, and no one else is coming to help.”