“This is where things get complicated.”

I looked over my shoulder and saw Kent. He was wearing a shirt I imagined Luc would wear. On it was a picture of a T. rex trying to hug another T. rex, but with their short arms, that wasn’t happening.

“Really?” I murmured, wondering if Luc would be thrilled that everyone was in his apartment. “Things are just now getting complicated?”

Kent strolled into the room, carrying a can of Coke. “So, you know about the Daedalus and everything, right?”

I nodded and then glanced at Heidi. Apparently that wasn’t news to her, either.

“Your government knows damn well the Luxen can heal humans, and they also know not every Luxen is equally skilled at doing it. Some are better at it than others, and those really interest them. Those were the ones your government stole.” He sat on the arm of the couch, closest to me. He handed me the Coke. I took it. “I didn’t misspeak about the whole ‘your’ government thing. I claim no ownership of that hot mess express, but that’s not the biggest risk when it comes to healing humans.”

I frowned, deciding not to follow him down that rabbit hole for the moment. “So what’s the bigger risk? Mutating them?”

“Someone has been filling you in on things.” Kent grinned. “But obviously not everything.”

Catching my eye, Heidi unfolded her legs. “I don’t know all the details, but what they’re about to tell you? I believe it.”

At this point, I believed in the chupacabra.

“So, you know that the Luxen have been here for decades and decades, if not longer. They didn’t come to take over or hurt people,” Emery explained as I clutched the can of soda. “They came because their planet was destroyed in a war with . . . with another race of aliens, and they were looking for a new place to live. My ancestors basically came here to recolonize.”

Alien planets, plural? Wars between alien species? Recolonization? This had just veered straight into science-fiction territory, but I was here for this. I popped open my can and then took a long, healthy gulp, welcoming the carbonated burn.

I needed to focus on one thing at a time here. “Planets?”

“We come from a planet that’s, like, a trillion light-years from here.” Emery leaned forward. “We weren’t the only planet with intelligent life-forms on it.”

That had been the big question after the invasion. Were the Luxen the only aliens out there? We’d been assured that was the case. “You’re not the only aliens?”

She shook her head. “We come from Lux. That was our planet, but it was destroyed by a species known as the Arum.”

I opened my mouth, but what the hell was I going to say? So I snapped it shut again.

“My people had been locked in a battle with them for many, many decades. Centuries, really.” Her knees bent, straining the ripped jeans. “We were taught that we were the innocent ones, but there’s rarely a war where there’s a truly innocent side, and long story short, we basically destroyed each other’s planets.”

“The Luxen came here first.” Kent tapped his bare foot off mine. “The Arum followed.”

“Wait.” I lifted my free hand. “Back up a second. Who or what are the Arum?”

“They are like us in some ways. They don’t come in threes, but in fours. They can assimilate human DNA, so they blend in just like we do, but where we kind of glow when we’re in our true form, they can be solid . . . or turn to shadows.”

“Shadows?” I repeated dumbly.

“Shadows,” Kent reinforced.

I stared at his profile. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“I have a better sense of humor than that,” he returned. “They look like shadows to us, because that’s the only way our brains can process what we’re seeing: relating their form to something familiar. They aren’t really shadows.”

“Oh,” I murmured.

“They can feed off Luxen, steal their abilities.”

“How do the Arum feed? Is it like a vampire?”

Kent laughed. “Not really. They also don’t bite. They . . . well, they can do it through touch or inhaling.”


“Exactly that. So, okay. You know that humans have electricity inside them—electrical signals running throughout the body? The Arum can feed on that even though it does nothing for them. When they do, it disrupts the signals the human’s body is sending. Massive heart failure, basically.”

“Wow,” I whispered. “That’s . . . that’s scary.”

“Can be,” he answered. “Arum are very powerful. They do have some weaknesses. For example, beta quartz hides Luxen from them by dispersing the energy they naturally put off, and it disrupts Arum’s visual fields. Obsidian is deadly to Arum.”

“Isn’t that a gemstone or something?”

Kent nodded. “Obsidian is volcanic glass. It’s deadly to an Arum, fracturing their entire cellular makeup.”

Well, none of that sounded even remotely real, but I vaguely remembered hearing something about beta quartz before, right after the invasion, when people were learning about the Luxen. “All righty then.” I took another drink. “And the Arum are . . . still here?”

Heidi nodded. “We’ve probably even seen them, Evie, and just not realized they were different from us or the Luxen.”

I wasn’t sure if I believed any of this, but I was experiencing next-level curiosity. “And they’re dangerous? Do they wear Disablers?”

“The Arum roll low-key and the Disablers wouldn’t work on them. Right now there’s a weird peace between the Luxen and the Arum, but the Arum are . . . Well, the need to feed off Luxen is really hard to ignore.” Kent ran his hand over his Mohawk. “Without feeding, they aren’t as powerful as the Luxen. Hell, they’re basically the same as us. Or a Luxen with a Disabler. Plus not every Arum is on the peace-loving train. There’s a lot of baggage between the Luxen and the Arum. Not everyone can let it go.”

“Okay.” I scooted forward, holding on to the empty can of soda. “So, the Luxen and Arum are here and they’ve been here . . . doing stuff. Got it.” I paused, twisting toward Heidi. “What does that have to do with the risk of healing a human?”

“Well . . .” she said, drawing the word out. She twisted her red hair into a thick rope. “I think I’ll leave that to them to explain.”

Emery took a deep breath. “The Arum can sense Luxen. The only thing that stops them from doing so is being surrounded by beta quartz. I’m talking large deposits, usually natural ones found in mountains all over the world. We used to live in communities that were near natural deposits of quartz, but that changed after . . . well, after the invasion. Most of our old communities were destroyed.”

I wish I had more Coke. “Okay.”

The look on Emery’s face said she knew I was a couple of steps away from sensory overload. “When we heal a human, we leave a trace behind on them. To an Arum, it’s almost like the human is lit up. They’re surrounded in a glow. The Arum find humans with a trace as tasty as Luxen.”

“What?” My back straightened. “So, I’m glowing and an Arum shadow creature is going to eat me?”

Kent coughed out a laugh. “Boy, I just took that the wrong way.”

Emery rolled her eyes. “Normally, they would find you—or they could. They’d see your trace, and if they were hungry for some Luxen goodness, they’d either use you to get to the Luxen or use you as a snack. It wouldn’t just put the Luxen in danger, but also his or her friends and family. See, an odd side effect of the Disablers is that it blinds the Arum to the Luxen, so . . . they’ve been really hungry. They can’t search out most Luxen now.”

“Normally?” I’d caught that word.

“Normally,” she said, her gaze roaming over me. “If a Luxen heals a human, then we usually stay very close to them, just to be sure they aren’t in a danger, but you . . . you don’t have a trace, Evie.”

Relief made me dizzy. “Oh God, I thought you were going to say I was as bright as the sun or something. This is good news, right? I’m safe. My mom is safe. Well, safe from the Arum thing. I’m not going to be some weird shadow alien’s snack. All I have to worry about is bone-breaking Origins.”