art by Steven R. Stewart
by Kat Otis
Meztli and the other boys of his year-group snuck into the Daylighter village just before dawn. One by one, they split off from the group as they each chose their targets. The more timid boys picked the yards of houses near the edge of the village, with easy access and a quick escape afterwards. The more cocky cracked open windows and doors, slipping right into the homes of the sleeping Daylighters. Meztli was neither timid nor cocky--he picked a house with a walled garden that would earn him extra notches on his coup stick, but he had no intention of going inside the house itself.
He scaled the wall and found the family had left their laundry out drying on a clothesline. Perfect. He ghosted across the garden and pulled down an article of clothing at random.
"Could you take another one, please?"
Meztli jumped and spun towards the voice. "Who's there?" Was one of the other boys playing a joke on him? If so, it wasn't funny.
"Only me." A girl sat up from the shadows beneath a bush. "My name's Dysis and that's my favorite skirt, because it matches my eyes. Are you a Nightlander? Ize says Nightlanders steal stuff to prove their manhood. Is that why you're here?"
Meztli frowned at the girl, suspicious. Daylighters were all supposed to be night-blind, the same way Nightlanders were day-blind. "How can you see me?"
"My mother caught moonblink while she was pregnant with me," Dysis said. "So I can see in the dark. Well, not colors, but shapes and shadows and stuff."
"That's all anyone can see in the dark," Meztli said, inching closer, curious now. He'd never talked to a Daylighter before and she seemed to be about his age.
"Ha! I told Ize so, but he didn't believe me, he said Nightlanders must see different. How can you live without colors?"
"I can see colors," Meztli said, crouching down just out of touching distance. "At dawn and dusk, before it gets too bright out. Who's Ize?"
"My brother. He doesn't like me much, but our parents are dead and no one else will take me. They say I'm strange and touched in the head and talk too much."
Meztli smirked. Strange didn't even begin to describe the girl. "You do talk a lot."
"I think they don't like me because they're jealous," Dysis said, warming to the topic. "It's really because I can go out in the dark and they can't. Ize says if I'm not careful a Nightlander will get me." She considered that for a moment. "Would you ever steal a person?"
"No," Meztli laughed. "The whole point of counting coup is not to be seen. If I stole a Daylighter, I'd have been seen, wouldn't I?"
"Oh." Dysis bit her lip. "I'm sorry. Should I go back inside and pretend I didn't see you?"
The offer was tempting, but... "That would be cheating." Meztli held the skirt out towards her. "Here. Since you caught me."
Dysis took the skirt and folded it on her lap. "Do I get notches for catching you? That's how it works, right? You notch a stick each time you steal something?"
"That's three notches," Meztli said, pointing at the skirt. "Because I had to climb a wall. It would have been five if it was in your house."
"So I should get three notches. How many notches do you have?"
"Forty-two," Meztli said. "When I have a hundred, I'll be a man."
"Oh. I guess I won't be catching up with you anytime soon."
Dysis sounded so disappointed, that Meztli couldn't help but try to cheer her up. "It depends," he teased, "on whether or not you keep catching me."