Starshot

Starshot - Book One in the Skyward Saga

The story of a girl who finds her god, and the creature who will stop at nothing to destroy it.

What if your people were dying and only you could save them? Would you sacrifice everything you've ever known, even if you would never see those you save again?

On the brink of war and starvation, Kaishi offers a prayer for her tribe. A burning flash in the sky and a strange rock answer her, and inside she finds the answer she's been searching for, one that offers endless miracles. One that attracts the wrong kind of attention and pushes Kaishi on an adventure far beyond what she could ever dream.

STARSHOT, book one of THE SKYWARD SAGA, starts a series about the dangers of destiny and the fights we make to change it.

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Publisher: Black Key Books
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When I reach the clearing, there’s a small stone totem standing at the far end. About as tall as I am, and bearing another carving of Ignos. This one, though, is white-spotted and washed out. Father says it’s been here since before the village, and that it’s partly the reason why our tribe has survived so long; others make pilgrimages here for their own people, and their gifts pay their peaceful passage. Food and tools that help our village grow.

I’m the only one here now, though, which is good. Solitude helps me get closer to Ignos, or at least that’s what I think as I kneel before the totem and begin the rites. With my eyes closed, I set the torch to the side, though I have to twist it into the hard dirt. A sign we could use some rain - normally this clearing is a muddy mess. Everyone knows when you’ve been here because you come back with coated knees.

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It’s a ritual prayer. Asking for guidance, strength, and the usual array of graces. Only at the end do I break into originality. Start a one-sided conversation with a god that is so great and mystifying that I have no idea if he can understand me, or if he cares.

“I don’t know if you’re listening,” I say, and I put my hands on the totem. We’re not supposed to touch it, but nobody’s watching, and maybe it’ll get Ignos’ attention. “I’m asking you for something tonight. Again.”

I pause. This is the hard part, because when I don’t say it then it doesn’t feel so real. I can distract away the feeling with my chores, or conversation, or just by running through the jungle. But I didn’t come here to be distracted, so I say it anyway.

“I need a destiny. Father says I can’t be a priest, and Mother tells me I’ll be getting a husband soon. I don’t want that, Ignos. I don’t want what they want for me. Show me something else, please!”

It’s a plea, and I’m a little ashamed as I say it. Blushing, even, there in the dark, because I know most of the village would say the same thing if they had the chance, but they don’t. They make do with the struggles, and embrace the happy moments: a successful harvest, a dance around the fires, a hunt that brings back enough to feed the family.

Who am I to ask for more?

I’m opening my mouth to take it all back, beg forgiveness, when a breeze kicks up and I feel my torch go out. My eyes open to the purest dark I’ve seen in a while, though I’m able to pick up the torch by the heat of it. Not the first time this has happened, and every Solare knows how to pick their way through the ferns and trees at night.

The dark, though, is why, when the whole sky burns a minute later, I go blind.

Only for a second, and it’s not really blindness but shock at the white burst overwhelming everything. I blink rapidly as the glow recedes to a single, huge ball hurtling above the trees. The leafy canopy means I catch the fire in spots as it barrels close and then over my head.

It’s hard to see anything in that angry orange and black, but I track the burning ball anyway. At least until it vanishes beneath the tree tops. First comes the snapping and cracking of trees, and then a rippling bang. Like a thunderstorm letting loose over a lake. The ground shifts and I fall to all fours, my fingers digging into the dirt like it’s a cliff I’m trying to climb.

Then it’s done.

Stillness takes over and for a moment everything is stunned quiet. I take a breath. The first insects test their buzzing. Gradually, the jungle restarts its symphony.

When I stand, holding the burned-out torch, I don’t turn back towards my village. I saw where the bright flash landed. It didn’t look far. I’m thinking of my prayer, too. And destiny.

Ignos might have heard me, and given me an answer. All my parent’s stories about heroes started with one thing: when given the chance, the hero acted. So I move past the totem, take a walk into the uncut brush.

It’s slow going without a light and wandering into unfamiliar territory. Bugs bite - ants and other critters undeterred by my sap coating - and animals running away from the crash find me and turn around.

Unseen branches scratch my face and a thorn leaves its mark on my hand. I don’t turn back, though, because I know what lies behind me.

Eventually I break through into what wasn’t a clearing moments before. Now it’s a fiery disaster. Trees hold bits of flame like I might hold a cup of water. Dirt and rocks are piled up everywhere, as though someone went digging with abandon. I notice too that most of the debris are black, and hot.

I step onto the dirt.

It sears the soles of my feet, so I dance until I find a but of slightly cooler rock, then take a look.

There’s a pit in the middle, almost as large as one of our houses. Deeper than I am tall, and in the center is something that, to me, appears like an oval boulder. In the flickering orange, it’s obviously pitted too. Bits and pieces taken out of its sides, though the unmarked parts shine. I’ve never seen anything like it, but that meshes with what I’m thinking. Ignos’ sent along something completely new.

Something just for me.

I take the next steps slow and careful. Test the dirt to make sure each step isn’t too hot. Even so, burns get added to my growing list of injuries.

Never let it be said that Ignos doesn’t make you work for your dreams.

I clamber to the edge of the hole. Now that I’m closer, I can tell the oval isn’t too much larger than Father. Four or five of him, squashed into the same shape, would make for the entire thing.

As though the oval knows I’m looking at it, it begins to steam. White streams emerge from what grows to be a line around the middle of the oval, floating up into the sky. Then, before I can decide what to do, the oval pops in half. The top part rises up and falls away from me and I notice it’s attached with a small silver hinge to the oval’s far side.

What’s more interesting, though, is what’s inside Ignos’ gift. It looks like a black sea, though when I concentrate, I can pick out traces of purple. The ink - because I don’t know what else to call it - appears still, and I take that as a sign to come closer.

I’m not completely convinced; I take the descent into the pit slow and make sure to identify the easiest way to scramble out if the oval turns out to be unfriendly.

I reach out with one hand to touch the oval’s outer shell. The lip of the opening. It’s warm, though not as hot as parts of the dirt. If my mind wasn’t in total shock, I might wonder why, but instead I note that it’s safe to touch and keep going closer.

Both of my hands are on the lip, which rises just about to my chin, and I’m peering into that purple-black ink. There’s something in there. I can make out a shadow, shifting in the firelight.

I reach for it - trained by years of grabbing at fish - slip on that narrow lip, and fall inside.

COLLAPSE

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