David Dalglish’s new coming-of-age adventure fantasy is perfect for readers of all ages.
Breanna Skyborn sat at the edge of her world, watching the clouds drift beneath her dangling feet.
Kael’s voice sounded obscenely loud in the twilight quiet. She turned to see her twin brother standing at the stone barricade that marked the end of the road.
“Over here,” she said.
The barricade reached up to Kael’s waist, and after a moment’s hesitation, he climbed over, leaving behind smoothly worn cobbles for short grass and soft dirt. Beyond the barricade, there was nothing else. No buildings. No streets. No homes. Just a stretch of unused earth, and then beyond that . . . the edge. It was for that reason Bree loved it, and her brother hated it.
“We’re not allowed to be this close,” he said as he approached, each step smaller than the last. “If Aunt Bethy saw . . .”
“Aunt Bethy won’t come within twenty feet of the barricade and you know it.”
Wind blew against her, and she pulled her dark hair back from her face as she smirked at her brother. His pale skin had taken on a golden hue from the fading sunlight, the wind teasing his much shorter hair. The gust made him stop, and she worried he’d decide to leave her there.
“You’re not afraid, are you?” she asked.
That was enough to push him on. Kael joined her at the edge of their island. When he sat, he sat cross-legged, and unlike her, he did not let his legs dangle off the side.
“Just for a little while,” he said. “We should be home when the battle starts.”
Bree turned away, and she peered over the edge of the island. Below, lazily floating along, were dozens of puffy clouds painted orange by the setting sun. Through their gaps she saw the tumultuous Endless Ocean, its movement only hinted at by the faintest of dark lines. Again the wind blew, and she pretended that she rode upon it, flying just like her parents.
“So why are we out here?” Kael asked, interrupting the silence.
“I was hoping to see the stars.”
“Is that it? We’re just here to waste our time?”
Bree glared at him.
“You’ve seen the drawings in Teacher Gruden’s books. The stars are beautiful. I was hoping that out here, away from the lanterns, maybe I could see one or two before . . .”
She fell silent. Kael let out a sigh.
“Is that really why you’re out here?”
It wasn’t, not fully, but she didn’t feel comfortable discussing the other reason. Hours ago their mother and father had sat them down beside the fire of their home. They’d each worn the black uniforms of their island of Weshern, swords dangling from their hips, the silver wings attached to their harnesses polished to a shine.
The island of Galen won’t back down, so we have no choice, their father had said. We’ve agreed to a battle come the midnight fire. This will be the last, I promise. After this, they won’t have the heart for another.
“It is,” Bree said, wishing her half lie were more convincing. She looked to their right, where the sun was slipping beneath the horizon. Nightfall wouldn’t be long now. Kael shifted uncomfortably, and she saw him glancing behind them, as if convinced they’d be caught despite being in a secluded corner of their small town of Lowville.
“Fine,” he said. “I’ll stay with you, but if we get in trouble, this was all your idea.”
“It usually is,” she said, smiling at him.
Kael settled back, sliding a bit farther away from the edge.Together they watched the sun slowly set. In its glow, they caught glimpses of two figures flying through the twilight haze, their mechanical wings shimmering gold as they hovered above a great stretch of green farmland. The men wore red robes along with their wings, easily identifying them as theotechs of Center.
“Why are they here?” Kael asked when he spotted them.
“They’re here to oversee the battle,” Bree answered. She’d spent countless nights on her father’s lap, asking him questions. What was it like to fly? Was he ever scared when they fought? Did he think she might become a member of the Seraphim like they were? Bree knew the two theotechs would bless the battle, ensure everyone followed the agreed-upon rules, and then mark the surrender of the loser. Then would come the vultures, the lowest-ranking members of the theotechs, to reclaim the treasured technology from the fallen.
The mention of the coming battle put Kael on edge, and he fell silent as he looked to the sunset. Bree couldn’t blame him for his nervousness. She felt it, too, and that was the reason she couldn’t stay home, cooped up, unable to witness the battle or know if her mother and father lived or died. No, she had to be out there. She had to have something to occupy her mind.
They said nothing as the sun neared the end of its descent. As the strength of its rays weakened, she turned her attention to the east, where the sky had faded to a deep shade of purple. The coming darkness unsettled Bree. Since the day she was born, it had come and gone, but it was rare for her to watch it. She much preferred to be at home next to the hearth, listening to her father tell Seraphim stories, or their mother reading Kael ancient tales of knights and angels. Watching the nightly shadow only made her feel . . . imprisoned.
It began where the light was at its absolute weakest, an inky black line on the horizon that grew like a cloud. Slowly it crawled, thick as smoke and wide as the horizon itself. The darkness swept over the sky, hiding its many colors. More and more it covered, an unceasing march matched by the sun’s fall. When it reached to the faintly visible moon, it too vanished, the pale crescent tucked away, to be hidden until the following night. Silently the twins watched as the rolling darkness passed high above their heads, blotting out everything, encasing the world in its deep shadow.
Bree turned her attention to the setting sun, which looked as if it fled in fear of the darkness complete.
“It’ll be right there,” she said, pointing. “In the moment after the sun sets and before the darkness reaches it.”
Most of the sky was gone now, and so far away from the lanterns, the two sat in a darkness so complete it was frightening. The shadow clouds continued rolling, blotting out the field of stars that the ancient drawing books made look so beautiful, so majestic and grand. But just as she’d hoped, there was a gap in the time it took the sun to vanish beyond the horizon and for the rolling shadow to reach it, and she watched with growing anticipation. She’d seen only one star before, the North Star, which shone so brightly that not even the sun could always blot it out. But the other stars, the great field . . . would they appear in the deepening purple?
Kael saw it before she did, and he quickly pointed. In the sliver of violet space the star winked into existence, a little drop of light between the horizon and the shadows crashing down on it like a wave. zBree saw it, and she smiled at the sight.
“Imagine not one but thousands,” Bree said as the dark clouds swallowed the star, pitching the entire city into utter darkness so deep she could not see her brother beside her. “A field spanning the entire sky, lighting up the night in their glow . . .”
Bree felt Kael take her hand, and she squeezed it tight. Neither dared move while so close to the edge and lacking sight. Perfectly still, they waited. It would only be a matter of time.
It started as a faint flicker of red across the eastern horizon. Slowly it grew, spreading, strengthening. Just like the shadows, so too did the fire roll across the sky, setting ablaze the inky clouds that covered the crown of the world. It burned without consuming, only shifting and twisting. It took thirty minutes, but eventually all of the sky raged with midnight fire, bathing the land in red. It’d last until daybreak, when the sun would rise, the fire would die, and the smoky remnants would hover over the morning sky until fading away.
A horn sounded from a watchtower farther within their home island of Weshern. The blast set Bree’s heart to hammering.
“They’re starting,” she whispered.
Both turned to face the field where the two theotechs hovered. The horn sounded thrice more, and come the final call, the forces of Weshern arrived. They sailed above the field in V formations, their silver wings shimmering, powered by the light element that granted all Seraphim mastery over the skies. Hundreds of men and women, dressed in black pants and jackets, armed with fire, lightning, ice, and stone that they wielded with the gauntlets of their ancient technology. Despite her fear, Bree felt an intense longing to be up there with them, fighting for the pride and safety of her home. Sadly, it’d be five years before she and her brother turned sixteen and could attempt to join.
“Bree . . .”
She turned her head, saw her brother staring off into the open sky beyond the edge of their island. Flying in similar V formations, gold wings glimmering, red jackets seemingly aflame from the light of the midnight fire, came the Seraphim of Galen. The two armies raced toward each other, and Bree knew they’d meet just above the fallow field, where the theotechs waited.
Bree pushed herself away from the edge of the island and rose to her feet, her brother doing likewise.
“They’ll be fine,” she said, watching the Weshern Seraphim fly in perfect formation. She wondered which of those black and silver shapes was her mother, and which her father. “You’ll see. No one’s better than they are.”
Kael stood beside her, eyes on the sky, arms locked at his sides. Bree reached for his hand, held it as the armies neared one another.
“It’ll be over quick,” she whispered. “Father says it always is.”
Dark shapes shot in both directions through the space between the armies, large chunks of stone meant to screen attacks as well as protect against retaliation. They crashed into one another, and as the sound reached Bree’s ears, the battle suddenly erupted into bewildering chaos. The Seraphim formations danced about one another, lightning flashing amid them in constant barrages. Enormous blasts of fire accompanied them, difficult to see with the sky itself aflame. Blue lances of ice, colored purple from the midnight hue, shot in rapid bursts, cutting down combatants with ease. The sounds of battle were so powerful, so near, Bree could feel them in her bones.
“How?” Kael wondered aloud, and if he weren’t so close she wouldn’t have heard him over the cacophony. “How can anyone survive through that?”
Boulders of stone slammed into the fallow field beneath, carving out long grooves of earth before coming to a stop. Bree flinched at the impact of each one. How did one survive? She didn’t know, but somehow they did, the Seraphim of both islands weaving amid the carnage with movements so fluid and beautiful they mirrored that of dancers. Not all, though. Lightning tore through chests, lances of ice with sharp tips punctured flesh and metal alike, and no armor could protect against the fire that washed over their bodies. Each Seraph who fell wearing a black jacket made Bree silently beg it wasn’t one of her parents. She didn’t care if that was selfish or not. She just wanted them safe. She wanted them to survive the overwhelming onslaught that left her mind baffled by how to take it all in.
The elements lessened, the initial devastating barrage becoming more precise, more controlled. Bree saw that several combatants were out of elements completely and forced to draw their blades. The battle had gradually spread farther and farther out, taking them beyond the grand field and closer to the edge of town where Bree and Kael stood. Not far above their heads, two Seraphim circled in a dance, one fleeing, one chasing. They both had their twin blades drawn. Bree watched, entranced, eyes wide as the circle tightened and the combatants whisked by each other again and again, slender blades swiping for exposed flesh.
It was the Galen Seraph who made the first mistake. Bree saw him fail to dodge in time, saw the tip of the sword slice across his stomach. The body fell, careening wildly just before making impact with the ground. The sound was a bloodcurdling screech of metal and snapping bone. Bree’s attention turned to the larger battle, and she saw that more had been forced to draw their blades. The number of remaining Seraphim was shockingly few, yet they fought on.
“No one’s surrendering,” Kael said, and she could hear the fear threatening to overtake him completely. “Bree, you said it’d be quick. You said it’d be quick!”
The area of battle was spreading out of control. Galen Seraphim scattered in all directions, loose formations of two to three people. The Weshern Seraphim chased, and despite nearing town, they still released their elements. Bree screamed as a pair streaked above their heads, the thrum of their wings nearly deafening. A boulder failed to connect with the fleeing Seraphim, and it blasted through the side of a home with a thundering blast.
“Let’s go!” Bree screamed, grabbing Kael’s hand and dashing toward the barricade. More Seraphim were approaching, seemingly the entire Galen forces. They wanted to be over the town, Bree realized. They wanted to make Weshern’s people hesitate to fight with so many nearby. As the twins climbed over the stone barricade, the sounds of battle erupting all about them, it was clear their Seraphim would have no such hesitation. Lightning flashed above Bree’s head, and she cried out in surprise. She ducked, stumbled, lost her grip on her brother’s hand. He stopped, shouted her name, and then the ice lance struck the cobbles ahead of them. It shattered into shards, and Kael dove to the ground as they flew in all directions.
“Kael,” Bree said as she scrambled to her feet. “Kael!”
“I’m fine,” he said, pushing himself to his hands and knees. When he looked to her, he was bleeding from several cuts across his face and neck. “I’m fine, now hurry!”
The red light of the midnight fire cast its hue across everything, convincing Bree she’d lost herself in a nightmare and awoken in one of the circles of Hell. Kael pulled her along, leading her toward Aunt Bethy’s house, where they were supposed to have stayed during the battle, waiting like good children for their parents to return. Hand in hand they ran, the air above filled with screams, echoes of thunder, and the deep hum of the Seraphims’ wings.
They turned a corner, saw two Seraphs flying straight at them from farther down the street. Fire burst from the chaser’s gauntlet. It bathed over the other, sending her crashing to the ground. Kael dove aside as Bree froze, her legs locked in place from terror. The body came to a halt mere feet away from her, silver wings mangled and broken. Her black jacket bore the blue sword of Weshern on her shoulder, and Bree shuddered at the sight of the woman’s horrible burns. High above, the Galen Seraph flew on, seeking new prey.
“Bree!” her brother shouted, pulling her attention away. He’d wedged himself in the tight space between two houses, and she joined him there in hiding.
“We have to get back,” Bree insisted. “We can’t stay here.”
“Yes, we can,” Kael said, hunkering deeper into the alley. “I’m not going out there, Bree. I’m not.”
Bree glanced back out of the narrow alley. With the battle raging above the town, Aunt Bethy would be terrified by their absence. They were already going to be in trouble for not coming in like they were supposed to in the first place. To hide now, afraid, until it all ended?
“I’m going,” she said. “Are you coming with me or not?”
Another blast of thunder above. Kael shook his head.
“No,” he said. His eyes widened when he realized she was serious about going. “Bree, don’t leave me here. Don’t leave me!”
“I can’t stay,” Bree said, the mantra overwhelming her every thought. “I can’t stay, Kael, I can’t stay!”
She dashed back into the street, racing toward Aunt Bethy’s house. As strongly as Kael wanted to remain hiding, Bree wanted to return to their aunt’s home. She wanted to be inside, in a safe place with family. Let him be a coward. She’d be brave. She’d be strong.
A boulder crashed through the rooftop of a home to her right then blasted out the front wall. Bree screamed, and she realized she wasn’t brave at all. She was frightened out of her mind. Fighting back tears, she turned down Picker Street, where both they and their aunt lived. Five houses down was her aunt’s home, and Bree’s heart took a sudden leap. Her legs moved as fast as they could carry her.
There she was. Her mother was safe, she was alive, she was . . .
She was bleeding. Her hand clutched her stomach, and Bree saw with horrible clarity the red gash her fingers failed to seal. She lay on her back, her silver wings pressed against the door to Aunt Bethy’s home, a dazed look on her face. Beneath her was a pool of her own blood.
“Bree,” her mother said. Her voice was wet, strained. Tears trickled from her brown eyes. “Bree, what are you . . . what are you doing out here?”
Bree didn’t know how to answer. She fell to her knees, felt her pants slicken from the blood. She reached out a trembling hand, wanting so badly to hold her mother, but feared what any contact might do.
“It’s all right,” her mother said, and she smiled despite her obvious pain. “Bree, it’s all right. It’s . . .”
Her lips grew still. She breathed in pain no more. Her hand fell limp, holding back her sliced stomach no longer. Bree touched her shoulder, shook her once.
“Mom,” she said, tears rolling down her cheeks. “Mom, no, Mom, please!”
She buried her face against her mother’s chest, shrieking out in wordless agony. She didn’t want to see any more, to hear any more. Bree wrapped her arms around her mother’s neck, clutching her tightly, not caring about the blood that seeped into her clothes. She just wanted one more embrace before the vultures came to reclaim her wings. She wanted to pretend her mother was alive and well, holding her, loving her, kissing her forehead before flying away for another day of training and drills.
Not this corpse. Not this lifeless thing.
A hand touched her shoulder. Bree pulled back, expecting to see her brother, but instead it was a tall Weshern Seraph. Blood smeared his fine black coat. To her surprise, the surrounding neighborhood was quiet, the battle seemingly over.
“Was she your mother?” the man asked. Bree could barely see his face through the shadows cast by the midnight fire. She sniffled, then nodded.
“Then you must be Breanna. I—I don’t know how else to tell you this. It’s about your father.”
His words were a dagger to an already punctured heart. It couldn’t be. The world couldn’t be that cruel.
“No,” she whispered. “No, that can’t be right.”
The Seraph swallowed hard.
“Breanna, I’m sorry.”
Bree leapt to her feet, and she flung herself at the man, screaming at the top of her lungs.
“No, it can’t. Not both, we can’t lose them both, we can’t . . . we can’t . . .”
She broke, collapsing at his feet, her tears falling upon his black boots. She beat the stone cobbles until she bled, beat them as she screamed, beat them as, high above, the midnight fire burned like an unrelenting pyre for the dead.