Release Date: March 23, 2016
Click to Buy the Ebook
Heir Keeper Nightshadow has a secret. Though in training to become the next spiritual leader of his colony, he cannot hear the Stars' wisdom. When a great storm wreaks havoc on the colony and kills his mentor, it's up to Nightshadow to save his people. Yet without the Stars' guidance, what can he do?
Also in this series:
THE STORM HIT without warning, not with a pelting of rain but with a whine of wind and a crackle of thunder. Nightshadow excused himself to Keeper Greywing and started hurrying back to his mother’s nest. She wouldn’t have returned from foraging below the boundary line yet, so his fledgling brother would be alone. Nightshadow fought against the gale, narrowly avoiding getting slammed into tree trunks several times. When he finally got to the nest in the Mother Quarter, he struggled to stay aligned with its entrance. The tree was swaying; whether it did because of Nightshadow’s own problems staying in one spot or because the wind was just that strong, the peeweww couldn’t say. Some of the branches surrounding the nest were whipped against the hole again and again. Nightshadow tried to avoid them as best he could, but when he was on the ledge one the branches hit him hard and sent him sprawling into the nest. His alarmed cheep was all but eclipsed by his brother’s own frightened sound-voice. It certainly eclipsed the storm.
“It’s all right,” Nightshadow told the fledgling, trying to impress visions of a soothing breeze onto his brother’s mind. It didn’t seem to help. Starglow just continued to cheep loudly from the far end of the nest. The fledgling huddled there, leaf-thin wings wrapped around his body. Snapped off twigs and leaves were scattered throughout the nest and Nightshadow chittered in irritation. He hopped his way over to his brother carefully, so as not to lose his footing. Nightshadow flared his wings whenever a blast of wind found its way inside the nest and threatened to send him sprawling onto his face. “Mama will be back soon.” Stars, let her have found shelter. He didn’t truly hold much hope, but Starglow was so young... Nightshadow crouched over the fledgling as best he could, wrapping his tail around his brother’s still-stubby one and squeezing its tiny leaf lightly.
“It’s all right.” He’d keep his brother safe from the storm. Stationary and within the nest, Nightshadow couldn’t deny that the tree was swaying in the storm. Stars, keep us all safe, he repeated over and over to himself, to the Stars. The debris that had made it furthest into the nest hit, sometimes even pounded, against him. His back and wings stung with body-oil seeping into gashes and cuts and he squeezed his jaws together to keep his sound-voice from frightening Starglow.
To keep his brother safe, Nightshadow nudged the fledgling down into the moss-bed and stretched his own wings wide, digging all four claws into the tree trunk to brace himself against the storm and to keep anything from crashing into the fledgling.
Mercifully, none of the debris seemed to be getting past him. Why didn’t the Stars warn Keeper Greywing? he wondered. Or me? In between the solitary prayers and stuff hitting his back, worry gnawed on his heart like a tree-glider gnawed on nuts, but Nightshadow tried to push all of it out of his thoughts to focus on the peeweww he was protecting. His brother’s sound-voice grew fainter yet no less frightened or persistent only to get louder again some time later. Every time it did, the sound-voice fractured Nightshadow’s thoughts anew until he started to tell his brother legends and tales in the hope of distracting them both.
He told Starglow of life above the canopy and how the Darkness had swept over the peeweww in a great storm and sent them hiding from the Stars. He told his brother of the wonders and miracles that had been part of that shining age beneath the Stars, and of those who had fought the Darkness and were never heard from again. He told his brother of the heroes that were yet to be, the Stars yet unborn, and the time when the Darkness would be defeated and the Stars would call Their children home again. He sang the songs of praise to his brother, sound-voice mingling with thought-voice and he didn’t care that it was forbidden; it distracted the fledgling from his fear. Starglow even tried to sing the songs with him, despite the storm.
Eventually, the fledgling fell asleep, presumably exhausted, but Nightshadow still clung to his guarding position, praying to the Stars for strength. He shifted throughout the night, both to try and keep his limbs from cramping and to sway with the wind that reached him whenever it waxed. That he lasted until far into the day he could only attribute to the Stars.
Then, when the weather’s assault stopped as quickly as it had started, Nightshadow was so exhausted he could barely unclench his claws. Oil covered every part of his body, had even dripped onto Starglow’s fading down, and Nightshadow wouldn’t be surprised to discover that blood had mingled with it. He managed to shift his body until he could see part of the nest behind him. It was a mess; leaves, twigs, bits of bark, even a thicker branch had been blown into the nest, but the peeweww had survived. Thank the Stars, Nightshadow thought as he collapsed into a heap.