Skyhunter (Skyhunter #1) - Marie Lu
The morning dawns with both sun and rain. Drizzle drifts in the sunbeams, dewing everything with a shimmer of light.
A storm is moving in. We need to finish our sweep early.
Cool wind streams my coat behind me as I head toward our defense compound’s main gates. We are at the warfront fifty miles from the steel walls of Newage, Mara’s capital, out where our southern mountain ranges give way to dense forests and valleys.
The other sides of Mara are protected by sheer cliffs rising a thousand feet above the ocean, natural formations supposedly caused hundreds of years ago by a cataclysmic earthquake—but here in the south, we are vulnerable to attacks from the Karensa Federation, whose vast territory now extends up to the other side of the pass. They send their Ghosts to wander this in-between land, trying to find a weak spot in our border. So we do a silent sweep every morning, killing any Ghosts we encounter.
It has been a month since the Federation launched a full-scale attack against us, which we barely survived with a temporary cease-fire. But compromise is difficult when what they want is our nation itself. So the next siege could come today. Tomorrow. A month from now. There is no telling.
When you’re fighting a losing war, you are always on edge.
Morning light has turned the sky a bruised pink by the time I arrive at the edge of our compound. As I walk, I notice the metalworkers bustling around their stations, the seasilk trim of their hats trembling in the wind.
“It’s the Basean,” one of them says with a sneer.
Another lifts an eyebrow at me. “Still alive, huh, little rat? Well, if you die before Tuesday, I’ll still win my bet.”
Words like these used to stick in my chest until it hurt to breathe. I’d turn my head down in shame and scurry past. But my mother always told me to keep my chin up. Look proud, she would say to me as she patted my cheek, until you feel it.
So now I wink back and smile a secret smile.
The metalworker looks away, annoyed that his barb didn’t hook me. I stand straighter and continue down the path without a word.
I haven’t spoken out loud since the night my mother and I first fled to Mara’s borders, when a Federation shell of poison gas permanently scarred the flaps of my vocal cords. I was eight years old at the time. My memories of that night are inconsistent—some clear as crystal, others nothing more than a blur of soldiers and the light of fires engulfing homes. I can’t remember what happened to my father. I don’t know where our neighbors went.
I think my mind has buried most of those memories, shrouded them in haze to protect me. That night left my mother with a head full of snow-white hair. I came out of it with no more voice and scar tissue twisting the inner lining of my throat. To this day, I’m not sure if I can’t speak because of those scars or because of the trauma of our escape, of what I witnessed the Federation doing to our people. Perhaps it’s both. All I know is that when I open my mouth, what’s left is silence.
I suppose I now make use of that silence. In my line of work, at least, it is essential for survival.
That was what first drew me to the Strikers. When I was small, I would join the crowds to watch the famed patrols head out past Newage’s walls, ready to face the Federation’s monsters. They are Mara’s most elite branch of soldiers, revered by everyone, notorious even in other nations. My eyes would shine at the elaborate harnesses looped around their shoulders and waist, their guns and knives and black steel armguards, the masks covering their mouths, the circular emblem embroidered on their sapphire seasilk coats that draped down to their boots.
I loved their silence. I loved that it meant survival to them. They moved like shadows, with no sound except the hush of boots against the ground. I would linger there, balanced on the branch of a tree, transfixed by their lethal grace until they had disappeared from view.
Now I’m one of them.
It is less glamorous when you are the one riding toward death. Still, it’s a job that means I can afford to put food on my mother’s table and a roof over her head.
Other Strikers are at the gate now, ready for our sweep. Corian Wen