Skyhunter (Skyhunter #1) - Marie Lu Page 0,1

Barra, my Shield, is already here, his back turned to me. Dew shines in the high knot of his hair, and a breeze pushes against his coat’s hem.

I’d heard him leave his room this morning when I was still under my furs. He moves so lightly that no one else would have noticed the hush of his door closing.

As always, the sight of him settles my nerves. I’m safe here. I tap his shoulder as I reach him, then give him a mock frown and sign to him, “You left without me.”

Corian looks sidelong at me. He clutches his heart, as if I’ve wounded him. “What—and leave little Talin to fend for herself? I would never,” he signs, his gestures teasing and light.

“But?” I sign back.

“But they were serving fresh fishcakes this morning.”

“Did you at least save me one?”

“I did, but then I had to eat it because you took so long.”

I roll my eyes. He just laughs before he reaches into the pouch at his belt and tosses me a cake, still hot, wrapped in cloth. I catch it easily in one hand. My belly growls on cue.

Corian laughs again. “Look at you, nimble as a deer this morning.”

I shrug at him before biting down on the cake’s tender meat. Savory juices flood my mouth, along with the grit of minnow egg in the center. When I finish, I let out an exaggerated breath and grin. “Nimble and starving,” I answer him.

“‘Thank you for saving me breakfast, Corian’?” he suggests.

I gesture to him with greasy fingers. “You’re welcome for my company, Corian.”

All Strikers work in pairs. We are bonded until death from the moment we take our oath. Corian and I have trained together, have fought side by side, have been able to guess each other’s thoughts since we were twelve. I’m more a sister to him than his blood sisters. When I move, he watches my back. When I lead, he follows. I do the same for him in return. Our lives are intertwined, one indivisible from the other.

He is my Shield, what we call our Striker partner. I am his.

We’re a strange pairing. Corian and I have always been opposites in everything. He is the thirdborn—wen—son of the Barra family, one of the wealthiest in Newage. His appearance is golden in every way. When he laughs, he leans into it with his entire body, a constantly shifting mosaic of strong lines. It’s the kind of aura that you can’t help but be drawn toward. People buzz around him at holiday banquets, all eager to be seen chatting with him.

My full name is Talin Kanami. I’m a refugee from Basea, a nation south of Mara that fell to the Federation ten years ago. My skin is light brown, my eyes green and slender and long lashed, my hair so black that it shines blue, like a slick of oil in the light.

I’m proud of my Basean features, but many in Mara call refugees like me rats. The Maran Senate has banned us from serving in the Striker patrols. I’m here only because Corian asked the Firstblade to make an exception for me.

Now that we’ve eaten, Corian and I do our routine weapons check, making sure our blades are fresh and bullet chambers are loaded.

“Daggers,” he calls out.

I run my fingers against the hilts of mine, then tug once on the harnesses looped securely around my shoulders. We each carry a dozen daggers: six strapped across our chests in a bandolier; two against the harnesses around each thigh; and one tucked along each boot.

“Good,” I sign to him. “Blades.”

We simultaneously touch our hands to our two swords hung at the hips, then pull them out in unison and sheath them again with a flourish. Like the daggers, these are made of a near-indestructible metal, capable of slicing through almost anything.

I nod at his left blade. “Could use an extra polish, Corian,” I sign. “That edge is looking a little dull.”

“It’ll still cut a throat,” he replies. “I’ll sharpen it tonight.”

“Guns,” I move on.

We have two sniper pistols each, equipped with mufflers to silence them when they fire. A cloth bandolier running around my belt is full of bullets. Corian tosses me a few extra ones from his stash. I catch them and drop them into their slots.

“Bow,” he finishes. “Arrows.”

One crossbow each, strung across our backs, plus a light quiver of arrows, each cushioned with a fabric wrap to keep them from clanking against one another.

Finally, we check our