Heir to the sky, p.1
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       Heir to the Sky, p.1

           Amanda Sun
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Heir to the Sky


  As heir to a kingdom of floating continents, Kali has spent her life bound by limits: by her duties as a member of the royal family, by a forced betrothal to the son of a nobleman, and by the edge of the only world she’s ever known—a small island hovering above a monster-ridden earth, long since uninhabited by humans. She is the Eternal Flame of Hope for what’s left of mankind, the wick and the wax burning in service for her people, and for their revered Phoenix, whose magic keeps them aloft.

  When Kali falls off the edge of her kingdom and miraculously survives, she is shocked to discover there are still humans on the earth. Determined to get home, Kali entrusts a rugged monster-hunter named Griffin to guide her across a world overrun by chimera, storm dragons, basilisks and other terrifying creatures. But the more time she spends on earth, the more dark truths she begins to uncover about her home in the sky, and the more resolute she is to start burning for herself.

  I dangle my legs over the edge of the cliff, tapping my heels against the smooth dirt that crumbles down the side of the continent. I don’t fear falling. The world below looks unreal and distant, like it’s only been painted on. Falling is something I can’t even imagine.

  How many monsters run freely down there now? Thousands? Millions? Sometimes you can see something soaring below the clouds, larger than a bird but too far to distinguish its shape. From here the forests below look quiet, fake and imagined. The shadow of our continent blots out the sunlight for what must be miles across the infested landscape, but from here I can only see the edge of the darkness.

  PRAISE FOR INK

  “An enjoyable peek at a world very different from America, yet inhabited by people whose hearts are utterly familiar.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “Special.”

  —VOYA

  “The work of a master storyteller.”

  —Julie Kagawa, New York Times bestselling author of The Iron Fey series

  “A modern day fairy tale.”

  —Amber Benson of TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and author of The Witches of Echo Park

  PRAISE FOR RAIN

  “Takes readers on a brilliant and tense ride. Sun continues to impress with her witty dialogue, smooth plot and lovable characters.... A must read!”

  —RT Book Reviews, Top Pick

  AMANDA SUN was born in Deep River, a small town where she could escape into the surrounding forest to read. An archaeologist by training, her intense fear of spiders keeps her indoors, where she writes novels instead. She will write your name in Egyptian hieroglyphic if you ask, though. The Paper Gods is inspired by her time living in Osaka and traveling throughout Japan. She currently lives in Toronto, where she keeps busy knitting companion cubes, gaming and sewing costumes for anime conventions. Ink, her first novel, was released to critical acclaim, and was a Kids’ Indie Next Pick and a Chapters Indigo Top Teen Pick, and was followed by Rain a year later. Visit her on the web at www.amandasunbooks.com and on Twitter: @Amanda_Sun.

  Books by Amanda Sun

  available from Harlequin TEEN

  The Paper Gods series

  (in reading order):

  Shadow (ebook novella)

  Ink

  Rain

  Storm

  Rise (ebook novella)

  HEIR TO THE SKY

  Amanda Sun

  www.harlequinbooks.com.au

  For Alice, who traveled every step of this journey with me.

  Contents

  CHAPTER ONE

  CHAPTER TWO

  CHAPTER THREE

  CHAPTER FOUR

  CHAPTER FIVE

  CHAPTER SIX

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  CHAPTER NINE

  CHAPTER TEN

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  CHAPTER TWELVE

  CHAPTER THIRTEEN

  CHAPTER FOURTEEN

  CHAPTER FIFTEEN

  CHAPTER SIXTEEN

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

  CHAPTER NINETEEN

  CHAPTER TWENTY

  CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

  CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

  CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

  CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

  CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  ONE

  THE ROCK BRIDGE is the most dangerous part of the climb, and so I lower myself to my hands and knees to crawl along it. On either side of the sparse grass, the layers of slippery rock spread out like frail wings of stone. They look like they will support my weight, but I know a single step on them and they’ll crumble, tumbling toward the earth far below Ashra, falling endlessly until they disappear from sight.

  I used to throw flower petals over the edge of this floating continent to see how long I could track them, to see how far the fall really was, down to the mossy green and blue blurs of the world below. The blossoms would float on the wind, tumbling round and sometimes blowing back onto the outcrop, clinging to the silvery stone as if they, too, were afraid of falling.

  I take another step, cursing these slippery red shoes on my feet. There’s no fence out here like there is around the village of Ulan. There’s no reason for one. No one ever comes out this far, past the borders of Ulan and the farmlands, past the citadel and the landing pitch and the great white statue of the Phoenix, May She Rise Anew. This part of Ashra is too rocky to develop or inhabit, too sheer and dangerous to trespass like much of the continent to the northwest and the east. And so it is its own lonely wall, one that keeps out the masses and invites solitude.

  The soft sole of my right shoe scrapes against the bare grass that clings to the edge of the outcrop, and I stumble forward, my fingertips clinging to the jagged rocks. The wind tangles in my hair as I look up. A bird is soaring alongside the edge of rock; some kind of gull, I think. His white wings are outstretched as he easily rides the current, dipping and diving gently as his head tilts, and his beady eye stares at me.

  “Don’t worry.” I laugh at him. “I can make it.” I pull myself onto the outcrop one arm after another. My shoe finds traction again, and I heave myself up onto the soft, rich grass, the danger of the rock bridge finally past.

  I take a breath and stand, brushing the gray dust from my scarlet robe, the golden tassels of my rope belt swaying in the wind.

  A clearing of emerald green spreads out to the edge of the continent, a flowery field bursting with rich and vibrant color clinging so close to the edge. The fireweed blazes purple and red, the poppies burn with searing blue and fiery orange pistils. It’s why I climb up here, why I risk everything to be here. It’s a floating luminous realm for one.

  The gull caws into the gust of wind as I step toward the edge. If I reach out, I could touch his outspread wing. Instead I look down past the tips of my shoes, past the sheer edge of Ashra. The view down to the earth is dizzying. It looks like a world of mottled green and blue, what little I can see of it. The clouds blot out most of the view as always, leaving the earth a mystery.

  It’s hard to believe we ever lived down there, trolling the dregs of that land like the bottom of a dark ocean. But the annals say we did, those dusty leather-bound tomes in the citadel library that almost no one reads but me. No one wants to remember; it’s too painful to think of what we’ve lost.

  Oceans are another piece of earth knowledge left over in the annals. We have a deep, cold lake on Ashra—Lake Agur—that during the season of rains spills over the edge of our fl
oating island in a thin waterfall of azure and foam tumbling toward the earth. The current is dangerous, and the citizens of Ulan are forbidden from swimming in it, but we all do anyway, in the southern swell where the current is weak and the waterfall is far away. Streams flow into the river like veins into a heart from all across the continent.

  Ashra is a small island, compared to the earth stretching below that doesn’t seem to have an edge to it. Our home in the sky is maybe three days’ walk from edge to edge, longer than it is wide, but no one bothers to go past the farmlands, and the farthest I’ve been allowed is to camp in the northern outlands with Elisha. My father would notice if I went farther, although one of these days I might just slip away and traverse it anyway.

  Lake Agur is a closer option for a quick day of youthful rebellion, but you can always see the borders of the sparkling expanse, and the world around you never grows very dark when you swim to the bottom. You can always see the sun glittering above you, even if it takes several minutes for you to surface.

  There’s a rustling in the grass, and I turn. A pika stumbles through the blades. He is half rabbit, half mouse, a sprig of fireweed clenched between his teeth. He blinks, maybe surprised to see someone this far out of Ulan.

  “I didn’t mean to disturb you,” I say, and his nose twitches, the fireweed sticking up at an angle as he tries to stuff another piece into his greedy mouth.

  I smooth my red dress beneath me as I sit down, the pika scurrying off with his prize. I dangle my legs over the edge of the cliff, tapping my heels against the smooth dirt that crumbles down the side of the continent. The sun shines brightly above, the cool morning air gusting around me. I don’t fear falling. The world below looks unreal and distant, like it’s only been painted on. Falling is something I can’t even imagine.

  How many monsters run freely down there now? Thousands? Millions? Sometimes you can see something soaring below the clouds, larger than a bird but too far to distinguish its shape. From here the forests of earth below look quiet, fake and imagined. The shadow of our continent blots out the sunlight for what must be miles across the infested landscape. When Ashra lifted into the sky, it left behind a dark and jagged chasm in the earth the annals call the shadowlands. None of us know much about it, of course, whether it’s completely in darkness or what might lurk in those caverns and crevices. From here I can only see the edge of the darkness.

  “Kali!” A voice shouts, and it startles me. I lurch forward, digging the palms of my hands into the grass as my heart catches in my throat. My shoe falls from my foot as I tense, and it tumbles toward the suddenly real forest miles below as I gasp in the cool air, gripping the blades of grass with shaking fingers. Slowly, carefully, I slide back from the edge, pulling my legs underneath me. The slipper looks like the back of a sunbird now, small and crimson as it dives toward the mystery below. I stare at my bare foot. What am I going to tell my father?

  “Kali!” the voice calls again. I take another breath and stand, walking back toward the outcrop. The pika is nowhere to be seen, and the blades of grass tickle against my sole.

  I see her right away, her hands cupped around her mouth as she leans over the base of the rock bridge up to my realm of one. “Elisha!” I shout down. “You nearly sent me tumbling over the edge!”

  “You’re being dramatic,” she says. Her black curly hair is pulled back with a looping purple ribbon, her cream tunic fluttering over her olive slacks. “You do realize the ceremony starts in half an hour, right?”

  I sigh, looking down at my bare foot.

  “So?” she says, resting her hands on the front of her legs. “Let’s go!”

  “One minute,” I say, and I turn around to the burst of wildflowers for one last moment before I start down the steep outcrop. The jagged edges of rock slice against the sole of my foot as I climb, the dust gathering on the front of my dress.

  “What happened to your shoe?” she asks.

  “I lost it when you yelled at me,” I say to the rock surface. You’d think Elisha would worry about distracting me on this narrow rock bridge, but she knows I’ve climbed it a hundred times. She thinks I’m as invincible as I do.

  “So you’re going to do the ceremony in one shoe?” She giggles. “I’m sure the Elders won’t notice.”

  “If they do, you’re the one who’ll be in trouble.”

  “Sure,” she says, rolling her eyes. We both know I’m the one who gets in trouble, even when it’s her fault.

  My feet finally touch the long grasses at the bottom of the outcrop, and I push myself upright.

  “Ashes, your dress,” she says, and then her hands are all over my robe, trying to wipe off the dusty grains of rock embedded in the fabric.

  I laugh. “They do look like ashes. Maybe I’ll get bonus points for authenticity.”

  Elisha rolls her eyes. “Let’s hope you rise anew when Aban kills you.”

  “Blasphemy,” I tease in Aban’s deep voice, and we both snicker as the wind gusts at our clothes and hair.

  Then the bell tolls in Ulan, and the smirks drop from our faces.

  “Come on,” Elisha says, grabbing my hand. We run toward the village and the citadel, standing proudly in the distance, its tower made entirely of blue crystal.

  Elisha is the only one who knows the real me. We’ve been friends since I wandered into Ulan when I was three and deathly bored. Her family lives in the village, and I visit often. The population is smaller now after the Rending, so hierarchy doesn’t mean as much as it did in ancient times. But my father is still heralded as the Monarch, and he insists on some amount of pomp and display. He says it settles people to know someone’s in charge. They feel at ease knowing there’s someone noble and dignified watching over them, whose life is dedicated to serving them and their best interests. So I carry on all removed and dignified in front of the villagers, and it’s only Elisha who sees me for who I really am—another girl, like her, who wants to pull funny faces and drop buckets of water on the Elders and climb the outcrops of Ashra. A girl who wants to squelch handfuls of sand at the bottom of Lake Agur and come up just as her lungs are bursting. Someone who’s free, who flies through the wind like a sunbird or a butterfly. Someone like Elisha.

  But that isn’t who I get to be. I’m Princess Kallima, daughter of the Monarch, heiress of the Red Plume and all of Ashra. The Eternal Flame of Hope for what’s left of mankind.

  I’m the wick and the wax, my father always tells me. I must burn for others, even if it means I will burn and crumble for those whose path I light. “We cannot return to those dark days,” he says, and I know he’s right, but it doesn’t mean I always like it.

  The dusty sand of the roadway feels hard and cool against my bare sole as we run toward the citadel. A hum grows louder in the distance, the vibration echoing through me as we hurry. It seems too far away as I gasp more air into my lungs.

  A dark shadow casts over us, an oval of darkness on the ground that moves faster than we can keep up with. I glance around the blue sky and see it, the wooden belly of the airship as it creaks and hums its way past us. The gears on the sides spin and the plum-colored balloon wobbles back and forth in what little breeze there is, but it’s the humming engine that keeps it moving through the air toward the landing pitch.

  “What were you thinking?” Elisha huffs beside me as we run. “The Elite Guard’s already arriving. You could’ve gone to the edge of Ashra after the ceremony.”

  I open my mouth to answer, but no answer comes. She’s right, but I’d thought I could escape for just a moment, just freeze time and not have to face all of this.

  A momentary thought. A dream snapped in two like the pika’s fireweed sprigs.

  “At least you’ll get to see him again,” she teases, but the guilt comes over her face as I don’t smile back. “I’m sorry,” she says, regretting it right away.

  I
shake my head. “Jonash isn’t awful.” And he isn’t. But he’s not my choice, either.

  We hurry on, the citadel feeling like it’s never closer. We stop a few times to catch our breath, and I look down at my foot, smudged black from the dusty roadway.

  A chime sounds through the clearing, and Elisha and I exchange worried looks. The bells are already ringing. Is it that late? She reaches for my hand and pulls me along the path, toward the bells chiming in the gleaming crystal tower of the citadel.

  Maybe Aban will burn me alive, after all.

  We finally reach the side of the stone building, and two of the Elder Initiates are there, straightening their robes and tying red rope belts around their waists. They look up in alarm as we stumble toward them.

  “Kallima,” one of them says, his brown hair slicked back and his sandals scraping against the dirt. “I thought you’d be inside already.”

  I pant. “Did Aban start already?”

  He nods. “The Elite Guard arrived ten minutes ago. Elder Aban’s already reading from the annals.” Soot and ashes. I’m doomed.

  “Your Highness,” the other says, a dark woman whose golden earrings swing back and forth as she reaches out her hand. I take her hand and she pulls me up the stairs into the citadel.

  “Good luck,” Elisha shouts, and then the world around me is dark and silent, closed in by the shadows of the palace hallways.

  TWO

  I HAVE A momentary wish that the Initiate would pull me toward the northern hallways, toward the arched ceilings of the library and the rows of annals themselves. I’d rather bury myself in there, surrounded by piles of books, than face the crowds of the Rending Ceremony. But my absence wouldn’t go unnoticed, so there’s nothing to do but follow her toward the south of the building instead, into a great room lit by candles and chandeliers of glass, where my father stands with his arms outstretched like a scarecrow. Three attendants are crouched around him, straightening his robe, fastening his ceremonial gilded sword and buttoning the endless gleaming buttons of his official Rending Ceremony costume.

 
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