By Christina Dwivedi
My brother and I stood atop the highest hill in the land. A furious wind whipped my hair across my face. Despite the cold air, my forehead dripped with sweat from climbing the rocky slope. The Extinguisher wouldn’t stop me. In that year, my sixteenth year, I’d release the stars Adiya and Finuli to their rightful places in the galaxy.
For fifty years Adiya and Finuli had waited, their mass and brilliance each imprisoned inside a sterling pill box. They were smashed and stripped of dignity. These stars, who directed ancient travelers across seas and highlands and deserts, had been plucked from the heavens. The curse of The Extinguisher was enough to rip them down.
The Extinguisher himself pursued us on horseback. He was minutes from reaching our hilltop position. Behind him, his camp of soldiers was barely visible in the moonlight.
My brother and I had evaded The Extinguisher for two days. We raced on foot through cities and villages. We finally had use of horses to sprint to Golta Hill, thanks to the last village we passed. But The Extinguisher prepared and predicted our destination.
My grandfather had told us the story of how The Extinguisher trapped the two stars. And then, a generation was directionless, having put too much faith in star positions for their routes.
“Mari,” grandfather had said to me, “The blinding light was unimaginable. The earth rattled as that man brought down the stars. I don’t know how he did it. But our sky dimmed and our travels altered. We couldn’t use Adiya and Finuli to map our way. Maybe we were foolish to depend on the stars.”
On that day, The Extinguisher had declared, “Those who journey must pay for my knowledge. No longer will you depend on stars. No longer will you outrun my kingdom. The sea will not give you escape, and the desert offers you aimless death.”
But I hoped to put an end to it. If only my grandfather had been there to see it. He had endlessly researched breaking spells.
At the base of the hill, The Extinguisher’s horse pulled back. Large rocks hindered its way. But the horse was forced to keep moving. My brother Nikolas stepped in front to guard me, younger than I, but taller. He held a dagger in his right hand. He told me to hold the pill boxes and to release the stars myself, a great honor.
We had run away from home for the task. My mother wouldn’t have agreed to our departure.
We discovered the curse’s antidote only two days before, or we would’ve defeated The Extinguisher sooner. The hidden, ancient script said, “When more than a thousand willingly give a drop of their blood, and the last blood is taken on Golta Hill, a curse of your choice must break.”
Once the village scribe unearthed the text, we started our mission. First we were secretive, but then we traveled openly since we had little time to collect blood. We needed participation, and the belief that two youths could attempt such a feat.
But on the hill, a flicker of doubt crossed my mind. What if the stars never found their old place in the cosmos and all the blood taken was useless?
“Let’s do it now, Mari!” Nikolas yelled above the tempest of the wind. He reached into his sack for a large silver vial.
He nicked his smallest finger with the dagger to gather a drop of blood. I allowed him to pierce my index finger, squeezing until blood dripped out. We let our blood fall into a vial with the blood of over 1000 of our loved ones and neighbors, and even strangers, hoping it’d break the curse. Some who gave a drop were injured, or killed, while protecting us from The Extinguisher. We wouldn’t let their sacrifices be in vain. It was time to test the script.
I cupped my hands together, with the two pill boxes placed on my palms. My brother poured the vial’s blood over. I closed my eyes and wished for The Extinguisher’s curse to break.
My hands shook. The pill boxes snapped open and light blinded me. Wind whirled around and through me, deafening my ears.
Nikolas tugged my arms, shouting into my face, “Drop them!”
“No!” I couldn’t risk The Extinguisher snatching them.
I screamed as jolts of energy whizzed through me and lifted me off the ground. I glowed so brightly that I saw my internal organs light up. Red and blue coursed through my veins and arteries, and my anxious heart thumped. I thought I’d die. But it’d be worth it.
The star fire and gust spun me until I collapsed, filled with heat. The empty pill boxes tumbled to the grass and I saw Nikolas’ mouth moving, but I couldn’t hear him. All I heard were fiery whispers while Adiya and Finuli escaped into the sky. They spoke to me.
From now until the end of us, we will blaze brightest on day 261.
Nikolas reached to pull me up. A thick arm came from behind and caught Nikolas by the neck and slammed him to the ground. The Extinguisher was there. His sword was raised over my brother. I staggered to my feet.
Fire raged through me, and from somewhere on my body, it shot across the distance between me and The Extinguisher, burning a deep gash into his shoulder. He howled in pain and dropped his sword. Nikolas regained his footing, ran for the sword, and shoved the injured Extinguisher down the hillside.
I slumped in the dewy grass and gasped for air. My vision blurred before I only saw darkness.
What felt like days later, I heard a muffled voice. I couldn’t make out words or who they belonged to. I was warm, wrapped in something soft.
The voice became clearer. Mari. Mari.
“Mari!” Nikolas cried into my face.
I squinted my eyes open.
He smoothed down my black hair. “It’s morning. It’s over. The Extinguisher is dead.”
We were under a tree, but the morning sun shined onto my face. We were off the hill, in a grassy meadow with scattered trees. I propped up my aching body.
I had the strange desire to stare into the sun, and an impossible thing happened. I distinguished each golden flare coming off it with no strain on my eyes.
Nikolas cupped my face into his hands, pushing hair away from my face, and stared into my eyes. “What is this?”
“What’s wrong?” I whispered.
“Your eyes…they aren’t gray anymore,” he answered and then hesitated. “They hold golden fire from the stars.”
I thought of Adiya and Finuli. Another whisper filled my ears. We will call you The Star Guardian, for you released us to our homes.
And that is how, at age sixteen, I became the fire-throwing Star Guardian, defender of stars and protector of a navigating society.