When a shy girl and her dragon-like companion discover their country’s idyllic weather comes at a steep—and secret—cost, they recruit fellow students to defy authority and attempt to spread the truth.Storm beasts and their guardians create perfect weather every day, and Mina longs for a storm beast of her own. But when the gentle girl bonds with a lightning beast—a creature of fire and chaos—everyone’s certain it’s a mistake. Everyone but Mina and the beast himself, Pixit. Quickly enrolled in lightning school, Mina struggles to master a guardian’s skills, and she discovers that her country's weather comes at a devastating cost—a cost powerful people wish to hide. Mina’s never been the type to speak out, but someone has to tell the truth, and, with Pixit’s help, she resolves to find a way to be heard.
About the Author
Sarah Beth Durst is the author of fantasy novels for children, teens, and adults. Winner of the Mythopoeic Award and an ALA Alex Award and thrice nominated for the Andre Norton Award for YA Science Fiction and Fantasy, she lives in New York. Visit her online at www.sarahbethdurst.com and on Twitter @sarahbethdurst.
Read an Excerpt
Mina was quiet. Every morning, she liked to tuck herself into the corner of their farmhouse kitchen and watch her family storm through: Papa singing off-key as he poured sugar into the pot of oats, Mother yelling at him to add less sugar, Papa yelling back cheerfully that he could add more but not less because he was just that sweet, her older brother, Gaton, stomping in to say he couldn’t find his socks, Papa joking that he’d added them to the morning oats, and the twins waddling in with Gaton’s socks on their hands like puppets. And every morning, after her family had whirled tornado-like into the kitchen, Papa would bellow, “Mina! Mina? Is Mina awake? Anyone seen Mina?” Giggling, the twins would wave their sock puppets at the corner where she perched quietly on her favorite chair. He’d clap his hands to his bearded cheeks dramatically, making the twins giggle even harder. “I thought that was a shadow! No one eats until my little shadow eats.” And then Papa would scoop the biggest, sugariest, best scoop of oatmeal into a bowl and give it to Mina before Gaton could inhale the rest and before the twins could spill any of it on the floor. “Love you, Papa,” she’d say. “Love you, Mina,” he’d say, and wink. She’d always been quiet. She’d been born without a cry on a peaceful night when the stars over their family farm sparkled brighter than usual, or so her mother liked to say. Mina didn’t think that was very likely. She’d been in the next room when the twins were born, and she knew babies were not quiet. Ever. Even when they slept, they made cute, gurgling chirps. But she let Mother tell the story how she wanted. It was probably close enough to true. Most mornings, Mina would eat in her favorite corner and listen to her family chatter and laugh. She liked the way the sounds flowed around her. It felt warm, as though her family were tucking a cozy blanket of babble around her, and she loved that they never pushed her to add to the noise. But this morning, Mina had news. So she finished her oats, carried her bowl to the sink, and stood in front of the table. This was unusual enough that Mother shushed Gaton, the twins quit smearing their breakfast on their cheeks, and Papa scraped his chair across the wood floor as he turned to look at her. She liked to think this was one of the secrets about being quiet: when you finally speak, everyone assumes you have something important to say. And I do, she thought. “I think my egg is going to hatch soon,” Mina said. It was as if she’d dropped a teaspoon of water into a skillet of boiling oil. Everyone popped up and began jabbering at once. From Mother: “Are you sure?” From Gaton: “Are you nervous? Don’t be nervous!” From the twins: “Yay! Yay! Yay, Mina!” From Papa: “We’re so proud of you!” She grinned at them all. Mina had a storm-beast egg. One in four kids in Alorria was awarded care of one of the country’s precious eggs and tasked with bonding to the unborn creature. For two years, she had devoted three hours a day to her egg, being sure to touch its shell so the growing beast could absorb her thoughts and feelings. If she’d done this correctly, then when it hatched, it would come out as a perfect match for her, and they’d be bonded mind-to-mind and heart-to-heart. She’d be its storm guardian, and it would be her storm beast. Storm beasts and their guardians were responsible for making Alorria as perfect as it was. Every day in Alorria, you woke to a blue sky. You felt warm air and a soft breeze. Sometimes you saw a rainbow, but only when the farmers asked for rain on their fields. Wind gusted over the sea, but only when the sailors needed it to sail their boats. Snow fell on the mountain peaks, but never below the tree line. Lightning never struck the ground and was instead harvested from the clouds to power the city’s magnificent machines. And there had never been a tornado or a hurricane. All thanks to the storm beasts and their guardians. Soon I’ll be one of them, a real storm guardian! Just thinking that made Mina want to do a little dance. Quietly, of course. She’d been anticipating this day for two years. Longer, really. Long before Gaton got his egg, as soon as Mina had been old enough to read stories about storm guardians, she’d wanted to be one of them—to be out there, making the world more wonderful. She felt as if she’d been waiting for this all twelve years of her life. “She’s going to hatch a sun beast,” Gaton declared. He pounded his fist on the breakfast table for emphasis. The bowls rattled, causing the twins to giggle again. “Are you willing to bet on that?” Mother asked, a twinkle in her eye. “Three weeks of cleaning the chicken coop without complaining if I win?” “And three weeks of not milking the goats if I win,” Gaton countered. “Deal.” Mother held out her hand. “Deal!” Gaton said. They shook to seal the bet. Maybe I shouldn’t hope for a sun beast, just to see Gaton clean the coop. Mina made a soft clucking sound, which one of the twins, Rinna, immediately imitated, twice as loud. “Mina isn’t half as lazy as you are,” Mother teased Gaton, as soon as they’d shaken. “She’ll hatch a rain beast for certain.” The other twin, Beon, clapped his pudgy hands. “Wind beast! Wind! Wind!” All of them turned to study Mina, and Mina tried to not squirm under their gazes. She didn’t like being stared at, even by her family. Even if it was kindly meant, it made her feel like a bug about to be squished. Sensing her discomfort, Beon wrapped his arms around her leg and squeezed. Mina ruffled his hair in thanks. “Not wind,” Papa said thoughtfully. “She’s too steady.” “Exactly!” Gaton said. “She’s dependable. Her beast will be a sun beast.” I do want a sun beast. Sun beasts and their guardians were responsible for maintaining the endless summery temperature in Alorria and for beaming any excess sunlight onto crops to make them grow faster. Gaton had hatched a sun beast three years ago. His beast’s power would be fading soon—once a storm beast finished growing to full size, it lost its ability to control the weather—and he’d said several times that he wanted his little sister to take over his work in the local fields. Sometimes Mina thought she’d like spending her days the way Gaton did, out in the fields, drawing in and dispersing the sun’s energy over the crops. Because of the storm beasts and their guardians, everyone in Alorria always had enough to eat. But I also want a rain beast. Or a wind beast. Flying on a wind beast would be amazing! She’d spent hours imagining herself with different kinds of beasts. All of them had a role in making Alorria great. “I’ll be happy with any kind of beast,” Mina said. “I wanna snow beast,” Rinna announced. “So I can throw snowballs at Beon all the time.” Mina smiled as Beon and Rinna stuck their tongues out at each other. Neither of them had ever so much as seen a snowball, but lately Mother and Papa had been telling the twins lots of tales about the different kinds of storm beasts, in preparation for Mina’s egg hatching. Altogether, there were five kinds of storm beasts: sun, rain, wind, snow, and lightning. Any egg could hatch any kind of beast—how the creature developed depended on the personality of the girl or boy who’d taken care of its egg. What it absorbed from them shaped how it grew. Years ago, Papa had hatched a rain beast, and Gaton had his sun beast. Mina thought of her egg upstairs. I can’t wait to meet you! Soon she’d see which of her daydreams were going to come true. Lately, she’d been hoping for a wind beast, because she loved wind days so much—in fact, today was a wind day: “Shouldn’t we be getting ready?” she asked when they paused for breath. “Yes, we should! Good of you to remember,” Papa said, jolted out of his contemplation of Mina’s future. “The wind should start in about twenty minutes.” “See?” Gaton said. “She’s responsible. Sun beast.” “You do look out for everyone,” Papa said to Mina with a proud smile. “You’re going to be a wonderful guardian.” “I hope so,” Mina said softly. With all my heart, I hope he’s right! Mother clapped her hands. “Okay, let’s move!” Everyone sprang up from the breakfast table and scurried to help clean, chattering all the while about what kind of beast would hatch, how wonderful it all was, and how, regardless of the bet, her brother would have to take over all Mina’s chores, including the chicken coop, once she started training. Groaning, Gaton said, “Maybe it would be better if your egg didn’t hatch soon.” Mina laughed. She left her bowl on the rack to dry, nestled against the other bowls, and then went outside. The screen door banged behind her as Mother called, “Mina, get the kites!” Mina waved so Mother would know she’d heard. The farm sparkled in the morning sun. The fields stretching out before her shimmered with dewy leaves that waved in the soft breeze. As always, it was a beautiful day. Orli, Papa’s old rain beast, was flying above the farmhouse, her wings stretched wide. She was dragon-shaped, like all storm beasts, but had the beautiful blue color that marked her as a rain beast. Her chest was covered in shimmering blue scales, and her wings were blue feathers, every kind of blue in the sky from pale morning yellow-blue to deep storm blue-gray. Mina imagined herself flying on a rain beast, guiding the water that would soak the fields or fill the reservoirs. It must feel amazing to bring the rain! “Gaton!” Mother called, sticking her head out the kitchen window. “Have you secured the wheat seeds? We can’t let the wind blow them away!” Gaton called back from within the corn, close to the house but not visible behind the stalks. “Already done, Mother!” Standing up on her tiptoes, Mina looked for her brother and saw the sunset-red glow of his beast, Arde, between the rows. A fat dragon, Arde didn’t fly often. He spent most of his days with Gaton out in the fields, soaking up the sun’s rays and then distributing them to whatever farm needed them the most. He also liked to chirp at passing birds. He had the silliest chirp for a beast his size. Not that I’d ever tell Gaton that, Mina thought. Gaton adored his beast. “You’ll adore yours, too,” he’d told her once. “You’ll see. You can’t help it. Your beast will hatch, and it will feel like you’ve always known each other.” She wanted that so badly that it sometimes felt like an ache. Hatch soon! She’d always thought of herself as patient—Papa called her “steady”—but now all her dreams were so close . . . “Mina!” Mother again. “Stop daydreaming, and get the kites!” Quickly Mina retrieved the kites from the shed and hurried around the house to where Papa was already hooking the twins up to the posts. If you wanted to be outside on a day when the wind guardians and their beasts swept across the farmlands, you had to secure yourself. It wasn’t strictly necessary, since the winds were never truly dangerous—not the way they were beyond the mountains—but if you weren’t used to feeling any wind, you could get knocked off your feet. The twins were giggling and squirming as Papa tried to attach their harnesses. “Rinna, stop that!” Papa was saying. “Beon, don’t chew on the rope. You’re not a puppy.” “Arf! Arf! Arf!” Beon barked. Joining Papa, Mina handed the twins their kites, and they clutched them to their chests. She tied the ends of their kite strings to the posts. Papa at last clicked the harnesses into place and heaved a sigh of relief. “Papa, I have to go pee,” Rinna announced. Mina smothered a grin. I should have bet Gaton she’d say that. Papa’s shoulders slumped, and he banged his forehead lightly on the post. “Can you hold it?” Mother breezed past on her way to the porch. “No, she can’t. She’s too excited. Unhook her, take her in, and hook her back up. Beon, stop eating the rope. You’ll ruin your supper.” “Arf!” he said to her. “Woof! Woof!” Mother barked back. Mina whispered to Beon, “Meow.” Beon giggled so hard that he stopped chewing on the rope. “I’ll watch him,” Mina told Papa. Papa kissed her on the head. “You’re my sweet girl. Don’t forget to secure yourself. I heard from the message balloon that this one’s going to be spectacular.” He quickly freed Rinna and shepherded her into the house. Beon laughed and meowed as Mina clipped on her own harness and then showed him how to unravel the end of his kite string. Before today, the twins had been too little to be outside for a wind day, and now Papa had made the twins’ first kites—simple diamond shapes, decorated with the symbol for their family’s farm. Hers was more elaborate—on both sides she’d painted pictures of the mountains that bordered Alorria, as well as their family’s sign. The wind guardians used the kites to help them navigate.Every wind day, all the farmers flew kites so the fast-flying guardians could distinguish one farm from another. It was tradition. Also, it’s fun, Mina thought. A few minutes later, Papa rushed back with Rinna in his arms and attached her harness. “Papa,” Beon said, “I have to—” Papa leveled a finger at his nose. “No. You don’t.” Beon giggled again. From the kitchen window, Mother called, “Mina, did you shut your window? You don’t want the wind blowing dirt on your egg!” Of course she had. “Yes, it’s shut,” Mina said. Mother leaned farther out, trying to see Mina’s window. “What did you say? Speak louder!” Bells began to ring, a cascade of notes that reverberated over the hills. The wind guardians would be here soon! “It’s almost time!” Papa called. “Where’s Gaton?” Emerging from the cornfields, Gaton jogged toward them. “Right here, and I can see Mina’s window—it’s definitely closed! Tornadoes take us if anything were to happen to her unborn sun beast.” But he winked at Mina so she’d know he wasn’t serious. “It will be a rain beast!” Mother called as she disappeared from the window, closing the shutters behind her. “Snow beast!” Rinna cried. Looking up at her bedroom window, Mina thought, I’ll love you whatever you are! Just hatch soon! Mother emerged outside and hurried across the yard. “It won’t be a snow beast. Mina isn’t creative enough. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, Mina. You’ve plenty of strengths. You’re responsible, mature, thoughtful.” Not creative? “I love to draw,” Mina said softly. “And you’re very good at it,” Papa said to her. She beamed. He grumped at Mother, “Mina’s plenty creative! Look at what a pretty kite she made.” “I wanna pretty kite,” Rinna said. “Mina, make me a pretty kite! Papa, tell Mina to make me a pretty kite! Please, please, please!” “Me too!” Beon shouted. “I’m sure Mina will help you both make pretty kites for the next wind day, if you ask her nicely,” Papa said, and Mina saw his pleading expression. She hid a smile and looked sternly at the twins as if she thought they were incapable of asking for anything nicely. Rinna yelped, “I said please!” Mina opened her mouth to say yes, but Mother was already talking. “Of course she’ll help you, but you must promise to help her with her chores whenever she asks. And you mustn’t bother her when she’s with her egg. You understand why? Beast and guardian need to bond.” Beon and Rinna chorused, “Yes, Mother.” The bells tolled louder, chiming all together now in a mess of notes. Giggling, the twins clapped their hands over their ears. Mina held tightly to her kite. Beneath the bells, she could hear it: the wind. It had its own voice, a roar that steadily grew louder. Before them, the cornstalks swayed, gently at first and then harder, until they were pitched at an angle. Mina felt the wind lift her hair, and she heard the twins squeal excitedly. “Ready?” Papa shouted. Ready, Mina thought. “Ready!” her family shouted. Each of them unspooled their kite string. As the wind blew, it lifted their kites into the air. Mina released her string faster and faster, and her kite rose. The ribbon tail flapped in the breeze. The kites danced in the sky, and the twins shrieked with delight. Mina laughed out loud as hers dodged and swooped. The colors were brilliant against the blue, and she felt the tug on the string as if the sky wanted to run away with her kite. Beside her, Papa was twisting the two strings that held his kite so it would dive beneath the others, then rise up above them. Gaton’s kite was wobbling in the air, and he unspooled more string. Mina guided hers higher and higher. Soon she heard voices carried on the wind: the wind guardians on their beasts. Holding her kite steady, Mina watched the sky. And there they were! The wind beasts were silver dragons with white feathery wings and brilliant, sparkling antlers like deer. They flew in loops and spirals through the air between Mina’s family’s kites, while their guardians called to one another, shouting and laughing. Dozens of them flew overhead, flocking like shimmering birds, and Mina knew that hundreds of them were spread all across the farmlands, on their way to the bay to carry the fishing boats out into the deeper ocean. They’d remain with the boats for the rest of the fishing season. But today is our wind day! Mina thought as she flew her kite higher. With her free hand, she waved to the wind guardians. Very soon, I’ll be flying too.