Starstruck Saga #4
by S.E. Anderson
Welcome to day one of the Celestial Blog Tour! In just one week, book 4 of the Starstruck Saga will hit the shelves, and Sally’s next big adventure will be revealed. And It’s promising to be more exciting (and weird) than ever before! To start off the week, I’ll be sharing with you the entire first chapter of the upcoming book. Be sure to visit the bloggers every day for more cool and exclusive Celestial goodies!
Spoiler warning if you haven’t read the first three books yet.
Sally, Zander, and Blayde, accompanied by their new friend Nim, have only one request: no more bizarre distractions on their hunt for Earth.
But before their cells can complete a single jump, the team is shoved off course and crash into a dreary old temple. Worse yet, there seems to be some confusion over Sally’s face, as it looks exactly like that the local deity, Selena, goddess of the moon and omniscient absentee. Sally’s ticking every box on the ancient prophecies checklist.
Fresh off of her meds and riding the withdrawal, and Sally must choose between embracing the role of Goddess so as to protect the planet from mysterious Sky People, or being thrown in a Volcano. Not the best way to start a tropical vacation. It’s not going to be easy uniting warring factions, dealing with excitable whispering forests, or fighting both literal and figurative demons. Not to mention keeping up the appearance of divinity when all Sally wants is a nap.
Armed only with some high school improv’ classes and a basic knowledge of foreign pop songs, Sally must save the planet – before everything goes up in flames.
SALLY WEBBER AND THE TEMPLE OF DEATH
The day I ran out of Prozac, I landed in the Temple of Death, which is the worst possible way to start an adventure. Then again, I wasn’t looking for adventure; I was looking for home and the temple got in the way. Buildings like that crave attention.
It started off as all good adventures do: with a sense of excitement and endless possibilities. Zander and Blayde, two immortals I somehow got to call my friends, Nim the boy we had partially kidnapped and partially rescued from a literal bubble society, ande—all four of us holding hands on the ship we had just saved, ready to be whisked away to another world, with me silently hoping it would be Earth. I was prepared for the interstellar atom shredder that was Zander’s jump, a method of crossing space in the blink of an eye, though your eyes can’t blink when they’re particles on a cosmic wind.
The second my being was opened to the immensity of the universe, I was filled with a sense of meaninglessness. It was so powerful it made me want to shrivel up and out of existence. I felt empty. I felt lost. And yet—through all this—I felt like I was part of something bigger, something I could not yet comprehend.
Nothing compared to the first jump—the feeling of bliss that had come from being dragged through the rips in the universe, becoming one with everything around me—nor the pain of having it taken away again. Every jump since was easier, a smaller taste of those feelings, as I learned not to give myself up so entirely or so easily.
But none of those jumps had a temple in the way. Out of nowhere there was a shove, and just like that I was lying on cold stone, my head spinning.
I had never felt something physical in the space between the stars. I had never experienced anything other than the whole ‘not being me’ part. And how had I run out of breath when I hadn’t stopped breathing?
I groaned and pushed myself up to sit. The world around me was dark, the air smelling heavily of mildew and mold. I clutched my chest, willing the pressure to dissipate, but the tightness grew.
“Arms … fingers … head, toes, shoulders, and shit, everything’s here,” I said as soon as my mouth allowed it. My body trembled from the shock and the pain. I had to calm down. I had to get my body straight.
And there was no answer.
My eyesight took an eternity to return. Fingers of nothingness pressed against my eyelids. It was so dark I couldn’t see my hands in front of my face. I couldn’t see anything. I couldn’t hear anything. Or maybe the room was windowless, lightless, everything-else-less.
I wondered, for a second, if I was still floating in the in-between space of the universe, if this was what death was like. The idea of being dead scared me a whole lot less than the thought of being alone.
I forced myself to my feet, my muscles screaming as if I had just run a marathon. Before I could even take a step, my stomach decided it was time to announce itself and I threw up.
Dang. I thought I had gotten the hang of jumping without retching. It’s never a good way to start the day.
“Hello?” No answer. “Zander? Blayde?” Still nothing. “Nim?”
Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
I pushed my hair from my clammy face. First things first, I needed light. Then I needed to find my friends—assuming they were nearby.
I shuddered at the thought of where else they could be. Halfway across the galaxy, perhaps, with no way of reaching me.
My trusty iPod was in my pocket, and I pulled it out, turning on the flashlight and scanning my surroundings. The chamber was about the same size as my living room back on Earth, though entirely empty. Every wall was carved stone, and the air inside was stale but damp, with a definite salty smell and a hint of rotting fish. Lichen grew on the walls, adding a nice touch of green to the place. That explained the smell but nothing else.
The ceiling was too high for my light to reach, so either it was way up there or my iPod sucked.
This wasn’t a cave; it was man-made. Or intelligently made. I wasn’t too sure on the nomenclature.
Panic rose in my chest, and I focused on breathing, forcing it back down. An attack right now wouldn’t help in the slightest. My control over my panic attacks was tentative but growing stronger. I was confident I could keep it at bay until I found Blayde and my meds.
“Is there anybody out there?”
I hadn’t expected a response, and I didn’t get one. My voice barely bounced off the walls; the chamber was that tight. I flashed the beam of light across the walls, desperate for a door. The room seemed smaller, closing in on me, suffocating me.
I had to get out. Now.
A new kind of fear filled me. One that threw me back to the look on Zander’s face after I had run him over all those years ago. To the terror of being abandoned in a place he did not know, alone, with no idea where his sister was. This chamber could have been anywhere in the universe for all I knew, and I was alone.
And then my beam landed on something that made every drop of blood in my veins retreat. Because there on the wall, in nice bold, excited letters, were three words I never thought I would see on the wall of a mysterious stone chamber.
Welcome, Sally Webber.
“Sally? Are you in here?”
Zander’s voice shattered my thoughts. Relief coursed through my bones, and I rushed forward. He had been holding my hand when we jumped, leading me through space until the terrifying shove had ripped us apart.
“Zander?” I sputtered, stretching out my hands.
“Sal! Hold on! I’ll get you out.”
The stones before me quivered and then slid away. The door had been hidden in the features of the wall. Now that it was in motion, it was so evident that I could have smacked myself for not seeing it.
And there he was: my immortal friend, complete with gravity-defying hair slick with dust and sweat, his skin tinted blue in the light of my flashlight. I flew at him, desperate for his reassurance.
“Zander,” I said again, giddy with relief. I breathed in deeply, filling my lungs with mildewy air. “What happened?”
“I don’t know.” He touched his hand lightly to my cheek before pulling away again. Three words I hadn’t expected to hear. “I haven’t found Blayde yet, or Nimien.”
“But what happened?” I repeated. “The jump? That . . . push.”
“Let’s find Blayde.”
My heart dropped. Zander rarely avoided a question, not without a witty remark to distract me. He wasn’t even trying to cover up his terror; something had gone terribly wrong.
The outside of the chamber looked the same as the inside: more stone, more lichen, no light. How Zander had navigated his way through without a torch was beyond me. He picked a direction seemingly at random, and I followed him, keeping my little iPod light on. This would kill what was left of my battery, and there probably wasn’t an Apple charger for another thousand light years.
“What is this place?” I didn’t know why I was whispering, but something about the cold halls clenched my vocal cords.
“It feels ancient,” he replied, running his hand along the moss, “like a temple or something.”
“Or a labyrinth. We’re lost like rats in a maze.”
“But rats like solving mazes.”
“Why else do they make humans build them?”
I had no reply to that, or for anything else for that matter. But before I could even sputter out a reply, Zander threw out his arm to stop me.
“Did you hear that?” he whispered. I shook my head; his hearing was better than mine, anyway. “This way.”
A few minutes later, I heard it too: a faint rustling and maybe footsteps. The soft fall of light feet against stone. And then the soft steps weren’t so soft and weren’t so quiet. Blayde appeared out of nowhere, her rainbow hair disheveled in the gloom, my duffel bag slung over her shoulder.
“Have you seen Nim?” asked Zander, giving no sign of being happy to see her. She shook her head.
“I haven’t even found a way out. What was that, Zander?”
“I thought you might know.”
“I don’t.” Short, direct, to the point. There was a sudden animosity between them or maybe a shared terror. It was hard to imagine something that could scare two immortals.
The three of us set off in silence, hunting for the last member of our party: Nimien, the boy we rescued from a life of indentured servitude to the Alliance, only to drop him in a mysterious maze, a labyrinth of twists and turns that led nowhere. Not a great way to make him trust us.
As we talked, we found a torch on a peg against the wall, and Blayde lit it with her laser pointer, giving us a better touch of light than my phone. I had been the only one of us three to appear in a chamber—Zander and Blayde had found themselves in a corridor, with Zander narrowly avoiding a booby trap; a large log sailed right for him when he appeared.
I whispered about my welcoming sign. They said nothing, but the air around us got colder.
We turned a corner, and there he was. Nimien was slouched against a wall, his back to us, his weight on his shoulder. The first time I jumped, I had fainted, though that was before I woke up and threw up on Zander’s shoes, of course. Jumping was a shock to one’s system, as I could attest to. Maybe Nim was going through the same thing. If being shoved during a jump had felt so awful to me, I couldn’t imagine what it might have done to the kid on his first intergalactic time-space warping experience.
“Nimien!” I shouted, rushing to his side. He slouched forward, collapsing on the stone floor. Before I could reach him, Zander had jumped to his side, his face turning ashen.
“Did he faint?” asked Blayde, but as he fell back in Zander’s arms, we knew the answer. I was afraid to move any closer, but I had to know.
Nimien lay motionless, his Alliance uniform stained in a thick, dark liquid. No noise escaped his mouth, not a whine or groan from those bloody lips. There were hardly any lips left; most of the skin on his face had torn away like it was nothing but cloth.
Not to mention the rest of his body. I never thought skin could tear so easily and thoroughly. His body lay in shreds. What had once been a brilliant young man with a genius mind was now a bloody mess. I turned to Blayde, her face as unchanging as the stone walls of the room.
Blayde crouched beside the two men, saying nothing more. She didn’t look sad. She didn’t look angry. She looked tired.
“What …” I couldn’t finish my sentence. My stomach lurched, and I leaned over as if to retch, but my stomach was empty.
That was when I saw the booby trap on the side of the wall: a gate of spikes that had swung back on its hinges and was dripping in red.
“Is he …”
“He’s still breathing,” said Zander, his ear close to Nim’s mouth, “but I don’t know for how long.”
Tears welled in my eyes. Useless. I was so useless. All I had wanted was to save Nimien from a life of servitude. Was that too much to ask? Was Nim destined to be ripped from his home, saved from the Alliance’s child-hire program, only to be torn to shreds before he had a chance to see the universe?
Jumping was not an exact science, but there had been no faults with it in the few trips I had taken with the siblings. Well, except maybe with the fact that they had gotten me lost in the middle of nowhere in space, with no way to get home, and quite possibly years ahead of my life back on Earth.
Maybe I put a little too much trust in them.
Zander was my friend, though, and as such, I seemed to make excuses for him at every turn. But the truth was, if Nim died, he would take it personally. I had to save Nim. I was the one who had insisted he came with us.
I crouched by Nim’s side, knowing my stomach was empty enough to handle seeing him like this. He wasn’t dead, but he was close to it. His chest was heaving, but he was breathing all the same.
The tattered skin was too far gone, though.
“We have to do something.” I wanted to put my hands on Nim and comfort him, but I was afraid it would cause him more pain.
“We can save him,” said Zander, slowly, not taking his eyes off Nim.
“Absolutely not.” Blayde glared at him. “It’s too dangerous, we still don’t know if—”
“I did this,” Zander snapped. “Me. I convinced you he would be safe, and I jumped us to this… place. I have to save him.”
“But we don’t know the long-term effects.” Blayde reached for his arm. He pulled it away quickly. “Zander, we can’t do this. It isn’t safe.”
“We have to.”
He looked up at me, as if asking for permission. I shuddered. I hadn’t been following their conversation, not as closely as I should have been. My mind zoned out as soon as the possibility of Nim being saved was put on the table.
“Do what you have to, Zander,” I said, “Please. Save Nim. He has to live.”
He nodded slowly, once, twice. His eyes returned to Blayde, and she shook her head.
“He’s in my care,” he said. “It’s my decision.”
“Then he’s your responsibility. Whatever happens, you will be held accountable.”
“Of course.” Zander looked down at Nim, delicately placing the skin where it should be. Nim didn’t react. I don’t think he even knew we were there.
“But … what are you going to do?” I asked, my voice coming out in a faint squeak.
“I’m going to donate some blood.”
What was I even supposed to understand about that? Was it supposed to somehow reassure me? Was he really saying what I thought he was saying? I wanted to call out and tell him no, that it was wrong, that Blayde was right; they didn’t know what it could do to a person.
But this was Nim. He had to live. The universe was screaming it at me from every direction, as if it needed the boy alive at all costs. Though maybe it was the guilt gnawing at my stomach.
“What can I do to help?” I asked.
Blayde rifled through the duffel bag, and to my surprise, she pulled out a tiny first aid kit that definitely wasn’t mine. From inside, she retrieved a bright yellow syringe, handing it to me. I hesitated, my hand hovering over the device, fingers trembling at the knowledge of what was to come.
Zander nodded. With one hand cradled under Nim’s head, he outstretched the other arm, holding it out so I could pull his blood from the bulging vein. I looked down at the syringe, the arm, and my friend Nim dying on the floor.
“Remember, you’re not going to hurt me,” said Zander, his voice low and casual despite how serious the situation was.
“I know.” I stuck the needle into his arm and drew out the warm crimson liquid, trying to keep my trembling hands steady.
He took the syringe from me then, his hand touching mine for an instant, filling them with warmth the same way that door had. He looked up at his sister. “I know you don’t approve, but please. Take his feet. I’ll owe you one.”
She said nothing, but crouched down and clasped Nim’s calves, holding them in a vice-like grip.
“Sally, you hold his head steady,” he said. “Don’t let him move.”
I clutched Nim’s head, my hands clammy against his bald scalp. Tiny hairs were growing there now, prickling my palms.
Zander drove the syringe into Nim’s chest, but it was too late. He was dead. And it was my fault.
The three of us knew it was over, but no one dared say a word. My hands trembled as they clasped Nim’s head. His skin was so pale, even under the torchlight. Nimien had stopped breathing, and by the look of it, he wasn’t going to start again.
“Nim?” I stammered, brushing the sweat from his brow.
I knew he couldn’t answer, but I wanted to hear his voice again. I wanted to hear the excitement he had been bubbling with when we promised to take him away from that ship. The same excitement I’d had when I was invited to see the universe.
But I would never hear it again.
Nimien was dead. Until, out of nowhere, his back arched.
Excited to see what happens next? Make sure to preorder your copy right here. Every preorder may claim their own gorgeous print of Sally as the goddess Selena, which I will personally mail to you with some other goodies. And don’t forget to check out Mad On Reading tomorrow for the next stop on the blog tour!