A broken world. An overwhelming evil. A team of warriors ready to strike back…
We’re excited to share an excerpt from Skyhunter, a new novel Marie Lu about the lengths one warrior will go to fight for freedom and those she loves—available September 29th from Roaring Brook Press.
Talin is a Striker, a member of an elite fighting force that stands as the last defense for the only free nation in the world: Mara.
A refugee, Talin knows firsthand the horrors of the Federation, a world-dominating war machine responsible for destroying nation after nation with its terrifying army of mutant beasts known only as Ghosts.
But when a mysterious prisoner is brought from the front to Mara’s capital, Talin senses there’s more to him than meets the eye. Is he a spy from the Federation? What secrets is he hiding?
Only one thing is clear: Talin is ready to fight to the death alongside her fellow Strikers for the only homeland she has left… with or without the boy who might just be the weapon to save—or destroy—them all.
And there we see the cages that are currently drawing the biggest crowds—along with the creatures contained inside them.
The first cage holds a Ghost as I know them. It’s lying against the cold, metal floor of its cage, its body cut with lines of shadows. If it stretches out, its hands and feet touch the opposite ends of the space. The cage’s bars are painted gold, and as it stirs, it squints under the sunlight beaming down through the glass atrium. It turns its milky eyes feverishly at the crowds surrounding it, gnashing its teeth, but unlike the Ghosts I know, it doesn’t lurch at the audience. Instead, it’s subdued. I think of what Red had told me about the Federation’s link with its Ghosts, how it can command them into rage or calm, and realize that it’s not attacking anyone in this crowd because it has been told not to.
Children mew in fright and clutch their parents’ hands. Older boys and girls laugh and point in delight, some of them tossing the rotten fruit I’d seen being sold at stands into the cage. Adults give it looks of awe and fear. I can see their expressions change as its cage rolls by, the way they nod knowingly to one another as if they’re studying a specimen in a zoo.
Standing on either side of its cage are pairs of guards, hands on their guns as they watch both the creature and the crowd.
The next cage features a Ghost too, but something about it also seems different from those I’ve fought on the warfront. Its features are less twisted, its limbs less stretched and cracked. Its eyes even seem less milky, and it turns its head from side to side as if it can see us more clearly, stopping to focus on each of us. It still gnashes its teeth against its bloody mouth, but the teeth are shorter too. Even its voice, still gritty and raw, sounds less like a Ghost’s and more like a human’s.
In horror, I look at the next cage. This Ghost looks even less like a monster, with limbs only stretched a bit long and its stance like one that is used to walking on two legs. It has hair on its head, white strands clinging together in greasy clumps, and its eyes look more bewildered than enraged, with a spark of something left in them.
One after another, the cages display Ghosts less and less like Ghosts, until finally I see a cage containing a young man, his skin not ash white but warm with pinks and yellows. His arms already have deep, bleeding cracks in them, but they are the length of normal human arms, and his fingers look like my hands instead of clawed fingers that have been broken and regrown. His hair is long and unkempt, shaggy with sweat. He grips the bars of his cage and peers out with such a heartbreaking look of fear that I feel my heart swell in pain.
They are displaying the progression of a human into a Ghost. Even now, as I look on, I can see each of them transforming gradually, their bodies twisting painfully into what they will ultimately become.
My arms and legs tingle from the horror of the sight. I think of Corian, how he used to kneel beside the bodies of dying Ghosts and offer them a few final words. May you find rest. And now all I think of as I stare at this nightmare of an exhibit is the sound of those dying Ghosts, the piteous, humanlike cries begging for mercy.
Beside me, Adena’s eyes are hauntingly dark, and as unsympathetic as she is toward most things related to the Federation, she looks as sickened by this sight as I am.
Two people are standing in front of the row of caged Ghosts. One is a bearded man with a wicked smile so bright that it would seem he’s showing off a gold statue instead of experiments in cages. He now taps on the bars of the nearest cage, making the half-formed Ghost inside jump in startled anger.
“In the span of fifty years,” he says to the audience in a loud, clear voice, “we have used what you see here to conquer nearly every nation on our continent. By the end of this winter, we will finally overtake Mara. Then we will stretch from coast to coast, an unbroken land. This is only the beginning of our Infinite Destiny, as ordained by our ancestors.” He stretches his arms wide. “Here before you is a treasure trove of inventions, gifts given to us by the civilizations that came before us. Unlike them, though, we have improved on what they’ve created and learned from their mistakes, so that we will never fall into darkness and obscurity. This is our Premier’s promise to you. There will be no ruins of Karensa!”
It’s similar to the words I’d heard on the night they attacked our warfront. No ruins. Infinite Destiny. This man speaks it with such reverence that it almost sounds like fear. In the midst of the crowd’s riotous applause, he sweeps his hand up at the balconies overlooking the atrium, and there I see the young Premier standing with his guards, dressed now in a full scarlet outfit and coat, his bald head sporting a heavy band of gold. He waves at the crowd, a proper smile on his face, and the audience cheers him. He must have someone else address the people for him, because his own voice has the rasp of someone deeply ill. I instinctively shrink behind the silhouettes of taller people, hoping he doesn’t spot me in the crowd.
Excerpted from Skyhunter, copyright © 2020 by Marie Lu.