Sarah Beth Durst

Excerpt from Spark

Chapter One

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 morning 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.

That was one of the secrets she'd learned 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 want a 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's 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 like 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 want a 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.

 

Chapter Two

 

After the wind passed, Mina drew her string in and rolled it up carefully. Less careful, Gaton tossed his kite aside and squirmed out of his harness. Mother and Papa unhooked themselves and the twins. "Excellent wind day," Papa said.

Mother agreed, and the twins squealed.

"Remember Gaton's first wind day, when he lost his grip on his kite--"

Mother laughed. "And it flew up and smacked that wind guardian in the face!"

Mina grinned at Gaton. She'd been too young to remember, but her parents brought it up every wind day, to Gaton's dismay. At fifteen, Gaton liked to think of himself as all grown up, the mature storm guardian who knew everything, who'd never been a silly kid. He is still a kid, though, Mina thought. Even if he thinks he has all the answers.

She wondered if she'd feel that way too, once she had her beast.

"The kite didn't hurt the guardian," Papa quickly reassured the twins.

"Surprised him, though," Mother said with relish. "And made him colorful. The ribbons got tangled around his wind beast's antlers--"

"Hey, it wasn't my fault!" Gaton protested. "I was four."

They continued teasing Gaton as they tromped up to the house, and Mina reached to free herself. But the hook didn't budge. "Mother? Papa? Could you help me--"

The farmhouse door banged shut behind them, even though their chatter continued to spill out the windows. Frowning, Mina wiggled the hook. She raised her voice. "Gaton? Papa? I'm stuck."

They didn't hear her.

She continued to try to free herself. If I force it . . . No, that doesn't work. Mina's fingertips started to ache as she pushed at the clip. The harness wasn't budging. She shouted for her family again: "Help!" But when no one heard her, she gave up calling for them and concentrated on wiggling the clip and squirming out of the ropes.

At last the hook snapped open. Free! Quickly she shucked off the ropes and ran into the house.

Inside, the twins were shrieking -- one of them had a spoon that the other one wanted. Papa was trying to cajole them into accepting a second spoon, but no, they both wanted that one, right now. Upstairs, Gaton was calling down that he needed his hammer -- who'd taken it? Scrubbing the oatmeal spatter off the twins' chairs, Mother was still reminiscing about past wind days. Mina stood in the doorway, her kite clutched in her arms, and opened her mouth to say something, anything, about how they'd left her and hadn't heard her calling for them . . .

But there was no point now. She'd freed herself, and it would only make her family feel bad. Real storm guardians solve problems, she reminded herself. They don't cause them.

"Ah, Mina, there you are!" Mother said. "You should go bond with your egg. Remember: skin to shell."

"Yes, Mother." She fled past Papa and the twins, up the stairs to her room, and shut the door behind her.

In the corner of her room, tucked between her bed and the bookshelf, was her storm-beast egg. It wasn't anything like an egg from one of the chickens in the coop. For one thing, it was enormous, larger than either Beon or Rinna. For another, it was a swirl of colors: reds and purples and golds. She'd cushioned it in its own nest of quilts.

It didn't look any closer to hatching.

She swallowed back the taste of disappointment. She'd hoped she'd been outside long enough that when she came back in, she'd see a noticeable difference.

After dropping her kite on her bed, she examined the egg, checking for any new signs that it was about to hatch. The hairline crack she'd seen that morning was still there, no wider or longer than before.

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe it wasn't time for her future to begin yet.

Curling up against the cushion of quilts, Mina laid her cheek against the shell -- skin to shell, as Mother had said. Speaking softly, she told the egg all about her morning: her painted kite and how proud she was of it, seeing the wind guardians and their beasts and how glorious they were, and then struggling to free herself of the harness and how frustrating it had felt when no one had heard her.

"When you hatch, we'll be the kind of beast and guardian who listen when people need help," Mina promised. "We're going to make a difference."

She picked up the book she'd been reading to the egg: the story of the group of rain guardians who'd created the lake district. Some kids used their three hours with their egg to nap or knit or play solitaire -- there were dozens of solo games invented for kids to entertain themselves with while their beasts developed, shaped by the thoughts from the kids' heads -- but Mina liked to read aloud, so her unborn beast could hear her favorite tales of adventures and righting wrongs and of people who lived exciting lives beyond her family's little patch of farmland.

As she read, she wondered when her beast was going to come out and tell her what it thought of the two years' worth of stories Mina had read. Gaton had told her what it felt like to be linked mind-to-mind to a storm beast: he couldn't hear all of Arde's thoughts the way he heard his own, and Arde couldn't always hear his, but he could always feel his beast, Arde's emotions like a constant hum in the back of his mind. Gaton said it was like hearing a distant song: he couldn't quite make out all the words, but he felt the tempo and bits of the tune. And when he wanted to talk to Arde, all he had to do was concentrate on both the words and his beast. It was like shouting. But quietly. She thought she'd like that.

Mina read until the end of the book, closed it, and then pressed her lips to the shell. "Looking forward to meeting you."

Crack.

Jumping to her feet, Mina stared at the egg. Was it . . . ? Had it . . . ? But she didn't hear another sound. She circled around it again, examining every inch of its iridescence. No new cracks. She ran her hands over the hard, smooth shell, and it felt like it always did.

Maybe I want it so badly I imagined it.

She could easily believe that.

Laying her cheek against the shell again, she whispered, "Come on. I know you have things you want to tell me, too." She pressed her hand against the smooth rainbow surface. "You can do it. Break free." Whenever you're ready, I'm here, she thought at it.

But the egg was silent.

Sighing, she curled up against the egg and pulled out her sketchbook and began to draw the egg with its crack. She then drew more cracks, as if that would make it hatch faster. Drawing always made her feel better. It was soothing, the way her pencil whispered on the paper. You could capture a past moment with a pencil, or imagine a future moment.

She heard footsteps thump up the stairs and her mother call, "Mina? Is it hatching?"

"Not yet," Mina said. She kept drawing, adding more cracks, which branched in thin lines like veins in a leaf.

The door swung open, and Mother popped her head in. "Mina? Anything?" She hadn't heard Mina's answer.

Mina shook her head.

"All right. Remember: when you've put in your bonding hours, you still have your chores."

Mina nodded.

From the other side of the house, Gaton hollered, "Mother? Have you seen the garden shears? I left them in my boots, but they're not there now."

Sighing, Mother backed out, shutting the door behind her. "Why would you put scissors inside your boots?" Her footsteps thudded back down the stairs. "And have you taken Arde out in the north field yet?"

Crackle-crackle-crack!

Jumping up, Mina dropped her sketchbook. "Mother, it's hatching!"

But Mother had already gone downstairs and been swallowed by the calls of the twins, demanding her attention, and of Gaton searching for his shears and now his boots. She didn't know if he'd ever found his hammer, which he'd been missing at breakfast, but she didn't care. Mina took a step toward her egg and forgot about everything else.

After two whole years, it was happening! Right now!

Thin cracks ran through the rainbow shell. Awed, she laid her hand on the cracks, her fingertips touching several at once. "Come on," she whispered. "You can do it."

Her heart was beating so hard that she thought she'd crack out of her own skin. It's really happening! My beast is coming! "Hatch!" she cheered it on. She traced the veins -- they radiated from one spot on the shell. She hadn't drawn them exactly right. Some cracks were longer, and some connected like edges of a puzzle piece.

Crack!

She felt it! The shell bulged under her hand.

Crack! A shard popped out. She saw a claw poke through and then scramble at the hole, widening it. Digging her fingers in, she helped, yanking away bits of shell. More claws poked through. Chunks of shell fell to the floor. And then a scaly yellow arm burst out of the hole.

Claws opened and closed on air.

Mina felt herself smiling so hard that her cheeks hurt. She broke the hole open wider, and then she reached inside and helped her beast climb out.

The beast spilled onto the quilts around the egg, lifted his head, and turned toward Mina. He looked like a small dragon with a serpent-like body and stocky arms and legs. He had brilliant yellow scales. His face was like a lizard crossed with a puppy, and Mina thought it was the most adorable face she'd ever seen.

*Hello, Mina. I am Pixit.*

Mina heard her beast's voice inside her head like a cascade of bells. Gaton didn't tell me how beautiful he'd sound. She felt tears prick her eyes. "Hello, Pixit," she whispered.

His purple eyes were streaked with zigzags of bright white, and he was gazing at her as if she were the heart of the world. *I hear you, and you hear me,* Pixit said inside Mina's head, and with the words came a warm rush of love and joy.

Mina had never felt anything this right. It felt as though she were half a puzzle and Pixit the other half -- there was the wonderful sense that she was finally complete. She hadn't even known she was incomplete before. But now that Pixit was here . . . His emotions spilled into her along with his thoughts, and she felt his joy bubbling in her throat as Pixit said, *I am yours, and you are mine. And we will always be together!*

"Together we're going to do great things," Mina told him. Then she tried sending her words from her mind to his silently, as Gaton had described. Just like in the tales.

*Yes, we are! Together we're going to set the world on fire! We'll right every wrong and have adventures and -- ooh, I have wings!* Pixit stretched out two yellow dragon wings and twisted his head right, left, and upside down, trying to admire them from all angles.

She laughed, feeling so full of bubbling joy -- both Pixit's and her own -- that she wanted to cry. Go on. Try them. Fly! She jumped up, hurried to the window, and threw open the shutters. Sunlight poured inside, and Pixit flapped his wings enthusiastically. You can do it!

Wobbling, he rose into the air. And then, with a happy shriek, he flew out the window. *Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!*

"Yay! Go, Pixit!" she cheered him on.

Her beast sailed shakily over their yard, then swooped up, clipping a line of fresh laundry with his clawed foot. The rope twanged back, and the shirts catapulted off it onto the ground, landing in the dirt. Mina winced.

"You can do it, Pixit! Flap harder!"

*I can flyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!*

Pixit wobbled in the air, his tail dipping into the cornstalks. Sparks danced over his scales, and several sparks jumped from him onto the leaves and the tufts of corn silk below. Uh-oh, Mina thought.

*Why ‘uh-oh'?* And then: *Oh no. Uh-oh.*

Losing control, the young storm beast dropped lower into the cornstalks, disappearing for a moment. When he rose up, flapping harder, the field beneath him was on fire.

*I'm sorry, Mina!*

She felt his chagrin like a spurt of scalding oil -- the feeling came with his words. It tasted sour in her mouth.

Mina ran across her room, yanked open the door, and raced downstairs. "Fire in the field!" she yelled. She didn't stop -- she kept running out the back door of the farmhouse.

Behind her, she heard Mother. "What did she say?"

And Gaton said, "But we haven't been cleared for a burn--"

Outside, Pixit was circling the fire, his wings flapping furiously, trying to put out the flames, but fanning them only caused them to grow.

Pixit, you're making it worse! Fly higher!

He obeyed her, spiraling up into the air.

Mina ran for the well. A bucket, brimming with water, hung from a rope. Hefting the bucket up, Mina turned to the field.

It's too far! I won't reach it before it spreads!

A shadow passed over her, and she looked up. It wasn't a cloud -- clouds were never allowed to drift over the farms of Alorria, except when the fields needed rain. It was Papa's rain beast. She had a sudden idea. "Orli! Orli, put out the fire!"

Papa's old rain beast circled her once and flicked her tail.

"I know you don't have rain power anymore, but you can carry this." Mina held the bucket up to her, and Orli understood. She swooped down and, with her delicate talons, lifted the bucket by the handle out of Mina's arms.

Behind her, she heard Gaton. "Great idea, Mina!" He began hauling another bucket up out of the well, preparing it for Orli. By now, Mother and Papa had run out of the house and were shouting to each other to fetch more water.

On the porch, the twins were shrieking.

"Beon and Rinna, go inside right now!" Mother called as she rushed to Gaton's side, helping at the well. Papa ran to the shed for more buckets.

*I did bad? I'm bad.* High above the fields, Pixit was spewing sparks in all directions. His dragon-like body twisted as he flew in circles above the fire. The more upset he was, the more he seemed to spark.

No, she told him firmly, as if he were Beon saying something ridiculous. It was an accident. You didn't mean to.

*I'll make it better. I can help!* He swooped down.

No! Stay high, at least until you stop sparking. They needed a way to quash the fire, not fuel it. The buckets from Orli weren't enough -- the flames sizzled and smoke rose in dirty wisps, but the fire was spreading faster than they could quench it.

*But Mina, I want to help.*

Mina had another idea. "Gaton, send Arde out to stop the fire."

He didn't hear her.

Yanking another bucketful of water out of the well, Gaton shouted, "Orli, next one's ready!" He held the bucket over his head. The rain beast swooped down and plucked the bucket out of his hands. Gaton went for the next empty bucket.

Mina tugged on his arm. "Gaton, the heat won't hurt Arde. Have him lie on the flames!"

"Stop, Mina -- Orli needs more water!" He shrugged her away and turned back to the well, and Mina stumbled backward. Tripping over a root from the apple tree, she fell, landing on her rear end.

Mina! Pixit shrieked as she fell. She saw him streak through the sky, flying to her rescue. Bits of electricity shed from his tail as he dived toward their yard.

Pixit, no! You'll spread the fire!

"What's he doing?" Gaton cried.

Orli flew to stop Pixit, and Arde barreled out of the fields, huffing and snorting, coming to protect Gaton from whatever was upsetting him. Mother and Papa ran across the yard.

Pixit, stop sparking! Mina cried.

*I don't know how!*

Then fly higher!

But Pixit got so flustered with Orli flying toward him and everyone shouting at him that he lost control of his newly-discovered wings. He landed in a tumble. In Mina's head, she heard him babbling, *I'm so sorry -- very, very sorry -- I didn't mean . . . I wanted to help!*

Mina ran to Pixit's side and threw her arms around his neck. She felt his electricity skitter over her skin. It felt like a tickle of grass on bare feet. Everyone was yelling. At Orli. At Pixit. At Mina.

"Arde, go sit on the fire," Mina said, but no one heard her.

Pixit's voice echoed in her head, but in a funny, distant kind of way, as if he wasn't talking to her. *Arde, do as Mina said! Go sit on the fire! Please!*

Hearing him, the sun beast, Arde, skidded to a halt in front of them. He plowed up dirt and grass with his front paws with the force of his stop. He looked at Pixit, then at the fire in the field, then at Gaton. And then he bounded through the field. They all watched as he trampled the cornstalks and leaped, his massive body lurching into the air, and landed with a whomp on top of the flames.

He smothered the fire.

Closing her eyes, Mina sagged against Pixit, and Pixit leaned into her. Pixit's tail curled around Mina. It continued to give off sparks that crackled and popped.

For one glorious moment, everyone was silent.

And then they exploded into even more shouting.

"What is that thing?" "Is that a lightning beast?" "Did your egg hatch?" "Did it start that fire?" "This has to be a mistake! You can't have gotten a lightning beast!" "Whose beast is it?" "Where did it come from?" "It can't be Mina's! How could it be Mina's?" "Mina, what happened?" "Mina, how can this be your beast? This can't be right!" "Mina, answer us!"

*It's loud outside my egg,* Pixit observed.

Yeah, Mina agreed. Maybe we can both go back in it.

 

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ISBN: 9781328973429

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