Starlegacy by Steph T, Chapter 1 of 3


Starring Milo Pulsar and Shaula Bluestar

Why is it that apprentices always have the worst timing?

I had just reached that perfect meditative state- the one where you’ve banished all your own thoughts, all those distracting physical sensations; where you’ve just let down your inner walls, opened yourself up to really listen, found that crystal-clear perception…

“Lady Bluestar!” the apprentice called cheerfully, throwing the door open with a loud crack.

To my credit, I didn’t shriek, or jump, or even glare. I did twitch, though, and dropped the chunk of crystal I’d been this close to directing my focus towards. “Yes, Thom?”

He blinked, looked down at the piece of crystal. I picked it up, then gathered my robes around me and rose to my feet. “Were you in the middle of… I’m sorry, lady.” He flushed bright red. Ah, apprentices.

I smoothed the folds of the robe down, smiled gently. “It’s quite all right. You needed something from me?”

Thom’s eyes didn’t leave the crystal in my hands as he passed me a letter sealed with the mark of the Order of Paragon’s Temporal Sorceror, Marcus Xan. “Is that a star crystal?” he asked in a hushed voice.

I ran my thumb over the sealing wax. I’d saved the Sorceror’s life not too long ago- just a few months back. Not on my own, of course- my partner and friend Milo had been with me every step of the way, and truly, most of the credit should go to him. But the Sorceror, I judged, could wait at least a few minutes more. “Yes, Thom,” I answered him, opening my hand to show him the jagged fragment.

It glittered and shone, casting its broken light in scattered spears around the small observation room I’d claimed as my study. The shard was slightly longer than a grown man’s hand, thick as my wrist at one end; a jagged bit in the middle narrowed it to about half that width. As best as I could figure, the unbroken crystal had likely been a large one, perhaps an arm’s-length in diameter. A star that could produce something that size had likely been quite old- eight or nine billion standard years, perhaps.

“Wizard Secoundus found it in the Fire Nebula last week,” I explained, turning the crystal over in my hand and watching the light glimmering. “He asked me to take a look at it, see if I could tell if it was a natural death, or something less pleasant.”

Thom couldn’t help but glance upwards at my face; but my expression was smooth and serene as ever. He could guess what I was thinking, though; every Wizard in the Tower of Deepsight knew about the Order of Nogg Wizard who’d blown up my home star to capture its heart crystal.

Stars that host a family of starbeings have particularly powerful heart crystals. Of my entire family, I had been the only survivor.

I still wasn’t quite sure how I felt about that.

“And… was it?” Thom asked. “A natural death, I mean?”

I nodded, slowly. “Likely, though I can’t say for certain yet. If you look closely, you can see the edges of the crystal are rough and worn; and just looking at the size, this was an old star. Older crystals are more brittle; they’ll fragment in the course of the star’s death, like this one did.” I turned it in my hand a bit more, revealing a new pattern of glittering light. “Energy from a crystal this old will likely be hard to control; they tend to get a bit set in their ways at that age. But it’ll be powerful, no doubt; and if it was a natural death, as I suspect, the Tower will gain quite a relic.”

“And you don’t mind that?” Thom blurted out; then clapped his hand over his mouth in embarrassment.

I gave him a long and curious look; he flushed and looked away. “Not like this,” I said finally. “All things die, Thom.” I cast my thoughts about and settled on a comparison. “When Wizard Varro passed away last month, he left his spellbook to his apprentice, didn’t he?”

Thom ducked his head in a nod. “I think I understand,” he said hesitantly. “It’s a legacy of sorts. Um. Thank you, Lady Bluestar.”

I nodded, distractedly; my mind was already on to the next task. I set the crystal down on my writing desk and turned my attention to the Temporal Sorceror’s letter. Thom, sensing the dismissal, ducked out of my study, closing the door behind him much more quietly than he’d opened it. Hm, so the Sorceror hadn’t needed a reply? My curiosity was piqued; I cracked the seal, unfolded the letter, and read.


Today, just before midday, you’ll be in a clearing about a hundred miles south of the Tower. This is very important, for some reason. Oh, and Milo will be with you.


P.S. You don’t bring any weapons. And don’t let Pulsar bring any, either.

Ah. Divination. How perfectly clear.

I looked out the window. We’d need to hurry to get there in time- take Androsus, likely, as he was faster than my dinorocket Tau. Tucking the crystal into a pocket of my robes- no time to run it back to the Archives- I hustled down the tower stairs towards Milo’s study.

I hadn’t even entered the room when I first heard the shouting. I hesitated outside the door for a moment; but the Sorceror wouldn’t have mentioned Milo if I hadn’t truly needed him. Steeling myself, I turned the latch and slipped in as discreetly as I could manage.

“…a proud tradition stretching back generations, if you’d just visit you’d see how promising these children are!” expounded a short, stout fellow clutching a sheaf of papers, gesticulating wildly. “Milo, you simply must speak at-”

“I am telling you, Uncle, that I absolutely do not have time!” Milo’s face was flush with annoyance, and he slammed the palm of his hand down on his writing desk. “It’s just grade school in any case, and I-”

“He’s your cousin, Milo! Your family!” Milo’s uncle thundered, pointing at him accusingly with the papers. “By the black, nephew, you have an obligation to-”

“Obligation? Obligation?!” Milo’s eyes flashed with anger, and I saw his knuckles turning white from balling his fists tight. “You think you can just-”

I wasn’t sure what about his uncle’s words had upset Milo so much, but I knew if this situation wasn’t diffused quickly, it would turn very, very ugly. “Milo,” I said gently, gliding with star-given grace into the center of the room. “I must apologize for interrupting this family time.” I glanced sidelong at the uncle, and caught him staring at me, slack-jawed. He pulled himself together quickly, but my appearance had certainly thrown him off-balance. It wasn’t surprising; most humans never see a starbeing in their entire lives. There aren’t many of us, compared to them, and we dwell, for the most part, separately.

Milo shot me a grateful look, took a deep breath. “Of course, Shaula. Please, this is my uncle, Vlad Baross. Uncle Vlad, my partner, the lady Shaula Bluestar.”

“Mister Baross,” I murmured, inclining my head gently. A few strands of wispy-white hair slithered over my shoulders; I smoothed them back delicately, the warmth of my fingers setting the strands faintly aglow.

Baross stared at me in fascination. “My.. my lady Bluestar,” he stammered. “I, er, I’d heard my nephew had some, er, association with a starbeing, but I hadn’t thought…”

I nodded at him once more, dismissive, then turned towards Milo. “Milo, Sorceror Xan has an assignment for us that unfortunately requires our immediate attention. I hope that’s not a problem?”

“Of course not, Shaula,” Milo replied evenly, and his mouth twitched as he hid a smile. “Uncle Vlad was just leaving, anyways.”

That broke him out of his dazzled state; he was just beginning to sputter a complaint as Milo decisively ushered him out of the room, closing it behind him with a thud. “Ah, Shaula,” Milo sighed, leaning his head against the door. “Thank you, I really think I was about to throttle him with some snare-vines, or levitate him out the damn window. Does the Temporal Sorceror really need us, or was that just for my benefit?”

I shook my head. “We really need to go now- and Andry’ll have to book it to get us there in time.”

Milo blinked. “Ah, okay, let me just grab my-”

“No time,” I shook my head gently. “We don’t need weapons, in any case.”

Milo grimaced slightly, but nodded. “Let’s go, then.”

* * *


A few minutes later, I was waiting on the landing pad for Milo to bring Androsus up from the stables when the sound of a discreetly cleared throat yanked me out of my reflection. “Excuse me, Lady Bluestar.”

I turned, and was unsurprised to see Milo’s Uncle Vlad at my side. “Mister Baross,” I said politely.

“Please, please, just Vlad,” he said, wiping his hands on his sides nervously. “Ah, Lady Bluestar, I wondered if I might impose on you to put a word in with my nephew?”

“I don’t know, Mister Baross,” I shook my head gently. “Milo makes his own decisions.”

He sighed heavily, his thick mustaches flapping in the breeze. “I know, I do know. But, well, it would just mean so much to my Darvy if his Cousin Milo would speak at his graduation. Surely you can make him see… I mean, it’s family!” He darted a glance at me, as though the phrase were some sort of key. “Don’t you have family, my lady?”

A sudden shock ran through me at the words; my body betrayed only a slight shiver. “Not anymore,” I said, very softly, and turned away. “Good day, Mister Baross.”

The man was clearly too well-bred to ignore such an obvious dismissal; he hovered for only a brief moment before shuffling off to his waiting skimmer-shuttle.

I watched him take off; watched, as the pain in my heart slowly faded to a dull throb. Family. There were days when I could avoid thinking of them; but it didn’t help. Only made it worse when some small thing brought the memories slamming to the forefront of my mind. A wizard laying his hand approvingly on his apprentice’s shoulder would suddenly bring back my father shining with pride over some minor accomplishment of myself or my brothers and sisters. A child laughing would suddenly make me recall my youngest brother’s bright song echoing through the halls of our crystal home.

Void and starwind, I missed them.

“Shaula?” I blinked; Milo was standing in front of me, Androsus waiting just behind him. “Shaula, you all right?” He frowned at me with worry.

I murmured an apology for my absent-mindedness, accepted his boost up onto the pteradon’s back. He hopped up with me, and in moments we were airborne.

“Where to?” he asked once we were clear of the Tower of Deepsight.

“Southerly, about a hundred miles,” I relayed, settling into my flight strap. “Milo, why don’t you want to go to this thing of your cousin’s?”

I should have read the signs better. But, well, though it seemed like forever at times, we’d only actually known each other less than a standard year. So I was utterly unprepared for the violence of his verbal explosion.

“That man has no fucking right to claim family obligation of me!” Milo snarled, punching at Androsus’s flight runes. The pteradon squawked, offended, but turned south as commanded. “He never did a thing for me when my parents- his own sister- died, no no, so terribly unfashionable to have an orphaned nephew! From the unfashionable sister! Let’s just pretend that side of the family never existed, never decided to fucking do something with their life more worthwhile than attending snooty tea parties! Gosh, frontier planets, so far from the glamour of the Core Ten, no surprise they got… gaahh!” He made a savage sharp gesture with his hand, and at once a great wind sprung up all around us, propelling us southwards at a wild pace.

“Milo,” I said gently, placing just the tips of my fingers on his wrist. “Peace, Milo, peace.”

His shoulders slumped as his rage slowly cooled. It took a good minute; but then, with a gesture, he called off the winds. A good thing; Androsus was strong, but he’d been struggling. I pressed my fingers gently against his arm, then withdrew them.

“They could have done, I don’t know, anything,” he said quietly after a long moment. “Anything would have been better than, well, nothing. It’s not like I think they should have taken me in or anything- I love my grandparents- but they didn’t have to just… I don’t know. Ignore me.” He took another deep breath. “Could have even just sent them some money or something- made it a little easier on them. They didn’t have much.” I nodded; he sighed. “And now that I’ve made something of myself, now they come in, just assuming…” His voice trailed off.

I nodded again; I understood. “You’re a different spectrum,” I agreed. “You’re… humans don’t have enough words for family. You’re family, but not family.”

“A different spectrum?” Milo’s eyebrow went up.

“Mmm. Same reason I couldn’t go live with my Whitestar cousins. I mean honestly, could you see me living on white star winds? The song is just all wrong.” I shrugged. “Would never harmonize.”

“You have cousins?”

“Mmm. In a way. Um… it’s hard to explain in human context.”

“You share blood, though?”

“Starbeings don’t have blood. No, it’s a heredity thing; we have the same core song woven into our being, so we have a common ancestor; but we’ve grown in different ways over the generations.”

“Sometimes I forget how weird you are, starprincess,” he said lightly, punching my arm. “Starbeings don’t have blood?”

“No. But that’s not the point. The point is, we’re too different to be family together in the real sense. Like you and your uncle.” I struggled for an analogy. “Have you heard the phrase, a duet for flute and bagpipe? The flute and bagpipe were both old Acanthan instruments, I think something like the-”

“I know them, I know, I get what you’re saying.” Milo grinned. “So you’re the flute?”

I raised an eyebrow. “I’m a Bluestar, Milo. We’re the bagpipe.”

He laughed at that, laughed loud and long. “Oh, Shaula,” he finally gasped. “You are ridiculous. Haha, bagpipe.” He wiped the tears from his eyes. “So I guess I’m a bagpipe too? Because the thing is, I don’t think my uncle deserves to be a flute.”

“He’s more like those cushions human kids slip under each other’s seat that make the rude noises when you sit on them.”

Another peal of helpless laughter; I couldn’t help smiling, myself. “Priceless,” he finally gasped, “just perfect.”

“Feeling better?” I asked with a wry smile.

“Infinitely.” He grinned, shook his head, checked Androsus’s navigation runes. “We’re just a few minutes out from… wherever we’re going. What are we doing, anyways?”

I passed him the note from the Sorceror. “Not really sure. He wasn’t too specific, so we’ll have to play this one by ear.”

“Don’t let Pulsar bring any, either,” Milo muttered. “Hey, what is he saying?” But he smiled as he said it. “All right, I’ll slow us down then so we don’t miss the clearing.” He tapped a few runes. “And, hmm, maybe send a couple of pixies to scout.” With a quick hand gesture, he flipped his silver tome open to a page towards the front. A few muttered words, and five or six of the tiny blue winged creatures popped into the air beside us. “Find us a clearing to land in, will you?” he directed them, and they zipped out in every direction.

Paragon is a thickly forested planet. The trees are dark and thick and squat, with long needly fronds that twist, very gently, in the breeze. Thick moss covers both the trees and the stony ground; there aren’t many grasses in this area of the continent. More in the south, but fewer here.

“Where is that clearing?” Milo mumbled, peering over Androsus’s wing as the ground flitted by beneath us. I peered over after him; it seemed like pretty solid forest from our height. “Maybe we should go higher,” he said doubtfully.

A thrumming sound; then with a blue flash, four of the pixies suddenly appeared back before us, chittering and waving wildly. “What’s going on?” I asked Milo curiously; they tugged at his sleeve and pointed wildly.

“Um, I guess they found something,” Milo said with some startlement. “I guess we, uh, go check it out.” He shrugged with a smile. “It’s the Sorceror,” he added, as though that explained everything.

Sure enough, just on the other side of a nearly-invisible ridge was a sheltered little valley with a wide clearing in the center of the bowl. Androsus screeched and dove, his powerful wings kicking up a mighty backdraft as he gently touched down, precisely in the center.

“Show off,” Milo muttered, punching the pteradon’s shoulder with a grin.

I slid down and landed gently in the thick moss. Milo was taking his time fussing over Andry, so I set out to explore this clearing that it was evidently so important for us to have arrived at. I’d only gotten halfway across the sward when I stopped suddenly; reached down and pulled off my slippers.

I heard Milo coming up behind me. “Shaula, I found the other half of that bottle of Sargassian brandy that we couldn’t find, it was in Andry’s-”

“Take off your shoes, Milo,” I cut him off, as gently as I could.

My partner could be reckless and a bit of a goof, but he knew the tone in my voice, and without another word he obeyed. His boots were sturdier than my slippers; it took him a moment to tug them off.

I waited until we both stood barefoot in the clearing. “Why,” I asked him frostily, “didn’t you tell me that Paragon had dryads?”

“What?” he replied blankly.

I pointed to the edge of the forest, where two figures stood, their silhouettes half-melded into the trees they stood beside. One could almost overlook them entirely; save for the fierce glare in their eyes, glittering bright in the cool shade.

“Holy shit, Paragon has dryads.” Milo blinked.

I let out a tiny groan. “You didn’t know.”

“Nah. I’m sure the Tower knows, in general, but it’s never been a problem.” Milo shrugged. “Why? Is it a problem?”

I didn’t answer him; just stepped forward, head inclined respectfully, and slowly approached the pair. I was about twenty feet away when the taller of the two pointed at me warningly; I stopped in my tracks, and heard Milo do the same beside me.

“Why have you come here?” the smaller of the two- a gray-skinned woman- asked me. Her tone was not quite accusing; but neither was it welcoming.

“Should not be here,” the tall brown man beside her rumbled. “No place for that one. Not a human wood.” He glared at Milo, eyes hard as stone.

I put a hand on Milo’s arm before he could make a smart remark. “He is with me, tree-guardians,” I said respectfully.

“She should not be here either,” the man rumbled, but more softly.

The woman touched his side, warningly. “If she is- if they are here, now, it can only be for a reason,” she replied quietly. “Perhaps they can help.”

“Help?” Milo echoed. “What do you need help with?”

A slight rustling behind them; and two more dryads stepped into view; then, after a moment, another three. “Let us not send them away just yet,” suggested one of the new arrivals, a golden-skinned woman.

Murmurs of agreement from all but the first man. Milo and I waited a tense moment until the golden woman beckoned us towards the dappled shade of the trees. She seemed to be the leader of the little group, and they deferred to her as she took a step forward, looking long into each of our faces. “So, Wizard,” she murmured, “sky-cousin. You would seek to help us now?”

A wave of very old regret twisted in me at the name; but I buried it, ignored Milo’s quizzical look. “We would, earth-cousins,” I replied evenly. “But what would you have of us?”

“We will see.” Her voice was cool and distant. “There was a message, some few days hence; to expect a messenger here, at this time. And now, here you are; surely it is no coincidence.”

“Our own circumstances were similar,” I agreed.

They gazed at us; and we at them. For a long awkward moment we stood there, at the edge of the forest’s shadows; neither of us moving, neither speaking. Milo was the first to break the silence. “So, a messenger? When do you-”

“It comes now,” the golden woman interrupted, pointing.

We followed her gesture. Back in the clearing, a piece of the air was twisting, back and forth; color rippled outwards randomly. It began to build in intensity, energy crackling around it in a weird ball of…

Huh. It looked like an Astral Gate. But we were nowhere near a ring. And this didn’t seem like an easy place to lock onto- and I’d never heard of a dryad giving out a Gate Key to somewhere so close to their home.

Beside me, Milo drew in a breath sharply as he guessed something I could not. I turned to ask him, but the words were barely on my lips when the air simply cracked in half, and the unicorn was there.

He was beautiful. Every inch of him gleamed, his hide a pure silvery-grey so brilliant, it almost looked like liquid metal. His horn spiraled up from his forehead, a glimmering crystalline spear; his neatly cloven hooves trod the ground daintily.

But the unicorn was not the most surprising thing of the scene; for he bore a rider.

She was a dryad, of that I was certain; but not one of this planet. She had none of the moss that the Paragon dryads wore in patches all over them; her skin was a pale green-grey, and her hair a withered-looking straw-yellow. She was also, quite clearly, dying.

She tried to dismount the unicorn gracefully; but she was weak, so weak. The unicorn eased her gently down, laying in the moss to keep her from tumbling too far. I found myself at her side without even thinking about it, Milo a hair’s-breadth behind me. “Shaula!” he urged, a note of worry in his voice.

I took a quick moment to examine the girl. She was absolutely emaciated, papery skin stretched over brittle-looking bones. The veins in her arms were raised, and even through her skin I could see them pulsing with unnaturally dark purplish blood. She looked… well, she looked diseased.

Even as I watched, the purplish-black sickness moved, spreading down her arms towards her hands. I gasped; looked up at the star overhead in a panic; reached toward it for strength. It was midday, and the beams were strong; but with so much atmosphere between us, I could not spin more than a very tenuous thread of connection. It would have to do; I opened my mouth to sound out a note of healing song.

“Save your song,” she whispered to me, and I halted in surprise. “This far from my tree, it could only prolong this pain.

I knew it was true, and let out a soft sob; felt Milo’s hand on my shoulder. “But you’re dying,” I replied helplessly.

“Yes,” she said, so faintly I could barely hear her. “And with you two here…” she looked over my shoulder at Milo. “I thought… only to warn them. To guard themselves. The Devourer…” She coughed suddenly, a tiny dry sound. Her skin, I noticed, was crinkling up, like dry leaves. “But perhaps… perhaps it is not too late for my…” her voice faded away.

I thought she was gone; let out another helpless sob. But then her eyes fluttered open again, pale yellow and weak, so weak. “Please save my people, Sage, Sky-Singer. Please…”

What could we do? “Yes,” Milo said roughly. “Yes, we will.”

I couldn’t say anything; my throat was clogged with tears. I sat back on my heels; felt Milo at my back, a steady and comforting presence. I reached up to take the hand on my shoulder in mine; he squeezed it tight, and we sat with the dryad as she died.

It was, to put it simply, awful. The darkness spread to her hands, then up her arms until dark, throbbing veins stood out all over her body. Her breath became shaky, and black blood began to leak from her ears, her nose, her mouth. And as it dripped onto the moss below her, it sizzled, and the moss blackened and died.

Her eyes finally closed again. All around us, a cry went out from the native dryads; a wild sound of pain and regret. We watched, and I wept, as her body turned to wood, rotten and soft; and then slowly crumbled to splinters and dust. How I wept! A single hot tear splashed on Milo’s hand; he winced as the heat burned his skin, but didn’t take his hand away.

“Can you tell us where she was from?” Milo asked the other dryads, his voice hoarse.

Most of them were too lost in their mourning to reply; but the golden skinned woman heard us. “Of course,” she said, the words raw with pain. “She was from the First Tree; could you not see it in her limbs?” She turned away, but not before I flinched from the wild look in her eye.

“The First Tree?” Milo echoed.

“Skyroot,” I explained quietly. “It’s the dryad’s… well,” I struggled for a human analogy. “Um, capital? Homeland? Not quite, but that’s close enough. Progenitor world.”

“Skyroot,” Milo mused. “That world is Protected- the Order of Delphi forbids anyone from setting foot on the planet without invitation.” He paused. “Though, I suppose we were just invited.”

“Yes,” I said sadly, “I suppose we were.”

We sat there for a while, staring at the spot where the dryad had lain, now little more than a pile of dust against the unicorn’s silver flank. “There’s something I don’t understand,” Milo finally said, looking up at the golden-skinned dryad.

She tilted her head to one side in question.

“What is the Devourer?” His voice was frustrated and confused both. “I’m pretty well read, but I have to admit, I can’t think of anything that makes sense.”

The dryad shook her head, slowly. “I wish I could help you, human Sage; but this is not a thing known to us, either. But we will guard ourselves; and spread what messages we may.”

We got to our feet, nodded in agreement. “We should head back to the Tower, pack a few days’ worth of things,” Milo suggested.

I nodded. “We’ll get to the bottom of this,” I promised the dryad. “We will.”

She looked at us with sad deep eyes. “Thank you,” she said softly.

Next Chapter


3 Responses to Starlegacy by Steph T, Chapter 1 of 3

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