Stories of the Stars contest first prize winner:
No one knows what the stars are. Only that they are far away, and they give us our power.
And now they are winking out.
“Danar?” Charis steps beside me and slips her hand in mine. Starlight gives a silver sheen to her ebony hair. If the stars die, I will never see her like this again.
“Where is he?”
Charis closes her eyes and points to the south. That much starlight would be like a beacon to her.
I raise a hand toward the nearest star and it begins to dim, light flowing easily to me until the star resists. With time the star will regain its brightness if it isn’t completely drained. Fully depleting a star is a thing no Starlighter would dare do.
Except Murdock. For this transgression he’ll be branded Starkiller.
Charis puts her hand on my forearm. “I’m coming with you.”
“No, Charis. I can’t protect you from him, and you’re too important. If I fail, you’ll need to bring other Starlighters to deal with him.”
Charis shakes her head. “By the time others reach him, Murdock will have purged. He will be invisible to me.”
So it falls to me to stop him. I start to pull my arm away.
Her grip tightens. “Murdock is my responsibility. I won’t have you dying for me.”
Death and darkness. “You can’t possibly blame yourself for all the death he’s caused.”
Starlight thrums through my veins. I need to shift soon or it will overwhelm me.
I close my fingers into a fist, preparing to jerk out of her grip.
Charis takes my chin with her opposite hand and turns me to face her.
“Danar, I’m not your child to coddle. You will take me to Murdock Starfire, now.”
Her eyes glow with the starlight inside her. How can she hold it constantly without it burning her up? I have never seen Charis Starfinder without the glow of starlight.
I look away. I can’t argue with her.
Stars forgive me.
I open my fist and release a burst of starlight. My vision blurs as we shift through space. When we materialize again, we’re standing in the middle of a Starlighter habitation. My arm aches from the strain of drawing Charis across a hundred miles in the span of a second.
Charis grabs me and pulls me down beside a picket fence. A whoosh is followed by screams. Murdock is here.
Anger boils up in my chest. I risk a peek over the fence. Murdock blazes like the light of a full moon. Around him is death and carnage. Houses engulfed in white flames. Lifeless shapes on the streets.
There are women and children here. I won’t let him kill everyone he wishes.
I jerk my hand out of Charis’ and shift to the street directly behind the killer.
“Murdock! Stop this madness and face me!”
He turns and hurls a brilliant white fireball at me. I shift three steps to the left. Heat blisters my skin as it streaks by.
“Why, Murdock? Are you so calloused that you would kill even women and children?”
Murdock chuckles, his voice resonating with starlight. “You want to know why? Ask your Lady Starfinder. Did she tell you what happened between us?”
My gaze flickers to where I left her by the fence. Murdock and Charis? Fury pulses with the starlight in my blood.
I shift in front of Murdock and punch him in the face. His head snaps back and pain sears my fist. I shift back a few paces.
Murdock raises a hand to his cheek. “It seems I’ve struck a nerve. Are you going to tell him what really happened, Charis? Or should I burn him to ash?”
Charis steps out onto the street behind him. Tears make glowing streaks down her face. I’ve never seen her cry.
“Don’t do this, Murdock. Please.”
Murdock turns to face her. I shift between them to shield Charis.
Murdock smirks. “You’re not going to tell him how much we meant to each other? How you told me we could spend the rest of our lives together?”
My vision flashes. I clench both fists, ignoring the throbbing in my burned hand. “You lie!”
Charis puts a hand on my shoulder and steps past me. “I loved you, Murdock, but I never promised you anything.”
I press a hand to my chest. This isn’t real. “Charis, what are you saying?”
Her hand moves to my cheek and she glances at me. “What I should have told you weeks ago. Please forgive me?”
“Forgive?” Murdock laughs darkly. “You never gave me that choice. You walked away without ever looking back.”
Charis takes her hand away. I sway as if it was the only thing keeping me upright.
“Because I saw you for what you were, Murdock. You never loved me, only how I made you feel.”
“That’s not true!” Murdock roars.
“If you truly cared about me, you would let me go. You would stop this killing.”
I raise a hand to Charis’ shoulder. “I wish you had told me first,” I whisper.
I make eye contact with Murdock. He glances away.
How would it feel to lose someone you care so much about? Murdock is willing to kill to mask his pain. But me?
I would sooner die.
I draw the last of my starlight into my fist and step forward. Charis pushes me aside and steps in front. She places both hands on Murdock’s face.
Starlight flares around them both. Their outline burns into my eyes. Then there is only darkness, and Charis swaying in front of me. I step forward to catch her.
Above, I feel another star pulsing in the night sky. Murdock has gone to take the place of those he consumed.
Charis is limp in my arms. I have never seen her so frail and lightless. I don’t need my star sense to know that she’ll never be able to hold starlight again.