SONG OF THE STARSTONE
By Mira Word
Elsmier Island is a sanctuary in a world restructured by climate catastrophes. The cool water and fertile soil are carefully monitored by the Union of Surviving States. Everyone must pay to offset the simple act of being born. At seventeen, LAYLI discovers no one ever paid her birthtax and she owes a staggering sum to the Union. Unwilling to turn herself in, Layli steals the winner of an infamous horse race and flees her life as a kitchen girl in hopes of selling the stallion for her freedom.
At the first creek crossing, Layli finds a shimmering crystal. When she touches it, the forest explodes with new colors, and she hears a haunting song. Soon after, Layli starts to understand the language of animals. She credits the experiences to exhaustion and focuses on the crystal’s potential to pay off her debt. She stops at a mercantile to uncover the location of the elusive Rendez, a traveling black market, perfect for selling stolen horses and rare crystals. At the mercantile, a man named LUMINS mistakes Layli for a messenger and begs her to deliver an urgent warning to a woman who lives on top of a mountain peak. Layli agrees, tempted by payment in silver and the promise of directions to the Rendez.
Beaten down by the elements, Layli arrives at the peak to find two scientists operating a clandestine research station. She accepts their hospitality without noticing her crystal is missing. In the morning, Layli rushes to confront the scientists but stops when she overhears them discussing how the crystal is a powerful wishing stone. Layli learns Lumins’ message warns of a Union Ambassador who is hunting for the crystal deposit with plans to excavate it for himself. Any attempt to extract the crystal from the ground could cause Tuzi Glacier to collapse, flooding an open pit mine full of toxic sludge, and poisoning Elsmier’s pristine water supply.
To Layli’s surprise, the scientists return the crystal and offer to pay her a large sum to carry the warning, and the crystal, to the leader of the Alliance—a rebel group fighting against the Union. Her excitement is tempered by their insistence that the crystal is really a plain piece of tektite with no real power and is only dangerous because people believe in its lore. Layli decides she can still take their money, plus the promised amount upon delivery, and when this is over, sell the crystal to a naive rich person in the city. The prospect of paying off her debt finally seems within reach, however, she begins to wonder if her freedom might be pointless in the face of an imminent future without water.
Layli rides as fast as she can for the glamorous lakeside city of Alterra. After she loses her stallion crossing an icy mountain pass, she stumbles into an enchanted cedar grove where nature spirits heal her wounds and show her the true magical properties of the crystal. Layli is overwhelmed by their insistence that she has a deeper destiny to fulfill as the bearer of the crystal, the Hitaishi or the “one who wishes well”.
After leaving the grove, the people she encounters treat her not as a horse thief, but as a prophet. Despite Layli’s confusion over her growing reputation and strange experiences, she completes her trek to Alterra by paddling a wild river and adopting an alias to navigate a border crossing thick with Union officers.
In Alterra, Layli finds the Alliance leader but is arrested just before she can tell him everything and loses her satchel containing the message and the crystal. Then a young officer breaks her out and takes her to the most opulent house she’s ever seen. Her mysterious host, GRAYSEN SARSA, acts like he knows her alias and treats her as a guest visiting for his cousin’s wedding.
Trapped in the Sarsa’s lavish lifestyle, Layli is confused and desperate to get back to the Alliance and her crystal. At the rehearsal dinner, Layli finally understands Graysen kidnapped her to steal the crystal so he can try to resurrect his beloved mother. It is his sister PRIALA, who comes to Layli’s rescue.
Priala tells Layli about her prophetic visions and helps her understand she must take the crystal back to its glacial source to activate the magic required to stop the dam from breaking. The girls join forces to get the crystal back from the Alliance and reveal the message hidden within the seam of the satchel. Since Priala has just inherited the family’s billion dollar business, they lure the Alliance into returning the crystal by promising the Sarsa’s political support in the next election.
Although the Alliance leader believes the warning and promises to do what he can to stop the Union, the girls know it won’t be enough. Layli is relieved to be reunited with the crystal and is starting to accept her role in saving Elsmier, but her colossal debt still weighs on her. When the Alliance balks at her request for the promised payment, Priala steps in and offers to clear Layli’s debt completely. Layli struggles to accept the generosity but is moved by the actions of her new friend.
As soon as Layli is safely out of Alterra, she collides with the owner of her stolen stallion who has been tracking her this whole time. Taken hostage, Layli fights to escape, but an avalanche halts her progress, forcing her captor to come to her rescue. Layli’s stallion, who managed to survive the earlier accident, has also been tracking her and they all converge at an isolated farmhouse. Layli and her captor-turned-friend manage to trick their host into parting with the stallion and she rides for Tuzi Glacier.
With the help of a snow leopard guide, Layli reaches Tuzi and finds a camp of Union officers, a mass of Hitaishi believers, and water raging downstream toward the mine. She races for the ice hoping that Priala was right about connecting the crystal to its source so she can make her wish.
The Union Ambassador and his followers who try to stop her, are impeded by a sudden stampede of animals who descend on the basin to support Layli. Once she touches the glacier, the crystal explodes in her hands and a wish forms on her lips. Intuitively, Layli offers the dust to the sky and intends for the wounds of the world to be healed. A melody bursts from her and she sings the crystal’s ancient song. Dust swirls around all the people gathered to see the Hitaishi, causing the awakening of more gifts like Layli’s. The temperature drops and the water pouring into the mine freezes over. In the aftermath, Layli encounters her mother, who has never stopped searching for her, and Lumins, who is her real father. Together, they plan for a new world where humans and animals live and govern in harmony.