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It turns out 'the others' means roughly five-hundred Yeva'si. They've come from five different tribes, Xunnu had informed me. They had come to see their Guardian, who'd finally chosen to show herself after hiding amongst them for a few generations.

The clearing is chock-full of shapeshifters, and I try to make out the forms of my uncle David and aunt Margo. They're intending to visit briefly with the Yeva'si – long enough to witness the Ru-Yeva ceremony – and then they'll be heading off to search for recruits to join the ranks of the Silver League. My friends Damian and Jen will be doing the same.

As the sun descends below the western mountains, the valley of the shapeshifters is bathed in brilliant hues of magenta and tangerine, drenching the clearing's inhabitants in ghostly shadows.

An immense bonfire has been lit in the centre of the clearing, and Yeva'si young and old have gathered around it. They chat animatedly and pound on small drums in anticipation of the ceremony.

I duck my head, staring at my bare feet. I do not desire the attention but it's unavoidable; festooned with feathers and face paint, I'm quite the spectacle and it's not long until all eyes are on me.

"Xera, zaavi," Xunnu commands as he lifts the chieftain's headdress from the ground and places it gingerly upon his crown. The feathers – obsidian raven and golden eagle – frame his face as the flickering firelight illuminates his shining eyes. The chieftain of the Yáahl gestures at a smaller fire pit to his left.

Xera nods and hoists a large lit torch. She crouches down to send the kindling aflame. The little shapeshifter then jogs around the edge of the clearing and I realize that ten additional fire pits loosely encircle the larger one. Soon the world flickers with firelight and crackles with warmth.

The stars overhead are the brightest I've ever seen them, and there isn't a cloud in sight. I breathe a sigh of relief; my emotions tend to change the weather, so I was worried about how the planet would react to what may be the most terrifying night of my life. Apart from the Battle of the Ritual, of course.

Don't look at them. Stare at the trees behind the crowd. Imagine you're the only one here. Imagine this is just a dream.

"Pretend they're all in their underwear," Conall offers, his lips teasing my earlobe. He grins, pushing me towards Xunnu, who grabs my arm and raises it to the sky.

"I present to you...your Ru-Yeva!"

I jump as the entire congregation bursts into applause and chatter. I hold my breath, trying to remember what Xunnu told me to say.

I gulp, squeezing my eyes shut. Begin with... Oh, how did it go?

"Go, Skye!" Damian calls out. "You the Guardian!"

"Welcome," Xunnu whispers.

I gulp and nod in gratitude, locking my fingers together to keep them from fidgeting.

GUARDIAN  |  Book 2 of the Spirits' War Trilogy [excerpt]Where stories live. Discover now