Copper is now a fully grown Drakken, but despite his magical abilities, he is shunned and shamed by his pure-blood kin.
Wandering despondent in the wilderness, Copper discovers a portal that reminds him of his lost crèche mate, left behind when the Drakkens fled their ancestral home. Knowing the portal will only remain open for three short days, Copper cannot resist the challenge to bring the lost maiden to safety, and prove himself worthy of his breed.
But the other world is not what he and his kin expected. The peoples are hostile, the Angressi emperor has not forgotten his grudge, and something is killing Samara Maidens.
In this eagerly anticipated sequel to her bestseller, Darkspire Reaches, CN Lesley transports us back into the world of Drakkens, of Connor and Raven, and of their son.
Deep in the Shangrove—a dark place that feeds on creatures of magic—a new evil is growing, waiting for the perfect mate.
A taste of what is to come.
“Who let the half-breed in?” the cultured voice of a young female cut through the chatter. Her cruel words echoed to the ceiling in the vast mountain chamber.
Conversation trailed to an end. Faces at the long trencher table turned in one direction. All looked at Copper, his fork hanging, halfway to his mouth, frozen by those words. The celebration ended for him. Here he was at a feast for a hand-fasting, an invited guest and yet an outsider in this now festive main cavern, decorated with laurel branches and flowers. His friend, Strallen, newly joined to Lorien, a lovely Drakken girl, sat red-faced with temper and yet said nothing.
Copper was grateful at the absence of his parents, for this insult touched them closely. He didn’t think his mother would have let the moment pass, but he must for Strallen’s sake. He brought the lump of now cold meat to his mouth and chewed as if nothing had happened.
All the eyes switched to Rosella, an exquisite girl with long brown curls sitting next to Lorien, the hand-fasted girl. Once, she had been his playmate before they had both matured.
She giggled, waving her hand in an artful little gesture. “Well, he is a half-breed. Why is he invited to such an occasion? It is not as if any of us would consider him for a mate.” She pulled her arm from Lorien’s sudden grip. “No, I will have my say. Copper is a nobody without pure blood. He has done nothing, and he will never amount to anything.”
Strallen half-stood as he leaned over his new mate. “What do you suggest a person can do to change his standing in a world where we have no threats? How a person conducts themselves in company is more important than how pure their blood is. I am sure we will all remember this when you cast about for a mate, Rosella.”
The girl’s rosy blush of temper paled to milk white. She pushed away from the table, marching towards the passage to the outside with a couple of her cronies in tow. Fitful conversation started amid nervous laughter. Eyes turned to Copper again.
He stood, bowing towards Lorien and Strallen with the intention of getting some fresh air himself. No way could he remain in this company now. Two of the older Drakken males moved to block his path. The denial hurt more than the insult. How could they think he would go after that wretched girl? They did, so he turned to take a tunnel deeper into the heart of the aerie. His star sense kicked in, giving him private thoughts of the gathering and taking him off-guard. All the girls and most of them men felt the same. They didn’t mind his company as long as there was no chance of him joining their family. He decided right then that wherever he went was better than here.
A whir of wings, followed by a heavy thud on his shoulder pad announced the arrival of Kryling, the little firedrake. Trust that one to be lurking in the rafters. Now he couldn’t keep the ill-tidings from his parents. As fond as he was of Kryling, there was no denying the drake was a snitch.
“This is going to hurt mother. Can you at least keep it from her?”
Angry thoughts slammed into his mind. Kryling was in a fine fury and had every intention of telling Raven precisely who said what. The drake considered it would come best from him and not someone mean-spirited. Tendrils of sympathy began to seep from Kryling, along with a tail wrapped gently around Copper’s neck.
“Don’t worry about the girl. I wasn’t that interested in her,” Connor said, not a lie anymore as he found the thought of her made his guts churn in a sickly way. No, if he found a mate, it would be someone who cared for him as a person, not how pure his blood was.
Kryling sent pictures of hunting with an image of Copper in his wyvern form bringing back three bucks for the table and the girls crowding around.
Turning right at a junction, Copper headed down a flight of stone stairs for a lower exit, hoping he wouldn’t meet another Drakken on the way. “No, not everything revolves around who is the best hunter when it comes to getting mates.”
The drake puffed a smug smoke ring and countered with an image of his harem. Strangely, his mates seemed to glare in an angry fashion in this mind picture.
“Having a problem keeping peace amongst all those females?” Copper knew the little drake was trying to cheer him up, but this harem discord hadn’t been part of the plan.
Kryling snapped his wings shut and hissed.
Copper felt more like roaring and for that, he needed room to change to his other form. The back entrance offered a launch from a cliff side and at the same time triggered a faint memory of his first home on another world. He changed in free fall over an azure sea, exhilarated by the smooth shift in bones, muscles, and tendons into something huge and very different. He cupped his wings and then a small thud hit him between his shoulder blades. Kryling was along for the ride wherever they headed; a place far away from any Drakkens.
Thick blue mists rose off the shracken swamps as the first rosy light of dawn hit the water. Daybreak came welcome after a sleepless night outside, but he hadn’t wanted to be near others. Droplets of dew settled on the leather of his hide. He didn’t care as long as he was alone, and he aimed to keep it like that.
Launching from the ground, he flew high, working hard with his wings against the heavy air until he burst through the clouds. Far, far in the east, near a distant mountain range, a ring of light flamed and shimmered in the heavens, catching his interest. The middle of the ring showed up a stark black against the red of the dawn sky like someone had burned a circle in the fabric and the night peeked through.
The sun was well risen by the time Copper settled on a high plateau after a long flight that had dried his wings of all moisture. Was this was the forbidden thing he was not to seek out if he ever saw it? None of the others of his contemporaries had seen the gate if that is what it was, or he would have heard about it. What if he did something the others hadn’t? Would that make him acceptable as a Drakken? Now he missed Kryling as the little Drake had flown free soon after the outlands of the aerie passed underneath. Kryling knew what the gate looked like for sure, having flown through it as an adult.
While he would need his current form if he decided to go through the gate, he didn’t want the draconian tendencies to influence his judgment. Aside from that, his man-shape would be a lot harder to spot if the aerie noticed he had gone and sent out searchers. He drove the magic inward, and a second later a red mist enveloped his melting body. Bones changed; wings became absorbed; clothes regurgitated. A man wearing flying black leather gear now stood in place of the wyvern. A shudder of compression shook through him at the reduction in size, but then he threw it off to enjoy the sensations of a very different form.
Copper settled down amid the harsh tundra with his back against a sun-warmed rock, wondering why his sire and dam preferred this shape. He liked to fly, although he always reverted when he returned to the aerie, knowing his dam became irritated if he wore his wyvern shape in her cavern or at the hunting camp, where she was mostly to be found. She would be more than irritated with him if he followed through on this plan.
Long ago, in another world, he had a crèche mate. They shared the same hatching and then she was gone. Neither of his parents or any of the others from that time before would speak of what happened except to say the girl kit was dead. A part of him knew this for a lie. His star sense told him all believed they spoke the truth as they knew it, but underneath, in their secret thoughts, they believed she might have survived a little while in a hostile place.
Fourteen years of waiting for the star gate to return dimmed the memories of what happened until now. Anger surged through him again. Fourteen years was young for a man, but not for a Drakken. They called him a half-breed, and yet that was not quite true. His mother, Raven, was the half-breed, if not entirely, for she had magic of her own as well as that of the Drakkens. Her beast form, like his own, was massive. Fortunately, he had taken after his tall sire for his man shape, rather than Raven’s tiny frame.
A faint flash of silver caught his eye. He was too late to dive under a scrubby bush for cover. Kryling, zoomed into his position, chittering and grabbing at his tunic to pull him back in the direction of the aerie. Images of his mother blossomed in his mind from the drake. Kryling was doing his best to make Copper feel guilty enough to comply with wishes of family.
He almost started the change when he noticed something. The little drake wasn’t acting like he had just flown such a great distance, not looking the least tired. None of the other wyverns had appeared and they would have shown up by now if Kryling had caught a ride on one of their backs. The drake wasn’t here for him. Once again his star sense aided him. Kryling was running away from his squabbling mates and wanted the backing of a Drakken shoulder from which to state his case if they caught him. This was why he left the aerie with Connor the night before. Not out of solidarity, but out of the need to evade an angry confrontation of several irate females. He smiled, amused and then returned to his thoughts.
Out here, in the back of beyond, there were not firedrake colonies to report Kryling’s whereabouts. The empty lands stretched for miles as forest and plains, punctuated with a river, meandering as it gained distance from the mountain springs. This was a world lonely of higher species, so no habitations marred the land. Strange to find an inhabitable planet without an intelligent life form and yet the Drakkens had done just that when they arrived through the star gate in the first wave. Not so with the previous shift, where two intelligent species were already present. Copper wondered if the ancestors of the fair Angressi folk had been the ones to travel to a new world or it if had been the dark-haired First Born tribe. With a name like that, he rather placed his guess on the tribes. How natural to name oneself in such a way to claim original ownership of a land where another was there before. Also, he knew the tribes to be migratory while the Angressi folk were territorial. Given the tribes had magical talent; it would make more sense for them to be the incomers. Although this raised the question of how land born creatures would get through a sky portal. They must have some way of making the gate lower to the ground, which further ruled out the Angressi, who possessed no magic.