Bernd Perplies - Tor/Forge Blog



Dragon Books of 2020

Dragon Books of 2020

Welcome to Dragon Week 2020, a celebration of all things Dragon!

There are soooooo many epic dragons in literature, from Smaug of The Hobbit to Toothless of How to Train Your Dragon, but can you REALLY ever have enough?! We think not, so we compiled a list of our dragon-y books that came out in 2020, so you can keep that dragon themed TBR pile climbing!

Image Placeholder of - 58Servant of the Crown by Duncan Hamilton

Long laid plans finally bear fruit, but will it prove as sweet as hoped for? With the king on his deathbed, the power Amaury has sought for so long is finally in his grasp. As opposition gathers from unexpected places, dragonkind fights for survival and a long-awaited reckoning grows close.

Don’t forget to check out the first two books of the Dragonslayer Trilogy, Dragonslayer and Knight of the Silver Circle!

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 Placeholder of  -44Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights from Bioware

Ancient horrors. Marauding invaders. Powerful mages. And a world that refuses to stay fixed. Welcome to Thedas. From the stoic Grey Wardens to the otherworldly Mortalitasi necromancers, from the proud Dalish elves to the underhanded Antivan Crow assassins, Dragon Age is filled with monsters, magic, and memorable characters making their way through dangerous world whose only constant is change.

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Place holder  of - 20Sorcery of a Queen by Bryan Nasund

Driven from her kingdom, the would-be queen now seeks haven in the land of her mother, but Ashlyn will not stop until justice has been done. Determined to unlock the secret of powers long thought impossible, Ashlyn bends her will and intelligence to mastering the one thing people always accused her of, sorcery. Meanwhile, having learned the truth of his mutation, Bershad is a man on borrowed time. Never knowing when his healing powers will drive him to a self-destruction, he is determined to see Ashlyn restored to her throne and the creatures they both love safe.

Sorcery of a Queen is the second book in the Dragons of Terra series. Book 1, Blood of an Exile, is on sale now!

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Image Place holder  of - 73Spine of the Dragon by Kevin J Anderson

Two continents at war, the Three Kingdoms and Ishara, are divided by past bloodshed. When an outside threat arises—the reawakening of a powerful ancient race that wants to remake the world—the two warring nations must somehow set aside generational hatreds and form an alliance to fight their true enemy.

Don’t forget to check out Book 2 in the Wake the Dragon series, Vengewar, out 1/19/21!

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Poster Placeholder of - 61Black Leviathan by Bernd Perplies

In the coastal city Skargakar, residents make a living from hunting dragons and use them for everything from clothing to food, while airborne ships hunt them in the white expanse of a cloud sea, the Cloudmere. Lian does his part carving the kyrillian crystals that power the ships through the Cloudmere, but when he makes an enemy of a dangerous man, Lian ships out on the next vessel available as a drachenjager, or dragon hunter. He chooses the wrong ship. A fanatic captain, hunts more than just any dragon. His goal is the Firstborn Gargantuan—and Adaron is prepared to sacrifice everything for revenge.

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The Memory of Souls by Jenn Lyons

Now that Relos Var’s plans have been revealed and demons are free to rampage across the empire, the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies—and the end of the world—is closer than ever. To buy time for humanity, Kihrin needs to convince the king of the Manol vané to perform an ancient ritual which will strip the entire race of their immortality, but it’s a ritual which certain vané will do anything to prevent. Including assassinating the messengers.

Don’t forget to check out the first two books of the Chorus of Dragon series, The Ruin of Kings and The Name of All Things!

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Dragons in Translation: An Interview with Bernd Perplies & Lucy Van Cleef

Poster Placeholder of - 93German author Bernd Perplies and American translator Lucy Van Cleef swap questions about Black Leviathan, the translation process, and the possibilities within the worlds of fantasy for exploring the bigger picture.

Bernd: Black Leviathan was your debut novel translation. What was the experience like? Were there any specific challenges?

Lucy: I come from a world outside of fantasy fiction. I used to be a professional ballet dancer, and now I work primarily as an arts writer. Believe it or not, the worlds of fantasy and arts writing are surprisingly similar. In both, you have to find the right words to describe the intangible – things that don’t exist in the real world. Your writing had the immediacy and color of a live performance: the Sidhari facing the bad guys; Lian and Canzo at the Taijirin wedding; falling to the Cloudmere floor – those were the fun parts for me!

I live in Berlin and speak German in most of my daily life, but I write in English: my own fiction, arts writing, and translations. This project was a chance to blend all of these factors. It was a challenge because of the sheer size of the project, but it was also huge learning experience. Sometimes you can say something in English with far fewer words than you need to express the same thought in German. It can be a hunt for the right words. This translation took a lot of time, and it was a struggle to stay consistent throughout the process. You get better as you go, and wish you had the tools you gained from the start. But that’s the way it goes. I hope I’ll get to do more in the future.

Lucy: In addition to your own fiction writing, you’ve also translated books from English to German. Have your Star Trek translations influenced your fiction at all? Is there any concrete crossover? Or any general inspiration for your fictional world in Black Leviathan?

Bernd: Ive been a Star Trek fan for many years. The series appeals to me because of its optimistic vision for the future, how the stories inspire the audience to think, and the camaraderie among members of the Enterprises crew and subsequent starships. The Star Trek television series ended in 2005 (not counting recent shows like Star Trek Discovery). Since then, the novels have kept the franchise alive for me; working on the translations for Cross Cult kept me from losing sight of Star Trek. And there are certainly aspects of that work that have affected my own writing.   

For example, I love to tell stories about bands of characters on journeys together. Im most interested in characters interactions with one another. In Black Leviathan, the crew of the drachenjäger ship, Carryola. Just like Star Trek authors, I strive to question the state of things, and to make readers consider similar aspects in the real world. In classic fantasy, dragons tend to be the monsters, and dragon slayers the heroes. Black Leviathan draws a more ambivalent picture. Arent the slayers another form of monster? And arent dragons, in all their destructiveness, also victims? I even have a certain empathy for both Adaron and Gargantuan. Both are extreme characters but one strikes because hes devoured by sorrow, while the other strikes to protect his kind.

Theres no real cross-over. But still, Star Trek and Black Leviathan do have something in common; both criticize, more or less, real-life whale hunting. The movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home tells the story of Captain Kirk returning to the year 1986 to find humpback whales, which had gone extinct in the future, year 2286, and are the only salvation for preventing humanitys destruction by an extraterrestrial probe. Black Leviathan, alternately, poses the question of whether hunting majestic creatures of the ocean (the Cloudmere) is justified and if so, to what extent?

Bernd: German has more than one form of the pronoun you: Du (familiar or derogatory), Sie (formal or distanced), Ihr (pseudo old-English). English doesnt have these cases. In Black Leviathan, its common for residents in a particular region of the Cloudmere to address each other with Ihr, (even in the derogatory). Theres only one exception: when speaking to a family member or loved one. In one scene of the novel, a man and woman switch mid-conversation from Ihr to Du, saying something between the lines in the process. How did you navigate that in your translation?

Lucy: Yes, this was a tricky one. In English, theres only one word for you. But there are still ways to adjust the formality of an exchange. You wouldnt address a business associate the same way you would address family. So I tried to find the appropriate solutions for the context. One example: Ialrist always addresses Adaron by his first name, whereas all other crew members call him Captain. Their friendly relationship is established in the first two chapters, and carries over throughout.

I was very lucky to not be alone during this process; Tor supported me from start to finish, and their amazing editor helped me find the right solutions along the way. Since theres no one word to show the shift in tone between the man and woman in the scene you mentioned, we altered that exchange slightly for the American market. I hope the solution honors the original text and makes sense to readers.

Lucy: What about your experience translating from English to German? Have there been any cases where the solution wasnt one to one?

Bernd: That always comes up. Puns are always tricky, naturally. Some authors use them more than others. They come up a lot in Star Trek, because many starship crews include both men and women who use a loose conversational tone to convey multiple meanings in their exchanges. Sometimes the wordplay happens to work on its own, but usually youve got to find a solution that makes some sort of sense in German. You might be stuck with a witty saying that doesnt match the English word for word.   

Texts that rhyme are also especially hard. That kind of thing doesnt come up much in Star Trek, luckily. But a long time ago, at the very beginning of my career, I translated a magic book that gave spells for day-to-day life. It was a fun book for girls nothing too serious. But during those weeks, I had to become really creative in order to come up with spells that rhymed in German and still had the same meaning they did in English.

Lucy: I have some experience with that too. I was so grateful that the visions Lian experienced toward the end of Black Leviathan werent in metered verse with rhymed endings.

Bernd: Both the publisher and you decided to maintain some of the original German wording, such as Drachenjäger. Why? Is that common practice in translations of foreign texts for the American market?

Lucy: We considered using the original title, Drachenjäger, for the English version. Its a cool sounding word; drachen is close enough to dragon to be understood, and many English speakers are familiar with the world jäger. Even though we ultimately went with a different title, we stuck with drachen when referring to the lore of the world, and used drachenjägers as a title for the few souls brave enough to fight dragons. Then we developed an extended glossary to explain these words to readers. Thats how we were able to keep some German flavor in the fictional world of the Cloudmere.

Lucy: Who do you identify with more, Lian or Adaron?

Bernd: Definitely Lian! I sympathize with Adaron. He lost almost all of his friends, and the woman he loved, which led him down a dark road that he never really returned from. A shadow fell across his soul. Only his friendship with Ialrist, his only surviving friend, keeps him halfway sane. I cant imagine ever becoming so vengeful, or so bitter.

Lian, on the other hand, is a dreamer. Hes pretty naiive in the beginning; he sees dragon hunting, and his journey into the Cloudmere, as a great big adventure. I definitely had a similar romantic side during my youth. Lians experiences aboard the Carryola make him grow. He becomes more critical, and questions his actions. Ultimately, he takes a stand for what he believes in, instead of continuing to do what (most) others on board are doing. Were similar in that way, too.

Bernd: Its pretty typical in Germany for publishers to translate foreign fiction, especially works from the American market. Is that true in the US as well? Are translations common there?

Lucy: Im not an expert on the publishing market, but Im a passionate reader. Good translations allow people from one country or culture to be exposed to another without having to learn a new language, or even leave their living rooms. I grew up in America reading books by both English-speaking and international writers. Id say that translations are common, and necessary. I think its really important to learn from people with different frames of reference than our own. For that reason, I hope that the American market never stops publishing works by foreign writers.

Lucy: Whats next for your journey into the Cloudmere? Any fun projects planned?

Bernd: I cant really talk about upcoming projects (in Germany), because theyre all in progress, and not official yet. I can, though, give an overview about whats happened since 2017 the year Der Drachenjäger (Black Leviathan) was published in Germany.

First, I took another journey into the Cloudmere. Der Weltenfinder (the world finder) tells the story of scholar and adventurer Corren von Dask, who aims to fall to the Cloudmere floor in order to explore the mythical city ThaunasRa, supposedly the origin of the Cloudmere. The plot is stand-alone, but is based on events and characters of the previous novel.

I ventured into outer space with Frontiersmen Civil War, a six-part mini series. It tells the story of John Donovan, freighter captain and scoundrel, who along with his motley crew and a run-down cargo ship, is unvoluntarily drawn into a civil war between the bordering planets and the central world of his home galaxy. Frontiersmen is my version of a space-westerner, like the series Firefly or the Tatooine sequences in Star Wars, where the earth-based westerner meets the technology of the future.   

My most recent work, which was released in October, is called Am Abgrund der Unendlichkeit (at the precipice of eternity), and is another science fiction novel. A mysterious darkness engulfs entire solar systems belonging to the galactic league of nations, the Domenaion. When chaos breaks out, the brave crew of a rescue cruiser searches for a solution to prevent billions from meeting their deaths.

Im sorry to say that none of these works have been translated to English, yet. But Id like to invite anyone with solid German skills to explore my fantasy worlds beyond Black Leviathan.

Order Your Copy of Black Leviathan now:

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Classic Tales, Modern Tellers: 5 Retellings to Check Out

Classic Tales, Modern Tellers: 5 Retellings to Check Out

By Alison Bunis

Everybody’s got their favorite classic novel. And these days, everybody’s got their favorite retelling of a classic novel, too. Personally, if we’re talking movies, I stand by Clueless until the end of time. If we’re talking books, though, there are so many incredible options that it’s pretty much impossible to choose just one. To help you out, here are five of my favorites! I tried to pick a wide range, but I’m not gonna lie, you guys, I like what I like. So let’s kick things off with my current favorite…

Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton

Lady HotspurGather ye round, my fellow Shakespeare nerds: Tessa Gratton has given us an incredible gift. She’s already reimagined King Lear as an entrancing fantasy novel with The Queens of Innis Lear.

Now she’s turned Henry IV Part I into a heart-stopping novel of betrayal, battlefields, and destiny, Lady Hotspur. Here’s a glimpse at the characters to give you a quick taste of what it’s about: 

Hal Bolinbroke: A lady knight known for playing tricks and causing scandals, Hal is suddenly made heir to the kingdom when the mother she has not seen since childhood wins the crown. She loathes being a Prince but yearns to live up to the wishes of everyone she loves best—even if that means sacrificing her own heart.

Banna Mora: Heir to the overthrown king, Banna Mora is faced with an agonizing choice: give up everything she’s been raised to love and allow a king-killer to be rewarded—or retake the throne and take up arms against Prince Hal, her childhood best friend.

Lady Hotspur: The fiery and bold knight who stands between these two fierce Princes, and whose support may turn the tides of the coming war and decide everyone’s fates.

Tessa Gratton’s lush, lyrical fantasy world is the perfect setting for this gender-swapped retelling. Mark your calendars, Shakespeare-loving friends: Lady Hotspur hits shelves in January!

Black Leviathan by Bernd Perplies

Black LeviathanBuckle up, everybody, because Black Leviathan is the Herman Melville classic Moby Dick—but with dragons. You heard me. Moby Dick. Except instead of whales, it’s dragons, instead of “Call me Ishmael,” dragons, and instead of chapters on whaling technique, more dragons. And don’t worry, the revenge stuff is still in there. Seriously, what more do you need? 

In the coastal city Skargakar, dragon-hunting powers the economy. Dragons are used in everything from clothing to food, while airborne ships hunt them in the white expanse of a cloud sea, the Cloudmere. Lian does his part carving the kyrillian crystals that power the ships through the Cloudmere, but when he makes an enemy of a dangerous man, Lian ships out on the next vessel available. But he chooses the wrong ship. The fanatic captain, Adaron, hunts the Firstborn Gargantuan—and he is prepared to sacrifice everything for revenge.

You know what they say… revenge is a dish best served with dragons. (This particular dish comes out February 25th, 2020.)

Nottingham by Nathan Makaryk

NottinghamMost authors retelling a classic start with their favorite book, story, legend, myth…Not Nathan Makaryk. He saw all the things he hated about the Robin Hood legend, and he just had to rewrite the whole thing into an epic novel that examines who’s really the hero or villain of a story. Think less Men-In-Tights and more historically-accurate Game of Thrones.

The setup is a political nightmare: King Richard is half a world away, fighting for God and his own ambition. Back home, his country languishes, bankrupt and on the verge of anarchy. People with power are running unchecked. People without are growing angry. And in Nottingham, one of the largest shires in England, the sheriff seems intent on doing nothing about it. But don’t worry, Robin Hood and his Merry Men are here to save the day! Steal from the greedy rich and give to the poor! …Not really. Nothing is that simple in this world. Instead, the lives of six people—Arable, a servant girl with a secret, Robin and William, soldiers running from their pasts, Marion, a noblewoman working for change, Guy of Gisbourne, Nottingham’s beleaguered guard captain, and Elena Gamwell, a brash, ambitious thief—become intertwined. And a strange story begins to spread…

Briar Rose by Jane Yolen 

Briar RoseNo list about retellings is complete without including a fairy tale reimagining. It’s kind of a rule. And Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose, a historically sensitive retelling of Sleeping Beauty set amid forests patrolled by the German army during World War II, is a terrifically moving, graceful entry into the fairy tale retelling genre.

It starts off with a tale being passed down through the generations: Since childhood, Rebecca has been enchanted by her grandmother Gemma’s stories of Briar Rose, a young girl who arrived at a castle controlled by an evil army in the Polish forest during the summer of 1942. As Gemma tells it, Briar Rose was corrupted by dark deeds and choked by poisonous mist, and plunged into a deep sleep in the castle that soon came to be known as Chełmno extermination camp. Becca would have sworn the stories were made up, but on her deathbed Gemma extracts from Becca a promise to fulfill three impossible requests: find the castle, find the prince, and find the spell-maker. Her vow sends Becca on a remarkable journey to uncover the truth of Gemma’s astonishing claim: She is Briar Rose.

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

Miranda and CalibanAnother Shakespeare retelling? Yes. Let’s go there with Jacqueline Carey’s gorgeous retelling of The Tempest. We all know the tale of Prospero’s quest for revenge, but what about Miranda? Or Caliban, the so-called savage? In Miranda and Caliban, Jacqueline Carey gives us their side of the story: the dutiful and tenderhearted Miranda, who loves her father but is terribly lonely. And Caliban, the strange and feral boy Prospero has bewitched to serve him. The two find solace and companionship in each other as Prospero weaves his magic and dreams of revenge. Always under Prospero’s jealous eye, Miranda and Caliban battle the dark, unknowable forces that bind them to the island even as the pangs of adolescence create a new awareness of each other and their doomed relationship. 


Excerpt: Black Leviathan by Bernd Perplies

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Placeholder of  -53In the coastal city Skargakar, residents make a living from hunting dragons and use them for everything from clothing to food, while airborne ships hunt them in the white expanse of a cloud sea, the Cloudmere.

Lian does his part carving the kyrillian crystals that power the ships through the Cloudmere, but when he makes an enemy of a dangerous man, Lian ships out on the next vessel available as a drachenjager, or dragon hunter.

He chooses the wrong ship. A fanatic captain, hunts more than just any dragon. His goal is the Firstborn Gargantuan—and Adaron is prepared to sacrifice everything for revenge.

Black Leviathan by Bernd Perplies will be available on February 25. Please enjoy the excerpt below!


Jägers in the Cloudmere

Seventh Day of the Fourth Moon, Year 822

The schooner glided through the air as its wooden hull pierced thick clouds of fog. Delicate wisps of mist crept silently upward, dissolved by the brightly shining sun as they rose. Thicker blankets of fog sank back into the endless whiteness that completely enveloped the small vessel.

At the ship’s bow, Adaron set both hands onto the swaying railing, gazing pensively into the unending and all-consuming Cloudmere. The fleece of the blanketing clouds spanned beneath him like freshly fallen snow on a hilly landscape, though the impression was misleading. The ground lay more than a thousand paces below, and perhaps more importantly, no water filled the space in between to buoy a person who fell. Only endless, weightless mist gathering into a thick gray fog as the vessel rose in the sky, until even the biggest creatures below were concealed from view.

These creatures—formidable dragons—were the reason the Queen of Fog had been aloft the island-studded Cloudmere for the past two weeks. Before their departure from the port city of Skargakar, Adaron and four of his crewmates—Enora, Ialrist, Jonn, and Finnar—had pawned all unnecessary possessions, many acquired from previous adventures, to purchase the skyship they now called home.

The name was more impressive than the actual vessel, which was relatively small and with barely any room below deck. However, the steering mechanics were in good condition and the kyrillian crystals, which gave the flying ship its buoyancy, were enclosed safely in their metal casings. In fact, the ancient Nondurier ship merchant had even boasted that Adaron wouldn’t find a more agile ship anywhere between Skargakar and Luvhartis afloat the Cloudmere’s waters.

They were still waiting to test this claim.

With their final few coins, Adaron and his crew recruited three young Nondurier to join their mission. Like so many others these days, the houndlings had been searching for work, but it had been prospect of great fortune from a dragon catch, Adaron reckoned—and not the mere handful of gems that Jonn had pushed into their hands—that convinced the Nondurier to board the vessel.

“Lost in thought again, are you?” A woman spoke from behind him.

As Adaron turned to discover Enora standing there, a smile curled his lips. The woman leaned against the railing, her long red hair billowing behind her. She was dressed in weatherworn leather trousers, a lightweight linen shirt, leather boots, and a dark green doublet to shield her from the cool morning breeze. Two Sidhari swords, her favorite weapons, short curved blades that had been gifted to her from a desert elf prince, hung from ornamented sheaths at her hips.

“Well?” she coaxed. “What is going on in there?”

“I’m thinking that at this very moment, my life could hardly be any better,” he confessed. “The Three Gods must truly love me to bestow such great fortune.”

“Embarking on a journey without a single coin in your purse, on the hunt for the most vicious creatures in this realm . . . you consider that to be the greatest fortune?” Enora looked shocked, but the sparkle in her blue eyes proved she was teasing.

Adaron chuckled. “It’s all a question of perspective. I think of it this way: aboard one’s own ship, in the company of the most loyal crew that I could wish for, we are approaching the most promising realm of Cloudmere. Great adventures, not to mention treasures, await us. And to top it all off, the sun shining from the blue heavens pales in comparison to the smile of the woman standing before me, who has my heart.”

“You’ve got such a flair for the poetic.” Enora smiled. “Any bard would turn green from jealousy. Or white with nausea.”

Adaron set his hands on his hips. “Well, this much is sure. I won’t waste any verses on you in my next epic.”

Now Enora laughed. “Settle down. I love you most because of your courage and your good heart. The beautiful words you whisper in my ear only increase that love beyond any shadow of doubt.” Her right hand wandered toward the medallion that she wore on a chain around her left wrist, a gift that Adaron had given her last moon cycle. Taijirin had crafted the token, promising protection to the wearer.

“A love that I return,” Adaron said, approaching Enora. He wrapped his arms around her, gazing into her eyes. “Now we’re just missing one thing to make this moment perfect.”

“If you say ‘an heir to the family line,’ I’ll cast myself overboard,” Enora warned.

Adaron grinned. “A dragon,” he continued, his gaze wandering across the endless white of the Cloudmere that spanned before them. “A dragon to pursue and conquer, and to return home to the greatest laud and honor.” With that, the lovers parted and took their places at the railing.

“Well, we haven’t had much success on our hunt so far,” Enora admitted. “Except for the one bronzeneck that we caught last week, but he was just a buck, and not especially big. If we don’t find a full-grown bull soon, we’ll return to Skargakar just as poor as when we left.”

“Our stores aren’t used up yet,” Adaron soothed. “And anyway, we’re approaching the zone where most other jäger ships will surely turn back. Just wait. Soon we’ll be alone on the Cloudmere—free to make the catch of our lives.”

“What makes you so sure about that?”

“I just know it.”

“Comrades!” called Jonn from high atop the crow’s nest at mainmast.

“Ialrist is on his way back!”

Adaron looked up as Jonn pointed portside. The small, wiry man with wild black hair and the keen vision of a lynx had the withered skin of someone who had spent most of his days under the hot sun and whipping wind atop the crow’s nest as he kept a sharp lookout for dragons or other flying vessels.

The flying ships were an awe-inspiring combination of expert craftsmanship and magic. Two half-circle enclosures around the bow and the stern formed a frame, which held six metal cases against the wooden hull. On the underside of these cases, small, gill-like slats opened and closed by way of a rope-and-pulley system from a control stand above deck. These cases contained amethyst-like kyrillian crystals, which held powerful magical properties that propelled them upward when not enclosed by heavy metal. A sufficient number of these crystals could not only lift a ship’s hull into the air but could also raise entire rock masses, or lithos, from whose undersides kyrillian was mined. Fanlike sails along their sides enhanced most skyships, while trapeze-shaped ones hung on the masts above deck, to control the vessels’ propulsion and steering accuracy.

The ability to fly ships was first introduced to the foggy coast near Skargakar nearly a century earlier. On a cool autumn day, a fleet of flying ships first appeared through the fog. Both the humans and lizard-like Drak residing there were stunned. Those ships had been steered by the folk with small frames, red complexions, and heads like hounds. Non-durier were refugees from a distant land where an unknown evil had driven them south. During the first few weeks, the locals feared conquest and were wary of the outsiders. However, it soon became apparent that Nondurier were not hostile and that both their expertise and their ships could be precious commodities for the entire coastal region. For the first time, the prospect of free flight through the Cloudmere, just as the vogelfolk had always enjoyed, would now be possible for any man or woman without a set of wings.

Thanks to their ships and nautical abilities, the Nondurier quickly developed into highly sought-after employees. The abundance of dragons within the Cloudmere became apparent, and as the many possible uses those great reptiles were revealed, the coastal folk relinquished the last of their reservations. They built more and more flying ships, supported through an extensive discovery of kyrillian crystals. The coastal region, previously a collection of small, scattered settlements amid the lush wilderness, practically blossomed overnight. Especially Skargakar, which prospered from its new reputation as a hub for the most formidable jägers and their flying ships. Anyone on the hunt for Great Drachen wound up in Skargakar eventually—just as Adaron and his crew had done.

With a last beat of the great wings growing from his back, Ialrist landed on the deck beside Adaron and Enora. The Taijirin, as the vogel-folk called themselves, did not seem quite as foreign as the Nondurier on board, but no one could have mistaken Ialrist for a human. A fine tan and white speckled down covered the man’s skin. His large, dark eyes peered out from a gaunt face. Feathers grew from his head in a crest that nearly reached the floor, and powerful wings sprouted from his back that, when extended, spanned nearly four paces. As with most members of his kind, Ialrist had the lean and sinewy build that allowed him to lift into the air by strength alone.

The vogelfolk turned toward the group and called over the wind. “I come bearing good news. I’ve spotted a silverwing circling a flock of cliff birds not far from here.”

“A silverwing?” repeated Adaron. “Now that’s a beast worth hunting.”

Known for their shimmering scales and glimmering silvery wings, which were fashioned into expensive robes back in Skargakar, silverwings— depending on age—could span from ten to twenty paces.

“Where is the beast now?” asked Belhac, the Nondurier who manned the helm.

“Over there,” Ialrist said, pointing starboard. The crew could decipher nothing beyond the endless clouds that streamed past.

“That would lead us dangerously close to Death’s Bleak,” the houndling warned.

“Death’s Bleak?” Adaron looked bemused. “That sounds remarkably dramatic to my ears. Who thought of that name?”

“I don’t know,” answered Belhac. “But I will say this much: any experienced jäger you’d meet in the taverns of Skargakar would avoid that area at all costs. Rumor has it that the mountain peaks hidden beneath the fleece are so treacherous that one wrong encounter could be a ship’s undoing. They also tell of firebloods lurking in the fog there, awaiting unsuspecting prey.”

“A red dragon.” Enora’s eyes glimmered with anticipation. “That would be the catch of our lives!”

“You can forget about that,” said Belhac, shaking his head. “We aren’t prepared for a battle against a fire-breather, and neither is our ship.”

“That may be,” Adaron cut in gruffly, “but we’re the ones who pay your wages. So we’ll decide the course of action. Anyone who doesn’t like it I will happily remove from the deck.”

“Who is steering this ship, then?” the Nondurier challenged, eyeing Adaron. “You?”

“Belhac is right,” Finnar said—being without a doubt the most sensible person on board. The massive bearded man, who had previously earned a living as a weaponsmith before being dealt a bad hand, crossed his arms in front of his huge chest. “This is our first voyage into the Cloudmere. Let’s not go immediately for the most dangerous dragon of all. That can only end badly, and I for one would like to return home in one piece, to sell our wares and buy endless barrels of mead with all of the money we earn.”

“Wisely said,” said Belhac. “My brothers and I share your opinion.”

“Fine, then we’ll keep a distance from red dragons for now,” Adaron announced. “But we shouldn’t let any silverwings escape us. You know how rare they are; their scales alone are worth a pretty pile of crystals.”

“Maybe we’ll even be lucky enough to find a drachen pearl inside its heart,” added Enora, wistfully.

“Why not? The chances are certainly higher than with bronzenecks.” Adaron’s gaze passed over Ialrist, Jonn, and finally Finnar. “I say we follow Ialrist’s lead. On the edge of this so-called Death’s Bleak, there’s only a slight threat of hitting any cliffs. I trust that the Three Gods will know how to keep us from encountering any firebloods on our way.”

“I agree with Adaron,” said Ialrist, now growing restless. “Let us hunt the silverwing.”

“I’m with you,” called Jonn from the crow’s nest, and Enora nodded. “Good, then,” agreed Finnar. “Let’s look upon our riches.”

At the order, Belhac steered the Queen of Fog into a wide curve, clearly unhappy with the decision. His younger brother, Wuffzan, also looked grumpy and resigned. Only the youngest of the three brothers, Felhim, seemed to have caught the hunting fever. He had already positioned the crystal rudders and now set to work hoisting the extra sail from beneath the bowsprit. Veils of fog rippled around the ship as it picked up speed, gliding toward the unknown.


The sun had passed its zenith, well hidden behind a cluster of clouds, when the crew first discovered the silverwing. The dragon circled elegantly over a stone reef, whose peak stuck out through the mist in two sharp crags, each looming forty paces high and pointing up like an admonishing claw. At the start of their journey, Adaron had not yet learned to discern whether a piece of land protruding from Cloudmere was the summit of a mountain rooted deep within the earth or a lithos floating in the air from an abundance of kyrillian ore on its underside. Time aloft had, thankfully, sharpened his eye to decipher the subtle movements that set free-floating masses apart from unmoving ones.

The reef, which before the dragon’s arrival had been a flock of birds’ undisturbed breeding colony, rose and fell gently as if it drifted over the gentle waves of a quiet, ordinary ocean of water. Even today, Adaron could barely grasp that hard, heavy stone, often as large as a dwelling and occasionally as massive as an entire village, could hang in the fog, suspended as though weightless. He pushed back his astonishment; they were not there to marvel at the magic of kyrillian crystals.

“Look at him!” called Enora, her eyes wide and sparkling as she gazed at the silverwing. The dragon measured about fifteen paces from its head to the tip of its tail—it must have been a young animal. Its body was a light gray, and the scale sheath running from its tail, past its back and flank, and all the way up to its neck glittered in a matte silver. Black scales lined its four legs, indicating the beast was male. Certainly, the creature’s wings did its name justice; silverwing—the leathery skin growing between the bony spokes sprouting from its back shimmered, reflecting rays of sunshine into brilliant sheets of silver.

“He’s beautiful,” said Adaron, awestruck, before turning to the others. “We all know what needs to be done, mates. I’ll man the harpoon ballista. Finnar, Enora, you stand ready by the kyrillian buoys. Ialrist, fetch your reaver. And Belhac . . .” Adaron paused, his eyes aflame. “Don’t let him out of your sight.”

“Don’t worry, Captain. We know what to do. The dragon won’t get away from us,” Belhac answered solemnly.

The Queen of Fog picked up speed and leaned into a wide curve to circumvent a mound of cloud and sneak up on the dragon from the side. Adaron stepped up to the harpoon ballista. Attached securely to the ship’s bow, the contraption resembled an oversized crossbow on a swiveling gun carriage. He laid the harpoon into the crossbow’s shelf and threaded fine, unbreakable Sidhari hemp through the eye at the rod’s base. Four rolls of rope lay ready next to him, which would gradually bind the prey, sure and steadfast, to the ship’s side. Using a winch, Adaron began to pull back the bowstring, made of tightly wound dragon skin. He raised his head occasionally to gauge when their target would come within shooting range.

Ialrist appeared at Adaron’s side. The spear in his hands was nearly three paces long, ending in a flat, sharp, scythe-like blade. On the opposite end, an iron ball ended in a spike, which served as a counterweight. Aside from the short bow, used in long-distance battle, a reaver was the most common weapon used by Taijirin in sky battle. In a fight in the winding alleys of Skargakar, Ialrist would surely lose; he needed room for the both the reaver’s swing and his own wingspan to make the most of the weapon. When he had sufficient room, he was a dangerous opponent.

Even a dragon would be wise to be wary; a Taijirin warrior could descend on its prey as quick and sure as a raptor. If everything went according to plan, Ialrist would swoop in, slicing through the muscle fibers at the base of the beast’s wings. A dragon that could no longer fly was a far easier target.

One thing was sure: a giant beast in full possession of its strength shouldn’t be underestimated. Even if they didn’t possess any particular natural weapons, such as spitting fire or deadly acid, they were still immensely powerful. One blow could break bones, and one bite would cut straight through an unarmored opponent without second thought. In addition, dragons were clever and cunning creatures—as this one proved once the wavering mountain reappeared in the Queen of Fog’s view.

“Where did he go?” Adaron said, looking around in confusion. The silverwing, which had eaten its fill of the bird colony, had disappeared. Whether the beast was simply full or sensed approaching danger, it was impossible to say.

Jonn’s sharp vision spotted the dragon first. “There, he’s flying ahead!” called the wiry man pointing starboard, past the cliff’s sharp crags.

Adaron squinted. Between clouds far in the distance, he could make out the beast’s body glinting in the afternoon sun. “Belhac, take pursuit!” he roared.

“On it, Captain,” the gruff Nondurier called from the helm.

“He’s not diving,” Enora remarked. “He doesn’t seem to be leaving because of us.” She stood next to the kyrillian buoys, metal cases with gilled undersides similar to those at the hull, which could unleash the crystal’s hidden powers in large amounts when opened. These buoys would be employed to give a fishing boat extra lift should a dragon, once shot by a harpoon and successfully bound, threaten to pull the vessel into the depths of Cloudmere, taking its men along with it into the depths of the foggy abyss.

“We can’t overtake a silverwing with this skyship,” called Belhac. “We’ll have to follow him until he stops to rest or feed again.” He stopped short.

“Why are you hesitating?” Adaron asked.

The hound-headed man curled his lips into a snarl. “He’s flying straight for the . . . ,” he growled.

“Spit it out, man!”

Belhac bowed forward. A chilling expression loomed over his face. “If the silver doesn’t turn around soon, he’ll lead us straight into Death’s Bleak.”

Copyright © 2020 by Bernd Perplies

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