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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Black Leviathan

Bernd Perplies; Translated by Lucy Van Cleef

Tor Books



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 had 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 said soothingly. “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.

Copyright © 2017 by Bernd Perplies

English translation copyright © 2020 by Lucy Van Cleef