I adored AdriAnne Strickland and Michael Miller’s Shadow Run when it released last year. The inclusive scifi epic reminded me of Firefly and was a total delight to read. So when AdriAnne reached out about sharing a chapter or two of its sequel on YA Interrobang, the answer was unequivocally yes.
If you haven’t read Shadow Run already, beware the obvious spoilers ahead – but seriously, why haven’t you read it? Go read our feature with AdriAnne and then go buy Shadow Run and read it and come back to this post. It’s okay. I’ll wait.
In Shadow Call, Qole is the youngest starship captain in living memory on her homeworld of Alaxak and has spent her life hunting a dangerous energy source called Shadow. Alaxans distrust and evade the galaxy’s royalty as a rule, but Qole is now harboring the exiled Prince Nevarian Dracorte, along with some very conflicting feelings about it—and him.
Nev’s feelings are just as complicated, but not towards her. When it comes to Qole, he knows one thing: he’d do anything to stay with her. But when Alaxak is attacked and Nev finds himself framed for murder, he realizes the only way to help Qole and her people is to fight for the throne that should be his. To become the royal she might hate.
As for Qole, she would never have imagined herself as the leader of a rebellion. Despite that, she soon realizes that hiding from her power is no longer an option. It’s time to answer the call, even if it kills her.
This night was mine.
The party was in full swing: the gossip buzzed along my skin, the music thrummed through the soles of my towering heels, and the crowd flowed around me like a river of colorful silks and gems, bending to me.
The ballroom itself was the crown jewel of the palace: a transparent crystalline floor, slowly darkening bell-shaped walls, and the blackness above, where a scale holo-map of our star system hovered and sparkled in the air. Directly under the image of Luvos, my homeworld, in the heart of the palace that overlooked our capital city, I stood. I was the center of it all, everything and everyone in my orbit.
But I had a mission. Heathran Belarius had arrived and was in my sights. I snatched a glittering goblet from a passing platter and downed the contents, which lent me extra fire. Not that I felt like I needed it, particularly. Not even the heir to the galaxy’s most powerful family would be able to withstand my charm, despite how forbidding he looked in his dark purple suit and gold cravat that perfectly offset his near-black skin. His flat eyes scanned the crowd, seeking . . .
Someone stepped in front of me, cutting off my view of Heathran in the scintillating crowd. The words of dismissal rose on my tongue, ready to be bared.
“Marsius!” I said instead as I recognized my little brother. “I was about to greet Heathran. We have very important business to discuss.”
He didn’t miss the dismissal sheathed in my words, and made a face. “You never discuss important business.You probably want to talk about clothes or the latest gossip vid or”—his face distorted further—“kissing or something.”
“Or something,” I said as patiently as I could manage,
suppressing the desire to put my hands around his throat and squeeze. Amazing how an eleven-year-old could try to be so belittling to his superiors. “And since you’ve made your distaste for such topics plain, why don’t you run along and leave me to it?” Tousling his brown hair, I looked over his head to find Heathran slowly migrating from where he’d stood near the ballroom entrance. He wasn’t getting much farther from me, but he wasn’t getting any closer, either.
“Because you should be discussing important business,” Marsius said, dodging out from under my hand and drawing my eyes back to him once again.
I tried not to grind my teeth in impatience. Tonight was for smiling. “Oh? And I suppose you’re here to tell me what that is. Let me guess,” I said, giving him a taste of his own belittling medicine. “Now that I’m heiress, you want more sweets at dinner and you want your favorite team to be declared the unending victors—”
“Sol,” Marsius interrupted with a frustrated jerk of his head, “just because I’m younger than you doesn’t mean I’m stupid. And I know you’re not stupid either, even though you act like it most of the time.” He hurried on after my eyes involuntarily widened, misreading my surprise for anger, most likely.“Which is why I’ve been trying to talk to you for weeks. I have a plan.”
“For how to get more cake on the menu?” I asked dismissively, trying to move around him.
He planted himself in front of me once again, a miniature version of all the men in dress suits who’d been trying to force my attention to their plans, of late.“I can help you.We can help each other. I know that you don’t really want to be heiress, that you didn’t want Nev to be exiled.” His voice grew ragged over the name. Of course. This was about Nev, our older brother and mutual grievance. “I think we need Nev back. I know I can convince him to return, but Father won’t listen to me.”
I sighed. Clearly, Marsius didn’t grasp the severity of the situation.“Nev forced Father to disinherit and exile him. Our brother betrayed us for a commoner girl, and you know exactly how many soldiers and Bladeguards he killed in the process.And our family has been an absolute disaster since he was exiled.You think I don’t pay attention to important business, hm?” I asked, flicking him lightly on his silver cravat, which seemed too grand for his lanky neck.“Well, our finances have taken a dive, our research into Shadow has stalled, and everyone is moping about like you.”
“But what are you doing to elevate it?”
“Alleviate it, you mean?” I asked, smirking as he flushed. He might want to play at being an adult, but there was nothing like an older sister to remind him he wasn’t. I tossed my shining golden curls. “By being a pleasant diversion. How do you like my party?” I didn’t wait for him to answer; his expression was answer enough. “Don’t fret, Marsius. I promise to talk to Father about Nev.”
Despite my not specifying when, he brightened. “Really? I can—”
“You can enjoy yourself, like other kids your age are doing.” “But—”
“You can help, I know.You’ll help by leaving me in peace right now.” It sounded churlish, but I was out of patience. Before Marsius could make even more of a scene, I stepped around him, and bumped right into someone else. A broad chest blocked my view, another dark suit. I wanted to run them through with my smile . . . and then my sharpness melted entirely.
“Solara,” he said, giving me a nod.“Marsius.”
There was no mistaking the dismissal in how he said my little brother’s name, and no avoiding it for Marsius. He bowed his head and dodged off through the crowd, sending me one last pleading look. I didn’t acknowledge it. Too bad Father hadn’t dismissed me with him. I could have gone straight for Heathran, who was drifting away from me, now that he’d seen who was speaking to me.
Nothing killed the potential for romance like a father — and a king, no less.
Father stood, regarding me for a moment, taking in the daring cut of my dress with a disapproving twitch of his eyelid. His own suit was the model of a Dracorte king’s, darkest of blues, subtly embossed with our family emblem at the cuffs, less subtly layered in silver embroidery and military medals that no doubt indicated something grand about his person. The ensemble looked as stiff and uncompromising as he was, though the sharpness of his Dracorte-silver eyes looked dull from the pressure of recent events.
He surprised me by holding out his hand.“Will you honor me with a dance?”
He hadn’t paid any attention to me yet this evening, never mind that this was the party celebrating that he’d declared me his heiress. Perhaps he was too busy silently mourning his previous heir.
And perhaps he was right to.
I stilled the thrill of both anticipation and apprehension that came with Father’s attention, and took his hand. “The honor is mine.”
“We need to talk.” Of course, he wouldn’t want to simply dance with his daughter. He was here because he wanted something, just like everyone else. The music and our choreographed motions would cover any disturbance between us.
“If this is about that peace accord you wanted me to study, please, spare me. I’ll get to it soon.” Actually, I already knew it back to front, but even if I’d wanted to tell him that, he likely wouldn’t have believed me. I hadn’t exactly cultivated the image of studious daughter.
Father led me into the first couple steps of the dance. For a flaring, astonishing second, I wished he would just move with me to the music and keep his mouth shut, and not only because I knew I wouldn’t like whatever he was going to say. He was a skilled dancer, and I could almost imagine enjoying myself. But the feeling, and any chance of that happening, passed.
“It’s about your Rendering, and your Flight,” he said.“You need to complete these important rites of passage for anyone to truly take you seriously as heiress.”
That was almost enough to make both my feet and my smile slip. I hadn’t expected him to want me to pass the test of the Rendering at all, or complete a Flight—a solo mission to bring something of value back to the family—quite so quickly. “I had some thoughts on where I could go on my Flight to improve diplomatic ties with our family, but—”
“That wouldn’t be to Embra, would it?” Father said flatly, with a sardonic lift of one brow.
Embra was the Belarius homeworld. Heathran’s. Father thought I wanted to use an honored family tradition in order to go flirt. He was taking me as seriously as Marsius was.
I carried on, ignoring both him and my white-hot flash of rage. “But surely you don’t expect me to complete the Rendering. Nev did that when he was eight!”
He spun me in a circle.“All the more reason you should be able to admirably undergo it at age eighteen.”
I laughed as I came back to him, though I wished I could scream. “You expect me, in these heels, to stand around with weights on my shoulders for an entire night in front of an audience just to prove I can?”
“It’s to prove your dedication to—”
“I know the symbolism,” I snapped, my cheerful façade breaking for just a moment. “And I know my dedication to my family and my subjects can be demonstrated in other ways.” I couldn’t help a smirk. “Have Marsius stand in for me. He’s young and resilient.”
No one else would have noticed, but Father missed a beat. “You can’t be serious.You would allow your little brother to accept your burden?”
“It’s called a joke, Father dear,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Must every moment be serious unto death?”
Father’s face was a perfect mask for the dancers around us. “I’m disheartened to see that being made heiress has done nothing for your sense of responsibility or decorum.”
My hand clenched sharply in his. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do more, tear away or crush his fingers.Would that I could do either without causing a scene.
Father shot me a disapproving look at what he probably perceived as a childish show of emotion.“However, I can’t say as I’m surprised. Which is why I’ve just come from speaking with Gavros.”
Whatever they’d spoken of, then, it couldn’t be good. “Gavros . . .” I acted as though I couldn’t quite place the name. “Gavros Dracorte? The general? Some second cousin or another of yours?”
“He’s a royal of the finest breeding, and of the highest military distinction. Qualities which will make him an excellent match.”
Match. The word was like a punch to the stomach. “For whom?” I asked, even though I knew.
“For you, of course. Don’t be obtuse.”
It took everything I had not to come to a halt, to let him lead me in a few more steps. To follow like an animal to the slaughter.“But he’s old.” Gavros was younger than Father by a score of years, but he was still over twice my age.
“He is hale and in his prime, with an unparalleled grasp of strategy.You’ll find his intellectual prowess stimulating,” Father insisted in that tone of his, as if he could direct gravity to weigh more heavily upon me. “Anyway, you knew long ago that your eventual royal partner wouldn’t be someone you’ve flirted with at a party.” His eyes flicked in Heathran’s direction.
“And you can never pollute the Dracorte name with another royal line. Not even one that some may see as superior to ours.” I didn’t bother telling him that I agreed. I took a deep breath and murmured quietly, “That’s why I never intend to marry.”
Father paused for less than a beat this time, as if he was ready for combat. “You will put the stability of the entire system at risk for a childish whim?”Weighty or not, his voice was still calm. Rather, it was my hand that twitched in his again. Childish whim? Hadn’t Nev been the one to give up the throne over an infatuation, putting us all in this position in the first place? “Solara, we are talking about the fate of our family, not a game.”
True. The game was up.
“Perhaps you’re right.” My vision glossed in tears, and I lifted my lids enough so that only Father might see them, looking entirely vulnerable despite how he might hate it. I kept my voice low. “I’m not ready for this, especially not marriage. Nev had his whole life to prepare for rule, to accept the responsibility. I thought I would have more time to adjust.”
But Father hadn’t given me any time.
“We’re not talking about him,” Father growled under his breath, sending me into another spin that was a little too fast. “Why aren’t we?” I’d promised Marsius, after all. It was just happening sooner than I’d expected. “Everyone thinks Nev should be here instead of me, only no one is saying it aloud.” I held Father’s eyes as he led me in a complex series of steps, and he blinked first. I’d watched him stare down my brothers more times than I could count, but he’d never managed the same with me.“If you believe I’m not cut out for ruling, then just say so.”
“Nevarian”—he had a difficult time saying the name—“is a traitor to the throne. Your throne, someday, even though you seem not to care much about it. I don’t want to hear his name again.” This lapse in Nev’s duty was a failure to be taken so seriously it couldn’t even be discussed, not childishness, as he saw my own shortcomings. Even as a disappointment, Nev had done better than I, in Father’s eyes. “He is no longer our concern.”
Father sounded like he meant it, but my older brother still had worth to many here, not the least of whom were Mother and Marsius. Many people still looked to him, idolized him, even in his absence, even after all the damage he’d done to our capital, Dracorva.
No one would take me seriously as his replacement. I cast a glance at the farthest planet in the model of our system, its sun a faint spark at the distant edge of the ceiling, nearly lost in darkness, where Nev was spending his exile with his common girl.
“Erratic, irresponsible notions such as these are all the more reason for you to make haste in marrying,” Father continued. “Gavros will be able to support you, guide you in decisions—”
Rule for you, make you into a figurehead.
“I refuse to marry him, or anyone.” My voice turned to steel, slicing through the lecture and making Father blink and miss another step.“And you can’t make me.”
He stared for a long moment. I could see the flash of desperation, as brief as the twitch of my hand, in his eyes. Our family was in peril, and yet he viewed me, a young woman assuming the throne alone, as its greatest danger. In that moment, if there was a way he could have forced me to marry, I knew he would have.
And I hated him for it.
“You yourself just conceded that you aren’t ready for this responsibility,” Father said slowly,“and yet you refuse my solution.What exactly are you proposing?”
“If I need help, there is one person who has trained for this from birth—if no longer to rule, then to advise me as I rule, from behind the throne. His failures will be hidden in my shadow, and his strengths will become mine. We need to go to Alaxak.” My voice didn’t waver now. “That will be my Flight. And”—I swallowed—“I promise I’ll complete the Rendering afterward.”
Father only had to see Nev again and he would understand. No doubt he believed Nev to be an unforgivable traitor. But perhaps not before he would at least try to treat with him. Try to see him differently, despite his past behavior—the same courtesy he refused to extend to me.
When he met Mother’s eyes across the ballroom, I knew then that he would do it. Mother missed Nev. Underneath all her layers of prim and proper, she was completely sentimental at heart. Father missed him too, but the difference was that she’d admit it.
The music swelled. Despite losing Heathran for the moment, the night was indeed mine.