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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2010-04-16
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications

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As the sun sets on the time of the dinosaurs, a new world is left in its wake. . . . Dusk He alone can fly and see in the dark, in a colony where being different means being shunned--or worse. As the leader's son, he is protected, but does his future lie among his kin? Carnassial He has the true instincts of a predator, and he is determined that his kind will not only survive but will dominate the world of beasts. From the author of the internationally acclaimed Silverwing trilogy comes an extraordinary adventure set 65 million years ago. Kenneth Oppel, winner of a Michael L. Printz Honor for "Airborn," has crafted a breathtaking animal tale that reaches out to the human in all of us.



Chapter One


The tree had never seemed so high.

Dusk labored up the trunk of the giant sequoia, sinking his claws into the soft, reddish bark. Pale lichen grew along the ridges; here and there, pitch glistened dully in the furrows. Warmed by the dawn's heat, the tree steamed, releasing its heady fragrance. All around Dusk, insects sparkled and whirred, but he wasn't interested in them just now.

His father, Icaron, climbed beside him and, though old, he moved more swiftly than his son. Dusk hurried to keep up. He'd been born with only two claws on each hand, instead of three, and hauling himself up the trunk was hard work.

"Will my other claws ever grow in?" he asked his father.

"They may."

"If they don't?"

"You'll have less to grip and pull with," Icaron said. "But you have unusually strong chest and shoulder muscles."

Dusk said nothing, pleased.

"That will help make up for your weak legs," his father added matter-of-factly.

"Oh," Dusk said, casting a surprised backward glance. He hadn't realized he had weak legs, but his father had obviously noticed. Maybe that helped explain why climbing was such tiring work.

Just four weeks ago he'd been born, rump first and three seconds behind his sister Sylph. Blind and naked like all newborn chiropters, he had crawled up his mother's belly and started nursing immediately. Within days his vision cleared and focused. Fur grew over his body, and he gained weight. He ate insects his mother had caught and chewed for him.

And this morning his father had roused him in the nest and told him it was time to climb the tree. They'd set off, just the two of them. Even though he'd been nervous, Dusk still loved the way everyone looked at him, the youngest son of the colony's leader.

"Am I odd-looking?" Dusk asked now. He was merely repeating what he'd overheard from others—including from his own mother, when she thought he was asleep.

Icaron looked back at him. "You are rather odd-looking, yes."

The answer disappointed him, even though he knew very well it was the truth. Watching the other newborns, he could tell he was different. His chest and shoulders were bulkier than normal, giving him a slightly top-heavy appearance. His ears were large and stuck out too much. And, most mortifying of all, even at four weeks, no fur had yet grown across his arms and sails, making him feel childishly naked. He wished at least his sails were like his father's.

"Dad, what's it like being leader?"

His father reached back with a rear foot and fondly tousled the fur on Dusk's head. "It's a lot of responsibility, trying to take care of everyone. It's a great deal to think about."

"Like what?"

"Well, we've been very fortunate here. Food is plentiful. There are no predators. I hope things stay that way. But if they change, I might have to make hard decisions."

Dusk nodded, trying to look solemn, not really having any idea what his father was talking about.

"Will I be leader one day?" he asked.

"I very much doubt it."

"Why?" Dusk asked indignantly.

"When a leader dies, his firstborn son becomes the new leader."

"That would be Auster," Dusk said glumly. He scarcely knew his eldest brother. Auster was eighteen years older than Dusk and had a mate and many children. Most of his children had children. Dusk was uncle to dozens of nieces and nephews, and great-uncle to hundreds more—and he was younger than practically any of them. It got very confusing, very quickly.

"But," Icaron continued, "if by some dreadful chance the firstborn is already dead, then the next oldest son would assume the leadership, and so on."

"Borasco, Shamal, Vardar . . ." Dusk felt proud he knew the names of his eight older brothers, even though he'd only ever exchanged a few words with most of them.

"And if there are no sons," Icaron continued, "only then would it pass to the daughters."

"So Sylph might be leader one day?" he asked in alarm.

"A frightening thought, I agree," his dad said. "Of course, her seven older sisters would have to die before her. So it's even more unlikely than you becoming leader as my ninth-born son."

"I see," Dusk said, feeling this was all outrageously unfair.

He paused to catch his breath. High overhead, through the redwood's vast canopy, he caught small glimpses of the sky. Sleek feathered creatures darted through the air. The sight of their beating wings made his stomach swirl excitedly.

"Are we related to birds?" he asked his father.

"Of course not," he replied. "We have no feathers. We're not hatched from eggs. And we can't fly."

Dusk peered up, hoping to see more birds. He loved the way they lifted so effortlessly.

"How much higher will we go?" he asked.

Surely his father wasn't planning on taking him all the way to the tree's summit. That was where the birds perched, and the newborns were always told to stay clear. The flyers were fiercely protective of their territory, especially when rearing their hatchlings. Luckily the sequoia was over three hundred feet high, and big enough for all of them. Dusk and all the other chiropters lived in the tree's middle reaches. Among the profusion of mighty limbs, they nested in the bark's endless network of deep furrows.

"Not much higher now," Icaron told him.

Despite the effort of the climb, Dusk was not eager to reach their destination. He knew what awaited him there, and though he and the other newborns had chattered endlessly about it, Dusk could not help feeling afraid.

"Is this the tallest tree in the forest?" he asked. He wanted to talk.

"I've never seen a taller one."

"How old is it?"

"Very old. Thousands of years."

"Are you old?" he asked his father.

His father gave a surprised laugh. "Not quite that old. But old enough to have had many sons and daughters."

Darkwing. Copyright © by Kenneth Oppel . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Darkwing by Kenneth Oppel
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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