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Missing Scene II From The Cloud Roads

This was an experiment in doing some scenes from Jade's perspective, but it just didn't work for me. I decided I didn't want the reader to know more about what was going on with Jade than Moon did.

Note: In the final version of the book, Stone can't talk in his shifted form.

Stone was up in the ceiling, coiled around the tops of the pillars, the matte black of his scales like solid shadow. Flower had told her that when Stone was younger, he had had a red sheen under his scales, but it had faded with age, dulled to black before Jade had been born.

Before Jade could speak, Stone said, "He's not from Star Aster."

"I heard," she said, her voice dry. Half the court was in turmoil over it already. He wasn't a solitary in the real sense of the word, he hadn't been forced out of a colony because he was dangerous to the rest of the court. But they had no idea where he had come from, what his bloodline was. And it was a little hard to understand that he had been living with groundlings and hadn't even known what a Raksura was.

"Are you disappointed?"

"No." Jade was relieved, more than anything else. Stone hadn't been asking Star Aster for a consort to benefit both courts, to enrich their bloodlines and make a firm alliance between them, but begging it as a favor. She didn't want her first consort to come to her on those terms; it seemed to guarantee resentment on both sides. She admitted, "I saw him, coming out of the mentors' court."

It hadn't been intentional. After Stone had told them about the destruction of Sky Copper, Pearl had ordered them all out of the queens' level. Jade had gone to sit on her favorite ledge and think about the implications, and try to come to terms with the fact that a whole court, their closest ally, had been wiped out like a bothersome clump of insects. Leaving the mentors' court, he had run right into her, gone almost before she had a chance to catch his scent. She had lurked in a window embrasure until he had returned with Flower and Chime, and she had seen his groundling form. He looked as if he had been born for flight, with the lean strong body that was all bone and muscle.

"He has nice conformation," Stone said, as if reading her thoughts.

Jade hissed, annoyed at being so transparent. She steeled herself to ask the next question, the one that she had come to ask, which would probably cause Stone to mock her mercilessly. "What do I do now?"

"Take him."

"I know that," she snapped. That was the part she was well-prepared for. It was the part that came before it, the courting part, that she had no idea about except in theory. "Should I just... How do I..." She shrugged her spines. "He knows why he's here. So should I just ask him?" But that seemed unfair. Consorts liked to be courted, everyone knew that. It seemed wrong to skip over that part of the process, even though they were in a hurry.

There was a long moment of silence from the ceiling. Stone's coils slid from around the pillars and he dropped to the floor, shifting as he fell, so when he landed on the floor he was in his groundling form. He said, "Probably not."

Jade had so many questions she couldn't tell which one he was answering. "Probably not what?"

"He doesn't know why he's here. Well--" Stone looked thoughtful. "He probably does now. The Arbora must have told him."

Jade showed her fangs, not that that had any effect on Stone. She had a bad feeling about this. "Told him what?"

Stone sighed. "He didn't know he was a Raksura, Jade. He's never seen a queen before."

"When he was with the groundlings. But you told him all about us on the way--" Realization struck and Jade felt her spines flare involuntarily. "You didn't tell him. You didn't tell him he was a consort. You didn't tell him why you were bringing him here."

"He's twitchy," Stone said, as if that explained it. "It was better to wait."

"Better to wait?" Jade growled incredulously, flinging her hands in the air.

Stone stepped past her. "You know you like a challenge."

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