After the tragic, untimely death of Regis Hastur, a ruler who struggled lifelong to save the beloved world of his birth from the ambitions of the ruthless Terran Federation, the Terrans have finally abandoned Darkover to pursue interstellar civil war.
As Lew Alton-returned home to the world of his birth after decades spent in exile as the Darkovan representative to the Terran Senate-wrestles with the dark shadows from his past, his daughter Marguerida's psychic Gifts warn her of impending danger. But danger to whom? For though her precognitive senses fill her with a feeling of imminent doom, she can see nothing specific in her visions of the ever-changing, uncertain future. Her husband Mikhail, as powerful head of the Hastur Domain, is her most obvious concern-for he's a likely target for assassination. Far too many would stand to gain from his demise.
Meanwhile, unknown to Marguerida, her son, Domenic, searches for his place in a world of shifting loyalties-torn between love for two very different women-and struggles to come to terms with his destiny as the heir to Hastur.
But while Francisco Ridenow, longtime adversary of the Hastur clan, plots to bring down Mikhail and Marguerida, and the rulers of Darkover think only of their own political issues, a far greater threat is facing their world.
Even as increasingly desperate refugees flood the streets of Thendara, Darkover's capital city, in the wilds of the far-distant Hellers an ancient menace rises once again-a power against which neither swords nor the psychic sorcery of Darkover can prevail. Only an outlaw Terran, fleeing from a past he cannot remember, may hold the key to Darkover's survival.
Domenic Alton-Hastur : Domenic began the novel as a troubled Heir to Hastur: a little confused and inwardly rebellious, not yet fully ready for the responsibilities he was born with. The political power of Hastur weighed heavily on the shoulders of his own father, and of the Hastur before him, Regis. He didn't want a fate like theirs. Slowly, he came to terms with his talent for politics and position in life. He struggled with his early feelings for and promise to Alanna, and then, his complete attachment and love for his old friend Illona. When a crisis forced him to step into power, he did it willingly and discovered his vocation for it.
Illona Rider : A young nedestra daughter of Kennard-Dyan. She once lived with a group of Travelers (singers and storytellers.) While she and Domenic were young, they met during an adventure and became fast friends. Three years elapsed between their friendship and the events of 'The Alton gift.' When they re-met, she and Domenic were drawn together as lovers, rather than friends. Domenic wished to marry her (despite a previous vow to Alanna) but Illona disliked the idea. She'd rather be his lover and continue her independent path within a tower. She's calm, detatched, and wise despite her age. She showed no jealousy of Alanna, in fact, she encouraged Domenic to fulfill the promise he made to the other girl. Her feelings for him (and for anything else) can't be threatened by outside sources.
Alanna Alar : Margeurida's fosterling, the daughter of mentally disturbed Ariel Alar. Unlike most Darkovans (whose power manifest at puberty) Alanna's laran abilities began in childhood. She had the unfortunate gifts of telekenisis and firestarting, both combined with a willful, unsteady temper. She grew up with Mikhail and Margeurida's children (Domenic, Yllana, and Rory) though she felt estranged from everyone but Domenic. She was sent to Arilinn tower in adolescence. When she returned, she had better control of her abilities and her temper. Though she threw the occasional fit, and still had a headstrong wild streak, she mostly behaved in an acceptable manner for a young Comyn lady.
Early on in 'The Alton gift,' Alanna and Domenic fell in love. They kept their feelings secret for various reasons (for one, Marguerida wouldn't have approved of the match.) Further complications developed during a moment of intimacy. A dangerous new laran ability awoke in Alanna (future sight.) Some time after this, Domenic traveled to Nevarsin and re-met with Illona. These two rekindled their friendship into something far deeper, and Domenic realized that his feelings for Alanna were in fact infatuation. After they (and Lew) traveled back to Thendara, Alanna caught the two lovers together. Her rage and grief brought her to a realization; She could see her own bratty, wilful faults, and she began to turn her headstrong traits to a better purpose. At the end of the novel, she chose to leave Domenic (even though he offered to marry her) and go to a tower instead. There she would unlock and develop her telepathic abilities to help restore Darkover.