Alright. Anyone who knows me knows I get mad.
But I don't often get mad.
The last time I did, I wrote Current to the Throne.
I got mad again, because I read book 4. Its ending made me truly miserable.
So I did something about it. Something besides cry for half an hour (which I also did.)
I wrote a story. About Morrowseer.
Prologue: Of What He Was
That was all he felt.
It scorched on his skin, blazed under his scales, stabbed into his wing membranes, clawed through his fastened-shut eyes, oozed into his nostrils, scalded his ears, and sliced through his mind itself. The pain throbbed like a torn-out heart, freshly exposed to the world.
Morrowseer convulsed in agony. The lava was killing him, and not at all quickly. Some distant corner of his mind told him, Get up—out of the lava—safe—hurry. He swam upward blindly, eyes closed to protect them. If it got in his eyes, all was lost. His throat was literally burning from both the inside and out.
His nose peeked out, tasting the wonderful scent of sulfurous, toxic, contaminated air. His head breached the surface. The heat radiating off the lava made him feel cooler than anything he had ever felt before.
Morrowseer forced himself upwards, gasping for air. He was actually being incinerated. He had to get out of the lava quickly if he was going to survive. He noticed he was close to an outcropping of land. That distant corner of his mind said, If I try, maybe I can make it.
He tried to struggle over to it. He was too dense, and it just made it worse that the lava was so heavy. He lunged again, pain multiplying within his body. He moved a little. He tried one more time. He made it, just barely.
Morrowseer crawled onto the ledge. He perched himself over the searing lava. He inspected his scorched, even blacker body. It was so covered in burns it seemed more burn than tissue. It appeared in some of the thinnest areas it was down to the bone. At his wing tips, even his bones were gone.
He tried to recuperate on the hard ground, the majority of his energy gone. The volcano wasn’t erupting anymore, but the lava wasn’t cooling yet. Soon a thin layer would coat over it, hiding the horrors it had caused to any dragons that dared come after.
Morrowseer tested his wings. They hurt more than he could believe, but they could move air. He stood a chance of flying. He thought back to his special training, and there was a good chance he could swim short distances if he had to.
Morrowseer felt into his ears. A small amount of lava was in them, which he quickly clawed out. It hurt, but it hurt less than actually having lava in them. He did the same to his nostrils. His eyes had been mostly protected by his thick eyelids.
His wings had holes burned straight through them. Very, very luckily, the holes were mostly small. His scales were charred even blacker than they were before. In some spots, they had been burned all the way down to his flesh. He gingerly poked a scaleless spot, and he screamed in pain. It was cauterized completely. All the tissue nearby the spot had been killed by the sheer heat.
Morrowseer looked towards the edge of the island. There was a thin path without lava. He might be able to fly later, but right now he couldn’t. He staggered down the path, wincing with every step.
Up ahead, the lava paths diverged, leaving a much more comfortable-looking, as it were, swath of water. He hated the feeling of being wet in general. Nonetheless, if he wanted to survive, he would have to swim at least some of the way. He waded in. It was very warm, but not hot. The lava was a good distance away, but close enough to be concerning.
He swam forward, remembering a small isle on the edge of the NightWing territory. It was barely more than a rock in the middle of the ocean, but it was at least a place to rest. He swam ashore, barely keeping afloat. The salt had dried up his wounds, and they stung even more. He lay down weakly, nursing his wounds with his claws. He dared not risk infect himself with the bacteria in his mouth. If I did that, I might as well jump back into the lava.
He curled up, tired, wondering how things had gone so wrong. From the moment he and Battlewinner had conceived the prophecy, he had hoped his tribe would have a chance to move to the Rainforest Kingdom so they would survive and prosper. Now they had it, but he didn’t trust the RainWings at all. If the Dragonets of Destiny had it in them to let him die, they obviously were indeed of low moral fiber. He mused, watching the volcano which had very nearly been his executioner.
The “Dragonets of Destiny” were indeed destined, but not to save the world. Their destiny was to destroy it, and that destiny did not hail from a prophecy. It hailed from their sick, delusional “benevolence.” They had likely killed Scarlet, started a SkyWing civil war, turned Coral against Blister, escaped Deathbringer, all the queens, the Night Kingdom, and taken over the Rainforest Kingdom, and now the Night Kingdom. Soon, most likely, they'd conquer the world.
Morrowseer thought back to the NightWing dragonets. Starflight was clearly a disappointment, a coward, a hypocrite, and a traitor. He had it in him to let a high-ranking NightWing leader die solely out of spite, while still maintaining the image of—perhaps even an honest delusion of—being nothing more than a harmless scrollworm. It had been a grievous mistake to choose him as their spy.
Fatespeaker, however, was much stranger and harder to decipher. She clearly wanted to prove herself to her tribe, yet she didn’t mind if a fellow NightWing died. She was one of the most perplexing dragonets he’d ever met. She could have been an excellent spy, if she hadn't met and likely had romantic feelings for Starflight.
The two of them were both problematic, but each in their own way. None of the other dragonets of destiny were any better, save perhaps Sunny, and some, Glory in particular, were far worse. He concluded the Talons had bungled the job completely when they picked a RainWing. It would have been better if they had just kept 4, or even if the dragonets just been raised in the Night Kingdom.
The lava volcano was starting to solidify. If he had been slower, it would have solidified around him, starting at the top, trapping him under it. He shuddered at the thought of what it would have been like if he hadn’t escaped. It would have been one of the most painful deaths imaginable. And Starflight and Fatespeaker didn’t mind. Not as long as they and theirs were undisturbed.
Morrowseer draped his tail over his nose, thinking of how far he had come, only to disappear again into the expanses of Pyrrhia, or else meet his death at the talons of an angry dragon or virulent disease. His life had been a long, good one, at least overtly. He had had friends, fellow dragons of knowledge and cunning. He had had aspirations that one day his tribe would be able to prosper. He had had a purpose in his past, to give everything he had to his tribe to save them.
But now it seemed that the world would not be so. He had never pursued love, never had a dragonet, and never accomplished the things every dragon wanted to from the tiny bits of material within them that wrote who they would be. His only daughter was the prophecy, and she was false. His only true love was his work, his lifelong goal to help his tribe as much as he could.
He had even failed at those. He let down his love, and abandoned his daughter. Nothing mattered anymore. He had failed as a dragon, as a NightWing, as a Talon, as an ally, as a leader, and as a friend. One part of him considered the idea of just killing himself, quickly and painlessly. He thought to himself, The world doesn’t need me anymore, so perhaps I don’t need it. He closed his eyes, miserable.
But another part, a stronger part, thought back, I won’t quit. It’s not over yet. I can still help my tribe. I have my cunning, I might still have Blister, and there are a few failsafes I have, just in case. I cannot give up hope. Not as long as any true NightWing still has breath in her lungs and fire in her stomach. We are among the oldest tribes, and we will not, we cannot give in now. We owe it to our ancestors and our descendants to fight for the sovereign line of NightWings stretching back to long before the Scorching. For out tribe, and for what we believe in, we will fight to the last dragon.
He concentrated, trying to link himself to his tribe. It was no use. They were too far away. He hoped they had remembered the most critical magical treasures. It was likely, but not certain. He hoped his body had at least shielded the stragglers. If he was never going to rejoin his tribe, it was an honor to have protected his members of tribe—even if the two members he had most likely unintentionally saved were traitors.
He hoped most of all that his tribe would live well. He’d given up a great deal to help his tribe through the hardest times in history. He’d lied, allied, planned, schemed, and killed. It had all been for his tribe. His own life was far less important than the wellfare of his tribe. Nothing was more important. Everything he’d ever done was for the greater good of his tribe. I can't give up now. Not after how far I've come. I spent decades working for my tribe, it can't all be for naught.
Morrowseer closed his eyes, awaiting the morning. Slowly, sleep claimed him. He couldn't help but fear it would never release him.
The next day didn't dawn in the conventional sense. The dark clouds of smoke had blocked out the sun. Morrowseer weakly opened his eyes. Literally every part of his body ached in agony. His wings were probably starting to develop a disease. He'd have to swim in the saltwater most of the rest of the way to kill anything in them.
He pushed himself upright, almost losing consciousness from the strain it inflicted on his body. He collapsed, still too weak to move. His vision blurred. Is this it? he wondered to himself. Am I going to die on this moons-forsaken rock, alone, while my people are doubtlessly suffering under a foreign tyrant?
He focused, harder than he had in years. His vision returned, and he could see everything laid out before him. He had thought this talent of his was gone with his youth, but clearly he was wrong. He could still calculate solutions to problems, both abstract and practical, even after all these years. He knew what he had to do for his tribe.
But first, he had to make sure who was on his side. And the best way to do that would be to review just who he had opposed, which meant recalling his past. He didn’t like remembering. In the past, he was weak and a fool. But it would help, and that was enough to warrant admitting his weaknesses to himself.
He gazed toward the horizon, where the mainland lay. He would go there, yes, but not yet. First, preparations would have to be made. He would try to contact a few of his oldest friends, both in the tribe and outside it. It would be nothing more than prudent to only contact those he knew he could trust.
Mastermind was doubtlessly untrustworthy, as he had felt “guilty” after the experiments and embraced Glory as a queen. On top of that, Mastermind was related to Starflight. Battlewinner, his staunchest ally, alas, was dead, by many faults, including, of course, Glory's. Greatness was dubious at best, and a traitor at worse. The two NightWing dragonets of destiny were obviously traitors, and could not be trusted at all under any circumstances.
It was clear only a few dragons were truly on his side, and most were dragonets. Perhaps Fierceteeth, perhaps Strongwings, perhaps Mindreader. His best candidates would be the dragonets that were hatched a few years too early to be in the prophecy. He couldn’t trust any until he observed them carefully, though. He thought over his best course of action. It would clearly be to disappear totally. His death would be remembered, and so his influence would be forgotten.
He thought of how much he could do now. He would watch and wait, subtly influencing his own tribe, diverting his opponents, and all the while, completely unknown. He could protect his tribe from Queen Glory’s tyranny. He could help guide his tribe to their destiny of life and success. And he could help Blister win the war.
Wait… the war doesn’t matter now that we are in the Rainforest Kingdom! I don’t need to help Blister! Why did I think of that? He mulled it over, and came to a conclusion. I became used to helping her. It became one of my key goals. But it will not be one anymore. He still felt somewhat strange, not helping her win. Doubtlessly, it’s just temporary. It’s probably from force of habit.
He gathered his thoughts, and remembered back to all he had done in his long, painful, life. He had come far from that dragonet he once had been. He thought of his friends, practicing their telepathy with him. His mission to the Ice Kingdom. The first dragon he killed. Secrets held by his tribe against their foes. When he became leader of his tribe in all but name. How before the eruption of a decade ago, the tribe was prosperous. Inventing the prophecy to save his tribe.
It had all been for the greater good of his tribe. He had committed atrocities, yes, but he had never enjoyed them. Pain and death were terrible but necessary prices to pay for his tribe’s betterment.
As Morrowseer nursed his wounds, he recalled every significant memory he had. He thought back his time as a hatchling, when his life had been happy and carefree. When he found it in himself to believe in inherent good of other dragons. When he thought they wanted to help everyone. When he expected the best out of everyone, rather than the worst.
He closed his eyes, remembering.
Part One: Of A Dragonet
Chapter 01: Of That Which Is Not To Be
(Eighty-Seven Years Ago)
A dragonet peeked out of his egg. His black scales blended in with his surroundings, hiding him effectively. He sneezed as the fresh air flew into his nostrils. His brothers and sisters had already hatched. His parents peered at him, smiling. He smiled back, filled with joy. His mother picked him up, caressing his egg. He chirped, and she held him close. She petted his tiny head, whispering unintelligible words of comfort. He snuggled close against her.
A loud noise tore through the air. His parents looked around frantically, and his mother set him back down. He huddled with his brother and sisters as a blinding light appeared. He cried, scared. His parents picked him up with his siblings. They went into the sky in a way he didn’t understand. Dark shapes mingled with light ones before his unshielded eyes. Terrifying colors beyond anything inside his egg nearly blinded him with their intensity.
His parents landed somewhere, but he couldn’t see well enough to figure out where. He cried louder, scared by the bright lights and the loud sounds. The calm, quiet darkness of his egg had made him much happier. He hated, feared, and cowered before this terrible light and sound that broke the peace of before. His parents hugged him close, protecting him. He knew he would be safe as long as they were there.
The light died down after a while, and his parents talked about something. The dragonet didn’t understand the words, but he could hear the tone of fear in their voices. One of them did something to a floppy white thing. They took off again, flying back towards the scary place. They left the dragonet and his siblings behind. The dragonet curled up, hiding with his siblings.
After a while, another dragon landed. She looked down at them with a strange gaze. She picked up the floppy white thing, and looked at it. She said something with the dragonet didn’t understand. She picked them up. The dragonet struggled, repelled by her touch. She was much less gentle than his mother. She took him to a place with other dragonets. They all watched him arrive. Once they did, the new dragon flew off. The white object fluttered down near him.
Had he known what writing was, he would have tried to read it. Had he known how to read, he would have gasped in shock at the last line. He would have begun sobbing again at the first. He would have torn the object in half from grief. He would have broken down completely.
But he did not know what writing was. He did not know how to read. He did not gasp in shock or break into tears. He didn’t tear the object in half. He only set it back down, not sure what to do.
After a long period of time, another dragon came into the room. He was taller and more imposing, and clearly older. He picked up the object, looked at it again, and said something the dragonet didn’t understand at all.
Had the dragonet known Draconic, he would have heard, “I’m very sorry. There’s nothing I can do. Your parents died saving their tribe from that volcanic eruption. They were heroes.” He bowed his head. “They wanted you to be named Foresight.” He pointed to the dragonet’s oldest sibling, one of his sisters. He continued, “They wanted you to be named Coupplotter,” as pointed to the next sibling, the dragonet’s oldest brother. “Shadewatcher.” He pointed to the dragonet’s other brother. “Radionuclide,” he said, as he pointed to the dragonet’s other sister.
Finally, the older dragon pointed to the youngest dragonet. He seemed to hesitate, as if deciding if he should tell him his name. He gulped, his spines unconsciously sticking up. He started, couldn’t say it, tried again, still couldn’t, and swallowed hard. He said, “And you… are Morrowseer.” He exhaled, breathing hard.
Morrowseer, however, didn’t understand Draconic yet. He couldn’t hear his siblings’ names. He didn’t know that his name had been worn by only two before, both the greatest leader and the worst tyrant in tribe history. He didn’t realize that by giving him his name, his parents had given him a destiny that most would have wished to not have had. A chance to do either more harm or more good than any other dragon alive. A chance to truly alter the future.
No, he didn’t know any of those things, from what had happened to what the dragon was saying to his name. He only knew that he wanted his mother and father with him to protect him like they had earlier. He curled up with his brothers and sisters. Some of the other dragonets still watched him, but he just hid under his siblings’ wings, wishing his parents were with him.
Chapter 02: Of Those Who Spread Joy
(Six Months Later)
It was a dark, comfortable day in the Night Kingdom. A dragonet was very happy. Morrowseer said, “Yay! Group hug!” He hugged all his siblings. They all hugged him back.
Nothing could ever go wrong, as long as he had his brothers and sisters. After all, every story had a happy ending.
(Six Months Later)
Someone was shaking him, hard. Morrowseer groaned, and said, tired, “I’m up! I’m up! There is no need to awaken the entire area! That would be collateral damage!” The shaking stopped, and a face peered over his bed. Radionuclide’s face, to be precise.
Radionuclide grinned at him. “Wake up! It’s only two hours until science class! I know how much you like science, and I didn’t want you to sleep through it.”
Morrowseer mentally sighed. He did like science, but nowhere near as much as Radionuclide did. She lived and breathed science. Still, he got out of bed, because he knew how much it meant to her. He stretched out his sore muscles. They still hurt from training yesterday. He gazed around the room. Most of the other dragonets were asleep, but a few were groggily watching Radionuclide and Morrowseer talk.
Morrowseer shook out his cramped wings. He walked out to the library. A few grown-up dragons were there reading. Morrowseer walked over to the dragonets’ fiction section. He picked up one of his favorites, A Tale of Friends. It followed the life of a bunch of friends who went on a long adventure and in the end went home. He usually skipped the adventure and just read the happy ending. He loved reading about everyone being happy.
Morrowseer sat down on one of the chair, curled up. He read the ending, cheerfully. Once he was done, he set the scroll back on its ledge and walked over to another section. It was labeled Pure Mathematics. He picked up a thin scroll titled Continuity and Limits. He had read it before, and it was a very engaging read. It covered functions that had holes, jumps, and asymptotes. As he immersed himself in that world of graphs and polynomials, he felt the tug of the sleep he had lost trying to reclaim itself.
Radionuclide walked over. She took note of his scroll, and said, “Morrowseer, you know that scroll is really boring. It’s not fun unless you can make it blow up! Can we go to the labs?”
Morrowseer mentally sighed at the lack of enthusiasm his sister had for pure mathematics. He loved science too, but pure mathematics was clean, precise, and was the logical equivalent of a happy ending—everything in order, with no sad lose leftovers. Ah well. Science is great too! He expunged his sadness, joy already filling its place. He said, “Of course! It’s fun! I love science!” Some of the dragons around him might have suspected he was being sarcastic, but a quick mind-read would have shown otherwise. He was truly happy to be able to enjoy chemistry with his sister.
The two of them walked to the labs. Older dragons raised their eyebrows at the two yearlings, but they didn’t stop them. Those two were known among the scientists for watching experiments constantly. The dragonets didn’t bother the scientists, and the labs always needed more future scientists.
The two of them watched a scientist lift a small creature, a snake of some sort, and pinch its teeth. She squeezed the snake venom into a test tube and carried it over to another area. Morrowseer was grinning. He loved science, but he loved his siblings even more. They all cared about each other, even if they did have their arguments. Morrowseer always tried to stop the arguments. They loved each other, so why couldn’t they just be nice all the time?
Morrowseer and Radionuclide watched the scientists do very cool experiments full of science and scientific ideas. Radionuclide salivated at the sight of all of that science. Her pupils dilated, imagining her handling those chemicals and pressing those buttons.
Morrowseer, for his part, just liked his sister being happy. After all, his favorite thing to do—even more than abstract mathematics—was help them and make others feel better. He wanted to make everyone he knew happier, so he had to be happy himself first. Happiness, to use a simile from biology, was like a virus. It was highly contagious, and in five generations in an ideal growth medium, it could grow from one virus to ten billion viruses. And Morrowseer wanted to be a carrier for the viral happiness.
After about half an hour, Morrowseer felt tired. He asked Radionuclide, “Can we go check on Foresight, Coupplotter, and Shadewatcher now? I wonder if they’re up yet.”
Radionuclide sighed. She whined, “But they’re going to start the conductivity analysis! It’s awesome!”
Morrowseer hesitated. I can’t very well turn down my sister, but nor can I leave my siblings alone and unhappy. They will react with each other with hostility. Despite their bond, they have many differences. Even if they get along, they must always be unhappy if I wasn’t around, as they always are when I am.
He made up his mind. “Just the conductivity analysis, and then we leave, alright? I want to check on Shadewatcher, Foresight, and Coupplotter.” Radionuclide nodded, focused completely on the scientists at work.
The scientists conducted their test, and Radionuclide was panting with happiness. Once it was over, she nearly fainted with sheer enjoyment. Morrowseer decided it had been worth it, just to make her that happy. He led her limp form outside, back to the dormitory. A few other dragonets were just waking up again.
Morrowseer ran over to Coupplotter. He was sleeping restlessly. He muttered something like, “No, don’t. No, no, don’t.” He seemed to struggle in his sleep, whimpering. Morrowseer reached down, and gently shook him awake. He opened his eyes. They were wide with fear. “Morrowseer… thank the moons,” he said, eyes wide. “It… it was awful. You… you stood in ashes… with dead bodies around you… and we were there… and…” Coupplotter’s eyes were wide, and he was breathing rapidly.
Morrowseer held his brother’s talons, trying to calm him. He condoled, “It’s alright. I’m never going to kill anyone. I don’t even like training because it hurts dragons. Why can’t we be trained in diplomacy? Then we wouldn’t have to hurt each other.”
Coupplotter said, on the verge of tears, “Thank you.” He hugged Morrowseer close.
Morrowseer was relieved. His brother felt better. Some part of him feared that dream might have actually been a vision, but he didn’t really believe that.
After all, he hated killing. And he never would kill anyone. No matter what.
Chapter 03: Of Secrets Not Known
Coupplotter weakly got out of bed. Morrowseer helped him up. He tried, with medium success, to comfort him. Coupplotter picked up his small scroll which he always carried with him. It was a political theory scroll titled The Princess. It discarded classical morality and supported politics based on power. Coupplotter loved it.
Morrowseer, for his part, didn’t like it that much. It was too mean. It dealt with deceit and cunning, two topics which he avoided. He didn’t understand why dragons couldn’t always tell the truth. Lying was an ancient technique, dating back to the mediæval times just after the Scorching, when the world had been scattered and chaotic.
It was a dark time of death and awfulness. He was glad he lived in the modern world, where everyone was safe and peace reigned over the entire world. Now that the world was fixed, no one had to be afraid anymore. It was likely, according to some of the political theory books, that soon the world would enter into a Grand Alliance between all the tribes. The mean hatred would just stop.
Morrowseer realized his eyes looked unfocused, and Coupplotter was giving him a quizzical look. He said, “I was just thinking about world peace.”
Coupplotter patted him on the head, and sadly observed, “I know you look forward to peace, and I wish I could. I fear the only peace the world will have is the peace of a desolate wasteland.” Morrowseer gave him a miserable look, and Coupplotter continued, “But we can hope. In fact, without hoping, we would never make progress. Don’t ever let the world’s harsh realities stop you from remaking it into something else.”
Morrowseer hugged his brother. He might be good at math, but Coupplotter was clearly the superior strategist and thinker. He wished he could reach his level, but it seemed intelligence was just something a dragonet hatched with. He hugged Coupplotter close, glad to be able to at least comfort him after his nightmare.
Radionuclide said, “If you two are done being sappy, it’s only an hour until science class! We need to go re-read the material in case there is a quiz!”
Coupplotter stated, wryly, “You don’t. You already know all the material in the scrolls through next year. And the rest of us don’t like science as much as you, so that works out fine.”
Radionuclide gave him a hurt look. She said, “Morrowseer does! There’s a reason he’s my favorite brother, you know!”
Coupplotter ruffled his scales in outrage. He said, “He’s mine too, you know. You can’t keep him to yourself. He likes politics too!”
Morrowseer watched them bicker. He tried to avoid crying. His siblings were always sad when he cried. Forcing down his pain, he synthesized a smile, and said, in a perfectly faked happy voice, “Come on! I like both science and politics! Can we go wake up Foresight and Shadewatcher now? That will be fun!”
Coupplotter and Radionuclide locked each other in a staredown. Finally, Coupplotter conceded, and said, “Alright. Our dear oldest sister always does sleep too much. She could use a waking.”
Morrowseer felt genuine joy flood him. He exclaimed, “Great! Let’s go!” He bounded ahead of Radionuclide and Coupplotter, over to Foresight’s sleeping ledge. He poked her repeatedly, and jubilantly cried, “Come on, Foresight! Wake up! Don’t be sleepy!”
Foresight virtually jumped out of her scales. She rolled over, and, misjudging the distance, toppled out of her bed. Coupplotter collapsed on the ground, laughing. Still tangled in her blankets, she shouted, “Coupplotter! If you had him do this, I’ll stick your tail up your scheming nose!” She tried to get out of her blankets, but she was completely entangled in them. Her wings were entwined enough it was hard to tell where dragon ended and blanket began.
Morrowseer helped her get out of her predicament. She said, “Thank you, Morrowseer. Now if you excuse me, I have a tail to stick up someone’s nose.” Coupplotter’s eyes went wide, and he fled, still laughing. Foresight shouted, “I’ll get you!” Coupplotter ran out of the sleeping cave, pursued by Foresight.
Radionuclide giggled at Foresight’s extremeness. Once she had caught her breath, she said to Morrowseer, “Coupplotter’s in trouble now! Foresight mentioned his nose!”
Even though he knew it was in good fun, Morrowseer couldn’t help but feel guilty. Coupplotter hadn’t made Morrowseer do it, Morrowseer had suggested it. At least they were having fun. He supposed he was just worrying too much.
He just cared about his family, and he didn’t ever want anything bad to happen to them. That would be so awful he tried not to think about it, but his intellect was a curse more than a blessing. He could realize all the awful things that could happen to his siblings more than anyone else. He never stopped fearing for them, no matter how safe they were.
Morrowseer decided he might as well awaken Shadewatcher. Shadewatcher’s bed was in the far corner, away from all the other dragonets. He gently tapped him. Shadewatcher’s eyes flicked open, and he said, in his signature monotone, “Good morning, Morrowseer.”
Morrowseer said, “Good morning, Shadewatcher. How are you?”
Shadewatcher replied, noncommittally, “I am passable. And you?”
Morrowseer smiled from ear to ear. “I am wonderful! You missed the scientists, but we still have lots of fun things to do!”
Shadewatcher said, “I am sure we do. I am looking forward to today.”
Morrowseer knew some dragons thought Shadewatcher was creepy, but he knew his brother just didn’t fit in with other dragons. Shadewatcher had a talent for looking at things from the outside. When others worried over a lack of extras at mealtime, he knew there would be a period at which there would be no food. He had a gift for knowing that which others didn’t. Others feared him for it, but Morrowseer loved him for it. Every talent had to be celebrated, and Shadewatcher’s was a valuable one.
Morrowseer helped him out of bed, and followed Radionuclide, Shadewatcher just behind him. Coupplotter was still being chased by Foresight. Shadewatcher smiled vaporously at the sight.
Morrowseer felt joy coursing through him. His eyes teared up, so happy to be with his family. He mused, This is what life is about. My family is the best I could wish for. It will last forever.
Chapter 04: Of Seeing Beyond Eyes
Morrowseer watched his family play and frolic. After about half an hour of their fun, an older dragon came in. He had scars running down his chest and his wings had tears in them. However, he had a genial smile, and despite his fierce appearance, he seemed kind. He said, “Hello, dragonets. We have a special demonstration for you, but you have to hurry, please. It won’t take long, but it will be hard to do again.”
Foresight looked at him dubiously. She asked pointedly, “Oh? And what is that?”
He smiled, and said, “It’s a demonstration of a strange effect of our mental powers. We’re seeing something very interesting.”
Shadewatcher leaned in, clearly impressed. “And it is where?” he asked quickly.
The older dragon said, “Follow me.” He led them away from their dormitory and down a thin corridor. Armored guards saluted to him. “Don’t worry. They’re just here to protect us.” Morrowseer noticed they were in a part of the kingdom he didn’t even know existed. It was starting to get hotter and hotter, and the stifling heat made it hard for Morrowseer to breathe. Foresight patted him on the back.
Finally, they reached their destination. A hole in the floor was filled with lava, and around it sat several very old dragons. They all had scales that had turned grey with age, and many had chipped horns. Two sat across the lava hole, staring deep into each other’s eyes. Morrowseer gasped in shock. He could, he thought at least, hear the thoughts going back and forth between the two dragons.
The dragon that had brought them there smiled at his gasp. “Impressive, I know. Somehow, the smoke combines with a host of other factors to make the thoughts readable by all. We don’t know how it works, but it could be useful in the future.” He laughed deeply, and said, “My goodness! I forgot to tell you my name! I’m General Unrivaled, commander of the Third Legion.”
Coupplotter gasped. “You’re General Unrivaled? You’re so famous in the tribe! I can’t believe I didn’t recognize you from the scrolls about you! You're one of the examples of a leader used in The Princess!”
General Unrivaled smiled, clearly proud. “Thank you, but the fame and the honor are not my real goals. My real goal is to help my tribe as much as possible. I have devoted my life to defending us from those who would do us harm.”
Morrowseer looked at the much older dragon. His claws were cracked and jagged. Morrowseer asked, “Ummmmm… what do you mean? You kill dragons?”
General Unrivaled bowed his head. “Sadly,” he said. “I don’t like it… but I have to kill them to protect you innocent dragonets. There are some very, very, very bad dragons in the world, and sometimes you have to do bad things to stop them. Otherwise, they would win and then they could do all the bad things they wanted. I wish I didn’t have to, but the world is a terrible place. So to save you and all the other innocent dragonets, sometimes we need dragons that can do terrible things.” He paused, and looked down at his talons. “Like me.”
Morrowseer didn’t really agree with the things this dragon did, but he couldn’t stand to see him unhappy. He patted him on the claw, and said comfortingly, “It’s alright, General Unrivaled. We might not be alive if it weren’t for you. We need you. Don’t feel guilty about what you’ve done. You did the best thing you could when you didn’t have many options.”
General Unrivaled gave him a deep look. “That might be true, but believe me, when you’ve seen what I’ve seen, you start wondering about yourself. Is there a place at which you stop being the desperate hero and you become no different than those you fight? I don’t know.”
Morrowseer said, “You are our hero, whether or not you are without your own flaws. We all have them.”
General Unrivaled smiled sadly. “I hope I am.” He seemed to collect himself, and said, “Let’s go back. Your teachers are most likely waiting for you.”
Morrowseer, Shadewatcher, Coupplotter, Radionuclide, and Foresight were herded back towards their dormitory. One of their teachers, Differential, stood outside. She said, “Come on! The class is waiting for you!” She saw General Unrivaled, gasped and bowed low. “My apologies, General.”
General Unrivaled laughed deeply. “It’s alright. I was just showing these dragonets an interesting effect of lava. Don’t be too harsh on them, please.”
Differential said, “Certainly not, General. Come along, dragonets.”
Morrowseer and his siblings followed her. She, clearly nervous in the presence of General Unrivaled, walked quite quickly. She ushered them into their classroom, and she began teaching. Morrowseer paid attention to the lessons, thoroughly enjoying them.
Chapter 05: Of Games and Memories
(Several Weeks Later)
There was a slight shift in the darkness. Dragons across the Night Kingdom were waking up, as the unseen moons began to set. It was hard to tell the time of day without sight of the sky. However, after one spent one’s life living in the Night Kingdom, one gained the talent of intuitive chrononomy simply from the slight signs.
Morrowseer woke up slowly, serenely dreaming of an interesting mathematical phenomenon. While bisection of an arbitrary angle had long been achievable using nothing but a straightedge and compass, trisection had neither been accomplished nor proven impossible. He was very interested in the problem for more than academic reason. He enjoyed math on a fundamental level.
He opened his eyes, and saw a face staring at him. Shadewatcher was leaning over Morrowseer’s bed, his face still a mask of emotionlessness as always. Shadewatcher said, in his perfectly controlled monotone, “It is morning, Morrowseer. What is your condition?”
Morrowseer said, a thrill shooting through him, “I’m so happy! It’s the Annual Dragonet Chess Tournament! I can’t wait!” His eyes were dilated with sheer happiness. “Do you know who is entering?”
Shadewatcher nodded reservedly. “Yes. The contestants are the two of us and our siblings, and a good deal of other dragonets.”
Morrowseer giggled at his brother’s literality. “No, I mean what are the names of those who are entering?”
Shadewatcher peered away, his eyes unfocusing. He answered, almost ethereally, “Superiority, Onapedestal, Divinity, Checkmate, Trinitizer, Queenkiller, Fullcircle, Mesonfinder, Epilogue…” He continued on like this for roughly a minute.
Once he was done, Morrowseer grinned even wider. “That’s amazing! How did you figure it out?”
Shadewatcher shrugged noncommittally. “It is simply a talent.”
Morrowseer giggled again, and walked over to another one of the beds. It held his and his siblings’ various items. They ranged from collectible NightWing cards to semi-magical items to a few of the last things their parents had left them.
Morrowseer picked up a small mirror. It had once belonged to their mother, and Shadewatcher had found it in the ruins of their old cave. It didn’t appear at all special, but it was somehow different than anything else there. It had an aura of otherworldliness, and it somehow shimmered, like it wasn’t even real.
He put it back down, and picked up another item. It was Radionuclide’s first microscope. She’d gotten it her first hatching-day from Foresight. Its lens had broken in a few months, but it had been one of Radionuclide’s favorite presents ever.
He felt towards something further down. It was a map of Pyrrhia. Coupplotter had made a battle plan for how the NightWings could take over the world in a few days for them. It had been fun. Morrowseer hadn’t liked the idea of conquering the world, but Coupplotter did make the point that most of the queens were awful, and that the other tribes would probably be grateful to have a new leader.
Morrowseer picked up a little spear. It was Foresight’s old training spear. She loved combat, and tactics were her favorite part. He remembered she'd spent lots of time pretending she was fighting IceWings. Now she spent more time looking at dossiers for armies. She had effectively promoted herself from Trooper to General.
Morrowseer leaned over, and picked out a scroll near the bottom. It was one of the most valuable of his items. It was a drawing, done by him, of him and his siblings. All of them were posing, with huge smiles on their faces. Morrowseer had taken a bit of creative license with their best attributes.
Foresight’s claws and teeth were even sharper, Shadewatcher’s eyes were even more disconnected, Radionuclide was holding a vial of a chemical, and Coupplotter was reading a scroll. Morrowseer was just smiling, in the middle of their hug. He felt a kind of warmth inside of him, rather like solving a complex math problem. It was a wonderful feeling, and he tried to perpetuate it.
His family, some other dragonets had claimed, was deranged. While that was possible, he thought it much more likely they were simply smart and strong-willed. Regardless, they were his family, and he loved them unconditionally.
He loved them more than just because of the tiny snippets of chemical matter they shared. He loved them all for their personalities. Where others saw flaws, he only saw unrealized strengths. Every flaw was a strength misapplied, after all.
He put their items back, and walked away, ready to enter the tournament. He was going to enjoy it for more than just the chess. He would get to play it with his family.
And that was what mattered.
Morrowseer stared at the board. He had been matched with a dragonet named Calculating. She smiled darkly, and flicked a bishop forward. He thought about her move. Strategically speaking, it increased the chances of a win for both sides. What that meant was beyond him, unfortunately.
He saw her getting ready to capture his bishop, but realized she’d left her king exposed to his rook. That would be a good trade, but he didn’t want to sacrifice any of his pieces. A few tears trickled down his snout, and he choked back a sob. He realized that probably the only way to win would be to let her take his bishop. He moved his rook forward, and captured her king. She gasped in shock, and buried her snout in her claw.
Morrowseer felt really awful. Not only had he let one of his own soldiers die in cold blood, but he had also hurt another dragon’s feelings. He felt nauseous as he saw her devastated expression. She slowly tipped her queen over in resignation.
Morrowseer played against someone named Checkmate the next round, who easily beat him as his name implied. Some of the moves Checkmate used Morrowseer didn’t even recognize, but the referees determined them legal. Morrowseer remembered them, finding them very interesting. Checkmate won the tournament fairly easily, as no one had the technique to deflect his attacks.
Morrowseer, resigned to his loss, watched his siblings play. None of them made it to the quarter-finals, but Coupplotter got close. Morrowseer tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to cheer his siblings up. After all, the point of the tournament was to have fun, and if they didn’t, then neither could he. That was just how it was.
He wished he knew what to say to make them feel better. If I were smarter, I could have figured out what to do. I need to learn more about psychology so I can heal dragons on the inside too. My mathematics have served me well, but I need to diversify to help my family. I'm just not smart enough. At least, not yet.
Chapter 06: Of Training and Combat
Once they had finished the tournament, Morrowseer and his family proceeded to their classroom. Differential smiled genuinely, and said, “Hello, everyone! It’s time for you to being combat training. We need many-talented dragons who know the secrets of warfare and combat.” Her gaze turned stern, and she added, “Now, obviously, we can’t risk a dragonet getting hurt, so anyone who messes up will quickly be removed from the activity. Do you all understand?”
The students nodded. Grins flashed across the group. The atmosphere was one of thrilled excitement. Morrowseer, however, didn’t share in it. He thought to himself, We’re going to have to hurt other dragons? Why are they all so happy about this? It’s so mean! Why do we have to do this?
Differential led them away into a large hallway Morrowseer hadn’t been in before. A huge cave yawned before him. He nervously followed his class into it—and almost collapsed from shock. Dragons, ranging from about his age to elders over a hundred, darted back and forth using every weapon he could even imagine, and many he couldn’t. Flails, spears, throwing stars, maces, and some weapons Morrowseer was at a loss to describe all flew around the room quickly.
It was awe-inspiring.
Foresight grinned. “Finally, we can actually start real combat training! It’s taken so long! This is going to be awesome!”
To his relief, Morrowseer noticed the dragonets about their age usually only trained against the objects around them, not the dragons. Differential said, “Everyone, divide up into two groups. The members of Group One will practice on the equipment. The members of Group Two will, under intense supervision, practice on each other.”
A heavily armed and armored NightWing marched up. She carried two weapons—one looked kind of like a flail attached to a scythe, and the other a huge scavenger claw on a spear—in each of her forelegs, and she had several additional weapons on her back. Her expression clearly showed her disapproval of foolishness. “Alright, dragonets,” she said in a forceful voice. “My name is Tactical, and I’ll be your training overseer for the next few years until you choose a specialty.”
Foresight raised a claw. “What kinds of weapons are you using?” she asked inquisitively.
Tactical smiled, clearly proud. “I’m holding a naginata and a kusarigama. In Old Sea, kusarigama means ‘chain-sickle.’ The naginata takes years to master, and the kusarigama decades. Once you have done so, however, you are rewarded with weapons no other tribe besides the SeaWings even know exist.”
The class leaned in, impressed. A male asked, “Can you give us a demonstration? Please?”
Tactical said, “Alright, I will. Stand back, this is going to be dangerous.” She gestured to another female, this one wearing similar armor but carrying only a long spear. Differential made the dragonets stand back against the wall. Tactical took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and settled into a defensive stance. “Ready, Combination?”
Her opponent nodded, and stabbed her spear towards Tactical. Tactical swung her kusarigama around rapidly. The metal weight on the end wrapped around Combination’s spear. With a twirl of her wrist, Tactical disarmed Combination. Continuing her momentum, she swung her naginata around, aiming for Combination’s neck.
Morrowseer watched the duel nervously. He acutely saw the gleam of the sharp blades flashing in the lava’s light. As Tactical arced her blade around, he covered his eyes. Once he had managed to open them—only a fraction of a second later—he saw something which made him gasp out loud.
Combination reached up and grabbed the blade without so much as wincing. She parried it and pulled it out of Tactical's grasp. The two dragons now each had one blade. Tactical and Combination circled each other, searching for any weakness. Tactical paused, and in that moment, Combination struck. She shot forward, stabbing the naginata in front of her.
But it was a trap. Tactical swung the kusarigama in a quick twist, entangling Combination’s legs in a whirlwind of metal. With a loud crash, she fell to the ground, dazed. Tactical helped Combination out of the chain, and she rose to her feet slowly. Tactical said to the class, “That is just a small sample of what you will learn in this room. Now, let’s get started.”
There was an air of shocked silence throughout Differential’s class as the teachers divided them up. Morrowseer nervously chewed his talons. He looked over at his siblings. They all looked excited. Shadewatcher gazed at Tactical’s weapon. He asked her quietly, “Can you teach me the art of the kusarigama?”
She said neutrally, “No. Not yet. You need five years of general combat, five more of Ancient SeaWing, and only then may you even be considered. It’s a very difficult weapon to use. If you plan on going into the royal army, I’d recommend learning spear techniques instead. Only a few careers would find it useful. If you plan on becoming a Blademaster like me, then it can be very useful, yes, but it doesn’t have many applications.”
Shadewatcher smiled mysteriously. “While being a Blademaster would be fun, I think I’d rather be a diplomat. Such a weapon is definitely useful on espionage missions.”
Tactical shrugged. “Well, that’s all in the future. For now, we need to begin mental conditioning and unarmed combat.” She guided them into a group with three other dragonets. Morrowseer recognized one as Epilogue, and had seen the other two before.
Tactical pointed them to another trainer, this one much younger than her. He was small but he looked fast. He waved them over. He said, “Hey kids. I’m Torquewielder. I’ll be your teacher for initial training. Now, we start by balancing our centers of gravity. Everyone, spread your feet apart and extend your wings.” The eight dragonets obeyed.
“Now, breathe deeply, in and out. Focus on the molecules of air flowing inside of you. Concentrate on manipulating them to cause them to serve you. You do not control nature, but you can influence it.” Morrowseer took a deep breath, deeper than he could ever remember. “With force of will and keenness of mind, you can learn to master the world. Close your eyes and experience it.”
Morrowseer closed his eyes. He immediately noticed his sense of smell more. He picked out many odors, mostly from the volcano. His hearing, too, also strengthened. Torquewielder said, “Now, tell me what you hear.”
Someone, from her voice probably Radionuclide, said, “I hear lava bubbling. I hear dragons fighting each other and their equipment.”
Someone else, most likely Coupplotter, added, “I hear a bird screeching and insects chirping.”
A voice he didn’t recognize muttered, “Why are we doing this? I want to learn how to fight!”
Torquewielder explained, “We’re doing this to develop improved senses. You need to be very in-tune with your surroundings if you want to be able to use the sort of weapons that the Blademasters do. Tactical and Combination both are extremely attuned to everything that goes on around them.” He grinned. “I’ve got the bruises to prove it.” Torquewielder asked, “So, does that answer your question?”
Morrowseer decided he rather liked Torquewielder. Torquewielder was funny, a good teacher, and clearly knowledgeable about martial arts. He also knew how to explain the reasons for different activities. This was going to be more fun than he had thought.
The student who has asked the question said, “Yes, it does. Sorry, sir.”
Torquewielder laughed heartily. “It’s fine! I compliment you for looking for applications! You must always keep in mind how what you learn here will be used in many different ways, both direct and indirect. Continuing, what do you hear, Morrowseer?”
Still closing his eyes, Morrowseer said, “Well, I hear you saying my name even though I haven’t told you it.”
Torquewielder happily said, “Excellent! You noticed I knew your name even though you didn’t tell me! You should be very proud, Morrowseer! That’s a useful talent if you suspect someone is a spy!”
Morrowseer felt a smile invade his face. “Thank you! How did you know my name?”
Torquewielder said, “It’s simple, really. It was all over your siblings’ minds. They like you a lot, you might be interested to know. I actually picked you hoping you’d notice that I knew your name. That’s a powerful name, Morrowseer, bear it well and proudly.”
Morrowseer felt like the lava was running up inside him now. He shyly said, “Don’t worry, sir, I will!”
Torquewielder went around the group. Everyone who hadn’t shared yet did. Once they were done, Torquewielder said, “Alright, everyone, you can open your eyes now. You have all done well, and it is now time to begin your speed training.”
He passed out straw hats. Noticing the dragonets’ confused looks, he explained, “Run so fast that the wind keeps these hats on you. No flying, just running.” His group stared at him like he had lost his mind, but he just smiled. “Don’t worry, it’s easier than you think. I could do it at your age.”
Foresight smiled. “If a boy can do it, I’m sure every girl here can too.” She put her straw hat on her chest, and started running. To Morrowseer’s shock, it stayed on. The others also put on their hats, and they too began running. He nervously put one on himself, and he tried to run. To his disappointment, it fluttered down to the ground. He picked it up, and tried again. He kept trying, but as hard as he tried, he couldn’t make the hat stay on.
Torquewielder patted him on the back. “Do not fret, Morrowseer. Even if you aren’t that fast, you have… other useful talents. I think you could be a fine warrior one day.”
Morrowseer looked up at his teacher. “Sir, I don’t think I’m a good fighter. I knew when you said my name, but I’m not strong, fast, or anything like that. I’m just not suited to this.”
Torquewielder smiled kindly. “Perhaps something I have to say to you will cheer you up. It’s true, combat skills and physical conditioning are very useful, but it’s my opinion—and this isn’t a universal one—that mental conditioning is even more important. So don’t be too concerned. I believe that you would, one day, make a wonderful spy. You’ve got the small size and the light build that is very good in a spy. I’m proud to be your first combat teacher.”
Morrowseer smiled, touched. “Thank you, sir. That’s very kind. What I really want to do, though, is just make my siblings happy. That’s my lifelong goal.”
Torquewielder nodded. “That’s an admirable goal, I agree. Now, our class is over, so let’s go meet up with the other groups.” He led them back towards Tactical.
Tactical said to the assembled students, “This has been a good class, everyone. I’m quite impressed at our newcomers’ skills. I think you will be an excellent group.” The students shot each other ecstatic looks. If the dragoness who had used those amazing weapons was impressed, they must have done well!
Morrowseer adjusted his wings. From all the training, he had gotten very hot, and being stuck near a lot of other dragonets just amplified the problem. Tactical said, “Class dismissed. Go with your normal teachers back to your classrooms so that they can do logistical items of business.”
Morrowseer turned, and walked towards Differential. She nodded to him and his classmates. “Come along, dragonets,” she said. “This won’t take long, but it has to be done.” They entered their classroom and took their seats. Differential explained, “We need to do this because if we don’t, we run the risk of accidentally leaving behind a dragonet, which would be a severe problem. There are many, many dangerous things the adult dragons do in there.”
Foresight raised her claw, clearly excited. “Are we going to go back there tomorrow?”
Differential said, “Unfortunately, no. We’ll do it twice a week.” The class let out a collective sigh, but Morrowseer was not a component of the collective.
While combat training is fun, it’s a good thing we’re not doing this all week long. I still get to learn about math and science and everything else awesome like that. Now, I can also, if need be, defend myself. I doubt I will, because no one would attack me unless I attacked them, which I wouldn’t, but it still could come in handy.
Morrowseer walked home with his family. Foresight talked about how awesome the training would be, Coupplotter about the brilliant tactics that these weapons enable the existence of, Radionuclide the tragic reduction of learning, and Shadewatcher the applications of stealth.
Morrowseer stayed mostly quiet, but he superficially acted cheerful. He had to maintain an air of happiness or else his concern would spread to his siblings. He could never let that happen. When his siblings asked him a question they wanted an affirmative answer to, he gave it. He smiled as genuinely as he could, but he couldn’t find the cheer within him to feel his own smile.
What concerned him wasn’t his own ineptitude, but more the trainers’ view of combat. They seemed to use it as if it was just a skill like reading or writing. He looked at it how it really was: refining the brutal force of rage into a better and more efficient way to kill dragons. As enjoyable as all the training was, there was no denying the truth. They were teaching him and his classmates how to kill because killers were needed or might be needed soon.
It sickened him.
Chapter 07: Of Thoughts Unknown
(Five Years Later)
Morrowseer focused, reaching out with his field of awareness toward Epilogue. His instructor, Concept, barked, “No! If your opponent is shielding their mind, concentrate on the absence of thoughts! By examining the interference pattern your thoughts project onto them, you can deduce what they are thinking even if you can’t directly access their mind!”
Morrowseer wanted to cry back, “I’m not a telepath by nature! I’m a diviner! Stop pressuring me to be so good at something I don’t have a natural affinity for!” But he knew he couldn’t. He couldn’t risk appearing unpleasant or upset. He had to be the always-cheerful one, the idealistic dreamer, the dragonet who his siblings relied on to cheer them up. He could never let his distraught show to his siblings. It would upset them.
He tried to shoot a random slew of ideas at Epilogue. A few seemed to disappear. Morrowseer narrowed his closed eyes further, and he forced out the identities of these cancelled thoughts. Epilogue relinquished, Can’t-This-Hear-Morrowseer-No!
Morrowseer pieced together what he had meant. He tentatively said, “He thought about how he couldn’t let me hear his thoughts.”
Concept nodded. “Crude, but effective. Had you tried neurological integration, you could have raised the accuracy to verbatim. However, that skill takes years to master, and I would have been impressed if you had even attempted it. Overall, that was passable, but by no means exemplary.”
Morrowseer bowed his head. “Sorry, sir.” He spread his wings sadly. “I need to improve on my telepathy, as I’m not good enough yet.”
Concept said indifferently, “That is correct. You are not good enough yet. I expect you to improve by your seventh birthday. Your mental powers may not reach their maximum until you are ten, however. Until then, we will proceed with training. You two are done for today.” With a wave of his hand, he allowed them to leave.
Morrowseer walked away, exhausted. Epilogue, too, was breathing hard. After a few deep breaths, Epilogue panted, “That, was, so, hard. How am I supposed to think about not thinking about something? By thinking about not thinking about it, I am thinking about it!”
Morrowseer said, “I know. I barely understand mental interference, and I have no idea what neurological integration is. I’ve done integration in math, but I don’t see how it could relate to mind-reading.” He sighed. “Maybe I should ask to quit Telepathy 2. It would certainly free up time. I might be able to take Introduction to Leadership instead.”
Epilogue shifted his wings in a shrug. “It’s your choice, Morrowseer. I think you should finish out Telepathy 2. It’s something of a benchmark when it comes to NightWing respect.” He peered deeply at Morrowseer. “Have I ever told you what my name means, Morrowseer?”
Morrowseer shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. Why? Is it something bad?”
Epilogue hesitated, and replied, “…No, not really. When the world lies in ruins, and the ground is covered in the bodies of the fallen, someone will be there to write one last chapter of the saga of dragonkind.” His voice became hollow-sounding, and he continued, “I am that someone.”
Morrowseer felt a shiver run down his spine. He asked, “Do you want to hear what my name means?” Epilogue bowed his head in assent. “It means I will see the morrow. I will, one day, be a prophet. But it means much more than that as well. I share it with two ancient NightWing leaders, one loved and one hated. It means that I will come to lead my tribe. Which namesake of mine I will follow, I cannot know, only hope.”
Epilogue mused, “It seems we both have powerful, dark names. I wish you luck, Morrowseer. I fear you may need more of it than I could ever wish you.”
Morrowseer gave him a traditional NightWing salute, wings draped honorifically and talons bent at the knuckle. “Thank you, Epilogue. May the wind be swift under your wings.” With that, Morrowseer left.
He flew to the fortress. Two guards stood watch just outside it. One asked him, “Who are you?”
He said, “I’m Morrowseer. I am allowed in.”
The guard pulled out a list, and scanned through it. “Hmmmmmm… Magnetizer… Mentality… Metastasis… Ah, here you are!” Morrowseer felt a sort of presence pressing against his mind. “You’re cleared,” the guard said. “The queen isn’t available right now, but Princess Icemelter is.”
Morrowseer grinned. “Thanks!” He walked inside. Guards patrolled virtually everywhere. They all were outfitted in black armor with a purple fringing. The weapon of choice appeared to be the spear. Morrowseer walked to what a sign informed him was Princess Icemelter’s personal quarters. He politely knocked on her door.
The princess called out, “If it’s another one of you males here to ask me on a date, you can forget it! I don’t care if you’re on my mom’s approved list, go away!”
Morrowseer pondered his best course of action. Her directive did not apply to him, as he was not “here to ask her on a date.” He stated, “I am a male, but I am not here to court you. I have simply come to meet you personally.”
A young full-grown dragon suspiciously peeked her head out. “And just who are you?”
“My name is Morrowseer, Your Majesty.” He bowed low again.
Princess Icemelter’s cold glare didn’t thaw. “Why do you even want to see me?”
Morrowseer said simply, “Because you seemed unhappy the last time you appeared in public with your mother. I wanted to cheer you up!”
She gave him an annoyed look. “I know that’s true from your mind, but the fact that it is true is more surprising than if you had been lying. Why would you take precious time out of your day just to check if someone you don’t even know was unhappy when there was a reasonable chance they weren’t?”
Morrowseer gave her a hurt look. “I would do that because I like helping dragons! I want to make everyone happy! Speaking of which, you didn’t answer. Are you unhappy?”
Princess Icemelter sighed. “You’re not going to leave until I answer that, are you?” He shook his head firmly. “Alright… yes, I am rather unhappy. Lots of dragons want to marry me just to become a part of the royal family. Queen Peacecrafter, my mother, is so soft on the IceWings.” Her eyes narrowed grimly. “We should punish them for what they did to our ancestors.”
Morrowseer felt a kind of despair that so much could be wrong with a dragon’s life. “I’m so sorry, Your Majesty. Is there anything I could do to help?”
“Besides convince Peacecrafter to launch a surprise attack on the IceWings?” She tapped her snout lightly. “I suppose you could get all those annoying aspiring royals to stop romantically pursuing me. That would be nice.”
Morrowseer said sadly, “I don’t know if I can do that, but I will try.” He bowed a third time.
For the first time, she smiled. “Thank you. That should cheer me up a lot.” With that, she re-entered her room.
He smiled too. Yay! I have a new friend! He walked out of the fortress happily.
Chapter 08: Of Alliances and Peace
Several days later, their teachers awoke them very early. The only explanation anyone received was “Tribe meeting.” Everyone was awake in less than five minutes.
Morrowseer stayed close to his siblings as the teachers herded them to a huge cave. He ecstatically thought, Oh wow! A tribe meeting! This is going to be so awesome!
Upon reaching the meeting area, he discovered it was indeed so awesome. Everyone, from the telepaths to the seers to the tacticians to the scientists to the royal guards, were all there. Dragons were discussing various topics, most of which were related to what the meeting would be about. A small NightWing male, draped in silk, announced, “Silence, please. Our queen wishes to speak.”
Queen Peacecrafter herself stood majestically atop an outcropping of lava. With a flap of her huge wings, everyone instantly stopped talking. Although she wasn’t militant or aggressive, she was still a very, very good queen, and her words commanded immense respect.
Morrowseer expected her to begin with a list of activities which would lay out what was to be done next. Rather, she started, “For many, many years, our tribe has been locked in a continual feud with the IceWings.
“This has manifested itself in many ways. It has led to a power struggle in the sciences as well as in diplomatic arenas. It has led to many proposed measures to better the world being shot down by one side, sometimes literally, simply because they are supported by—not even created by, but only supported by—the other.
“It has led to our two tribes considering each other enemies even in times of peace. It has led to more than twenty wars and more than three hundred minor conflicts. It has led to deaths numbering in the hundreds of thousands. It has kept the world stagnating for centuries. And all this because of a war begun not thirty years after the Scorching.
She spread her wings wide. “Do you truly believe it is worth it? Were the hundreds of thousands of lives lost all worth defending ‘our ideals’ or ‘our honor’ or even ‘our hatred?’ Is the knowledge that had we not engaged in this feud, by now disease would most likely be eradicated or at least crippled not important to you? Do you care nothing for all those who died?
“Would you be willing to sacrifice that many again? A third time? Or would you improve to make a better Pyrrhia? For that is the wonderful option we have been given. The IceWings are willing to put our terrible past behind us and work together to make the future brighter for everyone.
“But this is not merely a matter of me signing a peace treaty. This will have to be a massive, from-the-basalt-up societal change. We will have to do more than just end our wars. We will have to expunge all of the hate which has poisoned our cultures. I do truly mean ‘we’ and ‘our’ here. Queen Serac is going to give her tribe a similar speech tomorrow.
Queen Peacecrafter extended a talon in a wide sweep. “So now I must ask of you, loyal NightWings: Will you join in this mighty goal to help the world? Will you, for the first time in eons, truly believe that IceWings and NightWings are not born enemies? Will you become the greatest heroes in history?”
The room erupted into cheers. Queen Peacecrafter smiled as various exclamations, such as “Long live the queen!” and “For Pyrrhia!” were shouted loudly.
A NightWing, from the looks of him a strategist, shouted, “Let’s launch a diplomatic mission to the Ice Kingdom so we can officially end the feud!” More cheers chased after his idea.
The queen nodded, and added, “I’ll arrange for it. We’ll probably bring some dragons of every skill source. Perhaps even some dragonets. They tend to be much more unbiased than us adults.”
Morrowseer felt a huge smile fly onto his face. Yay! We can really help make peace! This is so wonderful! Suddenly, an idea struck him. Could I go on this mission?
His fantasy of saving the world was interrupted, however, by Icemelter. She nodded to him. He reached out mentally towards her, and his a wall of anger harder than any he’d ever felt before. What-what is it, Your Majesty? She pointed towards her mother.
Of course… she doesn’t want peace… he mused to himself. Disturbed, he slowly walked back towards his siblings.
Foresight checked over him. “What’s wrong, Morrowseer?” she asked.
He forced up his cheerfulness. Even when he was sad, it was always there, kind of like a tail. He happily “Well, something was wrong, but now that I’m with you guys it’s alright!”
And, perhaps with the luck Epilogue had given him, they believed him.
Chapter 09: Of Preparations
The tribe prepared for a great meeting. Plans were set into place, moving at the speed only an oligarchy could. Discussions were held, maps drawn, strategies outlined, contracts signed, and progress made.
It was decided that Queen Peacecrafter could not go, as the identity of the NightWing queen must always be kept secret, but Princess Icemelter would be sent. Various other high-ranking members of the Council would be sent with her, along with dragons from every walk of life. Some dragonets would also be sent.
One morning, several days later, Morrowseer literally jumped out of bed. He shot over to Coupplotter, and vigorously shook him awake. “Get up! Get up! Get up! Today’s the day we’re going! We can’t be late! Hurry!”
Coupplotter groaned, and looked over at his chronometer. “It’s 600, Morrowseer. Can’t we wait until 800?”
Morrowseer sighed. “But this is going to be so awesome! We can’t risk missing it! Please please please!”
Coupplotter facetaloned. “Fine, but if this is a bad idea, I will accept no blame.”
Morrowseer pulled him out of bed. He espoused, “Don’t worry! We’ll be fine! This is a historic mission to negotiate peace!”
Coupplotter gave him a grim look. “It just sounds too good to be true. I’ll come, but I don’t think I’ll like it.”
Morrowseer bounded over to Foresight. “It’s the day, Foresight! Wake up! Hurry!”
Foresight rolled out of bed onto him. “Who is it? Who’s there?” she demanded. She looked down at Morrowseer pinned under her. “Oh, sorry Morrowseer. What is it?”
Morrowseer shook her. “We’re going to the Ice Kingdom today! Isn’t it awesome?”
Foresight shrugged. “It’s alright, I suppose. I don’t understand why this is such a big deal. Haven’t there been diplomatic meetings before?”
Morrowseer nodded ecstatically. “There have, but this is unlike any other thus far! It will actually work!”
Foresight stretched, and said, “I suppose that is a big deal.” She got off of Morrowseer.
Shadewatcher had already awoken. He crept silently towards them. “Indeed it is,” he mused. “We should look forward to it.”
Radionuclide slowly looked at the four of them. She slowly stood up. “It is going to be amazing,” she agreed. “Let’s go.”
Morrowseer vigorously flew forward. “Yeah! Let’s go!” The four of them followed him. He shot out of the dormitory and towards the tribe meeting area.
A considerably large group of dragons stood assembled there. “Here for the negotiations, dragonets?” one asked. Morrowseer nodded, and they parted to allow the five in. Morrowseer noticed several guards furtively glancing around. Everyone seemed tense.
Morrowseer asked someone who looked close to his age, “When are we leaving?”
The dragonet looked over at him. “In about fifteen minutes,” she answered. “It shouldn’t be much longer. Until then, you might as well sit down.”
Morrowseer nudged Coupplotter. “See? We would have missed it! Aren’t you glad I woke you up now?”
Coupplotter yawned. “Yes, but I’ll rest until then.” He curled up on the hard basalt. Morrowseer stood over him, anxious. He felt like something was about to happen, but he wasn’t sure what.
Princess Icemelter flew down rapidly. The guards bowed to her. “Your Majesty,” they said in unison. She nodded once, and they moved to surround her.
“Is everyone ready for this… excursion?” she asked sulkily. The entourage gave its collective assent, and she drew herself up. “Then let’s go,” she decided. She took to the air, and the other dragons followed her.
Morrowseer saw the ocean ahead of them. Wow! We’re really going to the mainland! This is amazing! I’ve never seen it! Our loud, he heard similar exclamations being uttered.
The group of NightWings beat their wings hard. Morrowseer saw them pass over the tip of land. Now we’re just over water, he realized in shock. There’s no land! He looked around, amazed. Nothing but water was in sight. It was so big! He’d seen the calculations of course, but it was still shocking to see it in person.
He took a deep breath. We’re really going through with this. We’re going to end this awful war and make Pyrrhia a better place. A chance to do this is its own reward. A deep sense of happiness filled him. I can start fulfilling my destiny.
Chapter 10: Of Diplomacy and Destiny
Morrowseer caught sight of land. His eyes widened in amazement. “It’s even more beautiful than I imagined,” he whispered. They kept flying near the coast. This must be the northern Sky Kingdom, he realized.
As the hours passed, it got colder and colder. Morrowseer started shivering. Still they flew, never stopping, never slowing. He saw some craggy snow-covered mountains just ahead. The lead dragon shouted, “Almost there!” A collective cheer went up from his tribe.
Morrowseer saw something up ahead. It was a gigantic outcropping of ice, imposingly daring any to challenge its might. “Queen Serac’s Palace,” he half whispered, half mentally said. The NightWings went into a dive, and they landed on the ice field in front of it. Morrowseer anxiously waited for something to happen.
An IceWing peeked out. He looked at them like they were animus dragons. “NIGHTWINGS!!!!!” he screamed. “EVERYONE, HELP!!!!!” A large host of IceWings flew out, clearly ready for battle. Morrowseer covered his eyes. This was supposed to be a peace mission!
A large NightWing flew to the front of the group of NightWings. He shouted, “We are here as diplomats! We did not come to fight!”
The IceWings hovered suspiciously. “Why should we believe you?” one asked. “You’re NightWings!”
The same large NightWing shouted back, “Ask your queen! We negotiated this meeting weeks in advance!”
The IceWing troops seemed to disintegrate into hushed discussions. One soldier said, “Our queen isn’t here. This is just our southern outpost. Queen Serac’s Palace is farther north. You wouldn’t survive going there, it’s too cold.”
The large NightWing replied, “Then bring her here or bring diplomats. We will need a place to stay while we try to end this feud.”
The IceWings grumbled among themselves skeptically, and one flew off to confirm that this was indeed a real diplomatic mission. His fellow NightWings bunched together to stay warm. He ended up near Princess Icemelter and a few of her guards.
Somewhat uncomfortable, he asked, “How are you, Your Majesty?”
She gave him a look like he had just asked if she was an IceWing. “Perfectly awful,” she said flatly. “I’m freezing my tail off in the Ice Kingdom, where we have been sent, not to wipe out these monsters, but to try to ‘befriend’ them, by my mother, who believes in some delusion of ‘peace’ or ‘progress.’ There will be peace when the IceWings have been exterminated and the other tribes recognize our supremacy, and not until then.”
Morrowseer didn’t know how to respond to a statement like that. He timidly asked, “Ummmmmm… are you sure? I mean, won’t there be peace if everyone just stops fighting and hating each other? Wouldn’t that be a more direct path to peace, rather than making it out of war?”
She glared at him. “So then you’re on my mother’s side?” It was more accusation than question.
He felt tears roll down his eyes. They froze before they hit the ground. He choked out, “No, I’m not! There shouldn’t even be sides! We’re all in this together! You want to help the NightWings, I want to help the NightWings, and your mother wants to help the NightWings! We just want to do it different ways! I am not against you!”
“I hope you are right,” she muttered. She turned away to talk to another dragon, and he lay down on the ground, cold. Several minutes passed as he reflected on what a terrible start to a peace meeting this was.
His siblings walked over and checked on him. “What’s wrong, Morrowseer?” Foresight asked. From the look on her face, she was ready to attack Princess Icemelter if he told her she was the reason he was sad.
Covering his eyes, Morrowseer sobbed, “Everything. Look around! We’re in the Ice Kingdom, and we don’t even know if they’re going to let us in! I’m afraid we’ll go back to war, Foresight, and I don’t want us to.”
Radionuclide sat down next to him, and hugged him. “Don’t worry, Morrowseer. It’ll turn out okay. I’m sure the war will be over within a week.”
Morrowseer peered up. “I hope so,” he whispered.
Night had fallen on the ice, both literally and metaphorically. Queen Serac had not yet arrived, and the IceWings had refused to let the NightWings into their outpost until she did, but they’d consented to let them sleep in a large ice cave nearby. They had huddled together to keep warm.
It was almost completely dark when Morrowseer saw something flickering outside in the sky. The sky was glowing with energy. It looked like someone had taken beauty and emotion and turned them into light. His breath, already scarce from the cold, completely disappeared. It was the most wonderful thing he had ever seen in his life.
For a moment, he forgot about the feud between his tribe and the IceWings. He didn’t worry about the cold, about Icemelter’s belligerence, about the IceWings rejecting peace, about his own shortcomings; he just watched the sky blazing like it had consumed a star. Nothing moved except the dancing, twirling webs of light cast across the blackened sky.
After Morrowseer spent some time watching the display—perhaps a minute, perhaps an hour, he couldn’t tell—he noticed he was not the only dragon awake. Someone he didn’t know was also looking outside.
Morrowseer yawned deeply. He felt a sort of pressure squeezing his mind. As his eyelids drooped, he saw the aurora, glowing ever brighter, streaking over the cave of ice.
The next morning, a morning where it was far brighter than at night, Morrowseer woke up to blinding light. The sun was reflected throughout the mirrors of glacial ice. A large NightWing nearby stretched her huge wings and stood up.
He did the same, and looked around. His four siblings had slept nearby. He quickly rushed over to them. Coupplotter winked conspiratorially, and stood up. Morrowseer woke Foresight and Shadewatcher, but Radionuclide was already awake. She tackled him. “I can’t wait to dissect an IceWing!” she exclaimed. “There’s even weirder-looking than I thought!”
He said, nervously, “I don’t think that’s a good idea. We should be looking for peace, after all, and dissecting someone isn’t a good way to start.”
She sighed. “Awwwww. I suppose you’re right, Morrowseer. It would still be so much fun. Maybe if we find one that’s already dead.”
Morrowseer did his best to force down the impending feeling of dread. He just knew, somehow, these peace talks were doomed to failure. It was completely irrational, but he knew it as certainly as he knew his own name. Something terrible would happen soon; he was sure of it. Could this be my name coming true? he asked himself in horror. He frantically looked down at his forelegs, half expecting to see himself to start tearing dragons apart with his bare claws.
Coupplotter stared at him, visibly concerned. “What is it, Morrowseer? What’s wrong?”
Morrowseer shook his head, forcing a smile. With a supreme effort of will, he made it convincing. “I’m just nervous, that’s all.” It wasn’t a lie, just an understatement. He brightened his eyes to enhance the illusion.
Shadewatcher pressed his talon against Morrowseer’s forehead. Morrowseer felt a presence invade his mind. “You’re hiding something, Morrowseer, and that’s not like you,” Shadewatcher said. “Something’s really wrong, isn’t it?”
Morrowseer nodded in a panicked way. “Yes! I’m really worried about these peace talks! I think they might go awry!”
Foresight grabbed him by the arm. “Listen, Morrowseer,” she said firmly. “It’s alright. I had my doubts—I still do, for that matter—but our elders are serious about this, and when Queen Serac gets here, theirs will be too. Yes, there will be obstacles, there always are, but we’ll make it through and the world will be a better place because of it.”
Morrowseer looked from each of his siblings to the next. All their expressions were laced with kindness and loyalty. He felt his courage returning. “You’re right,” he decided. “We will figure out a way to bring about peace.”
Radionuclide hugged him. “There’s the Morrowseer we know!” she exclaimed. Foresight, Shadewatcher, and Coupplotter joined into their hug.
Suddenly, a blur of blue and white shot across the sky towards them. It slowed down, and as it got closer, Morrowseer recognized what it was.
Queen Serac had arrived.
Chapter 11: Of Arrivals and Rivalries
A mental order tore through the group mind. Everyone, attention. Elders to the front, soldiers to the flanks, scholars back, dragonets middle. We must appear organized to improve our impression on this critical meeting.
Morrowseer hurried over to the center. He looked at the ground and, triangulating his position, calculated he was within 5% of the center. He tucked his wings in formally, and snapped to attention.
His siblings were scattered across the dragonet area. He strained his neck trying to spot Queen Serac and her advisors. With a whoosh that made the spines on his neck flatten, she landed at the mouth of the huge cave. The leaders and elders bowed, and following their lead, the rest of the NightWings did as well.
Queen Serac raised her voice in a speech, clearly disconcerted. “Why are you out here in the cold, NightWings? You’re our guests, and this is a terrible way for you to be treated!”
Princess Icemelter responded, in a tone befitting the Ice Kingdom, “Because your soldiers refused to let us inside the fort, Your Majesty. Of course, if you were to let us in, that would be quite pleasant.”
Queen Serac’s gaze locked onto Princess Icemelter. “Who refused you entry, when you have expressly come here as peacemakers?” the queen growled to the assembled NightWings. Rage flickered in her eyes.
Another leader spoke up, “We didn’t learn their names. We could probably point them out to you, though.”
Queen Serac nodded. “They’ll be demoted,” she stated. “I hope you don’t hold this against us.” She visibly relaxed, and continued, “But that is for the future. Now, let us go to the outpost and have a feast.”
The NightWings cheered. Morrowseer laughed from sheer relief. It will be okay after all! he told himself. We are going to make peace!
Queen Serac nodded to her advisors, and everyone, NightWings and IceWings alike, flew to the outpost. Jaws dropped in unison among the IceWing guards. She stated, “Let them in. They are indeed here as diplomats, and denying them entry is no way to treat them. Luckily, none died from exposure.”
One IceWing, probably only a few years older than Morrowseer, cried out, “They’re coming inside?! Now? Before we’ve prepared? They’ll see all of our military secrets!”
Queen Serac narrowed her eyes. “Snjor, I very much doubt you want to lose your brother the way you lost your sister, so trying to make peace is in your interest.” Snjor snarled, but didn’t respond. She never took her eyes off the NightWings.
But once he got inside, Snjor’s hostility was the furthest thing from his mind. The entire outpost was made entirely of solid ice. The chandeliers had been designed so that the refracted the light into brilliant rainbows across the main hall. There was a sphere of ice separating the roof of the palace and the cold air outside. It was truly amazing. A great feast lay out ready for them. It seemed the cooks had prepared for the NightWings, just in case they were indeed diplomats.
Queen Serac took her seat at the head of the table. She said, apologetically, “I’m sorry, my guests, that you couldn’t dine with me in the Palace of Ice. It is far too cold for you, but please know that it would make this outpost look like a MudWing hut. It’s the most modern palace in the world, save perhaps yours, which we know nothing of.”
Morrowseer found himself next to a male guard and a female dragonet he vaguely recognized. He asked the dragonet, “Hello… have we met before? I feel like I know you from somewhere…”
She said, in an uncertain voice, “Maybe. I don’t think I know you, but I might. What’s your name?”
He replied, “I’m Morrowseer. I’m six years old. I like peace and kindness and making dragons happy. I also love math and my siblings.”
She tapped her snout pensively. “Morrowseer… Morrowseer… where have I heard that name before?” After several moments of thinking, she shrugged. “Anyway, I’m Calculating, and my specialty is logistics and planning. I’m looking forward to how a large embassy is organized and maintained. It’ll come in handy when I’m assigned to the SandWings for the diplomats.”
Morrowseer thought back to the dragons he’d known over the years. He couldn’t remember who Calculating was, but he was almost sure he had met her. Argh! he mentally fumed. Why can’t I remember?
Calculating said, calmly, “Don’t get upset, Morrowseer. It’s not that important. If you really want to, we can get an expert telepath to scan your memories. Have fun, it’s a diplomatic meeting!”
Morrowseer snapped back to reality. A broad grin broke out on his face. “You’re right! It is! Let’s just enjoy ourselves!” He picked up a freeze-dried penguin and began munching on it. It was very delicious, and he savored its taste.
Once the feast was over, there was the question of where the visitors were to sleep. It was eventually decided they would sleep on the floor of the main hall once the tables were moved out of the way. Upon nightfall, polar bear furs would be laid out to make it more comfortable.
In the meantime, the leaders of both tribes would meet and discuss various diplomatic issues deemed too sensitive for ordinary dragons to know. Everyone else was free to enjoy themselves as they saw fit.
Morrowseer eagerly thought of all the dragonets he’d get to meet. All the new friends he would soon have. The peace, imminent as a morn’s sunrise, would soon be upon them. And maybe, just maybe, the NightWings would be able to reenter into world politics as peacemakers to heal old feuds and lead the world into a new golden age. And he would be able to say to the next generations, whether his own dragonets or those of others, “I watched peace be made and the world saved with my own eyes.”
And so it would be. He knew it with every drop of his blood. He was sure it was a prophecy, manifesting as real and concrete as a solar eclipse. It was certain to happen beyond every trace of doubt. And why should it not? Didn’t everyone, regardless of how militant they were, want peace, for some motivation? He had only to put it into rhyme, and then it would be recorded in NightWing annals for the world to see, and for the descendants of all tribes to rejoice at how much better life was than the dark ages of years past.
He thought of all the wonderful things that were soon to come, from the feasts between former foes, to the sharing of secrets jealously kept for millennia, to the treaties waiting to be written, to the new order, where love, kindness, and compassion, rather than cruelty, harshness, and war, would reign.
Everything, soon, would be made right. And a word he had read, in a controversial, little-known book—a truly perfect world, a utopia—would become reality.
When Morrowseer rejoined his siblings, he found uncertainty among them about what they would do in the meantime. Coupplotter wanted to explore—it would be useful to know their ally’s/enemy’s terrain, he stated—and he convinced the other four to go with him.
Coupplotter shouted, “Come on! Let’s explore! This is the Ice Kingdom, the home of our former enemies and future allies! We should get to know it! Think of all the awesome prey we’ll get to hunt!”
Foresight smiled. “I wonder if we’ll find any polar bears. I hear they’re very delicious, and I’d love to have one! I mean, come on! We’re in the Ice Kingdom! This could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience!”
Morrowseer nodded. “And think about all the IceWings we’ll be able to make friends with! I wonder if they have martial arts and tactics and scholarly training! I doubt they have telepathy and precognition training, because they don’t have telepathy or precognition, but maybe they have freezing-death breath training or something like that!”
Radionuclide said proudly, “Well, if they don’t have science, powers, or the other fine arts, then, as mighty NightWings, it is our duty to uplift them! With our far superior power, we must also have far superior society and culture, and it is our duty to share our gifts with the unenlightened world of weakness, savagery, and ignorance.”
Coupplotter nodded. “It truly is a heavy burden, to have to be the greatest nation in the world. It means we have the power to crush all others into oblivion, and yet we cannot do so, because we have to be the ethically greatest as well. No other tribe could handle the responsibility nor the power. It can only be us.”
Shadewatcher commented, “Indeed. We are the greatest tribe by far. No other even approaches our might. The IceWings should be joyous to know that we have consented to speak diplomatically with them. After all, it is our supremacy that will be the catalyst for a new Golden Age.”
Morrowseer nodded vigorously. “Of course! After all, it was us who instigated the Scorching, it was us who developed the queen system, writing, metallurgy, mathematics, and so many more techniques to better the world! I am truly proud to be a NightWing.”
The five of them set out into the snow, ready to explore, make new friends, hunt, uplift, and do as they would. Even they, the mighty, superior, supreme NightWings, could not know how that decision to go outside would shape the course of history.
Chapter 12: Of Ruination and Desolation
Morrowseer bounded across the frozen ground. “Race you,” he challenged playfully to Foresight. “Bet I can get to that glacier before you can!”
Foresight grinned. “You’re on!” She shot forward, her back arching to streamline her into the shape of an arrow. She quickly passed him, and he gasped for breath. She didn’t even break pace, and stuck her foreclaws out in front of her. She landed with a crash onto the deoxygenated ice, and groaned. “I win!”
“Hey, no fair!” Morrowseer grinned back. “You started before I said ‘go!’ That doesn’t count!”
Foresight laughed. “Coupplotter, Shadewatcher, Radionuclide, you judge it. Was that fair or not?”
Coupplotter instantly answered, “Oh, that was definitely cheating.” He smirked wryly. “Not that cheating’s a bad thing. I do it all the time.”
Radionuclide added, “Morrowseer didn’t even have to time to lift off before you’d already reached it. Yeah, no. That doesn’t count.” A smile shined through her fake seriousness.
Shadewatcher didn’t say anything. He wasn’t even looking at them. All his attention was on the horizon. “We’ll soon have company,” he said quietly and disinterestedly. Somehow, it looked like he hadn’t even moved his mouth when he was speaking. But that was impossible… right?
The specks he’d seen were fast approaching. They were barely visible against the blinding white sky, but Shadewatcher pointed them out to the others. “From the luster of their scales, they’re IceWings,” Radionuclide observed. “And by the angle of their wings, they’re angry. It’s good we’re here as diplomats, or we might be in danger.”
Foresight lowered her center of gravity into a combat position. “If they want a fight, they’ve found the dragon to satisfy them,” she growled.
Morrowseer grabbed onto her arm. “No, don’t!” he cried. “This is a peace meeting! That means we can’t be aggressive, or else we’ll be committing an act of war!”
Foresight brushed off his claw. “I’m not going to start a fight, don’t worry. I’m just saying if they start it, I’ll fight back. And I’m doing it whether you want me to or not, because I’m not going to let you four get hurt.”
Morrowseer felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. This isn’t a good idea, he wanted to say. We’ll provoke them into combat, and then we’ll have blood on our claws. But he knew that Foresight would defend him and his siblings, even if it meant starting a war. She couldn’t see as far as he could, and she cared too much about him to risk his injury.
The lead IceWing was now close enough to roughly see. The disgust and contempt in her eyes was unmistakable. Morrowseer actually flinched as she furiously stared at him. She swooped down, and landed hard but flatly on one of the omnipresent snowbanks.
A few other IceWings, all older dragonets, followed her. Morrowseer recognized Snjor among them. Their leader was a whitish-blue, cruel-looking female, probably between eight and ten. She had a long scar down her snout, and she looked like she’d love to tear his arms off and beat him to death with them.
Foresight drew back, shielding Morrowseer and his siblings with her wings. She narrowed her eyes, baring her teeth aggressively. Her scales seemed to ripple when she flexed her powerful muscles.
Another of the gang of IceWings, this one a thin, tall male, mocked, “What are you doing out here in our kingdom, NightWing losers? Didn’t your parents ever teach you not to invade another tribe’s territory?”
Foresight roared, “Our parents are dead! Now leave us alone, or you’ve got another thing coming!”
The female leader snarled. “Is that a threat, night girl? Want to fight?”
Shadewatcher narrowed his eyes. He whispered, barely audible, “I will duel you.”
The thin male laughed. “You want to fight Sastruga? She’d kick your tail with both claws tied behind her back.”
Shadewatcher challenged, “Prove it.” Morrowseer had never seen him angry before, but now an ethereal light seemed to be glowing in his eyes. “Or maybe you’re not as good a fighter as you pretend you are. Maybe you’re just lying to stay in power over this pathetic band of weaklings.”
Sastruga roared in fury, “You’ll be eating those words in a minute, smart guy.” She turned towards one of her cronies, who dutifully tied her claws behind her. “Now let’s see which of us is all talk.”
Shadewatcher stretched his talons, and got into position opposite her. Radionuclide hurriedly said, “Rules one: no killing, and it’s over when one of you surrenders. Do you agree?”
Sastruga shook her head. “No. It’s over when I decide it’s over.”
Coupplotter added, a devious smirk on his face, “Or when he does, if he wins.” She, growling, nodded.
Radionuclide yelled, “Then, combatants, begin!”
Sastruga dove towards Shadewatcher, claws outstretched. He whirled to dodge, and she missed him by centimeters. He clawed her back, his sharpened talons cutting long, shallow wounds. She flared her wings, spiraled upside-down, and body-slammed him, shoulder-first, into the permafrost. His eyes unfocused a little, but other than that he showed no sign of pain. Holding him down, she kicked him in the head, hard. His eyes unfocused again, but they took longer to refocus this time. Snjor, the tall male, and the other gang-members cheered her on.
Morrowseer sobbed, “Stop it! Leave him alone! You beat him, we all can see that! Stop hurting him!” He saw Foresight tensing her muscules, Radionuclide reaching into her pack, and Coupplotter smirking knowingly.
A smaller, stockier IceWing snorted in amusement. “Do you really think we’re going to let a real NightWing go just because another NightWing wants us to? He insults us, he pays for it. Simple as that.”
Foresight shouted, “No, Morrowseer’s right! You won, we lost. What more do you want from him?!”
Sastruga pressed a claw against his throat. “What more do I want?” she hissed. “I want you to pay for what your tribe’s done. You killed my whole family, and Snjor’s brother.” A few drops of dark red blood oozed out of where her talons lay, and Shadewatcher’s eyes widened in genuine fear. “I could kill you if I wanted to. Or I could be merciful and let you live.” She smiled darkly. “Of course, you can’t expect me to give up a chance like this to get some revenge.” She pressed harder.
Suddenly, Morrowseer didn’t know what was happening. He just saw Shadewatcher’s blood spurting out, and he felt a blast of breeze on his face. He found himself rushing forward, clawing, biting, breathing fire, kicking, doing anything he could to get Sastruga to stop hurting Shadewatcher. Cold, almost frozen bluish-red blood flowed freely on his flashing claws.
Something swept out his feet, and he fell forward. His head hit the ground, and the world spun around him. He screamed as loud as he could, hoping it would help. “Someone, HELP!”
A new flash of black shot forward, knocking Sastruga away. He turned to watch it, something—hope? anger? fear?—flaring in his heart. The newcomer clawed Sastruga in the neck, blood dripping out. Sastruga roared, and she snapped the bonds on her claws effortlessly. “Looks like you want to die too,” she snarled furiously.
Morrowseer suddenly realized who their savior was. The fierce, black dragoness wore the enchanted plate armor reserved for royalty. It was Princess Icemelter! She’d come to save them! But then why was she looking so… happy? Was that a grimace in pain… or a sadistic smile at the blood still flowing freely from Sastruga’s neck?
Before Morrowseer could ask, Icemelter rolled under Sastruga, sweeping out her legs. Sastruga went down in a heap. Icemelter didn’t give Sastruga a second to react, and clawed her vulnerable, undefended neck. The blood wasn’t flowing anymore. Now it was spurting. She followed up with an elbow to the vulnerable base of the IceWing’s neck. Every blow was calculated and aimed carefully. Icemelter wasn’t trying to fight away Sastruga. She was trying to kill her.
Sastruga cried out, “Mercy, please! You win!” Tears rolled down her eyes and froze before they hit the ground. “I surrender!” Icemelter didn’t even slow down. Every time Sastruga tried to fight back, or even escape, Icemelter easily countered her. Most horrifyingly of all, the more Sastruga screamed, the more Icemelter smiled.
“This is for our ancestors,” Icemelter hissed, and snapped Sastruga’s already-almost-torn-in-half neck. The awful crack seemed to echo in Morrowseer’s ears long after the sound had died down.
Sastruga’s cronies looked at Icemelter in horror, with blood still dripping off her claws. “Did I forget to introduce myself?” she asked sweetly. “I am Princess Icemelter.” She winked, almost flirtatiously, at the tall male. “Oh, by the way, I got my name for my talent at killing IceWings.” That was enough for them. Snjor, the tall male, and the rest of the IceWings turned and fled screaming.
Morrowseer watched them go. It was clear from the way Icemelter’s wings tensed she wanted to go after them and kill them all, but she turned to Shadewatcher. “Are you alright?” she asked, concern on her face. He nodded, still wincing.
“Good,” she ordered. A dark smile returned to her snout. “Then in that case, the peace meet will be cancelled. The official press release will read ‘IceWing Gangsters Attack Innocent NightWing Dragonets, Serac Refuses to Punish Offenders.’ That should rile up the commoners enough to start another war.”
A few more tears crept down his snout, and he realized they were in pity. He was pitying the dragon who had been torturing her brother. Why? Why do I feel bad for her? She was doing that for no reason! He’s already surrendered!
Icemelter had been fighting with as much precision and calculation as if Sastruga was just a prey animal she was hamstringing, not another thinking, feeling dragon. She had ignored the pleas for mercy. Even Sastruga had considered Shadewatcher’s, and in his heart, he didn’t think she was going to kill him. Maim him, maybe, but not kill him. And now Icemelter killed her.
So caught up was he in his own thoughts, that it took him a few moments to register what Princess Icemelter had said. He cried out, “Start another war?! Why!? We came here to make peace and help the world, not start a war!”
She narrowed her eyes. With a calculated growl, she answered, “Maybe you did, but I came here for reconnaissance, espionage, and sabotage. We learned so much about our enemies from this stay. It was very useful.”
He half yelled, half sobbed, “How could you even think something like this? I thought you wanted to help our tribe!”
She snarled, now angrily, “I am helping our tribe! When we have conquered the world, the living standard of the NightWings will be wonderful! Every NightWing will live like a queen does today! Isn’t that true loyalty—helping our tribe become as powerful as possible?”
He looked at her, finally understanding why she had done it. She believes in loyalty. I believe in mercy. A sense of guilt flooded him. Because of my mercy, Shadewatcher would have died if Icemelter hadn’t arrived.
List of Characters Mentioned In Order