This fanfiction is based around canon events from the Wings of Fire series, written by Tui T. Sutherland and published/owned by Scholastic Press, USA. All canon characters are from the series, and all fanon characters are a work of fiction. I do not mean to offend anybody.
Likewise, you may NOT use ANY content from this fanfiction without the author's permission.
This was, and is, my first fanfiction, and I've been working on it for quite some time. I've come up with so many other ideas for literature and art, and I just don't know if I can finish this story. I'm not feeling it. I don't know if I'll be able to pull up the will to finish this.
I've created a lot of characters for this story, and I'm starting to regret that decision. Believe it or not, I'm having trouble getting Kestrel's character and personality down into text. She just didn't see enough in the series in order for me to have a set boundary of her character.
As much as I love Kestrel and this story, I just don't think I can continue much longer. And if I do, it's going to be a very long process, in which most readers will lose interest in Kestrel's Remorse. And excuse my language, but I don't want to publish a piece of crap either, or something that both you and I know is not my best work. What'll happen to this story, I honestly don't know. I guess I'll just have to wait and see.
When the red dragon broke through its egg's shell, Rauður knew that she was the one that ended the terrible war with the IceWings. But Rojo was long gone, and there was no one to train the little dragonet into the ways of the SkyWing army. Rojo had wanted to name the unborn dragonet Kestrel, and in his memory, Rauður would name her that.
Rauður herself was on her way. The unknown sickness she had was a secret; however, it was progressively killing her faster and faster as each day crawled on. Her disease made her ill, yes, but it sharpened her senses. She could see the future, like the arrogant NightWings. However, no one knew why.
None of that mattered. Kestrel was hungry, and if she were to fulfill her destiny, she had to eat. Rauður left the cave in search of food. She had picked a cave far to the far south of the Sky Kingdom, almost on the border of the Rainforest Kingdom. With this location, it was highly unlikely that a patrol of IceWings would pass by, and food was plentiful, thanks to the rainforest.
While Kestrel was young, she couldn't chew meat until she was a year old. For now, fruit would have to do. Rauður dove into the canopy of the rainforest, sending up whirlwinds of colorful birds. She grabbed all that she could carry, and tore for the cave. Even though they were just RainWings, she had no idea what they might do if they found a SkyWing in their territory. Probably nothing. She thought.
Rauður returned to the cave and stomped on the pile of fruit, spraying multicolored juice all over her talons. She had made a mess, but Kestrel could now eat this without chocking on a chunk of fruit. How poetic. The great Kestrel, savior of the SkyWings, choked on a mango, of all things. Rauður smiled.
Wait... what was that noise? Rauður looked towards the entrance of the cave. Was that... a SkyWing patrol? And, who was leading the patrol? But what worried Rauður was that the patrol was headed her way. Towards her cave. Towards Kestrel, the only reason why Rauður hadn't killed herself already.
Rauður ate the eggshells and hid Kestrel behind her tail, holding her firm. She had to hide her. Quickly, she pretended to be the one who was eating the fruit. She hoped-
"Well, what's going on here?" asked the leader of the patrol, who Rauður recognized to be Queen Carmine.
"Oh, uh, greetings, Queen Carmine," Rauður stammered, trying to bow. It worried to see so many armored soldiers spilling into the cave. Why were they here? What did they want? "Can... can I help you?"
"In fact, you should," the queen smiled. She had always worried Rauður and Rojo. Queen Carmine seemed like the kind of dragon that would force dragons to fight to the death, just for her amusement. Rauður hoped that Scarlet, Carmine's only daughter, would be better.
By now, there were thirty soldiers in the cave, all in shades of burning flames. Rauður could see about twenty more waiting outside. Why so many soldiers? Carmine could probably kill Rauður in a 1-on-1 fight.
But the queen only continued, "I heard you had some, well, what was it called..."
Rauður's heart sank. Pure terror blazed through her, as if a wildfire were blazing out of control in her mind. How had she figured it out? Did he tell her? Rauður scanned the dark, grim faces of the soldiers that were staring at her. Her gaze landed on Granite, Rojo's brother. Both were members of the SkyWing army. Granite returned the stare.
It was him. He told the queen. He was the reason why Kestrel would be stripped of her. And he was the one who was going to kill her. Why? Why did he tell Queen Carmine?
Queen Carmine observed the room. The torches on the wall blazed white fire. That was the peril of Rauður's condition. Her fire was white in color and much hotter, and her family was prone to have twin dragonets in their eggs. It wasn't the same disease, but the weaker of the twins and dragons such as Rauður had shorter lifespans.
Finally, Queen Carmine made eye contact with Rauður. "I see. Your bloodline is tainted with sickness. Disease. Death. You've kept this well hidden. I'm afraid that makes it harder for me to forgive you." She flicked the tip of her tail. The soldiers advanced, Granite in the lead. He had a smug smile, as if he had planned this all out, from start to finish. Which, he probably did.
Rauður threw her fear aside. She knew this day would come. It might as well be today. She roared. She pushed Kestrel as far away as possible with her tail. She flared her wings and breathed a burst of scorching white fire, burning the queen's face. Carmine screamed in agony and stepped aside, her face buried in her talons. Rauður knew the queen would survive the attack. They usually did, but died of the wounds days later.
Then, Granite and his soldiers erupted towards Rauður. Granite let his fellow warriors in front of him, allowing them to take the heat. You evil dragon, Rauður thought. He only wants me dead. He doesn't care about the lives of others. He only wants to rule the kingdom. Rauður blew another jet of flames at them, and three dragons tore out of the cave, clutching their heads in their talons.
Granite roared, and the soldiers froze, staring at him. Carmine approached. The smell of burning scales spread across the room.
"You'll regret this," Carmine growled.
"I have nothing to regret. Dying to the worst queen in Pyrrhia history and brother-in-law is a misfortune. I have done plenty good in my life." Rauður snarled.
Carmine looked angered. Smoke coiled around her horns, and she lashed her tail back and forth, and Granite stepped forward. "Granite," muttered the queen.
"Yes, my queen?" he replied. What a... Rauður thought, enraged. I see what he's up to. Gaining the queen's respect. But why?
"Kill her and take the dragonet. We will decide its fate later." Carmine said "its" like it tasted like sheep liver. She slithered away with a smirk on her stupid, hideous snout.
Granite snarled, and reached for Rauður. She snapped at his talons, puncturing them. He roared. Aha, Rauður realized. He's after Scarlet. A soldier stepped forward, and Rauður blew fire down his throat. He yelled and scurried to the entrance. Several more approached, some holding her down and another clamped her mouth shut with his own talons. She struggled, but his strength was far beyond hers.
Granite smirked and said, "Looks like this is the end for you. I knew you weren't worthy of my brother. You are the reason why he died." He flexed his talons.
"No..." Rauður said, muffled through the soldiers grip on her snout. "No!" she yelled. The soldier lost his grip and Rauður lunged for Granite, throwing off the other soldiers. She opened her snout, taking a breath. But she wasn't fast enough.
Granite sliced at her snout, leaving streaks of blood. He leaped on top of her, and slashed at her throat, tearing the most vital artery in any dragon. She fell to the cave floor, hardly able to move. She knew this was the end, and so did he.
"Grab the dragonet," Carmine ordered. Rauður's vision was turning gray. She knew she only had moments before she bled to death.
"No," Rauður rasped.
"What was that?" Granite snarled.
"...her name... her name is Kestrel." Rauður finished. Granite snorted, and left the cave, along with the soldiers, Queen Carmine, and Rauður's hopes and dreams.
Granite couldn't believe he was holding a dragonet in his talons. He hated them. They always demanded so much time and energy. He wanted to drop... what was its name? Kestrel? He wanted to drop the dragonet right now and let the torture end before it started. But Queen Carmine wanted her alive until they found someone to take care of her... or she decided to kill her.
While flying back to the SkyWing palace, Granite wondered to himself. Was killing Rauður the right choice? Will it get me anywhere? Surely it will. But now I'm stuck... with Kestrel. Granite was snapped out of his thoughts when soldiers in his patrol halted. Up ahead of them, only a minute away, was a group of approaching IceWings. Well, he thought to himself. This gives me an excuse to get rid of this thing in my talons.
Kestrel whimpered as if she were reading his mind. But she held still. Granite thought for a second. Her mother could see the future, like a NightWing. Can this one read minds? Was her mother secretly half NightWing? She appeared to be pure SkyWing, though. Maybe it's the disease. So... Kestrel must be killed, also. I'll tell the queen once we return to the Sky Palace.
"Granite, take the dragonet and fly for the palace," ordered Carmine.
Granite grimaced. He banked under the patrol and flew left, far away from the oncoming battle. To his surprise, an IceWing broke off from her group and intercepted him. Would you look at that! Granite opened his mouth, ready to breathe fire. The IceWing didn't hesitate. She ducked under the jet of flames and exhaled that deadly breath all IceWings had.
At first, Granite thought it missed. Then he felt his underbelly freezing, and he felt heavier and heavier. To his dismay, the ice spread. The IceWing who attacked him saw this, and, predicting his doom, flew away to join her fellow soldiers.
The ice snaked up towards his wings, and raced over his back and reached for his other wing. Granite was having trouble staying in the air. He knew he had to land. He tucked his wings into body, although it took all of the strength he had left. He dove for the earth, and the ground revealed itself to him. He flared his wings open, and he heard a ripping noise in his wings. Pain flared through him. He landed on all fours, and instantly collapsed to the rocks underneath.
His talons opened, and Kestrel wobbled out, who surprisingly took no injuries. Granite winced. The ice and spread all over him, and he was unable to move. His inner fire felt colder and farther away. The ice had seeped through his scales, and he had very little time left. Kestrel wondered away from him, as if she knew he was to one who killed her mother.
Granite closed his eyes. So close, yet so far away.
Imperial took a deep, satisfying breath. He knew he'd love being home, even though he was no longer with his friends back in the SkyWing army. He had served well, and the queen had finally released him. He opened his wings, ready to fly, until something seized his forearm.
Imperial looked down, startled, but ready to attack. Intense, orange-yellow eyes met his gaze. The red dragonet smiled.
"Who are you?" he asked. The dragonet only whimpered and pointed downhill. "Do you need to show me something?" Imperial picked up the dragonet and glided towards the base of the hill. He nearly dropped the her when he saw the frozen SkyWing that rested there.
"Help me," the SkyWing rasped as Imperial approached. Kestrel scurried up to him, looking displeased.
"I'm sorry, I can't do anything to help you now," Imperial sighed. "Who are you? What happened to you? What's this dragonet's name? Who's her mother? Is she yours?" Imperial could tell that this dragon was on his way, and he wanted as many answers as he could get.
"No," the dragon whispered. "Sister-in-law's. Attacked by an IceWing... tried to save her..." lied the dragon.
"Well, that's unfortunate." Imperial sighed. "What's your name? And this dragonet?"
"Granite," the dragon said, looking close to death. "the dragonet... is Kestrel." Granite took one, last, sad breath, and exhaled, releasing all of the lies, death, and misfortune from his life. Then he moved no more.
Kestrel personally thought she was a genius. Imperial would never, not ever, find her hiding in the Diamond Spray River. SkyWings hated the water, and they couldn't breathe underwater. He wouldn't expect to find her here. She had brilliantly covered her scales in mud, which was gross, but worth it. Sure, she had to surface to take a breath here and there, but they were brief and she instantly vanished beneath the surface afterwards. There was absolutely no way she would be found.
She risked a peak. Stinging water flooded into her eyes, and she shut them abruptly. Imperial was right on the bank of the river, calling for her.
"KESTREL!" he shouted, in that deep, thundering voice that all SkyWings seemed to have. Even underwater, the sound clawed at her ears. "Kestrel! Battle training! Where are you?!"
Kestrel hated battle training. She loved Imperial, and it hurt her to worry him, but she would most certainly NOT deal with battle training. She didn't want to be a soldier. She didn't want to fight. She thought she was too young. Come on, since when did one-year-old dragonets start training to join an army? That's what she thought.
But Kestrel doubted she could hold on any longer. Unfortunately, she had planned this out poorly. She was running out of breath, and Imperial had just started searching around the river bank. Maybe I can sneak a breath while he's facing the other direction, Kestrel thought with a grimace. Worth a try.
She surfaced, first exhaling, then taking a deep breath, and she ducked under the ripples. She quickly swam to the riverbed and buried herself. It was silent, but Imperial had honed senses. He whirled around, staring at the water. Skeptical yellow eyes scanned the water, searching for an answer.
Without a moment's notice, he threw his talons into the water and snatched Kestrel right out of the riverbed. He yanked her out, growling with displeasure. Kestrel snorted out a spray of water, and her sinuses felt like they were on fire, which, was very unpleasant.
"WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?!" he yelled. "I'VE BEEN LOOKING FOR YOU FOR HOURS NOW!!"
Kestrel coughed. "I don't want to do battle training," she whined. "It makes my talons hurt."
Imperial gently placed Kestrel on the earth, wiping off excess mud. Kestrel stared at his face, and he looked as if he were in deep thought. "Well, Kestrel," he began. "If you're going to be a soldier-"
"But I don't want to." Kestrel interjected.
"I'm sorry Kestrel," Imperial continued. "Queen Carmine has ordered that you be a soldier."
"Queen Carmine can't say what I do!" Kestrel protested.
"Actually, she can."
"Oh." Kestrel's heart and dreams sank to the bottom of the ocean. She'd wanted to be a normal SkyWing mother, just minding her own business. Now, that wasn't going to happen. Kestrel whimpered, and she wondered if she would cry. No, she snapped, accepting her fate. No. I'm not crying. Soldiers don't cry.
Imperial had been paying attention, and patted Kestrel sympathetically. "Come on," he urged. Kestrel rose to her feet, and followed her father to the field where they trained together.
The wind tugged at Kestrel's ears, replacing the comforting warm with cold, painful howling. She wouldn't let it show on her face, though. Today was to special to be ruined. Imperial was going to teach her how to fly. What could be more important than that?
She took a deep breath, and Imperial landed next to her.
"And that's how you land." He smirked.
"What? But, you told me to- wait-" Kestrel's thoughts were scrambled, and she was too astonished to organize them. "You said to- you told me to- wait on the- the thing- you told me to wait here!"
Imperial only laughed. "I did. And you've done a great job."
"But, you- it was like you- we're done? How-"
"Calm down, I was only joking."
"Oh." Kestrel's wings drooped. "So, how do I fly?"
"Well, you know what you fly with, right?"
"Of course! Wings!"
"Uh..." Kestrel stammered. Imperial's question had left her clueless. What else did you need to fly? A heart, a brain, and those necessities, but was that what Imperial was asking for? She doubted it.
After several moments, Imperial whistled, looking somewhat bored. Kestrel racked her thoughts, searching for an answer. Imperial lashed his tail, and without warning, knocked Kestrel off of her feet.
"Oops," Imperial said apologetically, but there was a playful and guilty tone in his voice, and Imperial had a smile that seemed to be conquering his face.
"You're a terrible liar!" Kestrel yelled, getting back on her feet. She playfully lunged at him, snagging his forearm. Imperial simply lifted his arm, as if Kestrel weighed no more then a feather, and placed her on his spiny back.
"If you think you're so smart," he laughed. "Then watch me."
Before Kestrel could protest, Imperial flared his wings open, ready to take to the air. Kestrel had no choice but to seize one of his spines and hold on to dear life. Imperial leaped off of the cliff, and glided through the air. The Sky Kingdom stretched beneath them, and Kestrel could see the valleys and the rivers and... everything.
"Make sure you're paying attention," Imperial's words broke her thoughts. Kestrel observed the area, and noticed that they were descending. Imperial tucked his wings in, pointed his snout straight for the ground, and he plummeted for the earth. The wind was strong, and making Kestrel believe that conversation was impossible, but she thought she could hear Imperial laughing.
Just before they would become a red pancake baking in the sun, Imperial burst his wings open, which seemed to crush Kestrel. Imperial started to beat his wings, with each wing beat getting faster and stronger than the one before. He tilted his head towards the sky, and seemed to shoot for the sky.
After a long ascent, he finally spoke. "That's how you gain altitude."
"But you just used your wings," Kestrel pointed out.
"You... used her head. Which you never do." Kestrel said in a teasing voice.
Imperial took it differently than she thought he would. He suddenly rolled inverted, and Kestrel screamed, trying to get a grip. Next thing she knew, she was hanging onto his spines for her life.
Imperial glided like this for a while, unable to beat his wings. Finally, he rolled into a Split S, flying stable and into the opposite direction. Kestrel breathed a sigh of relief. Imperial turned his head to look at her, and smiled.
"Do you know what else is important when flying?" he asked.
"No." she answered, dumbfounded.
"Take a guess."
Kestrel thought back a few minutes. He had asked the same question earlier. Did he give her any clues? He did whack her with his tail. But weren't tails just for that purpose? Surely they had another. She noticed dragons that seemed to use their tails in flight. Was that the answer?
"Um, our tails?" she guessed.
"Took you long enough!"
"What? I'm just a dragonet!"
"I know you're smarter than that."
"Well, I am!"
"Then prove it to me. What is the tail's purpose in flight?"
"Well," Kestrel muttered. What did dragons use their tails for? They obviously had a use in flight, if Imperial were prompting her about it. But what was it?
She could see Imperial studying her, as if he were following her train of thought. Suddenly, something clicked in her mind.
"Balance!" she shouted.
"That's one," Imperial smiled.
Kestrel's heart sank. There were more? How many?
As if he were reading her mind, Imperial continued. "Oh, there's only one more main reason."
Kestrel felt relieved, and started thinking. What else could there be? It was written all over Imperial's face.
"And direction!" Kestrel added.
"There you go!" he exclaimed.
Kestrel smiled. She was smart after all.
"How about I land so you try to fly?" he suggested.
"Okay." she answered. She knew she could do it.
Imperial beat his wings, gaining a lot of speed. Kestrel felt as if the wind was trying to rip her face off, and she hid her head behind Imperial's neck and made herself as small as possible. Imperial did not stop accelerating. Kestrel could feel weird pressure in the air around her, and Imperial seemed to struggle.
"This is as fast as any SkyWing could fly," he explained, but it was hard to hear. Kestrel couldn't respond anyway. She dared to try to look at the ground, but all she could see was foggy mist, as if the clouds had blended into the earth.
Eventually Imperial slowed down, prepared to land. By now, he was flying so slow that Kestrel felt as if she would get caught here, stuck in time and space, never to move again. She knew it was the raw feeling of flying at such high speeds, and now this leisure flight felt like little dragonet speed.
The cliff was right under them, and Imperial arched his wings and his back talons hit the earth. His front talons were short after, and now that he was on all fours, he tucked his wings in.
"And that's how you land, once more." he mocked.
Kestrel leaped off of his back, landing on the prickly, yet soft, grass. It felt so strange to her, since she had been riding on Imperial's back for a while.
"Ready to try it for yourself?" Imperial asked.
Kestrel spread her red and sunset orange wings. The wind tugged at them, as if it wanted to play. She took a deep breath, and she was sure that Imperial could hear her heart pounding in her chest. Sweet adrenaline rushed through her, and she studied the sky that stretched into the vast world beyond the Sky Kingdom.
"Whenever you're ready." Imperial told her.
She took one more breath, and leaped off of the cliff. The wind immediately caught her wings, and she let it guide her through the crisp air. After a few moments, she tucked her wings towards her body and dipped her head towards the ground, which was hidden from her sight.
Once the ground was in her sight, she straightened herself and opened her wings. She glided for a while, feeling triumphant. This was her home. Her element, her strength, and her greatest dream.
Thundering wing beats filled the sky, putting Kestrel on alert. She looked behind her, and saw a dragon headed straight for her. From the shape, she could tell it was a SkyWing. However, she couldn't make out the color. Once the red dragon became recognizable, more shapes appeared behind it. They were all full grown SkyWings, in multiple colors of fire.
The first dragon, who happened to be Imperial, shot overhead, scaring the living daylights out of Kestrel. Three more followed, all in a diamond formation behind Imperial. For a brief moment, they covered the sun. Kestrel's heart flooded with astonishment when Imperial banked around towards her, laughing. He slowed his pace to Kestrel's, and the dragons following him did so.
Imperial flew to her port side, with her wingtip barely touching neck. They exchanged joyful glances as he rolled under her and flared his wings to full wingspan. Kestrel shrieked in surprise as she suddenly belly-flopped onto his back. It hurt, but her happiness covered her pain like the SkyWings blotting out the sun.
Looking to her right, Kestrel noticed a golden-orange SkyWing with a menacing scar running down his spine. He smiled at her, and Kestrel waved at him. The dragon to her left was a beautiful maroon with hints of vibrant orange, but one of her white horns was split in half, and the scales on her back looked fractured. Kestrel couldn't see the dragon behind her very well, but she could tell that he was a cherry red with fiery yellow running across his wings.
Suddenly, the SkyWings broke away from the formation in a graceful, firework-like manner. They flew off in different directions, each blowing fire plumes of goodbye at Imperial, making Kestrel believe they were soldiers, like Imperial.
She couldn't wait to join them.
Kestrel felt like a dragon-sicle. Now, SkyWings don't mind being chilly, but if you were a dragonet sitting on the peak of Jade Mountain during the Northern Winds, you'd be cold. Imperial told her it was a test of dedication. To Kestrel, it was more of a How-long-can-you-stay-sitting-here-in-the-cold-without-going-insane-test.
She's been sitting here for about four days without food, water, or speaking. Imperial was next to her, head in the sky and looking dignified. He looked like he'd been doing this every month of his life. Kestrel felt like those animus dragons they wrote about in scrolls; turning insane and trying to kill everything in sight. She couldn't take much more of this.
Three more days, she thought ruefully as the sun set before her, as if it were surrendering to her anger. Imperial had told her not to speak, move, or do anything during the Test of Allegiance. Which, lucky for her, lasted for seven days. She had to keep her chin up and eyes forward, but out of her side vision, she could see other SkyWings on the peaks, suffering from the same torture.
She took a deep breath, remembering the moments right before she left the cave.
"You look like you're busy." Kestrel told Imperial.
"I am. Get yourself ready." he replied.
"For what? Are we going somewhere?"
"The peaks of Jade Mountain."
"The Test of Allegiance."
"What's that? Why would we do that during the Northern Winds? I thought-" she was cut off by Imperial, obviously trying to keep his patience.
"It's a tradition every SkyWing soldier performs. Now that you're three, you are old enough to come with me."
"But... why now? We're supposed to stay in the caves, away from the Northern Winds, right? Or we'd freeze?" she fretted.
"That's the test. It is to push your dedication to the limits. Only the strong survive."
"What if I'm not strong enough? Am I going to freeze?"
"You're not, as long as you do as I say."
Kestrel inhaled, about to reply, but she decided against it. After a long moment of silence, she said, "So, what do I have to do?"
Kestrel thought about the conversation as the fifth day crawled on. Stay alert, ignore the cold, keep your focus on the sun and moon... and what did Imperial say about when both the sun and moon weren't visible? A blast of wind fiercely roared across the peak, attacking Kestrel with cold, hurtful air. It took all of her willpower not to shiver. Ah, it's when you're most vulnerable to... what did he call it? The Frost Heat? I think so. Kestrel was immediately pulled back into her memories.
"What? The Frost Heat? That doesn't make any sense!" Kestrel whined.
"It is the time of day, or night, when it is the hottest. During the Test of Allegiance, the sudden warmth will tempt you. It is when you must be focused and independent, for the sun and moon will not be in your eyesight to help you." Imperial replied.
"Really? That's weird."
"Indeed. But it is SkyWing nature, which you must learn and comprehend."
"Oh. SkyWing nature is weird, then."
Imperial smiled, almost laughing. "Come on, let's go."
In fact, Kestrel didn't remember seeing Imperial laugh. She sighed, which was the most amount of movement she were permitted during the Test of Allegiance. The moon was sinking below her sight, signaling the end of the fifth day. Two more days, she thought. Then I'll have to face the hardest test yet.
The other two moons were appearing for the first time in seven days, indicating the end of the Northern Winds, and, what Kestrel really cared about, the Test of Allegiance. The third moon, the one that had been with them for the past week, had hidden itself beyond the mountains, out of sight. When the last sliver of the moon disappeared, SkyWing soldiers all around stretched and breathed sighs of relief, and, triumph.
Kestrel herself was ready to go home. She yawned, looking at Imperial. He was still staring at the horizon, with a mournful look on his face. Kestrel frowned, tugging on his wing. Using his talons, he shoved Kestrel away. She yelped, and grabbed his forearm.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
Imperial sighed, and, for the first time in Kestrel's life, tears trickled down his face. She looked at him with pity on her face, and, before she spoke, he said, "I... I lost my... lost her... I lost my love to the Test of Allegiance. She... she wasn't strong enough." He shivered, but not from the cold. He rose to his feet and slowly spread his wings. "Come on," he rasped, using his talons to wipe off the tears. "Let's go home."
"So, what's this super-hard test that I have to pass?" Kestrel asked.
"Oh, that one." Imperial guessed. "Come with me."
They flew to a small, empty valley. They landed in the center, and the earth crunched between Kestrel's talons, a feeling she had not felt in a long time. She began to sit down, but Imperial stopped her.
"Shh," he whispered.
"What?" Kestrel asked.
The wind howled through the valley, and it had a creepy, dark tone to it. Kestrel shivered.
"Let's go," she said, scared. "I don't want to-"
"No," he interjected. "This is your test."
"What? More sitting and doing nothing?"
"Yes. This is the Test of Sanity."
Kestrel moaned on the inside. "And how long does this last?"
"Oh, I could-"
"Without me. you have to do this alone."
"Kestrel, you're strong. You can do this."
She sighed. "Okay."
Imperial smiled, and took off. She watched his figure fly away, leaving her here for.... anything.
The wind howled, over and over, making Kestrel's scales feel like they were climbing over each other, trying to escape this mental agony. This was worse than the Test of Allegiance. For a moment, Kestrel wondered if she would go insane. Maybe that's my fate.
They had been flying for the past three days. And, they had apparently started a flash mob. Imperial and Kestrel soared to the SkyWing palace, for whatever reason. During the flight, SkyWings would fly in to join them. Kestrel would spot a few dragonets here and there, but most of the dragons were full-grown and battle hardened.
"Why are we doing this again?" Kestrel asked Imperial.
"Haven't you read about this in the scroll I gave you?" he answered, a little impatient.
"The Traditions of the SkyWing Tribe."
"Oh, that scroll."
"So, you read it?"
"I was cold last night. So, I needed something to keep a fire."
"YOU BURNT IT?!" Imperial bellowed so loud, all nearby dragons missed a beat in their flight. They gave Imperial and Kestrel puzzled and angered looks. Among them, a rust-colored, scarred dragon burst a plume of fire in amusement and smiled. Kestrel looked at her closely. She was missing a few fangs, with the others looking carbonized. Her horns, claws, and spines were all pitch black, a sign that she was of the older dragons. Among that, she was huge, bigger than Imperial. Her wings had obviously seen better days, but they flew with great dedication. She banked, disappearing into the clouds.
"Well, I didn't think it was important, so-"
"Never, ever, burn a scroll! Do you hear me?"
"Yes." After a long silence, he continued.
"Alright. We're going to the SkyWing palace to see about you getting in the army."
"What? Don't you, I don't know, just show up when you want to join?"
"No. You have to sign up."
Kestrel groaned. This made no sense to her. The mountains were getting taller and more jagged as they approached the heart of the Sky Kingdom. They flew for another day, with more and more SkyWings joining the flock.
To the right, a maroon-orange dragonet burst from the clouds. She flew in a frantic flap, and crashed into Kestrel side. Kestrel roared, with a plume of flame bursting from her mouth. She was knocked off balance, and she was dragged down by the dragonet's weight. Immediately, Imperial dove to her aid. He tried to reorient her, but was disrupted by a deep maroon dragon.
"I'm so sorry!" she apologized to Imperial and Kestrel as they landed on a nearby cliff. She quickly turned her attention to the dragonet, snarling. "Avalanche, what in the three moons were you thinking?"
"I'm sorry, mother, but..." Avalanche coughed a trail of smoke.
"But what?" her mother demanded. Imperial watched her in shocked silence.
"There was... was a... a... I saw..."
"Spit it out!"
"I saw an IceWing!"
"Yes! It was big and scary!"
"What good would a single IceWing do against hundreds, possibly thousands, of SkyWings?"
"I... I don't... I don't know."
Her mother opened her mouth to speak, but thin trails of smoke crawled out instead of words. She hung her head low, sat oh her haunches, and tucked her wings in close. With her left talons, she pulled the dragonet towards her, and spoke in a soft whisper.
"I thought I lost you." By now, both dragons were in tears. Imperial had not moved a muscle, and Kestrel stared down at her talons, feeling awkward.
The maroon dragon lifted her head and seemed to notice Imperial for the first time. Imperial flinched, but did not speak.
"Oh, excuse us. I'm Cinder, Avalanche's mother. You are?"
Imperial simply stared, and finally spoke in a quiet, hoarse voice. "Imperial. This is Kestrel." He nodded towards Kestrel, and she lifted her wings in greeting. The other dragon smiled. The older dragons gazed at each other, and Imperial snorted a few flames from his nostrils.
"Avalanche, why don't you play with Kestrel for awhile?" said Cinder in a playful manner.
"That's a good idea. Kestrel, go ahead." Imperial agreed. Kestrel and Avalanche scampered away to the far side of the cliff, just within earshot. Imperial took a few steps toward Cinder, and covered her with his left wing. They spoke to each other in a whisper, with Imperial's wing sheltering them from the two curious dragonets.
"I want to know what they're talking about," Avalanche announced. "Come on!"
"Wait, they told us to stay here. Shouldn't we do that?" Kestrel said frantically. But Avalanche was already creeping closer and closer to the two SkyWings. Kestrel trotted after her, unsure of what Imperial would do if he noticed.
"They don't look like they're in a hurry."
"I wonder if..."
"What? Isn't your mother going to yell at you if she sees you?"
"Probably. She's overprotective of me." Avalanche sighed, but she looked confident. "Isn't your mom that way?"
"I don't have a mom. Imperial told me she died, and he found me looking for food."
"Oh. My father tried to kill me."
"I don't know. Mother and father were always arguing. Then, he tried to break my neck. Mother saved me, but I don't know what happened to him afterwards."
"Does your father have a mate?"
"Not that I know of."
"Then, let's know more!" Avalanche scrambled to her feet, but the howling wind covered the noise. Kestrel followed her, and they ducked behind a rock, listening.
"...coast of the continent. We moved south of the palace after the war started." Cinder's voice trailed in the wind.
"That's where we live," Avalanche said.
"We're from the south, near Jade Mountain." Imperial said.
"They're talking about where they live." Kestrel pointed out.
"But why?" Avalanche wondered out loud.
"How does Ever Burning Peak sound to you?" Imperial asked Cinder.
"Psst. I'm going to see if I can learn anything." Avalanche whispered, and ran over to her mother.
"Wait!" Kestrel said, but Avalanche was too far away to hear, even if she would have listened.
Avalanche tugged onto her mother's wing just as Imperial started to reach for Cinder's talons. Imperial flinched back, and Cinder glared down at her daughter.
"Avalanche, I told you to stay over there." Cinder hissed.
"But I'm hungry!" the dragonet protested.
Kestrel ran up to Imperial, biting his wingtip. "I'm hungry, too!"
The older dragons looked at each other and smiled. "Go ahead. We'll be right behind you." Imperial said, and Cinder nodded.
Kestrel and Avalanche took to the sky, searching for any mountain goats on the cliffs. Kestrel peaked behind her, seeing the sun set in the sky, the SkyWings flying towards the palace, and the fog covering the cliff she was on just before. Right before the mist and fog covered them, Imperial twined his tail around Cinder's, and they wrapped their wings around each other.
"IS THAT ALL YOU HAVE!? USE YOUR FIRE!" Kestrel's trainer, or assaulter, if you asked her, grabbed her tail and flung her across the cave. Kestrel gained her balance and shot a thin jet of scorching fire at him, but of course he saw it coming. He started clawing at her, yelling, "Duck! Step to the right! Surprise you attacker!" Naturally, she rolled right into his smashing talons. She yelped, feeling helpless.
"YOU'RE A FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD SKYWING! YOU SHOULD KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LEFT AND RIGHT!" roared the older dragon. Maybe, Kestrel thought. But I know I value my hearing.
From the side, Imperial, Cinder, and Avalanche watched with blazing eyes. Kestrel's trainer, Ash, took to the air and burst a scorching blast of fire, straight for her face. Time seemed to slow down as the giant fireball race towards her. Kestrel dropped to the floor, rolled, and raked Ash's underbelly with her slightly gray talons. He roared with pain, spewing fire in several directions.
Kestrel scrambled to her feet and leaped for his back. She seized his wings with her front talons, using her back talons to get a grip on his scales. Ash began thrashing, and there was only one way to get him to stop. Here goes, she thought as she bit down on the sensitive spot on every SkyWing's neck. Her jaws exploded with pain, but she was not ready to give up. Ash convulsed in pain, and the violent shiver nearly sent Kestrel flying.
Kestrel's grip on Ash's neck loosened, and the orange dragon threw her off with ease. He whirled around and pinned Kestrel to the ground with his talons. He glared at her as she panted, gasping for air. Finally, he let go.
"You're done for now." He pointed to the other three dragons in the cave. "Avalanche, it's your turn." Kestrel slowly made her way to Imperial. She sat down next to him, and Avalanche rose to her feet and trotted to the center of the cave. Neither Imperial nor Cinder had spoken a single word.
Avalanche looked worried. She was smaller than Kestrel, so she seemed microscopic against their trainer, Ash. But, even through her frightened eyes, fierce determination burned in her eyes.
"You make the first move." Ash said, bracing himself. Avalanche simply stared at him with the stillness of a glacier in the Ice Kingdom. Kestrel could see the orange dragon stiffen with uncertainty, as if he were tying to predict her next move.
Time crawled by, and both dragons flexed their talons. Out of the blue, Avalanche lunged for Ash's head. Having caught him off guard, she flipped herself mid-air and seized his horns. Her momentum dragged his head to his shoulders, but she did not stop there. Ash began thrashing, shaking Avalanche off. She flew across the cave as if her wings were open. Of course, they weren't. She grabbed hold if a stalagmite, trying to regain her balance. But, he was on her before she could. He pinned her with his talons, shouting, "YOU WERE DOING BETTER THAN THIS TWO SECONDS AGO! WHAT HAPPENED, WAS YOUR BRAIN REPLACED WITH A RAINWING'S?"
Avalanche's only response was a burst of flame directed at the trainer's face. He blew fire to counter hers, and a bright fireball engulfed the two dragons. The flames fanned out, leaving Ash and Avalanche gawping at each other. Neither dragon moved for a long time.
Ash snorted a flame from his nostrils. "Rookies, step outside. I need to talk to your parents." Avalanche scurried to the mouth of the cave, with Kestrel trailing behind. Ash approached Imperial and Cinder, taking a deep breath.
"Those two dragons are some of the best I've seen since Queen Carmine overthrew her mother." He turned to Cinder. "Avalanche needs to learn to attack quicker, or she'd be toast on the battlefield." Then he addressed Imperial with a glint of a rainy sunset in his eyes. "And Kestrel needs to learn to use her head. Anyone would think she's a MudWing."
Imperial nodded and added, "I understand." Cinder did not speak. Ash glanced at her, and then at both of them.
"Go on. Have a nice day." All three dragons left the cave, each wondering, What will they be like when they join the army?
Kestrel hated flying in the rain. Of course they had to schedule the recruitment on a rainy day. It was as if they wanted Kestrel to fail. Well, whatever, she thought. No SkyWing can fly as well as they could have in the rain. Several SkyWings ranging from twenty years old to fifty flew around her, all headed to the west wing of the SkyWing Palace. Out of the hundreds of dragons here, only five hundred will join the army.
The army had its benefits. For every year you served, you would be rewarded an amount of gold proportional to your rank. Also, your family was guaranteed a year's supply of food. Food in the Sky Kingdom became scarce around the colder seasons.
Kestrel flew into the main entrance along with several other sunset-colored dragons. There were several tunnels, each marked. Kestrel continued through the tunnel marked "20-30 years" and entered a large, menacing cavern full of young SkyWings. She landed on a perch and tucked her wings in, seeing that there would soon be two hundred dragons present. She closed her eyes, inhaling deeply. Let's see how this goes.
"Nice and wide, honey... okay, that's good. Keep it steady." whispered the elderly, southern SkyWing that was examining Kestrel's teeth. "It's so we can identify you if we ever find your corpse and are unable to figure out who you are." they had told her. Well, Kestrel thought. At least they care. The older SkyWing dipped her talon in a bowl of black ink and scribbled something on a roll of parchment, recording Kestrel's dental record. "Alright. We're done here." Kestrel closed her jaws in relief. Like this isn't weird.
They went through several more tests and examinations, which seemed to take hours. Finally, the SkyWing said, "Looks good. Okay, just take a left from here, and the training room is the fourth on the right." Kestrel lifted her wings and took off in a soundless glide. She reached the training room with ease, and awaited her turn.
Training was easier then stuffing an entire mountain goat into a MudWing's mouth. Kestrel was pretty sure she had earned a place in the top ten. She walked down the hallway that led to the main landing pad outside of the palace. On the way, she accidentally stepped on a passing orange dragon's talons.
"OUCH!" she roared, blowing fire above Kestrel's head. Kestrel ducked, but before she could say sorry, the other dragon snarled at her. "How DARE you? They were perfectly glossed and polished before you stepped on them!" The dragon lifted her talons and licked them.
Kestrel only stared at her. This dragon did not deserve her apologies. But, if Imperial ever heard about this, he'd hold Kestrel's head underwater until she had either learned her lesson or fallen unconcious. So, Kestrel took a deep breath and said, "I didn't see you coming, and-" the orange dragon growled and cut her off.
"Of course you didn't! Not with your feet! They're the size of Jade Mountain!" Smoke rose from Kestrel's nostrils and ears. The dragon clearly noticed this. "Oh, now you're mad at me? WHAT NERVE!" Kestrel didn't care. She was sizing this dragon up, and she noticed embedded rubies along her eyebrows and wings. The orange dragon also wore silver chain mail with diamonds studded along the links. She had a lot of treasure, especially for a thirty-year-old dragon. She was very small, though. Kestrel could easily overpower her.
"Why are you staring at me like that, you stupid-" The smaller dragon didn't get to finish. Kestrel had had enough. She snarled and lunged for the other dragon's neck, breathing a thick jet of fire. The dragon screamed as Kestrel's jaws clamped down on her throat, drawing blood. Kestrel used her sheer size and weight to pin the dragon to the ground. She didn't mean serious harm; she only wanted to scare the fire out of her.
Kestrel had a firm grip on her, but she could still breath fire. She blew an inferno of flames point-blank into Kestrel's snout, forcing her to let go. Once she was free, the orange dragon got back up, breathing heavily. Kestrel glared at her with eyes full of menace and anger. "You'll be sorry! Do you even know who I am?" she demanded.
"I don't know, nor do I care." Kestrel spat.
"WHAT?! How rude!"
"Good to know. You deserve it."
"NO! You'll be SO sorry when I'm queen!"
"When you're queen? You couldn't beat a dead RainWing!"
"YES I CAN!"
"Ha, doesn't appear so."
"I bet you'll fall over dead once I tell you who I am!"
"I bet that you're nothing more than a pile of burnt scrolls!"
The orange dragon's jaw quivered with rage. Finally, she said, "I'm Scarlet, Princess Scarlet of the SkyWings! I'm going to get you when I'm the queen!"
Kestrel's heart sank. Scarlet's mother, Queen Carmine, was biting the dust. She'd fall apart if anyone touched her. Scarlet seemed to notice Kestrel's absent silence, and decided to rub it in her snout. "That's right! I'm going to make you sorry you ever looked at me!"
Kestrel was done with her. She shoved Scarlet our of her way and stormed down the hallway, lashing her tail behind her. "Wait! Where are you going?" Scarlet called after her, enraged. Kestrel didn't bother processing her words. She steeped out into the fresh air of the Sky Kingdom and lifted her wings, taking off into the sky.
"Oh, you're finally here. Why are you late?" Imperial questioned as Kestrel strolled into the gloomy cave, lit the by smoldering torches that gave off a glow that reminded her of Scarlet's stupid scales. He was positioned at the mouth of the cave, and watched Kestrel closely.
"I had to deal with something." Kestrel sighed without turning around. It was the truth, after all.
"And that was?" he rasped skeptically.
Kestrel thought for a mere second. "Someone wanted to practice fight with me. That's where I got this scorch mark on my snout." She turned around to face him and pointed to the burn on the tip of her nose.
"Uh-huh." Imperial replied, looking unsure. He starred into Kestrel's eyes, and said, "I think you've modified that story." He gave her a smug look, and Kestrel instinctively smiled. "Yes, you have. Tell me now."
Kestrel sighed. "I accidentally stepped on some dragon's talons on the way out. I was going to say sorry-"
"Going to?" he interjected, looking angered.
"Yes, I know," Kestrel answered. "But she was pretty upset about it and interrupted me." Imperial raised an eyebrow. "She also insulted me, and, and..." she trailed off, afraid of the consequences. It was too late now.
"You lost your temper," Imperial observed.
"Yes." she said submissively and shamefully. She lowered her head, refusing to meet her father's eyes.
Imperial stayed silent for a long time. The only audible noise was the crackling of the weak flames on the torches and the whistling of the wind outside the cave. Rain came pouring down from the dark gray skies, and lightning flashed across the sky, lighting the entrance to the cave.
"Who was this dragon, may I ask?" From the way Kestrel sulked into the cave, he feared someone with a high ranking among society.
"It was Princess Scarlet. Of course, I didn't know until I attacked her..." Kestrel ducked her head into her wings, muffling the sound of her voice.
"Did you injure her?"
"Just a bite on her neck. It was deep though. But it's nothing that won't heal."
"Alright. Follow me." He headed towards his cave, gesturing for Kestrel to follow. Kestrel managed to lift herself and drag herself after him. They settled in the corner, with the light of the fire reflecting off of their blood red scales. "There's something I need to tell you. Something that you weren't old enough for. But I think you're ready for it know."
"I'm listening," Kestrel whispered, her talons shaking.
Imperial took a deep, sad breath, and exhaled with a force that shook his body. He stared at Kestrel, straight into her sunset eyes, and admitted, "Kestrel. I'm not your father."
Kestrel's breaths became shallow. She was shaking like a violent earthquake, on the verge of tears. "NO! It's not true!" She hid her head with her wings, sobbing. Imperial patted her shoulder with his talons, and Kestrel managed to left her head to look at him.
"I know. But it's the truth. I'm not lying."
"Then... then - how, how... where did you get me?"
"You found me. Apparently a SkyWing that had been attacked by an IceWing was carrying you."
"Was he my father?"
"No. He said that you were..." Imperial racked his brain, trying to remember what Granite had claimed. "Oh, yes. A sister-in-law's."
"What happened to my parents?"
"I don't know. From what he said, I presume that your mother died trying to protect you. I have no clue about your father, though."
Kestrel stayed silent. She sniffed, and collapsed. She covered her head with her talons, still crying. Imperial curled next to her, with the sound of the thunderstorm putting him to sleep.
Kestrel's attacker was not the type that easily gave up. She panted with exhaustion, chest heaving, but did not surrender. Kestrel gave a quick blow to the stomach, making her cough. She retaliated with a burst of fire aimed, at Kestrel's neck. Kestrel ducked, clawing at her wings. Kestrel slipped under the jet of fire and slammed her talons on the reddish-orange dragon, pinning her down.
"GENERAL VULCAN!" shouted a messenger, running into the cave with fear written all over his face. The training SkyWings stopped in their tracks to look at the entering dragon. Kestrel lifted her talons and stood on her hind legs to get a better view.
"What is it?" growled General Vulcan, a middle-aged SkyWing army veteran. He walked out of his study cave, head held high.
"Sir, it is urgent news," coughed the messenger.
"Get on with it," snarled General Vulcan.
"There seems to be trouble in the Kingdom of Sand."
"What kind of trouble?"
"Queen Oasis was murdered-"
"Oh, really? Which sister?"
"No, sir, it wasn't a sister. It was..." he swallowed. "A scavenger." Noise erupted from all over the room. kestrel dropped to all fours out of disbelief. Oasis was so strong, she thought. A scavenger? Really?
"Who is inheriting?" asked the general.
"No one. he sisters are fighting over it. Blister, the middle one, has just allied with the SeaWings."
"And she requests an alliance with us, as well."
"Now, this is interesting, but why are you telling me?"
"Queen Scarlet has requested your opinion."
"Ah. I see. Go along, then. I'll be with her in a moment."
"Sir, there's something else."
"Burn, the older sister, has also requested an alliance. She already has the support of the MudWings."
"Alright. Let's go," the general said. "Trainees, stay here. And for the love of the moons, try not to kill each other." The two SkyWings slithered out of the cave, headed for the queen's throne room.
After General Vulcan's tail tip disappeared, SkyWings started chatting to each other.
"Blister is the weird one, isn't she?"
"No, I think it was Burn."
"....wish they said more about the sisters in the scrolls."
"...fighting with SeaWings. I hope we ally with Burn."
"...Blister the better option?"
"...but Burn is stronger."
"...are lazy. I'd take Blister any day."
"...with the NightWings and IceWings. They're pretty strong."
"NightWings and IceWings will never become allies!"
"They really need to get over that war. It was, what, five hundred years ago?"
"More of three hundred."
Kestrel couldn't handle the noise. It went one for hours, and all she could do was hold her ears shut with her wing tips. Finally, General Vulcan entered the room. Silence spread among the dragons like a summer wildfire.
"I need to see Kestrel," the general said, scanning the room. Everyone turned their heads to Kestrel. General Vulcan followed their gaze until he saw the dragon that everyone was looking at. He glared at her, smoke rising from his ears. Kestrel stood straight, lifted her chin, and glared straight back. Gasping filled the room. Never had a SkyWing dared to return a gesture at a higher-ranking soldier. "The queen wishes to speak to you." growled Vulcan, who slithered out of the room without looking back.
Kestrel shoved her way past the crowding SkyWings, not a word spoken by her nor them. Kestrel raced into the hall, spreading her wings to take flight. She flew through the gold-crested corridors, all the way to Queen Scarlet's throne room.
Kestrel finally came across the large, throne room, cluttered with sparkling displays of gold, rubies, and diamonds. The sun filtered through a hole in the wall, reflecting off a every single, blasted gem displayed in the room. Kestrel had to squint her eyes as she approached who she called "Her Tragedy".
Kestrel reluctantly tucked her wings in bowed to Queen Scarlet, who was obviously amused with the anger the stretched from each scale on Kestrel's face. A long, torturing silence spread for what seemed like an hour. Scarlet studied her talons, but also studied every stupid little gem in the room. It was all kestrel could muster to keep smoke from rising from her nostrils.
"Alright. Rise, soldier." Scarlet said dismissively, not even glancing at the red dragon. "Do you know why you're here?"
"No," Kestrel said immediately and harshly, surprising the queen.
"Now, Kestrel, don't add to my list of reasons to cut off your head. I assume you're attached to it."
Kestrel sighed under her breath. "Yes, Your Majesty."
"Fine. I presume you've heard of... the incident in the Kingdom of Sand?"
"Yes," Kestrel said, waiting a second before she answered. Why was Scarlet taking her dear time? Kestrel had better things to do.
"Well, then, we've had requests from all three sisters to join them."
"And what does this have to do with me?"
Scarlet glared at Kestrel with golden eyes full of hatred. Kestrel almost glared back, but that would be her death sentence. "It's because you've had quite the experience on the battlefield. I want to know what you think.
"It has come to my attention that Blaze has allied with the IceWings, offering them a large amount of her territory," Scarlet said.
"Idiot," Kestrel muttered.
"Indeed," Scarlet agreed. "But she has offered us a large portion of the eastern kingdom."
"That's nothing but desert. No SkyWing would live there."
"Alright, then Blaze is off the list." Scarlet sharpened one of her talons on a rock. "Blister has an alliance with the SeaWings."
"SeaWings are strong." Kestrel snorted a burst of fire from her nostrils.
"Yet Blister has manipulated their leader into joining her, and she requests an audience with me."
"Surely there's no way she could trick you," Kestrel said. She hated saying it, but it was true. Scarlet was a very smart, yet cruel, leader.
"And in case she does, I want you here tomorrow at sunset."
"You're a soldier. A smart one, in fact. And there's one other thing." She waited for Kestrel to respond, but she did not. "Burn has allied with the MudWings, and also requests our help in the war."
"Burn..." Kestrel repeated. "MudWings..."
"It's a hard choice."
"Save it for tomorrow, then."
"What was that?"
"Choose tomorrow. After you meet Blister." Kestrel turned around and walked towards the entrance of the room.
"Wait! I have NOT dismissed you!"
"Too bad, too sad," Kestrel said. "I'm a soldier. I follow the orders of the general, and the general only." And with that, Kestrel flicked her tail and flew out of the room.
The sleek, pale dragon paced the room, hissing quietly under her breath. Kestrel rolled her sunset eyes. Scarlet could come up with deceiving plans, run a kingdom full of some of the most powerful dragons in all of Pyrrhia with no mercy, and make a dragon's life plain miserable, but she took forever to prepare to see a guest. Did it really matter what treasure-made, treasure-covered chain mail she wore? Kestrel had been waiting with Blister for two hours now. Two hours. Kestrel had the hunch that Blister would snap and stab Kestrel with her tail. That would suck, Kestrel concluded. I wouldn't be able to give that stupid Scarlet a piece of my mind if I died here.
"WHAT IS TAKING SO LONG?" Blister roared after what Kestrel guessed was her five hundredth lap around the room. Thin trails of smoke rose from Blister's nostrils, as if she were about to blow down the door before them with a blast of fire.
"Ah, I don't know," Kestrel said leisurely, scratching her ears with her talons. "She's probably deciding how many rubies to wear, what color armor the guards should have, the best way to torture two totally innocent dragons - wait, she's already doing that - and while she's at it, she's probably having lunch."
"This is insane. I cannot have an ally like this." Blister sneered.
"Then don't." Kestrel answered, all-to-quickly.
"What?" Blister said, surprised.
"If you don't want an ally like Scarlet, then don't get an ally like Scarlet," Kestrel clarified, clearly annoyed. "For being so smart, you really can't see the things that stare you right in the eye."
Blister snorted. "I will never understand SkyWings. But I have flown all the way out here. I'm not leaving just yet." And with that, Kestrel sighed. She was getting tired of babysitting the SandWing princess.
"There's not much to us," Kestrel spat. "You mess with our awesomeness, we get mad." Blister did not reply, but simply narrowed her pitch-black eyes. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going right outside the cave to stretch my wings." Kestrel turned around to dash out of the cave, but only lifted a forearm before she was oh, so rudely interrupted.
"There will be none of that, soldier." Queen Scarlet snarled, her rubies and golden chain mail shining in the sunlight. Kestrel refused to turn around. She simply acknowledged the queen's presence by dropping her once-happy wings and taking a deep breath. "HEY! I'm talking to you!"
"I'm not deaf, you know," Kestrel answered as politely as possible, but it was proving to be rather difficult. "And I have a name."
"You cannot speak to the queen in such way!"
"I just did, genius."
There was so much smoke coming from Queen Scarlet that Kestrel could barely make out here golden eyes, glowing with pure anger and hatred. Blister watched with an amused expression from the sidelines. Normally, a rebel such as this would immediately be slain. But there Kestrel stood.
Queen Scarlet wished she could kill Kestrel right there and then. But she knew that Kestrel was the strongest dragon in the SkyWing Army, and possibly one of the strongest in all of Pyrrhia. And Kestrel knew it, too. She wasn't afraid to show it.
The red dragon gave the defeated queen a smug smile, and escorted the group to the throne room.
"I'm not taking her offer. The land is simply useless, and owning it will only add to my troubles." Scarlet explained her reasoning for denying Blaze's offer to Blister, who was watching the red SkyWing in the corner. Kestrel was sound asleep, having been bored out of her mind. Kestrel was curled with her tail tucked under her chin, her forelegs also providing support. Kestrel's sunset wings were folded, yet their sheer size covered her thighs.
For such a fierce dragon, she looks shy, Blister concluded at Kestrel's small form. Is she... afraid? Of losing something? To confirm Blister's suspicions, Kestrel's body shivered violently, accompanied by a small whimper. The SandWing's eyes narrowed as she pondered... She is so large and strong... but to see her like this... she's hiding a secret. Just like me.
The clear, blue sky welcomed the blood red SkyWing that rested on a ledge. The bright sun pried at her eyes, welcoming the new day. She reluctantly opened her eyes, squinting in the warm sunlight. The dragon raised her head and looked around, seeing nothing but crystal-clear skies above her and lush forests below. She rose to her feet and stretched her wings, the wind tugging at them, as if it were urging her to join it in the vast wonders of the Sky Kingdom.
The red dragon resisted for quite some time before finally giving in. She tucked her wings in and leaped off of the ledge, the world unfolding before her. Right before she hit the trees, she flared her wings open, sending hurricanes of birds and leaves into the air. The sight made the dragon laugh; a laugh that filled her perfect day with melodic tones.
She simply glided among the treetops for what seemed like years on end; never stopping for her breath, just admiring the beauty of the world below her. Finally, after what seemed like eternity, she beat her wings and took for the sky. The mountains rose before her as she climbed. Every once and a while, a fire-colored snout would peak out of a cave, spot her, and smile.
Life was perfect for Kestrel.
But it wouldn't last.
The SkyWing soared over the Claws of the Clouds Mountains, overlooking every structure and dragon in her line of sight. The wind tugged at her wings, pushing her towards the heart of the kingdom. She glided over the slopes, observing the land. Everything was so perfect... until the first scorch mark caught her attention. Like a scar, a thick trail of black ash, thick smoke, and Death itself snaked across the valley of trees. Kestrel dipped lower to view the damage done to her once beautiful home. There was no sign of life.
Giving up, Kestrel rose several lengths and continued to skim atop the canopies. A large hill stood before her, hiding the secret that lay beyond. Kestrel, taking it as just another hill, flew over it, looking at what it hid from her. She froze mid-flight, as if an invisible noose had been tied along her neck. She beat her wings frantically to stay airborne, but eventually glided along to take a closer look.
A battlefield stretched below her. Corpses and rivers of blood began below her and extended beyond the horizon, never ending. Icy scales, stained red, caught the light of the setting sun and mocked Kestrel's eyes. Fiery scales glinted in the sunset, blending into the scene among them. Ice structures seemed to show randomly, and occasionally held the corpse of a SkyWing or an unfortunate IceWing. Fires burned, melting the bloodied ice.
Kestrel flew, taking in every sorrow detail. Her soft tears joined the rivers of gore, an endless sea. She soared above the ranks of many, many SkyWings, yet it didn't feel as good as it did earlier that day. After flying over hundreds of dragons, she came among a pile of frosty blue scales, belonging to fifteen-ish IceWings. Kestrel landed before the dead corpses, the glint of rusted red scales catching her eye. A SkyWing's talons hung from the pile, the rest of its body obscured by the ice dragons. The talons were a smoky gray-black, still dripping with bluish-red blood. The underbelly was a sunset-yellow, a very familiar color. Kestrel lifted the IceWings off of the SkyWing, revealing a forearm and shoulder. Eventually, she uncovered his wing and neck, and finally found his head. He was either unconscious or dead. And Kestrel knew who he was.
He was Imperial, her adoptive father. And he was dead.
Kestrel stood there for several moments, his head in her talons. Tears that she thought she would never cry streamed down her face, moistening the scales under them. She wanted to roar, to cry, to mourn over him. But no words came out of her mouth. No smoke rose from her nostrils, or her ears. Kestrel was mad, she was supposed to be mad, yet she found a strange feeling that she had not felt in a long, long time.
Finally, words reached her. "Father!" she roared. "WHY! Why... why?" The rusty red dragon buried her face in his neck, and a slight tapping noise came to her ears. She perked her ears, suddenly alert.
"Kestrel..." a voice said. Kestrel looked around, but could not find the source. Could it be...?
"WHO'S THERE?" she yelled, looking at Imperial. Was he still alive? "Imperial! Father! Wake up!"
"NO! No, no, no, no.... Father, wake up, please!"
"KESTREL! WAKE UP!" Scarlet roared, shaking Kestrel's shoulders. Kestrel's head snapped up in surprise, having been thrown out of her nightmare.
"WHAT?" she said, surprised. She looked into Scarlet's eyes, which were full of hatred... and concern. Then Kestrel looked towards Blister, who was watching with an emotionless expression.
"It is extremely rude to fall asleep in the presence of the queen." Scarlet sighed.
"It was... a dream?" Kestrel said in a voice that she had not used since her days as a dragonet.
"Of course it was, genius!" Scarlet said, clearly amused. Kestrel smiled, a microscopic smile that Scarlet hardly noticed. "Alright. Blister, you are dismissed." Without a word or sound, Blister stalked out of the room. "Soldier, rise. Gather our troops."
Kestrel rose to her feet, confused. "Wait, why? Are we fighting for Blister?"
"No questions. We will meet Burn and the MudWings at the Diamond Spray Delta."
"You're kidding me," Kestrel stated. "We're fighting with these guys?!" She pointed to MudWing who was practically inhaling seven mountain goats while his siblings howled with laughter. "How're they supposed to win a fight? By sitting on the enemy?"
"They're tough fighters, fierce and loyal. Besides, you can't judge-" A SandWing general began to explain the situation to Kestrel, who cut him off.
"Don't judge a book by its cover, blah blah blah," Kestrel said with extreme annoyance. "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Looks can tell you plenty. I can tell that these MudWings are lazy, over-eating dragons that have a strange sense of humor."
The general snorted. "SkyWing, you need to loosen up. War is for the battlefield. Keep it there. Life isn't a battle-" Kestrel cut him off once again.
"Life isn't a battle?" she said slowly, but as a question. "LIFE ISN'T A BATTLE?" she raised her voice, demanding the answer she knew she wouldn't get. "OF COURSE life is a battle! It may not be for you, but it is for some dragons, INCLUDING ME!" Kestrel roared, getting the attention of all the SandWings, SkyWings, and MudWings in the vicinity.
"Hey SkyWing, I think you shouldn't talk to a general like-" A MudWing spoke up, but he was hushed by his siblings.
"He's right, SkyWing," the general said, stealing a glance at the MudWing. "You do not have the authority to speak to me in such a way."
Kestrel rolled her eyes. "Of course, general of the SANDWINGS. I am a SKYWING, for moons' sake! You have authority over the SandWings, not ME! I can speak to you in any way I like."
To this, the general snarled, his black eyes glinting in the fire light. The rebellious, rust-colored SkyWing had a point. And she wasn't hurting on the ranks, either. She raised her head in victory, but the general matched her actions, not willing to accept defeat. Kestrel frowned at him as multiple SkyWing troops gathered behind her, defending their fellow soldier. Seeing this, SandWing soldiers quickly assembled behind the general. "SkyWing, you are about to eat those words."
Kestrel glared at the SandWing general, catching movement in the corner of her eyes. The stupid MudWings were gathering around, watching the stand-off. They had heard rumors, but they never expected to see how bad a SkyWing's temper could get. To top it off, some MudWings began chanting, "Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!"
The SandWing growled at Kestrel, but she didn't return his actions. She gave him a glare that was enough to kill a hundred SkyWings in mid-flight. A small flame trickled from her nostrils, and the red SkyWing turned from the general, stalking away. "I'm not wasting my time on you." she growled, and her affiliates followed her, each giving grim expressions to the SandWings.
"Why can't they act like SkyWings?" Kestrel muttered. She chanted curses under her breath until a scream caught her attention. Kestrel turned around to see an armada of IceWings and SandWings homing in on the camp. A pale silver IceWing opened his mouth and breathed a sparkling white smoke that headed right for the red dragon. Kestrel managed to get out of the way, but the orange SkyWing next to her wasn't so lucky. The ice captured his last moments perfectly. His mouth was open in an eternal scream, a scream that would never be heard.
"RETREAT!" A MudWing general roared, gathering as many troops as possible. As the MudWings flew away, a SandWing general approached Kestrel.
"SkyWings! Get moving!" he roared over the chaos. Enemy dragons picked off SandWings, MudWings, and SkyWings alike, one by one.
A scarlet SkyWing, obviously in a hurry, landed next to Kestrel, panting. "Sir! General Kasai and Major Sukaisoara are dead! You're the highest ranking soldier, sir!" he choked out the last few words as Kestrel pondered the possibilities for a mere second. The MudWings were already gone, and the allied SandWings were leaving.
They were going to loose this first battle.
But Kestrel would not.
"SKYWING! Gather your remaining soldiers and LET'S GO!" the SandWing general said, already in the sky.
"Sir?" a SkyWing coughed.
"No." Kestrel said as the enemy advanced towards her. "I am not surrendering. General Kasai and Major Sukaisoara are NOT going to die for nothing." She took to the air and turned to face her the brigade. "SkyWings! I am not losing this first battle. Give them all that you've got!"
And with that, she charged into the fray. The night sky was suddenly blasted with the reds and oranges of not only SkyWings, but the bloodshed of the first battle of The Great War.
The first dragon Kestrel managed to get a grip on was an unfortunate IceWing. He had just finished clawing out the throat of a SandWing when he turned around to see an angry, red SkyWing approaching at top speeds. Flames curled around Kestrel's mouth, threatening to spill out. The IceWing quickly took note of this and shot a blast of frosty breath at Kestrel. At that second, kestrel let loose her torrent of fire, clashing with the ice. Steam erupted from contact, obscuring Kestrel's and the IceWing's vision.
Neither Kestrel or the IceWing could see. But that didn't stop the angry SkyWing. She guessed his location and tore at the smoke. Her talons linked into his scales like pieces of a jig-saw puzzle. The ice dragon's roar of agony confirmed this. Tightening her grip, Kestrel threw all of her weight and strength onto the IceWing, hurtling the two dragons toward the ground below. The IceWing squirmed in her grip, trying to free himself, but she was too strong. He then tried blasting her with his frosty breath, but that was when Kestrel let go, kicking him in the gut and flaring her wings open to slow her descent. Confused, the IceWing looked below him to see why the SkyWing had let go. Were there reinforcements coming? That was his last thought before he hit the ground with a crash that would wake any slumbering dragon.
Kestrel mentally cringed as a thin cloud of dust obscured the deceased IceWing. What was there about this that felt so wrong? And how did others do it so easily?
Well, Kestrel figured. Whatever it is, I'll have to find out fast if I'm to survive this war.
Her thoughts were justified when another IceWing--this one much larger--seized her wing with his tail and attempted to frost her. Acting as quickly, Kestrel ducked under the icy projectile and kicked the dragon in the stomach. Although it clearly knocked the breath out of her opponent, Kestrel's feet met rough resistance as her claws pierced his underbelly.
Despite his new injury and lack of air, the IceWing recovered quickly. Kestrel figured that this was to be expected from an ice dragon. And being a dragon of high altitudes, so was she. As the IceWing attempted another blast of ice, Kestrel gave him a taste of the sun with a torrent of blazing fire. The other dragon instinctevly threw his wings in front of them, and they recieved all of the damage. Fire ignited across the webbing, and the IceWing found himself to be falling toward the earth. Kestrel felt bittersweet as even more blood was spilled onto her talons. She shivered, but she wasn't cold.
"I must be freaking out or something." she sighed, but then her shivering intensified as a searing and somehow burning cold raged up her tail. She flung it into view, only to see ice spreading across her scales. "Blasted dragon must've hit me," she snarled.
MAY OR MAY NOT BE CONTINUED