Stalacicle, male IceWing
Cloudfire, male SkyWing
Solar Flare, female SandWing
Superior, female NightWing
Corynthos, female Aviwing
Moss, female RainWing
Starfish, female SeaWing
SkyHawk, male SkyWing
Harper, male SeaWing
Shadowflank, male NightWing
Bluefire, male SeaWing
Terra Nova, female IceWing
Dusk, male NightWing
Merrow, female SeaWing
Strigiformes, male SkyWing
Skybounty, female NightWing
Alchemist, male NightWing
Thrasher, male SandWing
Fennec, female SandWing
Gaia, female Mudwing
An eggshell rolled between two webbed green talons. The dragon was watching, watching for the other tribes who would surely bring in eggs that were old or crummy and weren't needed. And then, he had to sort those eggs and drop them in designated pits.
He continued to watch as a Sandwing dropped a small yellow egg in front of him and flew away. He picked it up. Heavy. What kind of egg would get dropped off here if it were that heavy? He placed it in the Sandwing pit and curled his tail around it thoughtfully.
A Mudwing was following the Sandwing. It puffed smoke from its mouth as it panted, clutching an IceWing egg. How odd, but none of my concern. Nightwings and Skywings began to swoop down. Seawings from his own tribe dropped their discarded eggs and flew off. Even the lazy Rainwings were coming. The white-sand beach became a rainbow of diversity.
He piled the white-blue eggs together and the blues and greens, and the rainbows and blacks and browns and yellows. He worked busily. He didn't even notice that three eggs rolled away into the Sandwing pit.
In his tireless dedication, he hadn't acknowledged the moons starting to rise, either, but once he had, an explosion of stress lit in the back of his chest. He had to get every single egg sorted by moonhigh. He placed the last one, a small black one, in its pit, and unfurled his wings to fly away.
As he beat the leather-like limbs, the moon glinted off of four cracked, oval-like shapes. Eight wings burst out into the open air, and eight eyes pierced the darkness.
Chapter 1, Eleven Years Later....
After the Seawings had found out that four dragonets had hatched on the Island, they wanted to kill them. It was as though fate had conjured killer monsters into existence, like what happened in legends. The island was, after all, a symbol of death, deformity and malnourishment.
The Nightwings, their allies, were recruited as assassins to destroy the dragonets.
But when the Nightwings found out that one of the hatchlings was a Nightwing, they demanded that they rescue it from the others.
Solar Flare rapped a Seawing's corpse. She hated having to kill other dragons, but their location could not be compromised.
Her band of dragons was watched over by her, every task and chore carried out by her, every attack led by her. She was their shield, their protection, and she wouldn't let any other dragon hurt them.
A green Seawing was at the head of the fleet, churning currents with his tail. His yellowy lime eyes followed Solar Flare's every movement. She flapped sideways; he pursued.
Behind him were several green and blue Seawings, each a different shade. They silently surged out of the water. All of them were dripping wet, fierce-looking, scary, and extremely angry. Solar Flare flicked her barbed tail: a command.
Nightwing, Icewing and Skywing melted out of the darkness. The Seawings stepped back a few feet. The head of the fleet lit up a few of his stripes.
Darn it, Solar Flare thought. They could be saying anything and we still don't understand.
A black dragon flashed out of the sky. Solar Flare was blinded, and she was also tangled in something. A net. She struggled, shocking and stunning herself.
"Attack!" she roared, sparks flying off her scales.
The SkyWing shot up into the air as fast as fast could go, tackling the NightWing head-on. It dropped its bag of nets and tried to fly away, but the red dragon swooped and raked its neck. Blood flew off his talons mid-air as the NightWing dropped dead out of the sky, its wings folded to the side in a ripped position. The SkyWing then turned and tore open Solar Flare's net. Dead wire fell to the ground.
"They have a very small patrol. We can probably defeat them," Solar Flare gasped. At least the entire world isn't trying to kill us. She had red burn marks on her neck from the net. She clawed an incoming SeaWing behind her and threw him over her head.
"I can agree, though the outcomes are not determinable," Cloudfire replied, swooping as another dragon leapt at him. Solar Flare looked around her. The IceWing was clashing with some scouts, breathing white clouds down their gills and freezing them from the inside. The NightWing grappled with the lead Seawing. He raised his tail and Solar Flare yelled in alarm but it was too late. The green-scaled tail slammed against the black body and knocked the air out of it. Superior plummeted to the ground. The green dragon landed on top of her.
Solar Flare glared venomously at the Seawing. She slammed her tail into its gills and pierced, digging around inside the flesh and blood.
The Seawing screamed, clambering on the rock, dripping blood and screaming as it tried to keep its foothold. It fell to the ground and died slowly and painfully. Scales turned black from poison all around its body. Several stripes actually turned gray and shone black from the inside.
Solar Flare turned back to Superior. Blood was oozing from her middle section in clots. She coughed up the red, sticky liquid.
"No!" Stalacicle yelled, ignoring the SeaWing he was in the middle of freezing. He whipped it with his thin tail and rushed over to the NightWing. He examined her wounds carefully, then wrapped her midsection in seaweed.
A dark figure appeared behind him, and a net flew down from the sky; voltage clawed evilly at the scales of all four dragonets, entangled within. Blue and green snouts peered into the trap.
Solar Flare hissed angrily as she struggled. She didn't care about the searing pain. She reached up, still wriggling like an angry viper, and raked a rope with her tail, snapping the tight wire and leaping up. She lashed out with her tail, striking and cuffing SeaWings around the gills and breathing fire down their mouths. She saw Superior flying behind her at full recovery; she approached a smaller SeaWing, who leapt at her. She ducked under and raked the dragon's soft underbelly, starting at the tail and ending with her talons on the neck, applying pressure and sending the head rolling across the hard stone.
"I hate fighting," muttered Stalacicle as he shot a jet of ice down a SeaWing's body. More reinforcements were arriving. "Why are we such a big deal?"
Solar Flare stopped herself from almost raking Cloudfire's tail with hers and noticed his bad eye was dripping with fresh blood.
Cloudfire followed her gaze. Solar Flare sighed. The SeaWings were retreating and a fresh set of NightWings were arriving. Too many dragons to count laid dead at her feet, put that way by her own talons. She shuddered.
A wing of NightWings were nearly on top of her. She shot her tail into the air and scraped around. NightWings crashed from the air, yowling in pain. Pierced white underbellies slapped the ground and belched their insides.
A very large one was carrying a big gun with black liquid swishing around in it. He pointed it at her and shot it, barely scraping a talon. It stung terribly. Solar Flare flashed her black forked tongue. She knocked the gun out of his talons and fired it back at him, the substance running from his neck down to his legs. He fell from the air and clawed at his neck with agony.
"Poor NightWings," Stalacicle frowned, looking at the black bodies plastered to the ground. One of the larger ones, with a scar over its eye, had been missed. He snarled at them as he passed by and flapped away in the direction of the Kingdom of the Sea. "I wish they didn't hate us so much."
"Well, we murdered a lot of dragons in our defense." The red SkyWing wrung his tail smoothly at the unspoken question.
This island has ruined our lives, Solar Flare thought tiredly, going over a well-worn track of despair.
"I understand," Stalacicle replied, looking down at Superior somberly. "We're doing what we can." He was answered with nothing but a scowl.
Solar Flare paced up and down on the rock, trying to remove the images of the dying Seawings from her mind. She shuddered and her chest heaved deeply, then she staggered sideways and veered towards Cloudfire, nodding. "It's getting dark. Let's go," she said. She tilted her snout to the dying sun, and for just a second, she felt the weird freedom she had always found in it. The sea wind leapt at her face. She was the first to turn away.
As Superior reached the top of a steep seaside summit, she inhaled deeply.
"Everyone rest smoothly," Stalacicle yawned from beside her. "Good night."
"Good night," the other dragonets replied.
The Four Flames were soon asleep under the cool darkness. The stars twinkled in the endless dim light.
A tall black Nightwing closed his eyes and saw an image, one he had seen before. He exhaled deeply, feeling so much desire for that image, for everyone, for every moving thing. He opened his eyes, now filled with red bloodlust.
"Terra!" he screeched unpleasantly, his mouth whipping open in a roar. A white Icewing entered the room. She glared at him.
"If you're looking for his royal Sciencebutt, he's in the room fidgeting with a thing-a-ma-jig, so I wouldn't bother him right now."
"No you idiot," the Nightwing hissed. "I need you to do a... task.... for me."
"Of course. I'll send in the assassins. Then we'll know what to do with them."
"Good," the black dragon snarled, fingering through a box of amulets and putting on one. "They won't know what hit them. Ready the guards. And tell my Seawing friend he's being watched. He has one more chance to prove himself to us."
"Yes, sir," the frosty dragon replied.
Superior sat on the cliff ledge, watching the sun rise. She didn't feel like a Nightwing. She felt like an outcast. None of her tribe liked her. Only her band, only the misfit hatchlings. And that was no help.
"Hello," Cloudfire nodded as he sat down next to her. She groaned softly. She was the exact opposite of him.
Cloudfire glanced over at the sea. "It's beautiful. Quite amazing that so many biomes of the universe ended up here and collided in the most unlikely places. An arctic next to a desert, a sky world next to a rainforest... it's amazing."
Superior was bored. She also wanted to abandon this pointless conversation. She leapt off the cliff ledge and glided down to the battlefield point. "Dang I'm sick of this island!" she cried.
"Yes, I remember you said that yesterday," Cloudfire said from above. "It's full of enemies and rocky scenery. But it's close to the sea. It's a great place to get food from."
"Shut up Cloudfire!" she groaned. "I'm serious! Why not just fly away?"
The large Skywing loomed over her. "Because Solar Flare said so. She wants to leave just as much as you do, but if we all wanted to leave she would have us hold some sort of meeting or something like that. Besides, she is protecting us like she has always done. She carries our burden. If we left the island, the enemies would chase us into the mainland and spread out. Not only could we eventually be cornered, but other tribes would get involved."
Superior stood there for a moment. "I still think we should leave. Who cares what Solar Flare says? We're tough, aren't we? We've survived this for eleven years."
Cloudfire made his Skywing-fire hiss. "Solar Flare does what she can. We can hold a meeting when the others wake up, but we're not revolting against her leadership. Trust her."
"Oh, alright, fine mister bossy," Superior snapped.
A white head poked out of the cave. "Uhhhh, are you guys arguing again? Because I'm preeeeetty sure you guys are arguing and I really don't like it, so... uhhh, could you guys please stop or something?"
Superior immediately stopped. "Oh! Sure. But we need you to get Solar. I was talking about something with Cloudfire and I want to discuss it with all of you."
The Icewing's breath hissed as he dove back into the bedraggled cave, wings still drooping tiredly to his side. Minutes later he emerged with a grumpy yellow dragon.
"What's going on down there?" Solar Flare asked tiredly, her tail dragging behind her. The barb was digging into the ground as it trailed after her.
"Well, there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for that. We need to vote on something." Cloudfire ruffled his wings.
"Vote!?" yelled Superior, leaping up. All of her Nightwing regalness disappeared. "Now I was told we were having a meeting but seriously? Vote?!"
"It was agreed," Cloudfire sighed. "You are so argumentative. I could talk to you all day and you still--"
"Shut up and stop bickering!" screamed a very tired Solar Flare."What are we arguing about?"
"Superior wants to leave the island. I keep telling her it's not a good idea, but she thinks otherwise. Who knows where we could end up? Rotting in the Ice Kingdom? Bleeding to death in the rainforest, of all places?"
Superior clapped her talons together. "Bravo! What a rousing speech! I take it this is your step to become King of the Skywings? Good luck on your voting!"
The Sandwing rolled her eyes. "Superior, since you apparently love talking, you get to argue for leaving or staying first."
"I do," Superior coughed. "I argue for leaving because first of all, this island is boring and sickening. Also, if we stay, we'll probably be killed by Nightwings or Seawings. Living on this island is murder. Plus, they kill for no reason, although not on purpose. They think we're evil and cursed. Enough said. I think we should leave."
Stalacicle leaned his head towards the rock Superior was standing on and nodded silently in approval.
Solar Flare curled her tail. "Okay Cloudfire, your turn now."
Cloudfire stepped forward and swept Superior off of her rock, settling on it. "I think we should stay because it would be much more dangerous leaving than staying on the island. Here, we are only hunted by Seawings and Nightwings. No other tribe knows, or cares, about us. Remember what happened to the Dragonets of Destiny when they went out into the world? They were soon enemies with every tribe known. Here, we are so much safer. Seeing the world is dangerous, and a huge burden to carry." He indignantly wrapped his huge red tail around Superior, who was about to spill a mouthload of curses all over the place.
Stalacicle studied both of the dragonets hard, then directed his glossy silver-blue head to look at the yellow Sandwing who was waiting for his answer. His mane bristled. "I choose Superior," he decided simply.
The Nightwing sat on the ground in surprise. She shot him a grateful smile.
"Then it is settled. From here outward there will be no trials. We are leaving tomorrow night."
Stalacicle was getting stiff on the ground. It was almost midnight, the same day as the trial, and his breath came out in big white cirrus clouds. He was tired, too tired. And extremely confused.
Why did I choose her? he groaned. His side heaved. Our fate was in my talons. And I chose that we leave. Stalacicle flicked his tail over a jagged rock and heaved himself up to stand. Blood from the intense battle yesterday was coated over his legs. He winced.
He trusted Solar Flare and Cloudfire completely, there was a totally good reason to stay. But he had seen the look on Superior's face. She wanted to see the world, to escape this imprisoning torture. And he knew they should have left long ago.
The moons slowly crawled their way up into the sky. He stood there, a slight sea breeze-- and the stench of Seawings-- tugging on his nose. It was the only breeze he had ever known. He turned to look at the other three dragonets, sleeping peacefully in the den. This would be the last peaceful sleep they would have for days. I thought I was always the one who would help those who were injured or needed it, Stalacicle thought. Now I'm the one who's letting my friends die.
Superior slithered up behind him, her ninja stealth almost knocking him off of the cliff. Stalacicle screamed in surprise and whirled on her. "What the three moons are you doing?!"
Superior shrugged. "I like sneaking up on people. It makes me feel awesome."
"Well don't do that! It's privacy invasion!"
The Nightwing looked hurt. "I just wanted to see what you were doing."
Stalacicle calmed down. He sighed, a long puff of smoky white billowing from his mouth. Superior was not alone. Behind her, Solar Flare's deep gray eyes were fixed on both of them. Her barb rapped against a rock. "What are you doing up?" she hissed.
Stalacicle jumped at the eerie dark look in her eyes. His heart pumped up again at the void-like eyes in her face that had always scared him, but at midnight, it looked purely sinister."Uhhh..." he stammered.
"Oh! We were just looking at the stars." Superior said.
The alienic and now questioning eyes of a grumpy Solar Flare turned and went to go frighten someone else. In an instant, she had gone back into the den.
Stalacicle finally exhaled. He had been holding his breath. "Solar scares the heck out of me sometimes."
Superior quietly sat down and curled her tail around her legs. "Agreed."
Stalacicle shifted his talons, then sat down and closed his eyes. He really did need sleep. He considered it, then slowly lowered his lids over his eyes and drifted off, engaged in a shallow sleep. As darkness closed around him, he heard a sinister voice whisper in his head. I'm coming, it hissed. And then it was gone, and he was asleep.
Cloudfire was mad. Again.
It was the next morning and he still had to put up with a grumpy, complaining Nightwing and a supporting Icewing and a stupid Sandwing who all agreed to leave this island and commit almost certain suicide.
Well, he wasn't going to be mad about it to them.
Oh, no. Cloudfire the Skywing would not be grumpy about leaving. He would be nice and informative and helpful through it all. But he was smart, and when they all died, because it was certain they would, he would have to say "I told you so," and then die. Like as if the Four Flames were going to survive. Nobody liked them nor supported them, and that was a definite, total fact.
But they were his best friends. He couldn't really do anything. If they wanted to go, he would have to respect that. He definitely couldn't doubt Solar Flare. She was the most trustworthy dragon he knew.
And so he could be mad at them all he wanted, but you just couldn't deny Stalacicle and Solar Flare and maybe even Superior because he knew they all loved him and would protect him no matter what.
So he could just stay there and be mad all the way to the mainland.
Cloudfire stood up and yawned, then gave up on laying down and looked around. Superior was eating an oyster from the island beach, her talons getting slippery every time she snatched one up and stuffed it greedily in her mouth. Solar Flare was snacking on a fish she had caught. Stalacicle was accompanying Superior, feasting on a sea slug that had been unfortunate enough to end up on the beach. Judging by this image, it was obviously feeding time. He marched over to the Hoard, a magnificently designed cache of food he had invented himself, and snatched the first thing he saw. He popped the odd white thing into his mouth and chewed.
The Hoard was pretty genius. There was a pressure plate rigged to some sand, and a thing, he had read from a discarded book, called a camera. Whenever a dragon stepped on the sand-hidden pressure plate, they would leave a footprint. The pressure plate would then pull on the camera, turning it on, to look at the footprint. He had looked into its gears to program it to recognize his footprints and his friends' footprints only. When it did recognize a dragon's footprints, it would trigger a wire and a piston, and the Hoard would pop out of the ground with food free for the taking. This was very efficient for when he did not feel like hunting.
How he had figured out how to put this together and retrieved the items to do so, he had never told his friends. Sometimes when they were asleep, he would fly to a Seawing trader living outside the kingdom who would sell to any tribe, who lived about twelve islands away. Cloudfire would trade some of his electric nets left behind by his attackers for loads of stuff. He had once even traded one of Stalacicle's shed scales for reading lessons, when he was younger and still could not read the amazing things called books.
Stalacicle wandered over to the Hoard and promptly sat on the pressure plate as he watched Cloudfire fish out a delicious clam. He put one in his mouth and bit down, the satisfying crunch of the outer shell filling his mouth. There were some things about this island he would miss. But there were, of course, the big things that he would not miss at all. Cloudfire watched as Stalacicle chewed in front of him. The Icewing then turned, walked away, and disappeared to go and share food with the other dragonets.
~ ~ ~ ~
Cloudfire coiled his tail over the side of the cliff, humming peacefully. His talons were wrapped tightly around a book, and his wings dangled over the edge. He had read this book many times. But it wouldn't hurt to read it again. It was called A Nightwing's Guide to the Dragons of Pyrrhia. He had always been interested in Rainwings. Why did they change colors? Why didn't they have any natural weapons? There was more he wanted to know. He had never met one before, so naturally he was curious. Because every normal dragon would be, if they were not caught up with power-hungry lives and jewels and all the world's problems. Cloudfire shuddered. If he had grown up with normal dragons, would he have been curious about Rainwings? Or would he treat them like lazy, overgrown chunks of colorful treasure? He guessed he would. Most of the dragons in the world were obsessed with treasure and shiny things. Not him.
Opposite of him was Solar Flare, who was sitting on the cliff as well. He'd let her borrow a map of Pyrrhia and she was working with the other dragonets to decide on their travel route. She was using her barb as a pencil to scratch a rough sketch of the map into the rock.
"So, if we flew in a full circle around all of Pyrrhia, we may be able to meet each tribe and see what they're like. Then we would end up back where we started if we ever wanted to return."
"Which we won't," Superior snapped. "And if we don't like that route, we can just visit the tribes that our parents come from only, since Mudwings and Rainwings aren't our fancy."
"Good idea. We should consider these, because we're leaving very soon," Solar Flare nodded, curling up her tail. "What do you think we should do, Cloudfire?"
Cloudfire looked up from his book. "Erhm.... I don't know. I want to be left out of this; I'm reading."
All of a sudden, a flash of black scales was on him, and he was literally wrestled off the ground and thrown at the map.
"Get up, lazy Rainwing," Superior snapped. "Now, help us decide."
Grumpily, Cloudfire stood up and marked a route with his talons. It led straight down the Diamond Spray, which ended in the mountains, and then from there they would fly through the Sky Kingdom, circle back through Pyrrhia towards the Ice Kingdom, and finally the journey would end at Jade Mountain.
"Wait...." hissed Solar Flare. "We aren't coming back if we take that route."
"I know," Cloudfire replied. "We are never coming back to this island again." Perhaps I can win them over.
Superior let out a cry of joy. "Hooray! No more eternal death!"
Cloudfire almost threw up on a passing seagull. If she thought this was eternal death, she should just wait until they were off their island.
Solar Flare clapped her talons like nothing weird had happened. "That's quite a wonderful idea. Any others?"
The other Flames just stared down at their feet.
"I might have one," Stalacicle stated. "We could fly straight through the continent."
"That's a stupid idea," Cloudfire snapped, then instantly regretted it.
Solar Flare's dark eyes glared at him. She put her tail down on the map and drew Stalacicle's line down on it. His frown instantly turned upside down and he started to grin.
"All ideas are welcome," Solar Flare announced sweetly and matter-of-factly, though Cloudfire could see she was shooting him a look. "No? No more ideas?"
Superior shrugged. "I don't think so. Let's just go with whichever idea we like."
Stalacicle pointed at Cloudfire. "He's smarter than me, let's use his idea."
Solar Flare nodded, and Superior just shrugged again.
"Okay, so we leave tonight, and take Cloudfire's route."
As the meeting adjourned, Cloudfire couldn't help thinking, What if I made a bad decision?
Solar Flare hissed, getting into position. The other Flames were hiding under a boulder as the moon made its way up into the sky. She closed her eyes as her scales went green, and then passed. She leapt down from the boulder.
"All right guys, it's time to go."
"This is it!" Superior exclaimed. "We're really leaving!"
The four dragons lifted off into the blackening night.
~ ~ ~ ~
Harper drew his narwhal spear and slid into the creek silently. His gills pulsed. His tail churned the water silently. If he didn't know where he was going, then his name wasn't Harper.
He slid up a rock and perched on it, watching for his targets. They were going to pass through the area, he was sure of it. From all of the sneaking around he had been doing, he was pretty sure they were coming this way. And he would be ready for it.
~ ~ ~ ~
Solar Flare continued flying at the front of the line of Flames. Her barb swished back and forth in the air. She curled it under her legs. "How are you doing back there?"
"Ugh... my wings hurt," complained Stalacicle. He had been put in the back of the line.
"I'm just fine," Superior shrugged.
"Me too," Cloudfire added.
Stalacicle groaned and flew down lower.
Solar Flare wasn't bothered by this. They were making great time, after all. She could bet they would be halfway through Mudwing territory by the end of tomorrow.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a flash of blue below her.
"Dive, dive, dive!" screamed Solar Flare. Her deep eyes flickered as she shot, against her will, into a deep embankment and crashed into the water.
The splashes of the other three dragonets were audible as they hit the surface and sank out of dizziness.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Harper hissed and searched the waters. They had somehow managed to escape his vision. He flew down to the water's edge. How stupid were his targets, really? Escaping a Seawing assassin by diving into a river at night? They must not be that educated.
He lit a stripe on his forehead and slunk into the water, his tail swishing back and forth quietly.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Cloudfire could see something bright ahead. It looked like a way out, or maybe it was just his partial unconsciousness.
But he could also see two pairs of eyes. He felt himself being strangled, and wrapped up in something's talons. Another flash of blue entwined around him. Was he being suffocated?
He couldn't tell. He took it all. He didn't even have time to warn his friends before he felt the fins engulf him.
Cloudfire coughed. His lungs felt mucky, as though they had silt stuck in them. He hacked. His throat lurched, and then a thin stream of mud spat out from his jaws. He opened his eyes slowly. Bright light filled his vision. He closed them again.
"What are we going to do with them?"
"That's up to him to decide," said the other.
Cloudfire moaned and stood up, blinking in bright light. His vision was blurry. He looked around. There was a huge Icewing, and a deep, dark blue Seawing. He hissed and reared up, opening his mouth to breathe fire. But he fell over and started coughing, his breathing ragged, sides heaving. His neck stung.
The IceWing stared at him, then looked uneasily back. "Are-- are you sure you didn't kill them? He wanted them alive."
"Don't worry, I did my job this time, m'am," said the dark blue one.
Cloudfire almost screamed, but he didn't want to waste his breath. He lay there, panting. He felt a wing touch his shoulder, and then he faded into darkness.
Solar Flare prodded the dozing Skywing with her wing. She had no idea how long he'd been asleep, but she needed his conspiring mind.
Superior was running in circles around the giant birdcage. "YAAAAAA let me out! I'm claustrophobic! Help me I'm gonna die!"
"You're not going to die," hissed Solar Flare.
Stalacicle groaned. He puffed out little clouds of fog, trembling terribly. "But we, we're in a cage!"
"That doesn't mean they're gonna kill us," snorted the Sandwing dragonet.
Cloudfire suddenly jumped clean to his feet. "SEAWING!"
Everyone just stared at him like he was the craziest dragon in the world.
"Umm, what happened..." Superior inquired, but was shushed by Cloudfire raising his talon over his mouth.
"Don't say anything. They can hear you."
"The Seawing," muttered Cloudfire.
Solar Flare gave Cloudfire a sideways glance. "He's gone insane," she whispered.
"No I have not!" stamped Cloudfire. "I had a dream! There were these two dragons, and they were in a really scary cave, with all these buttons and switches and levers and glass jars, and I was there too!"
"Someone hold him down."
Superior rushed over to Cloudfire and clamped his muzzle shut, and threw him against the ground. She shook his snout. "Please shut up."
"Yes, well, you probably should have listened to him, because yes he is telling the truth, I've already taken him out," said an unfamiliar voice. The darkness around the chamber that they were stuck in suddenly dissolved. A deep blue Seawing was staring straight at them.
Solar Flare hissed.
"Oh, I'm so scared," the dragon snorted. "Look, we only put you in that birdcage so you wouldn't be able to run away. We've got plans for you, but don't worry, you shouldn't die as long as you comply..."
"SERIOUSLY?!" screamed Superior, jumping all over the place. "I'M CLAUSTROPHOBIC YOU BOZO!"
The Seawing looked unimpressed. "Hmm. You all have never had proper education. I wouldn't be calling your captor a 'bozo,' if I were you. And if you wanted to insult me, I'd have gone with better word choice."
"Well, can you at least tell us anything?!"
"Are you kidding? Why would I give my targets any information?" The Seawing growled, crossing his arms.
Solar Flare snarled. "Hmmm, I don't know, why would you?"
The Seawing just growled some more.
"Well, you know," said Cloudfire, who was still dazed, "I did say there were Seawings here, but did anyone listen to me? No!"
"Shut up," hissed Superior, clamping his muzzle down again.
"No!" Cloudfire shouted back, throwing her off of him. His huge body towered over her, and he leapt at her. She darted to another end of the cage.
The Seawing let out a huff of laughter. "You know, you're very amusing."
A certain Sandwing lunged at the bars, spitting. "Am I?"
"Yes. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for my lunch break. Maybe I'll bring you back something if you're really desperate."
Solar Flare sat down, her barb lashing in exasperation. She was not liking this dragon very much.
Everything was so confusing. He couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten or been cheerful. He didn't know what had happened in those few minutes plunging into the river.
Stalacicle was bored. Very bored. And confined to a small living space where his friends were in terrible and yet still declining moods.
He didn't know what the Seawing could possibly want from him. He was just an innocent, misunderstood dragonet. He didn't really appreciate any of this. He didn't want to be stuck here.
Perhaps a song would lighten the mood? It was worth a try. And he had written it himself, for when they all were finally free and with, well, whoever could be their friends in the real world. He opened his mouth and started humming a tune.
"Stalacicle, STOP SINGING," said an extremely irritated Superior.
The Icewing sat down sadly. "I have nothing to do."
"You could be quiet," offered the Nightwing.
Stalacicle sat down and whined.
Just then, the darkness around the birdcage disappeared again. It was the Seawing.
Stalacicle stared at him miserably.
"YOU AGAIN!" screamed Solar Flare, blasting fire at the cage walls.
"Shhh," whispered the Seawing. "I'm gonna get you guys out of here, just don't make any noise." He took a grimy fish and wiped the lock with it. The slime oozed its way through and flipped open the combination code. The door swung open with a metal screech.
"Remind me again why I'm following you?" challenged Solar Flare.
"I know, this looks bad, but I have to get you guys out of here before my dad and the boss come back, or else we'll all be fruitcakes."
"Why?" whispered Stalacicle. He bumped his back on the top of the doorway and whined again.
"Uhh, well, either I will be dead, you guys will be dead, or we'll all be dead... so take your pick. Oh and there's still an extremely high chance we'll all be dead anyways."
"Wow, way to reassure your passengers here."
"I still don't know why I'm following you," Solar Flare interjected.
"Hey, it's not like I wanted to kidnap you!" huffed the Seawing. "It's all for show, so my dad and the boss don't get mad at me and kill me."
"Your dad would kill you?!"
"Well, no. The boss would. And then my dad would get upset, and they would get in a fight, and the list goes on and on." The Seawing grunted. "I'm Harper, by the way."
"I know, right?" teased the Seawing. Then he turned his head. "But not right now. I shall pursue my degree in dramatic arts later. It's time to go."
Without warning, the Seawing shoved everyone into a hole and jumped in after them, plunging into darkness.
Superior emerged into a bright and sunny woodland setting which she recognized as the creek she had fallen into not too long ago. She looked around. Was that creepy Seawing still there?
She craned her neck to stare behind her. Yes, yes he was.
"What the heck...?" Cloudfire stammered right next to her. "We just fell... out of the sky... in the exact location we were just at." He looked around. "A hidden fortress in the clouds?!"
"Welcome to wormhole technology," grinned Harper.
"Oh, yes," said Solar Flare sarcastically, falling out of the sky after Cloudfire and landing on him. "I kind of forgot there for a moment that we aren't exposed to this stuff."
Harper's grin widened.
"So... we're free now... you can leave..." said Superior, shifting her talons uncomfortably. "OKAY FINE! I'M NOT EVEN GOING TO ATTEMPT TO TOLERATE YOU! GET OUT OF HERE RIGHT NOW OR I BLAST YOU!"
"Woah, chill," said the blue dragon. "I'm taking you someplace where you can seek refuge."
"Uh huh," said Cloudfire in fake enthusiasm. "Taking us right back to your boss. Nice trick, but it won't work."
"No!" groaned Harper. "Don't you see?! I'm trying to save you! I hate the boss. He's cruel! He doesn't seem to care about his workers at all! Well, besides my dad. And he has some serious plans involving you." He looked around nervously. "You're the ones that need to get out of here. You're practically at His organization's front gate!"
Superior shuddered. "You know what, I think I'm coming with you---"
Solar Flare slapped her talon over the Nightwing's mouth. "You're not making the orders here."
"Neither are you," Harper intervened. "Sorry, Sandwing, but you don't have a choice. Either stay here and face the consequences or come with me. Also, I am armed with tranquilizers and not afraid to use them."
"Right. You're definitely going to fool me with that trick."
Suddenly their big blue 'rescuer' drew a slender firearm and shot Solar in the head. "Huh you weren't kidding..." the Sandwing laughed, reeling towards the ground derpily.
Superior whipped her head around and prepared to breathe fire until a dart of red blurred her vision. Her eyelids crashed on her and she slumped to the forest floor.
Solar Flare's lids fluttered for a second. How long had she been asleep? Hours? Seconds? Days? It didn't matter. She pulled herself upright to look around.
Everywhere her eyes could see lush trees, bushes and lustrous flowers sparkling in the harsh light. It was warm but not deathly warm, more humid than hot. Also, she noted that the ground was quite moist. She dug her talons into the squishy earth. "H-hello?"
"Oh good, the Sandwing is awake," said an extremely excited voice. Solar looked around nervously, just as a Rainwing launched at her face.
"EEEERRK!" she screamed, falling backwards off the branch. The Rainwing laughed. "Gotcha!"
Solar Flare stared at the strange dragon. She had a light blue head and a really weird creature curled up around her neck. "Ugh... Rainwings," she muttered, rubbing her sore back (which she happened to land on).
The colorful dragon's wings flared up a bright red. "Hey, don't be mean! It was just a joke. Anyways, we've been expecting you, haven't we Bob?" she said, petting the strange creature on the head.
"Meergle," said the hairy thing. "Meergle smeergle!"
Solar Flare raised her brows. "Who do you even think you are?!"
"Umm, I'm Moss, but you can call me iushbkfjnlzdkbkxkkjxhkbxfvbkh."
"Yeah, that'll catch on," said Solar as she rolled her eyes. "So where's this refuge Harper told me about?"
"Uh what do you mean? You're already here," said 'iushbkfjnlzdkbkxkkjxhkbxfvbkh'.
Solar did a facepalm.
"Don't worry," said a strange Skywing who slipped out from behind the Rainwing. "Yes, I agree that she is the craziest dragon in the world, and then some, but she's part of us and she's just one more dragon that you need on your side."
Solar Flare glared and sat down. "So where are my friends?"
"The sedation chamber," answered the Skywing. "They haven't awoken yet."
The Sandwing shot straight up. "Look, I don't care about your weird organization! I just want my friends to find their families and live a normal life!"
The two dragons exchanged looks. "We're afraid that it isn't that simple," they said in unison. "But we can take you to our headmaster so you aren't so confused."
Solar narrowed her eyes. "Then let's go see the Headmaster."
The flight to the Headmaster's tree was made in silence. Well, as silent as a rainforest could be. Solar looked below her the whole time. There were dragons of all kinds, chatting quietly and drawing and reading, and writing down things on papers. Some were documenting their conversation. Once she craned her neck down to try to hear a particularly odd dragon but she crashed from looking down too much. Moss was muttering something under her breath.
"When you get to the Grand Topiary," said Skyhawk, for that was the Skywing's name, "do not speak until you are commanded to. Oh, and please be polite. Moss ended up complaining for weeks about the claw mark the Headmaster gave her."
"Hey!" squawked the rainbow dragon. "That's private info!"
"Not anymore," smirked the red dragon. "Now remember, we will only escort you the way there, and then you're on your own."
Solar nodded and swerved around a tall jungle plant when suddenly she saw it.
The huge emerald-green treehouse was made entirely out of thick stretchy leaves and supported by vines rigged to the canopy nearby, in a primitive but beautiful way. The walls were caked in bromeliads, tulips and roses, and were very fragrant. Also, the roses were thorny, so apparently the walls had some protection besides the several Cunningwings marching back and forth in chainmail and helm. Red and white banners draped from the cascading fronds near the entrance. The curtain of banana leaves swaying in the doorway rivaled the banners for motion. But the stunning staircase leading from the ground up into the Topiary was the most stunning of all, because it was laden in gold and carven entirely from the very dark wood of a spruce tree.
"Woah..." said Solar Flare.
"I know right? Got me like that the first time too." Moss banked steeply towards the other direction. She stopped for a second and hovered to look back at the Sandwing, slapping Skyhawk in the face accidentally-on-purpose with her tail. The Skywing yelped in protest, and she turned to bid her farewells to Solar.
"Good luck with the Headmaster!" She flew off, giggling, as Skyhawk shot after her and tried to pummel her nose.
"Uh, goodbye, then?" answered Solar Flare uncertainly. She shrugged her shoulders and flapped up to the entrance. She knew she didn't need to take the staircase, no matter how breathtaking it was. She thudded on the deck and pushed past the dangling curtain.
Walking in, you could instantly see that it was not your normal treehouse.
The young Sandwing had thought the outside was amazing, but she couldn't believe her eyes. The treehouse floor was a huge wooden plank, not just any but a dark one in coloration. In a circle were chairs propped up against the wall. They weren't the uncomfortable kind, either, they were the kind you sink into after hours of work. The banner of the organization was painted on the plank ceiling.
And in the midst of the room, seeming as though it grew out of the tree itself, was a throne. A wooden one. Very humble handiwork, but not so noticeable, and enough to make the seat appear as it had grown out of the tree's own roots.
Solar Flare didn't know what to say, but she found it polite to bow before the throne, although unoccupied at the moment. She dropped to her knees respectfully.
It was just as she did this that a rather small and feathery Nightwing flapped out of a side room and flared her wings gently to perch on the wooden carving. She did not even bother to fold her giant appendages up; she just waited there, ever so quietly, for a few moments. As she spread her wings to commence conversation, the sun glowed through the leafy walls and made a halo around her.
"Welcome, Solar Flare. You may not know me yet, but I am Headmaster Cory, chieftess of our sanctuary-oriented organization. And we are the Anti Powers."
Solar Flare tried very hard not to gape at the fact that the unfamiliar headmaster knew her name. The dragon seemed to thrum with monarchal energy, though she did not address herself as so. She merely seemed to be waiting for the initial shock to wear off.
"Are you a Nightwing?" Solar Flare blurted. It sounded rude but she hadn't intended for that. It just sort of came out.
Th blackish dragon chuckled for a moment. Her pointed snout made an odd clicking noise as she cawed. "No, no, I am an Aviwing, silly! A crow Aviwing, to be exact." She glanced around. "But that is not why you are here, is it?"
"No, it isn't," said Solar a little more than bravely. "I come for answers."
"Very well," said Cory, "fire away. We do not believe in secrecy here unless it is for the greater good, and it wouldn't hurt you to know."
"What do you want with me? Why am I here? What are these 'Anti Powers?' What was that creepy laboratory all about?"
"Okay, wow, that's a lot of questions," laughed the Aviwing. "Now let's begin." Her face grew serious and she walked over to a blackboard in the corner, where she began to show drawn images of several dragons.
"We need you here, as part of a series of events that have occured for over the past fifty years, due to the tyranny of a particularly vicious dragon who goes by the name of Shadowflank the Black. We, as the Anti Powers, are an organization dedicated to stopping tyrannical plans such as his, and keeping the balance between the tribes. In order to do so, we must keep the queens in each tribe in their reign, as having one dragon as Pyrrhia's monarchy is far too dangerous and far too unbalanced in power and control."
"Where do I come into the equation?" demanded Solar Flare.
Cory cleared her throat. "Eleven years ago, the eggs of eight dragons who happened to be best friends were stolen by Shadowflank and injected with one of the most terrible genetic viruses ever, mutating them to a degree too far."
The Sandwing turned paler.
"His plan involved using the innocent mutants to aid him in world domination. But the parents fought back. They were desperate to keep their children... and succeeded, but two of them died trying. The parents knew the eggs were a burden, not to mention contaminated. Heartbroken, they gave up their children and hid them the only place they knew they could--- the Isle of Abandoned Eggs."
"No!" cried Solar.
"I'm sorry," said Cory. "I'm so, so sorry..."
Terra Nova fidgeted in the soldier dormitory. "Sir," she said flatly, her voice brisk.
The shadow at the dark balcony moved. "Yes, general."
"The dragonets are gone. I did a full talonprint check myself and discovered it was the work of Harper."
"I told you he would betray us. His father would be disappointed that his son decided not to pursue science. Even if he is unaware of the full reasoning for what we are doing...."
"World domination, sir," said Terra Nova with a hint of approval. "We can do it without his stupid son. This is what our troops have trained for. We don't need assassins when we can collect the mutants ourselves."
Shadowflank remained silent.
"The Seawings and the Nightwings," she continued, "are our unknowing allies. It would be a wise decision, considering we tricked them into turning on the mutants. They all think these are evil dragons. We may use that to our advantage."
"You are right about collecting them ourselves," said the great Nightwing, turning slyly, "but if these dragons believe the four are truly evil, they will kill them, and demand us to murder what we really want to use. No, that will not work. However... I know a certain fifth class Icewing General that just may prove herself useful in capturing them..."
Superior came to her senses very slowly. She tried to blink in the light. She closed her eyes again and rolled over with a groan. Everything was blurry... and green...
She forced herself to sit up and look around. "Stalacicle?" There was no answer. "Cloudfire? Solar?" She looked around blearily. There wasn't anything laying around to mark another dragon's presence. "Anybody?"
A shadow moved past her.
Paranoia gripped the Nightwing. She whirled dizzily towards the floor, trying to keep her balance and run away at the same time. "Who-- who's there?" she called. She leaned, lightheaded, against a tree trunk, waiting for an answer.
"Oh, uh, it's just me," said a little Seawing. They crawled slowly out of the darkness.
"I've never seen you before," said Superior, peering around cautiously. "I've just seen Harper. I didn't know there were other Seawings around here."
"Oh, funny dragon," said the Seawing, "there are all types of dragons around here. Not just Seawings. Aviwings, Cunningwings, Sandwings, Skywings, Leafwings, the list goes on and on!" She stared down her snout at Superior. "They must not have told you when they put you on sedates. Ugh. Headmaster ordered that dragon to specifically tell you before he administered a weapon on you."
"Y-yes. At least that much he told you. He isn't exactly good at following directions."
"Also, I wouldn't advise much movement right now," the pale teal Seawing added pointedly. "Those tranquilizer darts really knock you out."
"Yes, I can agree there," said Superior. "So, who are you again? I don't think you gave me your name."
"Do I have to?" said the Seawing, batting her eyelashes, and then broke into laughter. "No, I'm totally kidding, you deserve to know. I'm Starfish!"
"I know," said Starfish happily. She bounced up onto a tree limb. "Everyone knows. Every single Anti Power knows you. You're one of the Flames, of course."
Superior sputtered in surprise. "Wha--"
"I'm sorry, am I confusing you? Wait, yes. I'm totally confusing you. Let me backtrack. Ummm, the Anti Powers are a group of dragons. And our group's goal here is to make sure the world is fair... so we're supposed to stop any and all world domination plans." The Seawing rapped her talons together, trying to think. "So, yeah. And, those dragons that grabbed you and locked you up, they are trying to take over Pyrrhia. Typical, huh?"
Superior nodded, unsure what to think.
"Well, anyways, that's all I really know. Nobody tells me much. At least, they would, if I didn't hang out in the recovery chamber. I just greet people."
"Alright. Makes sense," said the Nightwing, getting to her feet. She flexed her wings and took off.
"Wait!" yelled Starfish, hopping after her. "Wait for me!"
Solar sobbed into the black dragon's wings. Her chest heaved as she cried. Tears streamed down her face. She tried not to, but she couldn't stop herself. Her talons were squeezed tight and her breaths were racked with grief.
"I'm sorry," said Cory, wrapping her soft wings around the dragonet gently. "We did everything we could. Your parents and I, I mean. And the Powers."
"All my life..." sniffled Solar Flare. "All my life, I've just been a mistake."
"Oh, stop it," the Aviwing said, whacking the upset dragon upside the head. "You're just as normal as everyone else. Look at me. Anyone would expect me to be a Nightwing. And some dragons are just crazy. Solar Flare, you are one of a kind, and yes, you are different, but 'monster' and 'different' are not the same."
"But... all the dragons I've killed!"
"They were tricked by that same Nightwing that mutated your egg. They were all so gullible and, to him, nothing but tools lying in his path. You had to defend yourself and your friends. Listen to me. You are a great dragon, and you are capable of great things. None of this is your fault."
Solar Flare heaved a long sigh.
"Now listen," said Cory, waving at the Sandwing with her talons, "I know something that will cheer you up. How about I go get your parents?"
"My... my parents?" Solar Flare sat up quickly.
"Oh, sure," said the Aviwing. "They've been hanging around here a lot lately. Ever since we got news from our guards at the Great Gates that Harper was returning, they haven't been able to stand still. They really care, ya know."
The Sandwing wiped her snout. "I always thought they didn't want us." She sniffed. "Are you sure they really want us?"
"Positive," said the Aviwing. "But I'm not gonna take you to them without your buddies. Let's go find your friends."
"Yes, commander, sir. On duty, sir. Reporting to post immediately."
"Good work," said the IceWing. She leaned on the wall, fastening her battle talons comfortably. "Oh, and," she purred, turning to the Seawing guarding the other side of the entrance, "your helmet's a little crooked. We wouldn't want any dragons impaling your skull."
"Oh. Right," said the soldier, assuming a stoic position as quickly as he could.
"Now, I think I need to relay Shadowflank's message one more time. In case some idiot accidentally kills one too many dragons." Terra Nova said, sweetly. She beamed at the terrified soldiers doing their best to salute.
"You guys are supposed to be the best Nightwing and Seawing out of all of them in the whole organization. So, we've decided to bring you and only you on this mission. Don't try anything stupid, please." She puffed some smog out of her mouth to scare them a little. "Anyways, your goal here is to capture these four dragonets. If you kill them, you fail the mission... and failure, though I hate to say it to you boys, is not an option." She held up a wanted poster. "Now tighten your helmets. These dragonets are dangerous and have been in combat with both of your species before. Seawing, because they've killed more of you, they know your techniques the best. So stay here and guard our bunker, in case they follow us."
The Nightwing grabbed his weird-looking spear. "Yes sir. So I come with you?"
Terra Nova did not respond. A Cunningwing passed by, and she pushed the Nightwing backwards. "Get down," she hissed through gritted teeth.
"Are you ready?" the IceWing whispered once the Cunningwing was gone. She didn't even wait for the soldier to answer before bounding off through the bushes bordering the enemy territory.
"Alright, here we are," said the Headmaster, circling down towards the ground. She perched on a rather large banana tree.
"Are you sure you shouldn't have retrieved guards to transport us?" asked Cloudfire sleepily.
"Nah, I don't believe in that stuff," shrugged the Aviwing.
"Well, I still can't believe that stuff happened to us," said Stalacicle.
"Well, anyways, it did, and that's in the past. I think your parents will be happy to see you either way. So, I've sent some Swiftwings to fly them here as fast as possible."
"Nice," nodded Cloudfire. He scanned the meadow below them. "So, is this some sort of field for meetings?"
"Uh, so far, yes," said the Aviwing. "Originally it was for guard training. We found them a bigger area, though."
Suddenly Stalacicle straightened up. "Uhh... you said you sent Swiftwings to get our parents, didn't you?"
With a sudden lurch and a screech, Terra Nova launched into the clearing. "Secure the dragonets!" she shouted at the Nightwing. With a smile on her face, she turned and slammed into the Aviwing head-on.
"Cory!" screamed one of the dragonets.
Terra Nova struggled to keep a foothold on the dragon's tail, securing the spikes. She began to batter the Aviwing's back with her talons. A claw struck deep in between the shoulder blades and wings. The dragon cawed in agony, whipping around to lash at her face. She winced as a single talon struck her chin.
"This will be the last time you ever interfere with us," snarled the Icewing. She raised her serrated claws and shoved her enemy into the ground. She smirked darkly as her grip around their neck began to slowly become stronger and stronger until...
"Get her!" yelled someone. Terra Nova was suddenly blinded by a flurry of wings. She jumped backwards, readying her frosty breath. She never had the chance before a furious black dragon grappled onto her, pecking her with her sharp snout. Red, white, gold and black swarmed her vision. Blood raced down her foretalons.
And that's when the Seawing crashed into all of them.
"HARPER, YOU FOOL!" yelled Cory. The dark blue dragon clung to Terra Nova's face, slapping her repeatedly with his tail, tearing at her with his fish-hook talons.
"Death to Dominators!" he crowed. "Death to Terra!"
The Icewing let loose a roar of rage. She assaulted her own face, ramming headfirst into the ground. Harper fell off her. She turned to look menacingly at the dragonets, her mouth open in a snarl.
"Those dragonets are ours!"
"NO," shouted an unfamiliar voice behind the dragonets, "THEY'RE OURS."
Six dragons slipped out of the dense rainforest darkness, ruffs flared and tails bristling with fury.
"You are not going anywhere," hissed the Skywing. His grumpy, unsettling glare landed on the white-blue dragoness.
"Agreed," said a Sandwing. She raised her poisonous barb over her head. "Leave or I kill you."
"I'll kill you too," snarled another Sandwing.
Terra Nova's eyes blazed. "This... this isn't over!" She ran towards the dragons furiously, extending her talons.
"That's CLOSE ENOUGH." The Sandwing swung her barb and clocked Terra Nova in the head, knocking her unconscious. The Icewing fell to the ground in a stupor, and her Nightwing partner fled toward the bushes.
"Now, where were we? Right. Our children."
Cloudfire swallowed. Hard.
These were their parents? They looked... so intimdating. His eyes swept in a full circle, examining them all.
He almost hadn't noticed, in his shock, that the male Skywing had walked up to him slowly, pacing around him, inspecting him darkly. His claws clicked on the rocks lining the mossy fields. "Hmmm..." the red dragon uttered. He stopped, staring blankly at Cloudfire's eye. "What happened here?"
"An accident hatching out of my egg. Minor, but blinding."
The older Skywing scowled. "It's no wonder. Poor Stormcrossing had no choice but to throw you to me."
"Your mother," said a Mudwing.
"Why? I'm confused here. Why would she throw me? Did she abuse me?"
"No, never! You see..." offered the Mudwing, but the Skywing had already started staring into space, his eyes watering.
"She's dead," growled Cloudfire's father. "She saved your life."
"And gave up her own life," said the Mudwing softly.
"You too, Icewing!" yelled the Skywing sourly, stalking towards Stalacicle. "Your mother was your only family and she's dead! And it's all thanks to this dragoness right here." He pointed to the slumped body of Terra Nova.
Stalacicle's eyes said more than his heartbroken face.
"Let's kill her," snapped a female Nightwing. She viciously raised her claws.
"No, let's take her hostage!" yelled the female Sandwing.
"I say we do both!" another dragon added.
"We should end her life."
"She's already unconscious!"
"Kill her anyways!"
"Oh, very mature."
"Yeah? And what are you gonna do about it?"
"Take her hostage, duh!"
"STOP!" yelled Cory. All the dragons dropped to the ground.
"We are not going to kill this dragon. Take her hostage, and she can lead us to Shadowflank, but we don't need her because Harper can do that. Let her run back to her boss. I don't care if they know where our sanctuary is." She opened her wings. "Now, just get some time to know each other, and I'll be back." She grabbed Terra Nova in her talons and flew off.
Cloudfire turned his attention back to the six angry dragons, who were squabbling again.
Oh dear, he thought.
A dragon the color of midnight flapped up to her tree fortress and slammed the scroll down on the seat of her throne. A loud crack shook the tree whilst she ascended to the floor. A SkyWing slipped into the room and blocked the doorway. "You have not been my top general throughout all fifty years this organization has existed for naught," the AviWing growled. She clawed at a stone in the back corner. The walls began to shake.
"Have you disposed of the IceWing?"
"Yes, I laid her out in the forest. And you?"
"I am thoroughly aware of what will happen to me today, Headmaster," said the ironclad sky dragon.
Corynthos grimly watched as the thick wooden walls of her fortress slid away to reveal a hidden armory within. She stalked towards it and took a single helmet from the shelf. Tears rushed to her eyes, looking at the bloody, dusty weapons around her. "I didn't think it would come to this, Rufescent," she whispered. "I didn't believe what measures Shadowflank would go to."
"We have endangered many lives," the SkyWing replied. "That is the price of protecting those who are fortunate enough not to be caught in this yet."
Corynthos polished the metal slowly and reached for her battle claws. "It is coming," she breathed. "Our final stand against Him."
Superior looked up at the sky. Something was swooping around up there, arcing towards the ground. Superior leapt to crush the dragon beneath her; this earned her a deafening squawk.
"Let go of me!" barked a voice resembling Cory's. The AviWing drew herself up and flapped her feathery wings. "Ahem."
Fennec, Solar Flare's mother, glared at the Headmaster. "What's going on? Why are you here again?"
"We need the dragonets back sooner than I expected." She removed a silver helmet from her head. Her feathery crest had been spiked up in an interesting 'do.
The other SandWing swung his barb. "We aren't letting them go anywhere."
"Please. We have a situation that may determine whether your children live or die, and these dragonets, by my extent and knowledge, are the only known mutants affected by Shadowflank."
Cloudfire flinched at the word 'mutant.'
"That's stupid. Everyone knows it," the Sandwing hissed. "They're just children."
Cory lashed her tail. "I'm not saying that they're changing the world. I'm saying they're helping. In case you haven't noticed, we have an army of dragons dedicated to stopping world domination right here. And, perhaps they have developed an antiserum to your dragonets' case."
"Why not?" said Stalacicle suddenly.
Six adult dragons' eyes glared in skepticism.
"You realize what's at stake here?" asked Cory slowly, mounting the helmet on her head again. The four dragonets shook their heads in unison. It's not like we're doing anything heroic, shrugged Stalacicle. Just saving the day and maybe turning ourselves normal, plus shutting down an organization bent on.... oh wait.
"Okay then," said the AviWing, slowly lifting off. "Solar Flare, you remember where the Grand Topiary is, don't you?" She beat her wings.
"Good. Follow me, all of you." She flapped off noisily.
It was actually a longer flight than Stalacicle expected. He also hadn't expected that there were so many dragons in this organization.
"Alright, here we are," said Cory as they touched down on a dark wood platform. "Careful, the throne has a root that I trip on a lot, so watch your step."
They pushed past the fronds into the treehouse.
"It's brighter in here than I remember," Solar commented.
"I honestly agree," said a familiar voice. She whipped around and came snout-to-snout with a dark blue SeaWing.
"Don't yell in my face," he said, backing up. "So I take it you came here for armor too?"
"Wait... what?" Stalacicle looked around. "I don't see any armor."
"Secret system," informed a SkyWing by the door.
Cory struck at a stone with her talons; walls began to shake, the floor began to thrum. Stalacicle toppled backwards and slammed into Solar Flare. Her talons screeched across the floor. "Hey!" she yelled, hefting him forward with her wing. "Fall on someone else!" Stalacicle grunted and stood up shakily, but Superior came flying out of nowhere and knocked him off his feet again. He rolled backwards accidentally on her.
Then the treehouse unfolded to reveal rows upon rows of metal claws.
Shadowflank turned to reach for a blank scroll. He sat down with his glass of ink. "Hmmmm... paperwork, paperwork, requests for a raise... hm." He stopped in the stillness and quietly moved the piles of parchment. He was just about to reach for a favored scroll when the door behind him slammed open and sent his glass cup of ink shattering to the floor.
He inhaled loudly.
"Sir," said a worried NightWing, skirting the edges of the dimly lit desk, "I have some information regarding the mission for the recapture of four dragonets."
"Go on," Shadowflank replied. He placed a talon to his forehead.
"Commander was initiating the capture. I was sent into a small clearing with her, and Soldier 811 was guarding the path back." The dragon flinched. "The said targets were in that clearing. There was only one dragon with them, a harmless-looking black AviWing."
"You are a FOOL!" hissed Shadowflank, snorting a spout of flame. For a moment, a true nature brimming with hate had seeped through his skin. He opened his mouth to say something, then sat back down. He breathed in calmly, as though nothing had ever happened. "Continue, please."
"My leader brought me into the field. We were just about to initiate stealing the dragonets when HARPER, of all dragons, attacks Commander."
Steam drifted from Shadowflank's snout. "I knew he was a traitor," he said softly. He took his pen and dipped it in some spilt ink, then scribbled notes on some parchment. "Anything else?"
"Yes, sir," continued the NightWing. "Overall, the mission has failed. Commander Nova is missing as of right now, and the dragonets are under the Powers' protection. From what I gathered scouting at the training grounds, they're planning to do something...."
"Mm-hmm..." nodded the taller dragon. He stood up and handed the parchment to the soldier. "Take this to Dusk." He turned back to his desk and drew a flask from his drawer.
We're ready for you, Corynthos.
Cloudfire beat his wings. The armor was extra weight on his back, and it hurt. He bent his tail to his right to land down on a boulder. "Where are we?"
"The Mustering Point," informed SkyHawk.
It looked like a battle had been here. The forest floor was ash and rock, all just crumbling stone. Only a few vines leaped up onto the spiraling pillars surrounding the broken meadow. Dragons of all races faced the large boulder the two SkyWings were currently standing upon, all clad in the irons and golds of Cory.
Above the field occupied by soldiers flew a dazzling bowman. The MudWing kept spouting bursts of fire and drawing his bowstring, shooting arrow after arrow into a stone target's center. The armored dragons were chanting in excitement.
"Show-off," muttered SkyHawk. He rested his narrow head on his talons thoughtfully. "He always does something to rile the fighters up for battle." He waved his talons. "Not that we do it very often or anything. We're a peaceable organization, mind you."
Finally, the MudWing took his last shot, and everyone cheered wildly.
Just as a dark figure swooped into the fray.
Cory's gargantuan feathered wings rowed her over the field. She circled back towards the boulder. With a screech, she threw out her talons and caught the stone, landing like a bird. She folded up her wings on her back and turned around, armor glinting in a hot morning sunlight. Her tail carved a curtain of abyssal shadow.
The soldiers bowed respectfully.
Corynthos inspected everything with sharp, narrow, beady eyes. The MudWing, who had been shooting moments before, politely took his stance in the row of soldiers.
She took a step forward. "The dawn," she said, "has left us." She paced and set her gaze on Cloudfire. "These dragonets know what is truth. Shadowflank... he is determined to create incorrect mutation in more than just these dragonets." Her wings split open, and she flapped them in choppy motion. "He will set ablaze a new age of dragon government. He has an army, an army of dragons called the Pyrrhia Domination Foundation, the PDFs! He will better technology-- and better himself. He intends to rule you all, my Powers," she growled, "and he doesn't care whom he hurts. He lies to his own organization, and they truly believe they are the good ones protecting Pyrrhia.
"Will you watch him steal your eggs from your own talons, to inject in them a power that he may himself control? Will you watch your children become slaves to a dragon who deems himself and his friends higher than you?" She paused. "We will not stand idly by and watch such tyranny. For 50 years this has gone on! For twenty he has dedicated to the enslavement of four dragonets, and thirty more has he been under our watch, gaining allies in the shadows, of which we have all wondered why!"
"Stop!" shouted a SandWing behind her, brushing her to the side with a pale shoulder. Her black eyes silenced the AviWing. "I am not letting these dragonets go into war! Not my child, and not my friends' children!" She stood up on her hindlegs and towered menacingly over the Powers.
"Mother?!" Solar Flare shouted from the crowd. She pushed forward.
Fennec lowered her head towards her daughter. "I am not letting you fight this dragon. I am your mother. I forbid you!"
Corynthos' yellow eyes burned into the SandWing. "Don't you understand?" she growled. "We have been protecting you and your dragonets from Shadowflank!"
"And we are grateful," Fennec nodded. "But to bring them to a battle this big, an ambush on the exact dragon they have been hiding from, is reversing the exact reason we came to you."
Solar Flare's eyes looked pleading at her mother. "But Mother!"
Fennec glared at her. "You will not fight him. He has done enough to us." Her eyes clouded. "I am afraid I will lose you."
"I'm not gonna die!" spat Solar Flare acidly. "I'm not some baby incapable of protecting myself! And I don't need you to make my decisions for me!" She turned away from her mother. "Either I get put out of my misery fighting some stupid NightWing who ruined my life, or I just get to be normal again.
"And don't you want PEACE?!" she continued. "Because I do. And I don't care if my life is taken serving for it, Mother. This is what my whole life has been. This is my destiny."
"Destiny," growled Fennec, "is a lie."
Corynthos frowned at the SandWings, glancing back and forth at them and the army. She flicked her tail at the MudWing archer, and he raised the hunting-horn to his mouth.
"Just what do you think you're doing?" growled Fennec.
"I side with the dragonet," said Corynthos. "Shadowflank took from them something that normal dragons get. Parents. An average life. They should get a chance at stopping it from happening to someone else. Even if they die, it's a small price to pay, and they're willing to pay it. There's more in it for them if they survive this battle, and you have neglected the fact that these dragonets were able to fight off entire battalions of SeaWings when they were stranded on the Isle of Abandoned Eggs. They have a chance, even if small, and we'll be there to fight beside them and protect each other."
"No!" cried Fennec. Solar Flare rushed forward and hugged her tightly, as if to say farewell.
Hundreds of wings ascended from the canopies with a thundering roar of the horn.
Dusk hurried down the dark hallway. He flapped his night-sky wings, fluttering as fast as he could, reading a stained brown paper.
Dearest Dusk, it read.
I still cannot believe how well you are doing in training! It is an honor to protect Pyrrhia as part of the Threat Guard, from such as four well-known specific dragonet targets (I'm sure you know them, of course) that keep crossing paths with our organization-- dedicated to the eradication of threats like themselves. It's as though they want to be eliminated!
I hope you are doing well as part of the Guard. Well, I suppose I need to get to the point now. I am rather unsure whether or not you are still interested in my babbling.
Commander Nova has had an unfortunate accident in the rainforest. It seems the dragonets have gathered allies. Dangerous ones. Which is why I need you to deliver a message to Merrow.
Dusk frowned. Clearly, he was not being appointed commander.
The young SeaWing shows great courage, valor, and strength. Her defensive skills are impressive. Even more so than 'our best SeaWing fighter' sent on the rainforest mission with Nova, before she was captured.
Therefore, if it would be so kind of you to tell her that she is now Commander, it would be a great pleasure. I am currently at work with the Secret Secretary Scientist and cannot deliver it for her.
Ah, yes. The Secret Secretary. Nobody had seen them, nobody in the whole Guard. Dusk wondered what he would get as a prize for finding the Secretary, though he could guess it would be a demotion.
As for you, Dusk, continued Shadowflank's note, you have been moved up to drill sergeant. Congratulations to both of you brilliant dragons! See me in my office later.
Dusk looked up from his reading and realized he was at his destination; he knocked quietly on the door. "Merrow?" he called.
The door creaked open.
Superior corkscrewed to the left. She was still getting used to having this heavy armor on her back. She flared her wings to hover, and looked around her.
The rocks making up the mountain were very red. Rusty debris plummeted from the dry cliffsides whenever the wind fired up with an extra-cold blow. She shivered under the iron, glad to be wearing something over her scales. She drifted back into formation.
"West ho," cawed the Headmaster from the front of the armada. She folded up her wings and dove into the spiraling fog below. Soldiers slid down after her, shooting quickly and quietly, not a plate of armor clanking against their scales.
Superior hesitated. It was a steep drop, practically straight down into the mountain. She'd never done a maneuver like this. She looked around at the other Powers plummeting into the mist.
Harper poked his snout up next to the NightWing dragonet. "Oh, I remember this!" he said, a little too loudly. She shushed him, and he looked around in guilt. "Here, just follow my tail," Harper told her, and before she could protest, he lit up a tail stripe and shot down the tunnel. She took a deep breath.
The wind flew at Cloudfire's face.
He loved it.
He expanded his wings to propel him down even faster. The weight on his shoulders shoved him into perfect posture. Dust flew past his eyes, nostrils burned as the motion tried to suck all the air out of his lungs.
As he continued to enjoy the moment, he realized with a lurch that he was just a few split seconds away from hitting the ground. He screeched upright and skidded across the current, flapping over nailed boards. He sailed through a tattered flag. Cloth caught the claws on his wings. He spun, looking for a way out of the barricade of debris. I've lost sight of everyone else, he realized. His wings folded to his sides from fear. A tumulting wave of sudden realization that he was in total and utter loneliness in enemy territory shoved him downwards. He spiraled, out of control, completely petrified.
With a hard, resonating clang, Cloudfire slammed into a wall.
Clang, clang, clang, clang... echoed the cavern. The SkyWing ricocheted back into a pool of underground water, his helmet abandoning him with a splash, and as Cloudfire frantically thrashed around in the blackness looking for his armor, he became overwhelmed by fear.
Cloudfire closed his green eyes in guilt, squeezing them as tightly shut as possible. Down here, in the dark, he was a wrecked, vulnerable loner. As his armor washed away, ajar, his senses dimmed to black, and fluttering wingbeats dissipated. Cold water lapped at his scales.
No, no, he thought. You're okay. Soldiers make mistakes, and so do I. The opponents couldn't possibly hear me... not down this deep in their tunnels, right? He breathed in slowly to calm himself. You'll be okay. Like Harper said. The PDFS never come down this way.
Cloudfire's eyes blinked open, and two menacing cerulean ones glared back.
"Who are you?" hissed the SeaWing. Beneath her talons was a bloodied dragon, neck slit and guts running. His eyes gazed far out, like he could see light somewhere.
Cloudfire shuffled backwards.
"I can see you're not a PDF," murmured the dragoness figure. Her scales were grayed from lightlessness, but if he had to guess, Cloudfire would say she were green. "You're a SkyWing, so that could mean you were out patrolling in the Sky Kingdom. But wait, no, that's heavy war armor right there." She looked at him again skeptically.
"It's no use lying to me," said the dragon in the dimness.
"Oh, good. I didn't want to have to." The water swayed back and forth over the scarlet dragon's legs.
Instead of darting forward and pinning him down to the floor like he thought she would, the SeaWing held her ground. Her gaze remained impassive. "Why are you here?"
Cloudfire smiled, not about to reveal any more. "He's lying to you."
"What?" The SeaWing stepped back in confusion.
"He's lying to you," repeated Cloudfire. "Shadowflank is a liar."
"How-- how do you know about him?" The dragoness shifted her weight.
"We may have met," offered Cloudfire. "Maybe we didn't. All very confusing, when he has minions doing things for him."
"I'm not a minion!" blurted the 'green' dragon. She lashed her tail back and forth, like an angry cat. Droplets splashed on the SkyWing's snout.
"Hm." Cloudfire watched her with suspicious eyes. "Are you?"
The SeaWing shouldered away the question, now genuinely curious. "I'm more concerned about what you know about Shadowflank lying," she said, still stiff in case of attack.
Cloudfire returned her impassive gaze. "Well then. You're not saving the world. That's all a lie. Not from me."
The SeaWing looked away, twitching her tail tip.
"I swear. Not me, not my friends. We know you're being used."
"You're Cloudfire, aren't you?" said the dragoness.
"Yes," said the SkyWing.
The cerulean eyes, still bright even in the darkness, glowered with a fierce animosity that he couldn't understand. "I should kill you right now."
"If you did," the scarlet dragon told her, "then you would regret it."
Stalacicle could have sworn he'd heard Solar Flare scream. He ducked and rolled under a diving couple of NightWings, looking around for the pale sand dragon.
"There you are!" yelled Superior, swooping in beside him. She sliced at a pea-green snout as it shot down into the battle. "I was looking for you," the NightWing said. She banked narrowly to dodge an incoming attack with the precise agility of a dragonfly.
"Do you think they recognize us?" asked Stalacicle.
"Nah, don't think so." She slammed into a passing dragon and dragged it down to the water below. "They don't realize what's about to happen."
"Say... have you seen Solar Flare or Cloudfire?" said the IceWing. He tipped his diamond-shaped snout to the side curiously, watching Superior cannon into a dragon without hesitation.
"Hmmm..." She finished raking her talons across a random underbelly. "Come to think of it, I haven't." She dug her talons into a rock and surveyed the battle ground. Some drafts bounced around from another tunnel, dancing her wings up and down.
As metal continued to resonate off the cave walls, Stalacicle began to wonder what earthly place they could be in. He beat his wings to rise higher into the air, fixing his gaze between the roughly edged shoulders of a NightWing.
My tribe is supposed to hate them, he thought. He shook his head.
But I'm not my tribe. It's not even their fault that they're fighting me. They've been deceived, and we're here only to free them.
He breathed in deeply as the crisp air left him, and the deep mountain tunnel drew out his breath as the battle descended lower and lower.
Moons save me now.
Stalacicle vaulted straight over the edge.
Solar Flare rolled onto her captor and pinned him on the dusty floor below. A sea of pebbles rained down on them.
She inspected the dragon carefully. He was still breathing, but the fall had definitely impacted him. She stepped off of him, convinced he was dead.
He rose to his feet and drew a blade. It flew up and came down suddenly; a swift movement. The pain was agonizing. She dared not look up at the burning orange eyes, but really wanted to, so she could yell at that... that... ugh. She couldn't think of any curse words.
"Believe me, the feeling is mutual." The words slithered hatefully off the dragon's tongue. He ran his talons down her severed barb smoothly. "Pesky little dragonets. Such a shame, what you've brought to the world.... but, this is a prize worth almost as much as killing you, I'm sure. Maybe I'll be made lieutenant." He rapped his claws on his chin thoughtfully. "Hmm... don't think they want the NightWing dead. I can't remember, exactly, which ones he wanted now. Ugh, so indecisive. But never mind." He hefted her barb sinisterly.
"I'll just kill you anyways. With your own barb. Now, won't that be ironic?" His face adopted an almost insane look, and he brought the slashing tip down to her face.
Solar Flare rolled to the side. The sharp scent of chemicals and poison filled her snout.
"You can't hide!" laughed the NightWing. He leapt and slammed down on her. They spun down the tunnel, hissing and spitting, deeper and deeper into PDF walls. Solar Flare jabbed at him with her useless tail.
Together they fell. Black talons raked at her pale wings. She rolled under the strike and spiraled away in a hasty dodge. The shadow whisked narrowly back at her to land another blow. Blood flew through the air. Yellow gleaming scales raced awkwardly down through dimness. A boulder slammed into her shoulders. In agony, a SandWing cried, as she slipped down jagged rock. Nasty cuts ran down her spine. Her head spun from the impact. Like tiny needles, the boulders ate away her wings, tearing and ripping into her flesh.
Wingbeats grew ever close. Solar Flare, paralyzed on the rock, opened her bleary eyes. Blood trickled off every scale. Exhaustion blurred the shape hurtling straight at her face.
With the last of her conscience, she lashed her talons out into darkness.
Superior shot down after her friend's white form. The soldiers spread out against the tunnel. Pebbles showered over their heads as PDFs spread out to look for the infiltrators.
"They're still tracking us," noted Corynthos. She paced forward. A chunk of armor had been dislodged from a battle claw, and the tip dragged in a dead way against the rocky ground. "We're in their territory. They have the advantage. So we need to try something new."