The dragonet prophecy, p.4
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       The Dragonet Prophecy, p.4

           Tui T. Sutherland
 
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  Tsunami disappeared into the river with a nearly soundless splash. The pale green flecks under her dark blue scales shimmered as she swam upriver. Clay dove in after her, wishing he could see in the dark like she could. At least she’d remembered to activate the glow-in-the-dark stripe along her tail.

  MudWings couldn’t breathe underwater like SeaWings, but they could hold their breath for more than an hour. So whenever the dragonets wanted to spy on their guardians, Clay and Tsunami could use the river to get closer than the others.

  He caught up to the SeaWing as she was wriggling through the underwater gap in the cave walls. It made Clay nervous every time, squeezing through such a small space. He wished he hadn’t eaten that extra cow at dinner.

  His claws scrabbled on the rocks, catching in the crevices. There was a brief, terrifying moment as his midsection got stuck. Would he drown down here? Would the prophecy be ruined because of an extra cow?

  Then, with a whoosh of bubbles, he popped through and shot after Tsunami.

  Her tail stripe went dark as they swam quietly into the guardians’ cave. The three older dragons hardly paid any attention to the river, except for Webs, who sometimes slept in the shallows. It would never occur to them that two pairs of dragonet ears might be poking out of the water, listening.

  Clay drifted to a stop near the entrance while Tsunami swam to the far side of the room. That way at least one of them could hear, no matter where the minders were talking.

  Tonight, however, Clay was pretty sure everyone could hear everything, including Glory and Starflight in the passageway outside. From the way Kestrel was shouting, it was possible even the SkyWings up in the mountain peaks could hear her.

  “Coming here? With no warning? After six years, suddenly he’s interested?” A jet of fire shot out of her snout and blasted the nearest rock column.

  “Maybe he wants to make sure they’re ready to stop the war,” Webs suggested.

  Dune snorted. “These dragonets? Then he’s going to be very disappointed.” He eased himself onto a flat boulder, stretching his foreleg stump and mangled wing toward the fire. The big SandWing dragon never discussed his scars or how he lost his foot, but the dragonets could guess from the anger in his voice whenever he talked about the war.

  The fact that he couldn’t fly was probably why he was chosen for underground dragonet-minding duty. He clearly wasn’t picked for his warm, nurturing personality.

  “We’ve done our best,” Webs said. “The prophecy chose these dragonets, not us.”

  “Does he even know what happened?” Kestrel demanded. “Does he know about the broken egg and the RainWing? Or the defective SandWing?”

  Clay winced. Poor Sunny. He floated closer, keeping his bulky brown length below the surface of the dark water. Through the ripples he could see the blurred shapes of the large dragons gathered around the fire.

  Webs flapped his wings. “I’m not sure what he knows or why he cares. The message just said ‘Morrowseer is coming.’ I’m supposed to meet him and bring him here tomorrow.”

  Morrowseer. That sounded familiar. Clay racked his brain. A dragon from history class? One of the tribe rulers? No, it couldn’t be; all the tribes were ruled by queens.

  “I’m not worried about Sunny,” Dune said. “We followed the prophecy’s instructions. It’s not our fault she’s the way she is. But the RainWing — he’s not going to like that.”

  A deep growl rumbled in Kestrel’s throat. “I don’t like it either. I never have.”

  “Glory’s not that bad,” Webs argued. “She’s smarter than she wants us to know.”

  “You overestimate her because you brought her here,” Dune said. “She’s lazy and worthless like the rest of her tribe.”

  “And she’s not a SkyWing,” Kestrel snapped. “We’re supposed to have a SkyWing.”

  Clay wished Glory didn’t have to hear all this. The guardians never hid how they felt about her, and she never acted like she cared. But he wished he could tell her she was just as important and smart as any SkyWing.

  “Well, I never thought Morrowseer would come look at them!” Webs said. “After he dropped off Starflight’s egg, I assumed we’d never see him again. The NightWings have nothing to do with the war.”

  So he’s a NightWing. Which means superpowered and mysterious and full of himself. That was all Clay could remember about NightWings. He found himself actually wishing he could get a lecture from Starflight. The epic wonderfulness of NightWings was the black dragonet’s favorite topic.

  “Did the Talons say what he wants?” Kestrel asked.

  “Well, it’s his prophecy,” Webs said. “I guess he wants to make sure it’ll actually come true.”

  Morrowseer. Clay felt a jolt run through him, like the stinging shock he sometimes got when Dune whacked him with his barbed tail for not paying attention.

  Morrowseer was the NightWing who had spoken the dragonet prophecy ten years ago. They had learned about him in history, but it was one of many facts Clay could never remember. Who had delivered the prophecy never seemed as important as who was in the prophecy.

  But maybe Morrowseer was more important than Clay had realized. After all, he was coming to see them. Perhaps he would take them out into the world. Perhaps they didn’t need to escape after all.

  Perhaps everything was about to change.

  Clay had never really believed the legends about NightWings. Secretive dragons who could read minds? A hidden kingdom that no one could find? A mystery queen, the power to see the future, the way they appeared from darkness to deliver prophecies that shaped the world … it all sounded like fairy tales, about as likely as a world ruled by scavengers instead of dragons.

  Besides, Clay knew Starflight, and Starflight was many things — annoying, long-winded, smart, too serious — but he had no magical powers and he was never, ever scary.

  But the next evening, when a dragon black as a bottomless pit loomed out of the shadows of the entrance tunnel, Clay felt all the rumors about NightWings come crashing into his head like a collapsing rock wall.

  Morrowseer was even bigger than Kestrel, and five times more terrifying. He spread his jagged, batlike wings and peered down at the dragonets lined up in front of him. He had silver scales like stars on the underside of his wings, like Starflight did, but on him they seemed to glitter from a great distance and cast a cold glow.

  He looked like he could easily rip off each of their heads in one bite. He also looked like he already hated the five dragonets. Which wasn’t what Clay had expected at all. Were they such a disappointment already?

  Maybe Morrowseer was reading their minds and knew how confused they were about the prophecy. Or maybe he was seeing the future and his visions were all of failure, failure, failure.

  Clay could feel Sunny trembling at his side. He felt the same way, petrified in place, as if his scales were being slowly peeled off, one by one, while the giant NightWing inspected them.

  On his other side, Starflight was more still than Clay had ever seen him. Starflight always froze when he was frightened. It was as if he hoped that by not moving, he’d disappear from view and the danger would pass right by.

  Clay couldn’t see Glory, but he knew when Morrowseer saw her. The huge black dragon stared down at the RainWing dragonet for a small eternity. His snout twitched with ripples of disgust. A forked black tongue slipped over his teeth.

  Clay wished his own wings were as vast as the cavern itself so he could hide his friends from Morrowseer. He wished his talons were as huge as the stalagmites and as sharp as the rock shards. He wished he were big enough to be brave and brave enough to be big. He’d never wanted anything so much as he wanted to protect his friends from this tall, hissing, scornful, immensely dangerous dragon.

  He really, really hoped that Morrowseer wasn’t reading his mind right then.
Think about cows think about cows think about delicious fat cows. . . .

  Morrowseer pivoted his head slowly to glare down at Kestrel. He lifted one long claw and pointed at Glory.

  “What. Is. THAT?” he said, his voice loaded with enough venom to kill twenty dragons in midflight.

  Starflight took a step back, and Clay saw Glory. She was sitting on her haunches with her long tail curled over her talons. Trails of violet and gold chased each other through her scales. Only the shades of flame around her feathery ears hinted that she was upset. She stared calmly back at Morrowseer.

  “There was an accident,” Kestrel said. “We lost the SkyWing egg, so we had to get another one somewhere —”

  “From the RainWings?” Morrowseer interrupted scathingly.

  “It was his idea,” Kestrel snarled, whipping her tail toward Webs. “He brought her egg here!”

  “At least we have five dragonets,” said Webs. “That’s what matters.”

  Morrowseer peered down his long black snout at Glory. His eyes shifted to Sunny, who let out a tiny squeak and sank a little lower toward the ground. “More like four and a half,” he grunted. “Are you supposed to be the SandWing? Don’t you eat? What’s wrong with you?”

  There was a long, horrible pause while Sunny tried to squeak out an answer.

  “She does,” Tsunami blurted. “She eats fine. As much as anyone.”

  “It’s not her fault she’s small,” Starflight chimed in, to Clay’s surprise.

  “She’s a good fighter,” Clay said. “And so is Glory.”

  “Stop talking now,” Morrowseer said, and silence dropped over them. His sharp, menacing gaze landed on Clay.

  THINK ABOUT COWS THINK ABOUT COWS THINK ABOUT COWS. . . .

  The tall NightWing turned to the three guardians. “Something has gone very wrong here.”

  “Yes!” Tsunami burst in again. “It has, and I can tell you what. We’re treated like prisoners! We’ve never been outside these caves, not once. All we know about this world we’re supposed to save is what we’ve learned in scrolls. We’re supposed to be the most important dragonets in the world, but those three treat us like blind salamanders!”

  Clay couldn’t believe it. Wasn’t she scared of Morrowseer, too?

  “Tsunami, hold your tongue,” Dune snapped.

  “I will not,” she cried. “Please get us out of here,” she said to Morrowseer. “Take us away with you.”

  Please DON’T, Clay thought. I mean, think about cows, think about cows. … Now that he’d seen the NightWing, he’d rather stay trapped here.

  “Ungrateful lizard!” Kestrel growled.

  Without warning, Morrowseer lunged at Tsunami. His teeth flashed like bright white lightning, darting toward her neck. It really is like the night sky falling on you, Clay thought, and then discovered he was moving, too. He flung himself at the NightWing’s huge, ridged back before he could stop to think about what he was doing.

  His claws sank into the small gaps between the shifting black scales, scrabbling for a hold. His tail thrashed as he tried to balance. Below him he saw Tsunami rolling away and spinning to fight back. Her blue talons slashed at Morrowseer’s nose and underbelly.

  Clay tried frantically to remember his battle training. He flattened himself along the big dragon’s back, snaked his neck forward, and bit down as hard as he could.

  OW. His jaw exploded with pain, and he reared back. In the black-on-black scales, it was impossible to find a weak spot.

  Morrowseer jumped away from Tsunami and shook his whole body violently. Clay lost his grip and went flying through the air. He landed with a jarring thud, sliding halfway into the river.

  As he staggered to his feet, he saw Tsunami and Morrowseer facing each other in battle positions. Morrowseer made a grinding noise deep in his throat. He stepped back and swung his tail around into view.

  Clinging to Morrowseer’s tail, her teeth firmly planted in the vulnerable spot near the end, was Sunny. Clay wished he’d remembered about that spot, which every dragon had, no matter which tribe they were from.

  “Ha,” Morrowseer rumbled. “That’s a surprise.” He pried Sunny loose with his front talons, as if she were just a tiny bloodsucking insect.

  “That one will do,” Morrowseer said, pointing at Tsunami. None of the big dragons had moved at all as he attacked their charges.

  Neither had Glory.

  Neither had Starflight.

  Clay staggered up beside his NightWing friend, who was doing an excellent imitation of a stalagmite. Starflight lowered his head and avoided Clay’s eyes.

  “And that one will do.” Morrowseer nodded at Clay. Kestrel snorted.

  The NightWing approved of him? Clay was confused. It wasn’t as if Clay’s attack had done any good. Even when Clay was defending his friend, apparently he couldn’t get angry enough to drag out his inner monster. Couldn’t Morrowseer hear everyone thinking about how Clay was going to let them all down?

  “This one . . .” Morrowseer studied Sunny, from her harmless tail to her weirdly golden scales and moss-green eyes. “We’ll have to see.”

  “We followed the prophecy,” Dune insisted. “She wasn’t in a clutch of eggs — I found her egg alone, buried out in the desert. Just like the prophecy said.”

  The guardians never talked about where they got the dragonets’ eggs. Sunny stared at Dune hopefully, but he fell silent under Morrowseer’s dark eyes.

  “As for you,” Morrowseer said to Starflight, “I assume you used your NightWing powers to figure out that I wasn’t going to harm the SeaWing. Perhaps you even had a vision of my visit today. No doubt you already know that I’m going to take you into the next cavern for a private conversation.”

  Clay shuddered. A “private conversation” with Morrowseer sounded about as much fun as having his ears roasted. He did not envy Starflight as the two NightWings slithered toward the study room. Morrowseer paused in the archway and looked back at the guardians.

  “We’ll talk about her later.” He didn’t look at Glory, but everyone else did. She flicked her ears and lifted her chin a little higher as Morrowseer’s footsteps faded away down the tunnel.

  What does that mean? Clay worried. What was there to talk about?

  “Stupid SeaWing,” Kestrel shot across the cave and struck Tsunami’s snout. “Complaining to the first strange dragon you see! Trying to make us look bad! Whining about your life, after all we’ve given up for you!”

  “If you hate this, too, why don’t you let us go?” Tsunami shot back.

  “This is for your safety,” Webs interjected. His voice was gentler than Kestrel’s, but Clay could tell he was angry from the way his long blue-green tail lashed on the floor. “That’s what all of this is for. The Talons of Peace need you to survive long enough to fulfill the prophecy. You have no idea how many dragons would love to get their claws on you five.”

  “Or what they’d do to you if they did,” Dune growled.

  “Our job is to keep you alive,” Kestrel said. “Or else I’d have strangled you myself a long time ago.”

  “Great,” Tsunami said. “Well, it’s been a terrific life. Thanks very much.”

  Kestrel made the hissing, fire-is-coming noise. Clay grabbed Tsunami’s tail and tugged her back toward the river.

  “We are grateful,” Sunny said, jumping in front of Kestrel. She stood up on her back legs, not even half the red dragon’s size. Her golden ears twitched. “We would much rather be alive than not alive! We’re glad you keep us that way, really we are.”

  “Come on,” Webs said. He prodded Kestrel and Dune toward their cave. “We need to talk.”

  “Now he has something to say,” Kestrel grumbled as the three of them clambered over the broken stalagmites.

  Tsunami threw herself into the river and
sank to the bottom in a stream of furious bubbles, where she curled up with her talons over her head.

  It got very quiet in the cave. Sunny and Clay exchanged glances, then looked over at Glory.

  The RainWing was sitting in the same spot, with her tail still neatly curled around her feet. She yawned. Clay wished he could ever be that calm. It was as if nothing bothered her at all.

  “Are you all right?” Clay asked. He came around and sat in front of her, studying her face. Sunny sidled up beside Glory, brushing her violet wings with her own smaller golden ones.

  “Of course,” Glory said. “I mean, we knew that was going to happen. It’s not like the minders have been talking about how awesome I am this whole time.”

  “But you are,” Clay said. Glory tilted her head at him. “Awesome,” he insisted. “They just don’t see —”

  “They see a RainWing,” she said with a shrug. “I don’t care. It’s their own fault for bringing me here.”

  “Why didn’t you fight Morrowseer when we did?” Sunny asked. “Then maybe he’d know how brave and fierce you are, too.”

  “Why bother?” Glory said. “It was obviously a test, and I’d already failed.” A splotch of sky-blue scales on her back pulsed, and then the color began to spread across her other scales, eating up the purple and gold.

  “Well, we don’t care what the prophecy says or what Morrowseer thinks,” Clay said stoutly. “You’re our fifth dragonet. We don’t want anyone else.”

  Glory gave him a rueful look. “That’s very sweet.” She yawned again. “I’m going to take a nap.”

  “Now?” Sunny said, alarmed. “Is that a good idea?”

  Glory fell asleep every day, usually after lunch, for a couple of hours, but Clay had expected her to stay awake while Morrowseer was around. He knew he wouldn’t want the big dark dragon to catch him sleeping. He glanced at the tunnel to the study room, wondering uneasily how far the NightWing’s telepathy reached and whether he could read Clay’s mind through rock.

 
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