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Escaping Peril

Tui T. Sutherland














































  At this school, you will be learning side by side with dragons from all the other tribes, so we wanted to give you some basic information that may be useful as you get to know one another.

  You have been assigned to a winglet with six other dragons; the winglet groups are listed on the following page.

  Thank you for being a part of this school. You are the hope of Pyrrhia’s future. You are the dragons who can bring lasting peace to this world.



  IceWing: Winter

  MudWing: Umber

  NightWing: Moonwatcher

  RainWing: Kinkajou

  SandWing: Qibli

  SeaWing: Turtle

  SkyWing: Carnelian


  IceWing: Icicle

  MudWing: Sora

  NightWing: Bigtail

  RainWing: Tamarin

  SandWing: Onyx

  SeaWing: Pike

  SkyWing: Flame


  IceWing: Changbai

  MudWing: Sepia

  NightWing: Fearless

  RainWing: Boto

  SandWing: Ostrich

  SeaWing: Anemone

  SkyWing: Thrush


  IceWing: Alba

  MudWing: Marsh

  NightWing: Mindreader

  RainWing: Coconut

  SandWing: Pronghorn

  SeaWing: Snail

  SkyWing: Peregrine


  IceWing: Ermine

  MudWing: Newt

  NightWing: Mightyclaws

  RainWing: Siamang

  SandWing: Arid

  SeaWing: Barracuda

  SkyWing: Garnet

  Description: pale gold or white scales the color of desert sand; poisonous barbed tail; forked black tongues

  Abilities: can survive a long time without water, poison enemies with the tips of their tails like scorpions, bury themselves for camouflage in the desert sand, breathe fire

  Queen: since the end of the War of SandWing Succession, Queen Thorn

  Students at Jade Mountain: Arid, Onyx, Ostrich, Pronghorn, Qibli

  Description: thick, armored brown scales, sometimes with amber and gold underscales; large, flat heads with nostrils on top of the snout

  Abilities: can breathe fire (if warm enough), hold their breath for up to an hour, blend into large mud puddles; usually very strong

  Queen: Queen Moorhen

  Students at Jade Mountain: Marsh, Newt, Sepia, Sora, Umber

  Description: red-gold or orange scales; enormous wings

  Abilities: powerful fighters and fliers, can breathe fire

  Queen: Queen Ruby (although some dragons still support Queen Scarlet, who may be alive and in hiding)

  Students at Jade Mountain: Carnelian, Flame, Garnet, Peregrine, Thrush

  Description: blue or green or aquamarine scales; webs between their claws; gills on their necks; glow-in-the-dark stripes on their tails/snouts/underbellies

  Abilities: can breathe underwater, see in the dark, create huge waves with one splash of their powerful tails; excellent swimmers

  Queen: Queen Coral

  Students at Jade Mountain: Anemone, Barracuda, Pike, Snail, Turtle

  Description: silvery scales like the moon or pale blue like ice; ridged claws to grip the ice; forked blue tongues; tails narrow to a whip-thin end

  Abilities: can withstand subzero temperatures and bright light, exhale a deadly frostbreath

  Queen: Queen Glacier

  Students at Jade Mountain: Alba, Changbai, Ermine, Icicle, Winter

  Description: scales constantly shift colors, usually bright like birds of paradise; prehensile tails

  Abilities: can camouflage their scales to blend into their surroundings; shoot a deadly venom from their fangs

  Queen: Queen Glory

  Students at Jade Mountain: Boto, Coconut, Kinkajou, Siamang, Tamarin

  Description: purplish-black scales and scattered silver scales on the underside of their wings, like a night sky full of stars; forked black tongues

  Abilities: can breathe fire, disappear into dark shadows; once known for reading minds and foretelling the future, but no longer

  Queen: Queen Glory (see recent scrolls on the NightWing Exodus and the RainWing Royal Challenge)

  Students at Jade Mountain: Bigtail, Fearless, Mightyclaws, Mindreader, Moonwatcher

  Beware the darkness of dragons,

  Beware the stalker of dreams,

  Beware the talons of power and fire,

  Beware one who is not what she seems.

  Something is coming to shake the earth,

  Something is coming to scorch the ground.

  Jade Mountain will fall beneath thunder and ice

  Unless the lost city of night can be found.

  No dragon was safe in the Sky Palace, but the ones in the most danger by far were the daughters of Queen Scarlet.

  Or was it now daughter, singular?

  Ruby hadn’t seen her sister, Tourmaline, in three days.

  Not since the night they went flying together and, high in the starlit sky, glowing in the light of two of the moons, Tourmaline had whispered that she was almost ready.

  “Don’t be an idiot. You’re only ten, and furthermore, you’ll never be ready,” Ruby had whispered back. “She killed her mother plus all three of her sisters and eleven of ours. There’s no way to defeat her.”

  “She can’t be queen forever,” Tourmaline said.

  “She has been queen forever,” Ruby argued.

  “Twenty-four years is a long time but not that long,” said Tourmaline. “Queen Oasis was queen longer than that, and look what happened to her.”

  “Are you planning to throw a scavenger at Mother?” Ruby asked. “Because I’m sure she’d appreciate a snack before she kills you.”

  “It’s always going to be like this,” Tourmaline hissed. She flicked clouds away with her dark orange wings. “Until one of us challenges her and wins. You and I are the only ones left now — the only hope the SkyWings have of a decent queen. Ruby, if I defeat her and become queen, we can get out of this war.”

  Ruby wasn’t so sure about that. She’d met Burn, and she suspected the SandWing wouldn’t let her allies go that easily. But it didn’t matter — there was no way Tourmaline could win a battle with their mother.

  “The prophecy will take care of the war,” she argued. “The brightes
t night is in four days … ”

  “Right.” Tourmaline rolled her eyes. “I’ll just wait for a bunch of eggs that haven’t even hatched yet to save us. Ruby, I don’t want to wait for things to happen to me. I want to make them happen.”

  “I don’t want to watch you die,” Ruby growled.

  Her sister hovered in front of her for a moment. Stars glittered in her eyes, searching Ruby’s.

  She’s wondering if I want the throne for myself, Ruby thought. She thinks I’m trying to talk her out of it because I’m planning something. Like I’m that stupid.

  “Well, don’t worry, I won’t do it yet,” Tourmaline promised. “Another few months of training, maybe. I’m feeling really strong, though. I beat Vermilion in a fight the other day. Want to hear about it?”

  Ruby had listened to the entire long play-by-play of each move Tourmaline had made. They’d spent an hour soaring around the peaks in the moonlight. And not once had Tourmaline said anything about leaving the palace.

  But then she was gone. And the most unsettling thing was, no one had even mentioned her absence. Her squadron was still here, training and hunting as though nothing odd had happened. There were no patrols out looking for her, no search parties scouring the woods, no missives flying out to other queens to ask if they’d seen (or abducted) the older SkyWing princess.

  Just a quiet vanishing into thin air.

  Ruby stood in the room she shared with her sister, studying the piles of blankets, the scrolls carelessly tossed aside, the gold-tasseled yellow curtains flapping at the window.

  There were no splatters of blood. No sign of a struggle. No note saying, “Oh, I’ve popped off to one of the outposts for a few days, see you soon.”

  Did Tourmaline change her mind and run away? Could she have gone to find the Talons of Peace?

  But Ruby knew that wasn’t what had happened. Her big sister wasn’t the kind to ever run away. More significantly, Queen Scarlet would never let the peace movement get their claws on her daughter. She’d find them and destroy them all first.

  Heavy talons were slowly squeezing Ruby’s insides, digging their claws in harder every minute that Tourmaline was gone.

  If she found out that Tourmaline was planning to challenge her …

  What did Mother do?

  “Princess Ruby.”

  She jumped and whirled around. The guard in the doorway cleared his throat.

  “The queen has requested your presence in the throne room,” he said. “Immediately.”

  “Requested?” Ruby echoed.

  The expression on his face said quite clearly that he didn’t approve of the question.

  Never let them see that you’re terrified, that’s what Tourmaline said. Act like a queen so that one day they’ll be cheering for you to slit Mother’s throat.

  But now Tourmaline was gone. And perhaps acting like a queen was exactly what had gotten her killed.

  “Thank you,” Ruby said, inclining her head at the guard as she went past him. Her heartbeat drummed through her shoulders and out to her wing tips. The tunnel felt too small, as though she were the size of a thousand-year-old dragon instead of just a five-year-old dragonet.

  Whatever happened to Tourmaline … am I next?

  Dragons huddled by the throne room entrance, whispering; they all straightened their heads and wings as she approached. Curiosity gleamed in their eyes. They must have known Tourmaline was missing, even if no one would talk about it. They must have been wondering, like Ruby was, whether Queen Scarlet had decided to dispose of all her potential, threatening heirs.

  But I’m not threatening. I’m not!

  Ruby ducked her long neck as she entered the room, blinking in the blaze of sunlight that reflected off all the gold inlaid in the walls. It felt like walking into a funeral pyre; oppressive heat and the smell of dragon fire, radiating off the crowd of courtiers, closed in around her scales.

  Queen Scarlet wouldn’t kill her daughter in front of all these dragons, would she?

  “Ah, Ruby.” The queen’s voice lilted over all the others, and the room fell silent. “At last. Court, many of you don’t know my daughter Ruby because she’s been away in training, and even when she is here, she mostly sits in her cave like a sleepy bat. If you ever have seen her, she’s probably had her nose in a scroll. But despite the fact that she’s nothing like me, she is still somehow my daughter.”

  There was a dutiful smattering of applause.

  “Well, now everyone is here! Everyone important, I mean. I have such a thrilling announcement. Ruby, don’t lurk by the wall like a jittery centipede. Come stand by your brothers. I want you especially to see this.”

  The crowd parted to let Ruby through, their avid orange and amber eyes peeling off her scales as she slid by. There was just enough space for her to fit between Vermilion and Hawk, both of them towering over her. Her other two brothers were on Hawk’s other side. All of Scarlet’s children were here except Tourmaline.

  Vermilion snorted and edged a step away from her, but Hawk gave her a friendlyish nudge of acknowledgment. Ruby always got the feeling that Hawk was cheerfully being nice to her because he knew she’d be dead soon. He’d seen the rest of his sisters die under Scarlet’s claws. Ruby suspected his good humor came from the security of knowing he could never have the throne, so he wasn’t worth killing.

  Their mother glowed like a poisonous orange from the top of her throne, peering down at the dragons that packed the room. The sharp sparkle of diamonds above her eyes and along her wings seized the light.

  Ruby’s breath caught in her throat at the sight of the hulking dragon at the queen’s side: Burn, their SandWing ally, her face twisted in disgust and boredom. Everyone had been instructed to call her “Queen Burn” to her face, but Ruby found it hard to think of her that way. For one thing, she hadn’t won the war yet … and for another, there was only one queen in Ruby’s world, closing her deadly talons around everything in it.

  On the other side of Queen Scarlet was a tall, oddly piled arrangement of black rocks that seemed to be smoking.

  “Finally,” Scarlet said, rolling her eyes as though including the rest of the court in her impatience with Ruby. A chuckle eddied around the crowd.

  “Get on with it,” Burn snapped.

  Queen Scarlet flicked her tail and stretched her wings with deliberate languor. Ruby had time to wonder if the thrilling announcement had anything to do with Tourmaline (“I have thrillingly murdered one daughter! Why stop there? Who needs daughters anyway, right?”).

  “You may all have heard of a certain … prophecy,” Queen Scarlet said instead. “Mumbling about special dragonets who will hatch on the brightest night and stop the war. And you may all have noticed that the brightest night is tonight. Isn’t that terribly exciting? Tiny little heroes crawling out of their eggs any minute now! That is … unless something simply dreadful happens, of course.”

  She cast a sidelong glance at Burn, smiling maliciously. “What you all don’t know is that someone tried to steal a SkyWing egg last night.”

  A gasp ran around the room.

  “I know,” said Queen Scarlet. “A nasty IceWing thief got all the way in here and actually escaped with an egg — the largest one in the hatchery, as it happens.”

  The air crackled as if it might burst into flames at any moment. Ruby tried to imagine life as a SkyWing raised outside the Sky Kingdom. The thief couldn’t have been planning to take it to the Ice Kingdom. A SkyWing would never survive there.

  So was he one of the Talons of Peace? Were they assembling the dragonets of the prophecy?

  Was the dragonet in that stolen egg going to save them all?

  “Oh, don’t worry,” her mother said. “Queen Burn chased him down, killed him, and destroyed the egg. We don’t particularly like tiny little heroes, after all. Especially ones who might try to tell us what to do. So!” She clapped her front talons together suddenly, snapping the tension in the room like a bowstring. “Just to be perfectly safe, Q
ueen Burn and I had a marvelous idea. We’re going to make sure there are no SkyWings hatching on the brightest night. Not even one. Not even close. Bring them in!” she called.

  Ruby watched in confusion as seven guards filed in, each of them carrying an egg. Red and orange shapes moved under the thin surface of the eggshells, and she could see cracks already spreading across three of them.

  Queen Scarlet narrowed her eyes. “There should be eight,” she hissed.

  “We’ll find it, Your Majesty,” said the tallest guard. “I promise. She won’t get far. And it was a runty one anyhow.”

  A skittering noise came from the pile of rocks beside the queen, and one of the stones trembled for a moment, then came tumbling down and bounced across the floor, rolling to a stop at Ruby’s talons.

  “Fine,” said Queen Scarlet, putting on her annoyed-but-it’s-a-celebration-so-I’ll-just-kill-someone-later face. “I have someone just wonderful I want to introduce to you all, and this seemed like a perfect way to do it. Oooo, the suspense!”

  A puff of impatient smoke snorted out of Burn’s nostrils. “Always a spectacle,” she muttered. “Can’t just kill something efficiently and be done already.”

  Queen Scarlet ignored her. She was busy removing rocks from the top of the pile, slowly taking off the roof of the makeshift structure. Another scrabbling noise came from inside the rocks.

  There’s something alive in there, Ruby thought, and then suddenly a little head popped over the edge of the rocks, only a heartbeat away from the queen’s talons. Scarlet jerked back, and Ruby was shocked to see something that looked like a flash of fear in her eyes.

  She craned her neck to see better. What could possibly scare Mother? She’s not afraid of anything.

  It looked like an ordinary dragonet — about a year or maybe a year and a half old, with unusually bright coppery orange scales.

  But then the dragonet swiveled her head, and her eyes met Ruby’s.

  Her eyes.

  They were blue.

  The weirdest, creepiest blue Ruby had ever seen, far beyond the color of the sky. Like someone had bundled up the sky and immersed it in fire until it burned from the inside.