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Talons of Power

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; tailsnarrow 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.

  The Royal Hatchery was supposed to be a warm, safe, peaceful place for eggs to rest quietly until it was time to hatch.

  It was not supposed to be a death trap that gave you the creeps.

  “It’s not a death trap!” Coral would protest whenever Gill brought this up. “SeaWing princesses and princes have been hatching there for thousands of years. I hatched there, and it was safe and beautiful. It’s part of our heritage. It’s a SeaWing tradition. There’s nothing wrong with the hatchery — the problem is our useless guards.”

  “They’re doing their best,” Gill objected. “You can only expect so much of a dragon.”

  “I’m not expecting the three moons in a bowl,” Coral growled. “All they have to do is protect my eggs until an heir hatches. WHY IS THAT SO HARD?”

  Gill didn’t know the answer to that. He didn’t know why they’d lost six female eggs in the last five years. He didn’t know how his other three daughters had died. Coral was sure there was an assassin in the palace, but Gill didn’t understand who would want to kill so many little princesses.

  His heart ached as he swam through the Deep Palace, thinking about all the dragonets they had lost. Coral was trying so hard to hatch an heir that she was having eggs every year now. The palaces were overflowing with all the sons who had survived the many hatchings. SeaWing princes were everywhere, to the point where an entire wing of the Deep Palace had been set aside for them to live in.

  Gill tried hard to remember all their names and tell them apart — Coral didn’t bother — but there were twenty-four
of them already, plus three more waiting to hatch. He sometimes wished they didn’t have the animus-touched balance that indicated male versus female eggs. He wondered if they were making it easier for the assassin, separating the eggs so clearly in the hatchery. But then he wondered if it didn’t matter; without a way to tell them apart, perhaps the assassin would just have destroyed all the eggs.

  His wings took him toward the hatchery, as they did all the time now, sometimes five times a day. So far Coral’s latest plan had been working — it wouldn’t be much longer before the eggs hatched, safe and sound. And then they could be taken out of the Royal Hatchery, which would be a relief to Gill … although, given what happened to the other princesses, he wasn’t really sure they would be safe anywhere.

  The new Council Chief of Dragonet Care was nervous but dedicated. Abalone had a deputy chief to help him, and together they rotated in and out of the hatchery, so someone was watching the two princess eggs at every moment. Abalone and Snapper were two of Gill’s most loyal soldiers; he had talonpicked them himself.

  And yet, and yet … he couldn’t stop checking on them. Just to be sure. Just to be safe.

  He slid open the door and swam inside the dark, egg-shaped room. His wings fluttered in the bursts of warm water that bubbled through the hatchery, keeping it at the perfect temperature for the eggs.

  Abalone? he flashed in Aquatic. It was very quiet. The marble statue of his daughter Orca loomed over the nests, watching over her future brothers and sisters. Gill wished the statue could protect them as fiercely as her face suggested. He wished Orca were still alive, so she could protect them herself.

  But if she were alive, Coral would be dead. He shook his head. He would never understand why Orca challenged her mother for the throne at such a young age. If she had only waited … they could have had so many more years together as a family.

  Unless the assassin killed her, too. He shivered and swam farther into the room.

  Abalone was slumped over the nest with the two princess eggs in it, his wings covering them.

  Abalone? Gill hurried over, worried. Abalone never slumped; he hardly ever even sat down. He was always on full alert, always a model soldier.

  Gill shook his friend’s shoulder. With a soft groan, Abalone sat up, and Gill realized that the council chief was a strange white color around his gills. His eyes were bloodshot and there were flecks of foam rising from his scales.

  I’m sorry, Abalone flashed with the phosphorescent scales under his wings. I’ve been waiting for someone to come. But I won’t leave the eggs — I won’t — they’ll be safe, I promise. He reached to cover them with his wings again and staggered sideways.

  You’re sick, said Gill, catching him before he could land on the eggs. You shouldn’t be here. I’ll go get help.

  Yes — no! Abalone flashed. Afraid I’ll … drift off … everything spinning.

  Can you make it to the healing room on your own? Gill asked. If I stay here to guard the eggs?

  Maybe. Abalone tried to paddle forward, shifting his wings, and instantly violent tremors shook his whole body. He gasped and curled into a small ball on the smooth floor of the hatchery.

  All right, stay here. Watch the eggs and don’t fall asleep. I’ll grab someone and send for help. Gill swam to the door as fast as he could and powered up the ramp to the main floor of the palace.

  Three little dragonets, all about two years old, were wrestling in the entrance hall, kicking and squeaking gleefully. Three of his sons, Gill realized — the ones from two hatchings ago. (There was only one female egg in that group, and she didn’t even make it halfway through incubating, he remembered with a fresh stab of grief).

  He flashed his scales at full brightness to get their attention. They turned toward him, blinking, and he flashed, I need help. Who’s going to help me?

  The princes glanced at one another nervously, and then one of them paddled forward a little bit.

  Me! he flashed. I’ll do it, Father!

  Good, said Gill. Thank you … He hesitated.

  Turtle, the dragonet flashed. I’m Turtle.

  I know, Gill answered, although he hadn’t been sure. Turtle, this is very important. I need you to go find Snapper and send her to the Royal Hatchery. Tell her to hurry as fast as her wings can swim. Can you do that?

  Sure. Turtle nodded, his green eyes wide.

  I’m counting on you, Turtle, Gill said, touching his son’s shoulder. It’s really important. I know you can do this. I’ll be waiting. All right?

  Yes, sir, Turtle answered, shivering a little.

  Go, then. Hurry!

  Turtle swam away toward the kitchens with what felt like agonizing slowness. Gill reminded himself that Turtle was a prince. He wouldn’t fail. He’d find Snapper, Abalone’s deputy chief, who could watch the eggs while Gill took Abalone to the healing room.

  Gill rushed back down to the hatchery. Abalone was still awake, crouched by the eggs with his front talons pinned across his chest. Gill realized with alarm that there was now a growth on Abalone’s neck — a large, round lump that hadn’t been there a few moments ago. He touched it lightly and Abalone flinched away. It was blazingly hot.

  Gill had no idea what kind of disease this was. Is it safe for him to be here? Could he infect the eggs?

  He needed to get Abalone out of the hatchery. For the safety of the eggs, but also because Abalone looked closer and closer to death every moment.

  Hurry up, Turtle.

  They waited in painful silence.

  Was the growth getting bigger?

  Turtle, where are you?

  Come on, come on.

  The lump was expanding, little by little, pushing Abalone’s silvery blue scales into strange jagged shapes. It looked as if it might explode any moment now.

  You’ll be all right, Gill flashed at Abalone. Help is coming.

  Help didn’t come. Time crept by, dragging its long, long tail. Nobody came.

  Abalone started making a low whimpering sound, ragged, like claws scrabbling up the inside of his throat. His gaze was fixed on the eggs and he kept his wings tucked in close to him, rocking softly.

  Turtle, Gill thought with helpless fury. This was his own fault. What a useless command he’d given. He should have sent all three dragonets to find Snapper. No — he should have told them to find any other adult dragon, or to summon one of the healers. Or he should have swum straight to the healing chambers the moment he saw that Abalone was ill. Now he could see there would have been time to make it there and back with a healer. But with each moment that passed, Abalone looked closer and closer to collapse.

  The truth was he should have done anything other than what he did. He’d made a terrible mistake.

  But where was Turtle? Couldn’t he figure out a smarter option, if he couldn’t find Snapper?

  Somebody come. Please, please, somebody …

  Finally it became unbearable. Abalone would die if he didn’t reach a healer soon — it might already be too late. Gill couldn’t wait any longer.

  Don’t leave, Abalone flashed weakly as Gill moved toward the door.

  I can’t let you die like this, Gill flashed back. Just stay awake until I get back. He hesitated in the doorway, worrying. Abalone was no match for an assassin in this condition. But Gill would only be gone a short time — it would be truly uncanny terrible luck for the assassin to show up during those few moments.

  He swam. He swam for Abalone’s life, and his daughters’. He burst through the palace like a typhoon, swooping up to the healing chambers. His sons were gone from the main hallway; he saw no sign of Turtle or Snapper anywhere.

  HELP, he flashed at full brightness as he reached the healing floor. Dragons came pouring into the hall, curious, and a flurry of bubbling gasps went up as he explained Abalone’s condition to the healers. Three of them grabbed their kits and swam after him, back down, down, down to the Royal Hatchery.

  They found Abalone unconscious, his wings drifting in the current of
the jets. For a moment Gill thought his neck had been slashed; then he realized that the blood running down Abalone’s scales came from the growth, which had burst.

  The healers hurried toward him, then stopped, turning heartbroken faces to Gill.

  No. Gill’s scales flashed without him realizing it. No. No.

  The two eggs had been crushed, apparently by huge, heavy talons. The dragonets inside were dead.

  Two more lost princesses.

  Gill roared his pain and fury, roared until his throat gave out, and then he whirled and swam away. He never wanted to see the Royal Hatchery again.

  Find my son Turtle, he snarled at one of the gawking dragons in the hallway.

  Upstairs, he saw a group of dragons approaching through the gardens — Queen Coral, returning from the Summer Palace and her meeting with Blister.

  How could he tell her what had happened … what had happened again?

  But she saw it on his face as he swam out the door toward her. She sank suddenly, as if a boulder had been dropped on her, touching down amid the coral and anemones. Her wings came forward and she covered her eyes with her talons. She didn’t want to see him spell it out in Aquatic.

  I’m sorry, he flashed anyway. I’m sorry.

  She didn’t move, didn’t look up.

  A movement caught Gill’s eye and he turned. Some distance away, there was Turtle, swimming slowly through the garden of the wounded, peering at each recuperating dragon’s face. His brothers were behind him, joking and laughing and shoving one another back and forth.

  Gill tore across the gardens, seized Turtle’s wing, and flung him around to face him.

  WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? Gill roared.

  Turtle flinched and shielded his eyes from the intensity of Gill’s scales. I can’t find her, he flashed nervously. I’m — I’m still looking.

  Out HERE? Gill waved his talons at the nearly empty section of the coral reef, where injured soldiers were taken to rest and recover surrounded by color and beauty. Gill wanted to rip that beauty to shreds; he wanted to tear apart the coral reef and kill all the creatures that lived on it.

  Well, I — I couldn’t find her in the palace so I — I didn’t know where to look! I’m trying!