Wings of fire book four.., p.1
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       Wings of Fire Book Four: The Dark Secret, p.1
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           Tui T. Sutherland
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Wings of Fire Book Four: The Dark Secret



















































  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 death of Queen Oasis, the tribe is split between three rivals for the throne: sisters Burn, Blister, and Blaze.

  Alliances: Burn fights alongside SkyWings and MudWings; Blister is allied with the SeaWings; and Blaze has the support of most SandWings as well as an alliance with the IceWings.

  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

  Alliances: currently allied with Burn and the SkyWings in the great war

  Description: red-gold or orange scales; enormous wings

  Abilities: powerful fighters and fliers, can breathe fire

  Queen: Queen Scarlet

  Alliances: currently allied with Burn and the MudWings in the great war

  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

  Alliances: currently allied with Blister in the great war

  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 freezing breath

  Queen: Queen Glacier

  Alliances: currently allied with Blaze and most of the SandWings in the great war

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

  Abilities: can camouflage their scales to blend into their surroundings, use their prehensile tails for climbing; no known natural weapons

  Queen: Queen Dazzling

  Alliances: not involved in the great war

  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, read minds, foretell the future

  Queen: a closely guarded secret

  Alliances: too mysterious and powerful to be part of the war

  When the war has lasted twenty years …

  the dragonets will come.

  When the land is soaked in blood and tears …

  the dragonets will come.

  Find the SeaWing egg of deepest blue.

  Wings of night shall come to you.

  The largest egg in mountain high

  will give to you the wings of sky.

  For wings of earth, search through the mud

  for an egg the color of dragon blood.

  And hidden alone from the rival queens,

  the SandWing egg awaits unseen.

  Of three queens who blister and blaze and burn,

  two shall die and one shall learn

  if she bows to a fate that is stronger and higher,

  she’ll have the power of wings of fire.

  Five eggs to hatch on brightest night,

  five dragons born to end the fight.

  Darkness will rise to bring the light.

  The dragonets are coming. …

  The ice dragons came out of nowhere.

  It should have been a quiet night; they shouldn’t have seen anyone but SkyWings and other MudWings on their patrol along the mountainous border between their kingdoms. There hadn’t been a battle near their village since the one where they lost Crane, sixteen days ago.

  Reed still couldn’t think about that battle without feeling a huge pit open inside his chest. Sometimes he wanted to close his eyes and fall into that pit and never come out. But he couldn’t: he had four other brothers and sisters who depended on him. He was their leader, their bigwings—even though he knew now that he wasn’t supposed to be. It should have been their brother Clay, whose egg was stolen before they all hatched.

  “Did you hear that?” Umber whispered, darting up to fly beside him. The smallest dragon in their MudWing troop of siblings, Umber was also the most observant. Reed knew by now that it was always worth listening to him.

  “What?” Reed whispered back, tilting his head and straining his ears. His wings caught the air currents as they both soared higher, and he studied the dark, jagged shapes of the Claws of the Clouds Mountains. He couldn’t see any movement or hear any wingbeats.

  Still, he twisted around to check on his brothers and sisters, calling them closer with a flick of his tail. In a moment, Pheasant, Sora, and Marsh were flying in a close formation behind him.

  “I thought I heard hissing,” Umber said. “Somewhere close by.”

  Reed glanced down uneasily at the shadowy trees that covered the mountain slope below them. Anything could be hiding in there.

  But the only sound he heard was the SandWing general up ahead, calling at top volume as if “stealth patrol” were only a funny name for what they were doing.

  “Move it, MudWings!” bellowed the sand dragon. His squadron of seven SandWings, all fiercely loyal to Queen Burn, hovered behind him, grunting. “I want to wrap up this patrol and get some sleep tonight!”

  “It was probably nothing,” Umber said to Reed.

  And that was when the nine ice dragons suddenly shot out of the forest and attacked the SandWings.

  It was so fast, so calculated and swift and sudden, that two SandWings were sent spiraling toward the ground with shredded wings and blood pouring from their throats before Reed could even process that this was a real attack.

  Marsh shrieked with terror and grabbed Reed, nearly tumbling the bigwings out of the sky. Marsh had never really recovered from their first battle, where he’d seen their sister Crane die in front of him. I need to do something about that, Reed thought, but not right now.

Marsh, keep it together!” he shouted, pulling his wing free. “Come on, quick, we have to help!”

  He saw the hesitation on all their faces and caught himself wondering — again — what Clay would have done in this situation, and whether the others would have been happier and safer following him … and also wondering whether they were wondering that, too.

  But no one said what they must be thinking — it’s a suicide mission; what help can we be; I don’t want to lose another sibling. Instead they formed up behind him and dove toward the writhing dragons.

  Reed hated fighting IceWings. Their serrated claws seemed ten times sharper than normal claws, and their whip-thin tails left stinging marks across his snout and wings. Worst of all, they could just breathe on you and kill you.

  He shot a burst of fire at the biggest IceWing, who was grappling with the SandWing general. Her teeth snapped shut and she hissed at him, but she was too busy with the SandWing to come after Reed. He spun in the air, lashing out at silvery white scales as another IceWing attacked his flank. They clutched each other with fierce talons for a moment, the wind buffeting their wings. Finally Reed managed to cough out another bolt of flames and the IceWing jerked away, narrowly avoiding a singed nose.

  Reed spotted an IceWing diving toward Umber and leaped to knock his brother aside, catching the brunt of the white dragon’s momentum against his chest. As he staggered back, he saw another IceWing wrap her dangerous claws around Sora’s neck, and he roared with fury. Pheasant was there in an instant, throwing the IceWing off Sora, but the ice dragon came back at them with her mouth open to shoot her frostbreath.

  I can’t lose anyone else, Reed thought. It’ll kill me. He smashed into the IceWing’s side and sliced his claws across her throat while she was twisting to breathe on him. Her eyes went wide and she made an agonized, gargling noise as blood bubbled from the wounds. When he let go of her, the IceWing soldier fell toward the dark forest, her wings twitching feebly like a dying grasshopper.

  “Retreat!” a voice suddenly howled. Reed’s heart jumped hopefully, thinking the IceWings were giving up — but then he realized it was the SandWing general. “Retreat!” the sand dragon yelled again.

  Reed thought they might defeat the IceWings if they kept fighting, but it wasn’t worth the risk. Every moment was another opportunity for an IceWing to kill one of his brothers or sisters. Retreating meant keeping them alive.

  “Retreat,” he echoed the general, grabbing Umber and pulling him back. “Fall back! Pheasant, you too!” He scanned the struggling shapes in the moonlight and picked out his troop: all still alive, for now.

  His sister sank her teeth into her opponent’s forearm and he released her with a shriek of pain. In a flash she was at Reed’s side, and they soared up into the sky with Marsh, Sora, and Umber right beside them.

  Reed saw the SandWings take off toward the mountains. Most of the IceWings shot after them; only two turned to pursue him and his siblings.

  “This way!” he cried, diving for the forest. If IceWings could hide in there, so could his dragons. He wasn’t obligated to follow the SandWings — they’d probably make a run for the Sky Palace anyway. And he didn’t want to lead the IceWings back to his village.

  Pine branches whipped against his face as he hit the trees. His brothers and sisters had practiced a formation like this, zipping through an overgrown forest while staying together. He had to trust that they’d remember and be close behind him.

  He heard the sound of thrashing wings farther back and risked a glance over his shoulder. Even in the shadows, he recognized the shape of how his brothers and sisters flew; they were all there. It must be the IceWings who’d gotten caught in the upper branches.

  Reed took a chance and landed. The others dropped to the ground with him, and they all immediately flattened themselves with wings outstretched, becoming puddles of shadow on the dark forest floor.

  Silence fell. No one breathed. The branches creaked overhead, and small night animals skittered through the bushes around them. Reed felt a squirrel dart over his foot, but he didn’t move a muscle.

  After a long while, they heard a faraway whistle and the sound of wings in the distance, as if the IceWings had reassembled to fly away.

  Reed still didn’t move. He waited for almost an hour, until he couldn’t hold his breath any longer, until any and all dragon noises had faded long ago.

  Then, very carefully and quietly, he inhaled. He heard the others do the same.

  “Is anyone hurt?” Reed asked softly.

  “That was awful,” Marsh whispered. “I thought we were all going to die.”

  “I’m fine,” Pheasant said. “Nothing that won’t heal soon.”

  “I’m all right, too,” Sora said hoarsely.

  “Umber?” Reed said when the smallest dragonet didn’t respond.

  “I hate this war,” Umber burst out. “I don’t understand what we’re even fighting for. Who cares who the SandWing queen is? I’ve never met Burn and I don’t want to. Why am I fighting an IceWing over a throne that has nothing to do with either of us?”

  “Because our queen says we have to,” Pheasant said, with a little more sarcasm than Reed thought was safe, even if there was no one to overhear.

  “Queen Moorhen must have a good reason for allying with Burn and the SkyWings,” Reed said. “We shouldn’t doubt her.”

  “Besides, the war will be over soon,” Sora said unexpectedly. She hardly ever spoke, and she’d spoken even less since Crane’s death. Reed turned and saw her eyes reflecting the glow of the moonlight. “Clay is going to end it.”

  There was something about the way she said Clay’s name that made Reed want to sink into a mud puddle and stay there for a month. She sounded as if she believed in him so much — a dragon they’d barely met. They followed Reed and they loved him, he knew that. But surely they must wonder what could have been … and whether Crane might still be alive if Clay were their bigwings all along.

  “That’s true,” Umber said, lifting his head. “Clay and his friends — they’re going to save us soon.”

  “How soon?” Marsh asked. “I thought the prophecy said twenty years — doesn’t that mean two more years before they end the war?”

  “Actually,” Pheasant said, “some dragons think it depends on when you start counting. If you count from the first battle, then it’s only been eighteen years. But if you go back to the death of Queen Oasis, which is really when this whole thing started, then it’s been almost twenty.” She caught the tilt of Reed’s head and shrugged. “I’ve been reading about the prophecy since we realized Clay is in it.”

  There was a pause as they all had their own thoughts about Clay, the war, and the prophecy.

  “If you’re all unhappy,” Reed said tentatively, “we could — I mean, we could try to find the Talons of Peace.”

  Pheasant let out a shocked hiss. “I may not like this war, but that doesn’t mean we should leave our tribe and our home. We’re MudWings. We belong in our village.”

  “Unless you think we should leave,” Marsh said, leaning against Reed’s side. “I’ll do whatever you decide.”

  “We all will,” Umber said.

  Reed knew they would. But should they? He had no idea what to do — betray his tribe, or keep risking his siblings’ lives?

  “You don’t have to decide tonight,” Pheasant said, more gently. “We just had a narrow escape. Let’s go home and sleep. We’ll all feel better in the morning.”

  Reed nodded, and they gathered themselves, stretching their cramped wings as best they could under the trees. Showers of pine needles slid across their scales, smelling of winter fires.

  “What were those IceWings doing here anyway?” Marsh asked, stamping his feet.

  “I have no idea,” Reed said. “It seemed as though they were lying in wait for us, but it’s not like we’re an important patrol. Perhaps they were here for something else and we were unlucky enough to attract their attention.”

ybe they were here for the scavenger den,” Umber said.

  “What scavenger den?” Reed glanced at him, surprised.

  “Can’t you smell it?” Umber asked. “We flew over part of it, too — it’s pretty well hidden in the forest.”

  “How do you notice something like that in the middle of a frantic escape?” Pheasant demanded.

  Umber shrugged.

  “Why would the IceWings care about a scavenger den?” Sora asked softly.

  They all thought for a moment, then looked at Reed.

  “I don’t know,” he said helplessly. It felt like he was saying that all the time these days.

  “Well,” Pheasant said, spreading her wings, “it doesn’t matter. What matters is we survived another battle, thanks to Reed.”

  I wonder if they really feel that way, he thought. I certainly don’t.

  “I hope we survive the next one,” Marsh said gloomily.

  “I hope we don’t have to,” Umber said. “I hope Clay fulfills the prophecy and ends the war and saves the world really soon, before we have to do any more fighting. Don’t you think? Maybe he will?”

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