Wings of fire book four.., p.14
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       Wings of Fire Book Four: The Dark Secret, p.14

           Tui T. Sutherland
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  And instead it saved her life. Queen Battlewinner was alive now, but the frostbreath was still inside her. She could never leave the lava, or else it would finish its work.

  The rest was details, although he was still curious about all of it — like who knew her secret besides Greatness, how this room had been built and the screens put in, how the cauldron had been filled with lava and prepared for her. He wondered if she could still eat, or if she existed in kind of a suspended state, right on the edge of death.

  The queen was watching him closely, perhaps reading his mind as he put all the pieces together. He guessed that speaking was painful, scraping and cracking the ice in her throat and mouth, and that was why she did as little of it as she possibly could.

  “I’m sorry,” he said to her finally. “It seems like an awful thing, what’s happened to you.”

  Battlewinner’s head spikes flattened and her snout lifted. “No pity,” she snarled. “Revenge. Soon.”

  That sounded ominous, but worrying about IceWings would have to wait. Starflight reached out and took one of Fatespeaker’s talons in his.

  “We wanted to talk to you about the prophecy,” he said hesitantly. “We’re afraid Morrowseer is being too cruel and interfering too much.”

  The queen cut him off with a barking laugh and then doubled over in pain, clutching her neck. After a moment, she recovered enough to glare at him.

  “Do as he says,” she hissed. “The prophecy is everything.”

  “But he sent Squid away to die today,” Fatespeaker pleaded. “And he says he’s going to kill me or Starflight. And the RainWing prisoners are being treated so terribly. Please, it doesn’t have to be like this, does it?”

  “Anything to … save the tribe,” said the queen. She began to sink down into the lava. “Leave now.”

  “Wait, please,” cried Fatespeaker.

  But lava was already closing over the dark dragon’s head.

  She was gone. They had failed.

  Fatespeaker and Starflight trudged back to the dormitory in weary silence. He hoped against hope that dawn was farther away than Deathbringer had said, but he had a feeling Morrowseer would be breathing angry heat into his face within a horribly short span of time.

  “Poor Squid,” Fatespeaker said, pausing outside the dormitory entrance. “I guess now we’ll have to work with your SeaWing instead.” She sighed and headed back to her sleeping spot.

  Chills rippled through Starflight’s scales like the clouds billowing outside the skylight. Tsunami. That was who he had to warn. Morrowseer had said, “We have another SeaWing. We just have to retrieve her from the rainforest.” Had they gone after her already? Had they tried? Was she all right?

  I can warn her. If it’s not too late …

  He hurried to his bed and scrabbled among the rocks until he found the tiny hole where he’d stashed the dreamvisitor. This time he’d find someone in the rainforest who would listen to him. He had to.

  He pulled the blanket over himself again and cupped the jewel in his talons, then pressed it to his head. Tsunami. Please be there. Tsunami.

  As always, his first thought was of Sunny, and then the others flashed through his head: Tsunami, Clay, Glory …

  And then he was falling, suddenly, through a bright, cloudless blue sky. He snapped his wings open, catching a rising wind, and looked up.

  Above him, glimmering in the sun, were five shapes. He recognized Sunny immediately: her golden scales couldn’t be mistaken for anyone else’s. She was playing a looping game of chase with Clay, her quick agility outmaneuvering his giant wings, both of them laughing.

  Tsunami and Glory circled them, calling out suggestions. Glory’s wings were dark purple, and she wore a small woven crown of iridescent ruby-red flowers.

  And there was Starflight himself, flying along with the others and smiling like nothing could ever be wrong. He looked different here — bigger, kinder, warmer somehow. In fact, they all did. Tsunami and Glory rarely smiled so much in real life; Clay was almost never this fast or graceful.

  Whose dream is this? he wondered, but it wasn’t hard to guess.

  Sunny darted away from the others like a dragonfly and dropped toward him, beaming.

  “Two of you in one dream!” she said happily. “How weird is that?” She flitted around him, brushed her wings against his, and then zipped back up to tug on Clay’s tail.

  He couldn’t bring himself to speak. Being near her, it all came rushing back — how he’d loved her his whole life and how impossible the whole thing was, not least because they were from different tribes.

  If he could make himself talk, if he could warn her about Tsunami, maybe she would listen.…

  But the blue sky was abruptly swallowed in darkness, and he was falling again, until he was surrounded by bubbles and cool green light.

  Underwater. This must be Tsunami’s dream.

  He waved his wings and spun slowly in the water. Sure enough, there she was, with her claws wrapped around the neck of a skeletal green dragon.

  Gill, Starflight remembered. Her father. The one she killed in the arena, before she knew who he was.

  This was a nightmare. Her face was twisted in despair — she’d never hear him like this.

  Her little sister, Anemone, came swimming up, and, seeing her, Tsunami suddenly released the older dragon. He fell back, his jaws opening and closing pitifully. Tsunami turned to Anemone with her talons outstretched, like she was apologizing.

  But then Anemone’s eyes narrowed, and she lunged toward Gill, seizing his throat herself. Her tail smacked Tsunami aside as her talons sank into his neck. Thick blood bubbled out, staining the water.

  Tsunami grabbed Anemone and tried to pull her away, but it was too late.

  Starflight closed his eyes. He understood what Tsunami was worrying about: that Anemone would turn evil if she used her animus powers, and that there was nothing Tsunami could do to save her.

  Just one more reason why we have to stop this war. If there was no war, there would be no one trying to force Anemone into using her powers. She’d be safe.

  Crunch. Crunch crunch crunch.

  Starflight opened his eyes again.

  He was sitting in a vast, dry cave with torches flickering along the walls. The floor was nearly covered with all kinds of prey — boar, chickens, a cow, several ducks, two deer, and a hippo. Some of them were still alive, wandering around, bumping into walls, oblivious to the two dragons in the cave with them.

  The other dragon was Clay, who sat with his tail curled around his back talons, happily munching on something charred.

  “Oh, hey, Starflight,” he said, as if it were perfectly natural for his friends to suddenly pop into his dreams.

  “Clay!” Starflight cried. “You can see me!”

  Clay blinked a few times. “Should I … not be able to see you?”

  “This isn’t just a dream,” Starflight said quickly. “I’m really here. I mean, I’m really talking to you.”

  “Of course you’re really talking to me,” Clay said cheerfully. “Hungry? There’s a great pheasant around here somewhere.” He looked around, scratching his head. “Oh, uh, I think I already ate it. Sorry.”

  Starflight was hungry, but he knew dream food wouldn’t do him any good. “Clay, listen to me. I’m using a dreamvisitor. I’m talking to you from the NightWing kingdom.”

  “Very cool,” Clay said in an agreeable voice. “How about a pig? No, wait. I ate that, too.”

  “I’m serious,” Starflight said, lashing his tail. “Don’t you remember learning about dreamvisitors? They’re these ancient sapphires that were animus-touched generations ago. I found one and I’m using it to visit your dream and tell you something really important.”

  Clay’s forehead was scrunched in a puzzled way. “Sure, Starflight. I have dreams about you lecturing me all the time.”

  That stopped Starflight for a moment. “You do?”

  Clay drew himself up and adopted a stuffy, scoldin
g voice. “Weren’t you listening? Didn’t you read the scrolls? That was before the Scalding. Everyone knows that.”

  “The Scorching,” Starflight corrected automatically. “And I do not sound like that.”

  “Sure,” Clay said. “Anyway. Hippo?”

  Starflight stamped one foot. “Fine, but just listen. Tsunami is in danger. Morrowseer and the NightWings are coming after her. Will you tell her that?”

  “Look!” Clay said delightedly. “My brothers and sisters!” He jumped up and hurried to the cave entrance, where a small band of MudWings were coming in. The smallest dragonet jumped up to hug Clay’s big neck, and the largest one inclined his head with a friendly smile.

  Starflight hadn’t met Clay’s siblings, but he’d heard about Clay’s encounter with them in the MudWing village. They were all soldiers now in the great war, fighting under Queen Moorhen on Burn’s side, even though they weren’t full-grown yet. One of them had died in battle already.

  More dragons we need to save, he thought, anxiety and fear turning his scales cold.

  He wasn’t sure Clay had really listened to him. He had to keep trying.

  Glory, he thought, closing his eyes.

  The sound of paper rustling let him know that he was somewhere new right before he opened them again. Glory sat at a low table in one of the treetop huts in the rainforest, studying a scroll. In her own dream, she wasn’t wearing a crown, and she looked more tired than anything else. Her scales were dark green and dappled with light, matching the leaves around her. The furry shape of her sloth curled around her neck.

  “Glory,” Starflight said, his voice breaking. Would she listen to him? He remembered what he’d heard Sunny say the last time he’d used the dreamvisitor. If Glory thought he was a traitor, she wouldn’t have any reason to believe anything he said.

  The new queen of the RainWings slowly raised her head and met his eyes. They stared at each other for a long moment, her green eyes searching for something in his face.

  “Wow,” she said. “You found a dreamvisitor.”

  He exhaled, feeling relief flood through his scales. Of course she remembered learning about them. He’d always wished he could remember things as easily as she did, instead of having to study so hard all the time.

  “I didn’t run off,” he said in a rush. “The NightWings took me. I swear, Glory. I would never have left you all. Morrowseer is — is testing me, to see if I’m worthy of the prophecy — he has these other dragonets that he wants to use instead, only he needs a SeaWing now so Tsunami’s in danger and I had to warn you —”

  “Stop, stop,” Glory said, rolling up her scroll and leaning on the table. “Tell me everything.”

  So he did, from the moment he was abducted through the terrifying encounter with the NightWing queen. At first he had that sinking sensation in his stomach again, worrying that he was betraying someone — this time his tribe — but then he thought of Orchid clamped to the wall, the SkyWings burning, and Squid flying slowly away to his death, and he squashed any guilt he felt. He was sure now who deserved his loyalty.

  “So,” he finished. “I’m worried about Tsunami. Please tell her to be careful.”

  Glory laughed. “Oh, sure, and you tell Clay to stop being hungry.”

  Starflight felt a smile trying to struggle onto his face. “He really does dream about food, it turns out,” he said. “Like, lots and lots of food.”

  “Oh, Clay,” Glory said affectionately. “Well, apparently I dream about homework, even though there aren’t any scrolls in the rainforest.” She waved her talons at the dream table in front of her, and then her face turned serious again. “I’ll talk to Tsunami and put some guards on her, but I’m more worried about you. We’re not ready to attack yet. But if you’re in danger …”

  She carved a line in the table with one of her claws. “I mean, it sounds like Morrowseer might kill you at any moment.” She looked out the window, where glimmers of rainbow wings were visible in the trees around them. “But my tribe … they’re not ready. If I take them through today, they’ll be slaughtered.”

  “I understand,” Starflight said. Glory was a queen now. She had to think about protecting her tribe as much as taking care of her friends. Every single bit of him wanted to yell, “Forget the RainWings! Please rescue me! Come as soon as you can!” But it was too easy for him to imagine everything Glory was thinking, all the information she had to take into account, the pros and cons and best battle strategies and unacceptable losses and collateral damage — all the things they’d studied as distant theories but never had to deal with themselves.

  So instead he said, “I’m all right. I’ll take care of myself until you get here.”

  Glory looked back at him, tilting her head to the side. Warm pink suffused with purple spread along the edges of her wings. “Starflight, I think that might be the bravest thing you’ve ever said.”

  He ducked his head, looking down at his talons. “Well,” he added. “You know. Don’t take too long.”

  She laughed again, and he felt a fierce, awful longing to be back with his friends, where, even if everything wasn’t easy, at least he felt like he meant something to somebody — something more than a line in a prophecy.

  Her face went serious, and she toyed with the corner of one of the scrolls between her claws. “So Deathbringer’s in trouble for helping me,” she said.

  “I’m sure he understood the risks when he decided to set you free,” Starflight pointed out.

  “Hmm,” Glory said skeptically. “I’m sure he thought he could charm his way out of anything. Idiot.”

  “Well, he still might,” Starflight said. “I don’t think Greatness wants to execute him.”

  Glory shook herself. “Can you tell me anything else about the NightWings?” she asked. “Anything that might help us when we do attack? Like, do they have mind readers posted at the tunnel entrance? That’s what I would do, so they could sense anyone coming through and maybe even read our battle plans before we got there. I want to send in a camouflaged scout just to see how many guards are in the cave now, but that’s why I haven’t yet — I don’t dare.”

  “I don’t know,” Starflight said. “I’m sorry, I don’t know anything useful about what the NightWings are doing.”

  “I bet you know more than you think,” she said. “Can you tell me more about the fortress? Or the layout of the island? Or how we might get there if we flew from the continent instead of using the tunnel?”

  His heart sank. “You’d have to get through MudWing and SkyWing territory first,” he pointed out, “before you could fly across the ocean to the island, even if I could find a way to describe the route.” And that would take weeks, he thought. Weeks to travel the whole length of the continent. Can I survive for weeks on my own?

  “Yeah, it’s probably not the safest plan,” Glory said thoughtfully.

  Starflight shifted his wings. He felt chilly air against his scales, and it wasn’t coming from Glory’s rainforest dream. “I think I have to go,” he said in a panicked whisper. “It must almost be dawn.”

  “All right,” she said, standing up. “But come back tomorrow night if you can. We can figure this out, Starflight. It’s going to be all right.” She stepped over the table and wrapped her wings around him, which didn’t work very well since he wasn’t really there, but somehow it was still comforting.

  “See you soon,” he said. “Remember to watch out for Tsunami.”

  Glory rolled her eyes. “At this point, I bet most of my tribe would invite the NightWings to abduct her. She’s not the calmest general on Pyrrhia, I can tell you.”

  Starflight smiled and lifted the dreamvisitor to his forehead.

  The rainforest disappeared.

  He was back in the gloomy, dimly lit NightWing dormitory.

  Had he heard a scrabble of claws right before he’d opened his eyes? Starflight glanced around and realized that his blankets had shifted so he wasn’t as well hidden anymore.

Or someone moved them.

  His talons, with the glowing sapphire trapped between them, were visible; he pulled them back close to his chest, then leaned over the side of the bed to tuck the jewel into its hiding spot.

  Sleepy mutters indicated that the other dragonets were waking up. But when he looked around the room, he couldn’t see anyone who looked awake yet.

  Did someone see the dreamvisitor? Was someone spying on me?

  Maybe I imagined it.

  But he couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that his secret might not be entirely safe anymore.

  Starflight lay curled on top of the blanket, trying to calm his pounding heart.

  I’ve done what I had to do. I warned Glory. Now I just have to wait until they rescue me … survive until they get here. Surely I can do that.

  “Up,” snarled Morrowseer from the doorway.

  All the dragonets in the dormitory scrambled to their feet, neck spikes bristling. But Morrowseer’s gaze was fixed on the prophecy dragonets, who came forward to stand in front of him. Starflight noticed that Flame kept his head down so he didn’t have to meet the NightWing’s eyes.

  “Yesterday was stupendously unimpressive,” Morrowseer growled. Starflight glanced over his shoulder and saw Fierceteeth watching them with an alert expression.

  “Next time you’re in that kind of situation,” the NightWing went on, “I want to be sure you can fight your way out of it, even without backup. So. Today, battle training.”

  Starflight’s wings drooped. Battle training was always his least favorite thing.

  “Next time?” Viper snapped. “I’m not stupid enough to go through that again.”

  Morrowseer hissed at her. “If you would like to take yourself back to the Talons of Peace, too, there’s the door.” He swept his wing toward the outside.

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