Wings of fire book four.., p.15
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       Wings of Fire Book Four: The Dark Secret, p.15

           Tui T. Sutherland
 
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  Viper hesitated, scowling, then ducked her head and stopped arguing.

  “My throat hurts,” Flame said to Morrowseer without looking at him.

  “There’s water in the trough down there.” Morrowseer waved at the other end of the dormitory. “Catch up to us as fast as you can.”

  The others followed Morrowseer out through the archway; a few moments later, Flame caught up, coughing and scratching his throat. Morrowseer led them out to the prison-caves side of the mountain, where a few rivers of lava flowed as swiftly as if they’d just erupted yesterday. The biggest was the one that ran in front of the RainWing prison caves. They landed a few lengths away from it, and Starflight spotted guards in every cave mouth, bristling with armor and spears and alarm gongs.

  I should remember to tell Glory that tonight, he noted. Looks like two guards for every RainWing prisoner.

  He saw Morrowseer notice the direction of his gaze and hurriedly filled his mind with other thoughts. “Aren’t we a little close to the lava?” Starflight asked, nodding at the golden-orange liquid fire that flowed from the top of the mountain.

  “Everywhere on this island is close to lava,” Morrowseer growled. “Let’s begin with you two.” He flicked his tail at Ochre and Flame, to Starflight’s relief. “Try to kill each other and I’ll step in when I think it’s necessary.”

  Ochre regarded Flame dubiously. “Try to kill each other?” he said. “With no breakfast?”

  Flame flexed his claws. “Fine by me. Any rules?”

  “There are no rules on the battlefield,” Morrowseer pointed out.

  Flame immediately leaped at Ochre. His claws slashed across the MudWing’s nose, leaving a bleeding gash, and then he spun and kicked the MudWing in the chest.

  “OW!” Ochre roared, lunging at the SkyWing.

  They grappled on the dark, rocky ground, red and brown scales flashing and soon smeared with blood. With the lava river so close, there wasn’t a lot of room to maneuver or get out of the way. At one point, a burst of fire from Flame nearly singed Starflight’s wing, and Ochre stepped on Viper’s foot, earning a ferocious hiss.

  “Here.” Fatespeaker grabbed Starflight and tugged him up onto a tall boulder. He sank his claws into gaps in the rocks, nervously eyeing the lava below. Even from up here, he could feel the heat blasting along his scales. His fear should have helped keep him awake, but he was a little dizzy with exhaustion, and the heat made him drowsier. He rubbed his eyes, wondering what would happen if he fell asleep. He guessed he’d either tumble right off the boulder into the lava, or he’d wake up in Morrowseer’s talons, dangling over the volcano.

  He tried to pay attention to the moves the two dragonets were using, but unlike Clay and Tsunami, he could never figure out what was going on in a fight like this. Everyone was moving too fast.

  Ochre suddenly burst into the air, winging in a circle around Flame, yelling, “Stop it! I want to stop!”

  Morrowseer snorted. “An opponent on the battlefield wouldn’t stop just because you asked them to.”

  “He’s bleeding pretty seriously,” Fatespeaker pointed out. “Look at the cut on his wing.”

  “Hmm,” Morrowseer said, studying Ochre. “All right, MudWing, you’re out — and you’re in.” He seized Fatespeaker’s shoulder and threw her toward Flame.

  The SkyWing didn’t wait to be told twice. He jumped forward and sank his teeth into her neck.

  “Yow!” Fatespeaker shrieked. She beat his head with her wings until he let go and fell back, and then she clawed at the air in front of his face and darted away.

  “Send me in, too!” Viper said to Morrowseer. “I want to bite her! I can definitely kill her, just give me a chance!”

  “Go ahead and try,” Morrowseer said, tilting his head at the small NightWing.

  Viper hissed with delight and rushed forward with her tail raised, just like a scorpion attacking. Fatespeaker yelped with dismay and shot behind the boulder, appearing around the other side as Viper chased her.

  “That’s not fair!” Starflight cried. “Fatespeaker against both of them?”

  “Battles are never fair in real life. If she doesn’t survive, well, we have you.”

  Starflight clenched his talons, watching the writhing shapes below him anxiously. Viper and Flame were both so angry. They hated being here, and he wouldn’t be surprised if they took it out on Fatespeaker.

  Flame shot a burst of fire at Fatespeaker’s snout. She ducked and rolled away, barely escaping before Viper’s poisonous tail stabbed into the ground beside her.

  “If she’s even scratched by Viper’s tail, she could die,” Starflight said to Morrowseer. “Maybe not right away, but the infection —” He’d watched the wound Blister had given to Webs for days as it got worse and worse. Only a particular cactus from the Kingdom of Sand could reverse the effects, and there certainly wasn’t any of it on this island.

  “If you’re so worried, jump in yourself,” Morrowseer said. He was studying the fight intently. “SkyWing, has nobody ever taught you how to hold in your fire until it’s at maximum temperature? Like this.” He shot a bolt of flames over their heads. “By the moons, Fatespeaker, stop rolling around and use your claws.”

  “Starflight, help me!” Fatespeaker yelped.

  He had no choice. It was beyond terrifying to think of facing Viper’s tail and Flame’s talons, but he couldn’t leave her to fight alone. He knew what his friends would do, if they were here. He closed his eyes, braced his legs, and vaulted off the boulder onto Flame’s back.

  The SkyWing roared and twisted, sending Starflight tumbling across the black rocks. Sharp stone edges slashed his scales and the membranes of his wings. He struggled up, bleeding from several small cuts, and saw Viper knock Fatespeaker to the ground and loom over her with her tail raised. Morrowseer watched, his claws tapping thoughtfully.

  “Stop!” Starflight cried, running at Viper. “Leave her alone!”

  “This is your fault,” Viper hissed at Fatespeaker. “I could be back at camp with my parents if it weren’t for your stupid tribe.”

  Starflight smashed into Viper just as her tail jabbed down toward Fatespeaker’s neck. A sharp smell of venom filled his nose and his head collided with one of her wings. As she staggered back, her tail flew out for balance and sliced neatly across Flame’s face.

  Flame roared with agony, clawed frantically at his snout, and slammed his body forward into Viper’s side. The force of the blow sent her reeling away.

  Starflight watched in horror as Viper teetered on the edge, and then fell with an ear-splitting shriek right into the lava river.

  “No!” Morrowseer roared, leaping forward. But he wasn’t reaching for Viper — he seized Flame’s head between his talons and glared at the wound she had inflicted. “SkyWing! Don’t move! Can you see?”

  Flame’s only response was a keening, guttural sound of agony.

  “Viper!” Fatespeaker cried. Starflight followed her to the edge of the river, but the SandWing had vanished below the lava. “Viper!” Fatespeaker screamed.

  Through his horror, Starflight’s brain flashed him a message, and he whirled around. “Ochre, you can go get her,” he yelled. “Maybe we can save her if you pull her out right away.”

  Ochre blinked slow, painfully dull eyes at him. “What in the three moons are you talking about?”

  “Your scales.” Starflight grabbed Ochre’s forearm and tried to drag him toward the lava. The MudWing sat down firmly, as heavy as an entire fortress. “Ochre, please! You have fireproof scales — you can go into the lava without getting hurt! You can find her and drag her out. Please, please, just try!”

  “Fireproof scales?” Fatespeaker said.

  “Because he was born from a red egg,” Starflight said, “like it says in the prophecy, and that means fireproof scales come on why aren’t you moving?”

  “Let go of me,” Ochre growled, planting all his limbs even more solidly on the ground. “I have no idea if my egg was red or wheth
er my scales are fireproof and I am CERTAINLY NOT JUMPING INTO A PIT OF LAVA TO FIND OUT.”

  “But —” Starflight protested. “But if you’re in the prophecy — if you could be the MudWing — then you must have been born from a blood-red egg, just like Clay.” His heart wasn’t in it anymore. He turned to look back at the lava, knowing it was already too late. Viper hadn’t even come up to the surface once. She was gone.

  “Prophecy shmophecy,” said Ochre. “I wasn’t hatched on the brightest night either, so I’m not going to base any life-or-death decisions on some old words in a scroll.”

  Starflight pivoted slowly to stare at the MudWing.

  “You weren’t hatched on the brightest night?” he echoed.

  Ochre shrugged. “Neither was he. We had the same hatching day, a few weeks before the brightest night.” He nodded at Flame, who was curled on the ground now, still making that horrible sound of pain with his talons pressed to his face. Morrowseer stood over him, lashing his tail furiously.

  “But —” Starflight’s words failed him.

  Suddenly everything seemed a lot clearer … and yet more confusing at the same time.

  The alternate dragonets weren’t real. They couldn’t be the dragonets in the prophecy. They were entirely false, an illusion Morrowseer was trying to create.

  The giant NightWing wasn’t just tinkering with fate — he was trying to rewrite it entirely.

  Fatespeaker was crumpled in a ball by the lava river with her wings over her head, weeping.

  Viper and Squid were horrible to her, from what I saw, Starflight thought. Viper was trying to kill her just a moment ago. And yet she’s still devastated by losing them.

  Because she’s not a heartless monster, like some dragons.

  “Get up,” Morrowseer snarled at Flame. “You are not expendable.”

  The red dragonet’s only response was a low moan.

  Tsunami would yell at Morrowseer. Sunny … Sunny would probably try to reason with him.

  Starflight’s wings were shaking uncontrollably, but he made himself step in front of Morrowseer. Pretend you’re Tsunami. Or Clay. Or Glory or Sunny.

  “What are you doing?” Starflight blurted.

  Morrowseer glared down at him. “Now is not a good time to annoy me.”

  “These dragonets can’t be in the prophecy,” Starflight said. “They don’t even have the right hatching day. Is there anything about them that does fit? Was Viper’s egg found on its own in the desert, like Sunny’s? Was Flame’s egg the largest in the Sky Palace? Why are you pretending they could fulfill the prophecy when there’s no way they can be the right dragonets?”

  “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Morrowseer bared his teeth.

  “Maybe,” said Starflight, “but I want to know. Everything I ever read — all the scrolls written by NightWings for generations — said ‘Don’t mess with fate. Things will happen the way they’re foretold and nobody can change that.’ Prophecies aren’t like treasure hoards where you can mix and match which gems you like and trade out the ones you don’t. I bet these dragonets are dying because you’re trying to force them into a destiny that’s not meant for them. You should leave us all alone and let fate unfold the way it’s supposed to.” He took a deep breath, astonished and terrified at his audacity in talking to Morrowseer this way. “That’s — that’s what I think anyway.”

  “You are an ignorant dragonet,” said Morrowseer, “with no powers of your own, and no one will ever listen to you.”

  Starflight felt as if he’d been stabbed in the heart by a SandWing. He stared up at Morrowseer, unable to breathe.

  “Did you think I wouldn’t notice?” Morrowseer snarled. “It’s obvious how useless you are. You’ll never be a true NightWing. You don’t belong anywhere, least of all here.”

  If he had read Starflight’s mind — and maybe he had — he couldn’t have found anything that would have hurt Starflight more. All his nightmares had centered around this moment: You are not a real NightWing, there is something wrong with you, and you are a failure in every way.

  Starflight took a trembling step back and felt Fatespeaker’s wings brush against his. He hadn’t noticed her coming up behind him.

  “Leave him alone,” she said to Morrowseer. “He’s only telling you the truth about the prophecy. I have the wrong hatching day, too, and you know that.”

  “I know a lot more about prophecies than either of you,” Morrowseer snarled. He shoved them aside and seized Flame’s forearm, yanking him up. “You’re not allowed to die. We’re going to the healers. The rest of you, stay out of my way or you’ll be joining that SandWing.” He glared at Flame’s face, which the SkyWing was still keeping hidden. Starflight could see blood dripping between the red dragon’s claws. Morrowseer shook his head and muttered, “Now we need that stunted SandWing, too. I’m going to —”

  Starflight didn’t hear the rest, as Morrowseer launched himself into the air, forcibly dragging Flame along behind him.

  But he’d heard enough. Sunny’s in danger now, too.

  He had to use the dreamvisitor again, as soon as possible.

  He turned and found Fatespeaker staring at the lava, her wings drooping. The red-gold light of the river reflected off her silver scales, making them glint like rubies.

  “Well,” said Ochre. “If no one cares what I’m doing, I’m going to find some decent prey, if there is any on this stupid island.” He backed away, as if waiting for one of them to argue with him, then stamped around and flew off.

  Starflight gently put one of his wings around Fatespeaker. “Let’s go back to the dormitory and rest,” he said. “You haven’t had any sleep, right?”

  “How can I —” she started, then stopped herself. “Actually, sleeping sounds like the only thing I could do right now. Although I’m afraid it’ll be nothing but nightmares.”

  Starflight knew what she meant. He helped her up, and they flew side by side back to the fortress. The dormitory was deserted — Starflight guessed the other NightWing dragonets were at class, presumably learning something more useful than how to push your friend into some lava or your whole life is pointless.

  Fatespeaker collapsed onto one of the stone hollows and closed her eyes. “You’re lucky,” she said just as Starflight was about to move away.

  He hesitated. “I am?”

  “I mean, if what Morrowseer said is true.” She opened her eyes again and looked at him. “If you have no powers. I’ve always been so excited about being a NightWing. I thought my powers must be the most amazing thing. But clearly they’re totally useless, if they couldn’t even warn me about what was going to happen to my friends.” She curled her wings and tail in close. “All my visions were of walruses and welcome-home parties and parents who were happy to meet me. So much for that.”

  “Have you —” Starflight started. “I mean … do you know who your parents are? Do any of you?”

  “Squid’s dad is the leader of the Talons of Peace,” she said. “All of their parents are in the Talons. That’s why Morrowseer picked us … them. Because we were convenient.” She frowned. “I guess you were the only NightWing dragonet who hatched on the brightest night. My egg hatched a couple of months later, here, actually. I have this really vague memory of fire and rough scales rubbing my back. I didn’t remember that until I smelled this place.” She paused for a moment, then sighed. “But Morrowseer took me to the Talons when I was still newly hatched.”

  “I bet that was when they’d decided they needed a backup plan,” Starflight said. “Another set of dragonets who were close enough, just in case they didn’t like how we turned out.” He shifted his wings. “Which they sure don’t.”

  “I like how you turned out,” Fatespeaker said softly.

  Starflight took her front talons in his and squeezed them. “You too,” he said. “I like you much better than all the other NightWings I’ve met who were raised ‘properly.’ I think we’re actually lucky, in a way, that we didn’t
have to grow up here.”

  She nodded, but she still looked sad.

  And I’m even luckier, growing up with dragonets like my friends. The cruelty of their guardians had been far outweighed by Clay’s protective caring, Tsunami’s fierce loyalty, Glory’s insight and humor, and Sunny’s … everything about Sunny.

  Feeling suddenly awkward and guilty, he let go of Fatespeaker’s talons.

  “You have the face you get when you’re missing your friends,” she said.

  He nodded, surprised that he was that transparent. “Sometimes I think there might be no other dragons like them in all of Pyrrhia.”

  “You’re probably right,” she said with a sigh.

  Well. There’s Fatespeaker.

  He touched her shoulder lightly. “Get some sleep.”

  She obediently closed her eyes, and he moved back to his own side of the dormitory, waiting until he was sure she was asleep. After a few moments, her breathing evened out, and he reached for the hole where he’d hidden the dreamvisitor.

  “Starflight?”

  Starflight was so startled he nearly hit the ceiling. He whirled around and saw Mastermind standing in the doorway, staring curiously around the room.

  “I haven’t been back here in a while,” Mastermind said with a chuckle. “Morrowseer said this was where I’d probably find you. I’m in a bit of a conundrum, and I was hoping you could help me.”

  Starflight edged toward the wall, trying not to look at his hiding spot. He didn’t have time for a chat with his sociopathic father. He needed to contact Glory, or someone who could tell her to put a guard on Sunny.

  But Mastermind held out one wing and Starflight realized that saying no wasn’t an option — not without a lot of very convincing explanations.

  “Walk with me,” insisted the older NightWing. “Have you seen our marvelous library?”

  Starflight reluctantly trailed after him, casting a longing glance back at his bed.

  Soon, Sunny. I’ll make sure you’re safe, I promise.

 
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