The lost heir, p.19
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       The Lost Heir, p.19

           Tui T. Sutherland
 
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  “I like the one where we melt everyone’s eyeballs on our way out the door,” Glory said.

  “With magical death spit,” Sunny said, then buried her head in Clay’s wings to hide her giggles as Glory glared at her.

  “Three moons, Glory,” said Tsunami. “That’s horrible.”

  “Who are you?” Glory asked. “What happened to the SeaWing who’d fight her way out of anything?”

  “I’ll still fight,” Tsunami said. An image of Gill flashed in her mind and she shivered. “I’m just saying, there are a lot of these guards who are really on our side. I bet we can find someone to help us.”

  Sunny lifted her snout. “Did you hear something?”

  “Like what?” Starflight asked.

  The little SandWing hesitated. “It’s hard to be sure over the water sounds.”

  “Probably nothing,” Tsunami said. “Nothing helpful anyway.” Sunny frowned at her.

  “Someone’s coming,” Glory observed. They could see a pale shape flitting along the path toward them, although it was blurred by the waterfall.

  “Is that what you heard?” Starflight asked Sunny.

  She shook her head, looking perplexed.

  As the dragon came closer, Tsunami thought she recognized her coloring. But surely it couldn’t be —

  “Anemone?” she called.

  “There you are!” Anemone hurried over to their cage. She stood as close as she could get to the moat and the crackling water. Tsunami wished she could reach over and wrap her wings around her little sister.

  “You’re unharnessed!” she cried.

  “I know, isn’t it wonderful?” Anemone stretched her wings wide and beamed. “It’s only for a little while.” She tugged at the web that was still fitted closely around her chest. “I’ll be snapped in again later. But Queen Coral said I could go fly around while she has Auklet fitted for her harness, as long as I don’t leave the Summer Palace. This would be the happiest day of my life if I weren’t so worried about you.”

  “Can you set us free?” Clay asked hopefully.

  “And then come with us,” Tsunami suggested. “We’ll never make you use your powers, I promise.”

  Anemone shook her head. “I wish I could. But Coral and Blister will be furious enough about losing the dragonets of destiny. Think about it — if their secret weapon disappears, too, they’ll hunt you down like sharks after prey.”

  “That’s a good point,” Starflight agreed in his let’s-all-be-sensible voice.

  “I don’t care,” Tsunami said. “I don’t care if every dragon in Pyrrhia is searching for us. We’ll keep you safe, a lot safer than you are here.”

  Anemone shifted her wings. Even through the water, Tsunami could see the mournful expression on her snout. “I just — I just don’t think I’m ready to live my life like Webs did, never able to return home,” she said. “I’d miss Auklet. And I think the SeaWings need me here. I think Mother needs me, so she’s hearing another voice besides Blister’s.”

  Tsunami knew that was all very logical, but it still made her scales itch to think she’d have to abandon her sister when she’d only just met her.

  “All right,” Clay said. “You could still set us free, though, right?”

  “They’d know it was her,” Glory pointed out.

  “That’s true,” Tsunami agreed. “It’s too dangerous.”

  “But there’s something else I wanted to do for you,” Anemone said. She lifted something in her front talons, and Tsunami realized she was holding a pure white narwhal spear.

  “Spear,” Anemone said solemnly, “find the dragon who attacked Tsunami in the entrance tunnel and bring him or her to us.” She let go, and the spear flew up the path out of the cave.

  The other dragonets stared at her in awe.

  “Is that really possible?” Clay asked. “That’ll actually work?”

  “We’ll see,” Anemone said, pressing her claws together.

  “You didn’t have to do that,” Tsunami said, worried. “Do you feel all right?”

  “Just a little cold,” Anemone answered. She rubbed her tail between her talons with a rough scraping sound.

  They waited. And waited.

  And finally they saw someone stumbling down the path toward them. The spear seemed to glow in the dark as it jabbed the dragon in the back and wings and tail, driv ing it along.

  “Ow!” a voice echoed through the cavern. “What is the meaning of — why am I — ow! what — ow! Stop! Ow! I will report you to the — OW!”

  “Well, that’s not Coral,” said Glory.

  “And it’s not Shark,” said Tsunami. She scratched her horns, confused. She’d been so sure it had to be Shark.

  “Not Moray either.” Anemone stood up as he approached.

  The spear prodded the dragon into place beside Anemone, on the edge of the electric moat.

  It was Whirlpool.

  “Whirlpool?” Tsunami said, thoroughly astonished. “Why would you want to kill me?” She’d rather thought he was too boring to be a suspect.

  “Rubbish,” said the green dragon with a haughty air. “I would never —” The spear poked him again, a little harder this time. “Ow. My goodness. Anemone, I had no idea you were capable of such powerful magic. I must be a brilliant teacher. Of course, I’d be more impressed if it weren’t stabbing me — OW.”

  Anemone shifted on her talons uncomfortably. “I didn’t think it would be you,” she said.

  “We should tell Queen Blister how accomplished you are,” Whirlpool said in his oozy voice. “She’ll be so terribly pleased.”

  “Don’t you dare,” Tsunami snapped.

  “Do you really think I’ll find you threatening from in there?” he asked.

  “If you do, I’ll tell Mother you tried to kill me,” she said. “How do you think she’ll feel about that?”

  He shrugged and reached up to play with the gold hoop earring in his ear. “She may find it quite admirable, actually. After all, I was merely trying to ensure that Anemone dear would be queen.”

  “Me?” Anemone’s wings fluttered open and closed. “You don’t even like me that much. Why do anything for me?”

  “Well,” Whirlpool said, “frankly, I don’t want to marry her.” He pointed at Tsunami.

  “Wow,” Glory said cheerfully. “That was totally on my list of reasons why someone might want to kill you.”

  “Don’t worry,” Tsunami snapped. “I’d rather be torn apart by tiger sharks than ever marry you.”

  “But I do want to be king,” Whirlpool said. He held out his talons as if imagining more gold rings looping around his claws. “So I thought if I got rid of you, I’d improve my chances of marrying a more agreeable daughter.”

  “I don’t ever want to marry you either!” Anemone cried.

  “It’s not really up to you,” Whirlpool said, taking a step back up the path to the cave entrance. “Once I tell Queen Coral and Queen Blister about what you can do, they’ll be so grateful, they’ll let me have anything I want. But of course, then you’ll be very busy using your powers to win the war. And you probably won’t survive that. So I should really ask for Auklet instead.” He tapped his snout thoughtfully, as if he was musing to himself.

  “You can’t tell them!” Tsunami shouted. She was supposed to protect Anemone from being used like this. It was the one thing her sister had asked of her — and instead now it would be her fault if Anemone became Blister’s pawn.

  She lunged toward the waterfall, but Clay jumped forward at the same time and held her back. Blue light crackled in front of them, and down below, the eels clustered menacingly like a sinister clump of seaweed.

  But at the same time, on the other side of the waterfall, Anemone was moving, too. She seized the spear from the air, spun it around, and smacked the side of it into Whirlpool’s head.

  He staggered forward, then crumpled without a sound. His wings tipped sideways, overbalancing him, and in one sudden movement, his body slipped over the edge
into the electric eel moat.

  Anemone yelped with fear and dropped her weapon. She reached her talons toward the water . . . but it was too late.

  A blinding flash of blue sizzled up the cascading waterfall. Tsunami jumped back, and all five dragonets huddled close in the center of the island. The water in the moat churned and seethed around the spot where Whirlpool had disappeared. Thick green tails thrashed through the bubbles and sparks flew as if several bolts of lightning were striking at once.

  Sunny covered her eyes, and Clay put his wing around her. Tsunami wished she could do the same for Anemone — on the far side of the moat, her little sister looked petrified in place.

  Slowly the flashes calmed down until only an occasional zap appeared in the wall.

  And then they all stopped. The waterfall was quiet, and so was the moat.

  Tsunami could see the eels, still clustered around a large, dark shape at the bottom of the pool. But their frenzy had subsided, and she guessed she was lucky she couldn’t see any details of what they were doing now.

  “Anemone!” she called. “Are you all right?”

  Anemone didn’t answer. Her blurred outline was motionless, as if she were one of Orca’s statues.

  “I’m not sure I should tell you this,” Starflight said, “but you might be able to go through the water right now.”

  Tsunami whipped around toward him. “Really? Why?”

  He pointed to the eels. “After a burst like that, they’ll need a while to recharge. I think. So they might not be able to let off any shocks for at least a minute or two. Wait —” he added as Tsunami flared her wings. “But I’m not sure. I didn’t read those scrolls as often as the ones about dragons. I’m sorry.” Starflight’s black head drooped. “It’s probably not worth the risk. I wouldn’t listen to me.”

  “But Starflight, you know every thing,” Sunny said. “I’m sure you’re right.”

  “I could go through and turn off the waterfall,” Tsunami said. “Then it would only be me risking it.”

  Starflight looked miserable. “But it was my idea,” he said. “And if I might be wrong, shouldn’t I —”

  Poor Starflight. Tsunami twined her tail around his. She knew he wanted to be brave and helpful. But this was the kind of thing she did, not him.

  “Don’t be silly,” she said. “This is my kingdom. I’m responsible for doing the crazy things here.”

  “Do you remember what the scrolls said about electric eels?” Clay asked Glory.

  The RainWing lifted her wings slightly. “I don’t think it was specific,” she said. “They can run out of charge for short periods of time, but I don’t know if this is definitely one of them, or how long it might last.”

  Think it through. Be more like Starflight. Don’t be impulsive, Tsunami thought. But then . . . what if this is our only chance to escape? She glanced over at Anemone. And I have to help her.

  But if I die, what happens to the others?

  She clenched her talons. An image of her mother’s Council flashed through her head. “All right,” she said. “Let’s vote.”

  “Holy moons,” Glory said. “Seriously, what have you done with the real Tsunami?”

  “Quickly,” Tsunami said, shooting a glance at the quiet waterfall.

  “I believe Starflight,” Sunny said. “I think you can make it through. Definitely.”

  “I don’t,” Starflight said glumly. “I vote that nobody tries, just to be safe.”

  “Well, I want to get out of here,” Glory said. “And I’m willing to risk Tsunami’s bossy scales to do it.” She shot Tsunami a toothy grin.

  Clay shook his head slowly. “I don’t know. You’re too important to all of us, Tsunami. I don’t think you should do it.”

  “Well, that doesn’t help,” Tsunami said with a snort. “Now I just have to decide for myself anyway. Some Council you guys are.” But those were pretty much the votes she’d been expecting. And she’d listened to all of them, and she knew what she wanted to do.

  She took a deep breath, spun around, and launched herself at the wall of water. It felt like leaping into a freezing hailstorm, icy drops pelting her snout and closed eyes, slicing into her gills through the seaweed bandage, hammering the fractures in her ribs. She braced herself for lightning-sharp pain, but a moment later, her talons thumped onto solid rock.

  Tsunami opened her eyes as she skidded to a stop. She’d made it to the other side of the moat, and her scales were still intact.

  She grabbed Anemone’s shoulders and shook her until the pale little dragon looked up to meet her eyes.

  “You have to get out of here,” Tsunami said. “We’re going to escape, and I don’t want it to look like you were involved. Go find Mother and hang around where she can see you so you have an alibi. All right? Are you listening?”

  “But look what I did,” Anemone whispered, pointing to the pool.

  “You didn’t mean to do that,” Tsunami said. She knew way too clearly how Anemone felt right now. “Anemone, it was an accident — you didn’t push him into the moat! And if it hadn’t happened, think how many dragons you might have had to kill with your powers. Now you can tell Mother that with no trainer, your powers seem to be getting weaker. Mess up all the time. Make sure she thinks you aren’t ready and won’t be for a long time.”

  “But one day —” Anemone started.

  “One day very soon, this war will be over. We’re going to end it. Trust me.” Tsunami squeezed Anemone’s front talons in hers. “Now get out of here.”

  “Good luck,” Anemone whispered.

  Tsunami wrapped her wings around her sister. “Good luck to you, too.”

  Anemone fled up the cave path. Her pale wings fluttered like moths as she disappeared around the bend.

  Tsunami hurried to the chain on the wall. The guard had yanked it down — could she pull it back up? She tried hauling the chain in the opposite direction and felt it slide jerkily through her claws. Clanking noises rattled from the ceiling, and she stopped for a moment, glancing up the path where the guards had gone. Were there guards at the entrance? What if they heard her?

  “Hey, kid,” a raspy voice croaked. Tsunami jumped and looked around.

  A scrawny SandWing was watching her from his prison island. Even through the waterfall, Tsunami could see the dark glitter of his eyes. “You could do the same thing for me,” he hissed. “Set me free!”

  Tsunami turned back to the chain and kept pulling. She didn’t know what was in store for Coral’s prisoners, but she also didn’t know why they were here, or whether they deserved it.

  Except for two of them.

  Somewhere in this cavern, Riptide and Webs were trapped, possibly awaiting execution. She had to find them, too.

  What sounded like an enormous metallic groan echoed overhead, and then suddenly, the cascading water around her friends shut off. There was a beat of silence as they all stared up at the ceiling.

  Sunny leaped off first, flapping her wings to clear the moat, and the others followed her quickly. Tsunami pushed past them to lead the way up the path.

  “What about me?” yelled the imprisoned SandWing.

  “I have to find Riptide and Webs,” Tsunami said to her friends. “Did anyone see them on the way in?”

  “I did,” Clay said. “They’re on one island together, not far from the entrance.”

  The five of them hurried along the path. Tsunami kept her wings curled in and tried not to look at the fizzing blue water walls or the lurking eels.

  They rounded the last corner and saw the greenish light of the Summer Palace up ahead. Tsunami spotted the guards first, and pushed her friends back into the shadows.

  Only three, she thought. Three guards stood on the ledge outside the prison, chatting and tossing their spears from talon to talon. They didn’t look very threatening. And perhaps they were secretly on the dragonets’ side, if they had allowed Anemone through to see Tsunami.

  She didn’t want to fight them if she could avoi
d it. She didn’t want to shed any more SeaWing blood ever again.

  “There,” Clay whispered in her ear. He pointed over her shoulder. “That island, just inside the entrance.”

  Tsunami spotted the two blue shapes moving beyond the wall of water. She also saw a chain running along the stone beside their island. If she could get to it without the guards noticing, and then move the mechanism without the guards hearing it, Riptide and Webs would be free to escape with the dragonets.

  “There it is again,” Sunny whispered. “Don’t you all hear that?”

  “Hear what?” Clay whispered back.

  “I don’t know,” Sunny said. “I keep hearing — I think I’m hearing wingbeats.”

  “There are SeaWings flying all over the palace,” Glory pointed out.

  “I know,” Sunny said. “This is bigger, higher — I’m not sure.”

  “Don’t worry so much,” Tsunami said. “I’m sure you’re imagining things.”

  Sunny stamped one of her feet and craned her neck toward the outside. “No, I’m definitely sure,” she said firmly. “I hear wingbeats above the canopy. Lots and lots of them.”

  “Sunny —” Tsunami started, but then Clay’s head shot up, and so did Starflight’s.

  “I think she’s right,” Clay said.

  Tsunami inhaled sharply, realizing what that meant. “You don’t think —”

  Starflight lashed his tail. “I smell fire, too.”

  Tsunami didn’t have time to think or come up with a safe, logical solution. She burst out of their hiding spot and ran toward the guards.

  “Look out!” she yelled. “Warn the palace!”

  All three guards jumped and two of them accidentally dropped their spears over the ledge. They stared at Tsunami as if her horns were blazing columns of fire.

  “Move!” she shouted. Tsunami shoved them aside, stood on the ledge, and yelled, “SeaWings! Mother! Look out! We’re under attack!”

  And then the first firebomb crashed through the canopy.

  Panic.

  Screaming.

  For a palace surrounded by water, it was surprising how much caught on fire so quickly.

  Large sections of the canopy collapsed, carrying flaming branches and leaves and debris down onto the Summer Palace. Tsunami saw dragons spiraling toward the lake, their wings alight with flames, shrieking with pain.

 
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