The lost heir, p.2
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       The Lost Heir, p.2

           Tui T. Sutherland
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  Starflight fluttered his wings indignantly. “I’m not worried for me,” he said. “I’m trying to keep all of us safe.” He glanced at Sunny and ducked his head.

  “I’m keeping us safe just fine!” Tsunami protested. “When have I ever led us wrong?”

  “Well,” Glory pointed out, “there was that one time we got captured by SkyWings and their queen nearly killed us all. . . .”

  Tsunami smacked her tail into the water to send a cold wave over Glory. The RainWing hissed and jumped away from the sea.

  “Stop it!” Sunny said. “Stop fighting, all of you. Clay, stop them.” She patted the top of his head to pull his attention back from the tiny fish swimming around his feet.

  “Oh, yes, let’s hear from our bigwings,” Glory teased. Her scales this morning were gold like Sunny’s, but with drifting splashes of ocean blue. She sat down and yawned at Tsunami, displaying her venom-spitting teeth.

  “Hey,” Clay said, nudging Tsunami’s wing with his own. “It’s all right for Starflight to worry. We don’t even know if Queen Scarlet is alive or dead. But,” he added quickly, “I know you want to find the SeaWings as fast as possible. So let’s find them instead of fighting about it, and then we can get to safety sooner.”

  Tsunami shot one more narrow-eyed look at Starflight, then turned back to the ocean. Clay was right; the important thing was to find her family and a safe place for them all to hide.

  “Aww,” Glory said. “So wise and big.”

  “I think he is,” Sunny said, wrapping her forearms around Clay’s neck. Starflight sat down, flipping his tail around his talons unhappily.

  Glory settled her sun-colored wings. “So now what? Should we shout ‘Hey, SeaWings, we’ve got your missing princess!’ and wait for dragons to bound joyfully out of the ocean?”

  “With a feast!” Clay cried, startling a seagull into the air. “There was a feast at the end of the story! When the missing SeaWing princess got home, her parents were so happy they made a feast. I remember the feast. They ate a whole whale. That was a good feast. I bet I could eat a whale. Do you think we’ll get a feast?”

  “The Missing Princess was just a story in a scroll,” Starflight said. “We have no idea what we’ll actually find in the Kingdom of the Sea.”

  “That’s true.” Clay’s wings drooped. “It might not be what you’re hoping for, Tsunami. Like finding out my mother sold me for a cow.”

  “Hey,” said Glory. “It was at least two cows.”

  “Hmmm. Comforting,” said Clay.

  It wouldn’t be like that for Tsunami. She was sure of it. Maybe Clay’s dreams of his family had turned out all wrong, but hers would be perfect. Especially now that she knew her egg had been stolen from the Royal Hatchery.

  She was the daughter of the SeaWing queen.

  Not only that, but according to Starflight, none of the queen’s other female dragonets had survived to adulthood. Tsunami was the only living heir to the SeaWing kingdom. One day, she would be queen of the SeaWings.

  True, that meant one day she’d have to fight her own mother to the death to become queen. But that day could be as far off as she wanted it to be. Not something she had to think about now.

  She spread her wings and breathed in the salt-spray air again. Out of the corner of her eyes she kept seeing tiny creatures pop out of the speckled sand and then vanish again.

  “I could just dive in and look for the SeaWing palace,” Tsunami suggested.

  “Out there?” Starflight sounded alarmed. He spread his wings and shook sand off them, blinking anxiously.

  “Where else do you suggest I find the SeaWings?” she asked.

  “Swimming in the ocean is not like swimming in an underground cave river,” Starflight lectured. “There are strong currents and unpredictable waves and, and big things with teeth —”

  “I’m a big thing with teeth.” Tsunami grinned at him.

  He didn’t laugh. “It’s not safe,” he said. “What if we lose you?” Tsunami wanted to poke his wrinkled-up worried snout with her sharpest claw.

  “Starflight, cheer up,” Sunny interjected. “Tsunami can do anything. And how is she supposed to get home to her family if she can’t go into the sea?”

  “Oh, no!” Clay heaved himself to his feet, scattering sand and nearly dislodging Sunny, who grabbed his neck with a yelp. Sand and seashells and tiny, astonished crabs flew through the air as he lashed his tail.

  “Ow! Stop that!” Glory commanded, covering her eyes.

  “What about us?” Clay’s big brown wings flapped. “I didn’t think of that! Tsunami, we can’t go with you to the SeaWing palace. We can’t breathe down there! How can we stick together if you’re underwater?” He clawed at the water, leaving deep gouges in the wet sand. “What are we going to do?”

  Tsunami kind of adored Clay when he was in a tizzy. She also adored that it had taken an entire day for it to occur to him that the Kingdom of the Sea was underwater.

  “Seriously?” Glory said to Clay. “All of those geography lessons, and not a single one sunk in?”

  Clay turned in a confused circle. Crabs scurried out of the way of his giant talons. “What?”

  “The SeaWings have an above-water palace, too,” Starflight said in his “see, you should have studied more” voice. “So they can receive guests, like their SandWing ally Blister. It’s on an island somewhere in the Bay of a Thousand Scales.”

  “Oh.” Clay sat down with a whooshing sigh.

  Sunny patted his shoulder. “I didn’t remember that either,” she offered. “So we go there, right?”

  “Not easily,” Starflight said. “Both SeaWing palaces — underwater and on land — are well hidden. That’s how they’ve lasted so long in this war, even though they don’t have fire like the other tribes. Nobody can find them to attack their homes.”

  “Sounds like the NightWings,” Glory sniped.

  “It’s nothing like the NightWings!” Tsunami cried. “SeaWings aren’t trying to act all mysterious and pretentious. They’re just being sensible about guarding their home.”

  “There are over a thousand islands to search, but it’s still probably —” Starflight stopped midsentence and glanced at the sky again. “Does anyone else smell fire?”

  “Three moons, Starflight. I’m not hiding in the trees every time some little thing spooks you,” Tsunami said.

  “Wait, I think he’s right,” Sunny said, lifting her head. “I hear wingbeats.”

  “I do, too,” Starflight said. The spiny ridge along his back stood up in alarm, and he bolted for the trees, running as fast as he could.

  “From this far away?” Tsunami said skeptically. “I don’t see anything up there.” But just as she said it, she spotted a cluster of red specks like spattered blood in the sky, winging down from the mountains in the northwest.

  A SkyWing patrol was coming their way.

  “Quick, into the water,” Tsunami ordered. It was closer than the trees, and would hide them just as well.

  “No way,” said Glory. She sank to the ground, spreading her wings, and shifted color. Her scales flowed into the rocky, sandy pattern below her until she was impossible to see, especially from the air. It happened so fast, Tsunami nearly lost track of where she was. Glory was getting better at that trick.

  “Fine. Come on, Sunny.” Tsunami reached for the little SandWing.

  “I’d rather not,” Sunny squeaked. “I can make it to the trees. I’ll fly really fast.” She jumped off Clay’s back and flapped after Starflight.

  Tsunami stamped her foot, spraying ocean water across the sand. Glory made a muffled, grumpy noise.

  “It’ll be safer in the sea,” Tsunami huffed. She cast a worried look at the sky. The specks were getting closer fast — maybe faster than Sunny could hide. But it was too late to catch her now. Tsunami turned and dove into the ocean.

  Clay was already burrowing into the shallow mud shelf, displacing startled flatfish and sending up clouds of minnows. The MudW
ing didn’t have a problem with water like the others did, since he could hold his breath for up to an hour.

  Tsunami breathed in and salt water rushed into her gills. It surprised her how sharp it felt, like inhaling smoke. It was nothing like the crystal clear water of the underground cave. What’s more, the current kept trying to shove her back to the beach, then yank her out again.

  But she plowed forward and down, past Clay, beating her wings as the water got deeper. Schools of tiny purple fish whirled away from her like stars exploding. Over the edge of the sand shelf, the deeper ocean floor was covered in bundles of eel grass. Waving dark green tendrils reached up to brush Tsunami’s underbelly.

  She glanced up at the sky above her — still empty — and decided to risk surfacing. She had to be sure Sunny was safely hidden.

  The thunder of wingbeats echoed in her ears as she poked her head out and turned toward the beach. The little SandWing was almost to safety. Tsunami could see Starflight standing under the trees, reaching his front claws out to pull Sunny in.

  Overhead, an orange shape shot past, flying at full SkyWing speed — faster than any other tribe could fly. A red dragon flew close behind the first, followed by three more. Their enormous wings nearly blotted out the sun as they whooshed over the dragonets’ heads.

  Tsunami sank a bit lower in the water, but it seemed like the patrol was going too fast to notice a lone SeaWing in the ocean. Maybe these soldiers weren’t hunting for the escaped prisoners.

  Then she saw the last dragon — sunset orange, flames flickering from his nose, with a jagged tear on the tip of his left wing. He flew slower than the others, bringing up the rear, and his head swung back and forth, dark eyes searching the ground below them.

  Tsunami found herself holding her breath. The SkyWing’s snout swung toward the trees just as Sunny’s tail whisked out of sight.

  He paused, beating his wings back to hover in the air for a moment.

  Was he staring at the trees?

  Had he seen Sunny?

  What if he called the others back? The patrol dragons were several wingbeats away already — but one shout could bring them hurtling around at lightning speed. Sunny and Starflight were no match for six full-grown SkyWing soldiers.

  Actually they were no match for one SkyWing soldier. The two of them together would probably have trouble fighting a sleepy bat.

  A curl of smoke rose from the SkyWing’s nose, and he opened his mouth. If there was any chance of saving her friends, Tsunami had to shut him up.

  She burst out of the water in a great leap, smashing her tail behind her for momentum. Her wings powered her up to ram right into the SkyWing’s underbelly.

  He coughed out a puff of fiery smoke and clutched his midsection, the breath knocked out of him. Tsunami had a few moments before he could recover enough to call for help. She ducked around him, slammed her tail into his head, and landed on his back as hard as she could.

  The SkyWing nearly fell into the water, but he fought back up into the air. Tsunami kicked at his wings with her claws and slid back toward his tail, trying to drag him down with her weight. He was too big and too strong for her up here; only taking him by surprise had given her a temporary advantage. She needed to get him in the ocean to even out the fight.

  The orange dragon snarled and twisted, shooting a blast of flames out of his snout, which barely missed her. Tsunami yanked him down toward the water, but his massive wings beat harder and harder. It felt like a hurricane whistling around her ears. She could tell that he was gaining height, and in a moment he’d be strong enough to call the other soldiers back.

  You’re not getting my friends! Tsunami thought fiercely. She found the vulnerable spot on his tail and sank her teeth in. He convulsed with pain, nearly throwing her off, and shot another blast of fire under his wing at her.

  At first Tsunami thought he had missed. Then she felt a searing trail of agony spreading along her neck. It felt as if someone were trying to saw through her scales with a scalding-hot wire.

  She closed her eyes and clamped her jaw harder, determined to hang on although spots were starting to dance in her vision.

  Suddenly the dragon lurched toward the sea. Tsunami’s eyes flew open.

  Clay had flung himself between her and the dragon’s snout, spreading his fireproof wings. His claws clamped on to the SkyWing’s back, and the extra weight drove the soldier down and down, toward the sea.

  Together, Clay and Tsunami dragged the SkyWing into the ocean. He fought wildly the whole way, but his flames couldn’t hurt Clay’s fire-re sis tant scales, and his giant wings couldn’t help him once he was underwater and cut off from breathing.

  As soon as they hit the water, Tsunami swam to the SkyWing’s head and held it below the surface until he stopped thrashing.

  She let go and so did Clay. The dragon’s body began to drift slowly toward the seafloor.

  A shudder rippled through Tsunami’s scales. Him or me.

  This didn’t feel right.

  Why couldn’t she be ferocious and not care?

  She swam after the dragon and grabbed one of his wings, then looked back up at Clay. He met her eyes, and to her relief, didn’t even hesitate before swimming to the other wing.

  They dragged the SkyWing up onto the beach. The current had carried them farther away than Tsunami had guessed, and it was painfully hard to swim back to shore, especially with a full-grown dragon weighing them down.

  She gritted her teeth, ignoring her exhaustion and the pain from the burn on her neck. She was a SeaWing. This was supposed to be her element. She was the boss of the ocean, not the other way around.

  By the time they reached the beach, the rest of the patrol had vanished from sight. She wondered how long it would be before they noticed this one missing and came back to look for him.

  Tsunami collapsed onto the sand beside the SkyWing. Clay peered into the dragon’s snout, then started thumping his chest.

  “What is wrong with you?” Glory’s voice snapped. The RainWing materialized from the sandy background, turning her scales a darker shade of brown so they could see her. She glared at Tsunami. “Why did you do that?”

  “Oh, you’re welcome,” Tsunami said. “Just saving your life, as usual.”

  “By attacking random dragons?” Glory cried. “In another moment they would have been gone! And what are you doing?” She jabbed Clay in the side with one of her wings.

  “Uh,” Clay mumbled. “Fixing him.” He kept thumping the SkyWing’s chest.

  “What?” Glory yelped. “You can’t let him live!” She tried to grab one of Clay’s forearms, but Tsunami shoved her away.

  “We don’t have to kill him,” Tsunami said. “We’ll tie him up and leave him here.”

  “Great,” Glory said. “How about a trail of cow parts, too? And a map of where we’re going? Or perhaps we could set this part of the forest on fire, just to make sure everyone knows how to find us. Would you like me to spell out ‘DRAGONETS WUZ HERE’ in giant rocks?”

  “Fine!” Tsunami said. “Here he is. You kill him.”

  Glory looked down at the unconscious dragon and hesitated. “I don’t kill dragons who can’t fight back,” she said finally.

  “Why not?” Tsunami said. “Just splat some venom on his face and melt him, if it’s that easy for you.”

  Glory sank her claws into the sand, scowling. Bubbles of dark purple began spreading across her scales.

  Sunny and Starflight landed on the beach beside them. Sunny gave the SkyWing a horrified look, and Tsunami remembered that she’d been trapped in another part of the palace during the arena fights. She’d never seen her friends battle another dragon.

  “Is he all right?” Sunny asked Clay.

  “Try this,” Starflight offered, coming over to help. Clay shifted aside, and they rolled the dragon onto his stomach.

  “Why did you attack him?” Sunny blurted at Tsunami. The little SandWing’s harmless tail flicked back and forth anxiously.
r />   “To save you!” Tsunami said, stung.

  “But he wasn’t even doing anything,” Sunny protested. “He was just flying by.”

  All four of them were looking at Tsunami like she was the kind of dragon who hid under rocks and bit innocent passersby for fun. She arched her neck indignantly.

  “I thought he saw you,” she growled. “He was about to call out to the others. I saw him open his mouth!”

  “So did I,” said Glory. “I’m pretty sure he was yawning.”

  “Pretty sure?” Tsunami said. “Would you risk our lives on ‘pretty sure’?”

  Was he yawning? Did I attack him for nothing? That can’t be right. I saw danger and reacted appropriately. Didn’t I?

  “Maybe if you’d just stopped to think for a second —” Starflight said.

  “Or forever? Like you? Think think think, worry worry, never do anything?” Tsunami cried.

  The SkyWing suddenly coughed, and seawater flooded out of his snout. Clay ruffled his wings with a pleased expression.

  “Oh, wonderful. Our enemy will survive. Well done. We have to get out of here,” Glory said. She took a step back and glanced at the sky where the other soldiers had disappeared. “So what do we do with him now, O Great Leader?”

  Tsunami had no idea. She glanced around frantically. Maybe if they could find some vines to tie him up with . . .

  “There’s a tree,” Starflight said, jumping to his feet. “In the forest.”

  “No way,” Glory said. “A tree in the forest?”

  “Being sarcastic is not helping!” Tsunami snapped at her.

  “I mean, a fallen tree,” Starflight said. “We can use it. Glory, stay and guard him; Clay and Tsunami, come on, quick.”

  Clay charged up the beach behind him. Tsunami paused for a moment — she didn’t like leaving the soldier, even if he wasn’t fully awake yet. She also didn’t particularly like taking orders from Starflight.

  “Go on, hurry,” Sunny said, nudging her with one wing.

  Not far into the forest, a large tree had fallen, with the top of its branches brushing the sand. Clay and Tsunami shoved and rolled it onto the beach and dragged it back to the SkyWing while Starflight flapped around squawking instructions. As if we need to be told how to move a tree, Tsunami thought grumpily.

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