The lost heir, p.20
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       The Lost Heir, p.20

           Tui T. Sutherland
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  The firebombs were just logs set on fire, but they caused terrible damage as they crashed through the pavilion and knocked SeaWings out of the air.

  “The SkyWings found us,” said one of the guards, looking skyward in terror. As he said it, they all saw a wing of red and orange dragons soar overhead, dropping more bombs and breathing more fire down on the canopy.

  “But how?” said the second guard.

  Tsunami thought of the hole left in the canopy when Blister ripped Webs out of it. Would that have been enough to lead the SkyWings here? So quickly? What were the chances a scout had spotted the hole, reported back, and gathered the forces for an attack only a day later?

  It had to be something else.

  She looked down and saw the lake water churning as frantic dragons tried to shove their way into the exit tunnel. Only one way in meant only one way out, and it wasn’t big enough for everyone at once. She felt sick at the thought of all those dragons crammed into the small space together.

  There was one other way — but flying out through the canopy, into the claws of the SkyWings, could be suicide.

  Tsunami searched the mass of dragons for her mother, but she couldn’t see ropes of pearls or wings the exact shade of her own anywhere. At least Coral wasn’t one of the shapes with charred wings floating limply in the water.

  Blister was nowhere to be seen either.

  Shark swooped past, yelling orders. Most of the dragons seemed too panic-stricken to listen to him, but a few rallied around and followed him up into the sky. Surely they would be outnumbered, Tsunami thought. Surely they didn’t stand a chance.

  She took a step toward the edge and felt someone grab her tail.

  “Don’t do it,” Clay said, pulling her back. “I know you want to fight, but we can’t lose you like that.”

  Tsunami stopped. Every muscle in her body wanted to be up there, clawing at SkyWing snouts and smashing them out of the sky with her tail. The impulsive thing to do, she thought.

  Or she could listen to her friends.

  She turned to the guards, who were all three trembling with fear, their eyes fixed on the fiery canopy up above. “Go,” she said. “Defending the palace is more important than guarding the prisoners.”

  “But —” one of them started. “But we can’t let you —”

  “You have to save yourselves,” Tsunami said. “And so do we. Trust me, fate wants the dragonets of destiny to survive this.”

  The guards didn’t stick around to argue. They launched themselves off the ledge, and Tsunami saw one fly down to join the crush of dragons around the tunnel, but the other two flew up to fight alongside Commander Shark.

  She spun and ran back to the prison island where Webs and Riptide were trapped. Clay was already there, fumbling with the chain on the wall. Tsunami showed him which way to pull it.

  “Can you hear me?” she called to the prisoners. “We’re getting you out of there. Get ready to fly.”

  “Tsunami?” Riptide’s voice was lost in the creaking and clanking and rumbling of things moving in the ceiling. Abruptly the water stopped flowing, and Tsunami found herself standing across from the sky-blue SeaWing.

  He smiled at her.

  “Hey there,” she said. “The dragonets of destiny specialize in dramatic rescues, you know. Are you impressed?”

  “Very,” he said, hopping over the moat to land beside her. Webs staggered after him, landing unevenly on the stone. It didn’t seem like a good sign that a thin line of blood was still trickling from his ear.

  Another pair of fiery logs crashed past outside, and more screams echoed from below. Riptide flared his wings, looking startled and horrified.

  “The palace is under attack,” Tsunami explained. “It’ll make escape tricky, but —”

  “Wait,” Riptide said, catching one of her talons. “Tsunami. I have to tell you something. I — I do work for the Talons of Peace.”

  Tsunami stared at him. Her mother was right about Riptide? He was working with the dragons who’d ruined her life. She’d always hated the Talons of Peace. How could she have fallen for one of them?

  “Please listen. I joined them because I wanted to find out more about my father, but they wouldn’t tell me anything except that he was safe.” He looked down. “I’ve been working with them for a few years now, passing them information about the SeaWings.”

  Sounds like betrayal to me, Tsunami thought, although she wasn’t sure whether she felt more betrayed for her tribe or for herself.

  “You have a very bad habit,” she said, “of not telling me some critically important things.”

  “I know. I’m sorry. I was meeting with one of their agents right before I met you.” Tsunami remembered the dragon with the black spirals on his scales. “He told me to keep an eye out in case the dragonets of destiny showed up in the Kingdom of the Sea.”

  Tsunami pulled her talon out of his grasp. Riptide had acted surprised to hear the Talons even existed. He’d pretended not to know anything about the dragonets of destiny.

  Clearly he was a good actor, hiding a secret like this while living in the tribe all these years. So could she believe anything he’d said to her?

  Blood trickled from the gash on his side as he moved. “I stayed close to make sure you and the other dragonets were safe.” He spread his wings and held out his talons to Tsunami. “I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you the truth. I didn’t think you’d trust me if you knew.”

  He was right about that. But she didn’t particularly trust him now either.

  An enormous crash sounded outside as something smashed into the pavilion.

  “We have to go,” said Glory from behind Tsunami. For once, she didn’t add anything snide, and Tsunami wondered if she’d overheard Riptide’s confession.

  “Um,” Clay’s voice said behind them. “Tsunami? Webs? Do we know this dragon?”

  They all turned and saw a large MudWing looming in the mouth of the cave. Her brown wings were creased with soot and a horrible scar pulled down one corner of her mouth into a strange grimace.

  Webs flicked his tail in surprise. “I do,” he said. “She’s with the Talons of Peace. She saved my life. Crocodile! What are you doing here?”

  The MudWing chuckled. “Poor Webs. So wrong in so many ways.” She stepped into the cavern and gave the dragonets an appraising look. “These are the brats the Talons are so obsessed with? Scrawny.” She lashed her tail. “But the SkyWings want you back anyway. For the next queen to play with, I assume.”

  “Queen Scarlet is dead?” Glory blurted. “For sure?”

  “You’re not working with the SkyWings!” Webs cried at the same time.

  “Of course I am,” Crocodile said. “Who knew that infiltrating the Talons of Peace would be so useful? I never thought I’d get the chance to follow an idiot SeaWing back to the secret palace we’ve been searching for all this time.”

  Webs blanched and his wings drooped heavily, as if a whole new mountain of guilt had just landed on him.

  “Plus, bonus dragonets of destiny,” Crocodile said. “I am so getting a promotion.”

  “Is Queen Scarlet really dead?” Glory asked again.

  “Nobody knows,” Crocodile said with a shrug. “She seems to have vanished. Nobody can even tell the same story about what happened to her.”

  “Well, lucky you,” said Glory, “you’re about to find out.” She snapped her mouth open and shot her black venom straight into Crocodile’s eyes.

  The MudWing bellowed in agony and fell back, scraping her wings against the cave walls. She clawed at her snout, but the acid was already eating into her scales. With another shrieking roar, she shot out of the cave and dove for the lake below.

  “Let’s go!” Tsunami shouted, spreading her wings.

  The five dragonets, Riptide, and Webs burst out of the cave. Below them, dragons were still trying to shove their way into the tunnel, and the churning mass of wings and scales around the exit didn’t look any smaller than it had before.

  “We can’t go that way,” Starflight said.

  “We’ll have to go out through the canopy,” Tsunami said. They all looked up and saw three red dragons shoot by, breathing fire.

  “I don’t really love that plan either,” Starflight said in a smaller voice.

  Tsunami spotted her mother at last. Queen Coral was standing on the library level, casting one last look at her scrolls. They weren’t on fire yet, but they were the most flammable things in the palace. If they went up, the smoke would fill the palace and kill even more dragons.

  Her littlest dragonet was wrapped tightly to the queen’s chest. Anemone stood on the edge of the pavilion, unharnessed, waiting.

  As they watched, Queen Coral began flinging her scrolls over the edge into the water. After a moment, Anemone joined her, and the queen paused to touch her daughter’s head affectionately.

  She can be a good mother, Tsunami thought sadly. And a good queen. She wondered if there was any version of Pyrrhia where they could have grown up as a family, she and Coral and Gill and Anemone and Auklet, normal and happy, with no one trying to kill anyone.

  Too late now. She had this other family, not at all normal, and they needed her more than anyone.

  She soared up toward the tattered remains of the canopy. Another flaming log came barreling down toward them, and Tsunami yanked Glory out of its path. It plummeted toward the lake, careening off the pavilion and setting another dragon on fire as it fell.

  “Sunny,” Tsunami called. “Starflight. Stay below Clay’s wings.” Clay stretched his fireproof wings out, and the two dragonets ducked underneath on either side of him.

  Tsunami surged ahead to scout the sky outside. She flew out past the smoking leaves and nearly collided with a SkyWing. He held a log in his claws and was about to breathe his fire onto it before dropping it into the palace. But Tsunami sent him swerving out of the way, and when she saw what he held, she slammed her tail into his side. The log flew out of his claws into the ocean, and he tumbled after it.

  Five more SkyWings were flying around in formation to make another pass. Off to her left, Tsunami spotted a wing of huge MudWings carrying extra logs. The SkyWings zipped up to them, took a log apiece, and flew back to the palace to set them alight.

  She hissed with anger. This was a brutal, carefully planned attack on a palace full of dragonets and innocent civilians. There was nothing fair or honorable about this fight.

  Shark and his SeaWings were fighting another set of SkyWings in the sky to her right. Fire blazed and talons clashed against scales. She wanted to join them. She itched to be over there, slashing and clawing and battling the intruders who’d dared attack her family’s palace. That was the kind of fighting she wouldn’t feel guilty about afterward.

  But the other dragonets were flying up beside her now, and she couldn’t leave them.

  “That way,” she said, jerking her head at the biggest swathe of clear sky. From the sun she guessed it was south — south, toward the continent, which was where they needed to go.

  Glory shot past her immediately, and as she reached the sky her scales turned pale blue and white and gold, and she shimmered into nothingness. Tsunami couldn’t even see a ripple in the air as the RainWing flew away.

  Clay went next, spreading his wings to shield Sunny and Starflight. A SkyWing in the battle spotted them and swerved in their direction. Tsunami lunged at her, grabbed her snout, and kicked her underbelly as hard as she could. The SkyWing kicked her back, sending bright arcs of pain along Tsunami’s fractured ribs. Tsunami lost her grip, and the SkyWing roared a blast of flame at Clay’s departing back.

  He shuddered as the heat licked along his scales but beat his wings and flew on, the other two dragonets safely protected. The SkyWing blinked with astonishment as Clay’s wings faded back to brown instead of turning black or twisting into painful burns.

  “Surprise,” Tsunami said, and punched her in the snout.

  The SkyWing crumpled and fell toward the ocean, landing with a splash and vanishing instantly below the waves.

  Riptide soared up out of the canopy, twisting around to make sure Webs was safe behind him. Tsunami turned to fly south and heard Riptide call her name.

  “I have to help them,” he called, lashing his tail toward the fighting SeaWings.

  “But they’ll put you back in prison,” Tsunami protested. “They’ll punish you because we escaped.”

  “Maybe,” he said. “Probably. But I have to help if I can. This is my home.”

  She knew exactly how he felt.

  “Tsunami . . .” He paused. “I really am sorry. I hope next time . . . well, I hope there is a next time. When things are better for everyone.”

  She hoped so, too. She wasn’t sure she’d forgiven him, but she wanted the chance to decide. She wanted him to survive the war, and she wanted to meet him again in a world with no Talons of Peace or destinies or secrets to worry about.

  But there wasn’t time to say all that. Tsunami flashed one of the patterns he’d taught her. All right. Then she added squid-brain, and Riptide smiled before turning to fly away into the heart of the battle.

  Webs and Tsunami swerved south together, wings beating side by side.

  But other wingbeats were close behind them. Tsunami twisted just in time to see Blister lunge out of the canopy and seize Webs by the tail. She yanked him back toward her and stabbed her poisonous barb toward his heart.

  With a yell, Tsunami barreled into them, knocking the SandWing off of Webs. Blister fell back toward the palace, hissing.

  Tsunami grabbed Webs by his front talons and towed him after her.

  A few wingbeats later, Webs groaned softly.

  “Did she get you?” Tsunami demanded.

  “She missed my heart,” he said, “but —” He lifted his wing to show an oozing graze near his tail. “It’s still poisonous,” he said.

  “We’ll find a way to fix it,” Tsunami said. “Just keep flying until we get to land.”

  She looked back again and saw Blister hovering in the air, watching them go. Her cold, glittering black eyes seemed to follow Tsunami all the way to the edge of the sky.

  Tsunami was on a beach again.

  This time it was dark, long after sunset, and small stars shone in the sky like the silver scales on the underside of Starflight’s wings. Tsunami stared down at the waves lapping over her talons.

  She wondered if she’d ever see Riptide again. Or Anemone, or Auklet, or her mother.

  “I know it’s dark,” Starflight said uncomfortably behind her, “but —”

  Tsunami sighed. “But we should stay under the trees.” She stood up and followed him into the woods, shaking the sand off her talons. “I’m trying to be more like you, you know,” she said to him. “I’m trying to stop and think and use my head and all that smart stuff, but it drives me a little crazy sometimes.”

  Starflight stumbled on a tree root and turned to stare at her. “Be more like me?” he echoed. “Why would you want to do that? I wish I were anything like you! Especially brave.”

  Tsunami brushed his wings with hers. “You’re all right the way you are,” she said. “Someone has to be the thoughtful, careful one. And you made Blister pretty mad — that took some courage. Besides, I don’t think this group could handle two of me.” In the moonlight, she caught a half smile flitting across his face.

  Webs lay on a patch of moss, breathing in a nasty shallow way. Sunny was curled up beside him so her scales could give him a little warmth. Clay was peering at the scratch near his tail, which was still oozing and starting to turn black around the edges.

  “We need help,” Clay said. “I have no idea how to fix this.” His expression was woeful.

  “Who would know how to cure someone of SandWing venom?” Sunny asked. “SandWings, I guess,” she answered herself. “But I don’t know where we’d find one we could trust.”

  “The Talons of Peace?” Starflight suggested doubtfully.

  “I can’
t go back there,” Webs said. “And you shouldn’t either.”

  Tsunami tilted her head at him curiously. After all these years of being a good Talon foot soldier, obeying their every command, suddenly he’d changed his mind?

  “If Crocodile was an infiltrator,” he said, catching her look, “there could be others. I don’t know who’s safe for you and who’s not.”

  “Seriously. Even the ‘good’ dragons all seem to have plans for us,” Tsunami said, thinking of her mother.

  “Gosh, I hope Blaze is better than the other two,” Sunny said fervently.

  Starflight winced, but didn’t argue with her. “We can probably find her with the IceWings,” he said, “but we’ll have to be very, very careful this time.”

  “Yeah,” Clay agreed. “I vote for not getting locked up ever again.”

  “Maybe we should try a different approach,” Glory suggested. “Maybe this time we could not barge in yelling, ‘We’re the dragonets of destiny! We’re awesome and special! We’d make terrific prisoners!’ Just an idea.”

  “Do you know what we’re supposed to do?” Sunny asked Webs hopefully. “Did the Talons have any plans about how we could fulfill the prophecy?”

  “If they did,” Webs said, “they didn’t share them with me.”

  “Awesome,” Glory muttered. Tsunami glanced at her. The RainWing’s scales were shades of black and dark green, blending in with the dark forest around them. An idea struck her.

  “I know who might help Webs with the poison,” Tsunami said.

  “Who?” Clay asked.

  “The RainWings,” she said. Glory twisted around to give her a sharp look. “Think about it,” Tsunami went on. “They have venom, too, obviously. They must know something about what to do when you poison the wrong dragon.”

  “True,” Starflight said. “Even if it’s a different kind of venom . . . that’s still a good point.”

  “And then we can look for Glory’s family,” Tsunami said. “Which I think is only fair.”

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