The hidden kingdom, p.23
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       The Hidden Kingdom, p.23

           Tui T. Sutherland
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  Glory, the queen who chose her own destiny, saved her subjects, and turned her tribe into the greatest dragons in all of Pyrrhia.

  “Speech!” Jambu demanded, barreling into her. His scales were a pink so vibrant it almost hurt her eyes to look at him.

  “Don’t you start. Luckily no one would hear me over all this noise,” Glory said with a wave at her jubilant subjects. She gave her brother an affectionate shove and he wound his tail around hers for a moment, and she didn’t even mind.

  As he bounded off to assault someone else’s eyes, she felt movement at her wing and turned, thinking it was Kinkajou, but it was Sunny. Sunbeams danced on her gold scales as the little SandWing beamed at her.

  “You did it,” she said.

  “Not by myself,” said Glory. “I needed these dragons to make it happen.” She spread her wings to encompass Jambu and Mangrove, but they were bouncing around in excitement. Tamarin was hugging Kinkajou, and even the wounded dragonet was pale pink with joy.

  “This is so unfair,” Tsunami said, landing beside them. She sighed dramatically. “This was supposed to be my story. Stupid SeaWings, already having a decent queen.”

  “Maybe you’ll still be the SeaWing queen one day,” Glory said. “And then I can give you tips on how to be majestic and brilliant.”

  They grinned at each other.

  “This just proves what I’ve always said,” Tsunami observed. “Who needs a prophecy to tell you how to make an awesome destiny?”

  “True,” Glory said. “Take that, prophecy. You’re not about me? Well, I’m not all about you either.”

  Sunny fluttered her wings like a settling butterfly. “We still need you, though,” she said. “You’re still one of us, and no one will ever convince me otherwise.”

  Glory brushed Sunny’s wing with hers, feeling a warmth that wasn’t coming from the SandWing’s scales. “The first thing we have to do is rescue the RainWings from the Night Kingdom,” she said. “Which means turning these dragons into an army as fast as possible — Tsunami can help with that.”

  “Yes, I can,” Tsunami said, flexing her claws.

  “Well, actually,” Sunny said. “I was thinking maybe there’s another —”

  The sound of branches thrashing overhead made Glory spin around. Clay came barreling through the trees, trailing broken twigs and wrestling loops of vines out of his way. He stared around wildly at the rejoicing RainWings, spotted Glory, and crashed down in front of her.

  “Clay!” Sunny cried. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

  Horrible images popped into Glory’s head — of her friends hurt, of a NightWing army marching through the tunnel to invade the rainforest. . . .

  “It’s Starflight,” Clay said. “He’s disappeared.” He shot an anxious look at Glory, and she remembered the argument she’d had with Starflight the last time she’d seen him. Surely he hadn’t —

  “Glory, I’m sorry,” said Clay. “But I think he’s gone to warn the NightWings.”

  “I hate this place,” Flame said, glowering at the dark rock dust caught between his claws. “Hate, hate, hate it.”

  “I hate it more,” Squid moaned. He coughed gloomily. “My scales feel so dry. My talons hurt. And I’m hungry.”

  “I hate that big old stupid horrible NightWing,” Viper hissed.

  “I can’t believe my dad let him take me.” Squid edged to the mouth of the cave and stared at the smoky sky as if hoping Nautilus would appear suddenly, winging to his rescue.

  “Oh, stop,” Fatespeaker said, flicking her tail. “It’s not that bad.”

  Actually, it really was that bad, but she certainly wasn’t going to admit it to these four. She had never ever imagined that the Night Kingdom — her kingdom — would be so dark and smelly and that all the dragons here would be so incredibly cranky. It was as if being the most awesome dragons in the world didn’t even make them happy at all.

  But hey, she was home, and Morrowseer said she was part of a prophecy, which was even more awesome than being a NightWing. So what was there to complain about, really?

  “I want to die,” Ochre groaned. The MudWing dragonet had been lying on the floor of the cave for practically the entire day since they’d been dumped here by Morrowseer.

  “I want you to die, too,” Flame volunteered.

  “You smell ghastly,” Viper agreed.

  “I don’t think I should have eaten that dead thing,” Ochre mumbled. He paused, then added, “Or all of your dead things.”

  “Well, I wasn’t going to eat it,” Squid said snootily. “We are on an island. I think someone should be able to bring me a fresh fish, considering who my father is and the fact that I’m a dragonet of destiny. I mean, really.”

  Fatespeaker shifted on her talons uncomfortably. She hadn’t really liked the look of what the grumpy NightWings had brought them to eat either. Why was every thing so decayed and horrible-smelling?

  Have a vision, she told herself. That’ll make you feel better.

  She closed her eyes and scrunched up her forehead and concentrated as hard as she could.

  “I foresee —” she said in a portentous tone.

  “No!” shouted Viper.

  “Spare us,” Squid cried.

  “Aaaaaarrrrrrgh,” Ochre moaned.

  “Now I want you both to die,” said Flame.

  “Oh, shush,” Fatespeaker said with her eyes still closed. “I’m using my POWERS. Behold! I foresee a . . . walrus! A walrus in our future! An entire walrus for us to eat!”

  “Why are you torturing me?” Ochre wailed.

  “We hardly ever had walrus even when we lived next to the sea,” Squid pointed out.

  “Despite the fact that you predicted we would just about every week,” Viper added sourly.

  “My visions are not always precise,” Fatespeaker said breezily. “It does not say when this walrus will arrive, only that it will, and then we shall feast. And every thing will be wonderful again.”

  “When has it ever been wonderful before?” Flame snarled.

  “Do us a favor and stop sharing your stupid powers with us,” Viper snapped.

  Grumpy ungrateful lizards. Fatespeaker sat down in the mouth of the cave and turned up her snout, ignoring everyone. If they couldn’t appreciate the gifts she bestowed upon them, WELL THEN FINE, she would just keep her visions to herself. Until she had another great one, anyway.

  The Night Kingdom volcano stretched below her, dark and craggy and swarming with black dragons. There weren’t nearly as many NightWings as she’d expected. It felt more like the Talons of Peace camp than a whole kingdom. But the dragonets hadn’t exactly been given a tour. They hadn’t even been taken to the big fortress, which Fatespeaker assumed was where the queen lived. Nor had they been introduced to the NightWing queen. Or anyone, actually. Morrowseer had stuffed them in this high cave and stomped away again.

  Fatespeaker squinted down at the black-sand beach in the distance. A cave was set into the cliff there, and earlier she’d seen several dragons swoop into it. Now they were coming out again, and they had a NightWing dragonet in their talons.

  He looked about the same age as Fatespeaker, and he was unconscious. His wings drooped and his claws dragged in the sand.

  Her scales began to tingle in that way that she was sure meant a sign from the universe.

  There was something important about that dragonet.

  “I’m having ANOTHER VISION,” she announced.

  The bones left over from Ochre’s dinner splatted on the ledge beside her. She was lucky that Squid didn’t have very good aim.

  “I’m just letting you know that I’m NOT TELLING YOU ABOUT IT,” she said. “Even though I’m sure it’s VERY SIGNIFICANT.”

  The others ignored her, which they did way too often.

  Well, it didn’t matter.

 
She was home with her own kind now. She had a destiny to follow. And she was sure the unconscious dragonet, who was now being carried into the fortress, would be part of it.

  “Careful,” Morrowseer growled as Starflight stumbled into him, and then Starflight saw what lay ahead of their talons.

  A few steps into the cave, the rocky path abruptly fell away on either side, leaving only a thin strip of stone to stand on. Below him was a bubbling lake of glowing orange liquid fire. He could feel the heat crackling along his scales.

  Morrowseer stepped back to the safety of the doorway and prodded Starflight forward, so the dragonet was left alone on the spur of rock, surrounded by lava.

  Lava and NightWings.

  And they’re all reading my mind, he thought with another jolt of terror. They can see all my thoughts. They know I’m terrified and weak and useless and that I don’t think Blister should be the next SandWing queen and that I think this is a horrible place to live and —

  Stop thinking about all the things I don’t want them to see in my head!

  With a massive effort, he focused on the details of the room around him. Think about what you see. Don’t think about anything else.

  First, there weren’t actually hundreds of dragons staring at him. He did a quick estimate, hiding his other thoughts inside mountains of numbers. Maybe forty. About forty dragons filled the cave, most of them as large as Morrowseer.

  There was a clear spot on the cave walls, though, right across from him. It looked like a circle had been carved into the rock, as wide across as Starflight’s wingspan, and then jabbed full of small holes, none of them bigger than a dragon’s eye.

  The other dragons kept glancing at this circle as if waiting for it to do something.

  On a ledge beside the circle perched a dragon with a scar rippling down her chest. Her wings drooped in an odd way, as if they were weighted down with rocks, and she wore a cluster of diamonds around her neck. Another chain of smaller teardrop diamonds was wound around the horns on her head.

  But that can’t be the queen, Starflight thought. She didn’t have authority in her bones. She didn’t radiate power all the way through her wing tips like the other queens he’d met.

  It took him only a moment of puzzling this out before he realized that there was someone behind the screen, staring through those holes at him. A chill sliced through his scales. Nobody could see her, but her presence filled the cave like heavy smoke.

  The queen of the NightWings.

  The scrolls always referred to her as mysterious and unknown, but Starflight hadn’t imagined that she would keep herself hidden even from her own tribe.

  Why?

  Because it’s extra-terrifying, he answered himself.

  “This is him?” barked one of the dragons.

  “Yes,” Morrowseer growled. “We snatched him from the rainforest this morning.”

  Wings rustled uneasily all around the cave.

  “Has he told us anything?” asked another dragon. “You, dragonet. What do they know? What are they planning?”

  “How soon will they attack?” growled another.

  “And how did that RainWing escape?” another one shouted as several dragons began to speak at once. “We’ve heard reports that there was a MudWing with her. A MudWing! How did he get here? Why didn’t we kill them before they got away?”

  They’re talking about Glory and Clay, Starflight thought with a shudder.

  “That was the RainWing I warned you about,” Morrowseer snarled. “The one the Talons of Peace got to replace the SkyWing they lost.” He spat into the lava. “This is exactly why I told them to kill her.”

  “A RainWing, of all things,” said the dragon with the diamonds. “Those fools.”

  “Who knows what she saw?” cried another dragon. “If she warns the RainWings what we’re planning —”

  “She can’t possibly know that,” Morrowseer said.

  “She knows about the tunnel between our kingdoms,” challenged a dragon from the far wall. “And that little one escaped with her. She’ll have told her everything she saw in the fortress. What if they figure it out from there?”

  A clamor of voices filled the cave. Starflight looked down at his talons and wished they weren’t shaking so much. He was half-afraid that he’d tremble himself off balance and into the lava, but that wasn’t even in the top twenty things he was worrying about right now.

  He glanced up at the screen where the queen was hidden. She hadn’t spoken at all yet. But he could feel her watching; from the way his skin prickled, he thought she hadn’t taken her eyes off him since he’d entered the cave.

  All at once, the dragon with the diamonds leaned toward the screen, tilting her head.

  A hush fell instantly around the room. Nothing moved except the bloop-bloop of bubbles in the lava. Every NightWing present seemed to be holding his or her breath.

  Starflight didn’t hear anything — no queen’s voice issuing regally from her hiding spot — but the diamond dragon nodded and straightened up again.

  “Queen Battlewinner says to shut up and ask him.” To his horror, she pointed at Starflight. “That’s why he’s here. Make him tell us what the RainWing knows and what’s she’s planning.”

  The listening dragons all swiveled their heads toward him.

  Falling into the lava suddenly sounded like a pretty great option.

  “Um,” Starflight stammered several times. “I — I — um —”

  “Speak or I kill you right now,” Morrowseer growled behind him.

  Starflight pressed his front talons together and took a deep breath. “Her name is Glory,” he blurted.

  The dragons all hissed. This was not something they cared about.

  “She — she said you have RainWing prisoners.” Please tell me she’s wrong. Tell me it’s all a mistake.

  But no one corrected him.

  Should he tell them Glory’s plan? That she was trying to become queen of the RainWings so she could build an army to come rescue their lost dragons? That they shouldn’t underestimate her?

  Would he be betraying his friends if he said all that to the NightWings?

  Or would he be betraying his tribe if he didn’t?

  The close, smoky air of the cave pressed down around Starflight.

  What if I can fix everything?

  This is the chance you wanted. You asked Glory to let you talk to the NightWings. You wanted to give them a chance to explain themselves — you wanted to find a peaceful solution, so you wouldn’t have to pick sides in a war.

  But now that he was here, facing their dark eyes, he couldn’t find any of the brilliant words he’d meant to use.

  Suddenly, one of the nearest dragons snapped, “Just tell us if they’re planning an attack!”

  “Yes,” Starflight blurted. “I mean — I think so.”

  This met with such an uproar that Starflight had to sit down and cover his head with his wings. Surely he’d said the worst possible thing. He’d made everything worse for Glory and the RainWings, and he couldn’t even bring himself to speak up and try that famous “diplomacy” he’d always thought was such a good idea.

  They wouldn’t listen to me anyway, he told himself, but he didn’t know if that was true. He wasn’t brave enough to find out.

  Text copyright © 2013 by Tui T. Sutherland

  Map and Border design © 2013 by Mike Schley

  Dragon illustrations © 2013 by Joy Ang

  All rights reserved. Published by Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., Publishers since 1920. SCHOLASTIC, SCHOLASTIC PRESS, and associated logos are trademarks and/or registered trademarks of Scholastic Inc.

  e-ISBN 978-0-545-54028-5

  First printing, June 2013

  Cover design by Phil Falco

  All rights reserv
ed under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this publication may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the publisher. For information regarding permission, write to Scholastic Inc., Attention: Permissions Department, 557 Broadway, New York, NY 10012.

 


 

  Tui T. Sutherland, The Hidden Kingdom

 


 

 
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