The dragonet prophecy, p.3
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       The Dragonet Prophecy, p.3

           Tui T. Sutherland
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If it weren’t for Glory, Clay thought, none of them would know how many colors there were in the world. He wondered what it must be like in the rain forest, where there was a whole tribe of dragons that beautiful.

  “Shush,” Tsunami scolded. “Now, obviously I’d be the best queen, but let’s make Sunny the queen, since she is a real SandWing.” She bustled over and pushed Sunny into the center of the cave.

  “Well, sort of,” Glory muttered under her breath.

  “Hsst.” Starflight flicked her with his tail. None of the dragonets ever talked about why Sunny didn’t look like a regular SandWing. Clay’s guess was that her egg had been taken from the sand too early. Maybe SandWing eggs needed the sun and desert sand to keep them warm until hatching, or else they’d come out half baked and funny looking — although personally he thought Sunny looked just fine.

  Tsunami tapped her talons on the cave floor, studying her friends. “Clay, you want to play the scavenger?”

  “That’s hardly fair,” Starflight pointed out. “He’s twice Sunny’s size. A real scavenger would be smaller than her, according to this scroll over here. It says that scavengers have no scales, no wings, and no tail, and they walk on two legs, which sounds very unstable to me. I bet they fall over all the time. They like treasure nearly as much as dragons do. The scrolls say scavengers attack lone dragons and steal —”

  “OH MY GOSH, WE KNOW,” Glory snapped. “We were all here for the fascinating lectures about them. Don’t make me come down there and bite you, Starflight.”

  “I’d like to meet a real scavenger!” Clay said. “I’d rip off its head! And eat it!” He pounded his front talons on the stone below him. “I bet it would taste better than the mouthfuls of feathers Kestrel keeps bringing us.”

  “Poor, hungry Clay,” Sunny teased.

  “When we’re free, we’ll go find a scavenger nest and eat all of them,” Tsunami promised, nudging Clay with one wing.

  Sunny blinked at her. “When we’re free?”

  Oops. Tsunami and Clay exchanged glances. Sunny was sweet and trusting and absolutely terrible at keeping secrets.

  “I mean, after we fulfill the prophecy, of course,” Tsunami said. “Clay, be the scavenger. Here, this can be your claw.” She swung her long tail in an arc and smashed a stalagmite loose. Shards of rock flew across the cave, and the other dragonets ducked.

  Clay hefted the sharp rock spear in his claws and grinned wickedly at Sunny.

  “Don’t actually hurt me,” she said nervously.

  “Of course he won’t,” Tsunami said. “We’re just acting it out. And the rest of us will be the princesses. I’ll be Burn, Glory can be Blister, and Starflight will be Blaze.”

  “I had to be a princess last time, too,” Starflight observed. “I’m not sure I like this game.” He stretched his wings and the scattered silver scales underneath glittered like stars in the night sky.

  “It’s not a game, it’s history,” Tsunami said. “And if we had any other friends, we could play it differently. But there are three sand dragon princesses, so you have to be one, so stop complaining.”

  Starflight shrugged and settled back into the shadows, the way he always did when he couldn’t win a fight.

  “All right, go ahead,” Tsunami said, hopping onto the ledge next to Glory.

  “Um,” Sunny said. She eyed Clay warily. “Right. Here I go, la la la, Queen Oasis of the SandWings. I’m so very important and, uh — royal — and stuff.”

  Tsunami sighed. Glory and Starflight hid their smiles.

  “I’ve been queen for ages and ages,” Sunny went on. She strutted across the cave floor. “No one dares challenge me for my throne! I am the strongest SandWing queen who ever lived!”

  “Don’t forget the treasure,” Tsunami hissed, pointing at a pile of loose rocks.

  “Oh, right,” Sunny said. “It’s probably because of all my treasure! I have so much treasure because I’m such an important queen!” She swept the rocks toward her and gathered them between her talons.

  “Did someone say treasure?” Clay bellowed, leaping out from behind a large rock formation. Sunny yelped with fright.

  “No!” Tsunami called. “You’re not scared! You’re Queen Oasis, the big, bad queen of the sand dragons.”

  “R-right,” Sunny said. “Rargh! What is this tiny scavenger doing in the Kingdom of Sand? I am not afraid of tiny scavengers! I shall go out there and eat him in one bite!”

  Glory started giggling so hard she had to lie down and cover her face with her wings. Even Tsunami was making faces like she was trying not to laugh.

  Clay swung his stalagmite in a circle. “Squeak squeak squeak!” he shouted. “And other annoying scavenger noises! I’m here to steal treasure away from a magnificent dragon!”

  “Not from me, you won’t,” Sunny said, bristling. She stamped forward, spread her wings, and raised her tail threateningly. Without the poisonous barb other SandWings had, Sunny’s tail was not very menacing. But nobody pointed that out.

  “Yaaaaaaah!” Clay shouted, lunging forward with his rock claw. Sunny darted out of the way, and they circled each other, feinting and jabbing. This was Clay’s favorite part. When Sunny forgot about trying to act queenly and focused on the battle, she was fun to fight. Her small size made it easy for her to dodge and slip under his defenses.

  But in the end Queen Oasis had to lose — that was how the story went. Clay drove Sunny back against the wall of the cave and thrust the fake claw between her neck and her wing, pretending it went right through her heart.

  “Aaaaaaaargh,” Sunny howled. “Impossible! A queen defeated by a lowly scavenger! The kingdom will fall apart! Oh, my treasure … my lovely treasure . . .” She collapsed to the ground and let her wings flop lifelessly on either side of her.

  “Ha ha ha!” Clay said. “And squeak squeak! The treasure is mine!” He scooped up all the rocks and paraded away, lashing his tail proudly.

  “Our turn,” Tsunami said, jumping off the ledge. She hurried over to Sunny, clasped her talons together, and let out a cry of anguish. “Oh, no! Our mother is dead, and the treasure is gone. But worst of all, none of us killed her — so who should be queen now?”

  “I was about to challenge her,” Glory cried. She flapped her wings dramatically. “I would have fought her to the death for the throne. I should be queen!”

  “No, I should be queen!” Tsunami insisted. “I am the eldest and biggest and would have challenged her first!”

  They both turned to look at Starflight, hidden in the shadows. The black dragon looked as if he was trying to become even more invisible.

  “Come on, Starflight,” Tsunami said. “Don’t be a lazy —” She caught herself just before saying “RainWing.” The teachers said things like that all the time: “If you don’t study, you’re no better than a RainWing”; “What’s the matter, someone replace your brains with a RainWing’s?”; “Still sleeping? Anyone would think you were a RainWing!” (That last one was mostly for Clay.)

  But the dragonets all knew Glory hated it, no matter how much she pretended she didn’t care. It also seemed really unfair. Glory was the only RainWing any of them had ever met, and she studied and trained harder than anyone else.

  “Er … dragon,” Tsunami finished awkwardly, with a quick glance at Glory. “Starflight, get out here.”

  The NightWing shuffled forward and looked down at Sunny, who had her eyes scrunched shut. “Oh dear, oh dear,” he said. “Well, now I should be queen. As the youngest princess, I could have the longest reign. That would be good for the SandWings. Also . . .” He paused and gave a long-suffering sigh. “Also, I am by far the prettiest.”

  Sunny giggled, and Tsunami poked her to keep still. Clay swept his treasure rocks into a pile and sat on them.

  “I should kill you both right now,” Glory snarled.

/>   “You and what army?” Tsunami taunted her.

  Glory stretched her neck up and bared her teeth. “That’s a great idea. I’ll go get an army — an army of SeaWings — and then you’ll be sorry.”

  “You’re not the only one who can make alliances,” Tsunami said. “I’ll get the SkyWings on my side. And the MudWings! Then we’ll see who wins this war!”

  There was a pause. They both looked at Starflight again.

  “Uh, yeah,” he said. “You do that, and I’ll ally myself with the IceWing army. Also, by the way, most of the SandWings want me to be their queen.”

  “They do?” Sunny said, opening her eyes. “Who says?”

  “Stop talking,” Tsunami said, poking her with one talon. “You’re dead.”

  “There are lots of recent scrolls about it,” Starflight explained pompously. “Blaze is very popular with her own tribe.”

  “So why can’t she be queen?” Sunny asked. “If that’s who they want?”

  “Because Burn is bigger and scarier and could crush her like a bug if they actually fought claw to claw,” Glory chimed in. “And Blister — that’s me — is smarter than both of them put together. She knew she couldn’t kill Burn in a regular duel. It was her idea to involve all the other tribes and turn their SandWing throne battle into a world war. She’s probably waiting for the other two to kill each other.”

  “Which one do we want to be queen?” Sunny asked. “We get to pick, right? When we fulfill the prophecy?”

  “None of them,” Starflight said gloomily. “Blaze is about as smart as a concussed sheep, Blister is most likely plotting to become queen of all the tribes somehow, and if Burn wins, she’ll probably keep the war going just for fun. They’re all pretty nasty. I guess we’ll see what the Talons of Peace decide.”

  “The Talons of Peace don’t get to decide,” Tsunami said, bristling. “They only think they’re in charge of us.”

  “We can still hear them out,” Starflight argued. “They want what’s best for us and Pyrrhia.”

  “Easy for you to say,” Glory snapped. The ruff around her neck flared orange. “You weren’t stolen from your home. The NightWings were pretty eager to hand over your egg, weren’t they?” Starflight flinched as if she’d burned him.

  “Boring!” Clay shouted from his pile of rocks. “Stop fighting with each other! Come fight me for this treasure instead!”

  “No one knows what the scavenger did with the sand dragon treasure,” Starflight said in his “top of the class” voice, turning away from Glory. “Among other things, he stole the Lazulite Dragon, the gold SandWing scepter, and the Eye of Onyx, which had been in the SandWing treasury for hundreds of years.”

  Clay stamped his feet. Starflight’s lectures always made his scales itch. “I just want to fight somebody!” he said. Somebody who wasn’t trying to beat him into a violent rage, preferably.

  As if the thought had summoned her, Kestrel suddenly loomed in the entrance of the cave.

  “WHAT is going on in here?” Kestrel’s booming voice made all five dragonets jump to attention. Sunny slipped as she tried to scramble to her feet, and Starflight jumped forward to catch her.

  The enormous red SkyWing slithered into the cave, glaring down at them. “This doesn’t look like studying,” she hissed.

  “We’re s-s-s-sorry,” Sunny stammered.

  “No, we’re not.” Tsunami shot the SandWing a glare. “We were studying. We were acting out the death of the queen that started the whole war.”

  “You mean play-acting,” Kestrel growled. “You are too old for games.”

  “When were we ever young enough for games?” Glory muttered.

  “It wasn’t a game,” Tsunami said. “It was a different way of learning the history. What’s wrong with that?”

  “And now you’re talking back,” Kestrel said. She looked smug, as she always did when Tsunami got in trouble. “That means no sleeping in the river tonight.” Tsunami scowled. Kestrel tapped the pile of scrolls by the entrance with one claw. “The rest of you, learn from the SeaWing’s mistakes and study the correct way.”

  “That’s not fair.” Clay spoke up as Kestrel turned to go, even though it made his heart pound. “We were all doing the same thing. We should all be punished.” Glory shook her head at him, but beside him, Sunny nodded.

  Kestrel stared down at Clay. “I know who the ringleader was. Cut off the head, and the problem goes away.”

  “You’re going to cut off Tsunami’s head?” Sunny squeaked.

  Glory sighed. “It’s a metaphor, featherbrain.”

  “Now go to bed,” Kestrel said. She turned and swept out of the cave, knocking over Starflight’s neat stacks of scrolls as she went.

  Clay nudged Tsunami’s dark blue shoulder with his snout. “Sorry. We tried.”

  “I know, thanks,” Tsunami said, brushing her wing against his. “Hey, Sunny, would you mind taking those scrolls back to our sleeping cave?”

  The small gold dragon brightened. “Sure, I can do that!” She hurried to the entrance, gathered the scattered scrolls in her front talons, and whisked out of the cave.

  “I can’t stand this much longer,” Tsunami said as soon as Sunny was gone. “We have to get out of here, and soon.”

  Clay glanced at Glory and Starflight, who didn’t look surprised. “You talked to them about it?”

  “Of course,” Tsunami said. “I needed their help figuring out an escape plan.” Clay couldn’t help but notice that she hadn’t asked him for any escape plan ideas. Even the dragons who liked him thought he was pretty useless.

  “I’m not sure we’re ready,” Starflight said, wrinkling his forehead. “There’s so much we haven’t learned yet. . . .”

  “That’s what the teachers want us to think!” Tsunami’s blue scales shifted as she shook herself from head to tail. “But we’ll never know until we get out of these horrible caves and see the world for ourselves.”

  “What about the prophecy?” Clay asked. “Shouldn’t we wait two more years?”

  “I don’t see why,” Glory said. “I’m with Tsunami. Destiny is destiny, right? So whatever we do must be the right thing. We don’t need a bunch of ancient dragons telling us how to save the world. They’re not in the prophecy.”

  “When do we tell Sunny?” Starflight asked, glancing at the cave’s dark opening.

  “Not until the last minute,” Tsunami said fiercely. “You know she can’t keep a secret. Starflight, promise you won’t say anything to her.”

  “I won’t, I won’t,” he said. “She’s not going to like it, though. She thinks everything is great here.”

  “Of course she does,” Tsunami said. “She doesn’t care that we get treated like cracked eggs even though we’re supposed to be the key to peace or whatever.”

  “She cares,” Starflight said defensively. “She just doesn’t whine about it.”

  “Yowch,” said Glory.

  Tsunami whirled to glare at Starflight, her gills pulsing. “Say that to my face.”

  “I am saying it to your face,” he said. “Or was I saying it to your rear end? It’s easy to get the two confused.” He ducked behind Clay before Tsunami could even bare her teeth at him.

  “Hey, stop. Quit snarling at each other like mini Kestrels,” Clay said, standing up to keep his bulk between Tsunami and Starflight. “Nobody’s happy here. Sunny deals with it differently, that’s all. But remember what we decided — we five stick together or else everything gets worse, right?”

  Starflight hunched his wings forward, muttering.

  “Clay’s right,” Glory said. “The last thing we want is to be like Kestrel or Webs or Dune.”

  Tsunami hissed for a moment, then shook herself. “All right, I know. I’m trying. But this place is slowly killing me,” she said. Cl
ay shivered at the fierce look on her face. He would not want to be the dragon standing in her way.

  “As soon as we have a plan, we go,” Tsunami said, looking them each in the eye. “Let’s see them force our destiny on us when they can’t find us anymore.”

  Suddenly there was a thundering crash from the central cave. Clay heard the entrance boulder slam back into place, and then the rumble of heavy footsteps. From the extra squish-flap sound of them, he knew that it must be Webs.

  “Something’s happening,” Tsunami said. She hurried to the door, her ears twitching and the spiny ridge along her back standing straight up. “We have to go listen.”

  Starflight spread his wings slowly. “I’m sure we’ll find out what the fuss is in the morning.”

  “I don’t want to wait that long.” Tsunami spun around to jab his underbelly with her tail, and he tipped backward with a grunt. “Don’t be a smoke-breather! Let’s go!” She whirled out of the cave.

  Clay winced as his sore muscles sprang into action. He followed Glory to the central cave. Glory’s scales were already changing to match the mottled gray-and-black rocks. In a moment she’d be nearly impossible to see.

  Starflight slipped past to join her, and the two of them hurried away toward the tunnel that led to the big dragons’ cave. They vanished almost immediately into the shadows. Hidden by their coloring, they’d get as close as they could to eavesdrop.

  But Clay and Tsunami had an even better shot of hearing everything, if they hurried. Tsunami was already charging across the cave to the river.

  “What about Sunny?” Clay called quietly. He could hear the little SandWing rummaging around in her sleeping cave, putting scrolls away.

  “We’ll come up with something to tell her later,” Tsunami hissed back.

  Clay felt sorry that Sunny was the only one who didn’t know about their spying games, but they’d learned their lesson about trusting her with secrets years ago. Sunny hadn’t meant to tell Dune about the pile of rocks the dragonets were collecting. Their plan was to build a tower to the sky hole, back when they were too small to fly. They’d only wanted to stick their heads out and look around. But one day Sunny forgot to be careful around Dune, and the next day all the collected rocks were gone from their hiding place. That was the end of that plan — and of Sunny getting to know anything.

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