The lost heir, p.4
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       The Lost Heir, p.4

           Tui T. Sutherland
 
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  “When, exactly, do you imagine I said all this?” Tsunami demanded. “Shortly after you attacked me, perhaps?”

  The other dragon touched his snout gently and winced. “You were the only one doing any attacking,” he said. “I was being friendly after what you said.”

  “Stop,” Tsunami said. Maybe she’d misunderstood his actions. Maybe his approach had been a SeaWing greeting ritual she didn’t know. In which case . . . his poor snout. She winced guiltily. Perhaps she shouldn’t have gotten defensive so quickly. “Tell me exactly what you think I said.”

  He sighed. “I said, ‘What are you doing all the way out here?’ and you said —” He paused, rubbing his front talons against his head. “You said, ‘Hey, sparkling teeth, I totally love three of your claws but not the others, and I wish your nose was a herring so I could eat it, and also your wings sound like sharks snoring.’ ”

  Tsunami burst out laughing.

  “All right, I get it,” she said, although she didn’t really. Did all SeaWings have a strange sense of humor? Would she have to develop one, too? “You’re making this up.”

  He stared at her. “Are you seriously going to pretend you didn’t say any of that?”

  “Of course I didn’t,” Tsunami said. Maybe he wasn’t kidding. Maybe he was mentally unbalanced. “I didn’t say anything at all — we were underwater, remember?”

  The strange dragon hovered for several wingbeats, glowing stripes lighting up along his blue scales. His face slowly went from confused to angry as he frowned at her.

  “Who are you?” he demanded.

  “I’m a SeaWing,” she said hotly. “Just like you, so no need to get hostile.”

  “A SeaWing who doesn’t speak Aquatic?” he growled. “Not likely. What are you really? How did you make yourself look like a SeaWing?”

  Tsunami’s heart sank. Aquatic?

  SeaWings have their own language?

  Of course they do, she realized. It felt like the tide was going out inside her, leaving nothing but stretches of bare sand. And of course nobody ever bothered to teach it to me. Just one more creative way the Talons found to ruin my life.

  Why hadn’t she thought of that before? Three moons, she was as thick as Clay. The dragons of the sea had a whole palace underwater — of course they needed a way to communicate down there. They couldn’t just pop to the surface every time they needed to chat.

  She glanced down at her webbed talons and remembered the gestures she’d seen the two SeaWings making while their luminescent stripes flashed. Talon signals and glowing stripes — she must have said all that nonsense with her stripes without realizing it.

  But how can I be queen of the SeaWings if I don’t even speak their language?

  And why didn’t anyone ever tell me about this?

  Clay had never met a dragon of his own kind before. That’s why he knew nothing about MudWings. But Tsunami didn’t have that excuse: one of the guardians who’d raised them had been a SeaWing.

  So why, why, had Webs never taught her the SeaWing language or even told her they had one?

  All those scrolls about SeaWings . . . now that she thought about it, there was plenty of dialogue in the underwater scenes, like in The Missing Princess when the lost daughter found her parents. Tsunami had always assumed that was a storytelling technique, not an actual underwater language.

  She looked up and met the SeaWing’s dark blue eyes. His head was tilted curiously.

  “You don’t look guilty,” he observed. “You look sad. And I imagine it would be hard to fake those.” He nodded at the webs between her claws. “So where did you come from, and what’s wrong with you?”

  Tsunami bristled. “There’s nothing wrong with me,” she snapped. “I just happen to have been raised by idiot —”

  His gaze suddenly shifted behind her. “Look out!” he yelled. His tail whipped around and slammed into her, knocking her aside. She spun toward the water, dizzy and shocked. Her wings brushed the ocean waves as she righted herself and turned around.

  The strange SeaWing was grappling with Clay up in the sky.

  Tsunami gasped. The SeaWing was full-grown, bigger than Clay, and he was not afraid to lash out with teeth, tail, and claws. But she could tell Clay was holding back, worried about hurting a possible ally. He ducked his head between his front talons and tried to dive away, but the SeaWing seized Clay’s tail and dug his talons viciously into Clay’s scales. Clay howled with pain.

  The other dragon started to drag him down to the ocean, where he would have all the underwater advantages of SeaWings, and Clay would eventually drown.

  “Clay!” Sunny shrieked, launching herself out of the cliff-side cave.

  Tsunami got there first. She smacked the SeaWing over the head with her tail, seized his wing in her talons, and yanked him away from Clay when he turned around in surprise. He tried to spin around her to get back to his prey, but she blocked him with her wings and lashed out at his snout again. He flinched back, and that was enough time for Clay to scramble out of reach.

  “What are you doing?” the SeaWing yelled at Tsunami. “I’m saving you from that MudWing!”

  “Well, don’t!” Tsunami yelled back. “He’s my friend!”

  “But —”

  Sunny slammed into the back of the SeaWing, landing between his wings and wrapping her talons around his neck. “Leave him alone!” she panted.

  The SeaWing looked more astonished than alarmed. He wriggled his shoulders and twisted his neck, trying to see what was on his back. Sunny kicked his wing, and he yelped.

  “That’s my other friend,” Tsunami said. “Sunny, try not to hurt him too badly. We need his help.”

  “I hardly think this gnat is going to hurt me,” the SeaWing growled.

  Sunny kicked him again. “Promise me you won’t attack Clay,” she said.

  His eyes went to the brown dragon circling just above them. Clay rubbed his head anxiously.

  “The MudWings are our enemies,” the SeaWing snarled at Tsunami. “If you don’t know that, then you’d better leave the Bay of a Thousand Scales before Queen Coral’s army finds you and does what they always do to traitors.”

  “I’m not a traitor,” Tsunami said. “And Clay is not your enemy.” She glanced up at him, then back at the SeaWing. “You’d better learn some respect, squid-brain. We’re the dragonets of destiny.”

  “Riptide,” Sunny said again. “That’s a funny name.”

  “I like it,” Tsunami said. “Fierce and scary, like mine.”

  Riptide was pacing the beach, lashing his tail in a long swooshing trail through the sand. His sky-blue scales glinted metallically in the morning light. He had claw-mark scars along his pale underbelly and what looked like an old bite mark on his tail. Tsunami was pretty sure he was only a couple years older than she was. The scratches she’d given his snout had finally stopped bleeding. She hoped those wouldn’t leave scars, too — he had a very handsome snout when it wasn’t all clawed up.

  “All right,” he said. “So the Talons of Peace are real.”

  “Unfortunately,” Glory muttered.

  Riptide glanced at her, and Tsunami felt a weird tingle of jealousy run through her scales. Glory had found a large rock to perch on, spreading her wings open to the sun, and her scales were shimmering silver and rose.

  “I thought everyone knew about the Talons,” Sunny said.

  “Just rumors and whispers,” said Riptide. “None of the tribe queens would be pleased to find a member of the peace movement in their midst. Conspiring with other tribes? Stealing eggs?” He shook his head. “Queen Coral would kill any dragon she found working with the Talons.” He gave Tsunami a searching look she didn’t understand.

  Clay was sitting with his tail in the water. He had muddy sand packed over the spot where Riptide had clawed him. Sunny sat next to him, giving Riptide fierce looks whenever he paced too close to Clay.

  “And you’re the dragonets of destiny. For real. The ones in the prophecy. T
hat’s real.” Riptide stopped, inhaled deeply, and blew out again. “And you’re here. In SeaWing territory. Just like —” He glanced at Tsunami again, then went back to pacing.

  “I know it’s thrilling,” Tsunami said. “But we’re really looking for somewhere safe to go. The Talons of Peace treated us terribly, and I figured the SeaWings would welcome and protect us.”

  “I suppose,” Riptide said not very reassuringly. “So you were all raised in a cave?” He stopped in front of Tsunami. “With no ocean? Never? You never went into the ocean?”

  This seemed to be the hardest part for him to believe. “Not until we escaped,” Tsunami said.

  “But that’s awful,” said Riptide.

  “Thank you,” Tsunami said, flaring her wings. “I know it was. I’ve always said our life was miserable, but these dragons keep arguing with me.”

  “Not me,” Glory said.

  “I can’t believe the Talons did that to you,” Riptide said, clawing the sand.

  “Tell me about it,” Tsunami said. “They really are the worst.”

  “Even Webs — Webs didn’t take you to the ocean?” Riptide asked.

  “You know about Webs?” Sunny asked.

  Riptide ducked his head and frowned at his talons. “He’s pretty infamous in the tribe. We all know he deserted during a battle, and later he came back and stole one of the queen’s eggs. At least, Queen Coral was sure it was him. But nobody knew if he stole it for the Talons of Peace or for his own reasons. We’re not really supposed to talk about the Talons of Peace rumors.”

  “Didn’t anyone think he might have stolen the egg to be part of the prophecy?” Starflight asked.

  Riptide nodded. “Some of us did. But again, nobody talked about it. Queen Blister doesn’t like hearing about the prophecy, so that’s also been a forbidden topic.”

  Tsunami wrinkled her snout. “Blister gets to decide what SeaWings can talk about?”

  Riptide shifted uncomfortably and picked up a large conch shell. He twisted it between his talons. “You’ll want to call her Queen Blister when you meet her,” he said.

  “Not until we decide she should be queen,” Tsunami said stoutly. “That’s up to us, remember?”

  It looked for a moment like Riptide was trying not to smile.

  “Well,” Starflight stammered, “she is a pretty good — I mean, she’s the smart one — I think we’ll probably —”

  Tsunami tilted her head at him. What was he rattling on about? He snapped his mouth shut and went back to picking sand out of his scales.

  “Did you know Webs?” Clay asked Riptide.

  The SeaWing dropped his gaze. “Not really. He ran away during a battle when I was only two years old. But I’ve been hearing about his treachery my whole life.” He sighed. “I really can’t believe he never took you to the ocean in all that time.”

  “It’s true,” Tsunami said. “And he never taught me Aquatic. I wish I had all the Talons of Peace here so I could bite them.”

  “To be fair, the Talons were just keeping us safe,” Sunny interjected. “They needed us to survive to fulfill the prophecy.”

  Tsunami snorted, and Sunny gave her an injured look.

  “But the prophecy,” Riptide said. He pointed at Glory. “It calls for a SkyWing. She’s not a SkyWing.”

  “It’s a little complicated,” Tsunami said as a hint of sea green rippled across Glory’s scales. “Anyway, I’m not sure we really care about the prophecy. But we do care about finding the families we were stolen from.”

  “I care about the prophecy!” Sunny protested. She poked Clay’s side, and he nodded agreeably.

  Starflight cleared his throat, but Tsunami hurried on before he could start lecturing again. His egg hadn’t been stolen; the NightWings had handed it right over. So maybe he didn’t care about getting home, but she certainly did.

  “Only a few days ago, I found out I was stolen from the Royal Hatchery,” Tsunami said. “So . . . so I thought maybe my parents were looking for me. Like in The Missing Princess? Do you know that scroll?”

  Riptide definitely squashed a smile this time. “I do,” he said. “It’s required reading in school.”

  “School,” Starflight said in the wistful tones Clay used to talk about food.

  “Required reading?” Tsunami echoed. That was odd. It was a fairy tale, not a historical document. And not, perhaps, the best-written scroll she’d ever read, although it was still one of her favorites because of the story.

  “But I can’t take you to the palace,” Riptide said firmly. “Not with him along.” He jerked his head at Clay.

  “Weren’t you listening?” Tsunami said, exasperated. “He’s not a regular MudWing. He’s certainly not allied with Burn or the SkyWings. You can trust him.”

  “Perhaps you should stay here,” Riptide suggested, “and I’ll bring Queen Coral back to you.” He glanced across the water at the other island, where he’d met the green dragon with the black spiral patterns. Tsunami wondered if he was wishing for reinforcements.

  “Nope,” she said. “We’re all coming with you.”

  “I’m in enough trouble with Queen Coral,” Riptide protested. “That’s why I’m stuck patrolling all the way out here. If I bring a MudWing back to the palace, I might as well pull out my own teeth.”

  “Ew!” Sunny cried. “That’s not a real punishment, is it?”

  Tsunami didn’t want to know the answer to that. She wanted to meet her mother without images of horrible things in her head. “Think of it this way,” she said quickly. “What happens if Queen Coral finds out you met her missing daughter and didn’t bring her back to the palace?”

  Riptide squirmed and wrinkled his snout. “Can’t I bring you and leave the others?” he asked. “At least until Queen Coral gives her permission?”

  “No,” she said stoutly. “We all go together. She’ll understand once she realizes we’re the dragonets of destiny.”

  Riptide sighed. “All right, but he has to be blindfolded.” He looked at the other three, rubbing his chin. “It’d be better if they could all be blindfolded.”

  “What am I going to do?” Glory asked. “Round up some scary RainWings to come sleep on your roof? I thought no one was afraid of my tribe.”

  “We’re not,” Riptide objected. “Afraid of RainWings. Pffft. What a thing to say.”

  More streaks of pale green appeared along Glory’s scales and then faded away. “Wonderful,” she said. “So no blindfold for me, then.” She tossed her head and turned back to the ocean.

  Riptide looked doubtfully at Starflight and Sunny.

  “The NightWings know every thing,” Starflight said loftily. “It’s no use trying to keep secrets from them. I mean, us. I could just use my powers to figure out where your palace is.”

  Tsunami rolled her eyes. Starflight had no powers whatsoever, as far as any of the dragonets knew. But if he wanted the SeaWings to think he did, maybe that could be useful eventually.

  “Please don’t argue with him,” Tsunami said to Riptide. “Once he starts yammering on about how amazing NightWings are, we’ll never get him to shut up.”

  Starflight ruffled his wings in outrage. Riptide muttered something under his breath and started poking around in the shallow water below the rocks.

  “You can blindfold me,” Sunny offered. “I don’t mind.”

  “If you do that, she can ride on my back,” Tsunami suggested. She missed having the little SandWing come lean against her trustingly. Sunny was still acting jumpy and ner vous around her, four whole days after her fight with the SkyWing soldier, as if Tsunami might suddenly attack someone out of nowhere, for no reason.

  “Or my back,” Starflight jumped in quickly. Tsunami frowned at him. Why was he trying so hard to take her place?

  “You think you’re strong enough?” she challenged.

  “Sure he is,” Sunny said. “I’ll ride with him, and you can lead Clay.”

  Well, fine, then, Tsunami thought. I guess everyo
ne’s giving the orders now.

  Riptide came stomping back with several long strands of thick black seaweed. Sunny immediately looked like she was regretting her offer. But she let the big SeaWing wrap the seaweed tightly around her head, covering her closed eyes.

  “Ew,” she said, shivering. “It’s all wet and slimy.”

  “I like wet and slimy,” Clay said, ducking his head to make it easier for Riptide to blindfold him.

  “That’s weird, Clay,” said Glory.

  Riptide’s attention was focused on plastering seaweed all over Clay’s broad head. When he was done, it looked more like an octopus trying to eat Clay’s brain than a blindfold. But of course, Clay didn’t complain. He never complained about anything except being hungry. It was one of the things Tsunami loved about him.

  Tsunami helped Sunny climb awkwardly onto Starflight’s back, balancing in the narrow space between his wings. The SandWing was small, but Starflight wasn’t as burly as Tsunami or Clay.

  “If you can’t handle it, tell me and I’ll take her,” Tsunami said to him.

  Starflight nodded, breathing deeply. His wings curled in, and he shivered as Sunny lay down, rested her head on his neck, and clasped her forearms trustingly around his shoulders.

  Tsunami turned to Clay and brushed one of his wing tips with hers.

  “Can you feel that?” she asked. “If I do that in the air, can you stay with me?”

  “I think so,” Clay said doubtfully.

  “I’ll fly on your other side,” Glory said, hopping down from her rock. She reached up and nudged his other wing. “That way we can steer you together.”

  Clay shook his head a little and a loose flap of seaweed went glop flop against his neck. “This is really strange,” he said. “It’s as dark as the underground river. Only with breathing, so, better. I’m in favor of breathing. Definitely better than not breathing.”

  “Just don’t go too fast. And listen to me,” Tsunami ordered.

  “To us,” Glory chimed in. “And we promise not to drown you.” She gave Tsunami an arch look.

  If I do decide to drown somebody, I know who’s at the top of my list, Tsunami thought, shooting a glare back at her. “All right, let’s go,” she said to Riptide.

 
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