The dragonet prophecy, p.5
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       The Dragonet Prophecy, p.5

           Tui T. Sutherland
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  “I’m tired,” Glory snapped. “And they all think I’m lazy anyway. Nothing I do can change that.”

  Clay knew Glory wasn’t lazy. She worked harder than everyone at battle training and learning the dragon war’s history, even though none of the big dragons ever noticed. She just had to nap in the middle of the day, probably for some RainWing reason. Although it didn’t seem to help: Glory was just as prickly and tired after napping as she was before.

  “Wake me if anything exciting happens,” Glory said. “But make sure it’s actually exciting, not Sunny-exciting.” She gave Sunny a friendly nudge with her snout, and the SandWing squeaked in protest.

  “I don’t think everything is exciting!” Sunny flapped her wings. “But you guys don’t think enough things are exciting.”

  “Think of it this way,” Glory said. “Time to leave the caves and fulfill the prophecy: exciting. You caught another weird-looking white crab in the river: not exciting. Got it?” She poked Sunny again, uncurled her tail, now fully blue, and slipped inside her sleeping cave.

  Sunny blinked at Clay.

  “I know,” he said. “That last crab was really weird looking.”

  “It was, wasn’t it?” she said.

  “I wouldn’t have minded if you’d woken me up to see it,” Clay added kindly.

  “Well, good,” she said. “I know. That’s why you got to eat half of it instead of anyone else.” She headed for her favorite stalagmite and started to climb it, hooking her claws in the holes that dotted the bulbous shape.

  Clay clambered up the rocks beside her. “Hey, Sunny,” he said. “What would you think about running away?”

  She paused and looked at him with shocked green eyes. “You mean leaving the caves? Without our guardians? Oh, no, we couldn’t. We have to do what the prophecy says.”

  “Do we?” he asked. “I mean, we do,” he said quickly as she nearly lost her grip on the stalagmite in surprise. “But what if the Talons don’t understand the prophecy any better than we do? Maybe we need to get out and stop the war our own way.”

  Sunny settled on top of the stalagmite and coiled her tail around it, balancing on her back legs. She reached up toward the stalactites that were poking sharply down from the top of the cave. “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Clay. If we just follow the prophecy, everything will be all right.” Her claws batted at the tip of the lowest stalactite, but she was still too small to reach it. She sat back down with a frustrated sigh.

  Clay glanced at the soft blue glow coming from Glory’s cave. Follow the prophecy. But he couldn’t help thinking that a real prophecy would have included Glory.

  What if the prophecy was wrong?

  It seemed like a long time later when Starflight finally slunk back into the main hall with Morrowseer close behind him. Clay couldn’t tell whether Starflight had told Morrowseer the truth — that he didn’t have visions or read minds. He was just ordinary, like the rest of the dragonets. But who would be brave enough to tell Morrowseer that?

  The enormous NightWing slithered off to the guardians’ cave without a word to Sunny or Clay. Starflight glanced at them, then turned and headed for his sleeping cave.

  Clay hurried after him.

  “What happened?” he asked. “What did he say to you?”

  “I’m not supposed to talk about it,” Starflight said stiffly. He sat down in the middle of their cave, his wings askew behind him, and started poking through the scrolls on the floor.

  “It’s over here,” Clay said, nudging a fat scroll with silver letters that had rolled under his sleeping ledge. Starflight hooked it over with one talon, tucked it under a wing, and carried it up to his ledge. He curled up with his tail draped over his nose and started reading.

  “Wow,” Clay said. “So it was that bad?” Tales of the NightWings was Starflight’s favorite scroll, and he always read it when he was upset or fighting with one of the other dragonets.

  The tip of Starflight’s tail twitched. “I have a lot to learn,” he said.

  “But you already know everything!” Clay said. “You have to be the smartest dragonet in all of Pyrrhia. Couldn’t he tell that by reading your mind?”

  Starflight didn’t answer.

  “I thought he liked you,” Clay said. “Surely he said something about what a great and noble dragon you must be because you’re a NightWing.”

  A long, tired breath whooshed out of Starflight’s snout. “Yeah,” he said. “That’s exactly what he told me, actually.”

  “Oh,” Clay said. “Well, that’s good, isn’t it? Did he say when you’ll get your powers?”

  Starflight fidgeted with the scroll, shredding a corner of it between his claws. Clay had never seen him upset enough to damage a scroll without noticing. He wished he could say something helpful, but he couldn’t think of a single useful thing to say about NightWings.

  “At least you’re not a RainWing,” he tried. “Did Morrowseer say anything about Glory?”

  Starflight frowned at him over the edge of the rock. “Not much. He said, ‘Don’t worry about the RainWing. I’ll take care of it.’ ”

  Clay felt a cold chill climb up through the stone floor and spread through his scales. “What does that mean? What’s he going to do?”

  “How should I know?” Starflight poked his nose back into the scroll. “Maybe she’ll get to go home. She’s probably the luckiest of all of us.”

  The pulse of fear pounding in Clay’s head disagreed. He couldn’t see the guardians just releasing Glory, not after all the years of secrecy.

  “We have to go spy on them,” he said, jumping to his feet. “We have to know what they’re planning.” He stopped halfway out of the cave and stamped one foot in frustration. “Oh, no, we can’t. Morrowseer will know we’re there.”

  “Right,” Starflight said. “He’ll hear you thinking all your big, loud, worried thoughts.”

  “You don’t know that my thoughts are loud and worried,” Clay said. “Maybe they’re quiet and very serene.”

  Starflight snorted with amusement, the first happy sound he’d made since Morrowseer showed up. Even through his worry, Clay was pleased.

  “What are you doing?” Sunny’s anxious voice echoed across the main hall. “What’s that for?” The heavy tread of dragon footsteps reached their ears, along with an ominous clanking. “Stop! Wait! You don’t have to do that!”

  There was an enormous splash.

  Clay raced into the big cave with Starflight close behind him. He skidded to a halt, horrified. Kestrel and Dune were standing on the bank of the river, holding a length of iron chain between their talons. Behind them, Morrowseer was holding Sunny back with his tail as the tiny golden dragon tried to climb over him.

  Webs emerged from the river, dragging a writhing, hissing ball of blue scales. Kestrel and Dune threw the chain around Tsunami’s neck and wrapped it around one of her legs. The three guardians hauled her over to one of the rock columns that stretched from the floor to the ceiling high above. Dune flung the chain around the column twice, binding Tsunami with barely three steps to move in any direction.

  Kestrel took the two ends of chain and blasted them with a bolt of flame. The metal melted into a bubbling mass, welded together.

  Tsunami was trapped.

  “Maybe some time away from the river will teach you to be grateful for what you have,” Kestrel growled.

  It all happened so fast, Clay didn’t have time to figure out what was happening, let alone stop it, before it was too late. He let out a yell of dismay and charged across the cavern.

  “Let her go!” He grabbed the chain and let go at once, hissing with pain at the searing heat.

  “You’ll regret this,” Tsunami snarled. She clawed at the chain around her back leg, but pulling on it tightened the loop around her neck. With a hiss, s
he stopped struggling. “When we’re free — when my family hears about this — when the rest of the world finds out how you treated the dragonets of destiny —”

  “All your big dreams of your wonderful family,” Kestrel mocked her. “They don’t care about you. When it’s time to fulfill the prophecy, you’ll be alive, and the Talons of Peace will have you, and that’s all that matters.”

  “Why are you doing this?” Sunny cried. “Tsunami’s the good one! She’s wonderful! If anyone can save the world, it’s her.”

  “Actually, tiny SandWing,” Morrowseer rumbled, “the dragonet you should believe in is Starflight over there.” He nodded at Starflight, still rooted in place by the sleeping cave. Starflight ducked his head. “NightWings are natural leaders. You do what he says, and you’ll be all right.”

  Clay glanced over at Starflight and saw Glory standing in the archway of her own sleeping cave. Morrowseer narrowed his eyes at her.

  “I’ll be back tomorrow,” he said to the guardians. “To make sure that everything has been … dealt with.”

  “We understand,” Kestrel said. Together she and Dune rolled the boulder aside. Morrowseer squeezed through the gap and disappeared into the blackness without a backward glance.

  “This is for your own good,” Webs said, stopping in front of Tsunami. She raked her talons at him, and he stepped back. “We only want to keep you safe. Maybe this isn’t the perfect way, but —”

  “But dragonets don’t know what’s best for them,” Dune said as the boulder thudded back into place. “You need us, whether you like it or not.”

  “You were all awful today,” Kestrel said. “No dinner for any of you. Go to bed, and I don’t want to hear a squawk out of anyone until morning.”

  “Really? What else are you going to do to me?” Tsunami challenged her. “What if I feel like singing all night?” She started howling in her off-key voice. “Oh, the dragonets are coming! They’re coming to save the day! They’re coming to fight, for they know what’s right, the dragonets, hooray!”

  “Your fault,” Dune snarled at Webs. “I told you not to teach them that horrible bar song.”

  “OH, THE DRAGONETS ARE COMING!” Tsunami bellowed even louder.

  “We have more chains!” Kestrel yelled in her ear. “We could throw one around your snout if you would like me to force you to be quiet.”

  Tsunami paused, glaring at her mutinously, then took another breath in and opened her mouth.

  “Or we could chain up one of your friends,” Kestrel offered. “Perhaps Clay would like to spend the night hanging from a stalactite, so you have some company out here.”

  Clay shifted uneasily on his feet, wondering if there was anywhere he could hide out of Kestrel’s reach before she could grab him.

  Tsunami snapped her jaws shut and lay down with her head turned away from all the dragons. Her gills fluttered furiously, but she kept quiet.

  “Much better,” Kestrel said. She stomped off to her tunnel, her red scales flaring brightly in the fire’s reflection. Webs followed her with his wet tail leaving a darker trail behind them.

  Sunny pounced on Dune’s tail before he could go after them. “Please don’t leave her like this,” she said. “I know you’re not that mean.”

  Dune shook her off. “We’re doing what we have to.” He went after the others.

  As soon as they were gone, Clay tried tugging on Tsunami’s chains again. They were hopelessly strong.

  “Clay, stop,” Tsunami whispered. “You know what you have to do. Go, quickly!”

  Clay shivered, dreading the cold water, but she was right. For the first time, spying on the guardians was really important.

  He ran over to the river and dove in. Through the water, he could hear the muffled echo of Sunny’s nervous squeak as he swam against the current to the rock wall. Without Tsunami’s glow-in-the-dark scales to guide him, it took longer than usual to find the gap that led through to the other cave. But finally he felt open space under his claws, and he ducked and squeezed through.

  His heart was hammering in his chest as he popped through into the cave. Slowly he paddled to the surface and poked his ears out into the air.

  This wasn’t the loud confrontation they’d heard the previous night. This time, the three big dragons were huddled around the fire, whispering. None of them glanced at the river as Clay floated closer.

  “When tomorrow?” Webs asked.

  Kestrel leaned toward the fire, baking her scales an even brighter red. “He’ll be back by midday. It has to be done by then.” Her tail was coiled in a tight knot beside her. “He doesn’t want to see her again.”

  Clay clenched his talons under the water. They had to be talking about Glory.

  “Well, I’m not doing it,” Webs said.

  Dune shot him a withering look. “No one thought you would.”

  “Even though this is all your fault,” said Kestrel.

  “I still think we need five of them,” Webs snapped. “What’s he going to do about that?”

  “He’ll find us a SkyWing,” Kestrel said. “Properly this time. No colorful substitutions.”

  They all went quiet for a moment, staring into the fire.

  “So, how and when,” Dune said in his no-nonsense military voice. “Drowning would be simplest.” He glared at Webs.

  “I joined the Talons of Peace to stop killing dragons,” Webs said. “I won’t argue with Morrowseer, but I’m not doing it myself.”

  “It has to be me,” Kestrel said in a choked, tense voice. “She’s just a RainWing, but she still might get away from you.” She nodded at Dune’s missing foot and the long scar that ran through his mangled wing.

  “But can you go through with it?” Webs asked. “Isn’t it too much like — I mean, we all know what happened —”

  “That was totally different,” Kestrel snapped. “Glory is just a RainWing. I don’t care about her. I don’t even like her.” She blasted a ball of flames at the fire so it blazed up.

  “If you’re sure . . .” Webs started.

  “I’ll do it tonight while she’s sleeping,” Kestrel said. “I can get in there and break her neck before the others know what I’m doing, especially with the bossy one safely chained up. Tsunami’s the only one who could stop me.”

  Shudders of horror were running through Clay so violently that he was afraid one of the big dragons would notice the waves on the water. He began paddling softly backward, but froze when he heard his name.

  “Not Clay?” Dune asked. “He might try, at least.”

  “He’ll definitely try,” Webs said. “Dumb as a rock, but he’s devoted to the other four.”

  “It’s not natural, that much loyalty in a dragon,” Dune said. “Especially to dragons outside your own tribe.”

  “I can handle him,” Kestrel said. “Even if he finally gets mad like we want him to, there’s nothing he can do to stop me.”

  Clay had heard enough. He sank down below the surface and swam toward the gap in the wall.

  What do we do? What can we do? What can I do?

  There’s no time.

  How do I save her?

  It’s not true,” Sunny said. “They wouldn’t.”

  “They definitely would,” said Tsunami. “They’ll do anything if they think it’s right for the prophecy.” The dragonets all looked at Glory, whose scales had gone pale green. Even her usual aloof expression was gone. She paced around Tsunami’s rock column, lashing her tail.

  “But we won’t let them,” Clay blurted. He was still panting and dripping icy water on the stone floor. “Right, Tsunami? We’ll stop them.”

  “You don’t have to get involved,” said Glory. “This is my problem, not yours.”

  “How will you stop them?” Tsunami asked Clay, ignoring her. “Even all
of you together are no match for Kestrel, especially with Dune helping her. And I can’t do anything.” She bared her teeth and snapped at her chains, pulling the one around her neck dangerously tight.

  “So we escape,” Clay said. “Just like you wanted. We get you out of there and we escape, tonight. Right now.”

  “Escape?” Sunny squeaked.

  “Seriously,” Glory said. Apple-red stripes flickered across her ruff like lightning. “You don’t have to do anything. I’m the one that doesn’t fit in. I’ll — I’ll fight her or — or figure something out. . . .”

  “Of course we have to do something,” Clay said fiercely.

  “If escape were that easy, we’d have done it already,” Starflight pointed out. He stepped around Glory, stood up on his back legs, and tapped on the boulder that blocked the entrance. “This is the only way out. And they have it rigged on a mechanism that only the big dragons can move.”

  “They do?” Clay said.

  Starflight nodded. “You know how Dune never leaves, because he can’t fly? He has a stone that fits in this slot.” He tapped a grooved niche in the stone wall. “He turns it in here to unlock something so they can roll the boulder from inside the cave. But when Kestrel or Webs come from outside, there must be a lever or switch they use to open it from out there.”

  “Oh.” Clay felt like an idiot for trying so hard to roll the big rock all these years. He’d never even noticed that Dune unlocked something before moving the boulder. He’d never thought twice about the oddly shaped stone that was always around the sand dragon’s neck.

  “So can we steal Dune’s rock?” Sunny suggested.

  “Terrible idea,” Glory said immediately.

  “They’d catch us for sure,” Starflight said to Sunny, more kindly. “Especially tonight, when they’re already on high alert because of Morrowseer.”

  “Well, then what about the sky —” Sunny asked.

  “Is there any way to move the boulder without the rock?” Tsunami interrupted her.

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