The lost heir, p.6
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       The Lost Heir, p.6

           Tui T. Sutherland
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  A murmur ran around the gathered dragons, but she couldn’t tell if it was good murmuring or bad murmuring. She turned to Riptide, who was watching Shark with a grim expression.

  “I think you should take me somewhere I can wait for my mother,” Tsunami suggested in a low voice — or she thought it was low, but the echoes still skipped back to her across the water. And now there was more murmuring. Tsunami wished she had NightWing powers so she could hear the dragons’ thoughts.

  “Up there,” said Riptide, nodding to the top of the pavilion. He glanced at Shark again. “You should bring your friends.”

  The other dragonets were sprawled on the white pebbles of the beach, in front of a tall cave opening lined with sand. They had their wings spread out and were gasping in a rather undignified way. All except for Glory, who was sitting neatly by the cave, peering in. Her silver scales were now mottled with azure blue. Any SeaWings who weren’t staring at Tsunami were staring at her.

  Tsunami thwacked the water with her tail to get their attention. When Clay finally looked over, she pointed to the pavilion. He nodded, and she lifted into the air. Her wings felt heavy out of the water, and it took a few beats to get her balance. She wished the SeaWings would go back to whatever they were supposed to be doing.

  Riptide flew up beside her. He looked uncomfortable with all the scrutiny as well.

  “Tell me about the Summer Palace,” Tsunami said, trying to distract herself.

  He flicked his tail at the cliffs. “Guest rooms are in the caves. Queen Blister usually stays in the one closest to the tunnel. We brought in extra sand to line the floor for her, and it’s the only cave where fire is allowed.” His snout turned toward the pavilion as they flew higher. “She meets with Queen Coral on the second level from the top, which is only for visiting royalty. Each level has a different purpose — for instance, there’s a floor for dragonet school visits, one for celebration spectacles, and one for war planning. When they are here instead of the Deep Palace, the Council meets on this level, halfway up.”

  He paused, beating his wings, so Tsunami could look across the middle level. Twelve dragon-sized pools were arranged in a circle with small channels running from one to the next and crisscrossing the center. Glittering emeralds the size of fish eggs, which were embedded in the stone, spelled out words by each pool. Tsunami saw one marked TREASURY, one labeled DEFENSE, and another that said SECRETS & SPIES. Before she could read any further, Riptide turned to fly higher.

  “Council?” Tsunami said, catching up to him.

  “They prefer the Deep Palace, as does the queen,” Riptide said. “Only Shark and Lagoon are here at the moment.”

  Tsunami had no idea what he was talking about, but she didn’t want to reveal how ignorant she was of SeaWing politics. She wondered if there was anything about a council in Starflight’s favorite scrolls.

  “So which level is for missing princesses?” she joked.

  “I think the top pavilion would be best,” Riptide said. “That’s for new visitors, and we hardly ever have any of those. Queen Blister was probably the last — oh, no, it was that NightWing.” He landed gracefully on the uppermost ledge of the pavilion, his claws catching on polished ridges in the bluish-white stone.

  “What NightWing?” Tsunami asked, landing beside him. This level was bigger than she’d expected. A spiraling starburst of webbed talon-print shapes was carved into the floor and filled with glittering water, lined all along the bottom with tiny pearls. Tsunami realized the pattern was the same as the one on her wings.

  “I don’t know,” Riptide answered her. “He only spoke with Her Majesty and Queen Blister, and all I heard was that he wanted to fly out through the canopy instead of the tunnel — but of course they wouldn’t let him do that. He looked big and bad-tempered.”

  “Sounds like Morrowseer,” Tsunami muttered, although she didn’t exactly have a lot of other NightWings to compare him to. But he seemed more meddlesome than the rest of them. While most of the tribe hid in their secret location, being all mysterious and unhelpfully powerful, Morrowseer kept turning up . . . delivering the dragonet prophecy, inspecting the dragonets, trying to get Glory killed, saving Starflight (but no one else) from the SkyWings, then giving him back once everyone had escaped. Tsunami could easily imagine him poking around here, although she couldn’t guess why.

  Riptide glanced down at the dragons below, including Shark, who hadn’t moved from his spot on the pillar. “I can’t believe you spoke to Shark like that,” he whispered. “I’ve never seen anyone talk back to him, apart from the queen and Queen Blister.”

  “He deserved it,” Tsunami said, settling her wings. “Arrogant blowfish-head. When I’m queen, I’ll make him go sit in a lagoon and grow seaweed.”

  Riptide coughed hard to cover a laugh. “Don’t talk like that!” he whispered. “Don’t you know the difference between brave and reckless? Shark will eat you and your friends for lunch if he thinks you’re a threat to him.”

  “Pfft,” Tsunami said. “He can try.” She shoved away the creepy memory of Shark’s unblinking, malicious eyes.

  “By the moons, you make me ner vous,” Riptide said.

  One end of the top floor was raised and carved into a magnificent dragon throne, studded with emeralds and sapphires and shot through with gold lines in the shape of waves. Beside and below the throne was another, smaller throne carved to match, with the same patterns made of tinier gemstones.

  Tsunami tilted her head at the second throne. It looked too small to be for a king. So was this for her? Had Queen Coral prepared a throne for her missing daughter, waiting all these years for her to come fill it?

  She took a step toward it, her heart pounding with excitement. A throne of her own! Already!

  The arrival of her friends stopped her, as the four dragonets crashed down around the ledge. Sunny landed lightly, avoiding the channels of water, but Clay somehow stumbled as his claws hit the stone and nearly somersaulted right off the other side. Glory darted in his way and pushed him back, then made another loop around and landed close to the throne. Her green eyes studied it closely; she looked almost ready to climb onto it herself.

  Starflight arrived last, catching on to the side and pitching forward as if his wings had barely been strong enough to carry him. He lay there like a woeful black puddle for a moment, taking deep breaths. Sunny hopped over a watery footprint to nudge his wing gently.

  Tsunami managed not to roll her eyes, but really. Couldn’t everyone at least try to act a little more impressive?

  “This is a really big thing!” Clay said to her and Riptide. His tail accidentally splashed Glory, but she was too busy looking at the throne to snap at him. “I mean, this thing we’re standing on. What do you call it? It’s really tall — taller than our prisons in the Sky Kingdom, I think.” He peered over the edge, missing Riptide’s sharp look. Tsunami realized they hadn’t told him about being captured by Queen Scarlet and the SkyWings.

  “I like it,” Clay went on, sitting down and splashing Glory again. “Of course, it’s much nicer to be this high when your wings are free. But at least the SkyWings gave us a pig sometimes. Do you have pigs? Octopi would be all right instead if you don’t. Or squid. Or manatees. I could go for a manatee right now. Or a whale. I’m not fussy, is what I’m saying. Say, how did you make this big thing? Did it take forever to build?”

  Riptide blinked for a moment, following Clay’s train of thought. “The pavilion? An animus SeaWing designed it, many generations ago, and magicked the stone to grow this way,” Riptide said. “Even so, it took nearly ten years to reach this form.”

  “Wow,” said Clay, and Tsunami couldn’t help being impressed, too. She hadn’t realized animus dragons had that kind of power. In their lessons, Webs had told them animus dragons could enchant chess pieces to play themselves. Sometimes they left curses on their jewels to poison anyone who tried to steal them. But making a whole pavilion grow from stone — that seemed like strong magic, more powerf
ul than anything the NightWings could do.

  Starflight was clearly thinking the same thing, judging from his disgruntled snout. Tsunami hurriedly interrupted before he could begin a lecture.

  “This top level is where Queen Coral meets new visitors, like us,” she said importantly to her friends. “So when she arrives, everyone please act like dragonets of destiny instead of half-drowned seagulls, for goodness’ sake.”

  Sunny looked wounded, and Starflight sniffed loudly while Glory turned up her snout like she wasn’t taking any orders from Tsunami. Clay poked his nose over the edge and blinked at the lower pavilion tiers.

  “Which level is the feasting on?” he asked. “You do have feasting, right?” His wide brown eyes turned to Riptide. “No reason. Just wondering.”

  “Sure, sometimes we have feasts,” Riptide said. “Especially when Queen Blister is —”

  A commotion from below interrupted him. Tsunami sprang to the edge and gazed down at the lake.

  A huge blue SeaWing, exactly the color of Tsunami’s scales, burst out of the tunnel. Vines of pearls were woven around her horns and neck and wings, and a twisted white horn with a wicked-looking point was attached to the end of her tail. She had odd black stains on her claws, but she was the most beautiful sight Tsunami had ever seen.

  All over the palace, dragons were folding down into low bows.

  This had to be her mother — queen of the SeaWings. Tsunami reached to grab Riptide’s forearm, feeling dizzy with joy.

  But as Queen Coral shot out of the water, Tsunami saw that she wore a thin, webbed harness with a long cord . . . which led to a harness on another dragon, flying close behind her.

  The second dragon was much smaller — a dragonet only about a year old, perhaps. She flapped her wings frantically, trying to keep up. With a jolt of shock, Tsunami spotted the royal pattern of stripes on the underside of her wings.

  “Who is that?” she hissed at Riptide. He was backing away to the edge of the floor, the farthest spot from the throne.

  “That’s Anemone,” he said, blinking in surprise. “Your sister.”

  An enemy.


  An enemy.

  It took Tsunami a few moments to realize what Riptide had actually said. Her skin prickled, hearing an enemy, an enemy, until it sank in that he’d been saying a name.

  Anemone. Tsunami’s sister. Another heir to the throne.

  So much for being special. So much for her guaranteed future kingdom.

  “Uh-oh,” Glory said, echoing her thoughts. “Looks like you’ve got some competition. Maybe you’re not destined to be queen after all.”

  Tsunami whirled toward Starflight, her gills flaring. “You said I was the only one,” she cried. “You said none of the others survived.”

  “That’s what I read,” he protested. He spread his black claws. “Blame the Talons, not me. Our scrolls were often old and outdated. The Royal Lineage of the SeaWings, from the Scorching to the Present must have been written before this one was hatched.” He nodded at the little dragon flapping behind the queen.

  Anemone was a pale, pale blue, almost white like an IceWing, with hints of pink along her wings and ears and horns. She looked a little bit like the dolphins they’d seen earlier, and Tsunami wondered grumpily if that was really why Queen Coral had forbidden SeaWings to eat them — in case one of them ate Anemone by mistake. Anemone’s eyes were large and blue, and tiny strands of pearls were woven around her neck and tail as if to match her mother’s.

  That could have been me, Tsunami thought. I could have been the one with matching pearls and a matching throne and a mother who loved me, if the Talons hadn’t stolen me from my home.

  She didn’t have a chance to notice anything else, because suddenly Queen Coral was landing and running toward her.

  “My baby!” Coral cried. Enormous blue wings whooshed around Tsunami, enveloping her in a hug that smelled of sea air and starfish. Pearls pressed into Tsunami’s face as Coral cuddled her close. Her wet scales were warm and her talons were gentle as she stroked Tsunami’s head and back and wings.

  “I knew you’d come back to me,” she said. “I knew you were out there, trying to find your way back. I never stopped searching for you.”

  It was exactly what Tsunami had always wanted to hear.

  Actually it was word-for-word what the queen said in The Missing Princess, but Tsunami shoved that thought aside.

  She leaned into her mother, feeling elation flood her from horns to claws. Someone does want me. I have a place in the world.

  “Mother,” whined a tiny voice from behind them. “Ow. That was too fast. I think I hurt my claws.”

  Queen Coral let go of Tsunami, whirled around, and tugged Anemone closer with the harness cord. The little dragonet crept under her wing and held out her front talons with a pitiful expression.

  “I’m sorry, sweetheart,” Coral said, carefully examining Anemone’s claws and then giving them a quick lick with her forked tongue. “Is that better?”

  “I guess,” Anemone said, flexing her talons mournfully.

  “Look, darling, it’s your sister. The one I told you about, who was stolen six years ago.” Coral reached out and slid one webbed talon over Tsunami’s snout. “Isn’t she gorgeous?”

  Anemone blinked at Tsunami. She was really tiny, no taller than a scavenger, and she didn’t look very strong. Maybe I don’t have to worry about her, Tsunami thought. She’d be easy to defeat, and obviously I’d make a better queen.

  Then she felt a stab of guilt for thinking about something like that on her first meeting with her real family. She held out one of her front talons to Anemone, and after a small pause, Anemone pressed her own talon against it.

  “Hi,” Tsunami said. “I’m Tsunami.”

  “Ah,” Queen Coral said. “A good name. Webs did one thing right.” Her green eyes narrowed. “Where is he now? I have been planning his punishment for years.” She glared over Tsunami’s shoulder, but when Tsunami looked around, the only dragon there was Riptide. He had his head ducked and his wings folded as low as he could get.

  “I knew he was a coward and a deserter,” Coral said, “but after he returned to steal my egg . . . well, let’s just say it won’t be a quick death.”

  “Oh, no,” Sunny squeaked. “Please don’t hurt him. He was the only one who was really nice to us.”

  “We don’t know where he is anyway,” Tsunami said as Queen Coral turned to stare at Sunny. “He escaped when —”

  “What are you?” Coral asked Sunny. Her gaze fell on the other dragonets, and her tail lashed dangerously. “WHY IS THERE A MUDWING IN MY SUMMER PALACE?” She took a step toward Clay, gills flaring.

  “These are my friends,” Tsunami cried, leaping in front of Clay. “You can trust them, I promise. We were all stolen from our homes as eggs. We’re the dragonets of destiny, from the prophecy.”

  “Ha,” muttered a voice, and Tsunami realized that Shark was now perched on the rim of the ledge along with nine other very large dragons.

  “Oh,” Queen Coral said slowly. “Oh, I see.” She studied Clay suspiciously, then turned her gaze to Starflight, Sunny, and Glory. “Yes, that was the rumor. If you believe in things like prophecies, of course. Dragonets of destiny. Well, Queen Blister will be so interested to meet you. We’d better make sure you don’t go anywhere.” She flashed the royal patterns along her wings and clapped her front talons together. Seven burly SeaWings rose up behind the dragonets, claws twitching ominously.

  “Put these four in Blister’s cave,” Queen Coral commanded, “and set a guard so they stay there.”

  “What?” Sunny cried. “But we came here to be safe! Not to be prisoners again!” She squeaked in terror as one guard snatched her into the air. Starflight stared after her, frozen in place with his claws half outstretched.

  “Nobody touches me,” Glory snarled at the SeaWing who was reaching for her. Black clouds billowed up in her scales.

  “Don’t hurt Sun
— ow,” Clay yelped as three SeaWings landed on him at once, pinning him down. “Ouch! Ow!” One began lashing woven seaweed ropes around his wings and claws and snout.

  “Wait,” Tsunami said. She clasped her talons pleadingly. “Your Majesty . . . Mother.” The word felt so odd on her tongue, even though she’d imagined saying it a million times. “You don’t have to do this. They’re my friends, and I brought them here so you could protect us. I swear they’re trustworthy.”

  “It’s for their own safety, too, dear,” Coral said, stroking Tsunami’s head again. “We won’t hurt them, of course. You’ve come to the right place for protection. But they shouldn’t wander the palace unsupervised — most of my dragons will attack MudWings and unfamiliar SandWings on sight.”

  “Or whatever that is,” Shark muttered, sniffing at Sunny. Starflight shot him a glare, then looked away quickly as the SeaWing turned his gaze to him.

  “I guess this means no feast?” Clay said mournfully. He rested his snout on the stone with a sigh.

  “Food can certainly be arranged,” said the queen. “Lagoon, make sure our guests are well fed.” A plump turquoise dragon bowed and dove off the ledge. “See, darling, we’ll take good care of you all. Please tell that one to stop looking so fierce.” Coral flicked a claw at Glory, who was still facing off with a ner vous-looking SeaWing guard.

  Tsunami thought, uncomfortably, of Glory’s secret weapon. In the SkyWing palace, they’d discovered Glory could spit a deadly venom, which seemed to be a RainWing skill most dragons didn’t know about. It certainly hadn’t been in any of the scrolls, which rarely mentioned RainWings at all.

  But Tsunami hoped Glory would decide to keep her venom a secret for now. Melting one of the queen’s guards probably wasn’t the best way to introduce the dragonets of destiny to the SeaWings.

  “You don’t have to tie them up,” Tsunami said. “They’ll go with you.”

  “Speak for yourself,” Glory growled.

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