Wings of fire book four.., p.7
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       Wings of Fire Book Four: The Dark Secret, p.7

           Tui T. Sutherland
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  “Where have you been?” Viper demanded at the same time, jabbing her poisonous tail toward Morrowseer. “We’ve been here for a whole day and a half and no one has checked on us or fed us anything but what appears to be leftovers from a meal three months ago.”

  “Most of which he threw up,” Flame said darkly, pointing at Ochre.

  “It was awful,” Ochre said. “Probably food poisoning. You’re lucky I’m still alive.”

  “Quite lucky,” agreed Flame. “Since I was extremely tempted to kill him.”

  “That’s why it smells so bad in here,” Fatespeaker offered. “Can we move to a different cave? Or, oooh, into the fortress!”

  If there’s a whole other set of dragonets — with all the elements that are really in the prophecy — then nobody needs us at all. Starflight’s head was spinning. But if the Talons of Peace had these all along, then why treat us the way they did? Why keep us around? And why would the NightWings send an assassin after us?

  Pieces started to fall into place in his head. They wanted us dead so they could replace us with these five. It wouldn’t do to have two sets of dragonets running around claiming destiny. Then he thought about the timing, and a shudder ran through his scales. We had a chance until we angered Blister — until I angered her. It was after that when they decided to kill us. Because I failed to convince the others to pick her as the queen.

  Morrowseer was watching his face intently, as if he might be listening to the thoughts running through Starflight’s mind.

  “So Deathbringer was coming for all of us,” Starflight said to him.

  “His primary target was the RainWing,” said Morrowseer. “Secondary, the SeaWing. The rest of you are still negotiable.”

  Starflight shook his head. “You can’t kill Glory and Tsunami. I — I won’t do anything you say if that happens.” His talons trembled as if the volcano were rumbling under his feet. He half expected Morrowseer to slash his throat right then.

  “We’ll see,” said Morrowseer. He didn’t look very worried.

  “Your real problem is that my friends are never going to let you replace me,” Fatespeaker said to Morrowseer. “We were raised together! We’re loyal to each other! They’ll fight back if you try to take me out and put someone else in!”

  “Replace her?” Viper said alertly. “We can do that?”

  “Do it,” said Flame. “I vote yes.”

  “Me too,” said Ochre. “He looks quiet. Quiet would be great.”

  “Can I be the one to shove her off the cliff?” Squid asked.

  Fatespeaker gave them all an injured look. “Very funny, guys.”

  Starflight got the distinct impression that they weren’t joking. Poor Fatespeaker, he thought. She really thinks they’re her friends.

  “Do you have annoying visions all the time, too?” Squid asked Starflight.

  Starflight shuffled his talons awkwardly, but Morrowseer cut him off before he had to answer.

  “You may all be ‘replaced,’” he said as if the word tasted disagreeable in his mouth. “Except for you.” He nodded at Flame.

  The SkyWing dragonet puffed out his chest. “Ha. And don’t you all forget it.”

  Viper hissed at him. “Then why’d you bring us here?” she asked Morrowseer.

  “And when can we go back?” Squid asked.

  Morrowseer frowned at Squid. Starflight could sense that he found the SeaWing unusually irritating. He wondered if that meant the NightWings might change their minds about Tsunami. If they kept her alive, they wouldn’t have to deal with this dragon as the alternative.

  Then again, Tsunami could be pretty unusually irritating, too.

  Too bad it didn’t work out more neatly for Morrowseer, Starflight thought with a twinge of satisfaction. Two unsuitable NightWings. Two annoying SeaWings. But two perfectly fine MudWings and SandWings.

  He thought Sunny was more than perfectly fine, of course. Who needed a poisonous tail when she was funny, smart, and kinder than any other dragon in the world?

  “If you want to be part of this, what I need to see from all of you,” Morrowseer growled, “is that you can take orders, work together, and do as you’re told.”

  “‘Take orders’ and ‘do as you’re told’ are the same thing,” Fatespeaker said to him.

  He glared at her. “That’s how important it is.” His dark eyes scanned the dragonets in front of him. “So. Your first test. You,” he said to Starflight. “All you have to do, if you can, is stay alive.”

  “What?” Starflight said.

  “The rest of you,” said Morrowseer. “Kill him.” He flicked his tail at Starflight.

  The dragonets all stared at him for a long, awful moment.

  “Can’t we kill her instead?” Viper asked, pointing at Fatespeaker.

  “Oooo, yes. I volunteer,” said Flame.

  “No,” Morrowseer nearly shouted. “What are you waiting for? That was an order! I said kill him!”

  He’s serious, Starflight realized. And then Viper lunged at him, her poisonous tail arching forward like a scorpion’s. On his other side, Ochre’s claws slashed at his wing, missing by a hair. And Flame made the fire-is-coming hissing sound Starflight remembered from his terrible training sessions with Kestrel.

  Morrowseer was probably hoping to see Starflight’s fighting skills in action, but Starflight didn’t care. He knew better than to rely on those. He also knew he couldn’t do what he normally did, which was freeze and hope nobody noticed him.

  Starflight ducked under Ochre’s wing, shoved Squid into Viper, dodged around Fatespeaker, and leaped out of the cave.

  Wind whistled through his wings as he sailed down the cliff. The shouts of the dragonets echoed behind him. He knew they’d be right on his tail.

  He had to find somewhere to hide.

  Starflight shot down the cliffside and banked toward the ocean. His eyes scanned the ground below him frantically.

  The good news was, if he’d understood them right, the dragonets hadn’t been on the island very long and probably didn’t know its geography at all.

  The bad news was, neither did he.

  Right now he was on the other side of the volcano from the forest. Here, there were no trees. Everything below him was dark rocks or rivers of glowing lava — nothing to hide behind.

  Ahead of him there was a strip of black-sand beach that seemed to circle the island. He remembered Glory saying that the tunnel to the rainforest was in a cave above a black-sand beach.

  He wondered for a moment if he could find it, but there wasn’t time with the dragonets coming after him. He couldn’t outfly them for long either — Flame, like most SkyWings, had enormous wings, which made them faster than dragons from any other tribe.

  He risked a glance over his shoulder and saw the bright colors of four dragonets flash through the sky, much closer than he would have liked.

  Only four.

  Fatespeaker was nowhere to be seen.

  Disobeying orders? Or sneaking up on me some other way?

  He didn’t have time to think about it. Starflight twisted into a dive and swooped as close to the ground as he dared. His black scales would make him harder to see against the rocks than if he were up in the sky.

  A blast of steam shot out of one of the vents in the ground and he flapped hastily aside, barely avoiding the heat. From this close, the rocks below looked even more like black dragon scales, but all melted and fused together. Like mine will be if Flame and Viper get their claws on me.

  The problem was, the dragonets were so close behind him that they’d see anything he did. They’d be able to follow him straight to any hiding place. It was too risky to try to lose them in the water or the clouds, not with a SeaWing and a SkyWing among them.

  He beat his wings faster, trying to think. Use your brain, Starflight. That’s all you’ve got.

  There was only one place to hide: the fortress. Maybe he’d find a room he could lock himself into, or maybe his father would help him. He swooped
into an arc, heading toward it, hoping the dragonets wouldn’t cut him off before he reached it.

  Another blaze of heat brushed his tail, and he twisted to see where the steam had come from this time.

  To his horror, Flame was only a few wingbeats behind him, with fire curling out of his nose.

  The sight of the SkyWing propelled Starflight forward, the dragonet beating his wings as hard as he could. But his muscles already ached with exhaustion, and he knew he’d never make it to the fortress before Flame caught up.

  Then he spotted the caves that lined the lava river below.

  The RainWing prisons! Glory had described hers in vivid detail.

  Suddenly a blast of thick smoke shot out of a vent in the ground below him. This was a chance he couldn’t miss.

  He dropped behind the smoke, hoping it looked as though he was still aiming for the fortress, and then spiraled tightly down and dove into the first cave he found.

  A NightWing guard was lying across the entrance. Starflight shot over her head and tumbled onto the stone floor. The guard sat up in a hurry, blinking as if she’d been asleep. Farther into the cave, Starflight heard scales shifting as the imprisoned RainWing peeked out at the commotion.

  “Hey!” said the guard. “What are you doing here?” She lashed her tail, looking very large all of a sudden, despite the ribs visible through her underscales. Starflight staggered up to his feet again, trying to look calm and ordinary and like he wasn’t being chased.

  “I — I — I came to see the RainWing,” Starflight stammered.

  “The prisoner?” The guard frowned suspiciously. “Why?”

  “Um …” Starflight flipped through scrolls in his head as fast as he could. There were a few stories about dragonets in his favorite scroll, Tales of the NightWings. This couldn’t possibly work, but — “School project?” he tried.

  To his astonishment, the guard completely relaxed. “Ah,” she said. “Assignment from Mastermind, right? That weirdo is all about ‘field studies’ and ‘live observation.’ Drives my daughter crazy. All right, go ahead, just be careful.”

  Starflight bowed gratefully and fled toward the back of the cave.

  The RainWing prisoner was chained to the floor and the wall, and his snout was wrapped in an iron band like the one Strongwings had put on Orchid. He watched Starflight with a resigned, mournful expression. His scales were gray and dark blue.

  Starflight wondered if extra chains had been added to all the dragons after Glory and Kinkajou escaped; as far as he remembered, Glory had been muzzled but not chained to the wall. He was tempted to tell the sad RainWing that he would be rescued soon, too, but it was dangerous enough that he’d told Orchid. He had no idea whether RainWings could keep secrets, and if the NightWings found out that he’d been going around saying reassuring things to their prisoners … well, he couldn’t imagine they’d like it very much.

  A commotion of wings sounded outside. Starflight turned to the back of the cave, which overlooked a huge, dark abyss. Glory had said that all the prison caves were connected by this chasm, which was how Kinkajou got from one to the other.

  The last thing Starflight wanted to do was jump into that darkness. Well, no. The very last thing he wanted to do was face Flame and Viper in talon-to-talon combat, so, given those choices, leaping off a cliff into the pitch-black was the clear winner.

  He spread his wings and hopped off the edge, flapping to lower himself down slowly. He kept thinking he was about to crash into something sharp and pointy, but only empty space yawned below him, as if it were trying to suck him down.

  Finally, several dragon lengths down from the top, he felt a shallow ledge below him and gently rested his talons on it, folding his wings in. Even if someone peered into the chasm, his black scales should keep him well hidden in the shadows.

  Voices started shouting up above.

  “Where is he?” That sounded like Flame.

  “Who are you?” roared the NightWing guard. “Intruders! A SkyWing! And a MudWing! They’ve come back for the rest of our prisoners!” She started banging on some kind of metal alarm gong that reverberated painfully off the rocks around Starflight.

  He covered his ears, but even over all the noise he could still hear Flame bellowing, “No! We’re supposed to be here!”

  And Ochre: “We’re with Morrowseer!”

  “We’re trying to kill a NightWing dragonet!” Flame shouted. “Did you see where he went?”

  Wow, that was the wrong thing to say, Starflight thought.

  “THEY’RE HERE TO KILL OUR DRAGONETS!” shrieked the NightWing guard.

  An almighty crash followed, as if she’d smashed the gong over Flame’s head. Starflight hoped she had. Every time he thought of the SkyWing’s smug face, he thought of how Flame was meant to take Glory’s place in the prophecy.

  Morrowseer has been trying to have Glory killed since the first moment he saw her, he thought. Because she’s a RainWing, and he was afraid she’d figure out the plan and warn her tribe. It’s not that he thinks she’s weak and useless. He’s actually worried about what she might do.

  As he should be.

  The crashing and shouting finally ended with sounds of what appeared to be several guards arriving and carting off Flame and Ochre. Starflight hoped Viper and Squid had met a similar fate, maybe searching for him in the fortress. Just in case, he decided to stay hidden for a while longer.

  I could try to escape, he thought. Now, while no one is watching me. I could try to get back to the rainforest to warn Glory and the others. I have an idea where the tunnel is … but surely it’s guarded, and surely they’d stop me, and even more surely, Morrowseer would be furious and most likely he’d kill me himself.

  He closed his eyes, picturing the island. Or I could fly away across the ocean. Just pick a direction and go. He already knew he’d never be brave enough to try that. There was no way to know where the nearest land was, or how to find the mainland from here. This island had not been on any of the maps of Pyrrhia he’d ever seen, that was for sure.

  Starflight wrapped his wings around his talons, rested his head against the rock wall behind him, and sighed.

  “Starflight?” a voice whispered above him.

  He froze. The shadows would hide him if he kept still.

  “Starflight, it’s me, Fatespeaker,” she called softly. He realized her voice wasn’t coming from the cave he’d come through — she must be in the cave next to it, also overlooking the abyss.

  “I’m pretty sure you’re down there,” she said. “Because it’s a crazy-smart and crazy-brave thing to do, which sounds like you.”

  HA, Starflight thought. Crazy-brave is the opposite of me. Crazy-brave is Tsunami. Crazy-brave would have been turning around to fight all four dragonets at once, which is what she would have done. Sitting in a dark hole? Waiting for someone else to deal with my problem? She’s right about one thing: that does sound like me.

  Fatespeaker sat quietly for a moment, but he could still hear her breathing. “Of course, if you’re not down there, I sound totally insane right now,” she said. “There’s a RainWing sitting next to me who is giving me the weirdest looks. Hey there. What’s happening? Nothing weird, just talking to a pit. Carry on looking miserable, don’t mind me. “Oooo, his ears went a little yellow,” she reported. “Does that mean amused or terribly annoyed? What do you think?”

  Amused, Starflight thought, if his very limited study of RainWing scale-shifting was any guide.

  “I wish I could let you go, sad dragon,” she said to the RainWing. “I’d need one of those long pointy sticks, though. Starflight, come on, get up here so we can talk about how to help all these sad dragons. I checked a few of the other caves and there are at least ten of them here, can you imagine?”

  Fourteen, according to Kinkajou.

  “Oh, I promise I’m not going to kill you,” she added. “Is that what you’re worried about? Pffft. My visions say we’re going to do amazing things together. That’s hard
ly going to happen if you’re dead, right? I don’t mind telling Morrowseer that my prophecies are just as good as his prophecies and my prophecies say you get to live forever, so there.”

  Starflight smiled into the dark. He would love to be present for that conversation.

  “All right,” he said. “I’m coming.”

  Together they flew back to the cave, where Viper and Squid were huddled sullenly against the wall and Morrowseer was pacing back and forth.

  “Oh, did you lose some dragonets?” Fatespeaker said to him with mock sympathy. Morrowseer glared at her.

  “It’s not funny,” Squid hissed. “There were about a thousand NightWing guards chasing me!”

  Viper rolled her eyes. “Try four,” she said.

  “They nearly burned my tail! One of their spears could have taken an eye out! And when I told them I was a dragonet of destiny, they got even more mad. I want to go home.” Squid folded his wings and sulked. “Plus I haven’t seen any sign of the treasure I was promised.”

  “We keep our treasure safe,” Morrowseer rumbled, “instead of on ostentatious display like the other tribes.” He rubbed his forehead. “Perhaps I could have done a better job of warning my tribe that you were here.”

  “Perhaps you could have,” Viper snapped.

  “The council has been told, but apparently the news hasn’t spread. It’s going to take some explaining to get Flame and Ochre out of the dungeon.” Morrowseer tapped his claws on the rocks and tipped his head at Starflight. “A clever way to foil your attackers. Whether you intended it or not. It’s not what I would have done, but it worked.”

  “Now can we kill Fatespeaker instead?” Viper asked.

  “Sometimes you’re just horrible,” Fatespeaker said to her.

  “Seems like you had an opportunity to kill him and didn’t take it,” Morrowseer said darkly.

  “Look, destiny is destiny,” Fatespeaker said. “I don’t know why you’re so worried about who’s in the prophecy. You delivered it; now you can sit back and watch it happen. Whether it’s me or Starflight, who cares?”

  “The NightWings care,” said Morrowseer. “The queen has decreed that I should choose one of you and then kill the other.”

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