Darkstalker, p.8
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       Darkstalker, p.8

           Tui T. Sutherland
 

  There was one dragon in the milling crowd down there who stood out from all the others — one with white wings and white claws. Clearsight knew who that was — which meant the dragon standing next to her, scanning the crowd with a puzzled expression, must be him.

  Darkstalker.

  He’s looking for me. He thought I’d be down there, arriving just about now.

  She felt a small tingle of glee in her talons. So he doesn’t know everything after all.

  As if he’d heard her thoughts, Darkstalker suddenly raised his head and looked up at her window. Their eyes met, and as Clearsight ducked away she saw him start to smile and wave.

  Ack! He did hear my thoughts.

  Of course he did, Clearsight, you idiot.

  She had only one advantage over him: her visions of the future and how carefully she studied them, whereas he barely bothered to glance ahead. But to use it, she needed help. She needed to learn to control her power better.

  I need to get to that seer training class as soon as I can.

  But on my first day? Will that throw off all my visions?

  She closed her eyes, trying to see ahead. She saw herself in partial sunlight — so it was an early class, before night completely fell — in a circular room with no windows or doors. A tall NightWing paced the circumference, frowning at her and the other three dragonets in there.

  Mostly frowning at her, actually.

  How am I supposed to find a room with no windows or doors to give me a clue about where it is?

  But wait — there was sunlight all through the room, so where was that coming from? She squinted into the vision, furrowing her brow. The walls were impenetrable black marble, sparkling with flecks of silver and copper, and hung with mirrors that caught the light. The light from …

  She looked up. The room had no roof. Far above their heads, it was completely open to the sky, with only the tip of a mountain peak poking into view.

  So it must be up reasonably high. At the top of a tower? Maybe that’s also why the walls are curved.

  Clearsight crossed the corridor to a window that looked inward, toward the courtyard and the other levels of the school. There were five towers, but she couldn’t tell from here which ones had windows and which didn’t.

  With a glance around at the bustling halls, she carefully climbed onto the sill and launched herself into the sky. There were dragons flying every which way, and she had to dodge and weave to avoid colliding with anyone.

  But once she got close enough to fly around the towers, there was only one possible choice. Four of the towers were regular dragon towers, with multiple levels open to the air and pavilions on top. But the central tower was different. At first glance, it didn’t even seem to have an interior; it was hung all about with ivy and vines that cascaded down through levels of gardens where dragons were gathered, socializing before school started. The top of it was so shrouded in greenery that it was hard to tell there might be a room inside there.

  Clearsight spread her wings to hover in the air and checked her school map again. This tower was marked “Tower of Knowledge,” which sounded promising. She looked up at the setting sun again and guessed that this class was happening right now — first class on the schedule.

  She hesitated. Did it make sense to start here, before checking in with her regular teacher? This wasn’t what she’d done in most of the timelines she’d examined for today, but maybe it was the best choice — maybe it would speed up her ability to control the future.

  Also, she didn’t want to miss any seer training, especially since she’d already missed two years of school. And according to her parents, this was the most important part of her education, from the queen’s point of view.

  But she had such a careful plan for today … this could tip everything out of balance. She hadn’t studied this alternative enough. Besides, the scene she’d glimpsed felt awash in dread and awkwardness and confusion. She got a big “you’re going to regret this” vibe from the whole picture.

  Maybe I should wait until I know the school better. Or, really, until I can study what happens when I drop into the class — so I can find the best way to introduce myself to the other seers.

  Suddenly something rippled, hard and fierce, through all of Clearsight’s visions at once.

  Something terrible was happening.

  Something terrible that would affect her future. It was happening a world away, but it was happening now and now and forward and forward, and it would rip apart a lot of dragons’ lives.

  She staggered sideways in the air, losing the updraft for a moment before catching herself.

  The green SeaWing …

  Fathom.

  The tragedy in the Kingdom of the Sea was happening now — the one she’d foreseen.

  Oh no. Clearsight pressed her talons to her head. His poor, sad futures.

  If he even survives tonight.

  This, this was really why she needed training. Not to outwit Darkstalker, but to save lives. To make dragons in power listen to her, so she could make the changes she needed to make and help dragons like Fathom.

  She twisted in the air and arrowed to the very top of the central tower. Yes — it was open to the sky — and below her was the room she’d seen, full of light and mirrors, with four dragons clustered in the center of the floor.

  Here goes nothing.

  Clearsight swooped down, dropping dizzily between the walls and landing with more of a thump than she’d intended. The marble was startlingly cold under her claws and she resisted an urge to hop back up into the air.

  The other dragons all jumped and turned, blinking at her. Three of them were students, but older than her — perhaps five or six years old — and the fourth was the large, scowling teacher she’d seen in her visions.

  “H-hello,” Clearsight stammered nervously. “I’m sorry — I’m looking for seer training — this is it, isn’t it? I’m —”

  “Don’t bother,” said one of the other students. He flicked his tail at the teacher. “She already knows who you are and everything about you. She’s the queen’s own seer!”

  The other two students turned eagerly toward the teacher, who narrowed her eyes at Clearsight. “You claim to be a seer?” she barked. “How do you know? What have you seen? We don’t tolerate play-acting in here.”

  “I — I’ve seen lots of things,” Clearsight said, faltering. What did she mean? Major events, like the next NightWing queen challenge? But which ones, along which timelines?

  “How do you know they weren’t ordinary dreams? Or products of your imagination?” the teacher pressed. She took a looming step toward Clearsight.

  “Because they came true,” Clearsight said. “Or will come true.” What an odd question. She’d never doubted her power for a moment. It was always there, spinning out possibilities in her head, throwing up pictures and flashes of scenes and dragons she would know.

  “Ha!” The teacher lashed her tail, looking wickedly amused. “How old are you — three? Your powers have barely begun to evolve yet, even if they are real. Whatever lucky guess brought you here, you should go away again until you are truly ready. Talk to me when you’ve had a few more visions than oh no, my mommy is going to yell at me for splattering rabbit bits all over the floor.”

  The other students giggled, and Clearsight felt a flare of temper. “I’ve had more than a few visions,” she said. “And I can prove how real they are!” She pointed to her teacher. “I know that your name, for instance, is Allknowing.” She whirled toward the other dragonets. “And you three are Jewel-eyes, Morrowwatcher, and Vision. I know a huge storm is going to roll in three days from now and class will have to be cancelled for a week of rain. I know the queen is planning to evaluate all her potential seers in a month and she won’t be pleased. How’s that for knowing things?”

  There was a long pause. Allknowing seemed to be swelling up like a poisonous viper.

  “Dragon of chaos, tangling the webs,” she said suddenly. “Too many e
yes and too many threads.”

  Jewel-eyes let out a small gasp.

  “That’s her?” whispered Vision.

  “You must be Clearsight,” said Allknowing, her voice dripping with icicles.

  “That’s right,” Clearsight said, feeling a bit smaller suddenly. Had she really been in one of Allknowing’s prophecies? Dragon of chaos — how could that be her? She wanted to create order out of the chaos, not cause more. And surely she didn’t have more eyes or threads than anyone else.

  “Obviously I knew you were coming.” The teacher stalked around her, studying every inch of her scales. “But you seem to be early.”

  “I wasn’t sure,” Clearsight said. “I mean, it’s my first day, so I didn’t know —”

  “Your first day?” Morrowwatcher interrupted. “At the school? How did you find us so fast?”

  “I … looked?” Clearsight answered. “Into the future?”

  The three students stared at her with wide eyes, and then turned as one to Allknowing.

  “Can she really do that?” Jewel-eyes demanded.

  “Will we be able to do that?” asked Vision.

  “Why haven’t you taught us that?” Morrowwatcher chimed in.

  “Isn’t that what you do?” Clearsight asked, bewildered. “Aren’t we all seers?”

  “Yes, but we can’t just look at whatever we want to,” said Vision. “We have to wait for visions to come to us. Here we mostly practice writing them down, making them sound like real prophecies, and interpreting them.”

  “Also figuring out what’s a dream and what’s a vision,” Jewel-eyes said ruefully. “Like, we’re pretty sure I’m not actually going to lose all my teeth all of a sudden one day. Or forget to study for my final exams.”

  Clearsight’s wings were sinking slowly to the floor. That did not sound like the kind of seer training she needed at all. Turning her visions into cryptic prophecies? How would that help anyone? Did these dragons even realize that there were multiple possible futures?

  “Well,” Allknowing said in a clipped, unfriendly way. “Obviously Clearsight’s gift is a little different from everyone else’s. I’m sure we’ll all learn so much from listening to her tell us about it. But for now, I suggest we get back to our curriculum.”

  The other dragons shuffled obediently back into a semicircle around her, although they kept stealing sideways looks at Clearsight. She crouched on the end beside Vision, wishing her scales were thicker.

  “As I was saying,” Allknowing hissed, “here is the first verse of one of my earlier prophecies.” She flicked her tail at the large slate board mounted on the wall, which had something like a poem scrawled on it in chalk.

  “From far to the north, a prince will arrive,

  Seething with darkness and sparkling with ice,

  In his blood runs a gift for the whole NightWing tribe,

  But it comes with a terrible price.”

  Clearsight felt sudden uncontrollable giggles bubbling up inside her. She dug her claws into her other arm, trying desperately not to laugh. It mostly worked, but Allknowing glared at her anyway.

  “Any theories what this was about?” Allknowing demanded. “Clearsight, you seem tremendously amused by something.”

  “No, no,” Clearsight said quickly. “It’s very impressive. I like how it, um … scans? And is so … mysterious?”

  “Certainly it was more mysterious before it was fulfilled,” Allknowing spat. “Care to analyze it for us?”

  “Well, it’s about Prince Arctic,” Clearsight said. “And his animus powers, which have made him darker on the inside each time he’s used them. The terrible price is the interesting part, because it could mean the current war with the IceWings, or the consequences of having animus power in the NightWing tribe. Or is it the price for him, meaning how his soul is affected? Or the price for the dragons who love him? It could refer to what his descendants will do if they inherit his power, which, obviously, there are a lot of … possible terrible things …” She trailed off under Allknowing’s withering scowl.

  “The terrible price is the war,” Allknowing snapped. “There’s no need to show off by concocting wild fantasies. We already know that neither of Arctic’s offspring inherited his animus power. Vision, did you have something to add?”

  Clearsight hoped her face didn’t give away how confused she felt. She knew it was still a secret to most dragons, but was it possible Allknowing hadn’t had any visions about Darkstalker’s animus power? That seemed like a fairly huge future development for a seer to overlook.

  I’m not going to learn anything from her at all, Clearsight realized with despair. She should have listened to the little warning bells in her visions. Allknowing was dangerous — dangerously ignorant, and dangerously resentful of Clearsight’s power.

  Whatever lay ahead between them … Clearsight had a feeling it would not end well.

  Fathom stared at the dripping red knife in Albatross’s claws. Drops of blood spattered the floor, his grandfather’s talons, his tail.

  Fathom couldn’t move. Part of his brain was still thinking, Did he slip? Did someone throw that knife by accident? Why isn’t the queen getting up? Albatross can fix it; he fixes everything.

  And the other part of his brain was sending panicked alerts to every part of his body at once. Swim! Fly! Run! Fight!

  Albatross looked at the knife curiously, as if he’d just found a charming new pet. Over by the bar, the dragon who’d been slicing coconuts was still looking around in confusion, wondering where it had gone.

  The SkyWings reacted first, taking to the air with shrieks of fear. Albatross glanced up at them, turned the knife over for a moment, and then let it go. The knife flew through the air and stabbed Sunset in the spot where her jaw met her neck. A moment later, it yanked itself free and spun to catch Eagle in the heart.

  He’s killing them, Fathom thought, his mind trapped in quicksand. He could kill all of us.

  The red dragons thudded down to the terrace, knocking over one of the jellyfish aquariums as they landed. Glass shattered and water cascaded out over the dance floor, where the jellyfish flopped and squelched under the talons of screaming, fleeing dragons.

  “Can you stop him?” Indigo asked, grabbing Fathom’s arm.

  “Me?” he yelped. “No! I’m not strong enough! And he’s my grandfather — I can’t —”

  “He just killed your queen and two SkyWings!” Indigo said.

  “But he was angry at them.” Fathom felt as though words were just cascading out of his mouth without checking through any higher brain functions first. “He won’t hurt anyone else, will he? If I try anything, it could just make everything worse.”

  “I’m not taking any chances,” Indigo said. “We have to hide you.” She dragged him out of the circle of lanterns to the path between the gardenia bushes.

  “What about my parents?” he said frantically. He tried to pull back and his wings caught on a trailing vine. “What about Pearl?” He couldn’t see his sister, but through the melee he spotted Manta struggling to get closer to Albatross. What are you doing, Mother? he thought in a panic. Run away! The opposite way! She was going to try to calm Albatross down, he was sure. That was her way of handling everything.

  “We can’t get to them,” Indigo said, “and if Albatross kills anyone else, it’ll be you, sure as sunshine.”

  “Me?” Fathom said. “But —”

  Fathom looked over his shoulder and saw his grandfather scanning the terrace with his strange, fierce eyes. He did look like he was looking for something — someone … could it be Fathom?

  Behind Albatross, Splash suddenly lunged around the fountain, pointing a spear at his heart.

  Albatross didn’t even look at her. The spear twisted in her talons, yanked itself free, and plunged into her chest, pinning her to the ground.

  He’s not finished, Fathom thought with horror.

  “Come on,” Indigo cried, pulling Fathom free of the vegetation. They ran full-tilt
along the winding paths, leaving clouds of scattered petals in their wake. Away from the lanterns, the island was full of long shadows, waiting for their moment to pounce. One of the moons was rising, enormous and low on the horizon, a strange orange-red color, as though it had been stained by the pool around Lagoon’s body.

  “Should we fly?” he said to Indigo, panting.

  She tilted her head up just as a scream of agony came from the sky. “Easy targets,” she panted back.

  Everyone’s an easy target to him, Fathom thought with another stab of fear. He can send a knife after me no matter where I run to.

  I may already be dead.

  The gravel under their talons suddenly changed to wood and they found themselves pounding along one of the walkways that led to an overwater pavilion. The sea rushed madly below them, chasing itself up the sand and down without getting anywhere. The sun was almost gone, barely flicking its tail over the far edge of the ocean. Stars glittered in the deepening purple sky and the dark water below them.

  The pavilion was deserted, lit only by moonlight through the windows overhead and bioluminescent plankton shimmering under the glass floor. A dead orca and a pair of fishing spears were mounted on the sky-high ceiling. A balcony looked out on the dying sunset and a pair of strange shapes hulked against the side wall.

  It took Fathom a moment to remember what they were. Queen Lagoon had called them “boats” — Humpback had found mentions of them in some old scrolls. They were for riding on the water instead of swimming in it, which was a weird concept. But Lagoon had ordered them built so she could take the SkyWings out on the ocean tomorrow.

  That’s never going to happen, Fathom realized as the shock washed over him again, because they’re all dead.

  “Let’s swim,” Indigo said, hurrying to the balcony. “He’ll have to search the whole ocean for us.”

  “No,” Fathom said. “I can’t leave — my family — I need to stay close so I know when — when it’s safe.”

  “Then we hide.” Indigo circled the boats for a moment. She finally seized one in her talons and tilted it back far enough from the wall that Fathom could crawl under it. He held it up so she could join him, and then let it fall quietly back against the wood.

 
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