Kinkajou laid on the platform with Coconut, her best friend, beside her. She let her scales change color on their own as the sun, which was slowly plunging below the horizon, seeped warmth through her scales.
"Do you want to look for fruit?" Kinkajou asked.
Coconut yawned. "Not really. I'm going to go find a hammock and go to sleep."
"Ok, suit yourself," Kinkajou bounced off the platform and glided between thick mahogany tree trunks, looking for fruit. She found tons of bananas which, although she didn't like much, shouldn't go to waste. She ate one and then stored the others in a nearby tree. She then flew to her favorite hammock, which she had decorated with flowers last month. She curled up and fell asleep.
Kinkajou awoke to a prodding snout from above. Bromelaid, she thought as her scales shifted green for a moment. She changed her scales back to neutral shades of green as quickly as she could, but Bromelaid had clearly seen it. Bromelaid, her venom teacher, was the only RainWing anyone disliked, as far as Kinkajou could tell.
"Hurry up, Kinkajou," Bromelaid growled. "Venom training is today. Get your worthless scales to the clearing; I'll be there in a minute."
Kinkajou tree-glided to Bromelaid's favorite spot. It was a clearing in the middle of one of the densest parts of the rainforest. It was also far from the RainWing village so that Bromelaid could yell at her students peacefully. Kinkajou landed. Moments later, Bromelaid touched down beside her.
"Now," Bromelaid began. "Today, we're going to practice aim." She pointed to a spot on a sapling's thin trunk and scratched a small circle in the bark with her claws. "See how close you can get to hitting this circle."
Kinkajou focused, tilted her head just right, spat her RainWing venom-
And missed the tree trunk entirely.
"No! The circle, frog-brain, not ground!" Bromelaid bellowed. Her scales flashed orange with frustration. "Watch!" Bromelaid titled her head as Kinkajou had and shot venom, puffing her chest proudly.
The black droplets landed a few inches below her target. It fizzled away at the trunk until there wasn't enough wood left to support the miniature canopy. The sapling flopped over in a puddle of dark goop.
Kinkajou kept in her laughter from erupting out of her mouth, but her scales betrayed her by changing yellow to show that she was amused.
"You're hopeless! Stop laughing! You're supposed to be paying attention!" Bromelaid yelped.
"I was paying attention, or I wouldn't have seen how far you missed the target!" Kinkajou immediately regretted opening her mouth.
"This is pointless." Bromelaid said. "Take a break, we'll come back in a few minutes."
"Ok!" Kinkajou bounded off to the river. "I'm going to get a drink!"
When she arrived, she sipped slowly and stood up. She turned around.
Suddenly, something hit her on the back of the neck and her vision faded into darkness.
Kinkajou awoke to the smell of rotten eggs and smoke. Where is that coming from? It's AWFUL! She felt something binding her neck and mouth, like a string of flowers that was far too tight. She felt her scales for them and touched thick bands of metal. What are these for?
She opened her eyes slowly and winced as it gave her headache. She looked around.
She was in a cave. Black rock surrounded her on all sides, trapping her. But I can still just walk out the mouth of the cave, can't I? She walked to the opening and surveyed the land around her. Black rocks made up most of the landscape just as they made up the walls of her prison. She looked down and regretted it instantly.
A river of something orange surrounded her cave. She leaned over and felt a wave of unbearable heat, as if she'd touched the sun. It wasn't a pleasant heat, but almost painful.
A dragon with scales that the color of a black panther's fur flew above the river and swooped into her cave. Kinkajou knew without looking down that her scales were turning pale green. Why can't I control my emotions?
The dragon smiled wickedly. "Checking out the lava, I see? Enjoy your stay on the island of the NightWings. Follow me - we're going to do some venom testing on you, though surely your youth hinders your abilities." He looked at the metal band on Kinkajou's snout. "We'll also determine what restrictions are necessary."
What do you need with my venom? Kinkajou wondered. She turned her scales red and tried to look fierce. The dragon - a NightWing, apparently, laughed.
"The last time a RainWing shot venom at her captors, it didn't work out well for her. I saw how you flinched away from the heat. It's pretty unpleasant, is it not? Well, she's trapped in a hot room in the fortress all day. There is no escape. So if I were you . . . I wouldn't try anything."
Kinkajou heard wingbeats in a nearby cave. At least three dragons. Maybe it's another prisoner being brought in! Maybe one my age! It had been at least two miserable weeks since she'd been kidnapped and taken to the NightWing island. She had gone without sunlight, never sleeping comfortably. She hadn't eaten any fruit - the imprisoned RainWings were fed awful dead things that she could hardly force herself to eat. She had tested her venom for the NightWings. All of the other RainWing prisoners had their mouths bound so that they couldn't speak. It meant that there was no real company at all. Maybe this RainWing would be young enough that they wouldn't have to bind his or her mouth. Perhaps she could speak to them . . .
She listened to find out what the NightWings were saying to see why they were here.
"Another one?" So it was a prisoner, not the NightWings coming to take a RainWing to test his or her venom.
"Yeah. Easy catch." said the NightWing with garbled breathing. Kinkajou had seen him before. His face had been scarred by RainWing venom (on accident, of course!), causing one of his nostrils to be melted shut. "She was all alone in the forest. Stupid like all RainWings." Oh yeah, one super weird thing about the NightWings was that they seemed to think RainWings were inferior to them. Which of our tribes is living on such an awful island? I do feel super bad for them, but WHY ARE THEY LIVING HERE? And RAINWINGS AREN'T STUPID!
"Didn't you get the message?" demanded the NightWing who had spoken first.
"Yeah," replied the NightWing with the weird breathing. "But I like the prey in the rainforest. And I was hungry. And then this dragon was just asking to get caught. Besides, I thought his message was stupid."
"It's not stupid if it keeps us safe." The first dragon sighed. "Throw her in with the others. But from now on, do as you're told."
"Yeah, yeah," grumbled the scarred dragon. "All right, I got it. No more hunting until Deathbringer says it's all clear."
Once they fly away, I can go introduce myself to the new prisoner.
Kinkajou was so nervous, and excited, and was this really even happening? She was finally walking inside of Jade Mountain Academy! Of course, she'd seen the place already, but not with other students around! She had seen so many new dragons already! Some looked like Sunny, but with paler scales and thorns on their tails; some where white and covered with sharp spikes; yet others were blue-gray with webbing between their claws and spines, like Tsunami.
Kinkajou walked in and saw a NightWing with dark bluish-purple underscales and star scales scattered all over her body like freckles. She remembered her from her trips here with Glory. "Hi, Fatespeaker!" Fatespeaker, along with Starflight, was one of the only kind NightWings.
"Hello, Kinkajou, and, um, welcome to Jade Mountain, although I understand that you've already seen the whole place . . . go to the second tunnel on the left. Your cave is the third one on the right!"
In a fit of excitement, Kinkajou strode into the cave, which contained a scarred crimson SkyWing, and nearly trampled a RainWing with beautiful, shining scales that had hints of blue and purple mixed in. She also had silver teardrop scales, like Fatespeaker...
Oh. She's a NightWing.
"Oh my gosh, sorry!" Kinkajou exclaimed. "I didn't even see you there! I guess that's a NightWing skill, hiding in shadows, right, ha ha!" They put me in with as NIGHTWING? she yelled mentally. Hello, isn't anyone worried about my potential post-traumatic stress? But she kept a fake smile on anyway.
She grabbed the NightWing's front talons and waved them up and down.
"Isn't this exciting? I'm so excited I can hardly STAND IT. That's why I'm this color, by the way. I have been trying all morning to change myself to something more dignified and I can't do it; my scales are all like, YAY WE'RE REALLY HERE! and will not listen to me. I'm Kinkajou."
"You're noisy," the SkyWing she'd noticed observed pointedly.
"I love this place," Kinkajou said. She let go of the NightWing's talons and bounced over to the hammock. It reminded her of the rainforest. The library is amazing! And the art room! And I'll make new friends! "Have you explored at all yet? There's the most amazing library - not that I can read yet, but oh my gosh, I'm working on it really hard. And an art cave! It's full of all these colors of paint, like, like, like a couple of RainWings just EMOTED all over it! You guys, we should make amazing paintings and then decorate our cave with them. WOULDN'T THAT BE AMAZING?"
"I might literally die of joy," the SkyWing said, her voice devoid of emotion. She was starting to remind Kinkajou of Bromelaid, which was rather annoying.
"You look way healthier than most of the other NightWings," Kinkajou said, as though the lithe SkyWing didn't exist. "Your scales are so shiny. I'd almost guess you were a RainWing in disguise, but you're not, are you?"
"I didn't grow up on the volcano," the NightWing replied quietly. "My mother hid my egg in the rainforest."
"Oh!" Kinkajou exclaimed. Aha! "I've heard of you. Wow, that's a relief. That means you weren't anywhere near the NightWings who locked me up. I mean, I'm all for amnesty and making friends across tribes and forgiving each other and everything, but seriously, it was scary there, like I thought I might actually die, and so I figured maybe I'd start by making friends with some other tribes first and gradually work my way back around to the NightWings, but you're hardly a NightWing at all, so that's OK, then." She would be a perfect friend: RainWing-y enough to be kind, but non-RainWing-y enough to not be lazy or ignorant.
The NightWing flinched at Kinkajou's last comment. Kinkajou didn't understand why - who would want to be like the NightWings?
Kinkajou decided to change the subject so the NightWing wouldn't be uncomfortable. "So what's your name?" Kinkajou asked.
"Moon. I mean, Moonwatcher, but... just Moon, really." The NightWing said.
"Sure, Moon. And who are you?" Kinkajou asked the SkyWing, whose grumpy mood reminded her of Bromelaid. When the SkyWing didn't reply, she announced, "Ooo, it's a mystery! We have to guess our third clawmate's name! I'll go first. I bet it's... Squelch! What do you think, Squelch is a cute name, right?"
Moon tried way too hard not to smile and failed. "Squelch is a MudWing name, isn't it?"
"True. Maybe her name is Friendly. That would suit her so well." Kinkajou replied in an attempt to make Moon laugh.
"That's not a SkyWing name either."
"Think outside the box, Moon. Look at her! I'm sure she'd love to be called Friendly. Let's do that until we find out her real name." Kinkajou couldn't help it; she burst out into helpless giggles as her scales were washed with a tidal wave of amused golden-yellow.
The SkyWing stood up with a superior air and unfolded her wings slowly. It reminded Kinkajou of a time when she had seen a bird of paradise unfolding its wings while it danced ridiculously. Now she really couldn't stop giggling.
"I have fought in fourteen battles!" The SkyWing hollered. "No one giggles at me! Least of all a RainWing who know nothing about war!" She leaped off her ledge and swept dramatically out the door.
Kinkajou slowly got her giggles under control. "Ouch," she said. "But mostly fair. Although I think being imprisoned by NightWings and then injured during a royal challenge should give me some battle credit, don't you?" Those events were far too clear in her mind.
"I-I think Clay said her name is Carnelian, maybe?" Moon suggested.
"Oh, that's pretty," Kinkajou said. "Do you mind if I take the hammock, by the way?"
Moon shook her head. "The moss bed is all right with me."
"That's what you slept on while you were growing up on the rainforest floor, right?" Kinkajou guessed, nodding. "This will be so great! We can bond over how much we miss papaya and adorable sloths! But don't miss anything yet; it's too fabulous here. Come see the library!" She NEEDS to see it - it's so awesome!
"Oh," Moon stuttered nervously. "I - I think I'll just stay here for a bit longer - I need to just, um, um -"
"Nonsense," Kinkajou said enthusiastically. She poked Moon's wingtip with her own. "We're in a new place! This is really exciting! I want to show you everything!"
Oh, I hope she's not boring. I don't mind shy; I can handle shy, but please don't be boring.
Moon stood up straighter. "All right, let's go," she said, taking a slow, deep breath.
"Yay!" Kinkajou yelled. She bolted out the door, throwing a glance over her shoulder to make sure Moon was following her; reluctantly, the NightWing strolled behind Kinkajou.
I found a new best friend! Jade Mountain Academy will be amazing.