Chapter 1: Now What?
Although Storm didn't know it at at the time, her destiny was about to be rewritten. She sat quietly in the middle of the huge crowd of IceWings that had gathered in the First Circle at the urgent request of Queen Glacier. Storm speculated that the entire tribe was present, but despite the mass of dragons there was hardly a sound as they sat in anticipation. It was a bitterly cold winter's night, with every breath looking like a puff of smoke as it left the body and the three moons in the sky reflecting off the freshly fallen snow creating so much light that the numerous moon globes that surrounded the crowd were hardly necessary.
While it had not been explicitly said, everyone knew the reason for the meeting. Yesterday had been the brightest night and their Queen had met with the Dragonets of Destiny. The war was over. At least that was what had been promised.
Finally, the elegant white figure of Queen Glacier emerged onto the central platform, followed closely by the former Princess Blaze, her pale gold scales covered by a cape of polar bear fur. From her position Storm had to squint and move her head around to see past the taller dragons sitting in front of her. From the platform Queen Glacier's commanding voice spoke to the throng of dragons.
Or at least it would be commanding if I could hear anything from here! She thought with an annoyed grimace and gave the dragon stepping on her tail an angry glare.
While she couldn't hear everything perfectly, the excited murmuring of dragons swept through the crowd so she was able to get the basic information: The good news: the war was over; the bad news: they didn't win; but also the good news: no one really won anyway so it didn't matter. None of the three sisters had won the throne, some other dragon had become Queen of the SandWings. Storm was confused about the whole situation, but she had a feeling she would know more later on once the stories of that fateful night began to circulate.
After some speeches by other members of the royal family and various high ranking military officials they were all dismissed. The crowd dispersed in an orderly fashion, with those in the front (which consisted on First Circle dragons) leaving first followed by those behind. Eventually Storm's row took to the sky. Many dragons didn't leave right away though and hovered in the sky waiting for their family or friends to catch up with them so that they could talk about what had just occurred. Storm tried to ignore the friendly greetings and excited chatter that filled the sky as she soared home alone. The moons were still high in the sky, and they would remain like that until the Spring Equinox when the sun would finally rise above the horizon. As such, Storm relied on mostly moonlight to find her way home. She soared over the Second Circle, then the Third and lingered as she passed the Fourth.
The Fourth Circle was humble to say the least. It was the circle of the middle class, so soldiers, merchants, various artisans and the odd jeweller could be found here. It was a wealthy enough district that the roads and trails were lighted with Moon Globes that had been strung onto poles all around the area, and the dragons here lived in relative comfort. It was modest, and as of a few months ago Storm had reached Fourth Circle ranking. But she didn't live here. She couldn't yet afford a house in this area. With a disappointed sigh Storm continued to fly in the direction of where she actually lived, which was her parents' house in the Seventh Circle.
In this district there were fewer Moon Globes strung around, and some were beginning to fade and needed to be replaced. The houses here were also fairly simple. To an outsider they would just look like banks of snow on a deserted tundra, but in reality each large bump on the terrain was a house. There were no windows and the doors were very tightly placed into the walls as to prevent the blizzard winds from wreaking havoc.
As she arrived so too did the other Seventh Circle dragons that had been attending the assembly. They gathered in the dimply lit streets in boisterous groups, shouting and jigging about at the news of the War's end. It was completely undignified in every way but Storm let out a small smile. The whole Kingdom seemed to have released a breath of tension now that the fighting was over. Even the auroras looked brighter as they flitted freely in the night.
Storm finally reached her own house and pushed the large ice block that served as the door out of the way, quickly closing it behind her as a gust of wind blew loose snow into the house. IceWings were not extravagant dragons when it came to decoration, and Storm's house reflected this. It was sparsely furnished, to the left was a kitchen table made of conifer trees that stood beside the wall of cooking knives and on the wall to the right was a portrait of her family.
In the middle was a tunnel leading to the bedrooms of her parents, sister and her own room.
Storm sat quietly for a moment, reflecting on what had just happened.
"Now what?" She whispered to herself.
On a small section of the wall in between the portrait and the bedroom tunnels where three pieces of paper mounted on the wall with seal teeth. They were letters to be specific, all from the general of the IceWing army. The first letter was dated four years back, and was informing her of the death of her mother in battle. The second letter from two years ago, in which her father was also killed. The third was from last week, in which her sister was now gone too.
Storm approached the letters and rested her head on the wall beside them, "Now what?" she asked again.
Storm had been very young when her mother had died. She had hardly got to know her, but she had known and loved her father dearly. When he had died it was just her and her sister, her only real friend in the world. But now even she was gone and Storm was torn apart all over again.
And perhaps the worst part of all this was that the war was over.
Her family was a military family, and even when she had been surrounded by the chaos of war Storm has known what was expected of her. Through all her loses Storm had focused on the one goal of becoming a top soldier. She had put her heart and soul in to training and studies, anything to distract her. Eventually it had paid off and she had begun to climb the ranks and catch the attention of higher ranking officers.
But now even the war was over but instead of feeling relieved she had never felt more lost.
Her vision suddenly became blurry as tears began to gather at her eyes. She slammed her eyes shut and let out a snarl, "I will not cry! I am stronger than my emotions!" she hissed at herself. After a few moments she was able to calm down, but suddenly felt exhausted. She looked down the bedroom tunnel. Her chamber was at the very end of the hallway, but she didn't have the strength to pass the from-now-on forever empty rooms of her family. She decided to curl up beneath the portrait of her family and let the exhaustion overwhelm her.
Now what? Were her last thoughts as she drifted to sleep.
Storm lazily opened a single eye as she was woken by a knocking on the ice block that was her door. She let out a massive yawn, and started to stretch her stiff back that was aching from sleeping on the floor.
Why didn't I just go and sleep in my bed? Why was I such a coward last night? She complained to herself, yet a warm shiver ran down her spine at the thought of the empty beds of her family. She shook the feeling away as the knocking became more aggressive.
"I'll be there in a moment!" She shouted, heading over to the door and pushing it out of the way only to be greeted by the annoyed and tired looking face of a young male IceWing. He had obviously been partaking in the celebrations last night and had not expected to be called into duty in the morning. However, he wore the stylish armor of the second circle, so Storm knew better than to show him disrespected.
He gave her a quick salute, to which she returned, and then pushed a scroll into her talons, "You've been summoned by General Shiver to meet in the training arena located in the first circle. He demands you come as soon as possible," the male said quickly. He then saluted once more and left.
Storm watched him fly away with a sour expression on her face. What a pompous puffin. She thought to herself.
She already knew what was on the scroll; it was just a formal written request of what the IceWing male had just told her. But since she was not First Circle she would have to present it to the guards in order to be permitted to enter.
The sudden appearance of such a request snapped Storm out of her pity party and she rushed to her room to get her armor. She had been polishing it yesterday before the assembly and it was still sitting on her bed of polar bear fur. It only consisted of a helmet, a chest plate and gauntlets which were all made of steel. It was very old armor, with many dents and scratch marks that required constant polishing in order to hide them. But it wasn't very bulky, which Storm liked. It was meant to provide protection to certain vulnerable areas, like the chest, but still remain lightweight and flexible.
She picked up the chest plate looked at her distorted reflection in the polished armor and touched the purple scales that were freckled on her face. Storm had always been proud of the fact that she came from a long line of warrior dragonesses that went back thousands of generations, and one of the key features of the lineage that each dragoness shared was the abnormal amounts of purple in their scales. It wasn't obvious at first, sometimes the light had to hit her scales at just the right angle for the deep violets and brighter amethyst colours to shine through.
There were also purple flecks in her pale blue eyes and small violet scales peppered all over her snout. Storm had always liked these features because they connected her with her mother and sister, who also had them. As for her father, as much as she loved him, she wished she had not gotten as much of his features. Her father had always been large for his age and parts of this largeness had been given to her. The first was her abnormally long tail, which was three feet longer than that of a typical IceWing her age. It looked bizarre to say the least, always sticking out and getting stepped on. Her wings, forefeet and hind-feet were also comically large as well and more than once had caused her to trip and fall flat on her snout. Her forefeet were also covered in little scars that had been her own fault. Several years ago, in order to afford new armor for her sister she had worked a year at the Queen's palace, cleaning up the bones and such from the court's meals and had more than once gotten little bone shards or shark teeth stuck in her feet.
Between the two of them, they had been able to afford the armor while Storm had received the ancient, battle scared armor that had been in her family for generations. The one she was putting on now.
She put on the chest plate, then the helmet which covered most of her forehead and snout and finally stuffed her bulky feet in the gauntlets and rushed out the door. Based on the position of the moons, it was probably early "morning", except today the usual bustle of dragons leaving to work was replaced by clusters of dragons that were still celebrating since yesterday at the news of the end of the war. There was laughter, feasting, dancing, and general fun times being had. They were even singing old IceWing songs, songs that dragons from the first circle would find ridiculous and disgraceful.
Storm tried to ignore it all as she took to the sky, wobbling slightly as she compensated for the additional weight of the armor. There was a light snow fall that morning, and Storm blinked rapidly as the tiny snowflakes began to sting her face.
As she flew she passed the time trying to figure out why she had been summoned.
Well, I am going to the training area so maybe more training? But that doesn't make any sense, the wars over, why would I need more training? She was now out of the fourth circle and heading over the third. The houses here were taller and looked more like upside down icicles.
Maybe it's a patrol duty. That would make sense. The war just ended a few days ago; there are probably still troops and armies on the move. It will take a few weeks to call back all the soldiers from the field, she reasoned as she weaved in between the buildings.
Or maybe you're getting promoted! An excited voice shouted in her head, and Storm hushed it like a mother silencing an overactive dragonet.
Eventually she reached the first circle. It was surrounded by a miniature version of the Great Ice Cliff that encircled the Ice Kingdom, except that it didn't shoot deadly projectiles. There were a couple of guards with spears chatting on the wall, and she flew towards then, saluted and handed them the scroll she had been given.
While the first guard read the scroll, the second one was looking at her with great confusion. Since he was above her rank she repressed the urge to swat him on the nose, but eventually his expression changed to that of someone who had finally remembered what they had forgotten.
"You're Violet's daughter, aren't you!? I would recognize those scales anywhere," he finally said with great satisfaction.
Storm fumbled for her words, she had not been expecting to have to talk to anyone for at least another twenty minutes. "Erm, yes, that's right," she replied, hoping she would be able to leave soon. Unfortunately the guard seemed to be in a chatty mood.
"Yeah, we trained together in the first circle. She was always ahead of us all," he said with admiration. "Her mother, being your grandmother that is, had been the general at that time, in fact, at least one member of your lineage seemed to hold a high ranking position in the military for as long as the Ice Kingdom existed." He seemed to be lost in memories, and Storm nodded politely the whole time but was secretly hoping to be dismissed soon.
"Wait, did you say the first circle?" The guard holding the scroll spoke up now. "How can that be? This dragon's family..." he flicked his tail in her direction, "is from the seventh circle."
Storm's face suddenly turned blue with embarrassment as she knew what was coming next. The older guard leaned his head in towards the younger male and said in a hushed voiced. "Oh it was quite the scandal, you see, her mother fell in love with..."
"OK THANK YOU BUT I HAVE TO LEAVE NOW," Storm said a little too loudly, and then grabbed the scroll from the guard's talons and flew off, not caring if she had offended them.
Her face was still blue as she flew away, part embarrassment and part anger. What was their problem? She fumed to herself. That was completely unprofessional; I should make a formal complaint. Guards are not supposed to stand around gossiping about the dragon that is RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM.
She finally arrived at the training area, which actually consisted of several buildings. One was for general fitness and strength building, another for weapons training and a third was like a large arena for battle practice. Since only the arena was lit from within with Moon Globes Storm reasoned that was the location of the meeting. Her reasoning was correct as the huge iron gates that blocked the large entrance tunnel to the building were unlocked and she could hear the voice of General Shiver within. She entered and shut the doors behind her. As she walked through the entrance tunnel the floor changed from fluffy snow to a softer, dirt like substance that was better for training. Storm didn't know where they found the material, perhaps in the wasteland that was between here and the Sand Kingdom. She entered the humongous domed arena, which was large enough to provide ample room for entire battalions to do air battle simulations and was filled with various obstacles and training dummies that had been pushed aside along the walls.
What was in the center of the arena was actually living dragons. To the left was a precise and organized line of fifteen IceWings, the majority she didn't recognize, but all of them were first circle as shown by their necklaces. Prince Frazil, the Queen's own son, was even present. There were also about twenty or so SandWings walking around too, obviously the rest of Blaze's supporters that hadn't ran to the desert as soon as they heard the war was over. Despite being indoors they wore layers and layers of fur cloaks and other various garments. Storm sympathized with them, this war was bad for everyone but being forced to live in a climate that was the opposite of what one was evolved for must have been brutal. There was also General Shiver who was facing away from her and speaking with Blaze and Queen Glacier.
Storm did a double take, OH MOONS, QUEEN GLACIER IS HERE. She stopped in her tracks, hoping they hadn't noticed her enter. They seemed to be deep in conversation so she quickly scuttled over to the line of IceWings and mimicked the customary pose with her tail curled behind her (its extra length making it difficult) and her head pointed upward at a 60° angle. A SandWing noticed her sneaky antics and gave out a small laugh which made her face blush blue.
I really need to get my act together. I'm an embarrassment to the tribe! She scolded herself. Luckily Storm didn't get to dwell on her embarrassment for very long.
"Alright warriors, listen up!" General Shiver suddenly ordered, his deep voice echoing in the giant arena. He was an enormous dragon with deep blue scales zig-zagging over his back and wings.
"You have each been selected for a special mission based on recommendations from your teachers and superiors who have noticed your skills and loyalty," he explained and Storm puffed out her chest with pride. She would have to remember to thank her instructor Wolf later on.
"Your mission," he continued, "is to escort Blaze and her troops safely back to the Sand Kingdom. Despite the war being over our reports indicate that there are still hostile enemy battalions stationed on Skywing territory in-between the Ice Kingdom and Sand Kingdom, as well as along the delta river that leads into the mountains. Therefore we will avoid this area and fly along the Westcoast. It will take four days to get to Queen Thorn's palace, and a four day return flight. I will provide you with your canteens of water before we leave and we will hunt for food as needed. The only equipment you will need is your armor and blankets. Meet again here in three hours for departure. Dismissed!"
The line of IceWings saluted in unison and in an orderly fashion made their way towards the exit.
"Private Storm, please come speak to me before you leave," General Shiver called out and for a moment Storm almost froze in place, but quickly stepped aside and let the line of IceWings pass by.
Orca dung! She cursed. Did he see me enter late?
The large male approached her, but his expression was unreadable. She saluted him as he stood before her and watched as he took out a scroll from a pouch that was fastened across his chest.
"Here, you'll need this to get back into the First Circle," he said, handing it to her.
"Oh, thank you, Sir," Storm replied, she had almost forgotten about the whole situation with guards. Maybe some other guards will be on duty by the time I return. She hoped.
"Now that the war and your training are over, perhaps you should now focus your efforts into reaching the first circle. You've only just turned six, you still have a year until your adult placement is determined and based on what I've seen and heard about you, I think you will easily climb the ranks," the General said.
Storm was stunned at the compliment, but then again, her sister had reached first circle status shortly before turning seven. Indeed, so had her mother as well as every female in her lineage that came before her. There were high expectations for her.
"Yes, I intend to devote myself to reaching the first circle as soon as I return from this mission," she replied dutifully and the large male nodded his approval. Storm was expecting to be dismissed, but suddenly his hard gaze became softer.
"Also....I am sorry to hear about the death of your sister," he said solemnly and Storm tried to remain collected as she felt a lump appear in her throat.
"She was an excellent warrior and leader and I had hoped to make her my replacement when I retired," he confided.
Storm didn't trust herself to speak without choking up so she simply dipped her head in gratitude and was then dismissed.
As she turned to leave she saw the SandWing from earlier, the one that had laughed at her, was now staring at her. Storm noticed now that it was a male, and a young one at that, perhaps four? It was hard to tell with all those cloaks covering him. He had a sympathetic look on his face as their eyes met and Storm quickly looked away. Had he been listening to her conversation with the General?
Nosy sand-muncher. The sooner they are out of the arctic the better. She seethed, her rage stemming more from her anger at herself for almost crying in front of the General than from the SandWing. If she were honest with herself, Storm didn't really believe that IceWings were better than SandWings. All IceWings were taught in school that their tribe was the best and most superior tribe in Pyrrhia, but if this war had taught her anything, it was that IceWings live and die just the same as any other dragon.
She eventually exited the arena and welcomed the cooling gust of wind as it swirled around her, causing the freshly fallen snow to dance about for only an instant before resettling. The light snow fall from earlier had turned into a respectable flurry as large, soft snowflakes gently accumulated on the ground like a bed of feathers.
On any other night it would have been completely silent, with the only sound being the crunching of the snow beneath one's feet. However, tonight the first circle was alive with balls and banquets. Ballroom music could be heard from multiple palaces, with the loudest coming from the Queen's own castle.
The Northern Lights were also streaming across the sky, the green and red ribbons of light illuminating the snow to match their colours. Storm let out a sigh, her breath creating a puff of vapour that quickly disappeared. According to IceWing legend, the souls of the deceased were among those lights. She wondered if her family was there tonight, flying above her, watching over their home. Storm looked around her to make sure no one was nearby. After she confirmed this, she looked back up at the lights, "I promise I will make you proud, I won't disappoint you," she whispered. She then took to the sky to return to home. It was time to prepare for her journey.
Chapter 2: Oryx and Caracal
Even though she didn't have a lot to prepare, Storm still quickly rushed to gather her things. She removed her armor and put on her harness. It was a series of ropes, loops and buckles that could be used to fasten water bottles, blankets and other equipment onto. She folded her large polar bear fur blanket into a neat and small bundle and fastened it onto her harness. She then put her armor back on and did a quick run through of the house to make sure there was no food or garbage left out. Once she was satisfied she went to the door to leave, but something held her back.
She turned around and slowly, almost fearfully, walked up to the portrait of her family. She had studied it many times, trying to memorize their faces so she wouldn't forget them. The portrait had been completed when Storm had been very young; the last time they had all been together. Her parents were in the back ground, looking perfect and elegant. Her mother's beautiful and gentle features complimenting the purple hue of her scales. Her father was also looking regal even though he stood almost two heads taller than her mother despite being the same age. His own light-blue tinted scales bringing out the blue of his eyes. Her sister, Qana, was sitting in front of their father looking like a spitting image of mother, her eyes alert and intelligent. And then there was Storm, sitting in front of her mother. Storm had looked the way all dragonets did at that age; her eyes were too big for her head and her head too big for her body. She looked like a fish that had tried to disguise themselves as a dragon and nonchalantly slip into some random family's portrait.
She let out a shaky breath, not realizing the tears that were running down her face. She quickly wiped them away, embarrassed to be crying even though she was alone. She took several deep breaths and tried to reason with herself.
"Qana wouldn't be such a mess; she would know just what to do. Stop crying and do what you must." She told herself, but deep down, Storm couldn't shake this horrible feeling. The feeling that her sister should have been the one to survive instead of Storm. Qana had always been the strong one. When their mother died and their father had been away at war, Qana had stepped in and filled the role of both parents. They only had had each other to lean on. Her military career was just as impressive, even the General himself even said that he wanted her to be his replacement. She would have made the family proud. Storm, however, wasn't sure she could live up to the expectations.
Ugh, what am I doing? I have to leave; I can't be standing here obsessing over this! She scolded herself, but her body seemed frozen to the spot as she still didn't get up to leave.
Then, in an act of impulsivity, she reached up and removed the portrait from the wall. She removed the picture from the frame and gently rolled up the canvas and placed it into a waterproof leather pouch which she then fastened to her harness.
As she left her house, she tried to convince herself that it was completely normal to carry around a professionally painted portrait of one's dead family.
Storm entered the first circle without any embarrassing conversations and was surprised to find she was the first IceWing to have returned to the arena. Not even General Shiver was there. However, the SandWings were still there and based on the stack of conifer trees that were placed in the center it appeared that some IceWing had brought them wood to make some fires while they waited to leave. And they had done just that. Indeed, several very large fires were scattered all over the arena, causing the temperature in the building to increase a considerable amount. As such, the SandWings had removed most of their cloaks and were seeming a lot more comfortable now. They sat around the fires chatting and cooking prey that had been caught for them.
Storm, feeling very awkward and out of place, tried to keep out of sight and stick to the walls, but the alien smell of burning wood and smoke kept causing her to sneeze. It wasn't long before one of them noticed her, and it just so happened to be the same young male as before. As he approached, Storm began rearranging the equipment that she had been hiding next to, pretending to be busy and uninterested in social interactions. The SandWing did not pick up on this.
"Hi there, your name is Storm, right?" he said, his voice youthful and energetic. Now that he had removed a few layers Storm could see that he was indeed around four years old. He was shorter than she was; his eyes were at the level as her mouth. Also his scales were not the usual pale gold of normal SandWings but were more of a grey or cream colour which made his diamondback pattern nearly invisible. At the same time his eyes were a vivid copper. Perhaps this is what happens when SandWings start living in the arctic. Storm thought.
He was looking at her expectantly and Storm realized there was no escaping this conversation.
"Yes, you are correct," she replied as curtly as possible. Well, since I am speaking with him anyway, I might as well find out if he was eavesdropping on me. "And how did you know my name?" she asked him, but she had a pretty good idea what the answer was.
The male scratched the back of his neck and smiled shamelessly, "Well...I kind of overheard you talking to that General," he admitted.
I knew it! Such disgraceful behaviour! she thought. But before she could scold him, he stuck out his talon in a friendly manner and introduced himself, "My name is Oryx by the way." He waited patiently as Storm inspected his talon for dirt before firmly shaking it.
"You know, you could probably take off that helmet, we still have a few hours before we leave. It must be uncomfortable," he suggested.
"Don't be ridiculous," Storm hissed. "I'll have you know that it is very comfortable, and even if it wasn't IceWings are expected to wear their armor at all times when on duty. It should be like a second set of scales for them," she lectured, to which Oryx raised his eyebrow in skepticism. This led to a stare down between the two and Storm eventually relented.
"Alright, fine," she said as she unfastened the clasp and removed her helmet.
Oryx eyes widened in surprise, "Wow, you're really purple!" he said which was quickly followed by Storm putting her helmet back on in embarrassment and annoyance.
"I didn't mean it in a bad way!" he sputtered out, "I've just never seen so much purple on an IceWing before. Also, wow, is that your tail because it's huge!"
Sufficiently humiliated Storm quickly walked away from Oryx, hiding her blue face under her helmet.
"No wait, I'm sorry! It's a lovely tail, very...elegant and stuff, he fumbled out, trailing behind her.
"Oh just shut up!" Storm called back. He eventually caught up and began walking next to her. "Yeah, that's probably for the best," he agreed with a laugh. This agreement lasted a whole ten seconds.
"So you're from the Fourth Circle, right? What's it like there? What's the different between all circles? In fact, what is the whole deal with these circles anyway?"
Storm took a deep breath as a headache began to form in her temples that could have been from the smoke, but was probably from Oryx. Before she could answer the barrage of questions, a neatly stacked pile of training equipment collapsed in front of them. Along with the piles of dummies and floor mats, a small SandWing dragonet tumbled down as well and luckily landed on one of the mats and began to giggle and laugh. It was a small female, and not even a year old.
The shock at seeing such a young Sandwing dragonet surprised Storm so much that, in hindsight, she exclaimed a stupid question:"WHAT IN THE MOONS IS THAT?"
"Well, in the Sand Kingdom we call them 'dragonets' or 'hatchlings'," Oryx simpered and Storm had to hold herself back from swatting him on the snout.
"Yes, thank you, Oryx," she replied dryly. "But what is she doing here?"
As it seemed, Oryx's attitude was just getting warmed up, "Well...when two dragons are very fond of each other they get together and..."
"ORYX I SWEAR I AM GOING TO BITE YOU!" Storm cut him off, blushing at the implications. She sent a silent prayer to the ancient Queen Firn, who had been known for her patience, in hopes that the spirit of the dead Queen would help her get through this situation without attacking someone. "What I am trying to ask is: why is there a SandWing dragonet amongst an army of soldiers in the middle of the Ice Kingdom? Either you are making dragonets fight, or you are behaving very irresponsibly."
Oryx shrugged, his expression turning from mischievous to regretful. "Well, when you think you're going to die tomorrow you kind of just live for today. No matter what the consequences are."
Storm had a flurry of different emotions run through her: disappointment and anger at the SandWing troops for their irresponsible behaviour, sadness for this dragonet who has never been to the desert where she belongs, and anxiety at the idea of this little creature fending for herself.
"Well, where are her parents?" Storm asked, and Oryx replied with a shrug. This earned him a stinging whip from her tail.
"OW!" he yelped, rubbing the area that she had hit. "What was that for?"
"Because that's not good enough!" she seethed. "I don't care if there is a war going on, I don't care if the world is ending! You don't abandon hatchlings to fend for themselves!"
"Just calm down, alright?!" Oryx anxiously replied, looking somewhat fearful. "I'm taking good care of her, she's my half-sister after all. Besides, I was born in that arctic too and I turned out fine!" he pointed out.
"Wait, you were born...in the arctic?" Suddenly his strange scale colour made sense.
"Yep!" he replied. "My mother died before I hatched, though. And my father never stepped up to claim me so I was just raised by the others." His expression wasn't sorrowful or angry, rather, he had a proud grin on his face as if it were an accomplishment.
Storm felt disheartened at his confidence. He had obviously suffered a great loss during this war as well, but here he was talking about it as if it were nothing. As for herself, she couldn't even listen to someone talk about her sister without choking up.
A sudden ruckus made both dragons turn back towards the hatchling who had managed to knock over a training dummy and was now gripping it with her teeth and fore-claws while kicking it aggressively.
"Caracal, cut that out!" Oryx said with more authority than Storm expected him from him. He hurried over to the small dragoness who, thinking this was some sort of game, giggled and ran off to hide behind some other mats and equipment.
"NO!" squeaked Caracal from somewhere behind the wall of training paraphernalia. "I is having fun times!"
Storm watched with equal parts amusement and exasperation as a game of hide and seek commenced in which Caracal would dodge in between the gear just as Oryx was about the catch her, all while more equipment fell to the ground. Soon, many of the SandWings were looking in their direction, wondering what was going on. At that point Storm decided it was time to get a hold of the situation. Never leave a Sandwing to do an Icewing's job.
"Caracal!" she barked, putting on her severest face. "Enough of this foolishness, you are going to get hurt so if you would please..."
"AAH! A MONSTER!" Caracal cried in excitement and ran up a fake maple tree. Storm looked around in confusion as saw Oryx role his eyes.
"It's your helmet," he informed her.
Storm sighed and removed it. "See, Caracal? I am not a monster, just an IceWing," she said to the tree, and saw a pair of gold eyes stare back at her through the foliage. "Now, for your safety I would appreciate it if you would please -"
Suddenly a tiny gold body tackled her face, latching onto it and causing Storm to practically fall over backwards. "Your face is purple! I LOVES PURPLE!" Caracal shouted and laughed, refusing to let go over Storm's head. Storm regained balance but couldn't see a thing through the small wings that covered her eyes and face. She blindly felt around until she found a good spot to grab the dragonet to try and pry her off. Caracal, however, thinking this was great fun, refused to let go. She could hear Oryx roaring with laughter, and her face began to blush a deep blue as she heard amused chatter arise from the other SandWings.
Suddenly the amused chatter and laughter ceased, and Storm wasn't left with any time to wonder why.
"WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?" General Shiver yelled.
Caracal immediately let go of Storm's face, and Storm quickly placed her on the ground where the little dragon rushed over to Oryx and hid under his wing. Oryx himself was looking pretty guilty as well.
"Private Storm, why is your helmet off? This is a breach of protocol! And why is this place such a mess?" Storm fumbled to put on her helmet while trying to think of a reply, luckily Oryx stepped in to help.
"Uh, that was my fault, Sir. I was just..."
"THEN CLEAN IT UP!" the General barked at him, "And get that dragonet under control! She shouldn't even be here!"
Oryx quickly nodded and began to tidy up the equipment while Caracal held onto him timidly. Meanwhile Storm had time to put her helmet on and position herself into the proper stance with her head and tail positioned just right. General Shiver then turned to her, his eyes burning.
"I expected better from you! Don't make me regret allowing you to join this mission. Now, go and help distribute the water canteens!"
"Yes, Sir. Sorry, Sir. It won't happen again, Sir," Storm blurted out.
"Don't apologize; just do as you're ordered!" he growled.
With one last "Yes, Sir" Storm ran towards the two sleds that had been brought in. Each was loaded with water bottles which had been constructed from bone, cartilage and waterproof leather. One sled was for the SandWings and the other for the IceWings. By now the other IceWings were returning, and despite just being yelled at in front of the SandWings, she was glad the other IceWings hadn't been here.
She gave a waterbottle to each IceWing as they entered the arena and sighed to herself. This was going to be a long four days.
Just as ordered, the large group of dragons left the Ice Kingdom right on time. They had to leave through a secret tunnel that by passed under the Great Ice Cliff as to prevent their SandWing guests from being impaled. It had apparently been constructed shortly after the legendary betrayal of the Nightwings who stole both Prince Arctic as well as the bracelets that allowed non-Icewings to transverse the wall. It was a tribe secret and the Sandwings had to be blindfolded to hide its location but within record time they were in the sky and flying towards the desert.
Storm remained on her best behaviour. Doing everything as instructed and saying the least amount as possible, anything to make up for her earlier embarrassment. While she maintained her cold disposition she had to admit she was a little excited. When she had been very young she had wanted to visit other tribes and see all the plants and animals that lived there. Shortly after expressing her interest to her parents, she was strictly informed that her life would not be one of travel.
As the IceWings flew in silence, the SandWings were talking non-stop. Most of the conversation was Blaze going on about all the parties she would have, and how she hoped Queen Glacier would come visit her sometime. There had been many rumours circulating about Queen Glacier and Blaze, mostly about how protective Queen Glacier had been. Most had brushed it off as the Queen protecting her investments while others had suggested something....more between the two.
Storm looked around, trying to ignore the annoying conversations of the SandWings. The sky was still dark; they had been flying for most of the day but it would be a ways yet before they would leave the Northern tip and the sun would rise. Storm couldn't wait. It wasn't often that IceWings got to see a sunrise or sunset.
While looking around Storm noticed two figures flying some distance behind the group. Upon further inspection she recognized them as Oryx and Caracal. She almost flew right to them, but then remembered her earlier blunder. Instead she approached General Shiver who was flying at the front of the formation.
"General, Sir! Two SandWings have fallen behind."
The General looked at Storm, then swiveled his head to look behind them. "You are correct, Private. Go to them and see what is wrong," he ordered. Storm saluted and did a wide bank in the sky and flew towards the two dragons.
As she approached them, she did a second banking turn so that she was flying in the same direction, and approached Oryx from his left side.
"What's going on? Why are you two falling behind?" she asked, but then noticed that Caracal's wing beats were erratic and frantic, and the young dragoness was panting heavily.
"What's wrong with her!?" Storm shouted with great anxiety.
"Well, she's only young, Storm. She doesn't fly too well, she gets tired easily," Oryx explained.
"NO!" Caracal yelled. "I am *pant* the BESTEST *pant* flyer EVER *pant*."
Storm gave Oryx a fierce look. "Well why haven't you helped her? Carry her or something!"
Oryx gave her an exasperated expression and then reached towards Caracal to grab her. The tiny dragon immediately began to claw and hiss at him so aggressively that she almost fell from the sky.
"NO. I FLY BY MYSELF. I AM BESTEST!" she insisted.
Oryx removed his talons and gave Storm a helpless shrug. Storm rolled her eyes and let out a frustrated sigh. Do I have to do everything? The IceWing flew and positioned herself directly above the dragonet, and after a few moments of waiting for the right moment, she quickly snatched the hatchling from the sky, folding her wings closed and holding her tightly.
"HEY!" Caracal yelled and began to vigorously squirm. Storm quickly fastened the young dragon to her harness, making sure she wouldn't be able to reach any of the knots and untie herself. Once satisfied that the dragonet wasn't going anywhere, Storm turned to Oryx. "Alright, let's catch up with the others."
"Yes, ma'am," Oryx said with an amused smiled on his face. "That's a pretty neat trick; you'll have to teach it to me."
"If we have time." Storm said non-committedly. As Storm returned to her position in the flight formation Caracal was fiercely trying to swivel her head and bite the IceWing, kicking her four feet and ordering to be let go. All of which went ignored by Storm.
It wasn't long before the little dragon ran out of steam and hung limply, and for several minutes Storm flew in relative peace and quiet until Caracal finally spoke up, her voice timid and remorseful, "I'm sorry I got you in troubles with that mean yell-y dragon," she apologized suddenly.
Storm blinked in surprise, not really knowing what to say. Oh, she must mean General Shiver. She felt something rub against her wing and she looked to her right to see Oryx, nudging her while looking at Caracal's crestfallen expression, obviously expecting her to say something reassuring.
Storm tried her best, "Uh, no it wasn't your fault, Caracal. I got in trouble for removing my helmet, so it was mostly my own fault...." she explained, "...but it was also Oryx's fault too," she added quickly, shooting the male a dirty look. He should have just let me keep to myself, but NOOO he just had to start a conversation with me.
Despite being completely serious Caracal giggled at the accusation while Oryx smiled and gave Storm a playful nudge which caused her to wobble slightly in the air and hiss in annoyance. This seemed to satisfy the little SandWing as she didn't say anything else for a while, and Oryx wasn't giving Storm any more expectant looks. So for several more minutes they flew in peaceful silence, even the other SandWings were quieting down, their fatigue from flying all day getting the better of them. This peace was abruptly interrupted with a loud, "I IS BORED!" from Caracal which caused several heads to look towards Storm, who ducked her own in embarrassment.
"Well, we will be landing soon so you'll just have to wait a little longer," Storm informed her sharply and the dragonet let out a dramatic sigh.
"But that too long, I is bored now," she whined and started kicking her feet in frustration. "Tell me a story!" she finally exclaimed.
Storm heaved a sigh, "Well, I'm sure Oryx has some stories for...."
"NO, I already hear all his stories!" Caracal interrupted, "I wanna hear an IceWing story!"
At this point most of the dragons flying nearby were listening in, and Storm hesitated, not sure what she should do. However, Prince Frazil, who had been flying just in front of her, slowed down and aligned himself with Storm. He was sturdy for an IceWing, with muscular limbs and wings which were lined with scales so lustrous they looked like diamonds. He was also handsome and extremely high ranking. Storm's heart began to pound with anxiety. OH MOONS, THE PRINCE! WHAT DOES HE WANT? OK, just be calm and don't do anything dumb or shameful.
"If she wants to hear a story..." Frazil said to Storm, his voice mature and monotone, "then perhaps you should tell her about the military campaigns of Queen Ice who, 300 years ago, was able to..."
"BORING!" Caracal interrupted and Storm nearly dropped out of the sky with mortification. No one interrupted someone of higher rank. Let alone the Prince!
"I no want history, I just want the story. I wanna hear about magics and heroes and powerful dragons!" Caracal exclaimed, clasping her talons together in longing.
The Prince scoffed. "Little dragon," he said condescendingly, "Stories like that are either completely made up and therefore serve no constructive purpose, or, they are remnants of old, superstitious folktales and must be eradicated to allow for proper progressive thoughts to flourish. There is no place for such things in proper society." And with that, Prince Frazil returned to his position ahead of Storm and, thankfully, didn't see Caracal sticking her tongue out at him.
However, it didn't take long to notice that the harsh words had taken effect in the young dragon as she suddenly became quiet and unresponsive. Storm could understand, having grown up with her father telling all sorts of fantastic stories it was rather hurtful to hear them belittled by the Prince. She then felt Oryx nudging her again with that same expectant expression. Storm couldn't help but get a little angry with him. Why is it up to me to cheer her up and entertain her? She's not even part of my tribe!
When it became apparent that Caracal was quite upset and showed no sign of brightening Storm reluctantly decided she should probably do something. She quickly looked around her to make sure no one was listening, and to her luck it seemed everyone was minding their own business now. Well, everyone except Oryx who was giving her a curious look. Surprisingly, Storm found she didn't mind whether he heard her or not.
"Alright, so, I might know one story," she whispered to Caracal, and the young dragon's eyes lit up. However, it was a lie. She actually knew about thirty stories but she didn't want to let that information slip.
"Really?" Caracal whispered back with joy, "With magics and stuff?"
"Yes, but it will have to wait for later...it's a secret story," Storm told her, which was sort of true. She certainly didn't want the other IceWings hearing her tell it.
"Can you at least tell me what it about?" the dragonet begged. Storm sighed once again, looked around anxiously and lowered her head closer to Caracal.
"It's about the first animus dragon," Storm explained in the lowest whisper she could muster. Luckily Caracal was able to hear her and clapped her talons with excitement. Oryx, also having somehow heard her, looked at her with interest.
Soon, the large group of dragons began to approach a conifer forest. It was located at the edge of the Northern tip where the boarder of the Ice Kingdom ended and the wasteland between here and the Sand Kingdom began. Unofficially this location was often referred to as the 'Mouth of the Pyrrhia' in reference to the shape of the continent which many claimed looked like a dragon, and also the numerous tall pine trees that looked like teeth.
"Prepare to land!" General Shiver called out, and the dragons began to descend to the forest floor. Their wing beats shook the trees free of their coat of snow and flung it into the sky, creating a small blizzard. The air smelled of fresh pine and the snow in this area was not as heavy as in the arctic, allowing for some bushes and other vegetation to sprout beneath the trees.
In a relatively snow free clearing Storm landed and untied Caracal from her harness. The dragonet began to stretch and fluttered her wings, and then ran to the nearest tree and began to climb it. Finally, Oryx seemed to step in and take back his role as dragonet watcher as he swiftly approached the tree and tried to get Caracal to come down. All around her the other dragons were preparing the campsite. The SandWings were starting little fires and pitching tents, and Storm joined the other IceWings as they lined up in front of General Shiver who was organizing a hunting patrol as well as a guard patrol.
"We'll wait for you when you get back!" Oryx hollered at her before he stuck his head back in the tree in an attempt to capture the allusive Caracal. Storm ignored the raised eyebrows of the surrounding IceWings and hurried to join some other tribemates that were already in the forest.
As they prowled through the trees Storm looked up at the sky. It was still night, but the moons were no longer right above them, rather, they were near the horizon and she wondered if they would see a sunrise.
She also wondered if her family could still see her from here and gently grasped the pouch that contained the portrait.
Storm shook these thoughts away and ran to catch up with the others.
Chapter 3: Legends in the Fog
Storm thanked the spirits for the bountiful amount of prey in the area. Even after hunting for herself she had been able to catch several caribou for the others before being released from duty to set up her bed and sleep. As she entered camp she hoped that perhaps Oryx and Caracal were asleep and she wouldn't need to make good of her promise.
This was not the case, as it appeared that Oryx was still awake and waved at her from across the camp. Sitting beside the SandWing was a dozing Caracal.
Storm hesitated in approaching them. All the other IceWings were laying out their beds on the other side of camp, away from the fires and from the SandWings. Maybe I should do the same...
"STORM! OVER HERE!" Oryx yelled, mistaking her hesitation for blindness. Storm's reluctance vanished. She raced across the clearing and practically tackled him as she quickly covered his mouth.
"SHH, don't yell like that!" She blushed and looked around anxiously to see some dragons looking in their direction.
"You need to stop being so concerned about these things." Oryx said casually, pushing away her talons. "Who cares what other dragons think?"
Storm must have given him a fierce look since he wilted slightly under her gaze.
"I care, actually!" she hissed. "Especially when my career, honor, my family's honor, and EVERYTHING rests on making a good impression and not embarrassing myself or my Tribe!" Storm raged. She then closed her eyes, inhaled and then exhaled while messaging her temples.
When she opened her eyes Oryx had a regretful expression on his face. "I guess I have been getting you into a lot of trouble lately. I'm sorry," he said sincerely. Storm dipped her head in acknowledgment.
"Are you going to get in trouble if you tell that story?" Oryx asked suddenly. "I noticed earlier how anxious you were around the other IceWings when you were talking about it."
Caracal was dozing heavily now, her eyes closed and her head was drooping only to have her jolt herself awake every few seconds. Storm paused. How much should she tell him?
"Well," Storm uttered, not really knowing how to continue, "You once asked me what the difference between the circles was. One of the differences is the belief in the ancient legends." Storm swallowed as Oryx looked at her intently, waiting for more details.
"Erm, I am not sure how much of this you already know, but before the Scorching, the tribes were very different than what they are today. Each had their own language, songs, traditions, legends, and histories. I mean, we have that now too, but it goes back much further than many think. After the Scorching, the tribes all adopted the same language, and many underwent ideological changes as well. As for the Ice Kingdom, much of our ancient ways were labelled as superstitious nonsense and completely replaced. Today any mention of them is met with scorn. At least, that's how it is in the First and Second circles..." Storm trailed off, the hurtful words of Prince Frazil coming to mind.
"But it's different in the Fourth Circle." Oryx continued for her.
Storm nodded and she dropped her voice down to a whisper. "Many of us in the lower circles still follow these old beliefs. But we do so with discretion. My mother was from the First circle, so I learned most of these traditions from my father..." Storm suddenly smacked her talon over her mouth. What am I doing? Talking to this Sandwing about my family, about my life. I've already said too much.
Oryx was looking at her with great concern and confusion. "Storm...are you alright?"
"I, uh...uhm..." She tried to think of something to explain her behaviour. To her surprise Oryx began to chuckle lightly.
"You're strange Storm, but I like you anyway." He smiled at her and Storm gave him an unamused frown which made him laugh more.
"Everyone look! The sun is coming up!" a random voice abruptly called from somewhere in the camp and within an instant every dragon, SandWing and IceWing alike, looked to the East. Indeed, above the tree line the sky was changing from indigo to blue, and eventually to pink and orange. The camp was suddenly a flurry of activity as dragons took to the sky to get a better view, including Storm. Oryx joined her a few moments later holding a sleeping Caracal in his arms. He gently shook her awake, ignoring the growls and hisses.
"Come on Caracal, don't be like that. I want to show you something."
Caracal reluctantly opened a single eye, and then they both shot open as she saw the sun's rays shoot up from the horizon.
"What is that?" she asked with equal parts concern and wonder, rubbing her eyes in disbelief.
"Caracal, let me formally introduce you to the sun," Oryx told her with a wide grin on his face. Storm was so entranced with watching the sun that it had only just occurred to her that Caracal wouldn't have ever seen the sun before. The little dragon was only a few months old, probably hatched at the beginning of winter in the arctic.
By now the top of the sun was visible, its burning light made it hard to look at but Storm couldn't help herself and was forced to look away several times. Since they were still close to the Northern tip the sun wouldn't rise high in the sky, it would stay around the horizon like one long sunrise. The further they got from the North, the higher it would rise. Storm wasn't complaining though and looked back at Oryx and Caracal. The little dragoness in his arms was asking non-stop questions while pointing at the sun and Oryx was handling it with aplomb. The scene gave Storm a flashback from her own past; it had been her first Spring Equinox and Storm was in her father's arms while he hovered in the air alongside her sister as they waited for the sun to rise. All around them in the air, and beneath them on the ground, the IceWings of the lower circles were singing one of the old songs in celebration of the rising sun.
It was a bittersweet memory, and despite the stinging reminder it placed in her heart, it also made her smile.
It also made her think of all the fun stories her father would tell her. She looked back to Caracal and Oryx. Perhaps telling them a story wouldn't be so bad.
Eventually everyone began to land and Storm approached the two SandWings. "If you're not too tired would you be willing to hear my story?" she asked. The bright and awake eyes of Caracal were enough of an answer. Caracal was bouncing as the three returned to where they had made their beds. Storm glanced about anxiously to ensure none of the other IceWings were looking her way. Satisfied that they would have their privacy Storm began to retell the story she had heard so many times before.
A very long time ago, before the three moons hung in the sky and long before there were the seven tribes of Dragons that we know today, there was a dragon hatched in one of the nomadic Clans that inhabited the Northern tip. She hatched just as the last of the summer sun fell behind the horizon and the arctic was plunged into winter.
However, as the sun disappeared below the sea a terrible evil was released onto the land and cursed the egg. When the hatchling emerged from the shell it was disfigured and monstrous with two long, winding necks sprouting from its body and eyes as red as prey-blood. Such a creature was nothing but an omen of evil so the Clan abandoned the nameless hatchling to the ravenous cold arctic lands.
But the hatchling did not want to die. She turned her new eyes skyward and saw the streaming rivers of light that made up the arouras. Cold and hungry she followed their winding paths as they led her safely away from the wolves and bears which, at this time, were very close in size to an adult dragon. She followed and followed and followed the path until she came across a vast cave that was inhabited by three dragonesses. They were sister, and each of them were as beautiful as the stars in the sky and glowed just as gently. Most importantly, when they looked at the dragonet there was no fear or disgust in their eyes. Only warmth and pity was reflected in their gaze.
"Young dragons," the smallest of the sisters spoke. "Why are you roaming alone? Is it not safe for hatchlings such as yourselves to be out."
When the dragonet spoke their voices shook from the cold. "We were abandoned by our tribe. We followed the lights in the sky and they led to you."
The largest of the sisters nodded. "They were right to bring you here. Now come inside little ones, we will care for you until you are grown."
The three sisters raised the dragonet like it was their own and have them names. The head on the left was named Siv and the one on the right named Anka, as these were common names before the scorching. The two headed dragon grew to become strong and intelligent, excelling in fighting, hunting, poetry, mathematics and the sciences. But she never forgot her humble beginnings and how grateful she was for the help of the three sisters.
When she was finally grown and able to fend for herself, she approached her caretakers with her gratitude. "If it hadn't been for your kindness all those years ago I would have surely died. How can I ever repay you?"
The sisters thought for a moment before finally answering.
"Do you see that mountain to the West? Within lies a magic orb that was stolen from us." The smaller sister said.
"There is a spell upon that mountain that prevents us from retrieving it ourselves," spoke the second smallest. "But someone such as yourself, with a noble spirit and pure heart, should be able to retrieve it for us."
Eager to show their gratitude and strength, Siv and Anka immediately agreed and set a course to the looming mountains.
As they flew closer they could see massive opening on the mountains face that led into a cave. As they landed, a monstrous being five times their size greeted them. He was covered in feathers as black as a starless night but they did nothing to hide the outlines of the bones on his hunger panged frame. He had wings, but only two legs which were long and slender. The legs ended in a three toed foot with talons the length of two dragons. His eyes burned a deep orange and rather than a snout, a long, sharp beak jutted from his face like an icicle.
He was large enough to swallow them whole but just when he seemed about to lunge towards them he paused.
"You're as monstrous as I am," he squawked, observing their two lithe necks wrapping around each other.
The sisters ignored the creature and, with heads held high they stated their intent to retrieve the orb.
The Guardian of the mountain stood firmly in their path. "You must prove you are worthy to take the orb. Defeat me and you shall be worthy indeed."
The two monsters fought for what seemed like an eternity. The Guardian used his massive size and strength to hurl boulders and smash at them while the sisters dodged and attacked his weak spots. Several deep gashes on the Guardians neck, legs and wings bled profusely and weakened the great giant until he fell to the floor in heap of bloody feathers.
"You have done well," he croaked. "But now you must finish me off and claim your prize."
The sisters jumped onto his large, unscaled neck, ready to slice the soft tissue and let him bleed out. But they hesitated.
"We will not kill you. There was no honor in killing a defeated foe," they said and climbed of the great creature.
"Are you sure? You must prove yourself before you can retrieve the orb."
The sisters thought for a moment. They truly wanted to repay the three dragons that saved them, but to kill a weakened enemy went against everything they had been taught.
"We are sure," they said.
The Guardian smiled and instantly his fatal wounds were healed. He rose to his feet. "You have passed the test. You have proven yourselves to be intelligent and strong, but also kind and merciful. The orb is yours to take."
The sisters rushed back to the North with the orb in their talons and proudly presented it to their three parents. As soon as the three sisters had the orb, they began to glow as bright as the moons, their eyes shone with the lights of the auroras and they grew larger and larger until they had to fly into the sky where they turned into three glowing orbs in the black of the night.
At that moment the black winter sky exploded with the light of the new three moons. Siv and Anka stared in astonishment and also fear until they heard the comforting voices of their parents speaking to them in their minds.
"Thank you, little one, for freeing us. We had been trapped in those mortal forms for so long we were beginning to forget what we truly were."
"And because you have proven your spirit to be noble, we have a gift for you. From this moment on, everything you say will be made a reality. Anything you wish for, desire for or imagine will be made real."
And thus, the first animus was made.
With these new powers the two headed dragon returned to the family that had abandoned her. At first their tribe was terrified to see that they had lived and feared it was some demon returned to kill them all, but soon they learned this was not the case.
Siv and Anka created many animus objects that benefited and helped their family to thrive. They were even able to convince other families to join theirs. Soon they were creating vast cities that were millennia ahead in technology and science.
"They named the city Sivanka, after the creators and they lived in a golden era for many years. The End," Storm finally finished. At least the end to the first part of the story, she thought but didn't mention this out loud. She was getting tired and wasn't in the mood to tell any more stories.
Caracal was snoring quietly while Oryx had a thoughtful expression.
"Hmm...well that story was...interesting," Oryx finally said. "Kinda weird but interesting. So what was the point of the dragon having two heads?"
Storm huffed. "It's a legend, it's not meant to be taken literally. It's all symbolic."
"Sure, sure..." his voice trailed off, "...I was never any good with figuring out the deeper meanings in writing. I mean, just say what you want to say, authors! Don't make me spend an hour trying to figure it out!"
Storm ignored Oryx's complaints as she finally removed her armor and rolled out her bed. There was no point joining the other IceWings now as most were already asleep despite the rising sun. It would take a while before they would change their sleeping and wake schedules.
Despite the back luck she had experienced at the beginning of the journey, the sun's light was lifting her spirits.
Perhaps this is a sign that things will get better. She thought as she curled up into a ball and listened to Oryx's chatter, but as much as she tried to relax her mind kept wandering back to the legend and the second part she had left untold.
Siv and Anka became respected leaders. Everyone came to them for help, but it was never enough. Their Clan mates began demanding unreasonable things. Why should one fear death when a magical being could enchant you to live forever? Why mourn those who have passed when you could bring them back?
At first Anka and Siv refused these requests, but the pressure continued to rise and they began to consider if perhaps they should create something to please their family.
As the years toiled on, their views on how to rightly use their powers became warped and they began to meddle with thing forbidden to even them. Soon they created a cursed object, one that could bring back those who had already passed. The object was a sword and they called in the Sword of Resurrection. But this did not please the Moon Spirits that had given them their power.
Realizing that they must put an end to this, the Moon Spirits acted quickly and sent a giant wave to swallow the city, sending all its inventions, libraries and animus objects to the bottom of the ocean. As for Siv and Anka, they were banished from the arctic and a curse was added to their gift so that, from then on, each time they used their magic a bit of their soul was taken as well.
Instead of following the shoreline, the group of dragons had decided to save time by flying over the open water. They would fly in an arched path until they reached a region of the shoreline that jutted out of the dragon's 'neck' on the map. Once there they would take a small break to allow the SandWings to rest. They were still fairly weak from living in the arctic for so long and did not have much flight endurance.
A heavy fog clung along the beaches and on the ocean as the cold air from the arctic passed over the ever warmer land. The sun was also rising higher in the sky, but its warming influence was muted by the fog. They had been flying for most of the day when Storm finally saw their destination come into view. It looked nothing more than a smoky, dark grey line in between a grey sky and ocean, but she still felt relieved at seeing it. For most dragons, flying over open water for a long period of time is dangerous since you can't stop to rest or find your bearings.
Just as the group turned towards the land, Storm saw something move in the fog. It was coming from the direction of the open ocean. She finally recognized the shape of a dragon. Then the shape of several dragons. Within seconds a dozen dragons were heading in their direction, and by now everyone could see them. They were a group of MudWings and SkyWings with strange looking garments that covered their ears and black tinted goggles strapped to their faces. They must be part of Queen Scarlet and Burn's army. Perhaps they are just going home now that the war is over. Storm hoped, but a nagging feeling tugged at her stomach. Then what are they doing coming from the middle of the ocean? They couldn't have been returning from a raid on the Sea Kingdom, that's on the other side of Pyrrhia.
"IceWings, hold your formation!" the General called out. "We do not know yet if they are hostile!"
However, as the opposing group came within hearing distance their growls, hisses and poised talons indicated otherwise. In an instant both IceWings and SandWings were in battle formations. Storm felt a bolt of adrenalin pulse through her causing her heart to pound like a drum. She barred her teeth in a vicious snarl. Finally, time to prove myself in a real battle.
But her concentration was suddenly severed as she remembered Oryx and Caracal. She looked around for them and luckily they were not too far away. Oryx was holding Caracal in his talons out in front of him and speaking sternly to her. Storm looked at the approaching enemy, she didn't have much time.
She soared over and didn't waste any time with pleasantries. "Caracal, you have to leave! Do you see that outcropping of land? Fly there. We will come get you when the fighting is over," she blurted out, anxiety making her speech quicken. Caracal's eyes were wide with terror and she tightly clung to Oryx.
The enemy was moments away now. "Caracal, listen, you must be brave for me, alright? We will come and get you, I promise," she begged. Caracal seemed to become a little more determined after hearing this, but still clung onto Oryx.
"She's right, Caracal," the SandWing spoke up. "It's the safest option."
Caracal looked from Oryx to Storm then back to Oryx. "Okay, I try," she murmured.
"Stay close to the beach so we can see you. Now go, quickly!" Storm ordered, and with one final frightened look Caracal fluttered off towards land. Suddenly the air was full of the sounds of battle. Dragons screeched as they crashed onto each other in the air, plummeting towards the water only to split apart at the last moment. Storm didn't have time to worry about Caracal, she had other pressing matters.
The first of these matters was a very large and very angry MudWing that was charging towards her, fire streaming from his maw. Storm dodged the fiery projectile, diving below it and coming up underneath the MudWing to head-butt his unprotected stomach with the long, sharp horns that covered the back of her head.
It knocked the breath out of him and Storm felt warm blood drip down her scales and onto her face. With the enemy stunned, Storm rose before him and whipped him across the face with her tail. He howled and fled while covering one of his eyes with his talons, blood leaking out from between them. Storm didn't have time to acknowledge her triumph as she was tackled from behind by a large SkyWing. The huge, orange beast was grasping onto her wings and forcing her to dive towards the grey, churning ocean below. Storm threw her head backwards, her sharp horns making contact with the enemies face and he let out a yelp. His grip on her wings was momentarily reduced and she acted quickly, swiveling her body around so that she was facing the attacker. They were now locked onto to each other and still plummeting towards the ocean. The SkyWing opened his jaws, ready to release a jet of flames right in her face.
Storm quickly drove the heel of her front talons into his throat, causing the SkyWing to choke on his own fire. She then wedged her two feet between them and kicked out with all her strength.
The SkyWing was thrown off, leaving two deep gauges in each of Storm's shoulder where he had clung. Storm righted herself in the air just in time to pull up and avoid slamming into the ocean. The ocean mist sprayed her face and she climbed higher in search of her attacker. To her surprise he was several yards away and simply hovering in the air as if waiting for her.
Something's not right here, what is he waiting for? Storm quickly looked around at the battle and noticed a couple of things. The first was that these dragons had not been ordered to kill. Indeed, she watched as the MudWings and SkyWings as they baited her tribemates and the SandWings. They would attack long enough to cause some damage and then flee towards the ocean and cause the others to give chase. The other thing she noticed was that the land was no longer visible. Her battle rage quickly turned into panic. They were leading us away from land! She looked up to see her SkyWing attacker smiling at her knowingly.
All of a sudden and without any warning or orders all the MudWings and SkyWings retreated simultaneously in the direction they had come from. Some dragons from her group gave chase, others cheered but thankfully none seemed to be excessively injured. She spotted Oryx hovering next to some other Sandwings, she saw a couple of deep gashes on his back but he had a stupid grin on his face as if he had single headedly drove off the attackers.
"The fog is coming from the land!" General Shiver called out calmly and gathered the attention of the dragons. He had bite marks on his neck and blue blood was dripping from a gash above his eye. "To find the land again we must fly directly into the fog!"
Storm heaved a sigh of relief. At least SOMEONE knows what to do.
But just as they turned to leave, another obstacle revealed itself. It was huge, and at first Storm thought it was some sort of moving island. Yet as it continued to move forward Storm could see that it was actually a boat. It was wide and flat, more like a barge, and it had one massive fin shaped sail in the center and two smaller ones to either side. What unsettled Storm was that it was no scavenger vessel, it was dragon sized. I've only ever heard about dragonships, I've never seen them myself! I thought they were only used by SeaWing Queens to transport large cargo and prisoners?
The boat was easily forty wingspans long and twenty wide at the center. The attackers from earlier were flying around the boat, and they had been joined by others so that they now easily outnumbered the group of Icewings and Sandwings. They also all wore the same ear coverings. Stranger still, on deck there were dozens of crates filled with short sticks of bamboo.
However, Storm didn't get much time to look at them. From within their ranks a large Skywing, the same one that Storm had been grappling with, flew up to face her group. Storm was pleased to see that his shoulders were bleeding and a bruise was forming on his throat. He removed his ear coverings and addressed then, "My friends," his voice was grotesque and oily, making Storm's scales crawl. "Let us not waste life and limb fighting each other. You will not win. If you surrender, this whole process will be a lot simpler and less time consuming." He said pleasantly as if he were simply inviting them for tea.
The response he received was a unanimous growl of rage as blurs of white and gold surged towards him with claws ready. The SkyWing shrieked and high tailed it while Storm and her allies gave chase. He was heading towards the boat. He put his ear covering back on, and was frantically signaling the dragons to do something with the piles of bamboo stick in the crates. The dragons on the deck scrambled to grab the twigs, lit them on fire with their flame-breath and threw them into the sky before covering their eyes with their funny goggles and pressing their ear coverings tightly to their heads. Storm watched with curiosity as the flaming stick flew towards them...and exploded.
The result was like a shock wave. A series of mind numbing explosions sounded off in all directions and was accompanied by flashes of light.
BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.
Storm's ears rang and her vision turned white. She no longer knew which way was up or down. Her sense of balance was thrown off as well and she struggled to stabilize herself. She saw something large and grey approaching her fast, but for the life of her she couldn't tell what it was. Only when she saw the foam and spray of the waves did she recognize it as the ocean. Regaining some control she pulled up at the last minute, her left wing skidding across the water's surface. All around here the other IceWings and SandWings were experiencing the same problem. Meanwhile, the MudWings and SkyWings were leisurely snatching up the plummeting dragons and taking them onto their ship.
How are they not affected by the sound? Storm wondered. She could also see that the effects of the explosions were not long lasting as dragons were beginning to regain control of their flying and had begun to attack again. Then a second wave of explosions sounded off. Still disoriented the effects were twice as bad this round. Storm clasped her talons over her already tender ears and slammed her eyes shut.
Great Moons my ears hurt! Where are the attackers? Which direction am I going? These questions raced through her head and distracted her from the fact that she had begun to fall once again. She didn't have time to stop herself and she plunged into the icy ocean. As the cold currents entwined her and tumbled her around Storm was able to come to her senses.
ORCA DUNG AND SEAL GUTS! This is SOOOO not good! Only SeaWings could take off from the water. For other dragons, it was impossible to become airborne again once submerged. Storm would have to find land or else she would most likely drown from exhaustion. Using her legs and tail Storm swam upwards and poked her head out of the water. Most of her tribemates and the SandWings had been captured, but from the corner of her eye she saw an IceWing with zig-zagging blue scales escape in the direction of the Ice Kingdom.
It's General Shiver! He's going to tell the Queen about this attack. Despite the awful situation, it gave Storm relief to know that something was going to be done. Then, more BOOMs and flashes came from the sky. Storm quickly submerged herself under the waves to mute the sound and lights.
Nearby something small fell into the water. Through blurry sea-water filled eyes Storm could see it was some sort of stick. OH! It's an explosive that didn't go off. Storm reached out and grasped it and tucked it away under her armour. She would have to look at it later.
A couple of meters away, something much larger dropped from the sky into the ocean, bubbles and froth shrouding it from view. The sea water stung her eyes but Storm focused hard on the sinking object and was surprised to see it was a SandWing. She was even more surprised to see it was Oryx. His frantic clawing at the water was evidence enough that he was drowning.
She acted quickly, swimming up behind him and grabbing him with her teeth by the back of his neck. She knew better than to let a drowning dragon grab a hold of her. In their fear they often cling to their rescuer so aggressively that it can cause them both to drown. She pulled them both above water and Oryx started to cough and wheeze, but at least he was breathing. By now there were no IceWings or SandWings in the sky. They had either been captured or escaped.
Or killed, Storm thought morbidly.
She had to move quickly, they had not yet been noticed but there were dragons scanning the water, looking perhaps for survivors. The boat was beginning to move again too, its massive bulk creating towering waves that almost engulfed the two floating dragons. Storm looked around for any markers or indicators of their location, but there were none. Only the thickening fog.
General Shiver had said to go towards the fog, the thicker it was, the closer to the land they would be, she remembered, yet she was still terrified. She couldn't see anything let alone how far they had been led away from land. It would be a leap of faith, but it was the only plan she had.
She looked around for the direction with the thickest fog, which was nearly impossible since it all looked equally dense. She took an educated guess and began to swim in that direction, using her limbs and tail. She tried to make as little commotion as possible, slinking past the searching dragons and ducking under the water as needed. Oryx was quiet the whole time and Storm figured he was probably in shock. Hopefully they would find land soon.
Chapter 4: Canyon and Lotus
If Storm had to estimate how long they had been swimming, she would say an eternity. Her wounds were stinging in the salt water, her muscles were aching from swimming against the currents and fighting to stay above the waves and her jaw was cramping from holding Oryx. The SandWing himself had begun to shiver a while ago, probably due to the freezing water. It was definitely night-time by now, and not even the moonlight could penetrate the stubborn fog.
Storm didn't know how much longer she could last as the waves were becoming more aggressive and her muscles starting to fail. But she just kept going, trying not to think about how much longer it would be. Soon she felt her talons drag across the sand and she could see the shore slicing through the fog. With her last but of energy Storm picked up the pace just as a large wave picked them up and threw them on a beach made of hard rocks and pebbles. Storm had to let go of Oryx as she landed face first into the gravel, but she had never been so happy in her life. Her muscles were burning and she hardly had the strength to pull herself up. Luckily Oryx had saved his muscles by not swimming and went to help her. They moved further up on the beach and collapsed. Storm's vision became dark as she passed out from exhaustion, the sound of the waves being the last thing she heard.
The first thing Storm felt as she regained consciousness was pain. Sharp pain, burning pain, stinging pain, she had it all. He muscles were aching furiously as she tried to pull herself into a sitting position but failed miserable and flailed back onto the carpet.
Wait...a carpet? Wasn't I on a beach? Storm's eyes flew open as she realized that she had been moved. From her position on the floor she could see she was in a small tent. The kind used by armies as they traveled in the field. It could fit at most two dragons. There was also the unfamiliar smell of plants and herbs and she felt someone placing a bandage on her shoulder. This new dragon did not smell like Oryx. Despite the protest of every bone and muscle in her body, Storm sprang up and caused herbs, bandages, and other medical supplies to go flying all over the place. She also heard someone beside her yell out in surprise. In her mind, Storm imagined herself turning to face this unknown dragon with a bold stance and a fierce snarl which would be followed by an intimidating 'Who are you and where am I?'
Instead, her fatigued and weakened muscles failed to pull her up completely and she tripped over a pile of blankets and landed on her face while exclaiming "BLERSH?!"
"Oh my Moons! Just sit still! You're going to hurt yourself even more carrying on like that," a concerned but rough female voice articulated and Storm struggled to understand what she was saying. Storm was pulled up into a sitting position as the room began to spin vigorously. She gripped onto the strange dragon for support before her vision finally became focused. Standing before her was a large female MudWing. At least a head and a half taller that Storm. She was definitely older, perhaps around fifteen. Her broad, flat head was covered with deep sepia coloured scales which ran down her back and outer side of her four legs. The scales on her chest were a vibrant mahogany while her underbelly was a lighter chestnut brown. Her eyes, however, were a pale pink.
"Great bouncing boulders, you're energetic for someone who almost died. But you're safe now, alright?" The Mudwing continued to sooth Storm while holding onto her firmly. "My name is Lotus, my friend and I found you and the Sandwing on the beach, and don't worry he is fine," she explained slowly, and while Storm was grateful for the information the pain was beginning to sour her mood.
Storm firmly wiggled out of the MudWing's grasp and nodded curtly. "Charmed. My name is Storm," she said as pleasantly as she could, but she was having a hard time remaining civilized. Not only was she highly suspicious of this MudWing who had suddenly appeared after the attack, but she also had a thousand questions running through her head in addition to feeling dizzy and nauseous.
Lotus seemed to notice this and passed her a canteen of water. "Here, drink some. You've consumed a lot of sea water. You're osmoregulation will be extremely dysregulated. You'll probably be feeling ill and dehydrated for a few days." Storm mulled over the string of complex words as she guzzled down the fresh water. She wondered what had happened to her own canteen and looked down to notice her armour, and her portrait, were gone.
"Wha...Where's my stuff?" Her eyes frantically searched around the tent.
"I had to remove your armour to treat your wounds. It's over there in the corner."
What Storm saw made her heart sink. The leather straps had been almost completely chewed apart by the salt water, and the metal buckles were already rusting. The armour itself showed damage as well, but it could have been worse. Still, until she fixed the leather and buckles she would not be able to wear it.
Storm rubbed her eyes with the heels of her palms in frustration. This armour has been in my family for two hundred years and I manage to destroy it in a day. Can I do anything right?
Storm rummaged around in the pile of soggy items and finally found the pouch containing the portrait. The leather had held true, the portrait was undamaged. Storm held it close to her chest in relief. Suddenly the curtains to the tent were flung open and Storm saw the anxious face of Oryx. "I heard yelling so I knew you had to be awake," he quipped and then flung his wings around Storm who simply stood their awkwardly in the now over crowded tent. "I'm so glad you're alright!"
"Of course I'm alright! I'm offended that you are surprised," she retorted. "And what about you? Are you hurt?" She eyed a scratch that ran from his ear to his chin. It seemed that Lotus had already treated him as there was a thin coating of salve on it.
Oryx brushed off her concern with a roll of his eyes, "I'm in better shape than you," he pointed out, and Storm hissed at him for being right. "Oh, also I found someone you would really like to see you." He said mysteriously and before Storm could ask the tent entrance was flung open again and a small, gold blur jumped at Storm.
"YOU LIVE!" Caracal shouted and wrapped herself around Storm's leg. Storm exhaled a breath of anxiety she didn't know she had been holding. She had been more worried about Caracal than she had realized.
"Yes, I am just fine. Great even," Storm told the young female while patting her golden head. The IceWing felt a glow of admiration for the young dragon. "I am very proud of you, Caracal. You were so brave yesterday."
Caracal at first puffed out her chest and gave Storm a bold smile, but it soon wavered and her shoulders sagged. "I has a secret to tell you," she whispered and Storm lowered her head to listen. "I wasn't actually brave. I was scared," she confessed, looking disappointed in herself.
Storm looked at the crest fallen Caracal and didn't need any nudges from Oryx to know she had to say something.
"Caracal...it's alright to be afraid. Fear is not the opposite of bravery. In fact, fear is a necessary part of being brave because. It means you had to overcome your fear in the face of great danger, which is what you did," she gently spoke. "If that isn't bravery than I don't know what is."
"Really?" the little SandWing asked and Storm nodded. Caracal's proud smile returned and she puffed out her chest again. She noticed Oryx giving her an approving look and even Lotus looked touched. She cleared her throat awkwardly, unsettled by the attention; she hadn't meant to make a speech, why were they still looking at her?
"Alright, as touching as this is I am going to have to ask you two to leave this tent. My patient needs time to rest and frankly this is much too crowded," Lotus insisted, gently pushing the reluctant Oryx and Caracal out of the tent.
"We'll grab you something to eat!" Oryx hollered from outside and Storm's stomach grumbled with hunger, begging her for food. It also gurgled with discomfort, warning her she would also likely vomit it back up. With the two SandWings gone she found herself suddenly alone with the MudWing again.
Storm narrowed her eyes at the stranger and reflexively flinched when the MudWing reached for her. Oryx seems to trust her but that doesn't mean I should. How do I know she's not working with the dragons that attacked us? It seems strange that she is out here in the middle of nowhere...and did she mention a friend was with her?
A million suspicious thoughts ran through Storm's head while Lotus gave a frustrated sigh.
"Look. I am trying to help you. If you don't want my help fine, but if you do then stop being a nuisance and let me heal you." The docile MudWing's sudden change of disposition stunned Storm. This dragon has a bad side that I really shouldn't try to get on.
She gave a hesitant nod of consent for the MudWing to proceed and tried not to twitch too much. I still don't trust you, though! she thought defiantly. Not that it made much of a difference.
Lotus seemed to have developed some sort of plan as she quickly gathered her supplies from where Storm had accidentally flung them.
For several moments they sat in silence while Storm gathered her thoughts. She thought back to the attack and the weapons that had been powerful enough to send dragons tumbling from the sky. I've never seen those sorts of weapons before, they're nothing like the bombs I've seen used in the war thus far. They seemed pretty advanced. But why would they use those weapons now instead of during the war? Has the Sky Kingdom always known how to make these weapons? How did they get their talons on this technology?
"I've never treated an IceWing before," Lotus suddenly commented as she chopped some leaves up. "I would think IceWings don't get exposed to plants very often. You don't have any allergies, do you?" she asked. Storm narrowed her eyes and shook her head, although she wasn't completely sure herself. Still, three was no need for this MudWing to know her potential weaknesses.
Lotus nodded her head and began to apply some disinfecting salve onto Storm's wounds. The strange smell caused Storm to release several adorably squeaky sneezes. Storm tried to hide her blush of embarrassment as Lotus failed to hide her amused smile.
For the next hour Lotus blended, crushed, administered and applied various salves, medications and ointments on Storm, who consistently asked about each and every one. On one talon she wanted to make sure she wasn't being inappropriately drugged or poisoned. On the other talon, most of these herbs were unavailable in the Ice Kingdom and Storm couldn't contain her curiosity. Storm had heard of some of these herbs from scrolls but now was the chance to actually see and touch them. Lotus patiently answered all her medicine related questions, and seemed to genuinely enjoy them. Just as she was finishing up Storm head sound of wing beats shaking nearby trees as someone landed in the clearing outside the tent. At first she thought it might have been Oryx returning, but when Lotus rushed out of the tent to speak with them, the voice was unfamiliar.
Storm pulled herself into a sitting position and held her head high just as the tent curtains were gently parted as a large SkyWing male entered. He was smaller than Lotus, but his muscular limbs made him the stronger. His scales were a vibrant red accented with deep orange, but perhaps what was most noticeable were the plethora of scars that adorned the front of his chest, neck and face but were virtually absent from his back. This indicated to Storm that this dragon faced their enemies head on, and did not retreat. She couldn't help but admire that. He also had a particularly nasty scar tugged at his lower lip, giving him a permanent snarl.
"So you must be Storm." His voice was deep and authoritative but surprisingly youthful. Storm had a hard time figuring out his age but guessed he was slightly older than herself.
"I am. Who told you that?"
"Your SandWing friend was very cooperative. He also told us your group had been traveling to the desert when you were attacked by a battalion of MudWings and SkyWings. I will tell you now, and whether you believe me or not is up to you, but neither Lotus nor myself had anything to do with the attack."
Storm narrowed her eyes at the Skywing and silently cursed Oryx.
"However," the male continued, "there are still some things that your friend couldn't answer for us, so I was hoping you could answer some of my questions."
Storm growled in her throat. "Well that's a coincidence, because I have a couple of questions myself. And frankly, I think I deserve an explanation as to WHAT IN THE MOONS IS GOING ON AND WHO ARE YOU DRAGONS?!"
The male regarded her with an unreadable expression for several moments. "Very well," he finally said. "My name is Canyon, and I am the Commander of the Skywing and Mudwing Western Coastline outpost. And you have already met my Chief Medical Officer Lotus." He nodded towards the MudWing.
"Excuse me but WHAT?" Storm exclaimed and Canton huffed. "Is this some sort of joke? If you expect me to sit here as your prisoner..."
"You are not a prisoner," Canyon butted in. "And as for your other concerns, how about this: a question for a question. You ask one, then I ask one. Deal?" he offered. Storm flicked her ears in annoyance but couldn't think of a good reason to refuse. I guess it is a good idea. But that still doesn't mean I can trust him. She nodded her agreement, and they both left the tent to discuss matters outside where there was more room.
They must have been somewhere in the 'wastelands' between the Ice and Sand Kingdoms since the ground was dry and dusty with sparse vegetation. She could vaguely hear the ocean, so they must not be too far from where they found her and Oryx. The sun was also midway in the sky, indicating late morning.
Lotus was sitting outside next to Oryx and Caracal who had returned only moments ago. They had brought Storm back some lizards and a hare which she practically inhaled while Canyon spoke with Lotus about the arrangement.
The food sat heavily in her stomach, and Storm was thankful for the medicine that Lotus gave her. She then felt slightly guilty about how rude and snappy she had been to the MudWing.
I'll apologize to her later. But first things first. Storm marched over to where Canyon and Lotus were sitting and decided to kick things off. "Alright, first question: What are a Commander and a military doctor doing alone in the middle of no-where and without the rest of your regiment?"
"That's two questions," Canton reported and Storm hissed at him.
"Well you've already questioned Oryx, so I think I have the right to ask multiple questions at once."
"It's only fair, Commander," Lotus agreed and Canyon grumbled his annoyance but reluctantly replied to her questions.
He explained how several years ago he had been put in command of the Western Coastal outpost that was used to monitor Ice Kingdom and Sand Kingdom activity. However, within three months of starting his troops had begun to disappear. He had reported the disappearances to Queen Scarlet with the desire for her to send someone to help figure out where they went, but she didn't comply. She would either ignore him or simply send replacement troops, which would also disappear. But now that the war was over and his remaining soldiers returning home, he had decided to look into matters himself.
"So do you think the same group that attacked us are involved with you missing army?" Storm ventured, but Canyon raised his talon to signal her silence.
"Three questions is the cut off. It's my turn now."
Storm rolled her eyes and waited for his queries. Strangely enough the SkyWing reached under his folded wing and pulled out the bamboo explosive that Storm had found in the water. She had completely forgotten about it.
"You little slime! You've been through my stuff!" She bared her teeth.
Canyon raised a talon to indicate he meant no offence. "It is my duty to protect those under my command. I had to make sure you weren't carrying anything dangerous or harmful."
Little snowflakes huffed out of Storm's nose but she withheld a sharp comment. "Very well, but that weapon is not mine. I found it when-"
"You were attacked.," Canyon finished her sentence. "Yes, the SandWing told us about it-"
"Yeah it was like thunder and lightning going off beside my face!" Oryx blurted out. He shrunk back as Canyon flashed him a silencing glare.
"Yes, you've told us all before but that's all you can remember." He turned back to Storm. "I was hoping you could fill us in on more details. Whatever was inside the explosive you took has been ruined by salt water. Did you see them making these weapons? How much did they have?"
"I didn't see them make any, but they had tons of crates with them on the ship." Storm described.
After hearing this, Lotus and Canyon began to anxiously whisper to one another. Storm heard something about like 'I think it's the same group" but it was hard to eavesdrop while standing at an unsuspicious distance.
"This is very troubling," Canyon said aloud, his eyebrows furrowing with worry. He scratched his scarred mouth while he thought. "Where would they get such technology?"
His question was directed more to himself than to Storm, he was just thinking aloud. But if he doesn't know how they were made then perhaps this isn't SkyWing technology...but if those dragons weren't with Scarlet's army then who were they? Storm shook the thought away and jumped right into her next question.
"So what do you know about these dragons? Tell me everything."
Canyon and Lotus looked at each other helplessly. "What you just told us confirms that they are the dragons that have been behind the disappearances. Out of the few that were able to avoid capture they described a similar experience. Blinding light, loud explosions, everything you said," Canyon said.
"But other than that we don't know all that much honestly," Lotus added with an apologetic shrug.
Storm's ears fluttered as she thought. "So are these dragons just one of Scarlet and Burn's battalions gone rogue?"
Canyon shook his head. "That's what I had thought at first, but according to eye witness accounts there were often other dragons besides SkyWings and MudWings involved in the attacks."
Storm whipped around to look at him. "What? Which tribes?" Storm demanded, her interest in the story making her forget the one question rule. Thankfully, Canyon also seemed to have forgotten.
"Well, SandWings of course but also NightWings and some SeaWings," Canyon recounted and Storm withheld a gasp.
NightWings! Of course they would be involved! She lashed her tail. Are they the ones behind the attack? It would make sense because they hate IceWing so of course they would attack. Storm realized she was perhaps jumping to conclusions, but when NightWings were involved there was no telling what could be going on.
"So does this mean we're dealing with something that goes beyond the tribes? Beyond the war even?" Oryx addressed the whole group, and Storm was impressed at his deduction.
"Most likely," Canyon agreed.
I suppose they weren't a part of Burn's army then. But why did they just use Mudwings and Skywing? Unless it was to trick us. Then that means...
"Uh-oh," Storm said aloud. "General Shiver, he escaped but he doesn't know any of this. He'll report to the Queen that it was an attack from the Sky Kingdom."
Storm began to frantically pace around the clearing. Should I rush back and inform the General about the truth? But what would I even tell him? I hardly know the truth myself. If they think that Scarlet and Burn were responsible will they attack in revenge? Storm remembered what happened to the last couple of dragons that tried to kill Blaze, who was now in the clutches of this mysterious group. How far would Queen Glacier go to get Blaze and the IceWings back?
Storm stopped her pacing to realize she had been whispering to herself and that the others had been staring at her with great confusion. She blushed furiously and fumbled to explain what she had been internally debating.
Lotus and Oryx exchanged worried glances but Canyon looked deep in thought.
"No, I don't think they will attack," he said finally. "No one is eager to start another war. They will most likely send representatives over to negotiate some sort of prisoner exchange perhaps. I do not think you need to be concerned."
Even though Storm didn't fully trust Canyon she still felt relieved by his words. He's smart, I'll give him that. But whether he is speaking the truth is another matter.
"Storm, I have one more request," the Skywing announced, walking over to her. "I would like you to show me the location of where your group was first attacked. I realize it was quite foggy at the time, but Oryx told me that you had initially been able to see the land. I just want you to show me the general spot."
"Sure, I'll take you there later today," Storm replied and was satisfied when Canyon made an uncomfortable face.
"I meant show me on a map," he clarified, reaching into a bag next to him and taking out an illustrated diagram of the Ice and Sand Kingdom and everything in between. "Besides, you can barely walk let alone fly. You cannot go."
"All I need is some rest," Storm quickly insisted, and then squared her shoulders and looked at the SkyWing. "Additionally, you have no way of stopping me. I have missing tribe-mates now too, so either way I plan on flying there later today. You can join me or stay behind. Your choice."
Before Canyon could argue Storm tipped her nose up haughtily and promptly made a dignified return to the healing tent where she then flopped on the blankets like a sack of bones. The exhaustion had returned threefold.
She then heard someone stick their head into the tent. At first she thought it might be Canyon making sure he got the last word in, but it was actually Lotus.
"Storm, are you sure about this? You need to rest. You really shouldn't be pushing yourself."
The MudWing's gentle concern punctured through Storm's posh act and her usual cool voice was softened in turn. "I must," she replied. "If I want to help my tribe-mates then I need to learn as much as I can, and I cannot trust Canyon enough to give me an honest answer."
Lotus sighed and entered the tent, her large bulk taking up the rest of the space in the small area. "Then let me make you up some more medication." She quietly gathered the ingredients and began mixing when Storm decided this would be the best time to make good of her promise.
"Uh, Lotus? I just wanted to apologize for my behaviour earlier, and to thank you for helping me," Storm said as curtly as possible and Lotus beamed back at her. They sat in silence for a while, the only sound being the rustle of leaves and the grinding of plants as Storm began to doze off.
"You shouldn't be so hard on him, you know." Lotus' sudden comment pulled Storm awake and she looked at the MudWing with curiosity. She assumed that they were talking about Canyon.
"He just wants the same thing as you do: to get his tribe-mates back. He feels it's his duty, that it's his responsibility as their Commander," Lotus continued.
Duty. Responsibility. I know all about that, Storm thought glumly, remembering the impossible task she inherited upon the death of her family. Reach the First circle within a year, get to a high ranking position in the military, carry on her family's legacy, start a family somewhere in there and finally die with honor.
Storm was so immersed in her thoughts that she didn't notice that Lotus had left, the only indication she had even been there was a bowl of herb mixture that had been placed in front of her.
Storm quickly ate it, gagging on the bitter taste. She curled her body into a circle, placing her tail over her snout and tried to get as much rest as possible.
Chapter 5: The Order of the Black Talon
The sun was just beginning to set when Storm and Canyon decided to leave. The fog that had caused so much trouble in the beginning and been baked away by the sun during the day, leaving clear skies.
Storm carefully stretched her wings to assess their strength and was pleased to discover that, besides the scratch marks on them, they were without pain. That makes sense; I wasn't using them for swimming so they shouldn't be as sore as my arms and chest.
She gave Canyon an affirmative nod and the two took to the sky. It was decided that the whole group didn't need to go, so she watched the figures of Oryx, Caracal and Lotus shrink and disappear.
Canyon had informed her that their campsite was further down the coast from where the IceWing and SandWing group had originally planned to make camp, so all they had to do was fly north until they came across land that looked familiar to Storm.
They flew in silence, their shadows flickering and following them on the beach bellow. Storm was preoccupied with her thoughts about the Ice Kingdom. Her short conversation with Lotus had got her thinking about all the things she still needed to do.
I will need to register to take the examinations to get into the third circle which will take a couple of months. But that's ok, I will use this time to study and train. The second circle will be much more difficult to enter; it might even take me five months. So far this is seven months out of twelve... Orca dung! I will only have five months left until my seventh hatching day at that point. Will that be enough to get me into the first circle? Assuming everything goes according to plan and I don't mess up along the way.
"Storm, you're going off course!" Canyon hollered and Storm was jolted out her thoughts to see she had been veering towards the open water. She quickly corrected her flight pattern and returned to Canyon's port side.
"Sorry, I was lost in thought." She murmured and the two resumed their silent flight. Soon they approached a section of beach that extended out into the ocean like the end of a spear. Storm immediately recognized it as the correct spot and informed Canyon and the two descended onto the gravely soil.
Canyon instantly began to scout the area and Storm watched with him with confusion, not quite sure what he was hoping to find. The battle had happened over the water, not on the land. She reminded him of this fact and he rolled his eyes at her.
"Well they had to come from somewhere. They couldn't have just burst out of the ocean. They must have some sort of land based outpost nearby." Canyon asserted and continued to scan the area.
Storm shook her head in exasperation and directed her gaze towards the ocean. While any dragon would agree that SeaWings are best suited for the ocean, Storm would argue that IceWings were second. Much of their prey came from the water: penguins, walruses, narwhals, giant squids, seals, etc. They were very good at swimming and Storm had always had a love for the ocean. Yet now she couldn't help but feel a thorn of fear sink itself into her heart. The memory of swimming for an eternity while the waves crashed over her, trying to pull her down and fill her lungs with salt water. While she would never admit it, Storm had been terrified. She had been completely helpless and vulnerable. Come on, Storm. Swallow your fear. There will be no room for such foolishness in the First Circle.
Storm's thoughts were interrupted as she spotted something floating on the water. It was huge and approximately three kilometers off shore. It wasn't until the object turned to face Storm at a different angle that she recognized it.
Storm was nearly floored with shock. "CANYON, GET OVER HERE!"
Canyon, who had intently looking at what he suspected could have been either a set dragon or lizard footprints, jumped at the abrupt shout from Storm and raced over, teeth barred and claws ready.
"What? What's happened?" He looked around frantically for an enemy of some sort.
"It's the boat!" Storm gasped, pointing in the direction of the vessel. "The same one that was there during the attack. The one with my tribemates on it!"
Canyon relaxed as he looked intently in the direction that Storm indicated. "By my claws, you were telling the truth." He whispered, looking at the boat with disbelief. Meanwhile Storm felt it would have been completely in her right to wack him over the head with her tail.
"Of course I was! IceWings are always honorable," she boasted and Canyon ignored her.
"It looks like they made anchor for the night. Something must be holding them up. I am going to investigate it." He voiced and then flung a commanding expression her way. "You should stay here. This mission will require stealth and the more of us going the higher our chances of being caught."
Storm was almost inclined to agree, his argument just seemed so logical. She then remembered how he had tried to stop her from coming before using the excuse of her injuries. He just wants to keep me away! Well too bad!
Storm took to the sky and joined Canyon and his frustrated expression. "I'm not the one that's bright red and orange, it would make more sense for me to go," she challenged, daring him to debate that argument.
Storm waited, interested to see what he would have to say. Eventually he hissed in defeat. "We go together," was all he said and the two dragons set a course for the boat.
It only took them a few minutes to arrive at the vessel, but the sun was already descending quickly. The moons were peeking up from the horizon and the first stars were appearing in the violet sky.
The dramatic shadows and dim light aided Storm and Canyon as they approached the boat. They quietly dodged detection from the various sentinels that had been posted on the deck. As they flitted about in the shadow of the boat an obnoxious clanking sound emanated from the left side of the ship and Storm could see a team of dragons on deck turning a giant crank. Canyon noticed this as well and signaled for Storm to follow his lead. He hovered below the bow of the boat, a blind spot for the sentinels, and latched onto the wooden side with his talons. Storm copied his action, her serrated talons securely puncturing the slimy and briny surface. She winced slightly as her sore arms protested at holding her weight but she gritted her teeth and bore with it.
"They're weighing anchor and setting sail, no doubt returning to wherever they came from in the first place." Canyon described. "I have no idea where it will take us. Do you still want to do this?"
"Of course!" Storm said without hesitation. At least he was asking this time and not just shooing her away. The SkyWing nodded and motioned with his head towards a small porthole on the other side of Storm.
Storm slinked her way over and, hugging her wings in close and flattening her extra horns as best as she could, squeezed through the opening. She landed on her feet on the floor below and gave a quick glance around. It was a storage room. With the last rays of sunlight flowing in through the small windows Storm could make out the shapes of crates, chests and shelves that were cluttered about unceremoniously.
"Alright, no one's in here." Storm whispered loudly and after a few seconds Canyon plopped down beside her. He immediately began issuing orders.
"So, our goal is to get as much information as possible, as quickly as possible and as quietly as possible without getting caught. Got it?" Canyon whispered while simultaneously eyeing their surroundings.
"What about the prisoners? We should find and free them!" Storm hissed. She wasn't going to get another opportunity like this. It was now or never.
"Why don't you stop and think that plan through." The red dragon growled. "You'll free them, and then they will use the explosions again and recapture you all."
Ah, well. I guess I forgot that part. Despite her best attempts to hide it, Canyon must have noticed the disheartened sag of her shoulders because he then gently added, "I know you want to help them Storm, but you have to be patient. You'll be helping no one if you act impulsively."
Suddenly the two dragons were thrown backwards as the boat lurched forward, the unsecured shelves tumbling on top of them.
"Ow!" Canyon exclaimed as he pushed off a shelf that had landed on his face. From the porthole above Storm watched as dragons rushed back and forth securing ropes and bellowing orders to each other all while the vessel began to aggressively teeter from side to side with the currents. There was too much commotion going on now, they wouldn't be able to leave even if they wanted to.
"Nothing to do but sit tight and wait until we reach our destination." Canyon sighed.
Storm nodded her head in agreement, but felt overwhelming anxiety rise in her. She may not be in chains but she was still a prisoner on this ship.
Storm's curiosity got the better of her and she passed the time looking through the various trunks, chests, and crates that were housed in the storage area. It was completely dark now, but they were able to find some lanterns that Canyon lit for them. With the dim light Storm began her search.
She found thousands of scrolls, but each only spoke of one out of two topics. A small amount were dedicated to the description and recording of animus objects and where they might be found. The other scrolls were of some old language that Storm couldn't read. But based on the illustrations they seemed to be folklores and legends with the majority of them featuring IceWing like characters.
Anything that seemed important Storm put into the pouch she was carrying that also contained the portrait.
There must be some connection between all this. She determined while rubbing her temples. Deciding that she had had enough reading Storm moved on to the crates. She set the lantern down and investigated the box. It was made of plain wood and held together by crudely made metal pins that had been haphazardly pounded into to wood and stuck out in every direction.
The whole structure was weak and all Storm needed to do was slip her claws between the wooden planks and pull. At first nothing budged but then the top went flying and Storm flinched as it crashed to the ground.
Canyon, who had been sticking his head out of the porthole, turned around and told her to hush up, then returned his head to its previous location outside of the boat. Storm rolled her eyes and began to browse through the bounty within.
The crate was full of random objects that had each been carefully wrapped in protective cloth. Storm's talons buzzed with a strange energy as she unwrapped a mirror that was a slightly smaller than the porthole they had climbed through. She shrugged and placed it off to the side. In her search she found a feather, a glass goblet, and a pair of fire-stone earrings. Finally she unwrapped a beautiful tiara of silver with white pearls and blue sapphires. It was of IceWing design, it had little diamond snowflakes dangling from the rim so that they hung at the center of the wearer's forehead.
Storm placed in on her head and grabbed the mirror that she had first found. She was shocked to see how regal she looked. She shook her head slightly, letting the hanging snowflakes dance around like a flurry. When she returned her gaze to the mirror she did not see her reflection. Rather she saw herself batting a group of SeaWings. The Storm in the mirror was covered in blood and greatly outnumbered.
She dropped the mirror in horror, causing it to crack but not shatter and the image was lost.
What did she do now?
She heard a voice in her head that was not her own.
And what is she doing with that tiara on?
Storm looked around frantically trying to understand where the source of the voice was coming from, but she could only see Canyon rushing towards her.
What's wrong with her, why does she look so afraid?
Finally Storm understood and quickly removed the tiara. The strange voice in her disappeared and was replaced by one from outside.
"Storm? STORM!" Canyon cried, grabbing a hold of her shoulders and shaking them. Storm snapped out of her confused daze to see a severely concerned Canyon looking at her while she still held the tiara.
"Storm, what in the moons happened? Are you alright?"
Storm took a moment to compose herself. Her heart was still racing from the moment of terror and confusion that had overwhelmed her. This is the lost relic of Queen Diamond! She realized.She broke the rules and made this mind reading tiara during the war with the NightWings but...it's been lost for centuries. This must mean...
"These are all animus touched objects," she finally whispered. She had just opened a crate full of enchanted relics!
Canyon gasped in dismay and grabbed the tiara from Storm's talons, throwing it across the room.
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" Storm shouted as Canyon proceeded to destroy the other objects.
"These are cursed objects!" He seethed. "Animus dragons are dangerous and everything they do leads to sorrow and death! They don't belong in this world."
Storm was utterly confused until she remembered that in the Sky Kingdom animus dragons were killed as hatchlings. Their gift was seen as a curse and their magic was forbidden. Canyon grabbed the mirror that was on the floor and raised it above his head to smash it but Storm whipped her tail into his stomach, causing him to keel over as the breath was knocked out of him.
"STOP!" She pleaded. She took the mirror from his grasp and placed it back into the crate. The goblet and feather had been destroyed, but the earrings were intact and hopefully so too was the tiara.
"We're supposed to keep a low profile!" She lectured while Canyon gasped for air, giving her a murderous look. "If they come back and see all their stuff destroyed they will know we are here!"
The SkyWing finally caught his breath and stood up. His anger had ebbed away and was replaced by shame. He kept his eyes down, refusing to look at Storm.
Storm's own anger began to disappear and she realized that Canyon might not be as in control as she had thought.
"Are you...alright?" she asked, unsure about how to comfort him.
Canyon's gaze became sharp and cold. "Yes. No thanks to you and your impulsive behaviour," he snapped and Storm was taken aback by the sudden shift in emotions. "I knew I shouldn't have taken you along. What were you thinking playing with those things as if they were toys. Are all IceWings this dense?" he sneered and returned to his position at the porthole.
A part of Storm wanted to argue with him, to call him out for his own failings, but a deeper part held her back. To her surprise she wasn't angry at him, she understood he was just lashing out due to his own shame and guilt. Storm could admit that she did the same thing all the time.
"Listen, we both messed up. But we can't start arguing now. We are trapped on a boat going to an unknown destination and we are surrounded by the enemy. We must work together." She advised, and was somewhat surprised about how good the advice actually was.
Canyon's shoulders rose and fell in a large sigh and he turned his head around to face and Storm could tell he regretted his actions. "You're right. I'm sorry." His voice was full of genuine remorse.
Storm accepted his apology with a dip of her head, but she was still curious as to why he had had such a violent reaction in the first place.
Suddenly the sound of approaching voices could be heard coming from outside the door of the storage room. The voiced stopped at the entrance while Storm and Canyon frantically ran around for a place to hide. They decided on a small space between a pile of crates and the adjacent wall that was just large enough for the two dragons to squeeze behind. They dived behind the crates, and Storm grabbed her exposed tail just as the door opened and two other dragons entered.
The crates were stacked fairly high so Storm couldn't see them, but she could hear them.
"See, look at this. I think one of them scratched me!" a female voice complained.
"I don't see anything. You're being dramatic," a male responded.
"No really, they're vicious. One of them even tried to trip me when I passed by! Can you imagine?"
"Let's just put this IceWing armor away and get back on deck. If we dilly dally the captain will have our wings. We have our talons full with these prisoners."
There was a large thud and clatter as the bags of armor where thrown on the floor and the two dragons made for the door, but Storm didn't hear the door shut.
"Hey, there's a lantern lit in here." The female voiced and Storm held her breath. She met Canyon's eyes and they nodded in agreement. At any moment they needed to be ready to burst out from hiding and strike these dragons down.
"It was probably Ash, that lazy son of a lizard. His lack of safety precautions are going to get us all killed some day-"
The voices faded as the two dragons left, slamming the door behind them and both Storm and Canyon exhaled the breath they had been holding.
"We need to be more careful in the future," Canyon grunted as they twisted their way out of hiding.
"Well, with all due respect this is my first time being a stowaway," Storm replied and this comment seemed to make Canyon smile for some reason.
"Don't worry. Practice makes perfect." He laughed.
From outside the ship the bustle of dragons could be heard and the ship seemed to be slowing down. "We must have reached our destination," the Skywing assessed. "They'll probably come straight here and unload the cargo. We must leave now, while most of the dragons are still on the ship and preparing to dock."
They swiftly made for the porthole but did not take flight right away. Instead they stuck to the hull of the boat like lizards crawling up a tree. Under the cover of darkness the two dragons positioned themselves on the stern of the boat and then took to the sky. They followed the boat at a reasonable distance, the dim light of only one crescent moon the only source of illumination.
Soon an additional light source appeared in front of the boat, outlining its silhouette like an orange halo. They rose above higher in the air and saw one large island and two smaller adjacent islands come into view. They jutted out from the ocean like an enormous mountain that had been blown apart by some divine force and tossed carelessly into the angry sea. They were alit with numerous, giant torches as well as smaller twinkles of firelight that dappled the terrain but the majority of the illumination was positioned near a small harbour where the ship was heading. It created a garden of shadows that pointed in various directions.
"Is this...the Kingdom of the Sea?" Storm thought aloud. It was the only Kingdom she knew of that had islands.
"No, I think this is an unmapped area," Canyon speculated.
As they got closer to the island they could see there was practically no beach, the island abruptly ended with shallow, stone cliff. The turbulent waves slapped against the rocks, spraying salt water all over the two large docks that were attached to the shoreline. Another ship was already attached to the left pier and was currently being unloaded by SandWings, MudWings, SkyWings and Storm faltered in the air when she saw NightWings.
Her ice glands twitched in her throat and she held down a growl. She would figure out what the NightWings were up to and what they wanted with her tribemates. If they put a single talon on any of them... She threatened although she knew she wouldn't be able to do anything without being caught.
The vessel that they had stowed away on stopped at an empty pier that was to the right of the already docked ship. As the dragons rushed about to secure the mooring Canyon signaled for Storm to follow him. He swooped down, keeping close to the water and ducked underneath the leftmost dock with Storm close behind. They positioned themselves on the underside of the pier. Using their claws they hung upside down on the slippery wooden boards which vibrated and shook with each passing dragon. Storm grimaced as her muscles let out a dull ache, reminding her of the perils she had faced just a day ago.
Despite the discomfort, their position gave them a good view of the deck where the newly arrived ship would be unloading. For a while there were only dragons running and flying about, nothing of interest. Then a familiar, oily voice rang out. "I want those prisoners out and ready! Priestess will be arriving any moment; we need to get a move on!"
Storm growled in her throat and was nudged by Canyon to keep quiet. On the deck of the ship a large hatch swung open and out emerged her tribemates. With manacles around each foot, clamps on their wings and chains around their snouts the prisoners were escorted onto the pier with no small amount of difficulty and arranged in a single line. The IceWings were looking mostly angry and annoyed while the SandWings seemed more worried. Storm recognized the fearful face of Blaze among them, and so did the captors.
"Well, look who it is! To think we would be honored with princess Blaze visiting us on our humble island!" The Skywing mocked and Storm could see Blaze begin to tear up as surrounding dragons snickered.
"Enough, Gnosis! That's not how we treat out guests here." A commanding female voice bellowed and suddenly all the dragons seemed to sober up and stand straighter. Gnosis dipped his head in apology. So that's his name. It's quite a strange name for a SkyWing. Gnosis stepped aside as a lovely female Mudwing with bronze and burgundy scales approached. "My apologies, Priestess, but we've captured the IceWings as you ordered." He oozed out.
Storm grimaced in confusion while her scales bristled. They wanted the IceWings?
Even from her position under the dock Storm could feel the strange energy pulsating from Priestess. The MudWing female was garnished plainly, with a few mismatched bracelets, rings and a necklace of silver around her neck. She also wore some sort of holster on her arm that was holding...a stick? Storm's ears fluttered as she thought. It's just like that strange energy coming from the animus objects on the ship. She took another look at the MudWings jewelry and the seemingly random stick attached to her arm when a dreadful realization came to mind.
Those are animus touched objects just like on the ship. Great spirits, they could be enchanted to do anything!
She turned to whisper her observations to Canyon but when their eyes met she could see his grave expression. He had figured it out too. Now it was time for Storm to nudge Canyon as a growl emanated from him.
"Now let's take a look at you all!" Priestess walked down the line of prisoners, each one growling at her as she passed. She stopped when she reached the IceWings. "We've never been able to capture any IceWings before, but I am so glad you're here now and I can't wait to learn everything about you." Her overly cheerful voice and made Storm twitch uncomfortably.
"We'd sooner die than tell you anything you wretched creature!" A voice from the end of the line suddenly called out. Prince Frazil had managed to break off the chain around his muzzle. It clattered onto the wooden dock and he gazed defiantly at the Mudwing. In an instant he was surrounded by spears and weapons aimed at his throat, but he didn't even flinch, and continued to hold his calm demeanour. Storm felt a twinge of pride at how brave her prince was.
He locked eyes with Priestess and she approached to stand confidently in front of him. She must have some sort of object for protection, or at least one that protects from frostbreath.
"Oh don't be like that; we're not about killing here. Besides, I'm not asking for a lot." Priestess crooned. "I just want to know more about the Ice Kingdom's animus heritage. Your tribe was the first to have animus dragons so I am sure you can tell me about all the fascinating animus touched objects you have. Also, if you help me you'll be rewarded handsomely." This visibly piqued the interest of the prisoners. As if anticipating this, Priestess sprung into a passionate speech. "My initiates and I aim to revive the ancient knowledge lost during the Scorching. The legends tell of an ancient and hidden library full of wisdom that allows one to surpass reality and overcome death itself. To control the hidden forces of the universe," she jubilated and her eyes began to sparkle.
She now began to pace the line of dragons, raising her voice to address them all. "I offer you all the chance to join me! If you agree, you will become an initiate of the Order of the Black Talon. I will teach you the ancient wisdom of our ancestors that had been lost during the Scorching. By joining me I can promise you enlightenment. I can promise you power!" She let the offer hang in the air. While the prisoners could not talk, they glanced around at each other. Some looked intrigued, others concerned, and many defiant.
"Don't listen to her!" Prince Frazil bellowed. "How do you know she's telling the truth? She just wants IceWing secrets! Don't be fools!" This was quickly followed by a spear penetrating his arm and causing blue blood to trickle out. It wasn't a serious wound, but it was enough shut him up as he snapped at the dragon responsible. By the time he regained his composure, Priestess was standing right in front of him.
"Well you're going to trouble, aren't you?" She said with the tone of a teacher speaking to a misbehaving dragonet. "Luckily I know how to fix this..."
She reached into the receptacle strapped to her arm and pulled out the small wooden stick that Storm had noticed before. It was about as long as Storm's forearm and made of crooked, grey stained wood that bent at random angles. One end was wrapped with silk cloth that functioned as a handle. It was obviously an animus touched object, and Storm felt sick with dread as she wondered what was about to happen.
The Mudwing reached out with the stick to touch the Prince, who leaned warily away. Unfortunately his restrains hindered his escape and the stick touched his chest. Suddenly his jaw became slack and his eyes clouded over to become pure black. The dragons next to him frantically shuffled away as they watched their Prince become transformed into a mindless body. Storm herself nearly lost her grip as terror stabbed her heart. What has happened to him?!
"Now, you'll behave won't you?" Priestess asked innocently.
"Yes," the Prince responded without a hint of emotion.
"And you'll cooperate? You'll tell us everything you know about the Ice Kingdom?"
A warm smile spread across the females face. "Excellent. I was hoping you would come around."
By now the other dragons in the line had eyes wide with fear. Priestess began to address them again but before Storm could listen in she felt a nudge from Canyon. He signaled that it was time for them to leave. With shaking talons Storm followed the SkyWing as they crawled upside-down along the pier until they reach the area where the dock contacted the land. They scuttled away while the Initiates were distracted by the spectacle with the prisoners. When they were sure that no one would see them they broke into a full sprint and didn't stop until the lights from the dock were completely gone.
In a small clearing full of scrawny trees and bushes that hugged a cliff they finally stopped, their lungs burning and Storm paced around trying loosen up her sore muscles.
"Orca dung," she swore while still panting and Canyon nodded his agreement. Once they caught their breath they looked at each other with disbelief.
"What do we do now?" Storm urged, looking around wildly at every minute sound.
"I...Well...Just give me a second!" Canyon barked and began to pace, his expression grim.
He was obviously flustered by what they had just witnessed, and Storm realized that she was acting just as hectic. She closed her eyes and tried to get a grip, taking in several deep breaths. I have to be logical about this. I can't let my fear overwhelm me. She lectured herself. Easier said than done.
"We won't be able to save my tribemates, will we?" Storm reluctantly asked and Canyon shook his head, confirming her fears.
"Then we need to leave! We can't stay here!" She cried but she saw Canyon's jaw set as a wave of determination seemed to crash through him.
"Not until I know what happened to my troops!" He announced and Storm couldn't help but admire him even more. Despite the impossible situation he still thought of his soldiers first. He was an idiot for sure, but an admirable one.
"Canyon...even if you find them you won't be able to save them. For all we know they could be dead," she protested.
Canyon didn't say anything for a moment, but a spark ignited in his eyes and he raised his head defiantly. "I may not be able to save them today, but I will come back for them! But I need to know where they are and what I'm up against." He trailed off, suddenly looking heavy with burden. "And I don't think they are dead. I saw a few of them among the Initiates, so they must have been given the same choice as your group. Additionally, if that Mudwing is to be believed when she said that they don't kill dragons here, then they are probably being held as prisoners."
Once again his logic was sound, if not a little too optimistic. "Fine. What should we do?"
Canyon gave her a skeptical glance. "I plan on gathering information. You should probably head back. This is more dangerous that I first thought."
Storm snarled at him and he jolted back in surprise. "I'll have you know that I am a fully trained IceWing warrior! I am more than capable of handling the situation! Besides, if I want to report to Queen Glacier about what is happening here then I need all the information I can get." She surmised, stiffening her back and tilting her head upwards in order to look as fierce and regal as possible. If she were being honest, there was actually a second reason as to why she had to stay: she didn't actually know how to get back to the mainland. They had taught her navigation in the IceWing Army Academy, but she was pretty rusty.
Canyon grimaced but yielded. "Fine. Just don't mess anything up."
Storm couldn't help but grin triumphantly.
"I'll follow the prisoners and see if I can find my troops and what type of prison they are in...and whether they are still themselves." The image of Frazil's slacked jaw, back eyed expression came to mind and Storm shuddered. "I'll also try and investigate this island's military strength." He said, and then looked to Storm. "As for you, I want you to find out as much as possible about this 'Order of the Black Talon'. Find some important dragon's office and loot their stuff. Files, plans, maps, military documents, anything you can find. We'll meet back here at sunrise." He ordered.
"And what if one of us is caught?" Storm asked.
Canyon's shoulders sagged and he gave his reluctant reply. "Then they get left behind."
Storm gave a curt nod of understanding and in silent agreement the two dragons went their separate ways.