BREAKING NEWS: QUEEN OASIS KILLED BY SCAVENGERS!
The Sand Kingdom is in shambles after an unprecedented and mystifying tragedy. Last night, a small group of scavengers entered the SandWing treasury. Queen Oasis valiantly rushed to the scene, but one of the scavengers managed to slash her neck. By the time that reinforcements arrived, she had already bled out, leaving no word on which of her daughters was to succeed her.
Bafflingly, four rooms of the treasury were found completely empty. Investigators do not have a concrete explanation yet, with the current leading theory being that the scavengers got hold of an animus item somewhere and managed to activate it. Of the three scavengers, only one was captured. According to experts, the individual is a young female of average height. It was found with what appears to be a scavenger-sized sword, a discovery that will no doubt spark furious discussion among scientific circles.
The SandWing princesses have declined to provide comment on the situation, although certain evidence suggests that the most likely outcome is them trying to fight one another. It is worth noting that, according to a controversial poll conducted by Xerophyte News last year, Princess Blaze is the most popular among the Sand Kingdom’s denizens.
Along with the very recent disappearance of palace cook Palm, who is heavily suspected to have been in a relationship with Prince Smoulder (read here), many are auguring for the placement of security cameras in the Sand Palace and the adjacent buildings. Says Erosion, one of Oasis’ advisors, “Tradition is a paltry excuse when our queen is dead and our treasures have vanished into thin air.”
This is a trying time for the Sand Kingdom. The desert has been shaken to its core, and every possible way to continue from here is fraught with uncertainty. At the Shining Sky Gazette, we hope for all our sakes that the coming weeks will go as smoothly as is possible.
When Skaapsteker saw Blister and her bodyguards leaving the palace, she was glad she’d taken a breath of air a few minutes before. The diamond-marked princess sailed high into the cloudless sky, a bodyguard behind her and two on each flank. They were flying eastwards.
Where could they be going? she wondered, watching from her vantage point in the dunes. She’d buried herself here five hours ago, only her eyes and the tip of her snout poking above the surface of the sand, trying to get a handle on what was going on in the palace. Likely a violation of several rules, but she was all about being the first to know things (even if, with her methods, the information couldn’t exactly be reported to the Shining Sky Gazette). Sometimes she wished she’d signed up as a fact-checker rather than an editor.
One of the guards on the left craned her neck down to look at the dunes, and Skaapsteker snapped her eyes shut, only daring to open them after a couple of minutes had passed and she had to really strain to hear the sound of wingbeats. Exhaling and taking another deep breath, she shut her eyes again, along with her nostrils, arched her spine, and submerged herself completely, tunnelling at a decent clip. She’d been here long enough.
As she worked through the sand, questions and their supposed answers rushed through her mind - did Blister really just throw away her chance at being queen? It didn’t seem like something she’d do at all, but Skaapsteker couldn’t think of another explanation for what she’d seen. What kind of scenario would result in her abandoning so much power? Was she scared of facing Burn in battle? Maybe she and Burn had spoken in private and agreed that Blaze wouldn’t be a good queen - but then why would Blister just up and leave instead of trying to convince Burn to hand over the throne to her? It was just too out of character from what Skaapsteker knew of her. Maybe she and Burn had tried to fight, after all, and she’d just backed down - but that still seemed very out of character, and there was no evidence that she’d been in a fight of any kind.
Just what was going on?
All the answers came a few days later, when an address by Queen Coral was broadcast across the Sea and Sand Kingdoms.
“When Blister showed up at the Summer Palace, I knew what she was going to ask me for, and I initially set myself on turning down her offers.” said Coral, sitting on the throne of the Summer Palace. “However, after speaking with her, I am inclined to believe that she would make the best queen for the Sand Kingdom. It would be a crying shame to lose such a brilliant mind to something like a three-way fratricide match. Sure, it’s not traditional, but having a queen killed by a tiny scavenger isn’t exactly a normal turn of events, either.”
“We have reached an agreement. The SeaWing army is now co-commanded by Blister, and if Princesses Blaze and Burn do not back down from the SandWing throne within the next three days, we will fly to war against them and their forces.”
The announcement knocked the wind out of life in the Sand Kingdom. Fortifications and defences that hadn’t been used in decades were reinstated around settlements, and quite a few parents withdrew their dragonets from school, wanting to stay as close to them as possible. Most of the Blister supporters packed their bags and left for the journey eastwards, and when she entered the Gazette’s headquarters the next day, Skaapsteker was unnerved to see a couple of familiar faces missing. The staff made an unspoken collective agreement to continue working as normally as possible for as long as they could, savouring the relative calm before the storm.
However, no matter how much they tried to bat it down, there were still signs of what was to come. Looking at the ways the staff members now interacted with one another, it was easy to spot the handful of Burn supporters among the Blaze-supporting majority. And it was blatant out on the streets - one of the northern towns even organized a pro-Burn strike and march, the participants wearing signs with slogans like THE STRONGEST PRINCESS MAKES THE STRONGEST QUEEN and WE SHALL “BURN” OUR WAY INTO HISTORY.
The Burn-supporters rejoiced a couple of days later, when Burn made an appearance at the royal SkyWing summit to announce her allegiance with Queen Scarlet. And the next day, Queen Glacier announced that Blaze and her had made an agreement over email that the IceWings would receive half of the Sand Kingdom’s land and resources if Blaze became queen. (Every aspect of this was promptly lambasted by Burn and Blister-supporters as evidence of the third sister lacking any sort of queenly qualities.)
And four tribes stepped into a living nightmare.
Part of the first battle had been caught on camera by an uncertain source. As Skaapsteker watched the television screen, she found herself needing to be reminded that what she was watching wasn’t a show or a movie or something equally insignificant. It was the beginning of a war.
A SkyWing slashed a SandWing across the snout, splashing blood onto the sand below.
In return, the SandWing stabbed the SkyWing through a crack in his armour, causing him to recoil in pain, then lifted off in the direction of a small-bodied SeaWing.
An IceWing lunged from below, spraying frostbreath all over the underside of the SandWing’s wing membrane. He crumpled to the ground with a shriek, and she pinned him down, raising her talons-
Skaapsteker turned the TV off. Just for tonight, she decided not to think about it.
Months passed. The fighting didn’t end. But thankfully, neither did most of the work in the capital city. The streets were a lot less crowded after Glacier’s announcement, and there were many empty residences, but most of the decent-sized businesses were at least somewhat operational.
Including the Shining Sky Gazette.
Skaapsteker and her coworkers were doing their jobs with fiery energy, making the most of this horrible time. They wrote and edited and fact-checked with furious speed, trying not to think too hard about how Pyrrhia was falling apart around them. To cut down on stress, their boss, Tortoise, gave them permission to occasionally work in groups of three - a researcher, a writer, and an editor - and publish without any final revision. It may have been unprofessional, but most of the staff were competent enough that there wasn’t a noticeable dip in quality.
In her downtime, Skaapsteker would browse the Net - or at least try to. All SkyWing and SeaWing-owned sites were now blocked in the Sand Kingdom, which meant that AeroCities, HumorVids, and SSN were all down. Soon, the MudWing sites were blocked too, as Queen Moorhen took a seat beside Queen Scarlet and Burn.
One night, Skaapsteker checked some of her bookmarked Serpentfire blogs, only to see that a few of them had been hacked. Interspersed between paragraphs about cooking and barb-ball were rants about “Queen Blister”’s superiority and cartoons of Blaze and Burn being killed in various disturbing ways.
Nowhere was safe.
The war had been raging for two nightmarish years when the NightWings resurfaced, as they occasionally did, and delivered a prophecy. All of the Gazette’s staff watched the break room television intently, committing every word of the prediction to memory.
A real NightWing was on the screen. His name was Morrowseer, and as she looked at him Skaapsteker felt a shiver of intimidation run down her spine, shaking her wings slightly. He was a large, stocky dragon with jet-black scales and shortish yet sharp horns. Tiny wisps of smoke escaped his nostrils as he spoke.
“So there is an end to this all,” breathed Camel, a newer member of the team. She and her brother Baobab had joined several months ago in what was apparently the final stop on a cross-desert trip to escape their domineering parents’ attempts to get them enlisted in the SandWing/IceWing army. She worked as an editor, and Baobab as a writer. Skaapsteker had grown fond of them.
“Yes,” said Tortoise, rearing up on his hind legs. “Over all of recorded history, the prophecies of the NightWings have never been wrong. If Morrowseer says that five dragonets will end this war and save Pyrrhia, then that’s what will be.”
A cheer went up across the room. Finally, there was hope.
Two weeks later, Skaapsteker’s life fell apart.
It had been a regular work day. She’d been absorbed in editing an article on a skirmish between two nobles when suddenly a crash sounded from the direction of the building’s main door, followed by angry yelling and terrified screaming.
“FILTHY BURN-SUPPORTERS! GET OUT OF OUR KINGDOM, TRAITORS!”
She heard heavy steps drawing closer to her door, and Skaapsteker realized with utter dread that she’d have to face the attackers. There were no windows in her workroom that she could try to break through, and attempting to bust through the walls would most likely give her a severe concussion at best.
Someone slammed against her door, denting it inwards, and suddenly she remembered something she’d seen in a movie as a dragonet. Could it work…?
They slammed again, and one of the hinges popped free. Skaapsteker vaulted out of sitting position, half-spreading her wings and pushing them downwards to gain a tiny bit of lift, then twisted in the air and dug her front talons into the ceiling, pulling up her hindquarters and doing the same with the talons on her hind legs.
The door finally burst all the way open, and Skaapsteker flattened herself against the ceiling. Thankfully it was a high ceiling, and the attacker looked around in confusion. Just as his ears twitched, she dropped down from the ceiling, pinning him down and shoving a talon into the base of his tail-barb so that he couldn’t move it.
“Don’t hurt me! I’m a Blaze supporter, I swear!” She tried her best to sound convincing. “I’m only doing this to defend myself!”
“I don’t believe you,” he growled. “Who’s to say you weren’t all in on this?”
“In on wh-“
A few other members of the mob ran into the room, and no matter how hard she tried, Skaapsteker was never able to remember what exactly had happened next, except as an indistinct blur of pain and scales hitting scales. The next thing she remembered was crashing through a window in an adjacent office, all too aware of the narrow slashes in her left wing and the burned-away patch on her right and the venom coursing through her from multiple stab wounds. She quickly glided down and collapsed on the dry, cracked ground.
She could hear dragonfire cacti being set off inside the Gazette building. But in the distance, she could hear wingbeats drawing closer, dragons faintly shouting to each other about what medical supplies they would need.
She let unconsciousness take her.
Three days later, Skaapsteker awoke in the hospital at the city’s edge, making a pleasant surprise for the doctors.
As it turned out, they told her, Camel and Baobab hadn’t run away because they didn’t want to fight - they’d run away because they didn’t want to fight for the same side as the rest of their family. As a move to try to find other Burn supporters, Baobab had referred to her as “Queen Burn” in his most recent (and final) article. The Gazette normally made sure to use prospective-queen-neutral language, but Camel, being in on it, purposely let it slide.
Which had turned into… this.
Around half of the Gazette’s staff, including Baobab, had been killed in the attack, and most of the survivors were nursing injuries that would take lengthy downtime to recover from. Camel had been taken into custody, as had some of the surviving mob members.
It was a minor thing to focus on, but Skaapsteker kind of wished they’d all been writing “Queen Blaze” the whole time.
When she was discharged, Skaapsteker found she didn’t feel safe in the capital anymore. After a few months of working as a hunter (mostly catching camels - take that, Camel), she moved to a village on the southern coast, where her father’s side of the family was from. She ended up surprising herself with how easy it was for her to settle into life there - everyone was friendly (aside from the occasional stare at her tattered crest and numerous scars, and those mostly came from younger dragonets), and the small size and remoteness of the village meant the the war had mostly swept it by. She got a new job as a drummer for a local band, and, barring the occasional overheard discussion of something that had happened in the war, life was really good.
As years passed, things continued to change in the outside world, and Skaapsteker reluctantly kept herself vaguely informed on them. A group that called themselves the “Talons of Peace” arose, dedicated to helping fulfill Morrowseer’s prophecy. Burn moved her base to the Sand Kingdom again, and Blaze moved to somewhere in the southern Ice Kingdom, sparking rumours of a relationship between her and Queen Glacier. More wins and losses and ties.
The Brightest Night came on Skaapsteker’s thirteenth year in the village. Everyone poured out onto the beach, careful not to get wet, and watched the combined light of the moons set the waves aglow. Looking at the three shining disks in the sky, they all knew that, in a few more years, everything would be alright.
Those years went on, still seeming impossibly long.
Until Skaapsteker was invited back to the capital.