Two weeks before Jade Mountain Academy was scheduled to start its third year running:
From above, the small (but quickly growing) city of Possibility would look like a hive of moving bodies, mostly in shades of red, orange, gold, and If tan, with an occasional flash of blue or brown, whirling approximately in sync to the music. If one looked more carefully at the roof of the grocer's building, however, they would spot a small Seawing crouching on the edge.
However, the little blue-green dragonet's view of the city was drastically different. Though she could hear the music and see flashes of colored scales from her hiding place, her focus was centered on the smell of the food cooking at the stall just below her. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted the green and gray shape of Parrot. Parrot was a Rainwing, one of the very few that lived in Possibility, and also the leader of the group of street dragonets that Tern had made a temporary alliance with.
Suddenly, Parrot's tail flashed orange, and she flicked it to one side, the signal to go. Steeling herself, Tern launched herself off the edge of the roof, and lit up all of her glow-in-the-dark scales at once, closing her eyes to block them from most of the blast. All according to plan so far.
The world around her exploded in red, and as she made a very undignified landing on the Mudwing food vendor's head, Tern felt the throbbing headache that always came whenever she lit up completely. The said headache, along with the sounds of shouting and the choking smoke from the vendor's grill made things like balancing on a frustrated brown dragon quite difficult, so in a panic, she tried to lift off and get away from the scene of her crime.
But Tern, said the voice that she liked to think was how her brother Hurricane would sound if he were here. You'll mess up the mission and Parrot might try to melt you again.
So? Shot back Stormchaser's voice. Parrot's a jerk anyway, and she has terrible aim. It's not like you're in danger if you just leave now.
Well ACTUALLY, imaginary-Hurricane started, but was cut off by-
Tern, who had decided to listen to her imaginary sister for a change and was trying to bail out of the mission. (Tern's conversation with her "siblings" had only lasted two heartbeats at most.)
She snapped her focus back to the real world and found that while she had been briefly zoned out, she had managed to lift into the air, and was flapping circles around Mr. Mudwing's face. He was starting to look annoyed, so Tern decided to take a hint and go. As she rose above the quickly gathering crowd, her flight patterns slightly jerky because of an injury in her wing, she hoped very hard that Parrot and her gang had managed to do what they needed before she left.
They hadn't. That much was obvious from Tern's new vantage point behind a pile of melons. Parrot was a roiling, spiky smudge of red and black pacing back and forth around her meager pile of loot. Nothing but a tarnished bracelet Magpie, a little kleptomaniac Skywing had almost certainly grabbed, and a few slightly burned and scuffed up kebabs, probably the work of Parrot and Robin, a Mudwing. (Though anyone he met knew right away that he was also part Skywing, probably because of the bright orange scales on his belly and his slightly slanted red eyes. Robin denied all of it.)
"-can't believe that little Seawing bailed out like that!" snapped Parrot. "And we offered her part of our findings and everything."
"I knew she was trouble from the very beginning, when she punched Magpie in the face after she tried to save her. The nerve." agreed Robin.
That's not what happened! thought Tern, annoyed. She tried to steal my bracelet! I didn't punch her!
"She didn't punch me," said Magpie softly. "I told you already, she had a nice bracelet and I tried to steal it."
Yes, that's the right story. thought Tern bitterly. At least Magpie's honest. Idiotic Robin, always trying to make dragons he likes look better than they actually are. She spun the knotted band of string absentmindedly around her wrist with one talon, feeling the two beads click against her scales. One was painted white, the other black, and both were made of polished wood.
"Yes, well, anyway, I'm still mad at her." snapped Parrot, her snout and wings turning orange, the color of annoyance. "We're gonna have to do another raid across town and hope that they haven't heard about us yet."
Magpie started to pace too, following a few steps behind Parrot, but looking around the alleyway instead of at the meager pile of stolen things on a blanket on the ground. She was the youngest of the little bird-themed group, and as mentioned before, was very good at spotting and stealing nice things. She was less good at things involving self-control, but that was a minor detail. (In Robin's eyes, anyway.)
Suddenly, the little golden Skywing froze, her red eyes darting to the side and locking with Tern's warm brown ones. All four of them wide open. Magpie's expression changed from I'm-trying-to-be-serious-but-I'm-not-very-good-at-it to oh-moons-what-IS-that-help SO FAST that she almost forgot to cry out.
If she had actually forgotten to alert her friends, things would have probably turned out much better for Tern than they did.
But she didn't forget, and let out a screech more fitting to a bird of prey than a magpie or a dragonet with the same name. Magpie stumbled back in fear and fell back into Robin, who turned to catch her and saw Tern as well, making him jump but still catching Magpie because he was "chivalrous" like that, therefore alerting Parrot in the process because Brave Sir Robin very bravely joined in the screaming.
Parrot, thankfully, (or not) didn't chicken out and instead opted to actually catch Tern. As the Rainwing faded from view and shoved past Robin and Magpie, making a very amusing picture - scene of two dragonets being shoved away from each other by some invisible force, Tern struggled into the air. A few drops of shiny black venom flashed past her line of vision, sending both her brain and heart into overdrive. Just as Tern thought that she could make it, a pair of invisible jaws clamped around her tail and jerked her down.
Panic shot through her, feeling as if it started from the bite marks on her tail, and sizzled through her body like lightning. She had heard about how some rainwings could spray their venom while biting, effectively melting a dragon from the inside. The panic caused her to light up all of her scales at once, which brought back her old headache in full furious force.
But on the bright side, she temporarily blinded Parrot and forced her to let go.
All Tern could do then was fly, struggle, and hope that Parrot wasn't one of those dragons.
She struggled into the air, the weak spot on her tail aching, as was her head, and right wing.
Her wing had been hurting, on and off, ever since her escape. It should have been Storm's and Hurricane's escape as well. she thought sadly. I wish I hadn't run. Maybe I would have known what happened to them if I had stayed.
But if I had stayed, I could have died.
And even if I had stayed, would it really have been worth it to know what happened?
She shook her head, doing her best to clear it of the depressing thoughts. Whatever had happened out there, over the desert, was already done, and there was nothing she could do about it.
She flew a bit farther, taking a winding path through the alleyways to lose Parrot and the others, though frankly, Tern was mostly worried about Parrot, then landed near the easels where dragons, most of them slightly older than her, chatted and swayed in time to the music while painting pictures of birds, dragons, and a reoccurring theme was also of the recently split mountain that Darkstalker had crawled out of.
Recently, being nearly three years ago. The shock of those events had mostly passed, though many of the Icewings were still either suspicious or vengeful or both towards the Nightwing tribe. But, most of the other dragons of Phyrria were no longer shaken too drastically by the events of three years ago.
Tern also figured that painting Agate Mountain was seen as an edgy topic, and therefore "cooler" for some reason. She didn't care. It wasn't like she actually had a reputation anyway. To most dragons, she was just another face in the crowd.
Though this face had four eyes.
That would certainly make her much more than just a face in the crowds, certainly. She might end up being forced to be a circus performer or stuffed exhibit for some former Burn supporter.
A fate she had very narrowly escaped already, but with the real Burn, and had no intention to come near to experiencing again.
So, as a compromise, she would close the pair of eyes that was higher in her skull, keep her head down, and do something with her claws whenever she was talking to someone, to draw attention away from the two slightly lighter patches of scales above her eyes, that were actually her eyelids.
It gave her face a slightly more "innocent" look as well, since her visible eyes were lower in her face than they would be on a two-eyed dragon, which, according to the Skywing librarian that she had formed an uneasy truce with, made her look a bit more "cute" and "adorable" than the average Seawing-Skywing hybrid dragonet.
Tern may have been cutesy, adorable, and innocent in appearance, but she certainly wasn't like that in mentality. She had first grown up in hiding in the Sky Kingdom with two of her three siblings and her mother. After she, Hurricane, and Stormchaser had been forced to leave, and Tern was separated from the other two in the resulting chaos. She had been whisked away from the fray by a Sandwing who wouldn't tell Tern their name, then showed the dragonet the way to Possibility. She had spent the rest of her life in Possibility's streets, which, while not as bad as she had heard the Scorpion Den's were, still weren't an ideal place for a dragonet to grow up.
In short, Tern had seen a lot of bull.... droppings.
She was so caught up in her inner mini monologue of exposition, she tripped.
She never tripped.
Granted, the little dark red dragonet she had tripped over wasn't really looking where he was going either.
"Hello!" he chirped, seemingly unfazed by the fact that he had had his tail stepped on.
"...hi?" ventured Tern. Not many dragons were this friendly to other dragons who stepped on their tails.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
He must have taken my hesitation for pain. realized Tern.
"'Cause, I mean, I kinda ran into you and..." he trailed off, flicking his right claw through the air in front of him as if he was conducting an orchestra. Tern had never seen a real orchestra, but there had been a sizable musician's troupe that passed through Possibility about half a year ago that she had stolen a ticket to see.
"No, no, I'm fine." she finally managed to say, shaking off her surprise. "I should be asking you, actually." Now that I've been pulled into a conversation, I may as well be polite. Tern thought, one of her eyes following his bouncing claw, and the other fixed on his face.
"Oh, I'm okay." he said, dropping his claw to the ground and smiling.
Tern blinked once, to refocus her eyes, glad to get rid of the dizzying sensation of looking in two directions at once. Nevertheless, she was actually quite proud of the skill. It was the best power move she could pull on anybody ever, and she loved it.
And it worked. The red dragonet (probably a Skywing,) figured Tern, froze, with his mouth slightly open, then finally asked,
"How'd you do that?" in an awestruck voice. "Whenever I try to look in two directions at the same time, it gets super blurry and my head hurts."
"Uh.." Tern began. She had never really had to, or wanted to, explain herself to anyone before. "Practice?" Ugh. Even she thought that that sounded lame.
"Huh." Said the dragonet, tilting his head slightly and crossing his eyes experimentally. After a moment he shut them tightly and shook his head, as if to clear it. "Anyway, I'm Cliff." He said suddenly. "What's your name?"
Tern was glad that he had changed the subject. Talk of eye-related skills generally led to talk of eyes, in her experience, (which, honestly, wasn't much), and then she might slip up, and her secret would be out.
The fewer dragons who knew about her, the better.
"It's Tern." She said finally, allowing a smile. Then, a sudden, outlandish
realization struck her.
The prince's name is Cliff. And he's supposed to look a lot like Queen Ruby. This dragonet looks like everyone says the Queen does. What is royalty doing in possibility?
And then: This is one of the absolute worst places for a prince to be.
"Cliff, as in, Prince Cliff?" she asked, quietly, as if not to attract attention.
"Oh, yeah." he said. "Right. That reminds me, I probably should be closer to mom or-"
"Cliff?" said a voice from behind the wall of dragons. A few of the painters stumbled back in shock, and the air around Tern seemed to get a few degrees hotter. "Cliff, you weren't supposed to run off like that, AAAAaaRGH." The growl sent shivers running down Tern's spine, and her ruff shot up, the slightly scuffed up dark red webbing being glaringly obvious. She was about to shout to Cliff to run, her mouth was open, the scream ready to fly, when she saw Cliff's face, which was...
...relived? Tern was about to sink into a spiral of confusion, but the arrival of the growling dragon interrupted her thoughts in a rather violent manner.
The temperature rose once again, and the nervous expressions on the bystanders' faces blossomed into outright panic as a faintly glowing bronze dragon stomped through the crowd and came to a stop right in front of the two dragonets standing with open mouths, one in joy and the other in the utmost terror.
"Peril!" cheered Cliff, stating everyone's thoughts, but at a starkly different tone of voice. If Tern had been shouting instead, there would have been slightly more panic echoing around.
Peril. Queen Scarlet's former dancing monkey of death. Champion of the arena. Hissed Hurricane's voice inside Tern's head.
And MURDeRer! snarled Stormchaser, Tern's mental image of her flapping its four wings and lashing its tail. You should get revenge!
How, exactly, is she supposed to get revenge on a living torch? Shot back Hurricane, rolling his eyes at "Stormchaser".
And off the two of them went again. Tern found it slightly amusing that even in her head, as figments of her imagination, Stormchaser and Hurricane still argued as much as they used to before...
Before Peril killed my mother. Tern thought, remembering her current situation. Uncharacteristic fury boiled up inside her. Maybe Storm is right. I should get revenge.
But then she saw that Cliff was talking excitedly to Peril, as if she was an older sister, and-
Wait. Was Cliff talking about her?
"...and this is my new Seawing friend, Tern!" he was saying, motioning at her with one wing, and glancing over his shoulder.
Oh, moons he thinks that I'm all Seawing. Tern thought, while managing to squeak out a terrified "hi", keeping her eyes on Peril.
What is she thinking right now? Tern asked herself. Does she even recognize me? Does she even remember all the dragons she's killed?
But what about the stories that say she's changed? asked the stupid sensible side of her brain. That she even helped overthrow Scarlet? What if they are true?
While she was in her own whirlwind of slightly panicked thought, another dragon joined Cliff and Peril and a sudden hush fell over everybody in the square. Even some of the dancers stopped their whirling movements and stopped to watch.
She stood tall, like all Skywings, but for some reason, she seemed taller. Maybe it was the majesticness that Queens seemed to radiate wherever they went.
Or maybe it was the fact that she had an unusually long neck. That was certainly a rather defining feature of Queen Ruby's.
Anyway, there were far too many royal/dangerous dragons gathered here now. Tern could handle one royal dragonet who didn't seem very royal at all, and Cliff certainly wasn't dangerous, but a royal, dangerous, and a royal and dangerous?
But for now, Tern couldn't exactly run. So, she did the next best thing. She lowered her head, bent her front legs, half-opened her wings, and bowed. Several other dragons, mostly Skywings, got down as well.
"There's no need for that." said Queen Ruby, sounding slightly amused. "You aren't in my tribe, after all."
Yes I am! screamed Tern's thoughts. I have. Red. Wings! RED! I get that some Seawings are pink and sometimes even really yellowish-green, but isn't red a bit of a stretch?
Then: Well, if they all think that I'm pure Seawing, I guess it's not too bad.
And then: Oh no I have to say something. Quick, think of something, brain!
"You're the first queen I've met, your Majesty." she finally managed to say, standing back up and shaking out her wings, careful to keep her top pair of eyes shut. Another dragon finding out about them would make this day downright catastrophic.
"Well, I'm honored." said Queen Ruby with a half-smile. "Cliff says that you have some rather interesting skills?"
Tern felt her scales around her face heat up. Cliff also looked mortified, and mouthed "Sorry!" towards her. He probably hadn't expected his mother to mention what he had said out loud either.
All parents were the same that way, then.
Or not. Tern couldn't really know what other mothers were like, since she had very few memories of her own, before she had been killed in the arena. By Peril.
Who was currently standing right in front of her, scanning the area for someone. She finally seemed to find who or what she had been looking for, and leaned over dangerously close to Queen Ruby's ear and hissed something. The queen didn't flinch, unlike several other dragons around them, Tern included, then nodded slightly and said,
"Well, Tern, and everyone else," Said Queen Ruby, looking around to address the crowd, "it's been great, but we must go now." and started over to the left.
"It's been nice!" called Peril, speaking loudly for the first time in a few minutes. Tern was surprised that she sounded like a normal dragon.
Well, what did you expect? Her to speak only like some villain from a drama scroll? sniped Tern's sensible side.
Cliff, however, had a very different way of saying goodbye. Running one circle around Tern, he sang "Goooood byyyeeeee!", took one jump into the air, added "Let's meet agaaaaiiiin!" and hurried off after his mom and guard.
Tern blinked, then allowed a small laugh, shaking her head. Cliff was something.
"Ooohhh, our little frea-k is in loooove." whispered a voice in her ear, with the strange pop on the "k" sound that identified the speaker as a Rainwing. Specifically, the only one Tern had ever met, also known as "Parrot."
"Buzz off, Parrot." growled Tern. Being called a freak always struck a deep nerve with her.
Mother used to call us her wonderful little freak show. In a kind way. Somehow, whenever she said it, it sounded less like an insult and more like a complement.
When Parrot says it though, it makes me want to punch her.
"Hmm, no, I don't think I will." said Parrot, her voice sugary-sweet. Then, she looked up, flared her entire head neon yellow and white, making spots dance in front of Tern's open eyes, and called to someone in the crowd, "She's over here!"
Tern caught on to what had happened a few moments too late to make a clean getaway. But, even a messy getaway could work in a pinch, and she turned and bolted-
-right into the arms of a huge dark Sandwing. She only saw a few parts of him while struggling, filing off his most recognizable features to memory, (a patch over his left eye, dark tan scales, two bright white stripes along his spine, with four black ones bordering those), and then she was stuck facedown in a heavy bag that smelled sweet. The last thing she heard before she fell into a black sleep was Parrot saying something about a reward.
Tern woke up underwater. At least, that was what the green light made it look like, but she soon realized that she wasn't very wet. She wasn't breathing through her gills either. Then why was the light so weird? Tern was going to find out, at any rate. Her night vision wasn't as good as a normal Seawing's, and far from what a Nightwing would have, but it was good enough to keep her from falling off of the library roof she usually slept on at night.
So, it was sufficient for her to see what few things there were to be seen.
The sack she was in was slightly open, which let in more greenish light, and to her amusement, the Sandwing goon had forgotten to tie her up! This was the (im)perfect crime. Except for once, she wasn't the criminal committing it.
It was strangely liberating, actually.
She slithered out of the sack, feeling like a very stealthy snake, and looked around. Tern kept all four of her eyes open, beyond caring who saw her or not. She would be out of here soon anyway. As she blinked the sleep from her eyes, she couldn't help letting out a soft gasp.
She had never seen this many trees in the same place in her entire life. The light was colored green from the leaves above, and as she watched, a shimmering blue butterfly flapped by. She was watching it, the turquoise color on its wings reminding her of her own scales, and what she imagined her father's would look like.
"Nice, isn't it?" asked a soft voice, making Tern jump all the way out of the bag. It was the Sandwing, the one with the eyepatch and the stripes. His voice was oddly quiet for a dragon his size. "Pity it'll end up being eaten by some bird in a few minutes."
Just as he said this, a brightly colored parrot swooped down and caught the blue butterfly out of the air, then disappeared into the trees. It looked extremely smug for a bird.
"Or a few seconds." amended the Sandwing, smiling slightly. "Anyway, I'm awfully sorry, but I'm going to have to sedate you."
Tern blinked, shaken by Eyepatch Sandwing's blunt way of talking.
He looked at her as if she were a newly hatched dragonet. "You know, sedate? Knock out? Neutralize?"
"I know what sedate means." snapped Tern, regaining her composure. "And why?" Panic rose in her voice as she remembered her situation. "What do you want with me?"
"It's not what I want, per se." said Eyepatch, shrugging. "It's more like what my boss wants, and she's pretty formidable so I wouldn't really want to cross her without proper depth perception." He pointed to his eyepatch. "So, how about you be a good dragonet and let me shoot you with this dart?"
Eyepatch held up a thin tube, with the sharp end of a dart sticking out. The sight sent Tern's mind into overdrive, and she scrambled for any plan, even a weak one.
She finally settled for the same one she had used earlier that day. Distraction.
"What's your name?" She finally blurted out, startling Eyepatch and making him lower his dart shooter.
"My name?" he repeated, taken aback. "It's.." he looked slightly embarrassed. "It's Chipmunk." He finally blurted out, then ducked his head slightly. "Not the best one, I know."
"It's alright." Said Tern, slowly backing away. "Mine's Tern. Don't know if you knew that already." She continued, trying to keep Chipmunk distracted, while scanning her surroundings for possible escape routes. "Did you know, that once I..."
She was surrounded by huge mossy trees that towered taller than any dragon she had ever seen, and she swore that she saw a snake slither into a hole in one. There was a beaten-down sort of trail to her right, that she assumed they had come through, and to her right...
...a flash of blue-green, sending sparkling white light into one of her eyes. It was either water, or a very shiny bird.
Hoping very much that it would be the latter, she wrapped up her story, which had been about the time she had caught someone trying to steal a librarian's book stamp, then added, to add insult to future injury-
"By the way, your name? It suits you."
-and sprinted off, smacking a fallen nut into Chipmunk's face with her tail, which was luckily the powerful Seawing variety, and hearing something crack.
She hurtled forward, towards the shimmer of blue, wings half extended for balance, and squinted her eyes against the snapping leaves and branches in her face. Suddenly, a huge rotting log loomed right in front of her, and she almost cracked her skull on the damp bark. Luckily, she managed to leap up and land about three-quarters up the trunk.
Digging her claws in, Tern struggled to get on top, and nearly fell off of the tree when a dart sank itself into the bark right next to her left two eyes. She managed to regain her grip on the tree just in time, and hoisted herself onto the top, then paused to check how far away was Chipmunk.
That was a very big mistake on her part, as she soon found when a dark whizzed into her right ear, sticking all the way through and sending sharp needles of pain radiating away from the spot where the dart had stuck.
Whoever told me that getting my ears pierced wouldn't hurt a bit was a big fat liar. She decided, then yanked out the dart, blinking away the tears that sprang from the corners of all four of her eyes, then threw the dart at the general direction it had come from, giving it a bit of a boost from her tail. There was a shout, then a furious roar that sounded nothing like Chipmunk.
"-a good idea-" kaploey.
"-to THROW a DART in my FOREHEAD-"
A bright white Sandwing that certainly wasn't Chipmunk suddenly stumbled through the foliage and fell on his face after glaring at Tern and spitting a bit of fire in her direction. She assumed that he had been the one doing the shouting. He looked like an inverted version of Chipmunk, and they also had the same snout.
There was also a dart sticking out of his forehead.
"Weasel!" shouted Chipmunk, sprinting out of the foliage as well and promptly tripping over his twin brother and landing on his face.
The resulting jolt shook Tern enough to make her run, and run she did, hoping that Weasel's situation would keep Chipmunk distracted for a bit.
Soon, she stumbled out of the trees and fell face-first into a sand dune. Standing up and shaking the sand out of her scales, she stumbled over the dune, into a patch of grass and bushes, and fell into a deep sleep.
"Auklet, no one's hiding in the bushes."
"Yes there is! Look, she's asleep!"
Tern blinked awake, squinting against the sunlight. A smiling green face looked back down at her, wide eyes framed by pale teal scales that faintly glowed.
"Hello." Said the dragonet, scales flashing the question "who?", one of the few aquatic words that Tern knew. "I'm Auklet. Who are you?"