Blinking in the late afternoon sunlight, Zoltar surfaced to see Hisster standing on one of the training platforms. Scorpus stood below him, watching the General as more Shadow Talons emerged from their caves.
Zoltar looked around him, a little confused. Was this because of the earthquake?
Mowzan had appeared beside him with Nickeeta. Both looked as puzzled as he was.
“Soldiers,” Hisster continued, “There have been reports of a Sea Talon being sighted in the area. The Chief has ordered a squad to investigate.”
‘A Sea Talon?’ Zoltar thought as the Shadow Talons around him began murmuring. What was a Sea Talon doing anywhere near Shadow Talon territory?
“The dragonets in training and those of you who have or are expecting dragonets may stay. This is a scouting mission, nothing more. If I feel that we need reinforcements, I will send a messenger. That is all.” Hisster commanded, his wings held confidently as he surveyed the dragons below.
“Sir, what about the earthquake. Are there any reasons to be concerned?” Someone spoke out in the crowd.
Hisster glanced at Scorpus and nodded.
“The volcanologists have reported no changes in the mountain. Mokewtu is stable.” Scorpus responded, his barbed tail gently sweeping side to side behind him.
Zoltar breathed an inward sigh of relief as he filed into line with the other Shadow Talons. It had just been a light tremor. Nothing more.
In amongst the soldiers he caught a glimpse of female dragoness he knew well. She was standing a few dragons away, scanning the others, looking. Nira caught his gaze and gave him a slight wave with her wing.
Zoltar smiled back, returning her wave shyly.
“Is that everyone?” Hisster asked when everyone had stopped moving.
A group of around one hundred Shadow Talons stood beneath and around the training pillar. The rest of the dragons that were excluded had retreated back into the tunnel entrances.
“Yes Sir,” Scorpus responded amidst giving orders as he got the troop together.
Hisster nodded before lifting into the sky, the wind created by his massive obsidian black wings churning the dusty ground below.
“Lift off,” Scorpus ordered as he followed Hisster, the battalion close behind him.
The sun slowly sank towards the golden outline of the far off sea as Zoltar and the others banked to the northwest and headed for the Sea Talon beach and the edge of their territory.
“Hey.” A wing brushed against Zoltar’s side and he turned to see Nira gliding beside him.
Zoltar smiled and found himself staring into her eyes. Those beautiful violet eyes.
“So how strange is that, to be investigating a Sea Talon sighting?” Nira stated.
Zoltar blinked, breaking from his haze, “I know. There hasn’t been anything like that since the end of the war.”
Nira’s gaze dropped, “That’s what I’m worried about.”
“I’m pretty sure it’s nothing though,” Zoltar quickly added. They never really spoke about the war anymore. Not since his and Nira’s parents had been killed in one of the Sea Talon battles.
That was why this report was so weird though. The Sea Talons and Shadow Talons had come to an uneasy truce fifteen years ago. The two tribes hadn’t seen or spoken a word to each other since then.
“It was probably just someone’s eyes playing tricks on them.” Zoltar said, though even he didn’t really believe that.
“Let’s hope so.” Nira sighed before she flew a little way forward to talk to one of the other soldiers.
The flat plains were now slowly replaced by shallow hills as the figure of Mount Mokewtu grew ever distant. Bushes and the occasional tree now shared the earth with the long blades of grass that had carpeted the lowlands.
The sun was a wings breath from the ocean now, it’s golden rays dancing off the lapping waters. The beach was still a long way off though. It would be well past dark before they reached their destination.
Though that may be part of Hisster’s plan. With their night vision and the cover of darkness, the Shadow Talons would have a huge advantage over any Sea Talon. The intruder would probably be hiding somewhere near the shore, hoping that they could elude the Shadow Talons until sunrise.
It was highly unlikely they’d stay hidden until morning though. With no families to get back too, he and the other Shadow Talons could stay out here as long as they needed.
Suddenly, a thundering boom shook the air around them, knocking the soldiers from the sky. They hit the ground, just as another blast shook the earth.
“What happened,” Hisster roared as the Shadow Talons tried to get to their paws, fighting the tremors that shot through the earth. Everyone was yelling as they tried to figure out what was going on.
Zoltar looked around widely. Where was the attack coming from? That was when his eyes lock on the distant shadow of Mount Mokewtu.
A huge plume of smoke had erupted from the mountain, swallowing the welcoming blue of the sky with a thick choking cloud of death.
Screams pierced the air around the group as the mountain's peak became ablaze with scarlet fire. Burning rocks of roaring flame fell from the now crimson sky, taking out many of the Shadow Talons that could be seen trying to escape the eruption.
Another deafening roar pierced the air and the Shadow Talons watched in horror as the entire north side of the Mount Mokewtu collapsed in a tsunami of molten rock and ash. Smoke roared from the great fissure, pouring out the mountain and up in another giant mushroom cloud. Lighting flashed in its depths as it spread, blotting out the last of the sun and sky. Any fleeing Shadow Talons were overtaken and engulfed by the pyroclastic flow. Not a sound broke the deafening howl of the volcano as it consumed the Shadow Talon city in a cloud of smoke and fire.
“No.” Zoltar whispered, crumpling like a wilting flower. His eyes were squeezed shut, but still the tears flowed. His chest hurt like something was squeezing every rib in his body. A strange chill had passed over him and he was shaking.
Everything, everyone was gone. His brother, all the dragonets, the whole tribe was gone.
All around him, the other Shadow Talons were staring at the mountain, their expressions a mixture of horror and grief.
Blinking through the tears, Zoltar spied Nira amongst the soldiers. She was just standing there, her face as hard as stone. No emotion crossed her snout as she slowly sank to the ground. She curled up into a ball and covered her face with her wings. A quiet whimpering was all that could be heard from the ball of scales.
Zoltar turned back towards the mountain. Great plumes of smoke were still rising from the mountain as rivers of glowing orange lava streamed down its sides, but there was nothing left to destroy.
Everything he cared about …his home… his family… his friends… were gone forever, lost to the volcano. What was he going to do now? There was nowhere to go. Even now as he stood here, ash was starting to rain down on the landscape around him. Nothing would survive.
A shaky gasp escaped his jaws as he surveyed what only a few minutes ago had been a thriving community. What was going to happen to him, Nira and the Shadow Talons left?
“Please tell me the evening hunting parties haven’t returned yet.”
Zoltar slowly turned to find Hisster standing a few tail lengths away with Scorpus, his eyes filled with a ghostly despair.
“I’m afraid … they returned a few hours ago,” Scorpus whispered, his voice barley audible over the continual groan of the volcano.
Zoltar watched as his commander sank to the ground beside Hisster, grief stricken. Silent tears slowly trickled from the old warrior’s eyes. It was the first time Zoltar had ever seen him cry.
Hisster didn’t say a word. He just stared out at the burning pools of lava. The light of the fires reflected into his eyes, causing them to shine a smouldering red. Zoltar couldn’t imagine how he must be feeling. He’d had a wife and three young dragonets. All had perished in the flames.
After what felt like an eternity, Hisster finally spoke, “We will stand vigil until darkness falls. Then we will begin the Dance of Ascension.”