Zoltar woke to the sound of the river roaring through the cavern, its banks swollen by the rain water. Yawning, he stretched, flexing his talons as he got to his paws. Surprisingly, it had been a dreamless night, something he hadn’t experienced in many moons.
He yawning again and looked around. It was still quite dark, the only illumination given off by the flowers and glow worms. What time was it? He scratched his horns and squinted at the tunnel leading out the mountain. It was pitch black. For all he knew, it could be midnight or midday. There was no way to tell. It was like time stood still down here.
Shivering, he shook out his wings and eagerly glanced around for Emerald. Safe as it was, he wanted to get out. It was becoming a little too disorientating.
But where was she? It was so hard to tell what was what even which his nocturnal vision. Every lump or clump of vines looked like a sleeping dragon.
“Emerald?” Zoltar ventured cautiously, keeping his voice low. He didn’t want to frighten the Wisp Talon from her sleep. She might react badly to being startled.
There was no answer.
Zoltar flicked his ears. Maybe she’d left? She’d wanted to leave last night already.
“Emerald!” he called again. Still no answer. She must have left. The cavern was too small for her to not have heard him, but when had she left and how had he not heard her?
He sucked in a large gulp of air as he tried to catch her scent, all the while cursing himself for having been so dead to the world.
How comfortable had he been? He’d been trained his entire life to say alert…asleep or not. Even back in the Shadow Lands, he would have been able to hear a dragon leave a cave and he’d been safe there. He was in enemy territory now. Not to mention that he’d been with a Wisp Talon. He growled, frustrated at his carelessness.
It took a few moments, but he managed to catch a faint whiff of Emerald near the exit. It was old. Probably a few hours old at least.
“Well, I did want to leave anyway,” Zoltar mumbled to himself as he followed the trail out of the cavern and up the long, winding tunnel.
The grey light of a cloudy sky met him as he emerged from the mountain. Drizzle pelted against his scales as a chilling wind howled through the pillars around him. Emeralds scent ended a few paw steps from the cave. Either she’d taken off or the rain had washed the trail away.
Zoltar lashed his tail, sending a scattering of loose pebbles tumbling down the mountain side. He’d never be able to follow her in this. He’d need to be an Ice Talon to track her through all this rain.
Shaking his head, he retreated back under cover. She’d most likely gone back to the village anyway. He wouldn’t have been able to follow her there. She’d be back soon…probably.
Sighing, he tucked his tail in closer, trying to keep the scales out of the puddles accumulating around the cave. He’d just have to wait until she got back. There wasn’t really much else he could do anyway. He couldn’t exactly hunt in this weather. He wouldn’t be able to see or hear anything with all this rain. Not to mention that he didn’t know the area. The last thing he wanted was to accidentally wander back into Wisp Talon territory.
He glanced up at the cloud shrouded sky. It was probably a little past midday. Emerald should be back soon…right. She wouldn’t leave him up here alone for too long?
After all, this had been her idea. If it hadn’t been for her insistence, he would be back in Felistia cave, safe, warm and comfortable. At least he’d known the area and the threats it held. Well…most of them anyway. He hadn’t know about the danger of the Death Grippers during a storm.
Zoltar shook his head, growling. Still, it had to be better than this. He felt like a dragonet, waiting for his mother to return. It was humiliating and the fact that Emerald was a Wisp Talon only made it worse.
He stomped a paw, sending a spray of mud showering over his scales. He hissed and shook his wings free of the sludge.
‘Just breathe,’ he told himself. He was only doing this to get information. It wouldn’t be like this forever. For now, he needed to play along.
The thump of wings broke through his thoughts as an unseen dragon flew through the storm over head.
Zoltar flattened his ears and backed further into the cave. His dark shape would blend perfectly with the mountain side in this weather. If it was a strange dragon, they shouldn’t be able to see him…not if he kept put.
He stood ridged, listening. Whoever it was, wasn’t being very quiet about their approach. The intruder had landed a little way up the mountain, their arrival having sent a number of pebbles cluttering down the slope. Paws slapped down onto the wet ground and the hiss of a tail sweeping past leaves could be heard as they approached.
‘Can’t be Sidious. He wouldn’t be that careless,’ Zoltar thought, half relieved. He had no intention of seeing…let along talking to the Ghost Talon at the moment.
Not that he had a choice in that matter. No doubt Sidious knew where he was. He always knew. He just hadn’t chosen to reveal himself just yet.
‘It’s probably Emerald,’ Zoltar told himself as he tried to stay calm. Any other dragon would be careful with their movements. Besides, she’d also mentioned that Wisp Talons didn’t come up the mountain that often.
The dragoness’s slender shape slowly emerged from the thick mist, her scales a soft mix of winter green and ash grey.
‘It is her,’ Zoltar thought, recognizing the Wisp Talon.
She hadn’t seen him yet and was squinting through the swirling rain as though looking for the entrance. Breathing a quick breathe of relief, Zoltar stepped out to greet her.
Her eyes locked with his for a moment, before she let out a high pitch shriek as her scales flared a ghost white.
“What the?” Zoltar hissed in alarm, jumping back as his tail reared in preparation to strike. But he quickly lowered it when he saw her relax.
Emerald let out a loud puff as she clasped a paw to her chest. Her talons were shaking.
“Don’t do that!” she yelled, still sucking in deep breathes.
“Do what?” Zoltar yelped, taking a few steps back.
“Sneak up on me like that. Do you know how much you look like those creatures? You nearly gave me a heart attack,” Emerald cried, her scales still a wash of milky white.
“I’m sorry,” Zoltar apologized, “I didn’t… um…realize…”
“It’s okay,” Emerald said shakily, “You didn’t mean it.”
Zoltar looked at her for a moment. She was still shaking, her pupils narrow slits.
She’d mistaken him for a Death Gripper. But how? How scared of the creatures must they be for a simple shadow like that to frighten her?
The Wisp Talons had venom and extraordinary camouflaging skills. Surely a Death Gripper was nothing against that. They only had teeth and claws. There must be something more. Maybe there was more to them than they appeared.
Emerald drew in another long breathe as her scales slowly shifted back to a soft jade green. She glanced over at him and sheepish smile crept over her snout.
“I can’t imagine what you must think of me….getting spooked by a shadow” She laughed nervously as she ran a talon over her arm, “I must have looked so silly.”
“No, no. I don’t think that at all,” Zoltar reached forward and took a hold of her paw, “I guess…I just didn’t realize how frightened of those creatures you were. I’ll be more careful from now on.”
“Thanks,” Emerald whispered, her wings relaxing, “I suppose I’ll have to get used to the fact that you have black scales.”
She laughed half-heartedly, but when Zoltar gave her a concerned look, she sighed, “You’re probably wondering why we’re scared of them in the first place…right?”
She hunched her wings and padded towards to cave opening, “Well…I guess this was inevitable. Come on, we might as well get out of the rain for this.”