The shadows grew longer as Zoltar ran through the ever darkening woods. He had to get home before the sun set. He knew that the Wisp Talon had been dead serious when she’d warned him not to stay out after dark. Who knew what strange and terrifying creatures came out after sundown?
The noises in the forest had warped from sweet chirps and whistles to a more threatening tune. Insects started to play their music from the leaves on the trees, their sounds traveling through the hazy air like the shaky notes from a violin. Small animals scuttled through the undergrowth, causing the dry foliage to rustle as they went. Robins called from the tree tops, their songs like a band of flutes and whistles cutting through the evening air, while the black bird’s rich melodies seemed to float through the canopy.
At last the clearing he'd landed in before yawned in front of Zoltar as he sprinted towards it. The dirt crumbled under his talons as he galloped across the burnt patch of land. Spreading his vast wings, Zoltar lifted into the air as the sun slowly sank below the far off mountains. He set off in the direction of the cave he'd slept in the day before as the suns razes lifted off the sea and shadows replaced the departing light.
What was he going to do? The Wisp Talons weren’t the terrible dragons he’d imagined and now his quest for revenge had given them two choices; leave or die. If only he’d know about the Fangtar. He’d have never even gone along with the island’s take over if he’d known. Now the Wisp Talons would either end up like the extinct Lightning Talons or the homeless Sea Talons and it would be all his fault. If only he’d persuaded Hisster to find another island, but he’d been consumed by anger and sorrow. He’d been even more adamant about taking over the island than Hisster. Hisster probably would have left the island alone after the disappearance of the last three soldiers if Zoltar hadn’t jumped in.
Now he was caught between two tribes. The Shadow Talons needed the island and were bound to a deal that the Howler Dragons didn’t look like they’d break for anything. The Wisp Talons were a simple tribe of dragons isolated from the rest of Megalonia by their leaders and didn’t have anywhere to go if the Shadow Talon took over the island. In the end one of the tribes would come off second best and it would be his fault.
The forest below him was a rich amber olive in the suns golden gleam. Orange flames of light licked his onyx scales as he neared the caves entrance. Zoltar dived through the twisted green vines blocking the opening.
The caves features were a blurred grey in the dim light peaking from between the creepers behind Zoltar. He scanned the area, letting he amethyst eye beams run over the walls and boulders.
Suddenly something seized his neck and slammed him to the rock floor, making his head spin.
“Who are you!” the dragon demanded, painfully digging her claws between his scales.
“Zoltar!” Zoltar growled trying to wriggle out from under the muscular dragon clamping him to the ground.
Instantly the talons released as the dragon leapt off Zoltar. He scrambled to his feet to face his attacker, snarling. He was surprised to find himself staring at Shiraku, the Sea Talon he’d met the day before.
“Suffering serpents, what are you doing?” Zoltar thundered, “That is the second time someone has done that to me, today!”
“Sorry,” Shiraku apologized, but quickly barked, “well you shouldn’t have gone out so early and you can’t just dive in here unannounced. What did you think was going to happen?”
“I…I…rrr,” Zoltar huffed, pacing the cave floor, his tail lashing, sending small pebbles bouncing across the ground.
He was almost relived when Felistia swooped in through the vines, making them sway from side to side. She frowned when she saw Shiraku and Zoltar.
“What are you growling about now?” Felistia sighed in an exasperated way, her silver claws clacking on the hard rock as she stalked up to Shiraku.
Shiraku dramatically lit up her scales so that her scowling face shimmered in an eerie blue glow.
“He just flew in here and I attacked him and now he’s cross with me,” Shiraku snapped, the webbed spikes on her head raised in anger.
“How was I supposed to know that there was a secret entrance code or something?” Zoltar growled sarcastically, rolling his eyes.
“Well maybe you shouldn’t have gone out so early!” Shiraku yelled back, her ears laid back and the spin along the whole length of her back bristling.
“Enough you two!” Felistia roared, leaping between Zoltar and Shiraku. Her eyes were drooping and her wings looked heavy.
“I have had a long, tiring day and I don’t feel like dealing with you two fighting!” she bellowed, “Now start acting like mature dragons and go to sleep.” She shot a you'd-better-listen look as Shiraku. Yawning, she padded off to a far corner of the cave and flopped down on the rock and seemed to instantly fall asleep.
“Yes mother,” Shiraku mumbled mockingly under her breath as she trudged over to the opposite end of the cavern and lay down with her wings draped over her head. Zoltar could hear her grousing and grumbling softly to herself.
'What a pair,' Zoltar thought to himself, half amused. The cave was dark now that Shiraku was asleep and Zoltar could see the two moons rising over the mountains, their silver glow floating in through the gaps in the vines, casting thin blades of light over the floor.
All the day’s work seemed to flood over Zoltar as he lay down near the caves entrance and he was surprised at how tired he was. Zoltar yawned and closed his eyes. Almost immediately sleep swept over him, washing away the day’s aches and pains.
~ ~ ~
The air was sweet and fresh on the sunlit plains of grass. Bright colourful fish darted under Zoltar as he flew over a crystal clear lake. The wind brushed his wing tips with invisible feathers and whistled in his ears. Zoltar let out a roar of joy as he swooped over the pine covered slopes of Kie Shoo Mountain. Deer and rabbits leapt for cover as his shadow swept over the ground below. The sun was warm on his spines and the sky was pure blue with not a cloud in sight.
Suddenly there was a rumble and the trees beneath Zoltar shook and trembled. Birds flew from the mountain in great, vivid flocks of colour, their shrill calls piercing the still air. There was another growl from the mountain and then with an ear-splitting boom the alp exploded into a cloud of red, hot lava and smoke. The sky went black and smouldering rocks of flame roared past Zoltar as he swerved to avoid being hit. He watched in horror as the searing projectiles crashed into the town below, smashing houses and streets. Hissing rivers of glowing, crimson lava gushing down the mountain, flooding what was left of the village. The air was stiflingly hot and the gasses seeping from the volcano in great plumes were suffocating. There was another thundering bang as half the mountain broke away from the volcano in an avalanche of rock, molten lava and gas. It sped down the slope towards Zoltar like a great, angry beast. Zoltar pumped his wings as he gained tried to gain enough height to avoid the raging beast. The landslide past under him and roared over the village, sweeping away his family and his home forever in a river of molten lava and smoke.
Zoltar leapt up, cold sweat streaming down his obsidian scales and his heart thundering in his chest. After a few deep, shaky breaths he came to realize what had happened. He'd had a recollection of the day the volcano in the shadow lands had erupted. It had been worse as a dream though. In real life he’d watched from afar as the volcano had destroyed his home and his life forever.
With a sigh, Zoltar settled back down on the cave floor, letting the cool, rough stone scrape the scales on his belly. His sides were still heaving with fright and his breath came out raspy and short. The cave was dark and he could hear Shiraku snoring softly in the back of the cavern. A nightingale was calling somewhere in the forest below, its sharp notes cutting through the cold night air.
“Had a nightmare?” a quiet voice whispered.
Zoltar whipped his head around and found himself staring into Felistia’s golden eyes.
“Yes,” he breathed, sitting up.
“What was it about?” Felistia asked, her wing tip brushing his as she sat down next to him.
“It was about home, the shadow lands. A volcano was erupting and I was caught in it.” Zoltar didn't want to give any details and tried to squish all emotions out of his voice.
There was silence between them.
“I have nightmares about my home too,” Felistia replied suddenly, after a few long moments.
“What about?” Zoltar asked, intrigued. He hoped that she'd tell him a bit about her past. For the short time Zoltar had known her he'd felt that she kept most of her emotions to herself and didn't really show feelings such as joy or sadness. He wondered what had caused her to be so withdrawn. Maybe some past trauma or family issue had affected her, but then showing little emotions could just be an Ice Talon thing.
“Avalanches of ice, deadly snow storms. You know the usual stuff,” Felistia answered coldly, showing no emotion in her voice what so ever, but Zoltar could feel that she was holding something back.
“So how'd you end up here?” Zoltar enquired, hoping to squeeze even a little bit of information out of her.
“I was banished from the Ice Kingdom, because of…problems. I found the island about a month afterward and decided I’d stay since it’s fairly easy to get enough food here relative to elsewhere. Shiraku arrived soon after, much to my annoyance,” Felistia explained, shooting a quick glance in the direction of Shiraku, "But we've managed to stake it out on the island by staying near the cave and not going out after sun down."
Zoltar knew that she'd steered away from the subject of her past and wasn't going to tell him anything, at least not for now, so he changed the subject and asked, “Why were you so tired when you got home yesterday?”
“I was out hunting. I haven’t caught anything in two days, so I am feeling a bit hungry. I'm sure I'll catch something sooner or later.”
“I could help you hunt in the morning. I am quite good at catching prey,” Zoltar offered. Felistia seemed to perk up.
“Alright,” she whispered, smiling as she gently wrapping her tail around his.