A few hours later, Zoltar became aware that the Exltron had stopped thumping around and that quiet had settled on the forest above. Yawning, Zoltar got up and began walking back up the tunnel. He wings screamed in pain with every step and he was beginning to worry that they were damaged pretty badly. He quickened the pace upwards, wanting to get out of the dreary cave and back into the sun light. Zoltar emerged to the eerie drumming of a wood pecker on the trees outside. Chunks of rock had fallen for the walls and ceiling of the cave. The bushes outside where trampled and torn and the whole patch of forest around him was broken and smashed to splinters.
Shakily, Zoltar stepped out into the darkening forest. His wings were covered in cuts and his right wing had a small tear in the webbing near the tip. He slowly extended the wing to examine the damage. A sharp bolt of pain shot through his wing and he winced.
‘This is bad,’ Zoltar thought, pressing his wings close to his body. He wasn't going to be able to fly back to the cave like this and it was getting dark. The Wisp Talon's warning flashed into his head and he knew he had to find cover fast. There was more than an Exltron out there that would try to attack him and already he could hear the night creature calls slowly echoing through the forest.
Picking up the stone tablet and carefully putting it in his jaws, Zoltar slowly crept out into the open, keeping a careful look out for danger. Small trees around the cave had been reduced to stumps. The ground was churned up and had deep claw marks trailing through the dirt.
Zoltar stole into the trees, his ears straining for the slightest sign of danger. He carefully placed his paws in front of him, taking great care not the make a noise. Zoltar cringed every time his wings brushed a shrub or tree trunk. Acute pain shot up his shoulders with every step.
‘Shiraku and Felistia are going to kill me when they find that I’m not home.' Zoltar thought as he hurried through the trees. He just hoped they hadn't gone out looking for him. The last thing he wanted was for them to get caught out at night along with him. This was his problem and he didn't want them dragged into it.
After a little while Zoltar stumbled across some tracks. He paused to sniff them. They were paw prints with claw marks on each toe and they smelled fresh. Zoltar couldn't recognize the tracks though. He knew that they were way too small to be the Exltron's and looked more like the prints of a small forest raptor or forest cat. Zoltar's stomach growled at the thought of prey. He'd not eaten in ages and even though he was hurt, he was sure he could take down a forest cat. He studied the tracks again. They seemed to be going in the same direction as him.
Zoltar padded down the small path following the prints and being careful not to snap any twigs. He didn’t want whoever had made the tracks to know that he was trailing them. The paw marks lead him past a small pond. Its surface was covered in algae and a foul smell drifted off the green water. There was not a sign of life in or around the pond. A skeleton of a tree hung over the water in such a precarious passion Zoltar wondered how it had not fallen in yet. Insect noises hummed around him as he walked on. After about half an hour Zoltar heard noises up ahead, twigs cracking and a tail swishing along the forest floor.
'That doesn’t sound like the beast at all,' Zoltar thought, gaining courage as he hurried towards the sounds. The rustling was coming from behind a bush. Zoltar quietly stalked over to the plant. Flexing his talons, Zoltar crouched and with a mighty roar he leapt over it, catapulting into a green ball of scales. It clawed back at him and hissed indignantly, “What are you doing!”
Zoltar flinched in surprise. Prey wasn't supposed to talk. He looked down at the now flash red and orange dragon under his claws and realized with a jolt of horror that it was the Wisp Talon he’d met two days ago.
“You again?” She exclaimed in surprise, “I thought I told you to get off the island and that I wasn’t going to be so nice as to let you go this next time I saw you.”
“You did say that,” Zoltar started, then he grinned, “But things seem to be the other way around now. Funny that.”
“Ha ha that’s hilarious. Get off me!” The Wisp Talon shouted in frustration, struggling to wriggle out from under Zoltar.
“Not so fast. I first have a few questions for you.”
“Oh great. So not only am I being sat on by an elephant, but now I’m going to get interrogated by one as well. See this is what happens when I’m nice,” she huffed, her scales a puddle of rippling pinks and oranges.
“I just was going to ask what your name was,” Zoltar rolled his eyes.
The Wisp Talons snorted softly and replied, “Emerald, but why would you want to know my name?”
“Well,” Zoltar bit his lip. Now he’d done it. Taking a deep breath, he answered, “Okay so I kinda like you. It that such a bad thing?”
He nearly jumped out of his skin as Emerald’s scales suddenly became a violent riptide of all the colors imaginable.
“Suffering serpents and blue whale eggs, what is going on with your scales?” Zoltar said, quite alarmed as his hurriedly scrambled off Emerald. He'd just wanted to let her know he was a friend.
Emerald remained silent as she got up, her scales still looking like an out of control rainbow. Her mouth was tight as she curled her tail over his claws and she was shaking.
“Sorry. I really shouldn’t have said that. You know what, just forget about. Forget I said it,” Zoltar stumbled back, his back spines drooping. What had he been thinking?
“No, wait,” Emerald suddenly whispered, “It’s not what you said. Well okay yah it is what you said. It’s just…why would you say that? You’re not supposed to be like this.”
“What do you mean?” Zoltar asked, genuinely confused.
“The Fangtar have always told us that you outsiders are horrible monsters that do nothing, but kill each other.” Emerald could look at him and was staring at the ground as she fiddled with her claws.
Zoltar smiled at the irony of it.
“Emerald, that’s a lie. The dragons outside the island aren’t monsters, we’re just normal dragons, like you. Those Fangtar's tricked you.”
Emerald looked up at him. She was close to tears, but a small smile had broken over her snout, “Yah. I guess that makes sense.”
“You know? The funny thing is I thought the same thing before I met you. Now I see that the Wisp Talons aren’t creatures of the night, but just the same as any dragon out there. The problem seems to be that those Fangtar have deceived you and are trying to keep you on the island for some reason.” Zoltar padded over to Emerald and tentatively twined his tail with hers. Her scales had stopped bouncing around like frogs in a pond and were now a warm sunset orange laced with veins of gold.
“I know why they keep us here. On the night of the full moon each month a Wisp Talon is chosen by the Fangtar to go into the forest. Their jaws and wings are bound and their claws are sawed off before they’re sent into the night. They’re never seen again,” Zoltar could feel Emerald shaking and he wrapped a wing around her, “The Fangtars always insisted that they were protecting us from the terrible ways of the outside world. It never occurred to me until now that they were just using us to keep that…thing. There’s nothing we can do. The Fangtar are too strong for us.”
“But I bet they couldn’t beat an army from the outside,” Zoltar was suddenly feeling really good. He’d been worrying how he’d get the Wisp Talons to agree to share the island, but it looked like they’d be more than willing if the Fangtar were gone.
“What do you mean,” Emerald asked, arching her eyebrows.
“Do you remember when we last met how I avoided answering you when you asked what I was doing here?”
“Well, I was here to see if the Shadow Talons could take over the island,” Zoltar jumped back as Emerald bared her fangs and snarled at him, but he continued, “But I’m not going to do that now. That was before I found out about what the Wisp Talons were actually like. You see, the Shadow Talons thought you were monsters just like you thought we were. So I was wondering how you thought about sharing the island in exchange for the extermination of the Fangtars and their pet? We’ve made a deal with the Howler dragons to help us do away with the Fangtars so it won’t be a problem getting rid of them. The Shadow Talons really need some land and you need those things gone. What do you say?”
Emerald arched her eye brows and studied him with her deep golden eyes as though searching for a lie. Finally Zoltar say her eyes soften as she let out a long sigh, “Fine. I’ll agree to do this with you, but it had better work. I’m putting my life on the line just as much as you and if this fails I won’t be able to return to my tribe, so don’t mess this up.” She smiled at him and Zoltar felt his heart melt.
Taking a deep breath, Emerald got to her feet and let a cool coconut white run down her scales with winding veins of gold. Emerald gave him a look and a small giggle escaped.
“What’s so funny?” Zoltar asked baffled.
“You,” Emerald chuckled, “You were quite funny back there when you realized it was me you’d jumped on.”
“I guess it was funny,” Zoltar admitted scratching behind his head were one of the rocks had hit him earlier, “I guess was expecting some sort of forest beast.”
“Well you’ve got one,” Emerald joked bating his wing with her snout.
“Ow!” Zoltar shouted, jumped back, “Don’t touch my wings,” Zoltar hissed, gritting his teeth as pain surged up his wing and down his back.
“What did you do to hurt them like this?” Emerald asked gently touching his wing.
“It’s a very long story,” Zoltar said, sitting down.
“I don’t suppose you can fly with these can you? I mean it’s lucky you’ve got black scales to hide the bruises. If you were any other color you’d have black and blue spots all over you. You’re lucky you don’t have any broken bones. Now how are we going to get you back before sunset? You must have a cave or tree that you sleep in?” Emerald probed, gently stretching Zoltar’s wings out. She examined the scratches on the webbing. They were deep and would leave scars. One in particular caught her eye. It was a rip on the bottom of his right wing tip.
Zoltar didn't knew whether or not he should tell Emerald where he lived, after all she was a strange dragon that he hardly knew. After a few seconds thought, he dropped the suspicion. If she trusted him enough to go along with his plan than he should trust her the same way. Still... he wasn't going to let on too much. It was Felistia’s cave after all, "I live on the far west side of the island in a cave."
“That's a nice side of the island. I sometimes fly down there to sit by the lake, but it's quite a long way away. You’re going to have trouble flying all the way down there with these cuts in your wing. In the meantime I think we're going to have to take you to the Wisp Talon village for the night. We’ll take you back to the cave in the morning."