Zoltar stirred the next morning, feeling refreshed and very hungry. It was mid-morning and the sun was blazing hot against his scales. The ocean sparkled like it was a moving treasure mound of sapphires and diamonds.
“Morning sleepy claws…. how’s the day?” a slick voice hissed from behind him.
Zoltar whipped his head round, leaping to his feet on instinct. On the golden sand in front of him, resting in the shade was Felistia. She was panting and kept glaring up at the sun.
Zoltar cocked his head. Felistia was acting as though yesterday had never happened. She was back to her normal sly and yet sweet self. Had she just been in a bad mood yesterday or was it something else? It wasn’t the first time she’d been off with him. Zoltar’s scales began to crawl. Something wasn’t right here, but for now he’d have to act natural and hope to she’d reveal her intentions. “Pretty sweltering, I guess for you,” Zoltar shrugged, stretching his wings to full height, so that they gleamed and shimmered like polished crystal. “Why don’t you go in the sea if you’re hot?” Zoltar suggested, pointing at the sparkling blue water.
“I hate salt, it sticks to my scales and makes them itch terribly for days before I can lick all of it off.”
“Poor Felistia. It must be unbearable in this weather,” Emerald shimmered into view behind the grumpy Ice Talon.
Felistia didn’t answer and instead started to lick the sand off her ice blue claws.
“Hi guys! Glad to see you’re up Zoltar,” Shiraku yelled, leaping onto the beach. She shook out her wings, sending sea water splattering all over Zoltar, Felistia and Emerald.
Hissing angrily, Felistia sprang back from the shower of salty water, bumping into Emerald and sending the two of them tumbling onto the sun bathed sand.
“Oops, sorry Felistia,” Shiraku snickered, watching the two dragons untangle themselves “I brought some fish if anyone is hungry? There are huge shoals of them out there.”
She padded back into the water and dragged out two massive silver tuna.
Zoltar’s mouth watered at the sight of the two fish gleaming in the sun.
Felistia turned up her nose, “I don’t feel like it.”
She proceeded to lick the sea water off her scales, occasionally casting glares at Shiraku, who took little to no notice at all while she tucked into her fish.
“No thank you,” Emerald replied quickly, her scales turning a pea green, “I’d prefer a squirrel or something.” She hurriedly rush into the forest, melting into the shadows.
“Something tells me she doesn’t like fish,” Zoltar wrinkled his snout in amusement.
“Well, I love it,” Shiraku said as she sliced a ruby red piece of fish off and popped it into her jaws.
“I kind of like it, though I personally prefer deer,” Zoltar replied, thinking back to when the Shadow Lands had been a paradise for dragons and animals alike. He hoped that the Misty Mountain Island would be similar once the howler dragons had gotten rid of the Exltron and Fangtars.
After breakfast, the group headed towards the Sulphur Swamps to the west of Megalonia. It was almost midday, so the Moon Talons were nowhere in sight. The only signs of life coming from the small village were the loud snores vibrating through the hot air.
Omens that winter was on its way were everywhere. The trees no longer had their emerald sheen and were starting to fade honey yellow and blood red. Flocks of birds could be seen leaving and heading south, their shrill calls resonating in Zoltar’s ears as he flew over the Moon Talon village.
Soon they cleared the Moon Talon kingdom and were soaring over the Rocks of Death. Jagged rocks speared through the bleak landscape, like the spines on a thorny devils back. A hot wind swept through the columns, whistling a hollow howl as it twisted and turned around the shrub covered pillars. Dappled grey Highlasaurs nimbly bounded from peak to peak, their long tails coiling around the rocks for balance. The deer like reptiles looked up and called out in alarm as the group of dragons soared overhead. Leaping for cover, they sprinted across the steep rocks with ease until they disappeared behind the many spears of granite covering the landscape.
Zoltar heard a low growl from Shiraku's direction. He looked over to see her eyes glinting with greed at the sight of the departing Highlasaurs. She was already slowly gliding down towards them, hawk like eyes trained on the fleeing reptiles.
"Shiraku don't even think about it," Zoltar said firmly, diving in front of Shiraku, cutting her descent off short. He knew what she was thinking; Highlasaurs were very tasty if you could catch them. They were quite harmless really, it was their habitats you had to watch out for. The sharp rocks spearing out of the landscape could cut a dragon to shreds if they went barrelling through those dagger like rocks in a high speed chase.
"Oh come on. Look at them," Shiraku whined with longing, stretching a hooked claw towards the distant figures leaping over the peaks, "Just let me catch one. Just one. That's all I'm asking for?" When Zoltar gave her a scowl, she cried out and roared, "What are you trying to do? Starve me?"
"You just had breakfast," Zoltar exclaimed, pushing Shiraku in the direction of the far off Sulphur Swamps.
"It was a very small breakfast," Shiraku grumbled grumpily as she flew off after Felistia and Emerald.
"Oh brother," Zoltar rolled his eyes, a smile crossing his face as he hurried to catch up with the others.
After a few hours Emerald crinkled up her nose and moaned, “What is that disgusting smell?”
Zoltar took a deep lungful of air and flinched. ‘She's right.’ The air had a distinct sulphur scent to it.
Gradually the landscape began to change. The bleak rocks were now spotted with the occasional willow and had thin strands of yellow floating up from the brown puddles of mud strewn between the spikes of granite.
The rotten egg odour was getting stronger by the second and Zoltar was starting to feel quite nauseous. Emerald next to him was a swirling mass of bright lime green and sickly yellow. Even Shiraku was starting look a bit disgusted and Sea Talons had the worst sense of smell in the dragon kingdom.
Soon they were flying over thick, steamy marshes. Bubbles of the black goo slowly rose to the surface of the mud pools and burst, splatting sludge all over the thin reeds spearing out of the swamp. Old trees and bushes stood by the edge of the water, some had fallen in and were now rotting, letting off a foul mouldy scent that mixed with the strands of yellow sulphur seeping from the bog.
“I think it might have been useful if you had told us it would be this flaming stinking,” Emerald grouched, before turning an entirely new kind of green that Zoltar had never seen before.
“Sorry, the swamps seem to be smellier than the last time I passed this way,” Zoltar quickly apologized, concentrating all his energy into not getting sick. The air felt hot and was heavy with the foul scent of rotten meat and vegetation, “I was going to tell you…”
"And when might that have been," Emerald hissed quickly before clamping a paw heavily over her snout.
"Now?" Zoltar said awkwardly, flinching as the combined glares of Emerald, Felistia and Shiraku bore down on him. He smiled sheepishly as they picked up the speed.
Soon the swamp sped into the distance as Zoltar and the rest of the group headed over the Forest of Doom. The trees were dark ivy green and not a speck of gold or copper marked their broad leaves. The air was had a strange chill to it and every now and then a solitary white flake would float past Zoltar’s snout.
Zoltar glanced down at Felistia. She hadn’t said a thing since they had left the Moon Talon kingdom. She was just flying along like a ghost in the wind, her eyes as deep and unreadable as the vast ocean. Zoltar wondered what she was feeling having not been home in such a long time. How was she going to react when they had to go into the palace? Would she try to stop him from stealing the queen’s opal?
Zoltar clutched the brown pouch hanging around his next closer, sneaking a quick glance at the slab of grey rock inside. Would she leave him and decide to stay in the Ice Kingdom. A little voice spiked through his head, ‘Of course not. She’s a wanted criminal there.’ But Zoltar wasn’t so sure.
The landscape below was changing rapidly. Trees and bushes were becoming scarce and the earth was covered in thin sheets of glittering white frost.
The light was starting to fade, bright colours softening as evening approached. The air was getting colder by the second and the ice below Zoltar was starting to turn a baby blue as the warm sun dropped below the horizon, its last golden raze glittering off his onyx black scales, 'We're going to have to land soon,' he thought as the warmth of the suns light disappeared, giving way to the cold of winter. The air was bitterly cold and soon it would reach below freezing. The best thing to do would be to sleep through it. They had to land.
He was about to suggest the notion when Felistia’s icy voice suddenly cut through the silence like a dragon’s claw slicing through a thick tree branch, “We have to land." She snapped her wings in close as she dipped into a steep swoop towards earth. Caught off guard by the sudden change in plans, Zoltar slipped into a less than elegant dive after the rest of the group, who had followed Felistia.
The thin sheet of silver ice cracked under Zoltar’s claws as he landed a few meters away from where the group of dragons were huddling under a wisp of a tree.
Felistia had her milky white snout stretched towards the newly born southern stars, their twinkling lights marking the way towards the Ice Kingdom.
Zoltar watched her warily. She'd been acting strange ever since they'd left the Misty Mountain Island. What was she hiding? Come to think of it, she’d always been a bit aloof with him, even on the island. Was there more to her than met the eye? Zoltar heaved an involuntary yawn. He'd confront Felistia in the morning, it was too late for it now.
He stared out over the desolate plains as the last of the suns red light disappeared, coating the land in crystal like darkness. Zoltar jumped as the moaning creak of ice slashed through the silent night. He whipped his head towards the direction of the sound. It was coming from a far off lake; The Lake of Whispers. The lake was freezing over, winter was here.