“Who are you,” Zoltar asked through the paw clamping him to the floor.
“I was about to ask you that,” the creature snarled back, “what are you doing here?”
“I’m Zoltar and I was just walking through the forest looking for food. Now get off me,” Zoltar hissed crossly. This something was sticking its claws into his scales and was sitting on him in a rather humiliating way.
“Fine, but no funny business!” she exclaimed, slowly releasing her grip as she got off him.
Zoltar jumped up, rubbing his jaw irritably. He looked at his attacker and gasped. It was a wisp talon; her scales rippling streams of colors. Her tail was long and whip like and her claws were hooks that could easily open a coconut in one slash.
“Wow,” Zoltar murmured staring at the waves of gold and emerald rolling down the wisp talons sides.
“Sorry if I was too rough,” the wisp talon apologized, “You can never be too careful around these parts.” Her golden eyes darted at the dead shadow talons around Zoltar.
“It’s okay,” Zoltar said, opening and closing his wings trying to get out the stiff feeling, “if I had been in the same place I probably would have done the same thing." Then a flash of realization spread across his face and he asked in a slightly annoyed voice, "Have you been following me?”
Suddenly an ear splitting roar filled the air behind them and the ground shook from the stamp of heavy paws.
“Quick!” the wisp talon hissed. “Into the trees.”
She bolted past Zoltar and scrambled up the nearest tree as easily as a squirrel. As her emerald tail disappeared through the deep green leaves Zoltar anxiously looked around for a gap in the trees. He couldn’t climb and the forest was too thick for him to fly through. His mind raced, looking for a way out. There was no Scorpus to save him now and he was miles away from the clearing he had landed in a few hours ago.
“Are you coming?” the wisp talon asked almost in a confused manner, poking her head back through the leaves.
“I can’t climb,” Zoltar exclaimed in terror, frantically scrabbling at the bark in the hope that he might be able to climb the vertical trunk. The metallic clanging of razor sharp talons against rock was getting louder and the bushes in front of Zoltar were starting to glow red.
“Grab on!” the wisp talon shouted, swinging her tail down through the leaves. Zoltar lunged forward, grabbing her tail.
“Oof, you are heavy,” the wisp talon gasped, hauling Zoltar up onto the trees lower branches. Zoltar scrabbled at the wood, trying to get a foothold on the dry timber. Chunks of wrinkly bark dropped to the ground under Zoltar, making dull thudding as they hit the soil.
With one last heave the wisp talon managed to drag Zoltar up onto the branch. Zoltar dug his claws into the bough and clung there like a scared cat.
“How much do you weigh?” the wisp talon huffed, sitting on the branch next to Zoltar.
“It's muscles,” Zoltar pouted in a dignified manner, “I'm a trained warrior, you know.”
“Shh,” the wisp talon hissed, turning a shade of dark emerald that matched the green around her.
Zoltar looked down and his heart stood still. The beast was just below him. The gold veined spikes along its back gleamed in the dappled light streaming down from the trees above. Muscles rippled under it sleek, black fur. It was busy snuffling at the patch of ground he'd had been standing on. It look up as though alerted by a noise overhead. Zoltar ducked behind some leafy branches, hoping the extra cover would hide him. The creature had one last look around, its glowing red eyes scanning the forest around it. When it could find nothing the beast lumbered back the way it had come, trampling bushes as it went. All was silent except for the sound of his heart hammering in his chest and his shaky breaths.
“You’re new around here,” the wisp talon said unexpectedly. The sudden noise caused Zoltar to temporarily lose his balance on the branch he was on. He flailed his wings wildly trying to regain control, but slowly he tipped backwards. He ended up hanging upside down from his tail like bat, his legs pawing at the air as if the branch was still there.
“Definitely new,” the wisp talon said playfully, laughing as she gently floating down to the ground and turned to face the upside down shadow talon.
Zoltar wrinkled his snout and scowled irritably, blowing plumes of smoke that ended up clouding around his face and muzzle. Zoltar coughed.
“Let me help you down,” giggled the wisp talon, thoroughly enjoying herself. Her scales were a seething tide of pinks and purples.
“I can get down myself,” Zoltar huffed as he swung from the branch and landed facing the other way. He turned to face the now mountain stream blue wisp talon. She was trying to keep a straight face, but her scales gave it away, with little bursts of cherry pink popping out from under the vial of blue.
Rolling his eyes in exasperation, Zoltar decided to try and change the subject. “You never answered my question,” he gesturing for her to follow him into the forest.
“What question,” the wisp talon asked, following Zoltar, but keeping her distance at the same time.
“I asked if you were following me. I heard noises behind me while I was traveling through the woods,” Zoltar explained, stopping to sniff at a disturbance in the leaf litter. It smelled of shadow talon. One of the shadow talons in the group must have got away somehow.
'He must have the rock slab,' Zoltar thought as he followed the scent into a deeper part of the jungle.
“Well yes, I wanted to see whether you were a threat or not. Why do you think I attacked you?” the wisp talon asked from behind Zoltar.
“Well,” Zoltar started, “I don’t know.” He was still thinking about the shadow talons and wasn’t paying his full attention to the wisp talon.
“There are a few dragons on this island that are from the mainland and they are not friendly. The latest ones have been a sea talon and ice talon,” the wisp talon explained. “But they won’t last very long. They never do.”
“Mm,” Zoltar mumbled absentmindedly. The scent of shadow talon was getting stronger
“Anyway I didn’t get to tell you my name. It’s Emerald,” the wisp talon smiled, showing her sparkling white teeth.
“Mm hmm,” Zoltar muttered, picking up the pace. The smell was unmistakable now, but there was another acidic scent tied in with it, one that smelled of chemicals and volcano gas.
“Wait!” Emerald suddenly hissed, dashing over to Zoltar, “You can’t go that way.”
“Why,” Zoltar asked, stopping for a second.
“That’s where the beast lives,” Emerald explained, her scales a pale red and brown. Zoltar peered into the dark trees. The air was a misty yellow that had distinct odor of sulfur.
“Emerald,” Zoltar started slowly, “does this island have a volcano on it?”
“Yes, but it hasn’t erupted in decades. Back when it did erupt though, it made this island one of the lushest islands around. We live on the second mountain from this one," Emerald pointed a claw at a mountain towering over the forest a few miles away.
"Why not this one?" Zoltar asked, hoping to get a little information out of Emerald.
"Well, the beast tends to hunt around here, so we try not to come into this part of the forest. We only come here when we need to gather some camouflage roots for the village. I was busy digging up a tuber when you crept past. I followed you and that how we have ended up together,” Emerald smiled sadly. Zoltar could see there was something that she wasn’t telling him.
“Is there something else you want to say? I can see it on your face,” Zoltar said, trying to encourage her to tell him.
“Yes,” she sighed, “we really want to get off the island and away from that awful beast,”
“But the beasts have been here for centuries,” Zoltar said, confused. “Why do you want to get of the island now?
"There is only one more beast left on the island; the others died out long ago, but we are still plagued by it. It has grown smarter over the years and has learned to gnaw at the tree trunks to topple them and the wisp talons roosting on them. It never hibernates anymore. It gets at least one wisp talon a week.
There used to be hundreds of us, but now between the beast attacking us and the wisp talons that brave the maze's predators, we are slowly going extinct and there is nothing we can do,” Emerald heaved another great sigh. Clouds of grey and black rolled across her wings and scales.
Zoltar didn’t know how to respond. He knew that he should feel happy about this. After all the news about the wisp talons decreasing in numbers was a good thing for the shadow talons. It meant that if they had to go to war with the wisp talons they would almost certainly win. But somewhere in his heart he knew it wasn’t right. This was the wisp talon’s home and it wouldn’t be right to take their home and kill them if they fought back. They were here first, but what of the shadow talons then? Were they doomed to stay in the shadow lands until they went extinct? The shadow talons had no choice. It was them or the wisp talons and Zoltar knew that he had to side with his tribe. The wisp talons would just have to find a new home somewhere out on the continent.
“Anyway...I have to go,” Emerald said suddenly as she turned to go back into the forest, "Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow?" she probed almost hopefully, smiling warmly at Zoltar. “Oh, I almost forgot,” she stated, pausing to look over her shoulder at Zoltar, “Don’t go out after dark,” and with a flick of her tail she disappeared into the dark green forest, leaving Zoltar to his thoughts.