The mountains shone a flaming crimson as the sun rose over the towering peaks. It bathed the Moon Talon village in bright ruby and golden copper rays, driving the mist curling around the houses back to the shadows. The bright green fields surrounding the village blushed golden emerald as the sun’s light swept over the swaying grasses. A roaring river cascaded down from the tree covered mountains behind the village. It twisted and turned like a writhing serpent on its course down through the fields and out to the far off sea. Willows bowed over the gushing water, their long vines whipped up by the raging current.
Zoltar glided over the village’s mud houses, his scales shining like black crystal. The wind brushed his wing tips and whistled in his ears. He took a deep breath of the sweet, early morning air. Pleasure tingled across his obsidian scales like electric sparks as he scanned the ground below with his eagle eyes.
The tall mud houses were tinted crimson with the sun’s yellow beams. Lush green bushes sprouted from the roofs of the houses. Blossoming peach trees stood in clumps next to the houses, their bright, pink flowers carpeting the winding roads and gardens.
'All this will be gone if I fail this mission and the Shadow Talons will go to war with the moon talons,' Zoltar thought, worry gnawing at his stomach. Images of fire and burning villages flashed before his eyes as the ghostly screams of dragons echoed in his ears. 'No. Never again will the Shadow Talons go to war. I must succeed in this quest. There is no other option.'
Zoltar could see the sparkling, blue ocean in the distance, its frothing waves catching the sun’s golden light as they curled. The thick forest in front of him shone emerald, its leaves dancing in the wind. Birds warbled and chirped from the waving branches and small, silver, winged lizards glided from tree to tree. The waves lapped at the golden beach’s sand bordering the forest as Zoltar flew past. Small fish darted in the shallows, their bright, violet shapes shooting through the water like torpedoes.
Zoltar breathed in the salty air happily as he soared out over the sea. His shadow danced on the water below him as he sped along. The sun’s yellow beams warmed his back and white sea spray cooled his belly. Dolphins leapt out of the sea, the crystal clear water streaming down their silver bodies. Zoltar eyed them hungrily. One dolphin would make a nice meal for a dragon, but they looked so happy leaping in and out of his shadow that he decided to leave them be.
Far off in the distance he could see mist swirling around tall pillars of seaweed covered rock, their peaks far above the clouds and a dragon's maximum flying height.
“The Misty Maze,” Zoltar murmured anxiously. About three years after the Maze had flooded, a strange mist had swept over the columns. No one had known why. The Shadow Talons had stolen one of the two maps leading through the maze soon after the volcano in the Shadow Lands had erupted. He had studied it to the mark.
He didn’t know whether to be nervous or excited. On the one paw he felt scared for he knew what was waiting for him in those columns of stone and on the other paw he felt so excited. Beyond the maze was an island of danger; an unknown land full of new and mysterious creatures.
Zoltar’s heart pounded in his chest as he approached the Misty Maze. A strange wind was blowing, battering his wings, trying to hurl him into the ocean.
It was strangely quiet in the maze, apart from the crashing of the waves against the pillars. No fish sprang from the sea and no birds called from the rocks. Zoltar shivered. He had the feeling he was being watched and the way the mist snaked in and around the columns made it impossible to see more than a dragon’s length ahead. The mist seemed to curl over and into his scales, making them clammy and cold. He barely stopped himself from flinching as a large knobbly pillar came into view. The clumps of seaweed and mussels clinging to the rocks seemed to melt into the mist, their shapes twisted and warped in the fog. As he flew through the towering rocks an eerie, wailing howl suddenly filled the air, seeming to bounce off the pillars and splashing water.
Zoltar stopped and hovered, trying to pinpoint where the sound was coming from, but the call seemed to be bouncing from pillar to water and back again, making it impossible to hear where it was coming from.
Suddenly there was a splash from below him. He swiftly looked down, but all he could see were the ripples. Flying a little lower, he peered into the murky, black water. Zoltar flinched as the large, dark shadow of a slender sea creature passed underneath him. Its tail made small eddies in the water as it passed by. Suddenly it lunged out of the water towards him, its sharp, white teeth shining wickedly. He swerved violently, his wings tips brushing the water as he tried to gain height. The creature landed back into the water, showering him in sea spray.
Zoltar sped through the maze, narrowly avoiding pillars and clusters of oysters. He could hear the creature bounding through the water towards him, its tail sweeping through the water, creating massive waves that smacked against the pillars. He picked up the pace, dipping and diving, veering and swerving through the mist. He had to reach the end of the maze before that thing caught him.
At last the rock beach appeared in front of him. He catapulted onto the sand, gasping for breath. Zoltar looked back at the murky water and heaved a sigh of relief. The unknown creature had gone.
Suddenly there was a splash as a big creamy reptile sprang onto the beach. The creature stood there, its snake like eyes staring unblinking at him, sending a chill down Zoltar’s spikes. It looked similar to a large velociraptor with an elongated alligator’s snout and was about the size of a large male elk. As he scanned its long razor sharp spin along the length of its back, he realized it was a Shang Fu; another dragon killer, but not as deadly as the Exltron. The most notable feature on the creature was the scorpion like barb on the end of its tail. It looked just like the poisonous stinger on the end of his tail, Zoltar realized. A cold sense of dread wrapped around his chest making it hard to breath.
Zoltar could see that it was a lot faster than him and would be on top of him before he could get into the air. His instinct was telling him to flee, but he knew that he would have a better chance standing his ground and fighting.
Zoltar gave a low threatening growl and glared at the Shang Fu. Surely he'd be able to defeat a creature half his size. The Shang Fu scowled back as though it had just read his mind, its glittering yellow eyes alive with menace. Taking a step back from him, it raised its ugly head and howled a long, bone chilling howl.
Almost instantly two more Shang Fu leapt out of the lapping waves. The first Shang Fu growled and snapped at the newcomers and they cowered under their leaders gaze. He hissed at them and jerked his head towards Zoltar as though showing them their prey.
'Uh oh,' Zoltar thought, watching the circling reptiles, their teeth sparkling in the dim sunlight. He was about to flee when Scorpus’s voice spoke inside his head, 'Come on they’re just a bunch of lizards. Fight them!'
Zoltar exhaled a cloud of black smoke. A small spark of confidence burned inside him like a fire, growing bigger with every breath. He lashed his poisonous barbed tail and with a roar of fury he charged towards the snarling Shang Fu, his head down.
The Shang Fu’s eyes widened with surprise as Zoltar tore towards them. They scurried to get out of the way of his sharp, violet horns, tripping over each other in the process. He thwacked one with his tail, sending the yelping lizard flying back into the ocean. He batted another out the way with his wing, hurling it across the sand.
Zoltar suddenly felt a sharp sting on his back. There was another shot of pain through his spikes as he twisted his head round to look at what was on his back. The leading Shang Fu was hooked into his hide and was clawing his way up Zoltar's back, digging his razor sharp claws between his scales.
Fear clenched Zoltar’s heart as the Shang Fu raised its tail. With one lightning fast movement it brought it down towards Zoltar's spine. Zoltar shut his eyes, waiting for the blow.