After breakfast the group took to the skies, heading south west towards the Sulphur Swamps. The sun was almost half way up the sky, spreading its golden light across the lush green landscape.
The Moon Talons were nowhere in sight as Zoltar and his companions flew over the small villages dotting the woodland. It was just what Zoltar had expected. The Moon Talons would have been in their nests a few hours ago. This meant the group could slip past their territory without conflict. Not that the Moon Talons were a very dangerous. Still it was better that they didn’t see the group. A Sea Talon, Ice Talon, Wisp Talon and Shadow Talon together would raise questions.
Omens that winter was on its way were everywhere. From the air one could see that some of 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 they passed.
Soon they cleared the Moon Talon kingdom and where soaring over the Rocks of Death. Jagged spiked rocks potted 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.
“Wait Shiraku. Don’t,” Zoltar cried, 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 habitat 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.
“Zoltar,” Shiraku growled, stopping to hover slightly above him “I might be in a better mood nowadays, but you’re really trying your luck with me by getting between me and my lunch.”
“But Shiraku, those rocks could do some real damage to your wings and you’re a Sea Talon.”
“And what do you mean by that?”
“Well you guys aren't the best fliers you know. Even I’d have a lot of trouble catching a Highlasaur and I’m a Shadow Talon.” Zoltar explained, drifting back from the fuming Sea Talon, “Besides, you did just have breakfast.”
Shiraku rolled her eyes, look longingly towards the distant figures leaping over the peaks, “Fine.” She huffed grumpily as she flew off after Felistia and Emerald.
After a few hours of flying over desolate rock fields, 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.
Emerald cough beside Zoltar, her scales a swirling mass of bright lime green and sickly yellow, “What is that awful smell?” She gagged, putting a paw to her snout.
“It’s sulphur,” Zoltar explained. They must be nearing the swamps border.
The rotten egg odour was getting stronger by the second, causing Zoltar’s stomach to roll and twist with ever lungful of air he took. Even Shiraku was starting look a bit disgusted and Sea Talons where known to have the worst sense of smell in the dragon kingdom.
Before long 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.
“Couldn’t you have warned us about this smell? It’s unbearable,” Emerald grouched, before turning an entirely new kind of green that Zoltar had never seen before.
“Sorry,” 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. “This was why I wanted to get over the swamp today. If the weather had changed we might have need to set up for the night here.”
"You mean we might have had to spend the night in this stench. What sort of a plan is that?" Emerald hissed quickly before clamping a paw heavily over her snout.
“It was the best I could come up with at the time,” Zoltar shrugged 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 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 beach in 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 and how she was going to act once they reached the border.
Half of him was worried that she was going to stop him from stealing the diamond. He didn’t think she would since she’d been cast out from the tribe, but there was just a niggling feeling of dread on the edge of his mind.
She’d sounded really angry and bitter when she’d said she was going back. Why would she want to go back? The only thought that possibly made sense was revenge, but it was foolish idea. She’d never be able to go through with it. Not with Queen Shiler’s guards patrolling the border.
To be honest he wasn’t even sure how he was going to get in. It seemed almost impossible to get into the territory, let alone the palace. He’d see the maps of the kingdom. The whole place was like one big fortress. It seemed impossible to penetrate it. That was probably what was getting him all worried. He hadn’t allowed himself to truly realize the predicament he was getting himself into. How was he going to do this on his own?
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 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 getting colder by the second and soon it would reach below freezing. The best thing to do would be to sleep through it.
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 should land." She snapped her wings closed 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 Wisp Talon Island. He'd have to confront her about it in the morning.
He needed to know what was going on. She could be a risk to him and to herself if she did something stupid. They were right on the edge of the Ice Talon Kingdom. One wrong move and they all could be taken prisoner. He’d have to do it tomorrow though. It was too late now.
Zoltar stared out over the desolate plains as the last of the suns red light disappeared, coating the land in crystal like darkness. A moaning creak of ice slashed through the silent night, making Zoltar jump. 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 would be here soon here.