The Shyfu had it beak like jaws buried into the deer Zoltar had seen earlier and was gulping down chunks of flesh. To Zoltar’s relief, it looked like a juvenile as its ash black scales didn’t yet have the full protective layer of hardened lava that most adult Shyfu had.
Nira let out a small growl of delight, “This is perfect.”
The creature had its back to them and was too busy trying to wrestle what little meat remained on the small antelope to notice the two dragons stalking up on it.
Zoltar hissed in agreement. There were no adults or the pack. It was a perfect opportunity to secure the tribe more food. They couldn’t waste this.
“We’ll use the usual tactic right,” Nira whispered, her wings quivering with excitement.
Zoltar nodded and flexed his talons in preparation for the attack. Nira hung back in wait as he slunk forward, his belly low to the ground. Just a few more steps and he’d be in striking range. The Shyfu still seemed oblivious to the danger as he tensed his muscles ready to pounce.
Then like a coiled spring snapping back, he lunged forward, landing talons outstretched on the Shyfu’s back.
The creature let out a terrible screech as he dug his talons into its hide and clamped down on its neck. It bucked wildly in an attempt to throw him off, all the while shrieking for its pack mates.
Zoltar held on grimly as he waited for it to tire. It was flailing too much for him to get a stab in with his barbed tail and the scales protecting its spine were too thick for his jaws to penetrate. Nira would have to grab it by the throat.
He glanced over to where she was crouched. Her eyes were locked on the Shyfu as she waited for just the right time to attack.
The creature was slowing, its struggles growing weaker as the weight of an adult dragon clamped onto its back began to wear it down.
That’s when Nira lunged, dipping under its thrashing tail as she seized its throat, sinking her teeth into the jugular vein. The Shyfu let out a last strangled cry before collapsing.
At the same time, Zoltar jumped from its back and stabbed his barbed tail into its chest, bringing an end to it struggles.
Panting, Zoltar stepped back. He had a few scratches where the Shyfu’s back spines had scraped his scales, but he was otherwise fine.
Nira was standing over the body, licking a wound on her front leg where the Shyfu’s flailing claws had caught her.
After a few moments to catch his breath, he moved forward and grabbed the back of the creature’s spine and with Nira’s help proceeded to drag it over to where he’d stashed the melons earlier.
The tribe would all be a little fuller in the morning thanks to their work tonight.
Back in their cave, Zoltar flopped down onto his bed, exhausted. Between the flight back and the battle with the Shyfu, today had been more eventful than most and his less than health body was letting him know it.
Nira was curled up next to him, her head resting on his back. Her breathes were slow and even as she began to drift in and out of sleep.
Between the burning of the scratches he’d received and the pulsing ache in his wings, Zoltar was sure that he would lie awake for hours. Little by little though, the pain began to ebb and the pull of sleep took over as he faded into a comforting darkness.
Nira was the first to wake. Licking Zoltar behind the ear, she whispered, “Time to get up.”
Zoltar groaned as he opened his eyes. It felt like he’d only just got to sleep a few moments ago, but he couldn’t deny the fact that a good few hours had passed. The fire rocks burned bright against the cave walls, indicating that the sun was just beyond the horizon. It was almost morning.
“Come on,” Nira continued as she got up, spreading her talons wide as she stretched. She yawned, her crystal white fangs sparkling, “Hisster will be waiting for us.”
Reluctantly, Zoltar hauled himself out of bed, his vision blurred with the lack of rest. He’d never been the morning type regardless of the amount of sleep he got. Back before the volcano had laid waste his home, life had been a little more relaxed, not now though. Days began early and ended well past dark.
“Do you want to get something to eat before we meet Hisster?” Zoltar asked, shaking out his wings.
Nira looked tempted for a moment, but shook her head, “No. I ate just before I flew back yesterday. I can go a few days without food. The tribe needs it more than I do.”
“Okay,” Zoltar said. She was right, but he didn’t like the fact that they may have to go on a potentially dangerous mission on empty stomachs. He was fine to go without a few meals, but with her wound Nira would need more food than she usually permitted herself if it was to heal.
Nira caught him staring at her injured leg and bumped him affectionately with her snout, “I’ll be fine.”
Zoltar smiled sheepishly, before licking her lightly on the snout, “I know. Come on, I want to tell you about the island I found.”
Before long, they left the confines of the branching passageways and entered the main corridor that led into the heart of the warren. They met a few Shadow Talons as they walked, but most kept to themselves, preferring to save their energy for the gruelling day ahead.
Zoltar found himself avoiding eye contact with the dragons they passed. He was ashamed to admit it, but he didn’t want to see the pain and hopelessness in them. It was more than he could bare.
Nira managed to flash a smile here and there, but Zoltar could see that it was surface level. Her face carried the same despair as those around her.
Zoltar sighed as he dropped his head. Being away from the Shadow Lands most of the time only reminded them of what had been, how life outside was still bright and filled with colour. Sometimes, one could almost pretend this deathly place didn’t exist.
But that would all came crashing down every time he made the journey back, flying across the sunny Sea Talon archipelago only to be met by Mount Mokewtu whose cruel grip strangled the land before him.
He could only hope that this island was the answer. So far it looked very promising. Even Nira was hopeful. If this scouting mission went to plan and there were no Wisp Talons, he and his tribe could be living like a normal tribe within a week. They’d have enough food, clean water and fresh air to breath. If they could have that, everything else would follow.
Maybe, just maybe, this one would be right.
The scarlet light of many fire rocks reflected off Zoltar’s obsidian black scales as he and Nira entered the throne room.
Hisster and another large Shadow Talon were gathered around a rock platform and were examining the same burned scroll Zoltar had seen the day before. They were both talking in hushed voices as they discussed the faded texts.
Zoltar thought for a moment that they’d stumbled in on a private meeting. However, his hesitation was soon calmed when Scorpus noticed them and beckoned them over.
Bowing respectfully towards Hisster, Zoltar and Nira joined the small circle.
“It’s good to see you back Nira,” Hisster said, dipping his horns at her.
He turned to Zoltar, “I have already briefed Scorpus in regards to today’s meeting and I assume you have filled Nira in too?” Hisster asked, flicking out his forked tongue.
“Good,” Hisster said, rolling up the scroll, “Now that you know all the details, let’s go over the plan. It’s pretty simple. You three will make a short scouting mission to the island and will investigate the area. As you know, it is likely that the Wisp Talon tribe still inhabits the island’s forest, so be on the lookout for them. The flight to the island is half a day from here so you shouldn’t be gone longer than two to three days.”
Zoltar could feel his talons begin to tingle as his heart began to beat faster. If this all went to plan, they could be on the island within the week. He couldn’t help the small smile that spread across his snout. He knew he shouldn’t get his hopes up like this, but he just couldn’t help it. They were so close.
“Scorpus and I have gone over all the notes in regards to the Wisp Talons and haven’t found anything of concern other than the fact that they can camouflage. However, as I have said before, the scrolls are not completely conclusive. You should still be on your guard once on the island.”
Hisster paused looking from one dragon to another, “Any questions?”
Nira and Zoltar shook their heads.
“Good. Then you will leave this morning. May the moons light your path and bring our tribe peace once more.”