Zoltar’s heart thundered as he streaked across a barren landscape. Clouds of ash billowed from the earth, choking his every breath. The sky was dark as death with no moon to give its comforting light. The world around him was hazy with grey mist as he sped on. He ran until his legs were on fire, but still he didn’t seem to go anywhere. He couldn’t escape the darkness around him. There was no light to be found. He roared for help, for anyone, but no sound came out.
Now the darkness seemed to be closing in on him, squeezing him with its coils. A pounding filled his ears as he was consumed by the darkness. He couldn’t breathe. There was no air, only the icy fingers of black smoke twisting over him.
Zoltar woke with a start. His heart was pumping as he sat up. It had only been a dream, just another nightmare. Taking deep breaths he looked around the room. Nira was still asleep, her breaths deep and even.
What had woken him? The fire rocks jutting out of the walls were glowing dimly, indicating that it was still early in the morning. Maybe it had been nothing. Who would be up at this time of morning anyway?
Just as he was about to lie back down, Zoltar’s sharp hearing picked up on the faint knocking of claws on dirt as a shadow slid past the tunnel outside the room. Zoltar was up in a flash, his heart once again hammering away in his chest. He hurried over to the entrance to the main tunnel. It was empty. The only movement inside the tunnel was the faint flickering of the fire rocks strewn along the walls.
Zoltar shook his head wondering if he’d imagined the whole thing. He scanned the floor looking for claw marks or signs of tail drags, but there was nothing, no sign that anyone had been in the tunnel.
Shaking his head again, Zoltar went quietly back to his room. He must have imagined it. No one could be up at this time anyway. It was the middle of the night. Sunrise was many heartbeats away and almost everyone had been asleep since sunset.
As he settled back down besides Nira, Zoltar still couldn’t shake the feeling that he hadn’t imagined the whole thing. He couldn’t’ have been that sleepy. Worry started to gnaw away at his gut. What could it have been? He hadn’t had a good enough look at the shadow to see how big it was. It could have been anything.
The image of the Shyfu he’d seen earlier flashed before his eyes. What if one of those had found its way into the tunnels? It had happened before.
‘For suffering serpents’ sake, they slide on their bellies. There would have been drag marks if one of those serpents had found their way down here,’ he thought as he scolded himself for being so paranoid. For all he knew he could have imagined it and even if he hadn’t it was probably Scorpus back after his scouting mission. There was no need to get his scales rattled over something so silly.
Taking a deep breath, Zoltar sighed. He should just go back to sleep and see what happened in the morning. He needed all his wits about him for tomorrow.
It was a long and fitful night for Zoltar. Every sound, every twisting shadow made him jump. In the back of his mind was the image of that shadow crossing the passage and the ghostly sound of claws clacking against the ground. He tossed and turned, trying to get to sleep, but no sleep came. Hours dragged by, until, finally the fire rocks started to burn bright again. It was morning.
Nira was the first up. Climbing out of bed, she spread her talons wide as she stretched. She yawned, her crystal white fangs sparkling.
Zoltar hauled himself out of bed, his vision blurred with the lack of rest.
“You okay?” Nira asked, giving him a light lick on the snout.
“Yah, just a bad night. I was having the weirdest dreams,” he mumbled stumbling out the doorway, “I best go see Hisster. I’m not sure if he wants us to leave for the island today or if he wants to wait for Scorpus. Either way I want to be there.”
“Okay. I’ll see you later. I think I’m going to take it easy for the moment and let this heal,” She motioned to her tail.
“Take care,” He leaned over and gave her a lick, “I should be back soon.”
He exited his room and moved onto the main passage, the thought of the mysterious shadow the night before came to mind. Surely whatever it had been would have left claw prints or tail drags. Zoltar scanned the ground. There wasn’t anything unusual to be found. Just a few claw marks, which he quickly identified as Shadow Talon claws. Probably his from the day before judging by the trail they lead towards his room. There wasn’t another mark to be found.
A sudden wash of shame passed over Zoltar. He’d been trained better than this. These were blatant claw marks. Scorpus would be deeply disappointed if he saw this and Zoltar knew it. Shadow Talons were renowned across Megalonia for their stealth no matter the situation or the terrain and here he was stomping around the tunnels. Even the untrained Shadow Talons left no trace.
Flattening his ears in humiliation, Zoltar continued on down the tunnel, this time making sure to put each paw down softly just like Scorpus had taught him.
It was still early morning and most of the rooms he past were either empty or had a sleeping Shadow Talon in them. Only the soldiers and chief were up at this time of day. Everyone else tried to reserve as much energy as possible.
As Zoltar padded down the tunnel he passed Scorpus’s room. It was empty. Zoltar sighed. He still wasn’t back. A small river of dread started to snake through Zoltar’s heart. What would they do if Scorpus didn’t come back? He was the oldest and most experienced of all the soldiers.
“He might have headed out early to see the chief,” Zoltar thought as he carried on along the tunnel. And even if he wasn’t back yet, it didn’t necessarily mean he wasn’t coming back. He might have found another island and was spending some time scouting it. It was unlikely though. It had been three years since the volcano’s last eruption. All that time he and the other soldiers had been outside the Shadow Lands, searching for another place to live. Apart from the island Zoltar had found not a single one had been habitable. What were the chances that Scorpus had found one too after all this time?
Zoltar’s thoughts were broken by the distant sound of voices. It was coming from further along the tunnel. Straining his ears to pick up what the dragons were say, Zoltar hurried towards the sound.
“…the island isn’t large enough for that.”
“Yes Sir. I understand. I’m not sure what we’re going to do if that’s the case.”
Zoltar’s heart fell when he finally managed to hear a few words. Which island were they talking about? Did Hisster think his island was too small? Would they have to look for another one now?
Zoltar could feel himself starting to panic. His heart was pounding in his ears and he forgot to be careful where he put his paws. He knew it was stupid to start worrying. He didn’t even know if Hisster and the other dragon were talking about the Wisp Talon Island. He didn’t even know who the other dragon was.
He was still scolding himself when he turned the last corner to Hisster’s throne room.
His heart jumped when he saw Scorpus standing in the doorway waiting for him. Scorpus was back. Zoltar’s mind wondered back to the shadow the night before. Now it made sense. How could he have been so stupid to think that it had been some monster? Of course it had be Scorpus.
Embarrassed by his ridiculous paranoia, Zoltar walked into the room.
“Morning,” Scorpus greeted.
“Morning,” Zoltar replied, looked around. Hisster was standing in the far corner, his tail curled over his talons as smoke rose from his snout.
“What’s going on?’ Zoltar asked as he looked from one dragon to another. They all looked so serious. Had something happened? Had he done something wrong?
“We were just going over what we’d have to do if the island still have the native tribe on it, Zoltar,” Scorpus said, padding over to stand next to Hisster. His brilliant obsidian black scales shone as they caught to the fire rocks eerie glow.
“Yes.” Hisster started, a grim look had settled over his scarred snout, “We need to plan for the worst case scenario which in this instance would be that the Wisp Talons still live on the island. We’d need to go to war and I’m sure you’re aware of the issue when it comes to that. We’d need outside help. I have an idea of what we could do, but would prefer to scope out the island first. Scorpus arrived early this morning and has agreed that we should leave as soon as possible. Get Nira. You leave this morning.”
“Yes Sir,” Zoltar said and stepped out the room.
Just a half an hour later he, Nira and Scorpus were standing outside the caves. The sun was a burning scarlet behind the smoke choked sky. There was a breeze in the air as it tossed smouldering hot embers through the air. Zoltar gritted his teeth as they blew against his scales.
Scorpus spread wide his wings as they billowed like the clouds of dark ash streaming from the volcano behind them. Ash and dust scattered below him as he sprang into the air. Zoltar and Nira followed close behind as they took to the sky and headed north.
Chapter 4: https://www.youngwriterssociety.com/work/felistia/The-Quest-for-Fire--Into-the-Mists--Chapter-Four-144541