The warm light of dawn awoke Zoltar the next morning. Yawning, he got to his feet, stretching from his head to the tip of his tail. The sun was a little way over the forest, its golden rays catching the dew drops hanging from each leaf in a glorious dance of emerald light.
Giving himself a quick shake to loosen up his stiff muscles, Zoltar looked around the cave. Felistia was awake, staring out of the opening, the vines half draped over her wings. She was hunched over, her tail limp. It took Zoltar a few moments to notice Shiraku’s absence. He then understood why Felistia seemed depressed. The Sea Talon had left.
He slowly walked up to Felistia, unsure of what to say. How should he comfort her? He didn’t know her well enough to know what to say. What if he made things worse? He couldn’t say nothing though. That was worse than saying something.
He sat down next to her, pushing the vines away with his wing. He looked over at Felistia, but she didn’t respond in any way. She kept looking out over the forest, her face heavy with sadness.
Finally with a heavy sigh, she said, “I guess she left then.” She didn’t turn to Zoltar, but kept staring blankly out at nothing.
Zoltar’s gaze dropped and he gently wrapped a wing over Felisita’s back, “I’m sorry. I know you two were good friends.”
“Well, we weren’t really close friends. We just stuck together because that was the best way to survive here. I knew it would come to an end sooner or later. We weren’t really the best mix,” She blinked, a single tear running down her snout, “I just didn’t expect it to end so soon. We had some good times together. I guess that that’s over now.” She smiled sadly, looking over at Zoltar, “At least you’re still here. I can’t imagine living life alone. Not again.”
Zoltar smiled, but didn`t say anything. What could he say? He wasn`t going to stick around forever. Only until he managed to get a Wisp Talons Scale. Then he was off to the continent to find the next thing. He couldn’t tell her this and he couldn’t stick around either. He was still on a deadline. His tribe was depending on him. Sure his idea of helping them might have changed a bit from the original plan, but still. He couldn’t just lazy around all day on some island just because he’d found a friend. Besides, he heard what she’d said. She and Shiraku weren’t even close friends. They’d been pushed together by circumstances. The same went for him and Felistia. They weren’t going to stick together.
Yet somehow the thought of leaving her alone on the island made his heart hurt. He had come to like her a lot and didn’t really want to lose her. She was the only friend he had right now however tenuous that relationship was. How could he just leave?
Zoltar groaned quietly. The whole thing was so much more complicated than he wanted.
“What’s that matter,” Felistia asked, looking at him with slight concern.
“Nothing, just feel a horn ache coming on.” Zoltar lied. He couldn’t tell her the real reason.
She nodded slightly, “If it’s all the same to you, I’d like to be left alone for a little while,” she said, opening her moon silver wings. She looked back at him, her eyes darting from him to the cave around him, but she didn’t say anything. Then with a final sigh she dove out the cave, plummeting towards the forest below. Opening her wings, she sailed out over the trees and into the distance.
Zoltar watched as she disappeared into the mists of the northern mountains, her silvery shape swallowed by the swirling vapor. He breathed a quiet sigh. Who would have guessed when he went of this quest that things would end up being some complicated.
Flexing his glistening black wings he walked over to the cave entrance, gracefully jumped from the ledge and soar off in the direction of the lake. The sun was climbing fast, racing across the sky like a flaming fire ball from the mouth of a volcano. It would soon be mid-day and he wanted to meet up with Emerald. He wasn’t even sure if she’d stick to her word, but it was better than wondering the forest all day.
Before long he could see the rippling waters of the lake, shifting up and down like the flowing grasslands he’d grown up in. Before landing he circled the lake, scanning the banks for signs of life. The last thing he needed was to be ambushed. He’ had enough close calls for his liking and would like to make it through one day without having to run for his life. The banks were still, with no signs of Wisp Talons, Shiraku or any dragon for that matter. He was alone. At least he thought so. There still might be Wisp Talons hidden in the trees.
Cautiously, he swooped in to land, folding his wings back as he raised his tail in preparation to defend himself. Zoltar sniffed the air. A faint breeze was blowing, flowing through the ancient trees, carrying on it the deep, rich scent of the forest and the faint smell of a hidden Wisp Talon.
Zoltar flared his wings, baring his teeth as he prepared to launch in the direction of the Wisp Talon, but before he could, Emerald appear.
“Zoltar, it’s me,” she hissed, her wings raised. She slunk down from the tree she’d been curled around and walked over to him, stopping a few meters away.
Zoltar swallowed the fire ball he’d been about to launch. Of course it was Emerald.
“Sorry Emerald,” he huffed through the resulting puff of smoke.
She breathed a shaky sigh of relief, her sides heaving.
“Why were you hiding?” Zoltar asked walking up the bank to sit beside her.
“I’m in hiding, Zoltar,” Her voice was shaking and her sides were drenched in cold sweat. “I think I’m the next sacrifice.”
Zoltar was stunned, “What? How do you know?”
“I overheard someone talking about it. It would make sense. They don’t like dragons that don’t stick near the village and follow their every command. Lera was the same and they got rid of her last full moon. It would only make sense that I’m next. I thought this might happen, but never believed it. Oh Zoltar what am I going to do?”
Zoltar didn’t know what to say. His mind brushed to what Emerald had mentioned a few nights ago. She could use him to replace her. This whole thing could be a trap, but why would she tell him about it then.
He must have looked worried, because Emerald interjected, “Don’t worry Zoltar. I wouldn’t trade you in. I like you too much and besides I don’t think it would help. They’ve got their reasons for wanting to get rid of me. Bringing you in would only result in us both getting killed.”
“That’s if you could defeat me,” Zoltar huffed, spine flared. He was making a joke, but inside he was relieved. In a face to face fight he didn’t think he could win against Emerald, not with her venom and shifting abilities.
Emerald couldn’t help, but roll her eyes. “I’ve thought about leaving the island, but the Death Grippers would kill me for sure.”
“Why? You’ve got camouflage and venom on your side. I’ve seen one of the vile creatures on my way in here and you could take one easily.”
She smiled, “It’s not that simple. They are our natural predators. They are immune to our venom and the mist renders our camouflage useless. It would be a suicide mission. Me only hope is to try and hide on the island, but I know that won’t last long.” Her snout dropped, her scales a rolling ocean of mute blues and greys.
Zoltar listened, his brain going into over drive. He could have an advantage here. He could have the chance to get a Wisp Talon scale and an ally at the same time. Emerald had saved his life a few nights back and was a worthy soldier. On top of that she had been turned on by her own tribe and was thinking of getting off the island anyway. There was a lot of reason for him to trust her and for her to trust him.
The rest of his journey was going to be dangerous and having a friend by his side was something he desperately needed. It would be worth asking her, but first he needed to come clean with her. She was being open with him and he should do the same. Secrets would only lead to issues down the line.
“What are you thinking?” Emerald asked, looking over at him, “I can see your cogs turning.”
Zoltar opened his mouth to answer, but hesitated. Was this really a good idea? He sighed. It was the best option. If he didn’t take this chance and Emerald disappeared or worse was killed, how would he get scale? He’d have to attack another Wisp Talon and take the scale by force. Firstly he wasn’t even sure if he could do that and secondly it was wrong. The Wisp Talons were in a terrible situation and he wanted to help them. Attacking them wasn’t the answer. If he could forge a relationship with Emerald it would be so much easier to work with them against their leaders.
He took a deep breath, “Emerald, I’m afraid I haven’t been entirely honest with you. I’m not who you think I am. I’m not an outcast like the other dragons on the island. That was just a cover story.” Zoltar looked up at Emerald to see her scales starting to with writhe with different colors, but she stayed silent, studying him with her soul penetrating eyes.
He took another long breath, but continued, “The truth is I’m here on a mission to scope out and ultimately take over your island. I know you must be thinking how I plan on doing that and I wouldn’t blame you. I’ll tell you how, but the story around that is rather long and complicated. The just of it is that I need to collect a scale from a Wisp Talon and a bunch of other items, deliver them to some dragons on the continent to obtain the power my tribe needs to take over the island. They sent me on that quest. I don’t want to take over your island, but my people need a new home. Ours is a volcanic waste land with little food and water. If we don’t move we’ll perish.
At first I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do. Then my wife and mentor were killed on this island without provocation and I became blinded by rage and wanted revenge. That’s why I accepted the quest, but now after meeting you and hearing your story I realize that I was wrong. It so much more that I first thought. You aren’t the bad guys, you’re forced to kill outsiders by your leaders other whys you will die. I didn’t know that before.
I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m sorry. I want to help both our tribes. The island seems large enough for us both. If we banded together we could defeat your leaders and the Death Grippers. You’d be free and we’d have a new home. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, but didn’t know how to tell you.”
He looked back up at Emerald. She hadn’t moved, the colors still racing through her scales as she thought.
She sighed, flexing her wings, “I’m not quite sure how I should take this to be honest. Half of me is so angry with you right know that I could kill you, but the other half sees your point. We’re both in difficult situations and need to do what’s best for our tribe.”
“So you think you could convince the Wisp Talons to fight?” Zoltar asked hopefully. He wouldn’t have to complete this stupid quest and the Ghost Talons would be a distant memory if this worked.
“No,” Emerald said bluntly, putting a sharp end to Zoltar’s hopes, “If I step foot near that village I’ll be captured. They won’t listen to me, not now and not without proof it will work. Our tribe is not a strong one at heart. We’re all broken and pretty much follow the elders blindly. One Wisp Talon against them all would fall like a leaf in Autumn.
We need a better plan. We need to be able to fight without my tribes help. They’ll join whichever side is winning and from the sound of it your tribe isn’t fit to fight either. We still will need outside help.”
A brain wave hit Zoltar so hard it nearly set him flying, “We could change out deal with the Ghost Talons.”
“We asked for their help to take over your island. We made a deal that if I brought them the Ruby of Fire that they’d help us. We could still for fill that deal, but change it so that they just went to war with the elders, not the entire tribe. It could work.”
“Alright,” Emerald said cautiously, “How do we do that and why is it we? What do I have to do with this?”
Zoltar stopped short. He hadn’t asked her yet. He’d gotten so excited over her just hearing him that he’d forgotten the most important part, “Well I thought you could come with me. You need to get off the island and as you said a few days ago I can’t look after myself and need you to check on me. I could really use a friend.”
Emerald smiled sheepishly, “I guess I don’t have much choice then. It’s not like there’s much left for me here anyway. Going with you sounds a heck of a lot better than hiding on this island the rest of my life and hey, your crazy plan might work.
However I won’t give you a scale. Not yet. We may be friends, but I don’t fully trust you yet. I first want to be off the island, then you can have a scale. Deal.”
“Deal,” Zoltar said, so happy he could barely contain himself, “We should leave now though. They might be looking for you. You can hid out at my cave while I come up with a plan to get through the maze.”
Emerald nodded, her scales an even green with faint blotches of red popping through as they both leapt into the robin’s egg blue sky.