Zoltar rushed home towards the Shadow Lands, the wind from his wings churning the ocean as he soared low over the dark waters. Mount Mokewtu loomed in front of him, its peak a blazing fury of scarlet and gold fire. Black clouds of chest burning ash spewed from the volcano’s gaping mouth.
Zoltar’s heart was racing a millions wing beats an hour. Maybe this was the one. Maybe they’d finally be able to get away from this hell on earth. This island was perfect, green and full of life. It was almost the same as the Shadow Lands had once been.
He couldn’t wait to tell Nira. She’d be so happy.
As if in agreement, the volcano rumbled and belched out more streams of molten rock. The rivers of glowing crimson lava twisted over the bleak landscape like snakes on their way to the sea. Caves potted the matted black hills of rock. Ash and sulfur clouded the scorching air.
The foul gasses raked Zoltar's chest with toxic claws, causing him to cough and gasp. They couldn’t last much longer in this desolate waste land. There wasn’t enough food and the toxic gasses the volcano continually spewed was enough to make any dragon feel half dead.
Zoltar carefully landed on a slab of solid rock next to one of the numerous caverns carved out of the landscape. There was not another Shadow Talon in sight as the evening's grip tightened over the desolate plain.
It was never a good idea to stay out after sundown on these magma strewn rocks. Packs of ravenous Flytang raptors hunted by the light of the lava flows and would take down anything they could find; big or small.
He glanced around him. Off in the distance he could see a pair of Shyfu, their long serpent like figures coated in a fresh coat of glowing orange lava. Their mottled black scales matched the chunks of cooled lava strewn across the landscape as they slid along old lava flows.
Zoltar hissed quietly. The beasts had skulked out of the volcano soon after the eruption, laying waste to the wildlife left from the explosion. As if sensing his stare the Shyfu turned their gaze and fixed him with their pitch black eyes, hissing in their shrill voices. Shivering, Zoltar ducked inside the cave. He didn’t want to run into one of those things up close.
Glowing fire rocks lit up the tunnel, their red light flickering in the murky darkness. Stale air clouded the passages. The floor felt rough under Zoltar’s scaly paws unlike the soft, green grass he longed for. The Shadow Talons had been forced to go underground after the volcano’s eruption as the air had become too blisteringly hot and would kill a dragon in hours. In these endless caverns the air was unpleasantly warm, but not fatal.
As Zoltar voyaged deeper underground, he passed passageways that snaked off in many different directions. All was quiet in the corridor apart from the clacking of his claws on the rock. The Shadow Talons had never recovered from the eruption and so many of the tunnels and rooms Zoltar passed were empty. The air felt hauntingly still like the souls of those who were lost were still wandering the tunnels as silent ghosts. The few dragons remaining had moved as far away from the volcano as possible to reduce the risk of another disaster. Though there was still the looming possibility that the volcano would belch out another massive eruption and take the rest of the Shadow Talons lives with it.
Zoltar pushed down on the emotions threatening to break forth. Even after all these years, the memories of his brother’s death was still fresh as the day it had happened.
He gritted his teeth. No matter how many times he played the scene in his head, no matter how many times he wished he’d done something different, it was over. It was in the past. He couldn’t help them now. He had to focus on the present and ones still with him.
He passed another cavern, but unlike the others, this one had a Shadow Talon inside. She was curled up around a pile of mouse fur and clumps of fresh dirt. There was a single black egg nestled in the nest. It looked almost ready to hatch.
Zoltar realized with a stab of worry that there was no father in sight. This probably meant he'd been killed on one of the expeditions for new land.
The female guarding the nest was in a sorry state herself and was heavily emaciated. Zoltar felt a wave of guilt pass over him. He'd been able to get a decent amount of food for him and his family since he was able to venture out of the Shadow Lands on missions.
Reaching into the pouch around his neck he brought out one of the fruits he’d gathered from outside the Shadow Lands. They were supposed to be his and his family’s rations until he had another mission, but he’d brought more than enough and the Shadow Talon and her dragonet needed it more than him. Nira did the same often when she got back from quests for new land. She’d understand why there was a little less food for them.
He gently placed the bright green melon beside the egg. There was no need to wake the sleeping mother. She’d find it when she woke.
He looked back at the egg by its mother’s side. There was little chance of the dragonet inside surviving with its mother in such poor condition. It had become a sad, but familiar sight since the eruption.
Sighing, Zoltar moved on.
Zoltar reached the end of the tunnel, which finished in a large room lit by many scarlet fire stones. In the middle of the room Hisster was seated on a beautiful gold throne. His violet, curved horns glinted like polished glass and his poisonous barbed tail rested like a waiting snake next to his throne. He narrowed his cat like eyes as Zoltar walked into the room. Zoltar spread his wings elegantly and bowed, waiting for Hisster’s commands, just as Scorpus had taught him.
"What news do you bring?" the chief asked in a deep rumbling voice, staring at Zoltar with his glowing eyes, “Did you find an island?”
“Yes sir,” Zoltar said, getting to his paws, “A few miles off the Moon Talons north coast. It’s quite a large island, well forested so there will be plenty of food. There’s a fresh water lake for drinking water and there’s a maze of misty pillars ringing the island. It’s low enough for the Wind Talons to fly over it, but it makes for a great defence against low flying dragons like the Sea Talons as it’s not the easiest to navigate. I didn’t fly low or land, but from the air there doesn’t seem to be any sign of a native tribe. I thought I’d wait for additional instructions before investigating further.”
“Splendid,” Hisster growled, showing his sparkling white fangs, “If I remember right that island belonged to the Wisp Talon tribe. They used to trade with us once a long time ago. Then one day they seemed to simply disappear. Haven’t seen them since. Ha I’m sure they’re still on that island though.”
“But Sir, there were no signs of any tribes when I flew over. The whole island seemed…abandoned.”
“Yes, so you said. However there is a possibility of the Wisp Talons still being there. There’s been no major disaster on the island so I doubt that they’d no longer live there and they are of course part of the chameleon class of dragons. They could have been camouflaged as you flew past.”
“You do make a point Sir. What do you wish to do?” Zoltar said, a little worried.
“Before going any further I think a search party should go to the island, scope it out and see if the Wisp Talons do live there still. If they don’t well we can move over there right away. However if they are still there we’ll have to take... a more drastic approach to the matter,” Hisster said, his tail flicking back and forth.
“Very good Sir. Should I inform the others?” Zoltar asked.
“There’ll be no need. I’ll tell them myself when they report back. Nira and Scorpus should be back in the next day or so. In the meantime, gather your things and be ready to move.”
Zoltar nodded and turned to leave. The thud of his paws hitting the dry earth rang in his ears as he walked through the tunnels on his way home.
A barrage thoughts clouded his head. What if this was it and they could finally leave this forsaken place? They could rebuild. Have a home again. He’d be able to see his fellow dragons happy again. He and Nira could live in comfort and maybe even start a family. They’d talked about it before, but had both agreed that they’d hold off until they’d found a new home.
But on the other paw the Wisp Talons could still be on the island. They couldn’t just move in then and surely Hisster wasn’t planning on going to war with another tribe. They didn’t have enough soldiers to go to war with Scorpus, Nira and him being the only ones left. They’d lose before they’d even started. And besides it wasn’t right. They couldn’t just take another tribe’s home away from them.
Maybe they’d be able to work out a peace agreement? The island looked large enough to support two tribes especially being that the Shadow Talons numbers were so small. Maybe that’s what Hisster planned to do.
Zoltar rolled his eyes. Who was he kidding?
Zoltar was jerked from his thoughts as Nira came rushing down the tunnel towards him. A surge of relief filled Zoltar when he saw her. She was alive. Many of the soldiers didn’t return from scout missions and Zoltar was always worried Nira would someday never return. Pushing his worries aside, Zoltar embraced his wife, wrapping his pitch black wings around her. Warmth filled him from his snout to the tip of his tail.
“Are you okay?” Zoltar asked, a little worried as he surveyed a slash on the base of Nira’s tail. It looked red and inflamed.
“Oh I’m fine,” Nira said, rubbing the back of her neck, “I just ran into some Coo Chie. Man, they don’t like it when someone tries to steal their eggs.”
Zoltar rolled his eyes, “Well you’d be angry if someone tried to steal your egg. I would.”
“I know, I know. It was a stupid idea,” Nira admitted, “I was hungry and wasn’t thinking straight.”
“Mmm hmm,” Zoltar arched his eye crests, “Honestly, one of these days you’re going to get into more trouble than you bargained for.”
Nira grinned sheepishly.
“Do you need to report to Hisster?” Zoltar asked, changed the subject.
“Yah,” Nira said, sighing, “I didn’t find any islands though, so it’s just going to be a check in to let him know I’m back.”
“Oh I’m sure it’ll be more than a check in.” Zoltar winked, before starting back up the passage, “I’ll have some herbs ready for you when you get back. Don’t want that gash getting infected.”
Nira gave him a funny look, but didn’t ask any questions as she carried on her way.
As soon as she was behind him, Zoltar’s worries started boil to the surface once more.
Would Scorpus return from his scout mission? Had he fallen victim to the dangers outside the Shadow Lands as the other soldiers had? He was a day late and it wasn’t like him to be gone for so long. If he didn’t return only Zoltar and Nira would be left to defend the tribe. For all he knew this scouting mission could be dangerous and could require more than two dragons. At least Nira would be there to hold his back.
Zoltar turned down one of the more narrow passages as he headed to his quarters. A dim fire rock lit the small room, the weak light just enough to make out the outline of objects in the room.
Zoltar walked to the other side of the room and placed the few fruit, leaves and small animals he’d gathered on a shelf carved from the cave wall. Remembering Nira he took down a few glass bowls filled with assorted herbs. Grinding the herbs with a little ash and salt he made a paste. He’d almost finish crushing the herbs when Nira walked in.
“Hey, I’m just about done,” Zoltar smiled and poured the paste he’d made into a banana leaf. Tenderly he applied the leaf to Nira’s gash. She gritted her teeth as he gently tied a few vines around her tail to secure the leaf.
“It should be better by the morning,” Zoltar said as he knotted the last vine, “You should rest.”
“Thank you,” Nira said. She yawned a she moved over to a bundle of furs. Gingerly she lay down, careful to place her tail away from her. She half closed her eyes as she rested her head over her paws.
“Hisster told me everything,” she murmured, “Not sure whether I should be happy or nervous. It would be great if the island is empty. Then it’s as good as ours and we can leave this…place, but what it that tribe still lives there? It’s not like they’ll just let us onto their island.” She paused and sucked in a deep breathe, “I think Hisster plans to go to war with them.”
“I know I was thinking the same thing after I talked with him. I don’t know how he would pull it off though with there only being the three of us now. That’s hardly enough to go to war.”
“Yah. Maybe I’m worrying about nothing. Maybe the island is empty and we’ll have been worrying for nothing. For all we know, a new life could be just around the corner for us.”
“I guess,” Zoltar said as he curled up next to Nira and placed his wing over hers.
She let out another long yawn and closed her eyes, “We’ll just have to see what happens.”
Zoltar closed his eyes too, waiting for the relief of sleep to come. He needed to be ready for anything tomorrow. Scorpus might not return and who knew what could be waiting for him on that island?