Zoltar’s ears filled with the rush of water surging down channels carved into the palace’s marble walls. The spray was tinged a fiery pink in the dying light as the streams converged together to form two roaring waterfalls cascading down either side of the outcrop extending from the palace.
Zoltar’s legs were still weak under him as his captor swooped in to make a landing. He braced himself for the drop and inevitable crushing blow that would follow, but was surprised when the Wind Talon didn’t just release him. Instead he seemed to hover, waiting for him to find his footing before letting go.
He glanced behind him as his captor landed along with another four Wind Talons. Their indigo blue neck ruffs fluttered gently in the evening breeze, the dim light still reflecting off the silver spines along their backs.
‘Why did he do that?’ Zoltar thought. He could have just let go, letting him fall to the ground. It would have been easier for him and wasn’t that what you did do to prisoners?
His momentary confusion was broken by the sight of Felistia’s limp body being flown down to another level. He hobbled over to the edge as fast as he could in his chains, watching as the Wind Talons carrying her disappeared into another cave.
Zoltar felt his stomach churn. Where were they taking her and why was she still unconscious? The poison should have worn off by now.
A flash of movement caught Zoltar’s attention and he turned to see what seemed to be the lead Wind Talon, stride up to him. He began unhooking some of Zoltar’s chains, allowing him to walk.
“Come on. Let’s go,” the General said, walking ahead of Zoltar. The other four remaining Wind Talon soldiers took up their positions on either side of Zoltar as they strode forwards.
Great white marble pillars marked the way into the palace. Vines of juniper green ivy twisted their way around the columns, their silvery flowers curling closed for the night.
Guards were stationed on either side of the archway leading into the palace, spears gripped in their front paws. They gave an acknowledging nod as the General approached and stepped aside to let them through.
Zoltar didn’t like the lingering looks they gave him as they watched them pass.
The hallways were quiet apart from the odd guard here and there. No Wind Talons bustling around carrying messages for the Queen or running to check whether the chefs were on time with preparing the evening meal. It wasn’t what Zoltar had expected.
Even in the Ice Talon Palace, Zoltar had heard the coming and goings of palace life while he and Felistia were in their cell.
This place felt deserted almost, the once jeweled pillars now empty of their treasures and the unkempt marble floors etched with scratches from years of frantic talons rushing to and fro.
As they journeyed deeper into the mountain, firestones replaced the dying rays of the sun, their rich ember red centers pulsing with light.
Even through the nausea gripping his stomach, Zoltar felt a brush of comfort upon seeing the stones. He hadn’t seen them since he’d left the Shadow Lands and it was somehow calming to see something from home.
The feeling was short lived however as he was taking down a side passage into the belly of the palace. Even with the firestones, it was pretty dark down here, the crimson glow causing the Wind Talons scales to take on a toxic purple hue.
Zoltar shifted his wings, feeling the bite of the chains that pinned them against his sides. This must lead to the palace’s prison. Unlike the Ice Talon one though, there would be no window, not this deep into the mountain.
Before long they reached the end of the passage which opened up into another tunnel with cells spaced out about a dragon width from each other along the length.
Zoltar could feel himself starting to panic, the walls pressing in on him as they walked towards the chamber closest to the tunnel they’d come from.
He couldn’t stay down here, not without light. Being able to see out had been one of the only things that had kept him sane while in the Ice Talon prison. The thought of being trapped in a small space, in the dark was almost more than he could bare.
It was too similar…he couldn’t think about it again.
Zoltar squeezed his eyes shut, trying to bloke out the memories as one of the soldiers opening the cell. The screech of the key grinding in the lock was not enough to break through to Zoltar as the memories began to flood him. The thought of being trapped beneath the ground, in the dark with no one there while the mountain collapsed on you.
Zoltar’s paws felt like lead as he entered the cell, the door shutting closed behind him with a wailing creak. It was almost pitch black, the glow of the ancient firestone used to light the chamber barely more than a whisper as it flickered faintly.
He curled up in the corner, his once again shackled tail tucked in close as he allowed the memories to flow.
He’d tried to keep them under for years now after the eruption. He could still feel the suffocation heat, the guilt of leaving his brother and his wife after the earthquake, the months of wondering what could have happened if he’d stayed with them. Would he have been able to get them out in time?
The pain of the months following the eruption was still as fresh as if it had been yesterday. The first night spent huddled with Nira on the hill overlooking the erupting volcano. Watching the fires consuming his home like ravenous beasts, all the time hoping against hopes that someone he loved had survived.
Zoltar tried to wrap his wings over his head, only stopped by the chains as he tried to block out the memory of the wails and cries that had filled that terrible night.
He knew now, he’d known back then already, that no one within a twenty mile radius had survived. Anyone out in the open had been almost instantly killed, incinerated by the blast. Those trapped in their caves, including his brother, had soon followed.