I crashed into the mountainside, sparks flying through my teeth as my jaw grated against my cheekbones. The pale golds and browns of my scales were bruised and battered, and my wings ached from my frantic flight.
Risking a hurried glance downward, I confirmed that my youngest son, Sunstone, was still safe in the curve of my talons, if not a bit bewildered. The silver chains of my necklace were tangled among his horns.
I still remember when Cyclone gave me that necklace as a gift.
How many years has it been? How many years have we been on the run?
“Javelina, you have to fly faster; they’re catching up to us,” Cyclone roared back to me, already only a silhouette of giant maroon wings backed by the crimson sunset. I strained against the limits of my wings, trying to reach Cyclone before he disappeared into the clouds. As I finally caught up to him, he swiveled back to face me, and I glimpsed the terror in his eyes. I had seen the SkyWing enraged, brokenhearted, and ashamed, but I had never seen his courage shatter so completely before. “We’re out of options. Take Citrine with you,” he said hastily, untangling our older son from his arms and hurriedly draping him over my shoulders. “There’s a cave on the eastern side of this mountain hidden by gorse bushes. You’ll know what to do. I’ll distract them, buy you some time.”
I gazed into his orange eyes, panicked. “But what about-”
“You have to go while you still can, Javelina. I’ll catch up.” He turned to fly back, but swiveled back to me once more. “If we don’t make it out, I...never mind. I love you.” Cyclone held my gaze for a short moment before he disappeared into the sky.
Looking back down, I couldn’t help but notice how Sunstone’s amber eyes reflected the sunset, turning them a deep shade of red, even darker than his brother’s maroon scales. My thoughts shifted to Cyclone’s order, and I focused again on the task at hand.
I’ll see your face at the end of this, my love. I won’t fail us.
The chill of the night air seeped in between my scales as I initiated a steep dive to the flat outcropping smothered with gorse. Citrine stumbled from my back as I landed, Sunstone gazing worriedly towards him.
Sunstone is only a year old. Citrine is three. Can I really trust my dragonets to keep themselves safe while Cyclone and I are gone?
I have to. Besides, Citrine knows the drill by now. It’s not like we haven’t done this before, even if he might not remember the last time. He was so young...
“Stay. I can’t explain everything right now, but all I need you to do is stay here,” I whispered hurriedly to Sunstone, covering him with the yellow flowers and hoping feverently that the thorns didn’t scratch him too badly.
Moving on to Citrine, I unhooked my amber necklace from its place around my neck. Quickly but gently, I wrapped it around his. The silver chain links glittered coldly, clashing with the dark reds and pale golds of his scales. “Protect Sunstone while I’m gone. Do anything you have to. Promise me. Promise me.”
Citrine stared at me with wide amber eyes and nodded quickly, but I could see his panic. I knew he wouldn’t break his vow, though - if my first son was anything, it was loyal. I wrapped my wings around both of them, not wanting to let go of the moment.
Come on, you’ll see them again.
“I love you, my little springboks. I'll be back, I promise.” I smiled at them.
“W-what's happening, Mother?” Citrine stuttered. His voice trembled slightly, and he clutched the shining orange pendant that hung from the chain.
“My dear son,” I whispered, holding his face in my claws. “Everything will be okay. Just wait for me here with Sunstone. Remember your promise, okay? Always. I love you both.”
I had to return. I had to survive, because someone had to be there with my dragonets. They alone stood no chance against the unforgiving mountains of the Rift. My eyes began to water as I fought the sudden tightness in my chest, and I blinked quickly, dispelling the tears.
Citrine shifted his gaze to Sunstone, who was currently gazing into my eyes with hope. Was it possible for such a young dragon to fathom the sheer peril of the situation?
I let out a quiet, shuddering sigh. Reluctantly, I relaxed my wings and took to the sky, casting a single glance back to check that the shrubbery covered them both. The tension in my body lowered slightly when I saw only gorse bushes. Turning quickly to the clouds, I sped up, already hearing wingbeats but hoping to lure the attackers away from the cave.
I had flown for less than half a minute when suddenly, a glacial cold engulfed my tail, and I shrieked. I looked back to find my tail coated with frost, the ice marching up towards my wings. Jagged white claws tore into my back, dragging me towards the earth I’d taken off from. The ground seemed to rush toward me at an ever-increasing rate.
My skull slammed against the hard stone. Sharp pain stabbed through my ribs, bright lights dancing behind my eyes. As I pushed myself up to stand I spotted the frost-colored spines of an IceWing’s crest glinting from behind a red mist.
It can’t be. The plague...
He wouldn’t have lied. He couldn’t have known.
I had to be dreaming. There was no way that any of the IceWings could have survived. Not after Icefall took the NightWing throne. No one had heard anything from them in over a decade.
Talons like jagged slivers of cold metal ripped into my stomach. The red fog clouding my eyes swirled thicker, and my talons clawed the ground in weakening desperation. The tears I had been holding back spilled over onto the earth, mixing with the blood slowly soaking the ground. My talons felt damp, covered in something hot and sticky.
Wet? Why are my talons wet?
What was I doing? The assassin wouldn’t stop when it was finished with me. I had to save my dragonets. We were still too close to the gorse cave.
A roar of fury dragged me back from the darkening fog. A blur of maroon dove toward the attacker looming over me. Their scales seemed familiar but darker than usual, and another icy figure was closing in behind him.
...Cyclone?! No...he has to escape...no time...
A drop of red liquid rolled down his snout, landing on the ground next to my face.
The red haze was coming back quicker than before, and my vision only came in flashes. Talons clashing and Cyclone’s roars seemed to thunder from a great distance.
A disturbing tearing noise came from the direction of Cyclone, and my vision cleared just enough to see him lying in a crimson heap. A dark, coppery smelling liquid pooled from his body and spread over the ground, bubbling at the base of his throat. His amber eyes seemed to reach regretfully for me before they dimmed, like stars trying to escape the morning sun.
His eyes were always so beautiful.
I turned towards the IceWing framed by the rising moons, my movements more lethargic than ever. It had to be an IceWing -- the remnants of frostbreath littering the mountain crag, the scales like white marble and diamond, and spikes like a row of icicles down the dragon’s back couldn’t prove otherwise.
But...how? They’re...all supposed to be...dead. Am I hallucinating?
The wounds ripping over my scales were real, though, and the pain was blinding. My every move seemed slower than the last, and it seemed like it took a thousand years for me to finally meet the dragon’s cold eyes.
The dragon smiled slowly, revealing teeth stained with red. Her tongue flicked in and out of her mouth. Her glacial eyes pulled me in, and I coughed weakly, blood trickling from my throat. My eyes wouldn’t focus, and I couldn’t make out many of the dragon’s features. They leaned down, pressing a bloody smile against my ear. I stared into their bright, empty blue eyes, unable to move. “I told you this would happen eventually, since you turned down such a generous offer. It’s a shame, though...I could have saved you. I could have given you a real life...but I’ll have to make do for now, though, won’t I?” The IceWing’s sinister voice seemed to echo impossibly against the sky. “At least you won’t be around to hide those dragonets of yours away. You’ll bleed out on this frozen ground before you can find them again.”
The world was turning dark. My talons twitched feebly, unresponsive to my intents of self-defense. The dragon’s rasping, low laugh scraped against my ears.
I felt like I was drowning in the darkness. It was almost as if these shadows were an ocean, and the tides had finally come to rise and pull me down, and I could only struggle to stay atop the surface. My frantic, shallow breathing was interrupted as talons of ice leisurely dragged across my neck, holding me beneath the dark waters. I choked, the ocean rushing into my mouth.
Or was it blood?
Death’s ice-blue eyes faded from sight as it pulled me into her freezing arms, carrying me out to sea.