Wings of Fire

Chatterbox: Inkwell

Wings of Fire

Wings of Fire FanFic

I will be posting my Wings of Fire fanfiction on here i was wondering if people culd give me feedback--including you, Admins :). @Admins, if you don't like soething, please edit it out instead of not posting the comment. Thanks!

 

STORY: 

 

    PART ONE -- the Rising Wind

 

   1

Sand crept closer and closer to the old rich RainWing. A bag of coins jiggled at the other dragon's ankle. One quick slice with her claw and those coins would be hers.

"Oh, but one coconut is never enough," purred the coconut vendor that the old RainWing was buying from. "Buy two for the price of four and I'll throw in another for free."

Sand rolled her eyes as the old RainWing nodded eagerly. That's three for the price of four then, Rainbow.

"Oh absolutely! Let me just get my purse," said the RainWing.

Uh-oh. Better work fast. Sand seized the strap of the purse and slashed her claws along it, then grabbed it and leaped into the crowd. The RainWing discovered an empty ankle and blinked in puzzlement. The vendor, unfortunately, noticed Sand and shouted, "THIEF!"

Sand tucked the purse into the pouch around her neck and dove into the chaotic crowd. She tucked in her wings as tight as they could go and wove through the oblivious dragons, ducking poisonous tails and wayward talons.

"Catch her!" yelled the vendor. "She ran off with my customer's scales!"

There was a murmur of alarm. Sand ran faster.

There--just ahead. The wall of the Pit. 

She reached the edge of the crowd and scaled the wall with groping talons and quick wingbeats. Swarming over the top, she hovered for a minute, looking down. All eyes were turned to her.

"She's in the Pit," said the vendor. "No chance to catch her now." And then the familiar refrain: "That place's lawless."

The crowd began to lose interest. Sand waved at the coconut vendor and dove down.

The Pit was a huge, fortified area in the center of the Scorpion Den. It was the place where criminals came to hide out, the place where you could never be safe. 

It was Sand's home, and it was run by her uncle.

She slowed down, the adrenaline in her veins dulling to normality. Now as it drained away she felt tired. Another morning in the Scorpion Den.

She followed the sound of splashing to the oasis that her uncle, Cactus, had built by running water from the main oasis to the Pit. His oasis was small but just as good as the big one. Sand, thirsty, drank for a full minute.

Next she flew down to the camping grounds. This was where everyone in the Pit lived. Some tents were rented out for three scales an hour, but Sand had her own tent.

The funny thing about the Pit was that, despite the fact that it was home to most of the criminals in the Scorpion Den, within its walls it was forbidden that any dragon steal from another. So Sand's things were safe.

She flew down, landed, and went into her tent, where she tucked the coin purse in with the others she had gathered over the past year. Then she zipped up her tent and went to find her uncle.

Cactus was overseeing the building of a prison near the edge of the Pit. He looked up when he saw Sand and grinned.

"Ah, there you are, my dear. Where have you been all day?"

Sand shrugged. "In the market." She didn't both4er telling him about the pockets she'd picked. Not because her uncle had any morale or conscience, or because she was worried he'd be angry with her, but because she'd been doing it for so long it was old news for both of them.

Cactus smiled in an oily way. "What do you think of the prison construction so far, dear?"

Sand shrugged. "It's ok. But why do we need a prison? We're the criminals."

Cactus's smile faded. "In case we need to contain some dragon who's making trouble, of course. Now, Sand, what do you plan on doing the rest of today?"

Sand was planning on meeting her friend Solstice in the afternoon, but she didn't want anybody, least of all her uncle, butting in, so she said, "I was going to go back to the marketplace."

"Oh," Cactus said. "I'm afraid you'll have to change your plans, dear, we have some visitors from neighboring kingdoms today."

"Oh," Sand said, surprised. It was rare that anyone came to visit the Pit, given its reputation (only its residents knew about the no-one-steals-here law). "Alright. Which tribe?"

"You'll see!" Cactus said gleefully.

Sand looked nervously at him, then launched herself into the air and flew back over the wall of the Pit. She had to find Solstice before their planned meeting time and let her know she'd be missing it.

There weren't a lot of NightWings in the Scorpion Den but in the writhing mass of dragons below, with many wearing black, it was hard to pick out true night-colored scales. She'd have to go lower.

As Sand circled down, the dragons became more recognizable. She spotted a NightWing and dove towards her, but the black dragon was too big to be Solstice and she flew away again.

After a few more false alarms, she finally found Solstice. The little NightWing was curled on a rooftop (her favorite place to be), reading a scroll. She looked up when Sand landed.

"Oh, hey, Sand," she said. "What's up? We don't meet until later."

"I actually can't come," Sand explained. "We're having visitors and Uncle needs me there, for some reason. But if I can I'll come find you afterwards."

"Oh, ok," Solstice replied. "Visitors, really?"

"I know, weird, right?" Sand muttered. "He won't even tell me what tribe they're from."

"Odd. Well, keep me posted!" Solstice turned back to her scroll as Sand flew away.

 

"At last, Sand! Our visitors should be arriving shortly," Cactus said as Sand swooped in the window.

Cactus's alcove (as opposed to a throneroom-all Pit-dwellers hated royalty) was open and airy, constructed with coolness in mind. The hot desert wind blew through the area, making the curtains flap. Cactus plucked a date off his tray and chewed it thoughtfully.

"Sand, just imagine if, one day, all the tribes were ruled by one dragon," he said suddenly. "Imagine--the unity!"

Sand winced. "But imagine IceWings and NightWings together," she said reasonably. "It'd be chaos."

"Not if it was ruled by a strong leader," Cactus said, waving a date at her. "They would be able to control their dragons."

"There are millions of dragons in Pyyrhia," Sand protested. "How could they control that many?"

The sound of wingbeats drowned out Cactus's answer. Sand's uncle sat bolt upright, looking eager. "Sand, come sit to my right," he said. His two bodyguards, Quicksand and Snakebite, settled on either side of him, glaring menacingly into space.

Sand came and sat by Cactus, who lounged in a even hammock absently peeling the skin off a date, bit by bit.

Three SkyWings landed in the alcove, accompanied by three of Cactus's SandWings. Sand stared in fascination.

She'd seen SkyWings before, of course, in the marketplace, but never up close like this. The leader was dark red with streaks of orange on his wings, the one standing on his right was bright red and gold and the one on his left was purple-red with craggy horns. They all looked very formidable, but the red-and-gold one was the youngest, looking just a bit older than Sand, and he seemed uncertain, shifting his claws and glancing around anxiously like the walls might jump on him. Sand got an irrational urge to go pat him on the shoulder. Instead, she closed her eyes and forced a neutral expression on her face.

"Cactus," said the lead SkyWing.

"Falcon," said Cactus, raising his snout. "Do sit down. Would you care for a date?" He held out the tray.

"No thank you," Falcon said stiffly. 

"Very well!" Cactus said. "Let's get down to business, then. Sand, take this tray away."

"Yes, Uncle," Sand said through gritted teeth. She hated being told what to do. She carefully picked up the tray and flew out the entryway. Outside, she dropped the dates one by one into a jar while keeping one ear on the conversation inside.

"Sir, we have come to offer a trade." That sounded like the lead SkyWing.

"A trade, yes! I do like trades. A trade for what?" 

Sand screwed on the cover, then began scrubbing the tray.

"We are the liaisons for the SkyWing group the Night Owls," explained the SkyWing. Sand put the tray on the shelf and flew back in as he continued.

"We would like to offer you a prized animus-touched object in exchange for treasure," announced Falcon.

"An animus-touched object, really. What does it do?"

"It turns you invisible." As the SkyWing went on to describe the object, Sand ran through what she knew about the Night Owls. They were like the Pit in some ways, a hideout for criminals, but they were always on the lookout for treasure.

"Our force has grown in numbers so that we no longer have use for the Gift of Invisibility," Falcon explained. "And we thought we would trade it with you. I am sure you could find a use for it."

"You're right, I could," Cactus said. "Let's take this to my treasury. Come along, Sand. And you, Quicksand...Snakebite, go find Barb and then follow us."

Interesting, Sand thought uneasily. He wants another bodyguard...why? Does he think they'll try to attack him?

Cactus could be paranoid. He probably thought they'd take the treasure and flee. Which they might. So maybe he's being smart, Sand reflected. Still, she couldn't shake off the uneasy feeling.

The treasury was kept in an underground cellar. Sand had only seen it once--the mounds of gold that Cactus had accumulated; over the years of stealing and trading. It was quite overwhelming.

Cactus opened the trapdoor, waving to the treasury guards, and led them down the stone stairway. Inside it smelled like cold metal.

Snakebite and Barb joined them a moment later. Cactus gestured to the heaps of coins. "Behold, my treasury...how much do you ask in exchange for the Gift of Invisibility?"

"Three 20-pound bags, two filled with gold and one filled with jewels," Falcon responded.

"Done!" Cactus said gleefully. "But give me the Gift of Invisibility first."

"Treasure first."

"Perhaps you do not understand. I don't need the Gift of Invisibility. I want it, but I don't need it. Give it to me first, or there's no deal."

Falcon sighed and handed over a diamond strung on a thin silver chain.

Cactus stroked it happily, then hung it around his neck and immedietly dissapeared.

"Guards and bodyguards," he said, his voice coming from everywhere and nowhere, "capture these SkyWings and take them to the prison!"

 

The three bodyguards sprang at the startled SkyWings instantly. The two guards from the tunnel mouth bounded down, looking confused,  but once they saw what was happening they immedietly joined in.

The little red-and-gold SkyWing shot into the depths of the treasury with Quicksand in hot pursuit. Barb and one of the treasury guards sat on the purple SkyWing and began rapidly tying her up. Falcon protested loudly as they did the same to him.

"We had a deal!"

"That's what you get for making a deal with the king of double-cross," Cactus said, putting on an injured look. "You have no-one else to blame!"

Sand sighed. She had seen the same story again and again. Her uncle never passed up on an opportunity to lie and cheat.

"Where is that little SkyWing?" grumbled Cactus. "Sand, go see what's taking Quicksand so long."

Sand obediently slunk into the shadows of the treasury. In the back, she bumped into someone.

"Oof! What--" Talons wrapped around her snout, silencing her. She froze.

"Shh," whispered the voice of the young SkyWing.

As Sand's eyes adjusted, she could see the dim shape of Quicksand blundering about, tripping on coins and groping wildly with his talons. After a few minutes of falling over his tail, he lumbered away towards the entrance, presumably to ask for a light.

The talons unwrapped from Sand's snout and a dim light began to glow in the darkness. As it steadily brightened, Sand looked up into the face of the young SkyWing. He was holding something that glowed in his talons.

"Hello," he whispered. "You're the little one. What did he call you?...Sand. Sorry, but I couldn't let you get me caught."

"It's alright," Sand whispered back. "He does this with everyone. I don't like it, but I can't openly defy him."

"He tricks everyone like this?" The SkyWing's wings drifted closed. "Wow. I wish we'd known."

"What's your name?" Sand asked curiously.

"Eagle."

"Follow me, Eagle."

The SkyWing hesitated. "Are you gonna lead me into a trap?"

Sand shook her head. "No, I'm going to lead you OUT of a trap. There's a secret way out of the treasury. It should be somewhere back here..."

"Take this," said Eagle, handing her the glowing thing. It was just a rock, but it emitted a bright blue shine.

"Wow, what is it?" Sand asked.

"A type of mineral that reacts to darkness."

Neat. Sand raised it, running her talons along the wall until she came to a seam. she dug her talons in and wrenched the trapdoor open, revealing a very dark tunnel. Sand felt around, then pressed a switch, turning on a row of dim lights.

Behind them they heard Quicksand's footsteps growing closer and closer.

"Quick, in, in!" Sand bundled Eagle into the tunnel and yanked the door shut.

Holding up the glowing mineral, she started off at top speed, trying to be quiet. "It might be cramped," she warned. "We didn't build it with your huge wings in mind."

"It's ok," Eagle said. "I can tuck them in."

Then they crept in silence. As the sound faded, Sand's thoughts rushed in. What was she doing? This was the ultimate betrayal. She was helping her uncle's captive escape! She felt a thrill of defiance. 

I won't stop!

After what seemed like hours of walking, the tunnel ended abruptly and Sand pushed open the trapdoor. She peeked cautiously out, then called, "All clear," and popped out into a dank alleyway.

The young SkyWing clambered out behind her and Sand shut the trapdoor.

"What am I going to do?" Eagle sat down suddenly. "Where do I stay? Should I fly back to the Night Owls?

"Not yet," Sand said. "I'll do everything I can to rescue your companions. In the meantime, you can probably stay with my friend Solstice. Don't go out; my uncle will be looking for you. I'll bring you food."

"Why?" he asked.

Sand was taken aback. "Why what?"

"Why are you helping me?" Eagle asked her, looking in her eye. "There's no reason to; you're just putting yourself in danger. Why are you helping me?"

Sand sighed. It was more than just wanting to defy her uncle, she knew. Much more. 

"I'm not sure," she admitted. "I just have a feeling about you, like I should do everything I can to keep you alive. Now let's go find Solstice." And with that she took flight, uncertainty and determination lifting her on their conflicting wings.

 

  2

Sand and Eagle found Solstice easily enough. 

Solstice lived in an abandoned building on the third floor. She'd set up almost a little home there, with carpets and food. She looked up as Sand came in the door.

"Hello SaaAAAAgh! What is a SKYWING doing with you?!" Solstice demanded.

Sand glared at Eagle. "I told to wait outside!"

"Some SandWings flew over and I didn't want them to see me," he explained.

"Oh," Sand said. She turned back to Solstice. "This is Eagle. I helped him escape from my uncle. Do you mind if he stays with you until I can rescue his companions?"

"Why not." Solstice didn't look overly happy about it, but she also didn't seem upset. "He can have that room over there. I only use it for eating."

"Great. I'll bring him food every time I can," Sand promised. "Will you be alright here, Eagle?"

"Heck yeah," he said happily. "This is better than I'm used to! We Night Owls live in tents at best, boxes at worse!"

Solstice looked intrigued. "Night Owls?"

"I'll leave you two to get acquainted," Sand said hastily. And she did.

Flying back to the Pit, she took a weaving route. Stopping at the market first for a snack of stolen bananas, she next flew over to the large oasis and waved hello to some orphans she knew from the marketplace, Scratch and Banana. Then she went over to the wall of the Scorpion Den and gazed out at the desert for a bit. At last she returned to the Pit and found her uncle pacing in the alcove, lashing his tail furiously. 

"Sand!" he bellowed. "There you are! I was afraid that little SkyWing did something to you. He's escaped, did you know that?"

"No, Uncle. It was too chaotic for me, so I left. Maybe you didn't notice me go by."

"I suppose." Cactus glowered at his talons. "I can't believe my guards let the little one escape. Well he won't get far. I have dragons looking for him all over the city."

"Good luck," Sand said, wishing him the opposite. But she kept her tone neutral as she said, "I'm going down to the market."

"Bring me back a coconut," Cactus called after her as she flew into the afternoon sky.

 

That night, Sand picked up one of her coin purses and set off to the night market. With a list of things her uncle needed and her own list of food to buy for herself and Eagle, she landed at the edge of the square.

It was surprisingly hard to steal at night--every sound seemed twice and loud and it was all too easy to fall into a duck pond--so instead Sand bought things with the money she'd stolen during the day.

Music echoed through the stalls as she trotted along, stopping first at a stall selling dried goods. She bought enough to last Eagle three days, along with the stuff from her uncle's list. The next stall was canned goods and then fresh. After that, Sand used the remaining scales to buy some hot chestnuts and went down to see who tonight's musicians were.

A band of SandWings, ones Sand didn't recognize, were playing drums and odd stringed instruments. The music was bouncy and she found herself humming along. After a bit dragons began to dance and Sand was swept up in it, laughing.

But despite the fun of the moment, she felt a little sad. These were the only times she could participate in activities like this. If she tried in the daylight, she'd be recognized as a common thief and driven away.

She watched the dragonets dancing with their parents and felt an additional stab of sorrow. She had only vague memories of her mother and none of her father. She knew her mother had died when she was very young, but she didn't know the details. Cactus refused to talk about it.

Could I have had a happy life like that, if she hadn't died?

Sand curled in her claws. Suddenly she didn't feel like dancing. She crept away from the festivities and, as she took flight, she felt empty--like the desert dunes, cold and lonely in the moonlight.

 

The next day, she took Eagle's bag of food to Solstice's apartment building. As she came in, she could hear the murmur of voices.

She peeked in. Solstice was cooking breakfast on an old stove, and Eagle was complaining that SkyWings didn't eat what she was cooking. Sand flared her wings open, making them both jump.

"Never fear! I have arrived."

She handed the bag to Eagle, who looked at it with a pleased expression. "Thank you," he said.

"Tell him to stop complaining about everything or he can have the next floor down!" shouted Solstice, brandishing a rusty spatula threateningly. "I hear the rats are looking for a roommate!"

Sand snorted. She loved when Solstice let her fiery side show.

"I'm not complaining," Eagle said. "I'm very grateful that she's letting me stay here. But SkyWings and NightWings are...less than compatible."

"At least you're not an IceWing," Sand told him. "The rivalry between that tribe and Solstice's go way back to the Darkstalker."

"The what?"

"Never mind," Solstice and Sand said together.

"Anyways." Sand upended the bag onto the carpet. "I brought all kinds of things! Beans...canned goods..meals AND snacks..."

"Oh, good," Solstice said. "Thank you."

Sand nodded. "I need to get back," she said. "I'll return in 3 days. Try not to argue too much." 

 

 

"Good afternoon, Uncle," Sand said, stepping into the windy alcove.

"Hello, Sand! I was just about to go down and check the prison. It's not done, but we had to fortify one cell for our SkyWing prisoners."

"Ah," said Sand. She decided to risk a question. "Uncle, why did you cheat those SkyWings?"

"Oh, Sand, I thought I had taught you better..." Cactus shook his head. "You should never pass up an opportunity to get without giving. Now I have a lovely animus-touched object--and my treasury is not depleted at all! The only problem is that little SkyWing that got away. He might be looking to free his comrades. But I have lots of guards posted."

"That's...great," Sand said. "Can I come to the prison with you?" She wanted a look at the layout so that she could make the escape easier.

"Sure," said her uncle. He spread his pale wings. "Follow me."

The prison had already advanced since Sand had last seen it. The wooden scaffolding was slowly dissapearing under sheets of metal. 

Cactus waved to the guards as he and Sand made their way through the door.

Inside, the prison was obviously still in construction. There were cells without bars, bricks being stacked and welded together with mouldings, working SandWings everywhere. Sand memorized the layout of the prison as her uncle led her through it.

At the very back was the cell. The wall of the Pit acted as the wall of the cell. The bars had obviously been hastily added--the hinges were loose and the lock was old. Sand grinned. The variables were in her favor. Not only the hasty construction but the fact that the cell was at the back of the prison--the guards wouldn't hear the door opening.

Sand tapped the lock discreetly. It would be easy to pick. 

"Hello, Lizard," Cactus said to a tough-looking SandWing who had just appeared. "How goes construction?"

"Very good, sir. We estimate to have the prison complete by the next full moon."

"Very good, very good." Cactus knocked on the bars, waking up the SkyWings, who had been curled up miserably in the corner.

"Ah good, very good," Cactus said. "Nice strong iron." He went on about cell doors and locks and things, but Sand wasn't listening. she had ducked into the next cell over and was looking at the wall between it and the SkyWings. Maybe it could be broken.

"Sand!" Cactus called. "Sand, we're leaving...what are you doing back there?"

"Just looking around." Sand emerged from the cell. "Let's get out of here."

 

  3

Sand checked and double-checked her pouch, m

asking sure she had all the necessary items. Rope, screwdriver, dagger, and a special prop to distract the guards.

Sand slipped out of the camp grounds and flew across the Pit. the prison was easy to find because even at night, a few dragons were working on it, and the glow of candlelight filled the night.

Sand landed just outside the ring of light and pulled out the special prop--a dragonflame cactus. She edged away, making sure that she was out of the guards' sight, then checked to make sure no-one was around.

Step 2: She took a deep breath and shot a jet of flame onto the cactus, then leaped into the air, swooping out of the blast zone as fast as she could. The cactus exploded with a huge boom and hundreds of flaming seeds hurtled in all directions.

Sand swallowed a yelp and flew a little higher as one of the seeds arced past her head and burned straight through the roof of Cactus's alcove. A roar of surprise came from within.

Everyone by the prison scattered, then regrouped and hurtled towards the sound of the explosion. Sand pulled in her wings and dove like an arrow, adjusting her trajectory so that she flew straight through the prison doors.

Inside, it was dark and still. Tiny lamps flamed on the walls. Forgotten tools leaned against scaffolding.

Sand pulled a torch from her pouch and lit it, making her way to the last cell. Both SkyWings were awake, staring into the darkness. They leaped back when Sand appeared.

"Three moons, kid, thought you were a ghost," said the female SkyWing. "What are you doing here?"

"And what was that noise?" added Falcon.

Sand started picking the lock. "That was a dragonflame cactus I set off," she explained. "I'm here to free you, like I promised Eagle I would."

"Eagle!" exclaimed the female SkyWing. "He's alive?"

"Alive and safe," Sand promised. "I can take you to him...one moment." She finished picking the lock, then swung open the door.

The SkyWings stepped out, blinking. "Thank you," said Falcon sincerely.

"No problem." This wasn't actually true, there had been a few problems, but Sand didn't have time to say all that. "Come on, we need to get out of here."

The SkyWings followed her down the tunnel. Sand poked her head out, frowning at the shouts she could hear, and froze.

From the spot where the cactus had exploded, tendrils of flame licked hungrily at the buildings and trees of the Pit.

Sand shouted in shock. "Fly, fly!" she exclaimed to the SkyWings as they emerged, blinking, into the harsh red light.

Oh, three moons, Sand thought in horror. The whole Scorpion Den could burn down tonight...because of me.

No. That can't happen...I won't let that happen.

Determined, she turned to the SkyWings. "Eagle is down on Lichen Alley, the abandoned building on the left," she said quickly. "There's a sign on it saying 'Oasis Printers.' Eagle is on the third floor."

"What's this?" said a voice from ahead. "Sand...? is that you?"

It was her uncle.

Sand rolled to the side and threw up her wings, hiding her face. She was glad that the glare his her features.

"SKYWINGS!" Cactus bellowed. "THE SKYWINGS ARE ESCAPING!"

Sand leaped into the air. The SkyWings flew away.  

"We need to get water!" she shouted. "Buckets! From the oasis!" But even as she said it, she knew it was too late. The flames were spreading outwards, devouring everything in their path.

Sand seized a hammer lying on the ground and flew up to the great bell her uncle used to summon everyone in the pit. She crashed the hammer against it as hard as she could and the bell tolled out. Again and again she struck, hoping to wake everyone in the Pit, hoping there would be time for them to flee.

Sure enough, the dragons were rising, rising above the walls and the flames, flying away. Sand let go of the hammer and twisted and dove, down to the campgrounds which were still untouched. She flung open her tent and leaped inside, searching frantically through her flung-about things. Then she found it; the photograph of her father, a mild-looking SandWing with glasses.

Sand clasped it to her chest and ran from the tent. She could see that the flames were beyond containing. They wouldn't stop at the Pit.

Will the Scorpion Den really burn down?

"NEVER FEAR!" shouted Cactus above the din. "I HAVE CLEVERLY BUILT IN A FIREBLOCK! WATCH THIS!"

With that, he grabbed a lever sticking out of the wall and pulled hard.

Instantly, water began to spray from the wall through a thousand tiny holes. He must be pumping it from the oasis, Sand realized, impressed that he had thought so far ahead. The water poured on. It didn't extinguish the fire, but it kept it from going beyond the Pit.

Sand, relieved that she would not be responsible for the destruction of the entire Scorpion Den, decided she had better check on Eagle.

 

As the crackle of the flames faded behind her, Sand's racing heart calmed to a normal beat. She flapped her wings slowly, feeling exhausted. A weird shiver went through her when she imagined seeing Eagle again.

Don't be stupid, she scolded herself, he probably left with those SkyWings. 

As she arrived, she saw Eagle and Solstice standing on the roof of the building. As she landed, they both spun around, looking relieved.

"Sand! There you are," Eagle said. "Mother and Falcon said that the Pit was on fire!"

"Mother...? That SkyWings is your mother?...Then why are you still here?"

"I wanted to make sure you were alright," Eagle explained.

Sand was surprised. "Are you going to catch up to them now, then?" she asked.

"No," Eagle said, shrugging. "It isn't actually the greatest life, with the Night Owls. I thought I might find a place to live here. Luxury!" He pointed at the building they stood on.

Sand shoved down the weird shivery feeling. "Well, that's nice. At any rate, I'm fine. I actually started the fire, by accident."

"What?!" Eagle and Solstice said simultaneously, then cut eachother glares. "Jinx," Solstice snapped.

Sand spread her talons and began to describe what had happened. She watched their eyes grow wider and wider.

"Moons!" said Eagle when she'd finished. "Thank you for doing all that to save them. But it must have been so awful, seeing your home on fire like that."

Sand looked over at him. "Yeah, it is," she said. Although it's not much of a home, she thought ruefully.

"You can come here and stay with me if you want," Solstice offered. "For now, I mean. Until the fire's over."

"Thank you," Sand said, leaning against her friend.

Eagle cleared his throat. "You can share my room!" he offered. "Um, so that we don't take up Solstice's space."

"Thank you," Sand repeated.

 

When she woke up the next morning, she wasn't totally sure where she was. It took her a moment to realize that the cracked ceiling was Solstice's home, and the sound of soft breathing beside her was Eagle.

She sat up as quietly as she could and looked around. She'd been too tired to notice much about the room the night before, but this morning it seemed to shine with detail. The walls were dirty but smooth, stolen rugs covered the floor, and Eagle was snoring beside her on a long, patterned pillow.

Sand got to her feet, stretched, and padded down the dusty hallway into Solstice's living area. Solstice wasn't out yet, so Sand started cooking breakfast, humming to herself.

Leaving the pan smoking, she climbed the stairs to the roof and looked west to the Pit. The air over and around it was hazy with smoke, but it appeared that the fire was out. For the moment.

Sand hurried back downstairs and flipped the breakfast just as Solstice emerged, yawning, from the hallway. 

"Ooh, smells good," the little NightWing said cheerfully. "Good morning, Sand...I'm surprised you didn't sleep in."

Sand had never been a late sleeper, even on the occasion that she had stayed up past midnight running errands for Cactus. She tended to wake up with the sun, regardless.

Eagle came out a moment later, shaking sleep-ruffled wings and blinking several times. "Oh, hi," he said to Sand. 

Solstice waved her tail cheerfully as he completely ignored her. "Hello to you too!"

Sand hastily inturupted before they could start bickering again. "Breakfast is ready!"

 

After breakfast. Eagle offered to fly over and have a look at the Pit. Sand would have gone herself, but she needed to steal some food.

She headed down to the marketplace. The familiar whirlwind of sounds and smells assaulted her senses, and for a moment she allowed herself;f to forget the events of yesterday and lose herself in the jangling chaos. 

"Fresh coconuts for sale!"

"Boxed stringbeans, haf' price!"

"FRESH BAKED BREAD!"

"Embroidered pouches! Jewelry, cheap!"

"JACKFRUIT! EGGS! CACTUS JUICE!"

Sand closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. Everything smelled sharp and hot and spicy. Here, the cool scent of cactus; there, the warm smell of cooking bananas. She loved it.

But at the same time, as she wandered through the laughing dragons, she felt like the only one without a family...the only one who was alone.

She shook her head, snapping herself out of it. There was work to be done.

This time, instead of stealing a customer's coins, she just stole the coconut instead.

She swiped a few more food items and one coin purse. Then, humming to herself, she left the marketplace to take the long way home.

As she left the heady smells and distracting sounds behind, her head cleared and she started to feel better. She half-spread her wings and arrived at the larger oasis.

As of this moment, the large pool was open to all. Now and then some power-hungry dragon would try to control the oasis, keeping others out unless they paid a price, but before long someone else would come along and overthrow them, then get bored, decide there was a better life in the palace, and leave. It was pointless.

Sand sat down by her favorite palm, took out a scroll and began to write. Writing was a sort of hobby of hers, but she wasn't very good, at least in her mind. But it was calming. 

After a while, she returned to the abandoned building just as Eagle was landing.

"Hello, any news?" asked Sand.

The red-and-gold SkyWing shook his head. "You have to go see for yourself. I'll take that in. It's pretty bad, Sand..." He added as she prepared to take off. "Are you sure you..."

"I can handle it."

"I was going to say, Are you sure you don't want me to come with you?"

Sand hesitated, then shook her head. "It's fine."

She alighted on the wall and stared down at the destruction she'd caused. Until about ten feet out from the still-damp wall, everything was untouched. But past that...

Sand circled over the devastation. There was almost nothing recognizable left. Cactus's alcove was gone. The prison was a pile of ashes. The campgrounds were nothing but cinders. The only recognizable thing was the oasis pool, dark with ashes, empty of palm trees.  

Sand landed on a building and closed her eyes, blotting out the sight. All this destruction, caused by a simple dragonflame cactus...she should have used a less violent distraction...

Why? Why did I do it?

She took a deep breath and opened her eyes to find Cactus sitting a foot away.

"Oh! Uncle!" 

"Sand," he said, inclining his head. "I am most relieved you are all right. When you weren't with the survivors..." But his tone was less I-am-so-relieved and more what-are-you-doing-up-here. 

Sand folded her wings and looked back at the ashes.

"The fire was caused by a dragonflame cactus," her uncle said slowly, "set off near the prison. it's unclear exactly when it was, but I assume it was the prisoners escaping."

Sand kept her expression neutral while she scanned the area for good escape routes.

"Why do you think they used a dragonflame cactus for escape?" Cactus asked, his eyes fixed on her face. "Was it just a sloppy distraction...or did they mean to set us on fire?"

Instead of answering, Sand snorted a burst of flame and asked, "Was anyone hurt?"

Cactus gave her an apprising look. "Yes, about 25% of the Pit population were injured and 15% is still missing. We're searching, though. Our dragons fled in various directions. It's mostly thanks to you, though, that so many escaped unscathed...your quick thinking in ringing the bell saved them."

Sand nodded, forcing down any glow of pride. She had long ago decided that nothing her uncle said meant anything; he was a walking spiderweb of lies, deceit, and smooth-tongued truth-twisting.

"Yes, well." She waved one wing at him. "Must be going."

"So soon, Sand?" Cactus stepped closer, his forked tongue flicking in and out. "But you've only just wrrived. We haven't had any fun yet!"

Sand's street instinct kicked in then, letting her know there was something dangerous going on here. She felt her tail curl as she crouched, ready to fly.

Cactus grinned at her, spreading his enormous wings. "Why would you leave anyways? It wouldn't be to check on a certain SkyWing, would it?"

Sand's heart seemed to skip a beat. She backed away. "I don't know what you're talking about." 

"I saw you with them when they were escaping! Don't lie to me!" Cactus did not seem too upset that she'd betrayed him. He shook his talon threateningly, looking delighted. 

"Oh, but uncle," Sand said sweetly, "lying is what I do best."

She slammed her wings open and beat them twice, stirring up all the ashes caught in the wall. As Cactus coughed, looking alarmed, Sand shot into the air and flapped wildly, struggling to see through the ashy cloud she had created.

Grimacing as the dust caught in her scales, she flew as high as she could, then dove as fast as an eagle, landing among the ashes and immedietly burying herself in them until only her nose poked out.

I can't believe he saw me, she thought, miffed with herself for being so stupid.

Cactus suddenly swooped so low she could hear his wingbeats above her. "SAND!" he bellowed. "I know you're here somewhere! I won't hurt you."

Yeah right, Sand thought. She held very still until she heard Cactus fly away.

"Quicksand, tell the others to spread out and search for Sand," his voice said.

"Yes, sir." Quick wingbeats faded away.

Sand catiously poked her head out. The sky was empty.

She slunk out from the ashes and hurried towards the wall of the Pit. Sliding through its shadow, she thought glumly of the easy days, before SkyWings, fires, and prison breaks had come into her life. 

______________

 

That's as far as I got! Hope everyone likes it!

 

--Shining Star 

 

submitted by Shining Star, age 13 eons, The Milky Way, she/her
(January 14, 2022 - 5:35 pm)