Winter Turning, p.1Tui T. Sutherland
HALF TITLE PAGE
MAP OF PYRRHIA
A GUIDE TO THE DRAGONS OF PYRRHIA
WELCOME TO THE JADE MOUNTAIN ACADEMY!
THE JADE MOUNTAIN PROPHECY
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
At this school, you will be learning side by side with dragons from all the other tribes, so we wanted to give you some basic information that may be useful as you get to know one another.
You have been assigned to a winglet with six other dragons; the winglet groups are listed on the following page.
Thank you for being a part of this school. You are the hope of Pyrrhia’s future. You are the dragons who can bring lasting peace to this world.
WE WISH YOU ALL THE POWER OF WINGS OF FIRE!
Description: pale gold or white scales the color of desert sand; poisonous barbed tail; forked black tongues
Abilities: can survive a long time without water, poison enemies with the tips of their tails like scorpions, bury themselves for camouflage in the desert sand, breathe fire
Queen: since the end of the War of SandWing Succession, Queen Thorn
Students at Jade Mountain: Arid, Onyx, Ostrich, Pronghorn, Qibli
Description: thick, armored brown scales, sometimes with amber and gold underscales; large, flat heads with nostrils on top of the snout
Abilities: can breathe fire (if warm enough), hold their breath for up to an hour, blend into large mud puddles; usually very strong
Queen: Queen Moorhen
Students at Jade Mountain: Marsh, Newt, Sepia, Sora, Umber
Description: red-gold or orange scales; enormous wings
Abilities: powerful fighters and fliers, can breathe fire
Queen: Queen Ruby (although some dragons still support Queen Scarlet, who may be alive and in hiding)
Students at Jade Mountain: Carnelian, Flame, Garnet, Peregrine, Thrush
Description: blue or green or aquamarine scales; webs between their claws; gills on their necks; glow-in-the-dark stripes on their tails/snouts/underbellies
Abilities: can breathe underwater, see in the dark, create huge waves with one splash of their powerful tails; excellent swimmers
Queen: Queen Coral
Students at Jade Mountain: Anemone, Barracuda, Pike, Snail, Turtle
Description: silvery scales like the moon or pale blue like ice; ridged claws to grip the ice; forked blue tongues; tails narrow to a whip-thin end
Abilities: can withstand subzero temperatures and bright light, exhale a deadly frostbreath
Queen: Queen Glacier
Students at Jade Mountain: Alba, Changbai, Ermine, Icicle, Winter
Description: scales constantly shift colors, usually bright like birds of paradise; prehensile tails
Abilities: can camouflage their scales to blend into their surroundings; shoot a deadly venom from their fangs
Queen: Queen Glory
Students at Jade Mountain: Boto, Coconut, Kinkajou, Siamang, Tamarin
Description: purplish-black scales and scattered silver scales on the underside of their wings, like a night sky full of stars; forked black tongues
Abilities: can breathe fire, disappear into dark shadows; once known for reading minds and foretelling the future, but no longer
Queen: Queen Glory (see recent scrolls on the NightWing Exodus and the RainWing Royal Challenge)
Students at Jade Mountain: Bigtail, Fearless, Mightyclaws, Mindreader, Moonwatcher
Beware the darkness of dragons,
Beware the stalker of dreams,
Beware the talons of power and fire,
Beware one who is not what she seems.
Something is coming to shake the earth,
Something is coming to scorch the ground.
Jade Mountain will fall beneath thunder and ice
Unless the lost city of night can be found.
It was one of those days so blue and sunny that you had to be flying. The sky reached in your window first thing in the morning and dragged you out, flinging you up and up and up into the beautiful wing-catching wind. You had to soar and spin and dive because a day this perfect might never come again.
And sometimes you had to take your little brother with you, and sometimes you had to hurl his cautious tail into wonderful danger, because the wind was roaring and the sky was glorious and the sunlight promised that nothing bad could possibly happen.
Hailstorm did a flip in the air, laughing. “The currents are mine to command!” he shouted. “Can you catch me? No, you cannot! No one can! I’m the commander of the sky!”
“I think the SkyWings would disagree,” Winter called. He twisted to scan the cloudless blue emptiness around them.
“Stop worrying!” Hailstorm said, spinning into a dive. There weren’t any dragons within flight-sight. It was a perfect day for Winter’s first expedition into SkyWing territory, especially if he really wanted to find a scavenger.
“This doesn’t feel safe,” Winter observed as they landed. His talons sank into a pile of leaves and he jumped back, eyeing them with suspicion. “Yikes! What are all these flappy things on the ground?”
“They come from the trees,” Hailstorm said, laughing. “No need to panic, little brother. We’re here for your weird little obsession. So get excited!” He took a deep breath, inhaling the smells of the forest, and sneezed loudly.
“SHHHHHH,” Winter protested. “This is the Sky Kingdom! There could be enemy so
“Lounging around in the woods near a scavenger den?” Hailstorm said skeptically. “Doubtful.” He flicked his brother’s wing with his tail. Winter was only three, but he was very amusing — a lot more fun to tease than their sister. He also tried so hard, and still had so much trouble with the rankings. Poor dragon. Hailstorm wished he could relax a little bit. Not everyone could be the best at everything, although it most likely didn’t help that his big brother actually was.
Despite his worry, Winter couldn’t hide the excitement spilling over his face. “Is there really a scavenger den here?” He blinked at the trees, as if hoping a scavenger would suddenly fall out of one of them.
“That’s what the patrol reported,” Hailstorm said with a shrug. “They said they saw at least five scavengers, and that many usually means a den nearby.”
Now that they were surrounded by trees, though, he had no idea how they were going to find one of the little creatures for Winter. Hailstorm had never actually seen one himself. There were hundreds of furry smells in the forest, but he couldn’t even figure out which ones were scavengers and which ones were squirrels. The only thing he was sure of was that none of them were polar bears.
“What are you going to do if we do catch one?” Hailstorm asked, turning over a fallen log and checking underneath. Nope. No scavengers there. “You know they can’t survive in the Ice Kingdom. You won’t be able to keep it.”
“I just want to look at it,” Winter said. “Have you ever seen a scavenger up close? I read that they wear other animals’ skins on top of their own skin. Isn’t that bizarre? Why would they do that?”
“Same reason Mother has that necklace of SkyWing teeth,” Hailstorm said authoritatively. “To make themselves seem more dangerous and scare off any possible predators. Obviously.”
Winter glanced at the sky. “Speaking of SkyWings …”
“We’re FINE,” Hailstorm insisted, tempted to jab Winter’s worrying snout with one of his claws. “We’re several mountains away from Queen Scarlet’s palace. No one is going to find us here.”
“But won’t Father be furious?” Winter asked, twitching slightly.
Hailstorm ruffled his wings as though he was trying to shake the idea of their parents right off his scales.
“Who cares?” he said. “I’m going to be second-in-command of the IceWing army one day. Queen Glacier already said so. Mother and Father can’t do anything to me.”
“They can do plenty to me,” Winter said.
“Not if you get high enough in the rankings,” Hailstorm said with a grin. “Which you do by being brave and strong and bold.”
“I thought it was by being smart and following orders,” Winter said.
Hailstorm dismissed this with a wave of his tail. “Dragons in the Third Circle and below can worry about following orders. First Circle dragons have to prepare to be leaders one day. Besides, I’m the best fighter in the Ice Kingdom. Even if we do get caught, I think I can take a couple of SkyWings.”
“Oh, really?” said a mocking voice behind them. “How about fourteen SkyWings?”
Hailstorm whirled around. Red and orange dragons were slithering between the trees, surrounding them. Their eyes glittered in the golden light and their enormous wings were tucked in close to avoid the snarling branches above.
His heart sank. This couldn’t be happening. Bad luck wasn’t a thing that ever wandered into Hailstorm’s life, and this was the worst luck he could have imagined.
Fourteen SkyWing warriors were more than he could fight alone. Definitely more than he could fight and still keep his little brother safe.
“Second-in-command of the IceWing army?” said the one who’d spoken, a dark red female dragon with an unusually long neck and tail. Small rubies glittered from between the scales around her eyes; larger ones clicked together on spiky silver rings around her claws. “Then you are a prize, aren’t you? Mother will be so interested to meet you.”
“Let us go,” Winter said fiercely. “Queen Glacier will have your heads on spikes by morning if you dare touch us.”
“Oh, very attached to you, is she?” the dragon said, arching her brows. “That’s absolutely our favorite kind of prisoner. Seize them,” she ordered the other SkyWings.
“Perhaps you can take us,” Hailstorm said, drawing in a hissing breath. “But how many of you are going to die first? Do you know what happens when frostbreath touches your eyes? Do you know what it feels like to watch your leg snap like a broken icicle? Or how long it takes frozen ears to turn black and fall off?” His voice was cold, his threats slicing the air between them like a freezing wind.
Winter raised his tail and inhaled, working up a gust of frostbreath of his own.
“So a few dragons die,” said the female SkyWing with a shrug. The other SkyWings exchanged uneasy looks. “You’ll be our prisoners in the end, either way.”
“Here’s another idea,” said Hailstorm. “Take me and let Winter go, and nobody has to die.”
“What?” Winter cried.
“You don’t need him,” Hailstorm said, ignoring his brother. “He’s completely useless. Queen Glacier won’t trade any prisoners for him — nobody back in the Ice Kingdom would care whether they ever saw him again. And he wouldn’t even be interesting in your queen’s arena. He can barely fight. He’d be dead in two heartbeats.”
Winter looked as though the world was crumbling beneath his talons. “Is that true?” he whispered. “Hailstorm, is that really what you think?”
“If he’s so useless,” the SkyWing asked, “why do you care if we let him go?”
Hailstorm lifted and settled his wings again. “Call me sentimental. He’s my little brother and I quite like him, even if I wouldn’t want him beside me in a battle. Besides, I know I’m worth trading, whereas he’ll be bones in your arena sands before the month is up.”
“Ouch,” said the SkyWing, giving Winter an amused, pitying look. “I think I’d probably rather die in battle than listen to my brother talk about me that way.”
“I’m not useless,” Winter said furiously. “Fight me and you’ll see!”
“Oh, go home,” Hailstorm said, swatting Winter’s wing. “You want to be useful? Fine. Get out of here. Go tell our parents where I am.”
“I’m not leaving you,” Winter protested in a half-choked voice. “I’m not going to hand you over to them without even trying to save you —”
“Yes, you are,” Hailstorm said. “This is the real war, little brother. Go away and let the true warriors fight it. Nobody wants to watch you pathetically flail around and then die pointlessly.”
“Oh, my, I can’t even listen to this anymore,” said the SkyWing. “IceWing, I’m going to be more merciful than your heartless brother and let you go. You can tell Queen Glacier that Queen Scarlet will consider a trade, if she’d like to send a messenger to open negotiations.”
Trade for who? Hailstorm wondered. The IceWings didn’t have any political prisoners of importance. Where would they even keep them? The Ice Palace was too cold for dragons from any other tribe to survive it for long.
He shoved Winter away, trying to ignore the anguished look in his brother’s eyes. “Fly away,” he growled. “Right now.” He could see that the only way to make Winter leave was to be as cruel as possible. He lowered his voice and shoved in the last blade. “Don’t be a mewling RainWing in front of our enemies.”
Winter stepped back, tense, like a wolf about to spring. He stared into Hailstorm’s eyes for one long, final moment, and then he suddenly pivoted and leaped into the air. His pale blue scales glinted orange-red as they caught the sun, and then he swooped into the wide sky, heading west.
He’s safe, Hailstorm thought with relief. Even if he hates me now, at least he’s alive. Winter wasn’t useless, but it was true that his current ranking wouldn’t make him worth rescuing — and it was also true that Hailstorm didn’t want to see his brother die in Scarlet’s notorious arena.
“That’s not necess —” Hailstorm started to protest, but suddenly a sharp bolt of pain cleaved through his head and everything went dark.
* * *
He woke up in a bright throne room, so bright he instantly got a headache, although the brightness of the sun on ice had never bothered him. But here the sun reflected hotly in all corners of the room and every surface seemed to be plastered with gold, loud and gaudy and yellow and way, way too shiny.
“Oh, finally,” said an impatient voice nearby. “You’ve been so horribly boring. I hope you intend to be exceptionally thrilling now to make up for it.”
Hailstorm gathered his wings and stood up slowly, rubbing his head. Chains weighed down his talons and strange metal bands prevented his wings from unfurling all the way. But there were no guards around him; only one other dragon was in the room. He lifted his eyes to the throne.
Orange scales. Glittering rubies. A circlet of gold and diamonds. Yellow eyes peered down at him through veils of smoke. He’d only seen the SkyWing queen from a distance once, during a battle, but there was no doubt this was her.
“Greetings, Your Majesty,” he said. “I’m sorry we have to meet this way.”
She studied him for a moment, and then an unexpected smile quirked the corners of her mouth. “Instead of in combat?” she guessed.
He gave her a similarly small smile in return. “Yes. The battlefield is where I prefer to meet all my enemies. Although then the acquaintance doesn’t last very long.”
“Arrogant,” Queen Scarlet mused. “Like all IceWings. Take a note of that,” she said over her shoulder.
Hailstorm saw the shadows move behind the queen, as if something were pushing itself slowly out of the wall. He blinked, feeling a strange shiver of eerie fear, but when he looked again, an ordinary SkyWing soldier was standing beside Queen Scarlet, writing on a small scroll.
He hadn’t seen her come in — but maybe all the gold had dazzled his eyes so he’d just missed her before. She was an orange color very close to the golden yellow of the room, with warm amber eyes. She looked young, and quiet. Her voice when she finally spoke was soft.
Winter Turning by Tui T. Sutherland / Fantasy / Actions & Adventure have rating 4.6 out of 5 / Based on41 votes