Just keep a steady pace, don’t make eye contact. There he is. A slight grin tugged at the corner of Fendrel’s mouth.
He snaked his way through buyers and sellers as he followed his target, inconspicuous to the bustling crowd.
Someone ran into his shoulder as he passed. Out of instinct, Fendrel placed a protective hand on his bag.
“Hey, watch where you’re going!” The passerby turned around furiously. His anger turned to shock, and he rushed through the crowd toward a duo of guards.
Fendrel ducked his head, realizing he had been recognized. It was only a matter of time before every knight in the city knew he was there. He waded through the populous streets of Sharpdagger. It was the largest city in the Freelands, the capital of the human kingdom, and always busy with citizens going about their daily lives, oblivious to the wrongs they’ve taken part in.
A prick of panic coursed through him after losing sight of his target. With a more frantic pace, Fendrel pushed forward, only breathing a sigh of relief when the suspicious figure once again caught his eye.
The target stopped suddenly. Fendrel hid behind the corner of a building just as the man whipped his head around, soulless blue eyes scrutinizing everyone behind him. Fendrel hated that gaze, the same one that made him forget he was no longer under the man’s thumb. Fendrel shook his head, clearing his thoughts.
The man grunted and continued on his path with Fendrel following in his wake.
Fendrel turned the corner just in time to see the man disappear through a side door into one of the largest and tallest buildings in the city, second only to the Sharpdagger palace. He made his way to the entrance of the building, a weathered door that hung from one hinge. He pressed his ear against the door. It creaked slightly and he froze. No one came to investigate. There were two very familiar voices from within the building.
“You’d better not be lying to me, Charles. This is it?” Fendrel recognized the blue-eyed man’s voice, speaking in grim awe. There was a pause and a few footsteps. “Well, look at you, you magnificent beast.”
In response to his words, a loud growl erupted from the other side of the door.
“Stupid beast.” The man’s voice rose in intensity. “You will not act in such a way in my presence.”
Something inside the building hissed in anger and pain. It burst into an inhuman screech that chilled Fendrel to his bones.
They must have used a snapper to break its wing.
Fendrel felt his heart sink. He looked over his shoulder to see if anyone had heard the noise. It seemed as if no one did, or no one cared.
There’s a dragon in there. It sounds like a large one, too. What faction is it from? Dusk? Ice?
The first man laughed at the dragon’s pain. Two pairs of footsteps retreated deeper into the building. Fendrel listened for the sound of a door opening and closing. SLAM.
Fendrel poked his head past the poor excuse for a door to make sure no one else was there. Good. It was just the dragon, as odd as that sounded. He carefully opened the door and slipped inside the expansive room.
Traps, stakes, and snappers—a tool used by these illegal dragon hunters to break the wings of dragons—were stored all around the vast area. More common weapons such as snares, poison-tipped arrows, spears, and swords lined the walls.
Amidst it all in the center of the room, locked in a cramped cage, was the largest dragon Fendrel had ever seen. His eyes widened and his breath caught in his throat as he took in the dragon’s size.
Silver eyes peered at him cautiously, fearfully. His huge head hung low so it wouldn’t hit against the top of the cage. His scales looked like swirls of every shade of gray, and his silver spikes and claws looked dangerously sharp. One of his wings bent at an unnatural angle, blood trickling from where the shattered bone penetrated the skin beneath the scales.
Fendrel nodded his head.
Definitely a snapper’s work.
This was a vapor dragon, classified as one of the least dangerous dragons known to humankind. Fendrel knew better. This was a dragon king, meaning he was on par with some of the more deadly factions after reaching adulthood. The ruler of the ten factions.
How did they manage to capture him? How long has he been here?
Fendrel’s shoulders felt weighted.
The dragons better not be suffering because of this. I should have checked in with Ember before coming here.
When Fendrel shut the door behind him and stepped toward the cage, the dragon hissed and recoiled.
Fendrel winced and waved his hands out in front of him, shaking his head. He pointed at a set of double doors at the other side of the room, the only way the dragon hunters could have gone.
The dragon stopped hissing, presuming the hunters to be worse of an enemy than Fendrel was, but he maintained his glare.
There were metal chains wrapped around the dragon’s snout. Fendrel frowned and looked around at the weapons to see if there was anything he could use to break, or at least loosen, them.
Fendrel didn’t doubt he wouldn’t be able to break the chains with a snapper, not after the dragon had experienced the tool’s intended purpose.
He spied around and found a long metal staff with a hook attached to the end. Fendrel grabbed it.
Immediately the dragon hissed, wisps of mist curled from his nostrils and between his chained-up jaws.
He won’t let me near him without me proving myself, will he?
Fendrel propped the staff up against the cage bars and reached under his shirt. He fished around for the object he showed every dragon he rescued. Over the years it had become something every dragon recognized, marking Fendrel as a sort of modern legend.
His fingers closed around the cool surface of a chain attached to a golden dragon pendant. Slowly, Fendrel lifted the necklace over his shirt.
Upon seeing the small piece of jewelry, the dragon’s eyes widened. The mist’s descent ceased, and his hisses subsided.
Fendrel tried to hide his smile. It was normal for him to be recognized by any common dragon, but a king? This was beyond anything Fendrel dared hope would happen.
He hid the necklace beneath his shirt again and lifted the staff. The dragon didn’t protest this time as the young man stuck the tool between the bars and hooked its end onto the chains. He began to pull the staff towards himself and the dragon tugged his head away. Together they worked the chains off. Once the confinements were left hanging in a loop around the hook, Fendrel set it down gingerly.
The dragon scratched his snout with his talons, then moved his head to inspect his broken wing.
Fendrel looked at the lock on the cage to see if there was any way to break it. He sighed in annoyance. This metal was specifically designed to keep dragons contained and was too strong for them to break or melt in any short amount of time. The lock would have to be opened.
Fendrel rolled his eyes.
He dug in his bag again and pulled out a flat, thin metallic object with a dull end and a sharp end. He stuck the sharp end in the lock and twisted the multitool. He heard a liberating click. The large door started to slowly swing outward. He pulled the door open as wide as it would go and left a clear passage for the dragon.
Fendrel stuffed the tool back in his bag. It was in dire need of being organized, but he could figure that out once this dragon was safely home to his… palace? Fendrel didn’t know much about the home lives of vapor dragons, especially royalty.
The vapor dragon cautiously stepped out. His head whipped left and right, searching for threats. After he was free from the cage, he turned his head to inspect his broken wing again, nudging it with his snout. He winced slightly in pain.
“I know someone who can help you with that.” Fendrel surveyed the area, looking for an exit large enough for the dragon to fit through. The set of double doors where the hunters had gone was the only other way out of the room besides the door he entered through. Fendrel sighed heavily and turned to face the dragon.
“Do you know what’s in there?” Fendrel pointed at the large doors.
The dragon looked down at him with hesitation in his eyes.
“If there’s something you want to say then go on, I know you can talk. I know you can understand me.” Fendrel held his open hands out. “I have a few dragon friends who’ve already told me royalty can communicate with humans just as naturally as with other dragons.”
Lowering his head so he was level with Fendrel, he spoke. His voice was gentle, yet it radiated authority. “Are you really him?”
Fendrel nodded. “I am.”
The dragon nodded slightly. He looked toward the huge metal door. “There are more hunters in this building, at least six of them.” The dragon shifted his weight every now and then.
“Hm.” Fendrel wasn’t too worried. He had infiltrated dragon hunter bases with dozens in them before.
But then again, he’s here this time. And the dragon is injured.
“You’re not afraid of a bunch of humans who kill for fun, are you? You’re a king! You should be the one making them feel uneasy.” Fendrel jabbed his thumb at the door.
The gray dragon stared mournfully at the door, then his gaze steeled. He advanced on it. “We will have to take them by surprise, it is the only way to get out of here alive.”He passed Fendrel, who used longer, quicker strides to keep up. Before they reached the door, it opened, and someone ran into the storage room. They both held their breath and froze, expecting to be attacked by a spying hunter. Fendrel didn’t recognize this newcomer. In fact, this was just a boy no older than ten years.