What’s a boy doing in a place like this?
The boy’s chest was heaving, and he had his hands on his knees. His dark hair shielded his eyes. Still gasping for breath, he ran back to the door and shut it.
After a beat of silence, Fendrel cleared his throat.
With a gasp, the boy’s head shot up. He ran to an ax shaft on the wall next to him and tried with all his might to lift it but could barely get it more than a few inches off its holder.
“Hey, are you all right?” Fendrel reached his hand out but stopped short.
The boy didn’t listen. He stopped to take a breath from his failed attempts. For a moment, Fendrel thought the boy gave up, but then the boy continued his helpless struggle.
“Hey, he’s not here to hurt anyone.” Fendrel gestured to the dragon king.
“Young one?” The dragon took a step toward the child.
The kid still tried to lift the axe and managed to get it off its holder but fell with a thud. With an exasperated sigh, he turned and stared wide-eyed at Fendrel.
“It’s worth… a try. I won’t l-let you… hurt him.” The boy spoke through gasps.
“Wait a second, boy—” Fendrel approached him.
“My name is Oliver.” The boy was still holding the handle of the ax.
“He’s not going to hurt anyone.” Fendrel crouched, but the boy cut in again.
“Not him, you! You work for Sadon, don’t you?” Oliver stomped, leaving the axe. The boy’s statement was so absurd that Fendrel laughed and had to regain his balance.
Sadon, the man he followed to the warehouse, was the leader of the dragon hunters. He viewed dragons as a plague on the world that needed to be captured, looted, and exterminated to pay for their own existence. Sadon didn’t have a problem doing his own dirty work, but he recruited other humans to his cause often.
“If I worked for Sadon do you really think this dragon would be unbound and free from his cage?” Fendrel nodded his head behind him at the dragon.
Oliver’s shoulders dropped and his fingers loosened on the ax handle.
“What’s in there? What were you running from?” Fendrel had been to this base before, but the doors were a new addition, and he wasn’t sure what else had changed. The three-tiered building could be hiding unsavory secrets.
The boy looked back at the closed door and shuddered. “I am not going back there. Uncle Sadon is going to kill me for coming in here.”
Sadon having family who opposed him? Not possible. He would have killed them before they showed their true colors. But then again, why would anyone want to brag to me of all people about being related to Sadon?
“Sadon’s your uncle?” Fendrel didn’t know whether to laugh out of shock or feel pity.
Oliver nodded and moved from the door, shuffling his feet over to stand next to the dragon. The dragon watched with amusement as Oliver wrapped a thin arm around one of his forelegs. “What’s your name?”
“I am Cloud.” The dragon’s voice was full of fondness.
“Who’s that?” Oliver pointed at Fendrel.
“Fendrel.” The dragon liberator turned his head toward them. He rose to inspect the doors. They were taller than Cloud by a few feet.
These hunters meant to catch him. Why else would they have an entrance that big? I knew the front doors to the building were tall, but it had been like that before the hunters moved in.
Fendrel pushed it open. It was surprisingly easy to move considering how heavy it looked. After catching a glimpse of what lay beyond the door, he realized that Sadon and his hunters weren’t the only things keeping Oliver from wanting to go back.
The room was devoid of hunters, but the aftermath of their actions clung to the walls like sharks to a fresh kill. From where Fendrel stood to the massive staircase at the other end of the room, dragon blood painted the walls and sharp, unclean tools were strewn across the floor. Dragon teeth and scales lay amidst the carnage. Fendrel shut the door, trembling. He swayed on his unstable feet. So, that room was definitely different.
How many dragons were killed here and how did I not know about it? Either the dragon hunters have grown in number, or the dragons held here were locked up for a long time. I don’t know which one is worse.
Fendrel tried to rid his mind of the images that were now burned into his memory. He heard pounding footsteps coming down the stairs. The same noises came from the side door he had used as an entrance. The dragon hunters were coming back, and Fendrel had a feeling they knew he was there.
He backed away and stood in front of the dragon king and the boy, his gaze still locked on the door.
“Cloud, they’re coming from both doors to block us in.” Fendrel felt him losing control of his shaking fingers.
Cloud nodded. “Oliver, get behind me and do not interfere.”
Oliver planted his fright-filled self between the dragon and Fendrel who moved to face the small side door while Cloud pivoted toward the larger ones.
Fendrel reached for the closest weapon he could get his shaking hands on. He looked at his hands to see he had reached for a throwing knife.
Oh, good. It’s not a short sword. Fendrel felt a twinge of relief.
All the doors flew open to reveal ten hunters with crossbows, flooding in and taking positions in disciplined lines. Sadon himself came through the small door after the others. All of the weapons were loaded and ready to fire, Sadon just had to say the word and they would all be killed.
Sadon’s hateful blue eyes bore into Fendrel. “Oliver, come here this instant.”
Oliver looked at his uncle from behind Fendrel and shook his head defiantly, mumbling something about a cage.
Has he seen where Sadon keeps the other dragons here?
Sadon’s lip twitched into a sneer. “Oliver, come here… and you will thank me someday.”
The boy stayed quiet for a moment. “You’ll just kill them.”
Sadon paced behind the hunters pointing their crossbows until he stood beside one on the very end. “Charles, give me your crossbow.”
Oliver cowered behind Fendrel.
Charles, after getting his crossbow ripped away, turned his attention on the boy. “Oliver, do you remember that promise I made you? That I would get you something if you behaved?”
Like some of the other hunters, Charles only followed Sadon because his family was threatened. Even though he was under Sadon’s thumb, he helped Fendrel when there was no risk of Fendrel’s actions being related to him.
“That just means you’ll steal something.” Oliver’s voice quaked. He refused to meet Charles’ eyes.
While Oliver argued with the hunters, Fendrel looked for an opening to attack.
Everyone is alert, so I can’t use surprise to my advantage.
Cloud was still staring at the hunters who faced him; he hadn’t moved an inch.
Sadon sighed, but it sounded more like a growl. He pointed his crossbow at Fendrel as he spoke to his hunters. “On my count. Three…”
Fendrel’s eyes widened.
Smirking at his terror, Sadon continued the countdown. “Two!”
The liberator pushed Oliver farther behind him and threw the knife at Sadon, aiming for his heart.
Sadon dodged but didn’t react quick enough. The weapon embedded in his shoulder, where an old wound had never healed correctly. He grunted between clenched teeth and grasped at his shoulder. “One!”
Cloud’s head whipped around. A jet of fog so thick and large it shrouded everything erupted from his jaws. He batted his wings about the mist and lashed his tail at the befuddled hunters. Underneath the great dragon, all Fendrel could see was gray.
Angered and panicked shouts sounded from the hunters as they scrambled around. Crossbow bolts zipped around haphazardly. Fendrel could hear the thunk of bolts sinking into the wooden beams of the building’s support and pinging off of the metal weapons.
Something large grabbed Fendrel from behind and pulled him backward. He came to a sudden stop and heard tiles breaking as the roof was torn apart.
Cloud ripped a hole in the ceiling. Fendrel shielded his eyes against the sun. He was being lifted again.
“Wait! The citizens will see us.” Fendrel opened his eyes with hesitation.
Cloud had Fendrel clutched in one of his front paws and the back of Oliver’s shirt pinched between his jaws. He scaled the top of the building, sending cracks rippling through the roof as he hobbled forward on three legs and a broken wing. The dragon leapt down into a back alley behind some buildings to mask them from sight of anyone on the streets.
Fendrel couldn’t help but feel sorry for Cloud. He had such a large frame, and the alley was so small compared to him. The dragon was smashed in between two buildings and couldn’t shift his wings, making the injured one’s condition a little worse.
We have to get out of here before the hunters collect themselves, or before a random citizen notices us. Fendrel noticed a separate door to the warehouse behind them. Surely the sound of the roof being torn open attracted some attention.
The city of Sharpdagger was surrounded by thick walls that reached far higher than the common buildings. There were no other human kingdoms in the Freelands but that didn’t mean more could come. The wall was just for precautions. In Fendrel’s opinion, the king should have protected the city from angered dragons before nonexistent rival kingdoms.
Fendrel, Cloud, and Oliver passed all the buildings save for a few poorly built ones, standing just before the stone wall.
“Cloud, take Oliver with you. Get over the wall and find some cover in the surrounding grove. There are usually no guards stationed up there. We’ll meet up later.” Fendrel pointed at the dragon and boy.
“Wait, where are you going?” Oliver still dangled by his shirt.
“I have somewhere to go before I leave.” Fendrel ran back through the alleys before any more questions could be thrown his way. As he distanced himself, he could hear Cloud’s claws making impact with the wall.
Vapor dragons were great climbers. They had to be since they lived in an environment ruled by towering trees and rocky cliffs. The small crannies in the wall were enough to give him leverage to climb up and down safely, and this side of the wall was far from the main gates where guards were always stationed.They shouldn’t be spotted. Still, there is always a chance. I hope they make it out safe.