Fendrel charged through the alleys of Sharpdagger to an old friend, Thea—an ambitious mage, a very rare profession. She was also Fendrel’s closest friend, which was a sad way of saying she was his only true friend besides Charles, despite the dragon hunter’s tainted life.
He reached a part of town that wasn’t frequently visited. Fendrel made his way straight to a dark colored building that looked ready to collapse. The front door shook, and splinters freed themselves from the boards as he knocked.
“Raaldin! I swear if that’s you again I will personally feed you to a starved wolf!” The door flew open and almost dislodged itself from the hinges when it struck the inside wall of the house. The form of a woman clothed in a dress made from layers of tattered fabric stood with her arms crossed and her face etched with a deadly glare.
“You talk a lot about this Raaldin guy, Thea. Has someone finally piqued your interest?” Fendrel gave her a teasing grin. He was immediately treated with a stinging slap. “Ow! What was that for?”
“For not coming to visit sooner, my creepy neighbor keeps trying to hit on me.” She crossed her arms again, trying to hide the fact that her slap had also stung her own hand. Thea pulled him inside and shut the unstable door, which shook the walls.
“You never know who could be watching.” She threw moth-eaten curtains over the windows. She turned around to face her friend and clapped her hands, sending dust into the stuffy air. “So, why are you here this time? Unless this is an actual visit?”
“Well, I rescued another injured dragon.” Fendrel drummed his fingers on his bag.
The mage held an unimpressed face. “So, nothing different?”
Fendrel’s finger drumming sped up. “This dragon was actually caught and brought here, right under the king’s nose. Usually the Sharpdagger base is just for trading or for hatchlings. I don’t know how they managed to bring in an adult, but they did. And I’m pretty sure he was important to them. Oh, and he’s got a broken wing.”
She nodded her head. “So, you want this dragon healed.”
Thea walked over to a desk she had at the back of her house. The surface was covered in so many scratches, stains, and indents that you might have thought it was as old as the house. Various bottles and jars were organized on the desk in specific groups, each one containing a mixture of small items.
“What’s all this for?” Fendrel knew that if she had these out in the open then she received new “clients” while he was gone. He picked up a jar that was full of dead leaves and gazed at it curiously.
Thea never worked very hard on her spells when they were for strangers. They often didn’t function as the customer wanted. That was never a problem to her, it just meant that if they never gave her business again, she didn’t have to put up with their attitudes. She also hated going out into the main part of the city, always marking her prices up high so she could buy enough food and hide herself away until her pantry went empty.
“I’ve been experimenting again.” She had a child-like spark in her eyes as she answered. Thea gently took the bottle from him and placed it back on the desk. She tilted her head, seeming to think for a moment, then she stuffed the jar into a fold in her dress where Fendrel presumed a pocket was.
So, no new clients but she’s picked up her experiments again. That must mean she’s being serious about whatever she has planned for these items, Fendrel thought with a small bit of pride in his friend.
A little while back she tried to make something unique but stopped halfway through because the items she wanted were extremely rare and sold out in all the markets. Thea must have gotten what she needed, for a cheap enough price, of course.
“Enough about this. Where are you going?” Thea headed toward a cabinet on one side of the room. “Off to free another dragon or chase the hunters again? Maybe listen to a bard’s story for clues on the hunters’ next whereabouts? Finally taking a break for once in your life?”
Fendrel rolled his eyes.
“First, I don’t need a break. I’m perfectly fine right now. Second, I’m not going after the hunters yet. The dragon I just helped is free, but he won’t be for long if I don’t get him healed. It looked like the hunters had been planning to capture him for a while. They had giant doors that reached the ceiling just for him.” Fendrel lifted his hand to pat the ceiling.
“That seems like a lot of trouble to go through for one dragon.” Thea grabbed a few bottles in the cabinet and walked to him. She hid a few more into the folds of her dress but kept one in her hand. “I want to come with you. This sounds interesting. I’ve never heard you mention a case where the hunters planned for a specific dragon. Why did they want it so badly?” Thea led Fendrel out of her house and shut the door behind them.
“I’m not exactly sure yet, but I have a pretty good guess that it’s because he’s royalty.” Fendrel smiled and continued on his way while Thea stopped in her tracks, bewildered.
“Fendrel get back here!” Thea ran after Fendrel and cut off his path with her arms spread out. “You cannot just say something so cryptic and then walk away!”
“Why not? You do it all the time!” Fendrel pointed an accusing finger at the mage.
“Exactly! I do it all the time, it’s my thing!” Thea placed her hand on her chest.
Fendrel looked her in the eye. “You’re such a child.”
“And you’re the one who comes to me for help.” She crossed her arms and smirked.
He didn’t say anything, only rolling his eyes as she strutted beside him to the main gates that lead out of Sharpdagger.
Charles crouched with his back pressed against the wall of an alleyway.
Irritated royal guards surged through the streets, searching for dragon hunters.
Or just pretending to… yeah, they’re only pretending.
No dragon hunters had ever actually been thrown in the dungeons, despite wanted posters depicting them pinned in every city and village. Charles had a theory for why this was, but he wasn’t completely sure, and it was unwise to convince your mind of something that might not be true. So, he stopped himself from thinking on the issue.
I should get back to the base before Sadon orders my head on a stake.
All the hunters walked on eggshells around Sadon when he was in a good mood, if he ever had good moods. But when he was angry, there was no sure way to escape his wrath. Charles himself didn’t know how he had survived all the years he spent with the dragon hunters.
As Charles ducked out of the alley, his eye caught on the wanted posters of himself, Sadon, and Fendrel.
Be more careful next time. Charles wished his friend could hear him.
He hurried through the crowds on the streets until he reached the storage building Sadon had secured for them a few years ago as the main base for the dragon hunters. Charles pushed open the weathered side door and stepped inside. Dust and fog mingled throughout the expansive room then settled on the floor now that the excitement with the dragon king was over. Broken tiles lay on the ground where the massive dragon had ripped a hole in the roof. Sunlight showered the aftermath of the confusion Fendrel left behind.
Weapons lay across the floor as well, some of the metal dented beyond repair and the wood split. Crossbow bolts stuck out from wooden beams.
After a closer look, Charles realized there were crossbow bolts on the floor too, some of them tipped red with blood from sticking in hunters.
Charles sighed in relief, realizing how lucky he was to not have been injured.
Speaking of injured, Sadon is probably dressing his shoulder wound. Would it be safer to immediately report to him while he’s fixing it, or should I wait for him to finish?
Deciding it would be better for himself if he was further inside the storage building rather than unattended outside, Charles made his way to the giant double doors and braced himself before opening them.
Due to being with the dragon hunters for nearly a decade, Charles was used to gruesome sights, but he wasn’t completely immune to them.
In his head, he told himself that the dried blood on the walls and the floor was clay paint. He told himself the abundance of scales littering the ground were strangely cut jewels and the teeth and claws were carved from polished marble and obsidian. Even while trying to drill these lies into his head, Charles found he was already too distracted by his disappointment to pay attention to the carnage he saw daily.
If Sadon hadn’t moved an inch, the knife would have sunk into his heart instead of his shoulder. Charles was saddened by the fact that he could have been free from Sadon at last. He stooped down and began scooping scales, teeth, and claws into his hands.
“I don’t recall asking you to go on clean-up duty.” Sadon glowered from the far side of the room.
Charles managed not to jump, having been used to Sadon sneaking up when he least expected him. He lifted his head.
“I figured it would be unwise to leave this mess here when Oliver can find it again if his watchers take their eyes off of him.” Charles maintained a flat voice.
Sadon snorted. “Oliver’s gone.”
Charles’ throat constricted.
He had spent countless hours on his off time bringing toys and gifts to Oliver while he and the boy were in the same base. He had sat with him until the boy fell asleep against the metal bars of the cage Sadon locked him in when he couldn’t be bothered with assigning babysitters. Though the words Oliver said to Charles earlier that day stung a little, he knew the boy was only acting to save his hide.
The second head of the hunters dropped what was in his hands and stared at Sadon’s emotionless face.
How can you not care that your nephew is dead?
“Did he get shot by a crossbow during the confusion?” Charles tried to keep his hands from shaking. An image of the bloodied bolts appeared in his head.
“My life would certainly be easier if he had, but no. The Liberator and that dragon took him.” Sadon’s eyes flicked to the giant doors.
Charles caught himself before sighing with relief. He nodded, then noticed that Sadon was gripping his shoulder.
I better not mention it.
“Now that the boy doesn’t need to be looked after, do you have a new assignment for me?” Charles stood up.
Sadon glanced around the room. “The cleaners neglected their work. You can finish their job and keep up with it until I appoint new ones.” Without another word, Sadon turned and left, the door behind him thudding as it shut.
So Oliver is with Fendrel now.
A smile crossed Charles’ face.And Sadon still doesn’t seem to have a clue.