NOTE TO READERS: This is the sequel to my other story “Escapee”
Zoricus stood rigid at the right side of the throne. His eyes were set on the giant double doors that led to the throne room.
Every knight who Sadon had an inkling of a suspicious feeling about had been relieved of their positions and were now replaced by dragon hunters he trusted. Those hunters now stood at attention in lines leading to the throne.
Sadon was gone for now, soon to return, and Zoricus wanted to be attentive when he arrived.
“I’d get out of sight if I were you.”
Zoricus jumped. He spun around to see Raaldin standing inches behind him. “What do you mean I should leave?”
Raaldin shrugged. “You don’t want to be around when Sadon returns. He’ll be angry, and I don’t want you to die yet.”
Pounding horse hooves and thundering cartwheels sounded outside the giant throne room doors.
Zoricus turned again, standing at attention. “You’re just trying to get in my head. You were always quiet when you worked for my uncle. Why are you suddenly so talkative?”
“I have my reasons, Zoricus.” Raaldin walked up beside the second head.
“Stop that.” Zoricus grit his teeth.
Raaldin raised his brows. “Stop calling you by your name? That’s a ridiculous request.” He chuckled.
“It’s creepy that you know my name without me telling you, and I don’t even know yours.” Zoricus kept his eyes forward, refusing to look at Raaldin.
“Raaldin.” The mage’s eyes crinkled. “It’s an important name. Don’t forget it.”
The horses and carts were closer now.
“Leave before it’s too late.” Raaldin nudged Zoricus with his elbow.
Zoricus shook his head.
I don’t work for you, stranger.
The hunters standing in parallel lines changed position to face each other.
Two hunters nearest the other end of the throne room went to the doors and opened them.
Sadon walked in, his face surprisingly calm.
Zoricus gave a side glare to Raaldin.
The new king acknowledged each nod his knights gave him as he moved between them toward the throne.
Zoricus nodded with respect once Sadon reached him.
“Bring in the cart.” Sadon turned to face the same way as Zoricus and Raaldin as a large cart was pushed in.
Strapped to the cart with chains and ropes was a lemon-colored dragon.
The dragon thrashed and growled but was unable to do anything.
Raaldin opened his arms and stepped toward the dragon. “Fragrance! It’s so nice to see you again. How are you? Oh, I’m sorry.” He began to speak a language Zoricus didn’t understand.
With a snarl, the dragon’s eyes narrowed to slits.
Is that the dragons’ language the Liberator mentioned at the trial?
Raaldin untied the ropes from Fragrance’s snout.
The dragon responded.
In his usual taunting voice, Raaldin said something back.
Again, the dragon said something.
With a chuckle. Raaldin turned and gave Zoricus an indecipherable look. He turned his head to Sadon. “It appears as though your enemy has fled.”
Sadon snorted. “To where? He has nowhere to hide. He might as well just turn himself in but running and wasting my time does seem more like something he’d do.”
“Unfortunately, he’s gone somewhere you cannot follow, as you have no seafarers. He has taken them all.” Raaldin’s tone was amused.
“Where. Is. He?” Sadon’s fists clenched.
“Fendrel—” Raaldin spun around to fully face Sadon “—is on his way to Beast-Hunt.”
A few moments of silence filled the room.
Sadon took a deep breath. “I gave you one task.”
Zoricus froze when he realized Sadon was speaking to him.
“I told you to kill him, but instead you stayed here while he escaped.” There was a murderous glow in Sadon’s eyes.
Raaldin gave Zoricus a look as if to say, “I told you so.”
Before Zoricus could think, he was fleeing from the throne room and up a flight of stairs. He blindly ran through the halls and found himself in a high room with an open window.
There should be a ledge below the window.
Footsteps stopped in the doorway.
Zoricus turned around to see Sadon.
Sadon raised an eyebrow. “Are you looking to run away from me as well?” He stalked toward Zoricus.
The second head backed up against the window, his hands pushing against the windowsill. He glanced out. There was a ledge, but it was a lot smaller than he hoped it would be.
That doesn’t look big enough to stand on…
Sadon was closer.
Zoricus hoisted himself out of the window and gripped onto the ledge, his palms quickly stung from the stress of holding on. He squeezed his eyes shut, refusing to look up.
“You’re more of a coward than I realized.”
The second head felt Sadon’s hands grab his wrists.
“I can’t go around killing my staff left and right for disobeying me, so I’ll give you an alternative.”
Zoricus opened his eyes.
“You obviously don’t want to be here.” Sadon gripped tighter. “Bring Fendrel to me dead or alive, though preferably dead, and you won’t have to work for me anymore. But if you return empty-handed…”
“I understand.” Zoricus felt himself slipping down.
Sadon pulled Zoricus up through the window with the second head’s help. He turned and began to walk away. “Don’t fail me again.”
Zoricus, shaking, nodded his head. “Yes, Your Majesty.”
Fendrel couldn’t help but feel excitement and nerves as he looked at the shores of the Newlands, gripping the ship’s railings tight.
Cloud’s paws thumped down on the ship’s deck. “Greetings, Liberator. Now that everyone has landed safely, I have come to bring you humans ashore.”
“You’re okay with us on your back?” Fendrel turned around. “You don’t want someone else to bring us? Venom is used to carrying humans now.”
“I admit, it is a strange feeling.” Cloud nodded. “Afterall, dragons and humans haven’t had much friendly contact since before my grandparents hatched, and now our races are escaping side-by-side. I never thought I would see this happen.”
I always thought I’d rescue dragons until the day I died.
“But now that you have made me think about it, it probably would be dangerous to carry you to the mainland.” Cloud inspected his wings. “I’m not used to extra weight, and I don’t want to injure anyone. I will send Venom over right away.”
Before Fendrel could respond, the dragon king flew away.
Charles is already above deck somewhere. I should wake the others now.
He opened the door that led to the bunks below deck. “If you’re asleep down there, it’s time to get up.”
Thea groaned from somewhere down the hall. “What’s the point? We’re stuck on this stupid thing until we get to the Newlands, and I don’t get as sea-sick down here as I do on the deck.”
Cassius opened a door and stepped out. “You’ve never woken us before. Why now?”
“Because we’re here.” Fendrel opened the door wider.
Thea nearly kicked her door down and sped toward the upper deck, smoothing down her messy hair. “Once this is all over, I’m never stepping foot on a ship ever again.”
Fendrel moved aside for her.
Cassius went to a third door and knocked on it. He kept his voice soft. “Sadie? Are you awake?”
An almost inaudible “yes” came from the room.
It had been mere days since Sadie learned her would-be-future sister-in-law was in reality a dragon trapped in a human’s body, her cousin whom she trusted dearly allowed the king to be overthrown and killed, and it wasn’t safe to go back home.
“Okay, I’m heading up, so come join me when you’re ready.” Cassius sighed and passed the door, but Fendrel caught him by the shoulder.
“Don’t smother her, even with reassurance. If she wants to grieve on her own, then let her.” Fendrel let go of Cassius. “You should take time for yourself, too.”
The ex-prince nodded. “Thank you.”
“She doesn’t really remember our mother’s death, so this is the first time she’s experienced this kind of loss.” Cassius kept his voice low.
Fendrel nodded. “Just because you’ve lost someone before doesn’t make the next time any easier.”
“You’ve lost someone…” Cassius sighed. “Is that why you hardly smile?”
“I smile enough.” Fendrel crossed his arms. “I don’t see you smiling every minute of the day.”
Cassius made an agreeable face. “Yeah.” He joined Thea.
When Fendrel returned his gaze to the inside of the ship, the ex-princess’s door creaked open, and she stepped out. She dragged her feet, following her brother’s lead.
Night had fallen. Fendrel leaned his back against a tree trunk and glanced at the small fire he and the other humans were grouped around.
Somewhere nearby, Fendrel heard the voices of the nobles, Cloud, and Mist discussing the head count they took earlier.
Around half the water faction is missing now, including Ammonite. She probably left to head back to the Freelands.
The other faction, save for the floral dragons, were intact, but a singular dusk dragon also disappeared. Adder, the mother of a hatchling Fendrel helped rescue days earlier.
Charles rested against a tree, holding that same hatchling to his chest.
Thea, Oliver, Cassius, and Sadie were sleeping nearby since Fendrel offered to keep watch.
Venom stepped into the campfire’s light. “All the dragons that we counted are safe, including the injured.”
Fendrel nodded. “Do you remember what it’s like here?”
“I was stationed on this western side the whole time. I know the human kingdom is up north, and the dragons live to the south.” Venom laid down beside Fendrel. “But a lot can change in fifteen years.”
“Will the Newlands dragons help us after you aided them?” Fendrel tried to hide the fear in his voice.
Venom sighed. “If it’s honesty you’re looking for over assurance, then I have my doubts they’ll help us. We have reason to believe they were almost completely wiped out. Near the end of the war it was obvious what we were doing was fruitless, so the Newlands monarch swore that if we stayed to help them fight, we would lose all friendly contact with them.”
“They drove you out?” Fendrel sat up.
“They didn’t want us to suffer for trying to help them win their war.” Venom nudged Fendrel with his wing. “Do you want me to take your watch?”
Fendrel shook his head. “Even if I tried to sleep, I don’t think I’d be able to.”
“Then I’ll keep you company until it’s the next person’s turn.” Venom rested his head on his front paws but kept his eyes wide open.