The Dragon Liberator: Freelander

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-11-

POV: Cassius

Why do I feel like this won’t go well?

Cassius, Fendrel, Charles with Viper nibbling on his fingers, Fendrel’s half-brother—who Cassius couldn’t remember the name of—and a group of dragons, some Cassius didn’t recognize, sat huddled by the canyon’s wall.

All the other humans and dragons were back in the canyon’s center, mostly clustered around Poison’s Lake.

The biggest of the vapor dragons sat and swept his eyes over the assembled group. “Does anyone have an idea on how to reclaim our home?”

Noises of pondering were the only responses.

“Venom.” The large silver dragon looked at the dusk dragon beside Fendrel. “We need a battle plan, yes?”

Venom nodded. “I would offer something to say. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to combat the dragon hunters. Fendrel and Charles are the only ones here capable of besting them, but only in small numbers.”

Fendrel was glancing between Charles and Venom. “If I had to guess…I’d say Sadon would go for the ‘weaker’ elements first. If he can take out as many as possible, it would be safer to focus on the dragons who haven’t been known to put up much of a fight.” His eyes grew wide, and he cleared his throat. “He’ll want to harvest their bodies to make weapons and armor. Then, he’ll put his attention on the stronger elements.”

Charles nodded in agreement, bunching his hand into a fist so Viper could gnaw on his knuckles rather than his fingers. “He probably knows by now that most of the dragons have left, but before that he must have launched an attack on the earth dragons since they don’t do well with fighting or running. Then, he could have gone for the stone dragons due their troubles with aerial agility—”

The stone dragon with them gave Charles a sneer but said nothing.

“—By then, since he’s the king and has access to all of Sharpdagger’s resources, he’d send troops to the air dragons with enough rations to last them while hiking. He has no idea where in the Hazy Woods vapor dragons typically live, but surely he’s sent scouts find out.” Charles bit his lip. “The floral dragons’ domain will be stripped of its valuables, and then burned after Sadon finds the dragon traitors.”

Fendrel elbowed Charles and gave him a look. “Anyway, it won’t be long before Sadon realizes the only dragons in the Freelands are rogues, floral, and water dragons.”

“Yeah…that’s worse somehow.” Charles sighed.

“How so?” The big silver dragon, who Cassius assumed was the king, leaned his head toward them.

“It takes very little to set Sadon off.” Charles had a faraway look in his eyes, and he didn’t seem to notice Viper’s playful growls. “Just a glance he interprets as threatening could get you locked in a cage with a starved rogue, even if you’ve never messed up before.”

Fendrel shuddered. “And now that most of his targets are gone, he’ll go to the abandoned bases for resources and to let his anger out.”

Thank the stars Charles asked Fog and I to help him free the dragons from the Cliff Base when he did…

One of the dragons Cassius didn’t recognize spoke up. “So, he will give up once he’s scoured the whole continent?”

Charles laughed in exasperation. “No. He’s going to find out where we went. Surely some human must have seen all of Sharpdagger’s ships leaving the Freelands. Then, he’ll go for your head—” he pointed at Fendrel “—before he attacks the dragons, because he’ll reason you had something to do with all of this.”

Fendrel’s suddenly pale face made Cassius shiver.

He battles dragons and humans alike. What about Sadon could scare him this badly?

“When Sadon gets here he’s going to find out about Beast-Hunt.” It was Fendrel’s turn to stare off as if in a daze. “He’ll persuade Daichi to aid him instead of us. We’ll have to leave and find help somewhere else.”

Fendrel’s magic dragon friend, the one with the healing breath and seashell earring, had a shaky voice. “No, no. It’s okay. We just have to prepare. We can explore the continent, so we’ll know the terrain better than him. We can even send scouts to check on him, right?”

The dragon king gave a not-so-convincing smile. “We are all tired from moving here, we cannot exhaust ourselves further by leaving. We must stand firm and prepare with resources of our own.”

Cassius pulled at his fingers.

I’m so confused…

“Did you say something?” The dragon king looked at Cassius.

Straightening his posture, Cassius realized he had spoken his thoughts. “I just…well, Zoricus was working for Sadon for a while, right? From what I’ve heard about this dragon hunter, I’m sure Zoricus was afraid of him. But if Sadon’s whole goal was wiping out all the dragons, why would Zoricus and the other knights take some as slaves or pets knowing what Sadon’s plans were? Why would he go behind his back and risk his life?”

Charles shrugged. “Maybe Zoricus wasn’t as afraid as we thought, because that was a very stupid move.”

“Mm-hm.” Fendrel’s eyes weren’t glazed over anymore. “Once Sadon finds out about that disrespect, he’ll be on a hunt for Zoricus and his buddies.”

Cassius felt a strange feeling in his chest.

Was that sadness? Why am I sad? He tried to kill me, let someone take the throne from Father, and tried to take Sadie away.

Because Sadie still cares about him more than she does about you.

He shook his head, trying to dismiss that thought.

“Besides that—” Venom laid down and hid his mangled paw from sight “—I agree with His Majesty and Fog. We need to make ourselves strong here so we can repel any incoming attacks.”

“I believe we will need an army.” The king had his eyes trained on Venom. “Can you train dragons from each faction?”

“I will do my best.” Venom bowed his head.

“Daichi agreed to give us as many troops as we needed. We may not even need to train the seafarers.” Fendrel shrugged.

“Do the Beast-Hunt knights even know how to fight humans?” Charles got Viper to play with his other hand. “I thought they were wholly focused on fighting dragons.”

“Maybe they don’t.” Fendrel sat up straighter. “In the arena, Daichi was counting on me fighting alongside him, not against him. He only ever attacked me with long-range weapons, not anything I could block well. In fact, one of the caged dragons there mentioned something about him only fighting dragons.”

“Coward.” Venom growled just loud enough for everyone to hear.

“I’ll train the Beast-Hunt knights.” Charles kept Viper from squirming away.

And me…Has Fendrel told him about me yet? Or was Fendrel lying, and he intends on Daichi teaching me?

A sinking feeling came over Cassius.

Was I made a fool of? Why did I think Fendrel would actually agree to having Charles train me? Did he only say that to get me to leave him alone?

The ex-prince was startled out of his thoughts by the dragon king’s suddenly cheery voice. “That settles it then. Fog and Fendrel will map out the northern side of the continent, Venom will train dragons for battle, Charles will do the same with the humans as well as our human heir—”

I knew I was wrong! Of course Fendrel wouldn’t betray my trust like that…I hope.

“—Frederick, Ember, Thea, and a few spark dragons will map out the southern half of the continent, our remaining water dragons will return to Sharpdagger as spies, and the rest of the nobility will aid in building temporary shelters here, as will Mist and I.” The king glanced at the purpling sky, now dotted here and there with stars. “We will start early tomorrow. Goodnight, everyone.” He nodded with respect to the assembled humans and dragons while the nobility bowed.

As everyone dispersed, Cassius stood up in the grass.

Sadie is probably scared and confused, all alone over there.

Cassius walked to the last place he had seen her.

The ex-princess sat with her hands clasped on her lap. Her mud-stained, tattered dress from the same day as the escape pillowed around her.

Even though her dress was nearly ruined, Cassius couldn’t help but avoid stepping on it as he moved to sit beside her. “Are you tired?” He watched her face to see if she was upset.

It was too dark to tell if she was crying, which was the only way Cassius could tell if she was upset. She was good at masking her emotions.

Sadie blinked a few times. “A little.”

“Me too.” Cassius tried to smile. “They’re going to start building shelters tomorrow, so we won’t have to sleep like this much longer.”

“Hm.” Sadie nodded. “That would be nice.”

The two sat in silence for a few beats.

“Do you know what happened to Zoricus? And what have you been talking about with those strangers?” Sadie didn’t look at him.

Cassius gave a heavy sigh.

Of course she brought up Zoricus.

“All I know is Zoricus isn’t on our side.” Cassius rested his arm on one of his knees.

“I just don’t understand.” Sadie’s voice began to quiver. “He was family. He was the head of our royal guard. His job was to protect us. He’s supposed to be on our side.”

Cassius pressed his lips into a thin line. “Sadie…I never told you because I knew how close you two were, but Zoricus was always awful to me. Even before he was working with Sadon he treated me like dirt when no one else was around.”

“How do you mean?” Sadie clenched her dress skirt with both fists.

“I don’t think this was always the case, but in the last few months he’s definitely wanted me dead.” Cassius watched the purple sky turn darker and darker. He rubbed his arm for comfort. “He always looked down on me like I didn’t deserve to be born into this family, and maybe he was right. Have you never realized that he never wanted me to come along whenever you tried to spend time with both of us?”

Sadie didn’t say anything.

“He wanted to keep you as far from me as possible. He even wanted to take you away the last time we saw him, remember?” Cassius swallowed. “He tried to kill me and convince you that you’d be safe with him. Even if you wouldn’t have been hurt, is that the life you want? Fatherless, brotherless and living in fear because your fate depends on Zoricus’ obedience to a murderer?”

“Stop it.” Sadie shut her eyes. “That can’t be true.”

Cassius froze. “I’m sorry, Sadie.”

Great, now she doesn’t trust you.

“He wasn’t the one who murdered Father, was he?” Sadie’s voice was almost incomprehensible from her sudden sobs.

“I…” Cassius cleared his throat. “I don’t think so. He seemed pretty upset after the trial when Father had another coughing fit. He blamed it on Fendrel, but I think he was really angry about that.”

Sadie looked at her brother for the first time. “Who is Fendrel?”

“The Dragon Liberator.” Cassius gestured to where he thought Fendrel had gone.

With a slight laugh like a bell, Sadie covered her mouth with her hand. “You two are on a first name basis?”

“Uh…not really.” Cassius scratched the back on his neck. “I don’t think he fully trusts me yet. He’s an outlaw, after all. It’s in his nature to be cautious.”

“Is he safe?” Sadie made her voice lower than before.

Cassius let out a heavy sigh. “I hope so. He’s the best option we have.”

And we still have a deal. Zoricus was never actually defenestrated, so he still has to help me.

“Mhm…” Sadie smoothed the wrinkles out of her dress skirt. “So, what was the meeting about?”

“The dragon king was assigning roles for us, and I’m going to be trained for fighting by one of Fendrel’s friends.”

What is Sadie going to do while I’m busy?

“And, how is the vapor dragon with the fur?” Sadie averted her gaze again.

Cassius shuddered.

She must mean the dragon who was disguised as a human.

It still felt weird to be around her, but Cassius guessed it was more from the memories and not the spell.

I don’t have to worry about that anymore. The necklace is gone. We can both be ourselves again.

Cassius realized he hadn’t answered his sister’s question. “She seemed well. Maybe if she’s not busy, she’d like to talk to you.”

Despite her silence, Cassius tried to imagine her smiling.

“I have a favor to ask.” Her voice was somehow even quieter. “I’m a bit embarrassed to say it, though.”

“I won’t tell anyone.”

“Back at home, I used to have an attendant talk with me until I fell asleep. I can’t stand feeling alone…Could you stay up with me until I fall asleep?” Sadie was only visible thanks to the rising moon now.

Cassius smiled. “Of course.”

Sadie hugged her brother who froze.

When was the last time we hugged?

“I love you, sister.” Cassius wrapped his arms around her.

The ex-princess gave a sleepy response.

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