His door was locked, but it somehow felt as if he was being watched. Zoricus turned around, already knowing Raaldin would be there.
“Do you know nothing about privacy? I lock the door for a reason.” Zoricus did his best to keep the shaking out of his voice.
Raaldin crossed his arms. “…Mere humans don’t deserve privacy.” His tone was colder than normal, as if all his childish teasing had run dry.
Zoricus swallowed. “So you’re not human.”
The mage stared at him for a moment. “Sadon wants you in the palace courtyard immediately.”
Within a second, Raaldin vanished in a pile of gray sand that disappeared as it hit the floor.
I haven’t seen Sadon since he found out about the secret halls.
Zoricus’ feet carried him to the giant, stone brick-walled courtyard where Sadon had been training new guards as of late.
Sadon stood at the opposite end of the courtyard. He looked tired. “You will use the lemon dragon to aid you in finding and retrieving or killing Fendrel. Raaldin has placed a spell on the dragon’s reins that will allow you two to communicate unless someone is watching or listening to you. You are to take no longer than three months in this mission. Raaldin is giving this same information to the dragon. Do you understand?”
Zoricus bowed his head. “I understand, sire.”
“Good.” Sadon left the courtyard.
Before long, Raaldin entered pulling a mortified and saddled Fragrance in with thin-chained reins. The reins attached to Fragrance by his horns, hammered in with nails. It would impossible to remove without breaking the horns.
“Happy travels.” Raaldin handed the reins to Zoricus and followed behind Sadon.
“No tips? I’ve never done this before.” Zoricus gave Fragrance a sideways glance.
“Neither have I.” Raaldin looked over his shoulder to give a gloating smile.
Zoricus sighed and got on the saddle, pretending Fragrance was no different from his horse.
Do I kick his sides? How do I get him to fly?
The ex-knight barely had time to hold on before Fragrance spread his wings and took off.
The reins let us communicate, right?
“Do you know where you’re going?” Zoricus raised his voice above the wind.
Fragrance growled. “Do not speak to me while you’re on my back, human. Of course I know where the Newlands are!”
Zoricus suppressed a sigh.
This is going to be a very long trip…
The young man stood with his hands on his hips, staring with exasperation at the strange formation that stuck out of the ocean before him. At the southern end of the continent, Frederick was sure he would find calm beaches, free of any native dragons. Instead he was unnerved by a massive black rock shaped like a dragon’s nose, fit with two nostril-like holes, breaching the waves.
Ember signaled her arrival through the jungle behind him. She stood beside the human and tilted her head at the strange sight.
“I have been all over this land, and I have never seen that.” Frederick pointed at the rock.
“Hmm.” Ember squinted and stretched her neck out as if it would give her a better view. “My eyes are probably playing tricks on me, but it looks like those holes are moving.”
Frederick scratched his head. “I have no clue what it is. Black rocks that glossy come from volcanoes, but I haven’t seen any here.”
“Could it be an underwater volcano?” Ember looked down at him.
“Maybe.” Frederick shrugged. “I can’t be sure. If Mar was with us, I’d ask him to go check. Maybe we could fly over?”
Ember took a step away but didn’t seem to realize she had. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. I have a bad feeling about that rock.”
“We don’t have to get that close to it. Just…close enough to have a better view. I can barely make out what it is. Then, I’ll mark it on the map, as an area of future interest.” Frederick switched his gaze between the rock and Ember. “You never know, it could be something exciting.”
The fire dragon rolled her eyes, but her slight smile betrayed her façade. “Fine, but I am only getting close enough for me to tell what it is, even if your human eyes can’t.”
Frederick held his hands up in surrender. He pulled himself onto Ember’s back. “That’s fine, as long as you tell me what you see.”
Ember pushed off the ground, flying just over the water before rising up higher. At a certain distance she stopped climbing and circled around the rock. The water underneath and surrounding the rock was much darker than the rest of the ocean. On her second lap, the holes on the rock closed and the mysterious formation pulled itself underneath the murky blue.
“What…” Frederick gripped Ember tighter. His hair stuck up in tandem with Ember’s feathers. “What is that?”
The dark shape under the surface sank deeper until it became one with the ocean.
“…Should we go?” Frederick was already leaning back toward the shore.
“Yeah.” Ember shook her head as if to clear her mind and angled back toward the Newlands. “I feel like that thing is going to jump out to get us.”
“Like it’s sentient?” Frederick looked back at the spot the rock used to be, watching to make sure Ember’s hunch was false.
“I don’t know. Maybe the humans here know something about it.”
Frederick shivered from a chill. “Just another thing to wait to tell Fendrel about… Are we going to tell the rest of the group about this?”
“About a massive, unidentifiable sea monster that looks like a rock? Only if we want to be accused of trying to prank everyone.”
“Right.” Frederick nodded. “Yeah. No one needs to know for now. I’ll still mark it in the map just in case it returns later.”
That is, if we both didn’t imagine it.
Fog squeezed her eyes shut to concentrate. Her tail curled around a tree branch as she hung upside-down. She felt her grip loosening.
Just a few more seconds and you’ll have hung longer than last time…5…4…3…
“Are you all right?” Mamba’s voice shocked Fog out of her state and she nearly let herself go prematurely.
Once Fog’s self-imposed timer ran out, she dropped the large stones she had been holding in her paws and glided to the ground. Her arms burned from the rocks, and she shook them out, a smile coming to her face. “I’m okay.”
Mamba flicked his tail at the dropped stones. “What was that for?”
Feeling a bit silly, Fog shrugged. “I’ve been trying to get used to added weight, since I’ve been carrying Fendrel on our scouting. I’m a lot better than when I first started, but I still have trouble when I’m carrying something.”
“Ah…interesting. Is that why there is a pile of rocks by my den?” Mamba tilted his head in curiosity.
“Yes…sorry.” Fog cleared her throat. “Does Venom need me?”
“Oh, no. Fendrel’s awake.” Mamba smiled.
Fog ran past him in the direction of the dusk dragon’s home. “Why wasn’t that the first thing you said?”
Mamba followed close behind, soon catching up to her. “I didn’t want to be rude and ignore what I assumed was a serious hobby of yours.”
I’m running as fast as I can and he’s still not even breathing that heavy from keeping pace…I need to get stronger.
This isn’t the time to think about training! Fendrel is awake!
Fog barely slowed down to enter Mamba’s den, stopping suddenly once she was in the main room.
Mamba gave an indignant mumble as he straightened the rugs Fog bunched up in her halt.
“Fendrel!” Fog’s breathing was heavy, but she tried to calm herself. It wasn’t working.
What Fog assumed to be the sitting form of Fendrel was under the furs Mamba had buried him under. Venom, who had a worried expression, stayed at his side.
“Are you feeling okay?” Fog walked closer.
“Settle yourself…he needs a bit of space.” Venom’s voice from the “secret language” caused Fog to back up.
“I can hear you when you do that now…” Fendrel’s muffled words sounded sorrowful.
Fog’s ears pricked up. “You can?”
The top of the blanket bobbed as Fendrel nodded.
“Um, how do you feel?” Fog sat at a distance. Her tail curled and uncurled in excitement.
“I-I’m not sure, exactly.”
The vapor dragon looked over at Mamba.
Mamba sighed. “I know it is a lot to take in all of a sudden, but I cannot help you adjust to your new self if you continue to hide yourself. I’ve researched links extensively. Believe me when I say that links are beings as normal as humans and dragons, they’re just…rare at the moment.”
“Rare, right.” Fendrel sighed. “I’ve never even heard of them before a few days ago…neither has anyone I know besides Venom, I think. How do you expect everyone will react when they see me? My brother, Thea, Charles…”
“Well…” Mamba approached Fendrel. “One of the many special abilities a link has is to make himself appear human. If you’ll allow me, I can help you look like your old self again. Although, it does take a bit of concentration, and any fight-or-flight situations will most likely result in your façade dropping.”
Silence filled the den.
“I’m not ready yet. Can you give a bit to think?”
Fog’s wings sank with Fendrel’s question.
He sounds so…so…empty? What can I say to make him feel better?
“Fendrel.” Mamba set a paw on where Fog assumed Fendrel’s shoulder was. “You have been asleep in there for a week. I know you’re starving. Come with me.”
Venom stood and guided Fog away with his wing. He kept his voice to a low whisper. “He doesn’t want to be seen right now. We should give him some privacy.”
“I heard that too.” Fendrel raised his voice to be heard through the furs. The sound of shuffling blankets let Fog know Fendrel had uncovered himself. His and Mamba’s footsteps left the den.
“Is he going to be okay?” Fog looked up at the older dragon.
Nodding, Venom gave a slight frown. “Mamba…he sounds like he knows everything there is to know to help Fendrel. This is harder on him than I thought it would be…I think it would be best if you kept your um…”
“My rogue incident?” Fog felt herself sink.
“Yes. He has enough to think about right now. I would bring it up later when he is feeling better.” Venom looked over his shoulder at the main room.
“I don’t want to keep that from him…I’m scared that it even happened, but I know it never will again.” Fog backed up into the main room. “But I understand. I won’t tell him yet.”
He’s not going to hate me, or be afraid of me, when I tell him, right?