The Dragon Liberator: Freelander

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-17-

POV: Fendrel

I am starving . . .

Mamba laid across from Fendrel, who sat on a rock.

Fendrel cradled some kind of fruit in his hands. The vivid color of the fruit contrasted against his gray skin. He pointed his much sharper nails at the fruit, gasping when they cut through its skin with ease. “What if I hurt someone with these?”

“Do you often show physical affection toward others?” Mamba ate one of the same fruits, keeping its stem in his claws.

“. . . I guess not.” Fendrel looked away in annoyance. “Did you really have to bring me to a still pond? It’s a giant mirror.”

“I thought you might want to see what you look like.” Mamba stood and walked toward the pond, turning Fendrel to face it with his wing. “See? You’re not a monster. Just different.”

“Why did you even give me that bottle?” Fendrel walked out of Mamba’s range.

“My mother wanted me to. Everything she does and has me do is for a purpose. To help you and your friends get back home and make it safe again.” Mamba’s voice sounded a little lost. “She doesn’t tell me how what we do affects anything, but I can always take a lucky guess.”

“You changed me from a human to this for a lucky guess?” Fendrel didn’t realize he had mutilated the fruit in his hands until then.

Mamba’s ears flicked back. He looked genuinely remorseful. “I wouldn’t have given you the venom if she hadn’t told me to . . . And, if she saw you like this in her visions it must mean it needed to happen. Links have abilities humans don’t, so maybe if you had stayed human you would die from an injury or some accident. Maybe this was to protect you.”

Fendrel dropped the fruit’s remains on the ground. His growling stomach made him regret his decision.

“Here.” Mamba grabbed a fruit from the trees above and handed it to Fendrel, sitting beside him. After Fendrel took a bite, Mamba sighed. “I’m sorry if my and my mother’s cryptic attitude has upset you. I’ll do my best to be more open from now on, and in return you can let me teach you about your new self. Is that all right?”

Taking a deep breath, Fendrel flinched at the influx of new and stronger smells. He had tried ignoring the sounds of the jungle as well, which now seemed too loud to handle. Even the taste and texture of the fruit was amplified.

The link groaned a bit, rubbing his forehead.

“I know, it’s sensory overload, but you will get used to it in no time. I know a drink recipe that takes headaches away.” Mamba’s voice was the only thing Fendrel was able to tolerate noise-wise.

“But then they’ll see me.” Fendrel shook his head. “Well, Venom already saw me right after I woke up.”

Mamba nodded. “Did he say anything?”

“. . . He looked at me like I was a stranger, and he’s seen links before at the Black-Brick Ruins, I presume. How do you think Fog will react?” Fendrel chanced a glance at Mamba out of the corner of his eye.

“Well—” Mamba rolled his wings as if uncomfortable “—I think you both have something you need to tell each other, then.”

“Did something happen to her? Is she hurt?”

Mamba shook his head. “She’s fine now. I think she’s gotten over it. Now, we should get back to help you with your head, but first I want you to look at your reflection.”

Fendrel sighed but complied. He was shocked by how underwhelmed he felt.

“See? If you painted all your skin gray and dyed your hair darker, you would look exactly the same. I’d still recognize you if I hadn’t known you turned.” Mamba’s voice was cheery again. Fendrel was somewhat thankful for its return.

“And made my are canines sharper . . . are my eyes lighter or is it just the contrast?” Fendrel leaned down.

“No, they look copper now. But you get my point, right? You still look like you, just different.”

Fendrel nodded. “Yeah . . .”

“Venom was probably just shocked since he’s used to how you looked before.” Mamba patted Fendrel on the shoulder.

“Mhm . . . But seriously, what happened to Fog? What you said didn’t sound like something good.” Fendrel stood up.

Mamba began the walk back toward the den with Fendrel beside him. “It has a good and bad side. The bad part passed already, though.”

You really don’t sound very convincing.

<~><~><~>

Fendrel, Mamba, Venom, and Fog sat around the circular wooden table in the center of the main room. Silence engulfed the air.

After finishing just half of the drink Mamba mentioned, still steaming in the cup Fendrel held, Fendrel’s headache subsided.

“So—” Fendrel set the cup down on the table and looked across at Fog, whose ears perked up “—Mamba mentioned you needed to tell me something?”

“Oh, that.” Fog seemed to shrink back. “I don’t know if you want to hear about that right now.”

“Well now I’m more worried than I was.” Fendrel leaned forward.

Venom had an uncomfortable expression on his face. He and Mamba kept their heads down as they left the den.

Fendrel’s brows raised. “Fog?”

Fog didn’t meet his eyes. She watched the steam rising from the cup. “That purple stuff from the bottle, the other dusk dragon venom. It has a different effect on dragons than on humans.”

Nodding, Fendrel kept his gaze on her.

“I didn’t know it got on me until we were at the den. I think it got on my tail because it started to itch really bad and spread. And then, not long after that . . .” Fog hunched down. “I woke up as a rogue.”

Fendrel didn’t know how to respond. He sat quietly, shocked. He shook his head to collect his thoughts. “That’s a joke, right?”

“No.” Fog’s small voice matched her demeanor. “I wanted to stop myself, but I wasn’t in control anymore, and you were the only human nearby . . . Mamba and Venom showed up just in time.”

“H-how . . .” Fendrel fidgeted with his fingers. “You’re being serious? How did they change you back?”

“Mamba said a dusk dragon’s golden antivenom can revert dragons back to a normal state.” Fog glanced at Fendrel out of the corner of her eye.

“So then, Sear . . .” Fendrel looked down.

He really was trying to redeem himself. He wasn’t trying to trick us. He was finally free and instead of running away he wanted to make it up to me. And he died.

Fendrel closed his eyes. “I didn’t even give him a proper burial once we got his body back from Daichi.”

“So, you’re not mad at me?” Fog’s words brought him back to the present.

“No . . . it’s been a weird day, er, week.” He sighed. “I need to see Mamba. Oh, thank you for telling me.”

“Mhm.” Fog nodded. “I’m glad we’re both okay.”

Fendrel stood and headed for the door to the outside.

The quicker I can learn that human-façade trick, the quicker we can get to the Settlement and properly bury Sear.

<~><~><~>

POV: Zoricus

This rain is brutal.

A tropical storm had forced Zoricus and Fragrance to fly faster than they were prepared for, resulting in a crash in some jungle. The only shelter to be found was beneath the thick limbs of trees, but rain still flooded the already-moist dirt.

Zoricus squatted, hugging his knees and trying not to show he was shivering. The dragon he was forced to travel with seemed to be doing the same, only with his wings and tail instead. Neither one looked at each other.

“If we can find any lead on Fendrel, no matter how small, we need to take it so we can get out of here.” Zoricus spoke above the shouting raindrops.

The yellow dragon’s ear twitched and his snout wrinkled.

Is that like a scowl or something?

“Can you at least answer me so I know you understand? The mage said we would be able to communicate if no one could hear or see us.” Zoricus turned his head to face the dragon. “Fragrance . . .”

Fragrance snorted. “I suppose that vermin of a being told you my name?”

“Yeah.” Zoricus shut his mouth quick once his teeth started chattering. “Did he tell you mine?”

“Yes.” Fragrance shook his head when a particularly fat raindrop hit him. “I forgot.”

“It’s Zoricus.” He stuck one hand out for a shake.

Fragrance side-eyed the hand. “I am not going to remember that.”

“We’ll need to work together if we want to get out of this.” Zoricus pulled his arm back in.

“Cooperation does not equal friendliness, human.” Fragrance shuffled away. “And I accept no friendliness from someone associated with Fendrel.”

Zoricus laughed. “Associated? I tried to kill him the last time I saw him. I’ve spent the better part of my career trying to hunt him down.”

“Well, that’s great to hear. I’m positive we’ll catch him in no time, then.” A growl came into Fragrance’s voice. “How about I do all the tracking and you do . . . whatever I need you to do.”

“Fine.” Zoricus shrugged. He lowered his voice to just under his breath. “Fine, fine, fine.”

He listened to the rain for a few minutes before he even glanced at the dragon again.

There’s no way I’m going to meet Sadon’s deadline.

<~><~><~>

Zoricus groaned awake from a sudden pain on his stomach. Opening his eyes, he saw the yellow dragon glaring down at him. “Why did you hit me so hard?”

Fragrance snorted. “I did not hit you hard. You are just fragile . . . even more so than Fendrel.”

“Well, thanks for that.” Zoricus slowly pushed himself to his feet, one hand clutching his stomach. “You could have shaken me.”

“That might have taken longer for you to get up.” Fragrance began to venture into the jungle. Without warning, the dragon yelped and staggered backward.

Zoricus reached for where he normally kept his sword, then remembered he’d left unarmed. “Is there an enemy?”

Fragrance hissed and stood back up. “Just keep pace with me. That hellion of a mage is preventing me from venturing away from you.”

. . . I hadn’t even thought of what might happen if he tried to leave me to do this myself.

Shaking his head, Zoricus sped up to walk beside Fragrance.

The yellow dragon gave a sidelong glance. “Not that close. Just a bit behind me will be fine.”

Zoricus rolled his eyes. “What are you, royalty? I don’t know if you’ve noticed this by now, but we’re not from the same kingdom. So, you don’t own me.”

“I am nobility.” Fragrance held his head higher. “And one of the highest ranked at that. Second only to those miserable dusk dragons.”

“Hm.” Zoricus nodded. “I was the king’s nephew and the head of the royal guard.”

“I did not ask.” Fragrance tucked his wing in as if to keep as much distance between he and Zoricus as possible.

Don’t say anything that could get you hurt.

“Do you even know where you’re going?” Zoricus looked at their surroundings.

“Can you navigate us better?” Fragrance stopped and stuck his nose in Zoricus’ face.

Zoricus jumped back, putting his hands up in defense. “I was just asking.”

Fragrance looked ahead again and resumed his self-made trail. “If we find a lead, we will follow it. But first, I need to eat, and it smells like there is fruit nearby.”

The ex-knight suppressed a sigh.

“Well, where there’s food, there are people and animals trying to survive. Maybe we’ll find a lead there.” Zoricus felt bitterness rise within him.

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