The Dragon Liberator: Freelander

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-19-

POV: Frederick

Thea and Ember were on either side of Frederick. The dragon nobles, the royal couple, and the scouts that had been sent out now sat in a circle.

But not all the scouts are here.

The dragon king looked troubled. “Does anyone know where Fog, Venom, and Fendrel are?”

Frederick shrugged. “The path Fog and Fendrel took shouldn’t have taken longer than ours did. Maybe they just decided to double-check something?”

“I haven’t seen Venom in a few days.” The queen matched her husband’s expression.

“Hmm.” The king tapped a claw. “We will send out a search party, just in case. But first, what did you find in your travels? Is there anything we should be wary of? Any place that may look safer than here?”

“This is the safest place on the continent for us.” Frederick sat up straight, trying to seem as professional as possible. “As for anything dangerous . . .”

For the love of the stars, don’t say “magical rock monster.”

“Ember and I found something weird off the southern coast.” Frederick glanced up at her as if to ask, “Is this too stupid to say?”

Ember nodded. “At first we thought it may volcanic rock from underwater vents, but the formation moved as if it were a living creature, and it fled from us.”

“You are trying to convince us of a living rock?” One of the nobles looked down her snout at Frederick.

“In all honesty, a living rock does not seem so out of the ordinary in comparison to what I have experienced.” The queen absent-mindedly touched the base of her neck as if she expected to find a necklace there.

“We marked it on our map just in case it came back.” Frederick looked at Thea and held his hand out.

Thea, giving him a quizzical expression, retrieved the map and handed it to him.

Frederick spread the map out and pointed at the mark. “Here.”

The dragon king examined the map. He nodded. “Your group did well, thank you for your cooperation. I think, for now, we should focus on grounding and strengthening ourselves in the event of an emergency. Then, we can go looking for this . . . rock. Now—” he looked at the spark noble “—would you prepare a group to look for Fog, Fendrel, and Venom?”

As the dragon opened her mouth, the unmistakable sound of a thousand wings flapping caught the assembly’s attention.

Frederick turned around and saw a cloud of hybrids flying into the canyon. Panic gripped his heart. Without thinking he stood up. “Mar? Where are you?”

This is bad…We have the numbers, but I don’t think we’re ready to fight anyone.

<~><~><~>

POV: Fendrel

Fendrel paced back and forth, breathing in the concoction of smells offered by the jungle. Keeping his eyes closed, he ignored the slight pressure in his head.

“How are you?”

Fog’s voice made Fendrel turn around to see her.

“I’m good . . . the headaches are weaker every time they come back.” Fendrel forced a small smile.

“You look tired.” Fog jutted her chin at him.

With a sigh, Fendrel nodded. “It’s been hard trying to sleep lately.” He leaned his shoulder against a nearby a tree. “You know, it’s never quiet anymore. Even when everyone is asleep, I can still hear your heartbeats and breath. It’s like silence doesn’t exist anymore.”

“Is that a bad thing?” Fog walked over to stand closer.

Fendrel shrugged. “I suppose not, it’s just different. I just have to get used to it.”

Fog looked at him for a few moments, then chuckled a little.

“What?” Fendrel stood straight.

“I just realized, we’re almost the same color now.” She took one of his hands. “See? I’m a little darker, but we’re almost the same gray.”

Fendrel chuckled. “Yeah, we are.” He turned his hand over and back.

“Can I ask what you’ve been doing out here?” Fog let his hand go.

“It’s Sear, and so many other things. We were supposed to be done with our scouting by now. The others must be worried, especially since Venom left them without warning to see me.” Fendrel shook his head. “I just . . . Mamba wants me to get used to my senses before he teaches me how to put on that human façade. Then, we can go back.”

“We?” Fog’s ears perked up.

“Yeah, well, we agreed to be a team, right?” Fendrel grabbed his bag strap. “I mean, you can head back now if you want. I don’t want to keep you from—”

“No, it’s fine. I want to stay.” Fog smiled. “I like being your teammate.”

Fendrel smiled back. “And I yours.”

Fog looked down at her claws then back up at Fendrel. “How long do you plan on not telling the others about this? They’re going to find out, eventually.”

“I don’t know.” Fendrel tapped his bag repeatedly with his fingers. “Maybe once things have calmed down. Er, when I figure out how to explain it to them.”

“Maybe as you adjust, you’ll think of how to tell them.”

Fendrel nodded in agreement. “Maybe. Who knows? Maybe by tonight I’ll be adjusted to these senses.”

Fog nudged his shoulder with her wing. “See? You’re getting more optimistic.”

“How do you know it’s not just a coping mechanism?” Fendrel chuckled as he started back to Mamba’s den.

The vapor dragon joined his side, still smiling like the sun shines.

<~><~><~>

Fendrel awoke slowly. He laid with his eyes closed, anticipating the daily headache, but it never came. He opened his eyes and took a deep breath.

“You look relieved.” Venom laid on the other side of the main room. The two had agreed Fog could take the spare room and refused Mamba offering up his own.

“No pain.” Fendrel gave a half-hearted smile. He moved onto his back. “What time is it? Isn’t Mamba usually up by now?”

Venom glanced at the hall that led to the door. “He said he needed to grab something, and he would be back soon. That was a few minutes ago. He also left tea for your head if you needed it.”

Fendrel nodded. “. . . Why did you look at me like that, when I first woke up?”

The dusk dragon shifted as if uncomfortable. “I . . . I don’t know what I was expecting you to look like. I suppose, in my head, I could never picture you looking any different, and that is why it shocked me so much to see you as a link.”

“I never saw myself looking like this either.” Fendrel found he had worn a hole in the blanket he used from scratching it.

“I wish I could have been there the whole time, to make sure you weren’t afraid before you passed out.” Venom avoided looking at Fendrel.

“When Mamba gave me the poison, and you told me what it does to humans, I expected I wouldn’t have to use it for a very long time.” Fendrel turned on his side to face Venom.

Venom sighed. “Neither did I, young one.”

Should I tell him he was the last thing I thought of before I passed out? No, it’s probably not that important.

Mamba emerging from the hall drew Fendrel and Venom’s attention. “Ah, you’re awake.”

The younger dragon stepped into the main room with a strange-looking saddle resting on his back. He placed the saddle on the table, making sure not to knock over the tea. “I apologize for leaving so suddenly and without explanation. My mother instructed me to give this to you.”

Fendrel sat up. “Why?”

“Well, I know you said you wanted to learn how to put on a human façade once you got used to your senses, but Poison has asked that you and Fog go to see her in her second resting location.” Mamba gave Fendrel a generous smile. “She had this saddle tailor made for Fog’s measurements decades ago.”

“But she didn’t tell you why she wants to see us?” Fendrel stood up.

Mamba’s ears folded back. “No, I’m sorry. I asked but she told me to deliver the saddle and relay her message.”

“Fendrel said he was already feeling better. We can leave today.” Venom moved to a sitting position.

Fendrel shook his head. “Venom, you have to go back to the Settlement. They need you back there.”

Venom stood as if to defend his position. “We don’t know what dangers could be out there along the way.”

“If I may interrupt—” Mamba waved one wing to grab their attention “—my mother assured me that any danger Fendrel and Fog may encounter they will be able to handle on their own.”

The older dragon gave Fendrel a concerned look.

“We’ll be fine.” Fendrel made his voice firm. “I feel better. Besides, Poison was able to make our situation better the last time we met with her. It could get better for us again.”

Venom gave a subtle nod. “If you believe so.”

Fendrel smiled. “Thank you.”

Now we just have to wait for Fog to wake up.

<~><~><~>

POV: Zoricus

“That was fun.” Zoricus sat on a riverbank, a sour expression on his face, and untied his boot to pour out the water.

My ankle feels awful. It must have been when I slipped on that river stone.

Fragrance dragged himself from the river. He glared at Zoricus. “The next time you think you see Fendrel’s bag, you get it yourself.”

Zoricus sighed. “In my defense, it looked like his bag.”

“It. Was. A. Leaf!” Fragrance flapped his wings, sprinkling water over Zoricus.

“A giant, brown leaf bumping in the rapids.” Zoricus pointed at the dragon. “If you were so convinced it wasn’t Fendrel’s bag, why did you chase after it with me?”

Fragrance huffed through his nose, stomping far enough away from Zoricus that he wouldn’t be hurt for straying. “Any other bright ideas for finding him?”

Zoricus threw his hands up in exasperation. “No. You?”

The yellow dragon’s tail lashed. “Fendrel is attached to a few dragons like his life depends on it. Maybe they are traveling by air.”

“The leaves are too dense for us to notice a single dragon flying above.” Zoricus nodded.

“. . . Never mind. We will find another way.” Fragrance sat.

“What?” Zoricus stood, wincing at his ankle. He did his best to cover his expression. “I’m not going to pull on your reins again. You can steer for all I care.”

Fragrance’s ears flicked back. “I have more dignity than to let a human so much as touch me. You violated that, so keep your distance. We will just find higher ground and set up a post there.” He leapt up to the treetops and poked his head out from the canopy. After a few seconds, he touched down and began to walk away. “There is a mountain this way.”

Zoricus, dreading the walk, limped after Fragrance.

We won’t get anywhere if we don’t work together.

. . . Are you kidding me? He has been nothing but rude and demeaning no matter how many times you de-escalate. If we fail, it’s his fault.

And if you fail, it means your death. Are you willing to risk your survival for the sake of being petty?

A feeling of panic spread through Zoricus’ chest at the thought of failure.

<~><~><~>

POV: Cassius

The ex-prince stood before his sister, a smile on his face. “So, since Fendrel and Fog aren’t back yet, I wanted to know if you wanted to visit Beast-Hunt tomorrow? For your dress?”

“Oh, we aren’t going to wait for them? I don’t want to seem rude if they show up after we’ve already left.” Sadie had a confused expression. “Why tomorrow?”

“No reason!” Cassius hid his hands behind his back even though he was holding nothing. “I just, it seems like a while ago that I suggested it, so I didn’t want anyone to think it was cancelled.”

Does she seriously not remember it’s our birthday tomorrow? Well . . . I guess we have had other things to think about.

Sadie nodded. “I’ll ask them tonight if they’re not busy tomorrow.”

“Sounds good.” Cassius smiled.

Silence followed his statement.

Cassius cleared his throat. “So, what have you been up to? I’m sorry I haven’t really been available to talk.”

“I’ve been speaking with the humans who came with us. I wanted to make sure they were settling in well.” Sadie turned her head to look at the collection of huts, much smaller than the dragon-inhabited ones.

“Are they? Settling in I mean?” Cassius followed her gaze.

“They are . . . managing. It’s troubling, Cassius. They feel alone. Some of them are wondering why they even agreed to come here.”

Cassius blinked in surprise. “What? Why?”

Sadie shook her head. “They never encountered Sadon, and it seems like they haven’t had interactions with any dragon hunters. They don’t understand how dangerous they are, so they don’t think it would be that bad to go back home.”

“That’s . . .” Cassius shook his head.

What do I even say to that?

“Well, um, I am slowly convincing them to trust us.” Sadie gave a slight chuckle. “Apart from that, I have been joining Mist and Cloud on their duties every now and then. Even though their system of government is a little different from ours, I am still learning a lot from them.”

Cassius forced a smile. “That’s great!”

You idiot, why aren’t you doing what she’s doing in her spare time? Father made a mistake choosing me as his heir . . . it would be better if Sadie became queen instead.

“I really enjoy it, actually. I didn’t think I would.” Sadie smiled. “It makes me wish I had begged Father to let me study with you instead of cheering Zoricus on in his training.”

“. . . Me too. I’m glad you’re happy, Sadie.” Cassius moved to step away, then stopped. “Oh, don’t forget to ask them about tomorrow.”

“I won’t.” The ex-princess pulled her twin into a hug. “I don’t think I thanked you before, so, thank you for bringing me with you . . . I don’t know what’s going on in Sharpdagger now, but I doubt it’s good.”

“We’ll get our home back.” Cassius returned the hug. “I know it.”

I know it.

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