The Dragon Liberator: Freelander

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POV: Fog

Just a few minutes’ walk from Mamba’s den, Fendrel and Fog stopped at a creek before heading toward Poison’s second resting place.

“What are these for?” Fog poked buckled loops hanging from the saddle with one of her wings.

“I think—” Fendrel peeked at them “—those are for my legs, so I don’t fall off.”

Fog tilted her head. “Why would you fall off? You haven’t before.”

Fendrel shrugged. “I guess this is so you can make tight turns and dive without risking my life.”

“Really?” Fog’s wings lifted in excitement. “I can? Oh, I don’t mean to sound rude, like you were holding me back. I just, it would be nice to really fly for real this time—”

His chuckle ceased Fog’s apology. Fendrel smiled. “It’s fine, I get it. I just hope I don’t get motion sick.”

“Motion sick? What is that? Is that another link side effect?” Fog stepped toward him. “Is it preventable?”

“Wait, dragons don’t get motion sick?” Fendrel crossed his arms.

“I’ve never even heard the term before.” Fog shook her head.

“Some humans just . . . get nauseated by sudden, jerky movements. I’ve never experienced it, but then again your kind of flying is more intense than what I’ve previously been through.” Fendrel waved his hand dismissively. “It’s probably fine.”

“So, which way do we head?” Fog dropped one of her wings so Fendrel could climb on.

“Mamba just said to head east until we reach the shore.” Fendrel reached for the handle at the head of the saddle, then flinched at a sudden, loud animal’s call. “What was that?”

Fog looked up at the trees. After a moment of silence, she returned her gaze to Fendrel. “I don’t think it was anything dangerous—”

Fendrel began to fade away, turning into a swirl of shifting gray sand.


POV: Cassius

Cassius struck at Charles over and over, while Charles shielded each blow.

Charles’ unbothered gaze only made Cassius’ swings more aggressive.

The ex-prince’s breaths became heavier. He ground his teeth.

“Are you okay, Cassius?” Charles caught Cassius’ staff with his hand. “You’ve looked angry all morning.”

“I’m fine.” Cassius tried to rip his staff away, but Charles’ grip was too strong.

Charles raised one eyebrow and released Cassius’ weapon. “Maybe you should take a breather. Tell me what’s going on.”

Cassius gave a heavy sigh and plopped down on the ground. “It’s Sadie.”

“Is she in trouble?” Charles sat down in front of him, resting one arm on his bent knee.

“No.” Cassius scratched the wood of his staff with a fingernail. “She should have been born before me, so Father would have taken her under as his heir. She has the right mind and personality for it. I . . . I don’t know what I should have been. Not whatever I was taught for.”

Charles nodded. “I know that feeling.”


Cassius made a face at him.

“Before I got roped into being a dragon hunter, I wanted to join the royal guard.” Charles chuckled. “I moved my family from our small village all the way to the great city of Sharpdagger. Then, on my way to my first day of training, I saw Sadon and his goons doing something I probably should have ignored, for my family’s sake. They wouldn’t even let me say goodbye.”

“That’s awful . . . but how does this relate to . . . ?”

Charles waved his hand at Cassius. “I wasn’t done. At first, Sadon wanted me to be a sort of secretary, until he realized training me would be more beneficial to him. And, even though I hated the killing part of the job, I found my place by fighting. Then I found it even more when I was put in charge of the students. It’s strange how the worst thing in my life led me to what I do best.”

Cassius had a blank look on his face.

The ex-hunter sighed. “I’m trying to say you went through hell and now you’ve found something you really like. So what if you’re not cut out to be king? Is there a law that says Sadie can’t accept the crown instead of you, and you can . . . be her personal guard or something?”

“Oh.” Cassius took a deep breath. “Thank you. I feel better.”

“Good.” Charles stood and offered his hand to help Cassius stand. “Shall we continue?”

Cassius gave a nervous laugh. “Actually, I was going to take Sadie to Beast-Hunt to get a dress for her birthday . . .”

Charles tapped Cassius on the head with his staff. “That means an extra hour tomorrow, got it?”

“Understood.” Cassius grinned.

. . . Maybe he’s right. Maybe I should talk to Sadie about what he said.


POV: Zoricus

Zoricus winced with each step and struggled to make his breathing sound normal.

My ankle can’t be getting worse! Everything is already going downhill. I can’t afford this kind of setback. What am I going to do?

Fragrance moved through the jungle with ease, his tail slithering behind him like an exotic snake. Every minute he was farther ahead of Zoricus.

It’s bad enough being on all these bumpy roots. How am I going to manage once we reach the mountain?

The ex-knight tried to speed up. Zoricus felt as a knife was sliding into his ankle. He cried out and dropped down, clutching his ankle.

“What is it now?” Fragrance sighed as he turned around. He paused when Zoricus removed his boot to reveal a swelled mess. “What happened?”

Zoricus took a deep breath. “I think I sprained it in the river.”

“I knew going after that leaf was a bad idea.” Fragrance rolled his eyes. “You were able to walk all this way on that, so why not now?”

“I can keep walking, but we’d have to slow down.” Zoricus ripped long leaves and vines from around him and began to wrap his ankle.

Fragrance gave a short, gruff sigh. “If I have to stay under these sun-hogging trees another minute I am going to go mad.”

“We could always fly to the mountain.” Zoricus shrugged. He grit his teeth while securing the leaf wrap with the vines.

My boot isn’t going to fit on with this.

The dragon snarled, his tail twitching. “I am not flying you to your every destination. I am not a servant.”

“I never said you were.” Zoricus huffed as he got himself to stand up. “Why do you have such a big problem with carrying me? Obviously, not all dragons are the same, but Fendrel’s buddies carry him everywhere.”

“That’s just it, human.” Fragrance turned his back to Zoricus. “We are not buddies. I will not be treated like livestock or a broken horse!”

Zoricus leaned a tree trunk. “Well, how do you suggest we go about this then? Do you want to walk all day and risk not finding shelter for the night, or do you want to suck it up for the day and fly us to the mountain?”

The dragon went silent.

I should have just stayed in Sharpdagger. At least then Sadon could kill me immediately instead of giving me false hope of success here.

Fragrance snorted. “Well, what are you waiting for? Get on.”

The ex-knight didn’t hesitate, not wanting Fragrance to change his mind. He swung his injured foot over first and pulled himself on.

“This is only for today.” Fragrance looked back at Zoricus.

“Yeah, no. This swelling isn’t going down for at least a couple days. We’re stuck like this until it gets better.” Zoricus smirked.

“F-f-fine.” Fragrance headed through the jungle. His pace was quicker than it had been before.

“We’re not going to fly?” Zoricus placed his hands flat on the base of Fragrance’s neck, not knowing where to put them.

“No. If I fly, you’ll need to hold on to something. And if you so much as brush those reins again, I will fill you with acid.” Fragrance kept his gaze ahead.

Zoricus blinked in surprise. “You can do that?”

Fragrance nodded. He had a devious smile. “I already did it to Fendrel . . . he cried.”

“Ah . . . I’ll keep that in mind.” Zoricus bit the inside of his lips.

His ankle still felt awful, but the wrap took away an inkling of the pain it once held.


POV: Fog

“Fendrel!” Fog reached for the gray sand that had once been Fendrel, but it slipped through her claws, growing and shifting all on its own.

The sand began to take shape, much larger than it previously had been.

It looks like those deer mimics. What is this?

Scales and horns and wings from the sand until a dragon stood in its place.

What just happened? I could have blinked, and I would have missed the transformation.

“F-Fendrel?” Fog pressed her wings against her sides and crept forward. “Is that you?”

“What are you talking about? Didn’t you hear that noise?” The dragon gave her a curious glance.

“The noise? You’re worried about that noise?” Fog shook her head. “It was just some animal.”

Fendrel’s ears flicked back. “Should I be worried about something else?”

Fog looked Fendrel up and down. “Maybe worried isn’t the right word, but you should definitely—”

“Why am I taller than you?” Fendrel stepped forward. “Why am I on my hands?”

“I’m just . . . going to assume this is another link thing.” Fog held her paw out. “Can I see your paw?”

Fendrel put his paw in hers. He froze at the sight of his own.

Fog gripped onto his foreleg before he could pull away. “Wait, wait, wait!”

“What is this?” Fendrel’s voice sounded more panicked than it had ever been. His tail whipped against a tree, hard. “Ow!”

“You need to calm down.” Fog pulled Fendrel toward her. She stifled a laugh. “Your tail will calm down with you, I promise.”

Fendrel nodded and took a deep breath. He gently pulled his paw away and sat, then looked over his shoulder.

“See? Mine gets like that too when I’m freaked out.” Fog sat in front him.

Looking back at Fog, Fendrel shook his head. “Why are you smiling?”

Fog shrugged. “I don’t know. I think I’m just amused at the situation.”

“Mhm, laugh at my pain. I just got done with the headaches, now I have to learn how to fly and walk on four legs and keep a tail under control.” Fendrel’s tone was dry, but Fog could tell he was joking.

“It will be okay.” Fog flicked his tail with her own. She laughed in anticipation of her own joke. “Being a dragon isn’t that bad.”

“We’ll see about that.” Fendrel stood. “I’m just…really confused. Why a Newlander dragon?”

“Hm-m-m.” Fog tilted her head to the side. “Maybe it’s because you became a link here? That is interesting. And why a deer mimic at that rather than a hybrid or a dragon of some other kind?”

Fendrel sighed. “Maybe Poison will know.”

“She probably does.” Fog nodded. “Do you . . . want to go back and ask Venom to come with us?”

“We can keep going on our own. They need him back on the Settlement.” Fendrel looked out toward where they were headed before his transformation.

“All right.” Fog stood and nudged him with her wing as she walked past. “Ooh! Maybe I can teach you how to fly.”

Fendrel seemed to grow more upbeat at Fog’s suggestion.

Well, this means I won’t be strengthening my wings by carrying him, but at least he’s growing.


POV: Zoricus

As Fragrance trotted through the jungle, a thought came to Zoricus’ head.

“Do dragon parents carry their children on their backs? Humans carry their kids in their arms, but you guys walk on four legs.” Zoricus leaned to the side to catch Fragrance’s eye.

Fragrance snorted and kept his gaze forward. “Only those who wish their children to be weak and undignified give them rides. My children walked after me, perfecting their poise and strides as they grew.”

Zoricus nearly fell off Fragrance in shock. “You have children? How many?”

The yellow dragon slowed down as if he were focused on thinking. “Too many to count, but I raised three.”

“You sound . . . strangely proud about that.” Zoricus sat back.

“Of course I’m proud of them!” Fragrance stuck his chin up. “They are my heirs.”

Zoricus nodded. “For the title of noble.”

Fragrance seemed to hesitate before answering. “Yes. They will have good lives. I’ll make sure of that.”

“I didn’t really peg you as the fatherly type.” Zoricus eyed the back of Fragrance’s head.

“And who are you to judge about that? Do you have children?” Fragrance made a small leap over a river.

Zoricus grabbed onto the dragon’s spines. “Uh . . . I hope not.”

“First off, that was a rhetorical question. Second, how irresponsible are you that you don’t even know if you’re a father?” The dragon’s moves became erratic as if to throw Zoricus off on “accident.”

“I’m irresponsible?” Zoricus scoffed and pressed a hand to his chest. “You don’t even know how many children you have! How many children’s lives did you ruin by walking out?”

“I did not walk out on them. I was merely participating in one of my tribe’s most ancient practices.” Fragrance shook his head. “I can’t believe I have to explain myself to you. I have children with a number of available females, they choose the child’s mimicry, and I name them and take them in if I wish. It is my duty as a noble to expand the genetic diversity.”

Zoricus’ mouth hung open. “Do all nobles do that?”

“No.” Fragrance glanced back. “Just the floral tribe.”

“That is certainly . . . interesting.”

“It is.” Fragrance nodded. “Although, some of the females think it’s a wise decision to insult me by introducing their eggs to plants other than citrus so the hatchlings will have a different mimicry than I. Their punishment is their hatchlings will be shunned from the rest of the tribe, solely based on their name alone.”

“How could that happen? A name is a name, right?” Zoricus laughed under his breath.

“Several years ago one of the mothers brought her birch-mimic son to me to name, knowing I would favor a citrus-mimic instead. So, I simply named him ‘Birch.’ She didn’t put in the effort to give him the right mimicry, so why would I put in the effort of giving him a real name.” Fragrance shrugged. “It’s like if your parents named you ‘Blue-Eyes’ or something to that effect.”

“So . . . the hatchlings of the disrespectful mothers get named based on their appearance? Then what did you name your heirs?” Zoricus leaned forward, enjoying the conversation.

“Ah.” Fragrance smiled. “Sour, Citrus, and Divine. Lime-, grapefruit-, and persimmon-mimics, respectfully.”

“And you’re lemon, right?”

Fragrance gave him an incredulous look. “Is your nose blocked? Do I not smell as such?”

Zoricus shook his head. “No, I can tell . . . I guess I just wanted to make sure.”

The floral dragon snorted. “Right. All this talking has made my throat dry. We’re going for a slight detour.”

“We might not find shelter for tonight if we spend our time finding water instead of going forward.” Zoricus gestured at the jungle ahead.

“I am not going to bed with a dry throat.” Fragrance veered off his self-made path.

Zoricus hung his head in exasperation.

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