Though the sky was barely visible through the trees, Fendrel noticed the decrease in light meant the sun was setting.
“Is that a note?” Fendrel approached a piece of wood scratched with letters, laying upright outside an underground den.
Fog came up beside him. “It looks like it.”
Fendrel picked up the piece of wood. It seemed so small in his paws compared to how big it would have been had he not changed. He read it aloud. “Surprise! My siblings and I made a number of underground dens (hopefully vacant) for you on your travels many years ago. There won’t be another one for quite a while, so please use this one as long as you like! I apologize if anything within is dusty or unkempt. I left lanterns (and some extra blankets I couldn’t fit in my home), and there should be berries around the back. Also, I am sorry there are no doors, but if you feel you need them you can drape a blanket over the hole. Regards, Mamba.”
“That’s nice of them.” Fog smiled.
“Yeah, but I’m pretty sure they were told by Poison to make these dens.” Fendrel put the note back where he found it and headed through the den’s opening.
“Well maybe Mamba put those lanterns and blankets in by himself. He seems like the kind of dragon to do that.” Fog followed him in.
Fendrel nodded. “He does seem that way . . .”
Fog picked up a small stone and struck it with her claws over an open lamp, showering sparks on the candle at the lamp’s bottom.
The wick slowly came to life and illuminated the inside of the den. It was small, but not claustrophobic. A small circular rug was in the center of the den.
“Fendrel?” Fog set the lantern down. “Do you trust Mamba?”
“Why? Did he say something?” Fendrel turned toward her.
“No, it’s what you said. You said, ‘he seems that way’ when I mentioned his generosity.” Fog looked at him. “Do you suspect him of something?”
“Mamba is . . .” Fendrel shook his head. “He’s a stranger.”
Fog shrugged. “I used to be a stranger.”
“Well, yeah, but you aren’t cryptic and showing up out of nowhere whenever it’s convenient.” Fendrel grinned when Fog laughed.
“That’s true. But still, I don’t think we need to worry about him.” Fog nudged Fendrel’s shoulder as she walked past to a woven basket with a lid. She removed the lid to reveal a cluster of blankets. “And if I’m wrong, then we might have bigger things to worry about than my intuition being wonky. By the way, do you need one of these?”
Fendrel shook his head. “I’m okay. It’s a lot warmer here than in the Freelands.”
While Fog laid down, Fendrel took a blanket and draped it over the den’s entrance, leaving a small opening to peek out of. “I can take the first watch.”
“Are you sure?” Fog tilted her head. “You had another weird day, didn’t you?”
“I actually feel pretty normal, all things considered.” Fendrel laid by the entrance, facing Fog. “I know that sounds strange.”
“Well, that’s good, I think.” Fog looked down at her claws. “Can I tell you something?”
“Of course.” Fendrel inched closer.
Fog sighed. “Back when the venom got on you, and you passed out, I noticed some of the glass from the bottle cut you. I tried to heal your cuts, but I could hardly breathe any vapor. It was like . . . I wasn’t even a vapor dragon.”
This isn’t good. What happens when we need healing?
“And you don’t know what caused it?” Fendrel gave her a quizzical look. “Does it work now?”
“Let’s see.” Fog’s voice sounded half-hearted. She opened her mouth and tried to blow a puff of mist, but none came out. Her ears dropped. “I’m worried.”
What can I say?
“Maybe Poison will have an answer for us.” Fendrel kept looking at her.
Fog nodded. “I hope so. Maybe it will sort itself out before we get to her. I’ll keep checking on it, just in case.”
Fendrel nodded. “Sounds like a plan.”
“Oh! Maybe it’s a lack of sleep! I’ve been staying up later ever since we came here. Maybe I just need to go to sleep earlier?” Fog curled her tail around her front paws and tucked her head under her wing. “I’m going to see if that’s why. Good night.”
“Good night.” Fendrel stifled a chuckle. He repositioned so he faced the opening under the blanket. He quieted his voice to a whisper. “Sleep well.”
Cassius blocked a blow from Charles and countered.
“So, how was Beast-Hunt?” Charles sidestepped, then continued to spar.
“I thought you said no distractions while training?” Cassius was nearly grazed by on the cheek but managed to dodge. He slipped and raised his staff to push Charles away.
“I was just checking to see if you were cocky enough to carry a conversation when you’ve only just learned how to block.” Charles rolled his shoulders, waiting for Cassius to stand up. “I won’t wait for you to recover next time.”
Cassius yelped at Charles’ next advance. His breathing became heavy. With each step he felt more invigorated. “Beast-Hunt was great! I mean, it’s probably not a good place to be, but there weren’t any dragons in sight.”
Charles nodded and circled Cassius, who shifted to face him. “Fendrel will like to hear that.”
“All the dresses look way different from the ones back home. I guess ours would be too much for this weather, though.” Cassius paused speaking for a breath and to strike at Charles.
Charles grunted. He reached up to his cheek and checked his fingers. His eyebrows lifted. “You grazed me.”
Cassius gripped his staff in excitement. “I did it! I’m getting better!”
“Or I’m just getting slow.” Charles hit Cassius square in the stomach.
The ex-prince groaned and crumpled to his knees.
“Nope.” Charles shook his head. “You just surprised me, somehow. Good job, though.”
“Thank . . . you . . .” Cassius struggled to his feet and resumed a battle stance.
“You want to keep going? Don’t you need to bring the dress to your sister?” Charles nodded beyond Cassius.
Cassius looked at the canyon lip and froze. “How did I not realize it got so dark?”
Charels chuckled. “Go on back.”
“Yes sir.” Cassius flinched when Charles clapped him on the back and spun him around by the shoulder. The ex-prince began to walk away. He twirled the staff in his hands as he went, feeling more connected to it than nearly anything else in his entire life.
The jungle outside was becoming more visible through the eyehole under the blanket. Nocturnal creatures were quieting as daylight-seeking animals took their place in appearance and voice.
Behind Fendrel, Fog was still curled up. She showed no signs of waking on her own.
Fendrel took the blanket off the outside of the den and did his best to shake the dirt out.
It was dusty before I took it from the basket, so it’s probably fine.
He slung it over his shoulders like he’d seen his adoptive parents do when they needed to carry something so all four of his legs were free to move. After returning the blanket to its basket, Fendrel glanced at Fog.
She had raised her wing and was peeking out from under it.
“Sorry, did I wake you up?” Fendrel placed the basket’s lid on top.
Fog stretched. She had a sheepish smile. “No. I was pretending so you would let me sleep in.”
Fendrel shook his head in amusement. “We have to see Poison and get back to the Settlement as fast as possible.”
“I know. But if my powers never come back, I’m blaming my lack of sleep on you.” Fog nudged his shoulder with her wing as she headed for the den’s opening.
“Ha ha.” Fendrel followed after her. “That’s just a theory at this point. We don’t know why you lost your vapor breath.”
“Yeah.” When Fendrel came out of the den next to her, she gave a somber look. “Can we not talk about it? I don’t want to be worried all day.”
Fendrel nodded. “Sure.”
“Let’s talk about something else, to keep our minds off it for a bit. Oh! Maybe you can start prepping your wings for flight.” Fog’s strides quickened as her mood seemed to heighten.
“Prepare for flight?” Fendrel gave a nervous laugh.
I knew it had to happen at some point, but flying already?
“It will be fun, I think.” The way Fog smiled at Fendrel made him want to say yes.
Venom said he wanted to help me through this every step of the way . . . doesn’t that include flying? Dragons are taught to fly by their parents, and guardians. But Venom can’t fly properly anymore. I want to learn the right way, but I don’t want to disappoint him by learning from someone else.
“Are you okay?” Fog waved a paw in front of Fendrel’s snout. “You spaced out a little.”
“Sorry. I was just thinking.” Fendrel shifted his weight in discomfort. “Maybe you can just teach me the basics for now.”
Then, since I’ll have a good foundation, I can learn more from Venom.
“Great!” Fog skipped a little in her steps. “Well, first, you need to practice moving your wings and your tail on your own. I don’t really know how to explain it, but you just have to figure that out yourself. Wings are usually easier since they’re connected to your shoulders, but your tail is just as important . . .”
Fendrel looked at his wings as she talked. Both were furled at his sides like a butterfly who hasn’t yet dried from its chrysalis. As his gaze traveled further back, he saw his tail swishing to each side rhythmically. He tried moving it himself, but nothing happened.
He shook his head to clear away any frustration and returned his sights to the jungle ahead.
This will take time and practice.
Fog’s instructions and words of encouragement put Fendrel in a cheerful state of mind as they traveled.