The Dragon Liberator: Freelander

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-22-

POV: Zoricus

Zoricus used Fragrance’s neck as a hand hold while he got down from the yellow dragon’s shoulders. He rolled his eyes at Fragrance’s annoyed face.

Just give me a second and it will be over, you lemon-essenced lizard.

He eased himself into a sitting position, his back pressed against a rocky arch that served as a shallow cave’s mouth. The swelling in his ankle had gone down a bit, but not by much.

“That took all the previous day, through the night, and now well into the morning.” Fragrance lashed his tail and stormed inside the cave.

Zoricus leaned the back of his head against the rock wall. “It’s a mountain. Of course it would take a while to climb. I told you that you could have flown up here and saved us all that time, but you insisted on walking.”

Fragrance stuck his head out, so his nose was inches from Zoricus’ face. His teeth were bared in a snarl. “Right. It’s my fault you sprained your ankle and had me carry you.”

“You didn’t want me on your back at all so we would have had to climb the mountain, wasting all that time, either way.” Zoricus used his index finger to push Fragrance’s snout away.

“You are so clumsy that even if I had let you on my back for flight, you would have fallen off, even more so with your crippled foot.” Fragrance returned to the cave’s darkness. “I cannot believe I am saying this but at least Fendrel kept his balance while flying.”

“How do you know?” Zoricus almost grabbed onto something for leverage to help him stand. “We did just fine flying to this continent. You won’t even give it a chance.”

“If I give you a chance and you fall off, you’ll be too far for the spell’s boundaries, and I’ll collapse in pain. Do you want the both of us to fall to our deaths? Because that is what will happen.” Fragrance sounded like he was kicking rocks within the cave.

Zoricus felt his face heat up, realizing Fragrance had a point. “All right, fine! I’m sorry about the river and the fake bag. Can you let it go now?”

“Ha! Let it go . . .” Fragrance voice took on aura of superiority. “Mistakes should be pointed out until corrected. And since your ankle is still defective, I will not ‘let it go.’”

“You want to talk mistakes?” Zoricus pushed himself up on his good foot and hobbled to the cave mouth. “You act so tough and high and mighty, but somehow you still let that mage or whoever it was nail reins into your horns. How’d you let that happen? And what about those holes in your ears? You really let them do that to you?”

Fragrance laughed. “Have you never heard of earrings, vermin? How could you mistake wounds with piercings? Those were pure emeralds I used to wear.”

“Aw, how fitting.” Zoricus gave a mocking smile.

“Fitting?”

“Yeah, you know, green is the color of envy.” Zoricus shrugged.

“What are you getting at?” Fragrance turned up his chin at Zoricus.

Zoricus shook his head. “Nothing. Just sounds like you’re jealous of someone. People who are confident in themselves don’t need to constantly put others down to feel superior.”

Fragrance stared at Zoricus. His wings drooped a little, then snapped back up. He walked into the sunlight and laid down. “You know nothing about me. This conversation is over. I’m going to sleep, so leave me alone.”

“Fine.” Zoricus hobbled to the farthest corner from Fragrance and laid down, exasperated.

Petty beast . . . What made him like this?

<~><~><~>

When Zoricus woke up, the sun was starting to teeter toward the west.

His stomach growled. His ankle still felt awful.

I need food if I want to heal from this.

Zoricus winced as he pushed himself to his feet. He dragged himself out of the cave, around Fragrance’s sleeping form, and headed further up the mountain. It only inclined slightly now, and they were nearly at the peak. Now that they were at the top of the mountain, the jungles below looked like a mass of green. Somewhere amidst all that greenery was what looked like a human city.

Maybe we could check there later.

With a scoff, Zoricus shook his head at the thought of having to work with Fragrance.

I have to if I want to survive. I can’t do this alone. So just for the time being, I’ll try to make him my ally.

The trees on the mountain’s summit were small but still bore fruit. They were easy to reach and Zoricus took as many as he could carry.

Upon returning to the cave, he contemplated just dropping the fruit on Fragrance’s head.

No. I need him to trust me until he’s useless.

Zoricus, despite his throbbing ankle, got to his knees and placed the fruit in front of the dragon’s nose, keeping one for himself to eat. As he hobbled to the mountain’s edge, he thought he heard the dragon lift his head. “I saw a human city, or something like that, behind us. They might know something about Fendrel. It’s a longshot, but it’s worth a try.”

Fragrance ate a few of the fruits. He stayed laying down. “No. No humans. If you want to follow that lead, you’ll have to do it yourself.”

The ex-knight closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

Don’t yell . . .

“Just because you weren’t the one assigned to kill Fendrel doesn’t mean you can just shirk this.” Zoricus tried to hide the annoyance in his voice.

Fragrance gave a cynical laugh. “Believe it or not, but the humans here are more hostile toward dragons than your king is. So, unless you want me to die, I’d suggest you find another lead.”

“More hostile than Sadon?” Zoricus took a bite of his fruit. “Seriously?”

“. . . I lost a few loved ones here, and many, many friends due to the humans’ war. They hunted the native dragons here to extinction as far as I can tell, since we haven’t seen any. They already accomplished what Sadon set out to do. So, no. No help will come from them.” Fragrance returned to his food.

Zoricus turned to face the dragon. “Is that why you hate humans so much?”

Fragrance crossed his paws. “That . . . and humans, unlike dragons, are brought into this world without being attached to any of the elements. When dragons hatch, we borrow from the ancient powers that govern our world, and when we die those powers are returned. Humans do nothing but take and pay no respect to the elements which sustain them all their lives. You are leeches who think yourselves as lions.”

Rolling his eyes, Zoricus turned back around. “Right.”

“It is not my fault you were made human.”

“Yeah, well, it’s not my fault either. Is it?” Zoricus scowled. “You are one of the most arrogant beings I’ve ever met. Honestly, you have me beat. I thought I was at the top of that list.”

“What do you have to be arrogant about?” Fragrance stood and walked over to Zoricus.

Zoricus shrugged. “I was the previous king’s nephew. I’m the head of the royal guard. I am the most trained fighter in my whole kingdom. For human standards, I look pretty good—”

“You do?” Fragrance squinted at him.

“Yeah.” Zoricus jutted his chin at him. “You?”

“I am irresistible.” The yellow dragon grinned.

Almost falling down the mountain, Zoricus laughed heartily. He sat down to avoid injuring himself. “I’m sorry . . . I didn’t mean to offend you or anything. We just both sounded pretty pathetic there.”

“Speak for yourself.” Fragrance inched away from Zoricus but looked as if he were hiding a smile.

“You know, my life’s been going downhill ever since I started hearing about Fendrel. Instead of ‘good job catching that thief, Zoricus’ it was always ‘when are you going to stop the Liberator?’” Zoricus waved his hands mockingly. “And then it just got worse and worse. All of a sudden, my cousin runs away from home, but he was a huge part of Sadon’s takeover plan, so then the pressure was on me again. Before I knew it, he shows up again with Fendrel by his side and they got me defenestrated. My own uncle disowned me. My other cousin, poor dear Sadie, looked at me like I was a monster.”

“Hm.” Fragrance looked at Zoricus out the corner of his eye. “Fendrel caused your loss of power?”

“Yep. And that was after I already wanted him dead.”

“. . . He . . . led to my downfall as well.” Fragrance repeatedly stabbed his last fruit with one claw. “That lizard, Venom claimed Fendrel was his son. I tried calling his bluff, thinking he’d back down. Instead he allowed Fendrel to carry out one of his tribe’s most sacred traditions against me, and the vermin won. Against all odds he won and that’s when I realized I didn’t want to be part of a kingdom that allowed humans to be in a position of power over dragons.”

Zoricus went silent, hoping Fragrance would continue.

“I left the kingdom with most of my tribe.” Fragrance looked away. “Then Sadon appeared at my borders and burned our home to the ground. I lost sight of my children in the chaos.”

“I’m sorry.” Zoricus swallowed.

“What good does it do if you’re sorry? That won’t change anything.” Fragrance stood and walked away.

. . . Maybe if I can convince him that I want to be free from Sadon, he’ll be more willing to help me.

<~><~><~>

POV: Fendrel

Fendrel’s eyes opened after a full night of sleep.

There was a pile of leaves on him like a blanket, even though he hadn’t grabbed any when he went to sleep.

Fog must have gotten them for me.

His drowsiness dissipated at the sight of his hands.

Did I change back in my sleep? My bag is back, too! How did I not realize it wasn’t with me?

“Oh, you’re awake!” Fog had her back turned to him, facing the jungle beyond.

Fendrel laid between her and a tree. He sat up and examined his hands. “When did this happen?”

Fog shrugged. “I was watching for anything dangerous, and then when I looked back over at you, you had changed back. I was a little chilly and I thought you might be colder than me because you don’t have feathers. I didn’t want you to not sleep well because of the cold so I covered you in those leaves, and then I realized you suddenly had your bag with you. What happened to that?”

“I have no idea.” Fendrel got to his feet, slinging his bag strap over his shoulder. “And thank you.”

“Of course!” Fog got up and stretched.

“You aren’t tired, are you?” Fendrel gave her a look of concern. “I actually would feel pretty guilty if you lost your powers because you aren’t sleeping.”

“I’ll be fine.” Fog smiled. “Dragons can rest while still being alert, though it’s more a half-sleep kind of thing.”

“That’s good to know.” Fendrel nodded. He pointed east. “Should we head over now?”

“Yes. I have a few questions I need answered.” Fog walked in tandem with Fendrel.

“Me too. We should get there by day’s end.” Fendrel stumbled his first few steps, trying to get used to walking on two legs again.

<~><~><~>

POV: Zoricus

Zoricus had his arms crossed as he leaned against the cave wall. He looked over at Fragrance. “So I’ve been thinking . . .”

Fragrance made a face which Zoricus assumed was exasperation.

“I think it’s unfair that we were both forced into this team, and I think we can have better cooperation with a deal.” Zoricus waited for Fragrance’s response.

The dragon glowered at him. “Deals require both parties to give something up.”

Zoricus tried to look as sincere as possible. “I’ll do most of the dirty work, I swear.”

Fragrance snorted. “What was your idea?”

With a smile, Zoricus gestured at him. “If you help me track down and kill Fendrel, to the absolute best of your ability, I will help you find your children when we get back to Sharpdagger.”

“Do you really expect me to fall for that?” Fragrance turned away from Zoricus. “Your words are empty. You intend to use me to save your own hide and leave me to die when we return.”

Zoricus limped toward him. “No, no. You have more word. I will do everything in my power to find them. I’ll ask Sadon to lend me resources. I will go out in person to look for them. I always make good on my promises.”

Fragrance went quiet for a bit. “. . . If I suspect even for a second that you plan on double-crossing me, I will make sure you have a slow, painful death.”

“Okay.” Zoricus nodded, feeling a bit pale. He stuck his hand out.

“You said your word was good enough. Prove it.” Fragrance left the cave.

Zoricus sighed. He let his hand drop at his side. “I will.”

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