Sunlight penetrated the jungle ahead. As Fendrel and Fog reached it, they discovered the end of the jungle which sat at a cliff’s edge, overlooking a bay. Roots from the thick trees grew out of the cliff’s side, gnarly and twisting.
“Okay . . . We’re at the eastern end. Where’s Poison?” Fendrel looked anywhere he could, but the massive black dragon seemed to be hiding.
“Is that her?” Fog pointed at a far-off object in the sea. “The last time we saw her, just her nose was sticking out of the water, and we thought she was a rock. Is that her?”
Just as Fendrel caught sight of what she was pointing at, the object grew from the ocean. Steadily, Poison emerged from the water and dragged her salt- and barnacle-encrusted self into the bay to lay down.
Fendrel held his breath. “She looks so much bigger when her whole body is visible . . .”
Fog nodded. Her mouth was open in awe.
Poison turned her head to look at them. She tilted her head toward the small strip of beach in front of her as if to say, “Come here.”
“All right.” Fendrel climbed onto Fog’s shoulders. “Let’s go.”
The vapor dragon pushed off the cliff and flew toward the beach. Her flight seemed much smoother than before.
“Am I crazy or have your wings gotten stronger?” Fendrel glanced at her.
Fog turned her head a bit to look at him. “While you were asleep during your transformation, I flew with weights to get used to carrying you.”
Fendrel sat back in surprise. “You did?”
“Is it paying off?” Fog’s ears perked up.
“I can tell the difference.” Fendrel nodded.
Fog smiled. She turned her attention back to the beach just in time to land, her descent almost as graceful as her flight.
“Welcome again, Freelanders.” Poison’s words were just above a whisper but could be heard clear as day.
“Good afternoon!” Fog spread her wings in what Fendrel assumed was a sort of curtsey.
Fendrel dismounted and bowed his head in respect. “Good afternoon.”
Waves crashed around Poison and licked at her paws, causing her claws to glisten with seawater. Ocean drops fell from her as if she were melting. “How have you been fairing since we last spoke?”
The two travelers looked at each other.
“It’s been . . . interesting, and tiring.” Fendrel looked back at Poison.
“A lot has happened.” Fog gave a slight laugh.
Poison gave them a comforting smile. “Is there anything you would like to say before I give you what you came here for?”
Fog stepped forward. “I don’t know if you know the answer to this . . . but, I’ve lost my vapor breath. I don’t know how, and I don’t know if it will ever come back.”
“I see. This is normal for Freelanders who come to the Newlands.” Poison nodded her head. “I am quite surprised your elders did not warn you of this, though they must have forgotten in the chaos of settling in.”
“So I can get it back?” Fog’s wings lifted a bit.
“There is a catch, young one.” Poison pointed at her chest. “Every Freelander dragon and link enters this world with an element attached to their soul. Your soul is entwined with vapor, and mine with dusk. As long as we stay in the Freelands, we will always have access to our innate abilities. However, if we venture far from home, the elemental energy within us strains as it tries to stay connected to our homeland. When this connection wanes, our abilities go dormant while our bodies adjust to the new environment. Give it a few days and you will see your vapor breath return.”
Fog gave a sigh of relief. “Oh good. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to heal anyone.”
Poison’s ears dropped a little. “I am sorry, that was not the catch I was speaking of. You will never get your healing breath back unless you come in physical contact with the very source of your element.”
“You mean I have to touch mist when we get back home?” Fog tilted her head in confusion.
“No.” The tip of Poison’s tail sent a shower of seawater as she flicked it. “I find it hard to explain, I always have. Perhaps Venom could tell you if you ask him. The next time you see him, ask him about the ten Orbs.”
Fog backed up a few steps with a disheartened look on her face.
Fendrel felt the need to reassure her, but Poison drew his attention away.
“And you, Fendrel? Is there something you need clarified?” Poison readjusted her position and the indented sands around her filled with the ocean like a moat.
“Yeah.” Fendrel tapped the side of his bag. “I . . . turned into a dragon, and my bag disappeared. But when I changed back, my bag showed up again.”
“Ah. Well, congratulations on your first dragon-shift. One note before I answer your concern. The first shift is always uncontrollable, but from now on you can dragon-shift on will, just by thinking about it.” Poison smiled down at him. “Your bag, your clothes, and your necklace seemed to disappear because you see them as a part of yourself, so when you changed it was as if they became part of you. I know it sounds hard to explain, and even us dusk dragons and other links do not understand how it happens.”
Fendrel blinked in confusion but nodded. “Oh . . . oh, and why is my dragon form a Newlander dragon?”
“That is simply because you turned while in the Newlands. And this form is as a deer-mimic because that was the first Newlander dragon that captivated your mind. It must have been quite a shock to see such a being, yes?” Poison had an amused tone of voice.
“I’d say so.” Fendrel grinned.
Poison chuckled. She pointed at the tip of one of her horns. “Now, I must ask you to pull this off as I do not want to break it.”
There seemed to be some kind of thick string with objects attached to it wrapped around one of her horn tips.
Poison laid head sideways, so the adorned horn was resting in the sand.
Fendrel jogged to the horn, several feet away and retrieved the adornment. It was a leather strap with six black-bladed daggers clipped onto it. In the center of each dagger’s hilt was a hole, as if something was meant to fit there.
The dusk dragon assumed her previous position, one side of her head now caked in sand. “Those are for you. The blades were fashioned from my own claws. They are sharper than any metal weapon you have used, and I made sure they were perfectly suited for your use.”
Shocked, Fendrel couldn’t tear his eyes from the daggers.
These are gorgeous.
“Thank you.” His lips moved without thinking. “What’s the hole in the middle for?”
“You will see that they fill with energy once they are fully powered.” Poison stood up. Water and sand cascaded down her sides.
“Wait, what do you mean ‘fully powered?’” Fendrel looked up the ancient dragon, but she paid him no mind.
As Fog came up beside Fendrel, Poison walked out into deeper and deeper waters until she laid down and kept her nose above the waves.
Fendrel sighed in frustration. “Do you think she heard me or was she ignoring me?”
Fog’s wings lifted as she shrugged. “I don’t know . . .”
They watched the idents Poison left behind fill with water and sand until the beach had almost returned to normal.
“Are you okay?” Fendrel turned his head to look at Fog.
“Hm?” Fog looked at him. “Oh, about the healing? I don’t know what to feel. She made it sound like I could get them back, but it would be hard to.”
Fendrel nudged her wing with his elbow. “Well, at least now we know it isn’t caused by a lack of sleep.”
Fog breathed a laugh. “Yeah. Are you ready to head back?”
“Yes.” Fendrel tied the leather strap around his waist like a belt, then climbed onto Fog’s shoulders. He buckled his legs into the saddle’s straps. “But, you’re sure you’re okay?”
The vapor dragon gave him a weak smile. “I’ll be fine. I just need to talk to Venom.”
“Okay.” Fendrel nodded, though he wasn’t convinced.
And I need to properly bury Sear.
Cassius’ smile brightened when he saw Sadie wearing her new dress. She had seemed shocked when he got it for her. He didn’t tell his sister that he had traded the dress for an expensive ring he kept on him from home.
Sadie, who was speaking with Mist and Cloud, glanced over her shoulder at Cassius. Her face looked worried as she waved him over.
The ex-prince jogged over to the three who conversed away from the huts and the bustle of the other dragons and humans.
“Is something wrong?” Cassius did his best to catch his breath quietly.
“There has been a situation recently involving one of our tribes.” Cloud sighed. “The air dragons have left to venture back home.”
Cassius shook his head. “Did they say why?”
Cloud gave Cassius a somber look. “Their noble has chosen to remove his tribe from our rule. They believe the Freelands are not as bad as Fendrel and Charles have warned us.”
Mist shared a look with Cloud. “We are becoming divided again.”
“And we’re losing allies.” Cassius felt a chill run down his spine.
We’re never going to win. We’ve already lost. We might as well just turn ourselves in now…
“We need to have a discussion with the rulers of Beast-Hunt immediately and try to strengthen our ties to them.” Sadie had an expression more determined than Cassius had ever seen. “We must speak with the nobility of the other dragon factions as well. They need to realize that going home isn’t an option right now.”
Stop sulking. Sadie is right, we need to have structure.
“When did they leave?” Cassius stepped closer to them.
“Earlier today.” Mist cast a glance on the remaining dragons. “I believe they grew tired of waiting around, or perhaps they believe your friends are deceiving us.”
Cassius shook his head. “I’ve never met a human who cares more about dragons than Fendrel. It’s impossible for him to have ulterior motives.”
“Our best bet is to handle what we can here until Fendrel returns to speak with the Beast-Hunt prince.” Cloud shifted his wings as if he were uncomfortable.
“We can’t talk to him now?” Sadie pointed toward where the Beast-Hunt palace would be visible, if not for the canyon.
“Fendrel told him he was the only one who could talk to dragons.” Cassius gestured at Sadie.
“What was the purpose of that?” Sadie looked between the other three.
“I don’t know.” Cassius sighed. “But he better get here soon.”
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