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Epilogue

 

Margret stared out the window at the scene below. The snow was falling in a steady flurry. It reminded her how much Aeris loved the snow. She turned away from the scene, thinking about Aeris wasn’t going to make her feel any better. It was why she was here after all.

 

Part of her wished she were anywhere else. Sitting alone in this tiny room, a shady deal in secret, plotting her former employer's downfall. It all felt like something out of those books she used to read to Aeris. But she knew this was no story. This was her life and plans like this often went astray.

 

But she had to do it even if it killed her for Aeris’s sake. That was why she sunk every coin she had into tracking down someone she knew would help.

 

The door opened and Margret straightened up like a soldier before a superior officer. A single female dragon entered the room. Immediately she was in awe at the dragon’s appearance. Her sea-green scales seemed to glitter in the dim lamplight which accentuated the web of scars across her body.

 

“Hello, Margret,” the dragon said. “Or do you prefer Maggie? Snowflake called you that whenever she talked about you.”

 

“M-Maggie is fine.” She felt like a small child in the presence of a parent. It was hard to even look the dragon in the eye. “And you must be Cutter. Aeris mentioned you. She said you were a friend.”

 

“Aw, she thinks of me as a friend. Most people would say that’s a dumb move.”

 

“Aeris is not stupid,” Margret shot back. She immediately regretted the outburst and wilted under the strong look Cutter gave her.

 

“I know she isn’t. She’s a lot smarter than she looks, stronger too. Though it wouldn’t fucking kill her to show some damn patience.”
 

Margret smiled a little thinking back to all the times Aeris got in trouble because of her curiosity. She quickly stopped the reminiscence and lifted her head. “I want you to kill Lord Aaron Strauss. He’s controlling, manipulative, heartless, and--”

 

“Whoa, slow the fuck down there, Maggie,” Cutter said. “One, don’t blurt shit out like that. The wrong people hear you, it’s your ass and mine.”

 

“I-I’m sorry. I just. Aaron Strauss is planning to impregnate Aeris and sell her eggs. I can’t let that happen.”

 

Cutter stiffened, and Margret recoiled. She knew she wasn’t the target of the dragon’s rage, but she still feared being the only outlet in the room. “What did you just say?” Cutter asked.

 

“I-I said, he wants to-to sell...her eggs.”

 

A heavy silence fell over the room. Margret was too scared to move or even breathe. She felt the bloodlust radiating from Cutter like heat. It made sweat run down her sides as she contemplated possible exit routes. The rumors about the dragon were true. Cutter was not someone to piss off.

 

When Cutter spoke again, the air cleared and Margret felt she could breathe again. “I knew he was planning something sneaky, but selling her eggs? That’s new. I didn’t think any humans were that fucking stupid. If he gets caught, they’ll rip his balls off and shove them down his throat. Actually, I might do that myself.”

 

“Do whatever you want with him. Aeris needs to get as far away from him as possible.”

 

“She does. She doesn’t know it, but her master knows more about her than even I realized, and it’s not good for anyone.”

 

Margret’s curiosity got the better of her. She had been spying on Aaron for years, but it seemed Cutter knew more than she did. “What does that mean?”

 

“It means, this world’s about to learn the hard way why you don’t fuck with dragons.” Cutter slapped her tail against the floor, closed her eyes, and mumbled, “It’s too damn early. This shit wasn’t supposed to start for another 30 years.”

 

“Wait, what?”

 

Cutter opened her eyes and looked at Margret as if realizing for the first time the woman was in the room. “What about you? What’s your plan after you get Snowflake back?”

 

Margret looked away feeling the heat rush to her ears. She hadn’t thought that far. Getting Aeris away from her master was the top priority for now.

 

“You don’t have one,” Cutter stated. “That’s fine. I’ll give you one, but first how long before the shit starts flying?”

 

“I don’t know. Lord Strauss was quite upset to learn Aeris had been seeing a drake behind his back. I suspect he’ll be trying to find her another suitor. It will be difficult, given what happened to the last one, but I suspect we may have a year at the most.”

 

“Then give me six months to train you in everything you’ll need to serve Snowflake in the future.”

Margret had a hard time forming a coherent sentence. It was all so sudden. How did she go from hiring Cutter to assassinate someone to becoming her student? And what possible training could she need? All she wanted was for Aeris to live a quiet, peaceful life.

 

Cutter rose and motioned for Margret to follow which she did without hesitation. “I’m afraid Snowflake’s life is about to get a lot more interesting. She doesn’t know it yet, but she’s at the center of this storm that’s going to rip the world a new asshole. Which side will be left standing after all this shit is done will be up to you.”

 

Margret said nothing as she followed Cutter down the hall. She had no idea what was going on or what Cutter was talking about, but if it meant helping Aeris, she would do whatever she had to. Just hang in there a little while longer, Aeris, she thought. I promise, I’m coming for you.

 

****

 

Aubrey sighed heavily as she shifted in her seat for what felt like the hundredth time in 15 minutes. No matter what position she sat in, she just couldn’t get comfortable. She felt restless but the three walks around her estate both inside and out had done nothing but aggravate her.

 

Looking down at the book on the table, her mind drifted back to Aeris. It was the source of her anxiety. Whenever Aubrey sat still for an extended period, her mind went back to the young dragon and what she was up to.

 

Helen walked into the common room, carrying a tray of food in her hands. Even the aroma of salted meat did nothing to make Aubrey feel better. Setting the tray down on the table, Helen asked. “Is something the matter?”

 

“What makes you think something is wrong?”

 

“You were on that same page when I left to make your dinner.” She sat down on the sofa. “It’s about Aeris isn’t it?”

 

Aubrey sighed and closed the book. She hadn’t been reading it all and had no idea what was happening anyway. “It’s always about Aeris. I said things I know regret. I didn’t expect her to choose him over me. I thought she was stronger than that.”

 

“She is stronger than that. Don’t forget, she sought you out, she chose to defy her caretaker and was still willing to teach dragons despite the risks. I’m surprised you weren’t proud of her.”

 

“What makes you think I wasn’t?” Aubrey asked sharply. She knew exactly what Helen was getting at. The truth was she was jealous of Aeris and she hated herself for it. Aeris was a domesticate, living under a human’s thumb, but in just a few weeks, she had done what Aubrey hadn’t: united several domesticates and convinced them to defy their caretakers. It was quite admirable and annoying. Aeris was timid, apologetic, naive, and eager to please. How did they look to her for leadership? And then she handled the responsibility so well. Aeris had all the makings of a Matriarch. If her call hadn’t manifested yet, it soon would.

 

A clan couldn’t be run by two Matriarchs. If Aeris developed her call, it meant Aubrey would be out of a following, and all her plans to unite the domesticates would be ruined. That thought angered her so much. She had spent decades planning this and making connections and she wasn’t prepared to lose it all to some upstart pet who could barely look a fellow dragon in the eye.

 

Helen was saved from having to reply by a loud knock at the door. Aubrey wasn’t expecting any guests. What if it was Aeris coming to apologize? Aubrey’s spirits raised at the thought.

 

Those hopes were dashed when Helen re-entered the common room with a drake by her side. It was Lanry, the same drake who exposed the secret of Aeris’s secret teachings to half of Rubelum.

 

“What are you doing here?” Aubrey asked suspiciously. This was not the same meek drake who had come to her weeks before. He carried himself with far too much confidence like a young Matriarch who just awakened her call.

 

Lanry grinned and bowed. “Good afternoon, Lady Aubrey. Terrible weather we’re having isn’t it? All this snow is certainly going to be a problem. I might have a hard time finding my way back home.”

 

“What do you want?” Aubrey repeated, topping it off with a low growl.

 

“Forgive me. My Matriarch sends her regards.”

 

Aubrey was too stunned by the statement to respond. Lanry said he was part of a human family. He shouldn’t have a Matriarch. And how long had he known her?

 

“I’m sorry, who is your Matriarch?” Helen asked.

 

Lanry smiled warmly at the human. “Oh, I’m afraid I can’t say, love. Strict orders and all that. Speaking her name if forbidden.”

 

Aubrey narrowed her eyes at the young drake. His brazen attitude was trying her patience. “What is her name?” she said in a strong commanding tone.

 

Lanry chuckled, his playful smile growing wider. “I already told you I can’t say. Honestly, I’m surprised you would try your call on me even after I admitted to serving another. You truly are an arrogant one like she said.”

 

Aubrey was at a loss for words. That he resisted her call spoke volumes about his mental fortitude and trust in his Matriarch. Or this mysterious dragon used her call to order him not to reveal her identity. Either way, whoever he served was dangerous.

 

Lanry sat on the floor in front of the table and pulled the tray of meat closer. “I must be getting home soon, so I will make this brief. My Matriarch wishes for you to maintain your deal with Aaron Strauss.”

 

That snapped Aubrey out of her trance. Not the nerve of this dragon to make a request of her, but what was being asked of her. “Why would I not maintain the deal?”

 

Lanry paused mid-chew of a piece of steak and swallowed, wearing a forlorn expression. “Oh, you don’t know. Rumor has it, Aeris is dead.”

 

“Wh-What?!” Helen cried. Aubrey said nothing. Never had she been struck speechless so many times in rapid succession. this drake had to be lying. It was a trick. But looking into Lanry’s eyes, she knew he was telling the truth.

 

Helen rushed over and shook the drake by the shoulders. “What happened? Who killed her? Where is she?”

 

“The rumors claim she ran away from her master--sorry, caretaker, and he tried to bring her home. She went berserk and attacked him and he was forced to kill her.”

 

It was a lie. The thought crossed Aubrey's mind, but she couldn't say the words aloud. Aeris was far too loyal to attack him without provocation. No, Aeris wouldn't attack him, period. Even if she snapped, there was no way he was fending off a grown dragon on his own.

 

Lanry pulled away from Helen’s grip and went back to the tray of food. “Regardless, it’s all rumor. I have no idea how much of it is true. Especially since there’s no body and no funeral planned.”

 

It didn’t surprise Aubrey. He saw Aeris as nothing but a tool. As if he would waste the time and money to give her a proper burial.

 

“I will say, though, that it seems odd you aren’t the first to know,” Lanry continued. “After all, you are supposed to be friends, no, my faithful Matriarch? Why wouldn’t you shelter Aeris in her time of need?”

 

Before Aubrey could stop herself, she flipped the table, sending it sailing over Lanry and Helen’s heads. It landed on the far side of the room with a deafening crack and broke into pieces. In a single leap, Aubrey was in Lanry’s face, their snouts almost touching. “You know nothing, drake. Don’t push your luck.”

 

Lanry didn’t show even an ounce of fear. “Forgive me, my Lady, I wasn’t trying to upset you. I was merely voicing my opinion, something I will be certain to keep to myself from now on.

 

“Before I go, I will say that it is in your best interest to honor your agreement. My Matriarch wishes to keep an eye on Aaron and you are already in the perfect position for doing so. So what say you?”

 

Aubrey snarled and turned away. She wanted nothing to do with that foul man. In all her dreams, she never imagined he would go so far as to kill Aeris for defying him. And Aubrey blamed herself. She knew what kind of man he was, and yet she forced Aeris to go back to him.

 

“Lady Aubrey--” Helen began to say.

 

“Fine,” Aubrey spat. The word grated against her throat. “I’ll...honor my agreement. Now get out, and tell your Matriarch if she wants something from me, she had best come ask herself. The next time she sends a messenger unannounced to my home to order me about, I’ll send him back in pieces.”

 

“I’ll be sure to let her know, my Lady. No, no, love. I can show myself out. Thank you for the meal by the way.”

 

Aubrey didn’t turn around until she no longer heard the sound of Lanry’s claws on her floor. she looked down at the deep grooves her claws had left on the hardwood she just had polished. It was so aggravating. Never had she been so disrespected by a fellow dragon. That the Matriarch had sent a drake to her home to tell her what to do was unheard of in the wild.

 

“Are you all right, Lady Aubrey?” Helen asked.

 

Aubrey took a deep breath and turned to the human woman. “No. I apologize for the mess and for wasting the food you prepared for me. I’ll take care of cleaning it up, I want you to send a letter to your cousins. I want to know who this Matriarch is that Lanry serves.”

 

Helen bowed and left the room. Aubrey walked over to the pile of splintered wood, leftover meat, and broken glass. Whoever this Matriarch was, she had a lot of nerve. Lanry was most likely sent as a spy which meant his reveal of Aeris to the other dragons was no accident. Someone was playing games, and she did not like it. They were going to learn the hard way she was nobody’s pawn.

 

****

 

Charles shuddered from the night chill. It was one of those nights again. The kind of night he would've loved to walk around the estate before relaxing by a cozy fire. But tonight he would do no such thing. Even as he currently walked the halls of the Strauss mansion, it wasn't to relax or to unwind. He was keeping a watchful eye for Lord Strauss's enemies. Ever since he learned of Lord Strauss's plan to sell his dragon's eggs, he made a point of wandering the halls every night with a hand on the pistol tucked into his jacket.

 

Sometimes he wondered exactly where he went wrong in watching over the young man. Perhaps that was why Lord Strauss got the idea in his head he was invincible. What else could drive the man to take such a large risk with selling dragon eggs? Even certain humans wouldn’t go along with such a thing for fear of angering the dragons.

 

Charles figured it was his fault. He allowed Lord Strauss too much freedom. The young man very rarely had to pay the consequences of his actions. It likely gave him the feeling he was invincible, untouchable. Even now, most Lords and Ladies were afraid to defy him. The Strauss family had a great deal of reach and influence. Most of Rubelum was under Lord Strauss’s control. His word carried more weight than even he realized.

 

Charles checked the front door and found it locked, and no signs it had been tampered with could be seen. Perhaps that was why they put Aeris directly under Lord Strauss’s care. Was it a means to teach him humility? Or to teach him to control dragons as well? Charles wondered if he was supposed to do something. Was it his job to step in during the moments when Lord Strauss was taking things too far? Should he have taught Lord Strauss to be more humble? More understanding? Charles never had much love for dragons, but even he found some of the ways Lord Strauss controlled his dragon to be disgusting. But it had to be done. Her power was dangerous. If she had been allowed free reign, if she had control over her power, she could’ve had one of the most influential families in the world wrapped around her claw.

 

He supposed it didn't matter anyway. His allegiance was to the Strauss family and them alone. If Lord Strauss returned with the dragon or the eggs, Charles decided he would find a way to convince Lord Strauss to give up on his crazed plan. Having one dragon under his thumb did not make him invincible.

 

The front door opened, and Lord Strauss stumbled inside followed by cold winds and snow. His coat was wide open, and his clothes were disheveled. Charles halted in his approach to Lord Strauss’s side as two more men rushed into the room. One of them quickly broke away from the group and headed toward the cellar. Charles ignored the man and hurried over to his Lord’s side. Taking off his jacket, he threw it over Lord Strauss’s shoulders. “My Lord! What happened?”

 

“N-Nothing,” Lord Strauss said, his words heavily slurred. Charles reeled from the stench of liquor on his Lord’s breath and in his clothes and skin. “I’m fine...let go of me!” He pulled away from Charle’s grip and lost his balance. The other man quickly caught him before he hit the floor.

 

“What happened?” Charles asked. “Did you succeed?”

 

Lord Strauss gave a short bark of a laugh. “Succeed? You mean in my plan to rule over dragons and men? That plan is nothing more than a dream now.”

 

“Aaron shot the dragon after she smashed her eggs,” the other man explained. “He’s done nothing but get drunk since we left Strendor.”

 

Charles moved to close the door to hide his shock. For years all Lord Strauss would talk about was the opportunities having that dragon would give him. It all started when Lord Strauss was 15-years old and came home one night, drunk. Charles remembered sneaking the young lord upstairs and getting him cleaned up so his parents wouldn't know. Young Aaron had mumbled something about the luckiest man alive, and how humans and dragons would bow to him. It made no sense to Charles, but he wrote it off as drunken banter. But strangely enough, that was the time when Lord Strauss's attitude toward his dragon changed. Young Aaron's parents died of illness less than a year later.

 

Charles quickly pushed the thought out of his mind. This was the young lord’s childhood all over again. Everyone accused him of murdering his parents, but Charles stood by Lord Strauss’s side. He defended him when everyone else was so quick to turn their backs on him and with no evidence supporting their half-baked theories. The only one who stood by Lord Strauss’s side was his dragon, Aeris. Not once did she ever suspect him of any wrongdoing, and was quick to support him whenever he needed.

 

He shut the door with more force than he intended. That dragon was more loyal to Lord Strauss than he was. Perhaps that was why he hated her so much. Her dedication to her master was unwavering. If Lord Strauss hadn’t decided to sell her eggs, she likely would’ve never left his side.

 

“Charles!” Lord Strauss shouted. “Are you listening to me?”

 

Charles snapped out of his daydream and turned to Lord Strauss. “Forgive me, sir, I--”

 

Lord Strauss seized Charles by the collar and slammed him against the wall. “If you can’t follow a simple order, I’ll find someone else!”

 

The other man pulled Charles free from Lord Strauss’s grip. Charles could only stare at his employer. He wanted to blame it on the alcohol, but he knew better. Lord Strauss had been on edge ever since the incident with the wedding. He had become paranoid and lashed out over the simplest things.

 

“Lord Strauss, please, you’ll awaken Lady Lilith,” Charles pleaded.

 

“Fuck her!” He staggered into the common room and collapsed on the sofa. “That damn useless overgrown iguana! Of all the times to defy me, it had to be now?”

 

“Lord Strauss, what are you--” his words were cut short when his lord suddenly seized his clothes again and pulled him close.

 

"They're going to kill me when they find out I lost her. I should have had her chained and dragged back here!" He released the butler and put his face in his hands. "I let my anger get the better of me and made a rash decision. And now it's going to cost me everything. She was so special. I would have had everyone in the palm of my hand had I not failed."

 

Charles said nothing and started walking to go collect a blanket for Lord Strauss. It was better that Aeris hadn't been brought back. He saw the defiance in her eyes, her dedication to escape. The last thing they needed was for her to develop a hatred toward humans.

 

He didn’t know how much Lord Strauss knew about the dragon that was once in his care, but he was quite lucky she never turned on him.

 

“It’s not over,” Lord Strauss mumbled. “I’ll start again and show all of them.”

 

Charles ignored the drunken mumbling and continued to fetch the blanket. Perhaps this was a sign. He would need to do better. Lord Strauss avoided a very dangerous situation. Charles knew he would need to make sure there would never be a next time.

 

****

 

Janine trudged through the deep snow. Her lungs burned, her muscles ached, and her body was numb from cold. The blizzard had worsened in the last few minutes, going from a steady flurry to heavy downfall that blanketed the world beneath a hazy white curtain. The wind whipped the snowflakes around her, stinging her frozen cheeks and slicing through her clothes. But she was grateful for the miserable weather. It meant it would be harder for anyone to see her. Unfortunately, it went both ways. She could barely see past her nose in the blizzard.

 

Finding Aeris was the only thought on Janine’s mind. She knew she stood little chance of making a difference, but she remembered the day those two drakes harassed her at the restaurant. She remembered how Aeris came to her aid even knowing she stood little chance of surviving. The same Aeris who was willing to give up her eggs to save the poor human girl.

 

Janine owed Aeris a debt she could never repay, but putting everything at risk to save the dragon who defended her was a start. So when hearing the booming shots of a rifle cut through the frozen air, she knew she had to help Aeris or die trying.

 

She just prayed she wasn’t too late.

 

Finding her way back to the place where Aeris had been surrounded by mercenaries had been the hardest part. The snow had mostly covered her footsteps, making retracing her steps difficult. Upon returning, the blood-trail left behind by Aeris was easy to follow. The lack of a body lifted Janine’s hopes while also filling her with dread.

 

Should she find Aeris, what then? She wasn't a doctor and didn't know where to find one or how to bring them here if she did.

 

The boom of more shots being fired cut through the frozen air. Janine urged her legs to move faster. Her aches and numbness seemed forgotten.

 

Aeris was surrounded by armed mercenaries. Even if she tried to help the dragon, it would do little good. She was armed with a single dagger and no training on how to use it properly. Killing even one trained, well-armed mercenary would be a feat.

 

But she had to do something even if she could only provide a distraction. Janine steeled herself against the cold winds and urged her tired legs to wade through the deep snow that grew deeper by the second. She hoped to find Aeris and get to shelter to wait out the storm before she froze to death.

 

When she finally saw the dull outline of the warehouses, she heard four shots in quick succession. For some reason, hearing it made Janine's breath catch in her throat. She swallowed her fear and continued.

 

Janine’s older footsteps had been completely buried by the time she returned to the circle of buildings where Aeris had been cornered. There was a fresh set of footprints left by several people in a hurry. The footprints were human, but there were dragon prints among them. The falling snow had not yet filled in the deep prints. Next to the dragon prints was a trail of fresh blood easily visible in white snow.

 

Janine drew her dagger and followed the blood. There were no bodies which was a good sign. It meant Aeris got away.

 

Thanks to the footprints, it was much easier to walk through the snow. Every time Janine turned a corner, she dreaded seeing Aeris's lifeless body lying bloody in the snow, running into a group of mercenaries searching for their quarry, or both. It had gotten quiet since Janine returned to the site and she had to rely solely on her instincts to guide her through the blizzard.

 

Suddenly, the blood trail and the dragon footprints ended. Janine noticed there wasn’t a large pool of blood or any signs of something heavy being dragged away. Aeris wasn’t killed here, but where did she go? Janine looked around for any sign to indicate where her friend could have gone. She eventually noticed a trail of blood leading up the wall to a large hole in the nearby building. She followed the human footprints, believing it would lead her to a way inside. Once she rounded the corner, she found the building’s door had been broken down.

 

A small blanket of warmth fell over Janine as she stepped inside. It wasn’t true warmth to stave off the cold, but it shielded her from the wind and snow at least. She kept a tight grip on her dagger and tried to move as quietly as possible. Beads of sweat formed on her brow while she shivered. She heard nothing, but there could still be mercenaries lurking inside. The men who had come through before left prints from their snow-covered boots on the floor. Janine followed the trail up the stairs.

 

She followed the trail to a large floor covered in debris. Two large holes decorated the side and opposite walls letting in the cold winds and covering the floor in snow and ice. Unmistakable on the ice was more blood. Janine followed the blood to the far side of the room near the large hole in the wall. She peered cautiously over the edge to the alley below. There was no sign of a body.

 

Janine fell back from the hole with a sigh of relief. Aeris was still alive, but where was she? Janine hadn’t heard any more shots since she got back, and it worried her. Either Aeris had lost her pursuers, or they had caught her, the latter leaving a grim image in Janine’s mind.

 

She forced the image away and looked for a clue to indicate which direction Aeris fled next. The alley was too small to fly and if she were injured, it didn't make much sense for Aeris to jump. Her eyes settled on the hole in the building wall directly across the alley. Aeris must have jumped to the other side.

Janine made her way downstairs, her chest tightening from anxiety. She was so focused on finding Aeris, she never considered what to do when she found her. If Aeris were surrounded by mercenaries, what then? What if Aeris was too injured to move? Janine's thoughts made her increase her pace. She would worry about that if it came to it. For now, finding Aeris was all that mattered.

 

The moment she stepped outside, the wind nipped at her exposed face freezing the sweat in place. Janine continued, shivering worse than before. She watched the snow for more prints, hoping they would lead to a way inside.

 

The wind worsened, making Janine stop in her tracks to steady herself and brace against the new wave of ice being blown in her face. It wasn’t a good sign. If it continued like this, she would have no choice but to find shelter and wait it out.She continued, holding a hand over eyes to shield from the worst of the wind.

 

She tripped and fell into the snow with a loud cry. Ice and snow filled her clothes, making her scream again from the shock of the coldness against her skin. She quickly jumped to her feet and checked the ground to see what she tripped on.

 

Barely distinguishable in the swirling snow was what looked like a dragon’s tail.

 

Janine jumped to her feet and began digging to unearth the tail. The tail was covered in celeste scales and droplets of blood. Janine dug more frantically now, trying to get to Aeris’s head as quickly as possible. She swept the snow off Aeris’s body and gasped in horror, a new chill running through her that seeped into her bones.

 

Aeris's body was red with blood, darkest in places where she had been shot. The snow had entered some of the bullet holes.

 

Janine began digging furiously, trying to find the satchel containing the eggs. She was dismayed to find the satchel empty.

 

Janine unearthed Aeris's head and cradled the dragon in her arms. The wind roaring around her sounded like a whisper. She no longer felt cold or tired from trudging through the snow. She didn't care if she froze to death. She had failed.

 

Janine thought she heard a groan. It was a small sound—she almost believed she had imagined it. She pressed an ear to Aeris’s snout and listened. It was hard to tell over the roaring wind, but she was certain she heard Aeris’s ragged breathing.

 

Aeris was alive! Janine looked around, hoping to see someone just happening to walk by. Even without the impenetrable blanket of snow, she knew the snow was too deep for anyone to be traveling. She felt defeated. Aeris was too heavy to carry indoors, and the dragon was in no shape to walk. Janine needed a way to get Aeris out of the cold and stop the bleeding.

 

“Just hold on,” Janine whispered. “I’ll go and find something.” She hated the idea of leaving Aeris alone, but she needed a way to get her indoors.

 

As Janine made her way back to the warehouse to look for something to use, she heard the sound of footsteps crunching in the snow. Was someone out here after all? Janine moved toward the source of the sound, praying that it didn't belong to one of Aaron's mercenaries or Aaron himself. Part of her relished the idea of running into Aaron alone in the middle of a blizzard. But revenge would have to wait.

 

Two shapes could be seen moving through the snow. One was human-shaped, the other could be a dragon or a horse—it was hard to tell. Either way, Janine wasn't sure if they were hostile.

 

"I'm telling you, Terran, there's no point in being out here," a voice said. It was a dragon's voice. Janine had heard enough dragons to know the difference.

 

“You heard those shots, Maxis,” another voice replied. We need to make sure it won’t come our way. Or they’re not looking for us. Besides, someone called for help. Didn’t you hear it?”

 

“I didn’t hear anything except a half-assed excuse why we should come out here and freeze to death.”

 

Janine rushed out of her hiding spot in the direction of the voices. She waved her arms over her head and shouted over the howling wind, “Hey! I need yer help! Please! My friend has been—”

 

A savage snarl cut through the air as one of the shapes flew toward her. Janine cried out and stumbled backward, falling on her back in the knee-deep snow. She flopped about in an attempt to get up, swinging the dagger with wild abandon to deter her attacker.

 

A claw pinned her dagger-hand in the snow, and the head of a pitch-black dragon loomed over her. Its lips were pulled back as a low growl emanated from it. Janine had seen dragons with black scales, but she couldn't remember what they were called. She struggled to free her arm. Her dagger was useless against a grown dragon, but if she could stab it in the eye, she could get away.

 

“Maxis! What have you got?” a deep male voice cried.

 

Still keeping its yellow eyes on Janine, the dragon replied, “It’s a human girl. I think she’s trying to set us up. I’m gonna kill her so she can’t alert her friends.”

 

“No, I’m not!” Janine said quickly. “I don’t wanna hurt you. I just need help fer my friend! She’s hurt an’ bleedin bad, but I can’t carry her myself.”

 

The dragon, Maxis, didn’t seem convinced. She heard footsteps crunching in the snow. A few moments later, a human appeared. He was a large man in both height and width suggesting he had the muscle of years from training. Janine’s heart sank at the sight of the man. He had to be a mercenary, and the only ones she knew of in the area were under Aaron’s employ.

 

Janine didn’t know what to do. Even if her hand were free, she was in a bad position to defend herself. Against a man that size and a grown dragon, she may as well try to change the weather.

 

The man turned to the dragon. “Let her up.”

 

“You sure?”

 

“I’m not in the mood to argue, Maxis,” the man said irritably. “Let the girl up. It’s freezing out here.”

 

The dragon grumbled, but let Janine stand. She quickly stood and put the dagger away.

 

“Please help my friend,” she pleaded.

 

“Okay, where is your friend?” the man asked.

 

Janine led them to where Aeris lay. She knelt next to the dragon and checked her breathing. Aeris was still breathing, but it was shallow. She turned to the man, silently begging for his help.

 

Maxis took one look at Aeris and snorted. “She’s as good as dead already.” He turned to the man. “Terran, please tell me we aren’t wasting time on this.”

 

Terran didn’t say anything as he stared at Aeris with wonder. Janine could see the man had questions and was likely wondering why a young woman like her was traveling with a dragon in a blizzard.

 

Finally, Terran spoke. “Let’s get these two someplace warm. Then you’ll need to get Sasha to help the dragon.”

 

Maxis grumbled but lowered himself so Aeris could be placed on his back. It took some maneuvering, but Terran was able to secure Aeris so she wouldn't fall off. He then scooped Janine up in his arms.

 

“Sorry about this, but we need to move quickly. Our place isn’t far,” Terran said.

 

Janine didn’t argue. Now that Aeris was getting help, she had become aware of the strain she put on her body. She could no longer feel her fingers, toes, or face. Her arms and legs moved sluggishly like moving through water.

 

She craned her neck to look at Aeris. If Aeris did survive, it would be difficult explaining her eggs were gone. Hopefully, Janine could help Aeris move on and repay at least a small part of her debt.

 

Janine shook her head. No, she wasn’t doing this to repay her debt. She wanted to save Aeris because they were friends.

 

She just hoped Aeris wasn’t beyond saving.

 

 

The story will continue with Book 2: Rebirth

 

Post-Story Notes:

 

First, I want to offer my heartfelt thanks for reading my story. As it states above, this is the end of only book 1. Book 2 will be released soon, and of course, patrons get early access.

Second, the published revised edition of Dissent is currently underway and is scheduled to release before the end of the year. 

Thank you again for reading, I hope you enjoyed this story as much I did writing it, and I will see you for the next exciting chapter.


Submitted: July 21, 2020

© Copyright 2022 Evan Drake. All rights reserved.

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Where Dragons Rule: Dissent

This is an older version of the book. Check out the revised edition with new characters and reworked plot on Amazon!

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