Caius adjusted well to his new role as bodyguard. He accompanied William wherever he went was far more diligent than expected. Thankfully, there were no threats to deal with, but the Ramscale didn’t let his guard down for a moment.
The servants were a bit nervous around the drake at first. They knew how William felt about keeping a dragon in his care and they likely worried the drake changing sides at any moment. Despite the slight unease, he was treated like one of the humans at the mansion. He was given a private room and was fed meals instead of scraps. It seemed doubtful Caius would have any objections to his new lodgings or do anything to jeopardize what he had.
William didn’t tell Caius he was a member of the Scale guild. The group advocated peace between humans and dragons, but some dragons harbored ill feelings towards the group, claiming they were humans just looking for a new way to control and domesticate them. Caius hadn’t asked what William did for a living, and he saw no reason to bring it up.
Marie had the biggest change regarding the newest bodyguard. Since dragons cared little for modesty, she constantly complained to William that the drake refused to leave the room whenever she wanted to undress or waited for her outside the bathroom. Caius’ only reply was that it was for her protection as anyone could attack them at any time. It seemed to become a game for the drake, doing things that would annoy her.
Once their bodyguard had settled in, William went back to deciphering the book. To keep it a secret he had to resort to deciphering it at night when Caius was asleep, but that also meant it no longer got in the way of his daytime activities. He made no more progress than he had before however.
It was beyond frustrating. he was about ready to give up on the idea of ever deciphering the book when one day, Lance returned with great news.
“I found someone who may be able to read the book. A dracologist named Jefferey Jackman. He is famous for his ability to read ancient languages.”
It was the best news William had heard all month. “That’s wonderful news! I trust you have arranged a meeting for me?”
“I have. You have a meeting today.”
“Excellent. I just need to do something about my new bodyguard. He doesn’t know about the book.”
“If I may, why did you hire the dragon? Even if you weren’t trying to keep the tome a secret, it seems an odd choice for you. I thought you feared sending the wrong message with a dragon in your employ.”
“That is always a risk regardless whenever I deal with dragons. In this case, I felt sorry for the drake; he was being treated horribly by his previous employer. Also, given the nature of my work, I would feel much safer knowing there was someone to protect Marie.”
He retrieved his jacket and the tome then followed Lance into the hall. Caius was sitting in the hall and stood the moment William approached. “On the move again, William?”
“It’s Lord Delcat,” Lance said.
“It’s quite all right, Lance,” William quickly interjected. “Dragons don’t typically have ‘Lords’ so the title has little meaning to them.” To Caius, he added, “Please excuse him. He’s been my trusted friend and bodyguard for many years, so he is a bit protective.”
“If you already have someone to protect you, why do you need me?”
“Because I can’t expect Lance to be everywhere at once and I would like you to watch over Marie whenever I am away. Like today for instance. I’m going to meet with a client so I would like you to watch over Marie while I am gone.”
Caius stared at him for a moment. It struck William as odd. The drake had never hesitated with accepting an order. Even those he had a problem with, he didn’t hesitate to voice his objections. “I can do that.”
“Thank you, Caius. And please inform Marie I’ll be back by dinner.”
William and Lance left the mansion and climbed into the carriage. Lance gave the wall closest to the driver two sharp knocks and they rode away down the street. He hugged the suitcase containing the tome, fighting the urge to smile. For the first time in a long time, William felt restless. He hadn’t felt this way since he decided to ask Marie to marry him. He was finally one step closer to finding out that book’s contents.
To help pass the time, and keep his imagining s from getting the better of him, he spoke to Lance. “Tell me everything you know about Mr. Jackman.”
“Not much to tell. He’s one of the greatest authorities on dragons today. He’s famous for his works. I hear even the dragons acknowledge him.”
“I am surprised we haven’t propositioned him sooner.”
“I did consider him during my search, but he travels so much it’s near impossible to get a hold of him.”
“A man who travels that much would hear a great many interesting things. If he weren’t so famous, I would recommend using him as an informant.”
“Perhaps we still could. The information he gathers on dragons could be very useful.”
William turned to the window. Through the gap in the curtains, he noticed a definite change in the buildings sliding by. Instead of multi-story shops and homes, shows of intricate craftsmanship and architectural genius, the buildings were more like one-story shacks, bland and basic. At that moment, the roads became rougher and the carriage wobbled horribly. They had entered the dragon district, the part of town where the dragons lived. It was also where the poor lived because dragons cared little for luxuries. Their homes were cheap and easy to build.
That was something else William aimed to change. It was because of the rural nature of this district that too many associated it with the poor and uncouth which in turn poisoned their perception of dragons.
Perhaps one day I can convince them to see things differently, he thought.
The carriage pulled to a stop and Lance opened the door. True to its name, more dragons than William had ever seen in one place traveled the street. A few of them took notice of the expensive carriage he and Lance exited, but they continued and left them alone.
The house of the man considered the foremost expert on dragons was not at all like how William expected. A transitory glance at the house showed it had been modified for human use as it was the only house with windows. But it looked just as colorless and unoriginal as the homes surrounding it.
The door opened the moment they approached and an older man stood in the doorway.
“Ah, guests! And human, too!” He stepped to the side and waved them inside. “Please come in. It’s not every day I get human visitors.”
William was more surprised by the interior of the house. It was like walking through a portal to another world. Everything was well crafted and polished yet simple in its design. It felt cozy, and not at all like the home of someone who supposedly was hardly ever in it.
“Please pardon the mess,” Jefferey said. “I’m afraid I don’t have anyone to clean the house for me.”
William looked around. If mess meant a few books and scattered papers on the table, he clearly had no idea what a mess was. But if this man could decipher the book and give him the secrets he desperately sought, he didn’t care how messy the house was. “Excuse me, Mr. Jackman—”
“Please, call me Jefferey.”
“Very well, Jefferey. I’m Lord William Delcat, but feel free to call me William.” He opened the suitcase and removed the tome. “I would like to get straight to my reason for being here if you don’t mind. I came across this old book amongst my grandfather’s things but it’s not written in any language known to me. I was hoping you tell me what it says.”
Jefferey wore a look similar to an excited child as he took the book and carefully opened it. “This is dragon leather. No one’s worked with it in centuries.” He ran his hand down the pages as if it were the finest silk. “Even the pages. Someone truly wanted this tome to last. Your grandfather held a rare gem. I can’t believe this is—it couldn’t be…” He hurried out of the room leaving William and Lance to exchange bewildered expressions.
Minutes later, Jefferey returned carrying three books in his arms which he placed on the nearest table. “I can’t believe you found a legible copy of their work!”
“A legible copy of what?”
Jefferey had his nose buried in the books. “Of the fabled dragon cult of course! After the Great Rebellion, it was rumored that there was a cult of dragon followers who wanted to see the dragons rule over humankind again. Of course, many people said that was nonsense, mainly because of embarrassment.”
William approached the table and watched Jefferey work. He could not make any sense of what looked like random scribblings. “Why do you think this book is related to the cult?”
“The writing. This cult tried to create its own language. That way, they could pass secret messages to one another. I’ve spent the last few weeks learning this language. I would recognize this writing anywhere.” He turned to William, a bright smile on his face. “Is it possible your grandfather was one of them?”
“I assure you, he was not.”
“I wasn’t trying to offend you. I was merely stating that this cult has protected its secrets well. Even the few books I managed to track down were hard to come by. It’s a shame they were damaged, but I was able to figure out much of its secrets.”
William continued to watch in silence. This was a big find although a dangerous one. So there was a cult of human worshippers. Was this cult still around today and why hadn’t he heard of this group before now?
This was a problem. He would need to contact his superiors in the Scale Guild immediately. They needed to know about this tome and the existence of this group. If there was a group of dragon followers, they could undermine everything they have built over the years.
He was pulled out of his worrying thoughts by Jefferey’s next comment. “This is more serious than I imagined.”
“What is more serious than you imagined?”
“I was just deciphering this tome and I came across a name. Lyndria. I didn’t think this cult worshipped her.”
“Forgive me, but who is Lyndria?”
“A dragon feared by even her own kind. They say she was beyond ruthless and very dangerous. Even the dragons wanted nothing to do with her. She died during the Great Rebellion.”
“And you believe this cult to be followers of hers?”
“Absolutely. It says right here, ‘and Lyndria, our goddess, shall cleanse this world in righteous fire.’ Goodness, glad she was dealt with.”
Lance frowned. “These sound like dangerous fanatics.”
“Oh, yes, quite fanatical. This paragraph alone describes how the dragons will rise and destroy their enemies.”
Their conversation was interrupted by a knock at the door. William turned to Lance. His guard had a hand gripping the pistol at his side.
“Were you expecting anyone today?” Lance asked.
Jefferey looked up from the books. “No, I wasn’t. The dragons don’t pay me much attention, so I rarely get any visitors.”
“Wait, here. I’ll see who it is.” Drawing the pistol, Lance left the room. William cautiously approached the hall. He heard voices talking in the distance but was unable to make out what they were saying.
Two shots rang out then Lance ran back into the room, his face a mask of worry. “We need to leave. Grab those books and come with me.”
“What happened?” William asked.
“We were followed. I don’t know how, but they know about the book.”
William rushed over to Jefferey who stood there confused and stuffed the books in the suitcase. There was no time to be gentle and avoid damaging them. He would just have to hope for the best.
Grabbing Jefferey, he followed Lance to the exit. A man lay on the stoop, two bloody holes in his chest. They leaped over the corpse and filed into the carriage. Lance gave the wall two sharp knocks and the carriage began to move and rock down the street.
“I don’t understand how we were pursued,” William said. “Even I had no idea I was leaving my home today. They could only know if—”
“They were watching your house,” Lance finished. “But what worries me is how they knew about the book.”
“With all the experts I called to read it, it’s no surprise someone heard of it. But why now? If they knew I had the book in my possession all this time, why not pose as someone could decipher its contents and steal it?”
“They likely don’t want us to know what it says.”
William mulled over his options. Escape was priority one, they likely wouldn’t live long if they were caught. But escape was only a temporary solution. No doubt the attackers would return and with larger numbers. Unless they knew the names of those behind the attack, they would be at a considerable disadvantage. The best option would be to give them what they wanted. Hopefully, the return of the book would be enough to buy their safety.
He loathed the idea of giving these thieves what they wanted, but if it meant ensuring Marie’s safety, his pride could wait. Although Caius was watching over her, dragons were far from invincible.
The carriage stopped rocking indicating they had left the dragon district. William turned to Jefferey. “Decipher as much of that book as you can.” To Lance, he added. “Tell the driver to take us to one of the safehouses. If we are being pursued, I’d rather not lead them to my home.”
Lance opened the window to the driver’s seat and relayed the information. He then turned back to William. “So what is the plan?”
Before William could reply, the carriage rocked violently. The driver outside, screamed as the horses whinnied. He couldn’t figure out which was worse, their brazenness to launch an attack in daylight in the middle of a crowded city or how badly they wanted the book.
Something rammed the carriage from the side with enough force to send it sideways. William curled into a ball, shielding his face as pain filled his side. Jefferey landed on top of him.
The door to the carriage was wrenched open. A single shot rang out. William hoped it was from Lance’s gun. The crash had left him dazed and his arm hurt. Jefferey’s harsh breathing was in his ear.
“Sir, we need to get out of here!” He grabbed William’s arm and pulled him to his feet. The sunlight blinded him. It wasn’t until he felt the ground beneath his feet, that he took the chance to open his eyes.
They had been driven into an alleyway. The carriage, as expected, lay on its side. The horse pulling it lay dead, its head missing. The driver was nowhere to be seen. William hated the idea of abandoning the man, but there was no time to look for him. The best he could hope for now was that the man got away. If not, then his family would be properly compensated later.
Lance leaned him against the ruined carriage then went back in. A moment later, he returned with Jefferey. The dracologist bled from a gash on the side of his head. Despite the injury, he still clutched the suitcase holding the books for dear life.
“That was a ramscale,” Jefferey said. “Those horns are not for show, they have a denser skull than other dragons and their spines are constructed to absorb the impact. At full speed, one of them could charge through a brick wall unhindered.”
“Thank you for the lesson, Doctor,” Lance said irritably. He raised his pistol and pushed William and Jefferey into a nearby building.
It appeared they had entered a tavern of some kind, but the place was empty. Judging from the rotting tables and chairs and layer of dust, this place had been abandoned for some time.
That worked better for William as it meant less chance of civilians being caught in the crossfire.
The moment Lance closed the door, it shattered into pieces as the head of a ramscale burst through. Thankfully, Lance wasn’t standing directly in front of the door, or else he would’ve been caught in the charge as well.
The dragon didn’t break stride as it continued its charge straight for Jefferey. William shoved the man out of the way. The ramscale turned its head, tackling him with its shoulder instead. He wasn’t sure if it was meant to be less damaging, but the blow knocked him off his feet and into one of the rotting tables.
The dragon was on him in an instant, hot breath washing over his face as it spoke. “I guess I’ll kill you first then. Lyndria doesn’t like for anyone to stick their nose in her business.”
A loud bang filled the room just as the ramscale lifted its claws to deal the finishing blow. The dragon roared in pain and leaped off William, turning to face its new attacker. Lance stood across the room, smoking gun in hand as he glared at the dragon with intense rage.
“You worthless human! You’re kind should learn their--”
The ramscale didn’t get a chance to finish its threat as its head snapped back just before another shot rang out. It staggered in a sort of drunken dance before falling on its side, thankfully, away from William.
“Save us the theatrics,” Lance said. Keeping the pistol unholstered he approached as William picked himself up and gathered his breath. He waved the bodyguard away to go check on Jefferey and more importantly the books the man carried. It wouldn’t if the book was lost in the struggle.
After ensuring the books were undamaged and no bones were broken, they made their way back outside. No one else had come through the door and it worried him that an ambush may be waiting outside.
It turned out his fears were unfounded as Lance gave the all-clear. They did get far before finding another man sitting on the ground, clutching at his ankle. His foot was pointed at an odd angle explaining the reason for his distress.
The man noticed them standing over them and sighed. “Guess askin’ for mercy ain’t in the cards, huh?”
“No, it is not,” William said, his voice and gaze cold. “If you tell us everything you know, I may forgive you for trying to kill me.”
The man smiled, showing off his rotted teeth. “Nah. Ain’t in a talkin’ mood. More afraid of what the boss’ll do to me for talkin’ than what you could ever think of.”
“We’ll see about that.” He nodded to Lance who seized the man by the collar and hauled him to his feet, eliciting a cry of pain.
The walk back to William’s home was slow and torturous. Mostly because he feared the man’s allies would surround them at any moment. Lance kept a firm grip on the man with his other hand holding the pistol buried in their prisoner’s side. To any passersby, it would look like two friends walking down the street. The only one who didn’t seem bothered by the turn of events was Jefferey who muttered to himself the whole way. Upon closer inspection, it seemed the man was completely oblivious to everything around him, so perhaps he wasn’t as unperturbed by the events and William thought.
Once they reached the house, William ordered that the man be taken down into the basement, Jefferey to be taken to his study, and then went to find Marie. She was out on the balcony, enjoying a book and a cup of tea. Caius sat on the other side of the table. William rushed to her pulled her into his arms.
“Oh! William, you’re filthy! What happened to you?!”
He held on for a few more moments before releasing her and looking into her eyes. “I’m so sorry. Are you all right? You aren’t hurt, are you? Has anyone strange come by the house?”
“I-I’m fine. And no one has come by here. William, what happened?”
“I’ll explain later. Right now I need to tend to some things.”
He turned to walk away, but Marie maintained a firm grip on his arm. “No, you’re going to explain now.”
William sighed and gave a quick explanation of the events that happened. He left out what they learned from Jefferey before the intrusion. Better she didn’t have access to that information so no one would come trying to extract it from her.
Marie processed the information calmly as he knew she would. This wasn’t the first time someone attempted to kill him, and likely not the last either. A few times, they had to go into hiding until things calmed down. She might likely become numb to this kind of life and that thought scared him.
When his story was finished, he turned to Caius. “Caius, I’ll need you to remain by Marie’s side until this unpleasant business is concluded.”
“I can do that. But what about you?”
“No, I would rather she be protected. They may attempt to get to me through her and I can’t allow that.” He hugged Marie again. “I’m sorry, but I promise I’ll have this dealt with.”
Marie silently nodded and William headed downstairs to the cellar. Far in the back of the cellar was a sealed room intended for use as a torture chamber. He loathed having to resort to such a barbaric tactic of extracting information, but time was not on their side. The man’s screams reach him as he arrived at the bottom of the stairs. The screaming stopped by the time he reached the large iron door.
With a strong grunt, he pushed the door open. The man they had captured sat in a chair in the middle of the room. His head was down, hiding his face, but his front was soaked in blood. Fresh bloodstains joined the dried ones on the floor surrounding the chair.
Lance stood off to the side, washing his hands in the small basin filled with, now, pink water. “I’m afraid I couldn’t get much out of him. Just the name of his employer. Said he worked for Lyndria, but that’s all he gave me before biting off his tongue.”
William shuddered as a chill went through him. The dragon who attacked them had said that name, and Jefferey mentioned that name was written in the book. But that couldn’t be possible. That book was written during the Great Rebellion. It was centuries old. All the dracologists claimed that dragons didn’t live beyond two centuries. It could be possible another dragon had assumed her identity, but he had never heard of a dragon doing such a thing. They despised treachery and were far too prideful to consider acting under the name of another.
“What did you say?” Caius asked.
William spun around, surprised he hadn’t heard the dragon approach.
Lance raised his hands out of the water and examined them in the light then dried them on a nearby towel. “You know that name?”
“I wish I didn’t. How do you know it?”
“That man there claimed to work for her.”
Caius turned pale. “Th-That’s not possible.”
Another chill when through William’s body. In all the time he knew the drake, Caius never showed any signs of fearing anything.
“Why isn’t it possible?” Lance asked.
“Because that monster died during the Great Rebellion!” Caius’s voice was full of panic. “She can’t be alive now!”
“What has gotten into you?” William asked. “Is she truly that dangerous?”
Caius gave a short, bitter laugh. “You never heard the stories. Things she was supposedly capable of. They say her Call could make even the sky bend to her will.”
“Preposterous,” Lance said. “No dragon can control the weather. If they could, we never would’ve been able to get out from under their rule.”
“Think whatever you want, but she was cruel beyond words and cared nothing for humans or dragons. Even the Matriarchs feared her. To this day, we’re not allowed to speak her name.”
Lance still looked unconvinced, but Caius’ explanation worried William even more. A dragon so cruel, even Matriarchs feared her. That alone was an impressive feat, but more worrying was the attackers who claimed to be her followers. It reminded him of what Jefferey said about the cult who worshipped her and wanted humans to be ruled by dragons again.
“I need to speak to Jefferey,” William said as he hurried out of the room. “You two, take care of that body.”
As he hurried upstairs back to his study, his mind raced with thoughts as to Lyndria’s true identity. If she was alive during the Great Rebellion, there was no way she was still alive. The facts didn’t support it. That war was nearly 800 years ago. Even if dragons could live that long, no way could someone as famous as she go unnoticed for so long. The only logical conclusion was someone was using her name to become known, but who would be foolish enough to attempt such a thing?
Jefferey was in the study, leaning on the desk, staring at the tome and the notebook he wrote his notes in. Beads of sweat dotted his bald patch and his skin looked paler than usual.
William lightly knocked on the door to prevent startling him with his presence. “I trust everything is going well in here?”
“We may have a problem,” Jefferey said shakily.
“You other than the people trying to kill us because they are taking orders from a dragon who supposedly died centuries ago?”
“Yes. There’s this passage here”—he spun the notebook he had been scribbling in around—“that I find quite disturbing.”
That was not the news William wanted to hear, but he approached the desk anyway. Looking down, he read the passage that had Jefferey so rattled.
You of foolish dreams, the faithless, you know not the powers you challenge. The voice of the one who commands even time. We are but the pawns in a game we can scarce comprehend. We live because they allow it. We thrive to satisfy their entertainment. Only those who serve diligently, loyally, will be spared when the board is wiped clean and all begins anew.
Open your eyes or the future will rest on a foundation built of your bones.
William shrugged. The passage was disturbing, but it sounded like a group of zealots who believed that dragons would end the world. “You’ll likely find lots of passages like this. Why does this bother you?”
Just above the second translation was the hastily scribbled message “written by someone other than the original author”.
Whomsoever is reading this book, know that you are now cursed. Cursed with the burden of the truth. Cursed to become her follower. Whether directly or indirectly, you will do her bidding and you will smile as you do so. These zealots believe they know the truth, but the truth is history is a false hope borne on the lips of a liar. The dragons don’t want servants, they want toys.
When you are finished with this book, burn it. Throw it into the deepest hole you can find. Never let it see daylight again. Then hold your tongue. Keep your head down. Never share what you learned. If you speak she will know.
Perhaps she will never find you. Nay, pray she never finds you. Pray you never hear her name. For she will make you play the game. A game you are guaranteed not to win.
“Surely, you aren’t bothered by this?” William asked.
“I am. And I would like to inform you that I will no longer be translating this book for you.”
William rubbed his temple. Now was not the time to be receiving bad news, not when there were people after him. This whole endeavor couldn’t be for nothing. “I will pay you whatever you want—”
“I don’t want your money. Living amongst dragons has taught me that some things are more valuable than currency. Like my life and peace of mind.” He stepped around the desk, leaving his things behind. “You can keep those to attempt the translation yourself, but I caution you against such foolishness. Whoever wrote that warning didn’t want anyone else to suffer the same fate they did.”
William blocked the man’s path. “You are frightened because someone made an attempt on your life. Don’t throw it away because you fear what one dragoness may do to you. If this book was so dangerous, why didn’t they destroy it themselves?”
“Simple, Lord Delcat. That book is made of dragon leather. It doesn’t burn easily.”