Lance was not happy to learn that William had gone behind his back. He was even less happy to learn he had made yet another deal with Cutter.
“Don’t you realize that dragon is just using you! Each time you give in to her demands, you let her know that she has more power than she should!”
William could say nothing in the face of the harsh scolding. Lance had never yelled at him like that before. It made him feel like a child.
And the weight of his actions still lingered in his gut. Nothing was going as it should have and it felt like the situation was spiraling out of control.
“What’s done is done,” Omar said. “Screaming about it won’t help us now.”
Lance whirled on the man but gave an exasperated sigh instead of a rebuttal.
“So what do we do now?”
“We feign ignorance,” William said. “No one knows anything about what happened.”
Omar raised a brow. “There were no guards? No one saw you?”
“Not that I recall.”
“Good. What about Victor?”
“I doubt he will say anything. Harold’s leadership weighed heavy on him.”
“That makes no difference,” Lance said. “You know Cutter won’t hesitate to capitalize on this, so we must start planning our next move.”
William said nothing. He didn’t have a plan. There was no next move. He still felt Harold’s heartbeat. Heard his final gasp in his ears.
“Lance, take a walk,” Omar said.
“Just do it. Go clear your head.” He sent him a look making it clear it wasn’t a suggestion.
Lance looked to William, most likely to interfere, but he couldn’t look his friend in the eye. The sound of the door opening then closing broke the silence then Omar sat next to William. “You never had to kill a man before, did you?”
“I’m no stranger to violence.”
“That’s not what I asked you. It’s different when you do it yourself. I tell the same thing to the recruits. Shooting a scarecrow is very different from facing the real thing. That’s hard enough to deal with, but you then you let that dragon get your head.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Yes, you do. You didn’t kill Harold because you wanted to. You felt you had no choice, right? Kill or be killed. She let you think you had been backed into a corner and bloodshed was the only way out.”
It was true even if he didn’t want to admit it. And Cutter knew it too. It was clear in her smile. He wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Cutter had planned this from the beginning. If her goal was to anger Harold, knowing he would be quick to regain control and force William’s hand.
She played by different rules and worse, she mastered them.
Omar continued. “Your problem is you’re trying to play the long con and assuming you know your opponent. But you don’t know anything about this Lyndria and Cutter is as dangerous and unpredictable as they come.”
“Then what do you suggest I do?”
“Think of it like a hunt. You don’t just run into the beast’s den and start shooting everything in sight. You take your time, observe from a distance, and then come up with a plan.
“You’re trying to take on two dragons at once and anyone will tell you, that’s the dumbest thing you can ever do.”
“Yes, I appreciate your observation of the obvious,” William said rolling his eyes. He stood and went to the desk. Omar’s words stung, but it was true. His arrogance put him in this position. He believed Cutter would be easy to control in her current state, that she would put her well-being above all else. Instead, he grossly underestimated her stubbornness. She either didn’t fear death, or she didn’t believe he would do it.
The book lay on the desk, taunting him with the warning on its pages. A game he was guaranteed not to win was eerily accurate. Negotiation only worked from a position of power, a position he currently lacked. He showed his hand too soon or rather, Cutter figured it out. He was desperate to get information on Lyndria and she was using that. Without realizing it, she had reversed their roles.
“My advice, leave her here to rot,” Omar said. “Every time you go back to her, it strengthens her hold over you.”
He didn’t care about that. Ending this game was all that mattered. If that meant being in Cutter’s pocket, then so be it. That could be worked out later.
He nodded silently then left the room. It all made so much sense. Taking on two dangerous dragons and expecting to come out unscathed was child’s thinking. It was time to face the consequences. To beat Lyndria, he had to sell his soul to Cutter.
Perhaps if I had done that from the beginning, we wouldn’t be here now, he thought.
“Sir, is everything all right?” Lance asked.
William started at his sudden voice. It was then he realized he stood on the elevator as it descended to the lower levels. “Sorry. I was… distracted. You were saying?”
“I was asking if you were okay. You haven’t said a word since you left the room.”
“Yes, everything is fine.”
That was twice he lied to his friend. It was never a pattern he wanted to establish, but he needed to make sure the cost was paid only by him.
The lower levels felt different this time. The shadows danced on the walls as if in celebration of some unknown event. Silence fell over them, muffling their footsteps. Even the guards seemed distant and distracted, not acknowledging their presence.
Cutter wore a broad grin when they entered her cell. There were no signs of blood or ash anywhere. “Hey, Willy! Thanks for dinner. The food here is shit.”
“Glad to oblige,” he replied tonelessly, feeling Lance’s gaze on him. He pulled up the chair and sat down. “Now, I believe we have an arrangement.”
“Straight to it, huh? I feel sorry for your wife. So Lyndria had decided to get revenge on that heartless bitch, Delour, but there was a problem. She couldn’t challenge her as Matriarch and murder doesn’t go well in clans.”
“With how eager dragons are to use violence to solve their problems, I’m surprised to hear they frown on murder.”
“There are rules to follow if you want to kill someone.” She added with a sly smile, “But those rules only apply to clan members.”
“What a convenient loophole.”
“Tell that to the poor bastard who pissed off a clan of dragons. Now, about Lyndria…”
Lyndria stood over her sleeping sister, taking in the sight of her one last time. There was a good chance they would never see each other again. If she failed her task, she was dead. Even if it all went well and she made it out alive, the clan would not be happy with her. The rest of her life would be spent on the run, never being allowed to come within 100 miles of this place.
The further Madrin was away from that, the better.
Night had fallen and the moon had been blocked by clouds. Most of the clan would be asleep now. It was the best time to strike.
She spread her wings and flew back to the clan.
The flight was uneventful though her mind was clouded. Shame and glee fought for dominance. How she dreamed of this day or a variation of it. She didn’t imagine sneaking into the clan like a coward, striking down her nemesis when she was at her most vulnerable.
To be safe, she landed near the watering hole and walked the rest of the way. Thanks to her time as an outcast, she learned how to get into the mountain without being detected. She ran into no opposition. No one should think twice about seeing her roaming the halls, but it was better to be safe than sorry.
Getting into the Matriarch’s chamber would be the hard part. Just waltzing in was too risky. But when she was a hatchling, she used to sneak in through a small tunnel. She and Madrin used to play in it all the time.
The entrance was hidden in the upper levels near the nest hidden behind a large boulder. In her youth, she could simply squeeze through the crack, but now it had to be moved. This didn’t bother her as it meant no one else was likely using it.
Still, she preferred to be cautious. After making sure no one was watching, she sniffed around the boulder for any traces of another dragon’s scent. No one had used it. She pushed the boulder just far enough away that she could squeeze through the opening inside.
The tunnel sloped sharply downward and turning in it was difficult, but she moved slowly, trying to keep as quiet as possible.
Getting out of the tunnel without making too much noise was the hardest part. She had to do it slowly, inching the rock forward slowly then stopping to listen for any signs of stirring. She didn’t know how long it took, but she managed to open the exit wide enough to slip into Delour’s chamber.
She lay in the middle, Roch curled against her body. They looked so happy, so peaceful, so carefree.
Lyndria frowned at the pair. So you chose her when you rejected my mother, traitor.
She wanted to kill him, too. It would be so easy. But she didn’t have the time.
Instead, she focused her Call on him, not bothering to be gentle.
Get the fuck out.
Eyes still closed, Roch stood and shuffled out of the chamber.
It was just her and Delour now. She circled the Matriarch, her body growing tighter with every step. Her tail quivered against her desire to hold it still. Blood pounded in her ears.
My only regret is I don’t get the satisfaction of letting the clan watch, she thought.
She clamped her jaws around Delour’s throat, making sure to put her weight on the larger dragon’s neck to maintain control. Delour’s eyes snapped open and darted to Lyndria, shock turning to rage than fear. The Matriarch thrashed beneath her, claws scraping her sides and belly. Lyndria sank her fangs deeper and held it. It was thanks to Delour’s “training” that she could ignore the pain and continue to hold on. She could easily rip out her throat and kill her in seconds, but she wanted to savor this moment. She stared into her eyes.
That’s right. I finally came for you.
She watched with glee as the frightened Matriarch’s eyes bugled. She savored the taste of her opponent’s blood dripping through her fangs. Each pound of Delour’s rapid heartbeat beneath her claws sent waves of pleasure through her body. The sound of her opponent gasping for air as she slowly drowned in her own blood.
Eventually, Delour’s body went still, her heart stopped pounding, and her death gurgles ceased. Lyndria twisted her head and shook, tearing Delour’s throat wide open for good measure. It was done. The usurper was dead. Delour’s eyes remained wide open, staring at the ceiling.
Lyndria looked back at the entrance. If only she could see the look on his face when he came in and found his chosen dead. But doing that would be the death of her.
Then again she was as good as dead anyway. She died a long time ago when the clan turned their backs on her.
The more she contemplated it, the more it made sense. Her life was already forfeit. No clan would take her for being a Matriarch. Then there was Madrin. She couldn’t be sure her sister wouldn’t be blamed for this. They would probably punish her just to be spiteful. She wouldn’t put it past them.
Roch was still outside the entrance so she killed him first. Her Call was still in effect so he didn’t even realize until it was too late. Seeing the shock on his face at the realization of what was happening felt almost as good as killing Delour.
She made her way deeper into the caves. Going after the sentinels was her next step.
The moment she left the tunnel, she was greeted by Nayome’s voice. “The disciple has finally gotten her revenge.”
Lyndria whirled around. The Oracle sat in the middle of the tunnel, wearing an all-knowing smile. She immediately got into a stance, reading for an attack.
“She can relax. This one has not raised the alarm.”
The silence was more worrying than a swarm of angry dragons descending on her. But she didn’t relax her stance.
“Why?” she asked slowly.
Nayome tilted her head. “It is not the role of the Oracle to interfere. Only to guide. This one made it her duty to guide the next Matriarch, using Delour as a warning against the powers of greed, hatred, and arrogance.”
Lyndria growled. “You planned this from the beginning. I knew I was chosen to be disciple for a reason; you knew I was gonna kill her. You chose me on purpose to give me that chance.”
“Maybe. The disciple should remember that creatures do not live long by being strong but by being clever. She would do well to remember that, for she is very clever. This one looks forward to seeing how she changes the world.” She casually examined her claws and nibbled on them. “Since this one did provide the dragoness with what she wanted most, perhaps she will return the favor?”
“I don’t owe you a fucking thing.”
“Then maybe she will be grateful for having her life. Unless…she wants this one to raise wake the clan?”
She wanted so badly to leap onto Nayome and tear her apart. But she wasn’t crossing the distance in time. It shouldn’t matter. She should be ready to die and take as many down with her as possible. Instead she stood frozen.
Nayome’s smile widened as her tail waved lazily behind her. “See? She already knows. She is angry. She wants revenge, but further bloodshed will not fill the void in her heart. What she wants cannot be obtained through loss.”
“What the fuck do you know about what I want?!” she cried. She didn’t care if it woke the others. Let them come. If she died today, she wouldn’t die alone. “You were just using me to get what you wanted!”
“That is life. The plants use the sun, the beasts use the plants, and we use the beasts. Everyone uses to get what they want most: to live. What will she use?”
“Fuck you, Nayome.”
The Oracle bowed. “This one wishes the dragoness luck. The world is dangerous, but in time, she will become a truly powerful Matriarch. And then the clan will see what they have given up.”
With a snort, Lyndria turned and left the way she came in. Just like before, there was no opposition.
The air tasted different than before. It mingled with the taste of blood and had a strong bitter aftertaste. The breeze seemed forceful, pushing against her as if urging her along. She set off into the swamp, frustrated and drained. That talk with Nayome ruined her feelings of revenge. She didn’t have the energy to kill a rat for dinner yet alone a grown dragon for vengeance.
Except what was her next path? Go back to Madrin and live in peace? Thinking about it didn’t fill her with joy. It wasn’t what she wanted.
But what did she want?
“Is that all?” William asked. “Seems very anticlimactic.”
“Well, if you wanted an epic fight maybe don’t ask for a fucking true story,” Cutter spat. She stood and shook her body, rattling her chains. “Anyway, that’s the end of part one.”
“There’s more to the story. We just scratched the surface, Willy. You know why Lyndria set out into the world. Next, I’ll tell you how her experiences changed her.”
“Before we get into that, what became of her sister?”
Cutter sent him a dark look. “Why?”
“That is my business. Yours is telling a story.”
“And Madrin is a part of that story.”
“Madrin’s part is over for now. I’ll get to her when I fucking get to her. Until then, don’t ask questions.”
He made a mental note of her reaction for use later. Cutter was the sort who liked being in control. Angering her may throw her off and cause her to slip up.
Just as he made a mental note to look up Lyndria’s old clan and this Nayome. This whole thing was technically started by this dragoness. Had she not assisted Lyndria, this likely wouldn’t be happening.
He grabbed the water bucked next to his seat and brought it to Cutter. She hesitated at first but drank her fill.
“Thanks, Willy. Now before I get into the next part, I need to get out of this prison. Fun as this whole domination thing is, I don’t do bondage.”
William dropped the bucket, ignoring that it fell over and spilled its contents on the floor. The arrogance of this dragon was getting deeper under his skin than he would admit to. “You’re not leaving until we’re done here.”
Cutter started chuckled then she looked up at him and tilted her head. “Oh, you’re serious?” She burst into hysterics. The sound made William nervous. He looked at the door, contemplating if he should run for it or not.
“What exactly is so funny?” he asked. He meant to sound confident, but it was taking all he had just to keep his voice level.
She stopped laughing and looked up at him, a devious smile spreading across her face. “You humans are the dumbest assholes I ever met. Dangle something shiny in your face and you lose all sense. I can see Piss-Stain being that fucking stupid, but I expected better from you.”
“I have no patience for this game! What are you getting at?”
“What’s the one thing this prison doesn’t have?” Her smile grew wider. “Females.”
It felt as if his heart had stopped beating. “What did you—?”
The rest of his question was cut off by the monstrous roar of what had to be every drake in the prison. The sound reverberated through the walls, floor, ceiling, and his bones. He clamped his hands to the sides of his head.
Then he heard it. The sound of metal slamming against stone as they burst through their cell doors. It was quickly drowned out by the shouting of guards and the boom of their guns.
William backed against the wall, unsure what to do. The elevator was the only way out and there was an entire floor of angry dragons between him and freedom.
Cutter’s dark chuckle filled the room again. “I told you I didn’t need your ass to get out of here. You might wanna start running. Get out alive and we’ll finish the story.”