Things had become tense since the attack on William’s life. Lance refused to leave William’s side, believing the Lyndria-Imposter’s followers would make another attempt. He wasn’t entirely wrong. Since that day, there were two more attempts to break into William’s home and steal the tome. No one was seriously injured, the thieves were more interested in stealing the tome than they were in harming anyone. Both times, the offenders were human, making William believe she didn’t have many dragon followers to sacrifice to her cause. Unfortunately, they were unable to take the humans alive. Caius burned one of them alive with his fire breath, and the other slit their throat once they had been cornered.
Since then, security had been tightened. No one was allowed in or out without permission. Neither William nor Marie could go anywhere without at least one guard at their side. William often suggested that Marie take Caius and go stay with her family until things were resolved, but she would have none of it.
“If it were my life that was being threatened and not yours, would you agree to leave me alone?” she asked. That ended any further discussion and attempts to send her away.
Since then, William had resolved to take down Lyndria. If this book was what she wanted so badly, if its secrets were that valuable to her, then he would learn those secrets and share them with the world. He would mass publish several copies of the deciphered tome and ship them out to every city. Everyone would know of her and her secrets.
With Jefferey no longer deciphering the tome, William had to do it himself since they weren’t taking any more chances on outside help. The notes left behind were a big help, but it was still a slow process. There wasn’t much to the tome it seemed, just a bunch of fanatical nonsense about how great dragons were and how the humans should be honored to serve them. Lyndria’s name came up several times, but it never provided any useful information. The zealots seemed more fascinated with worshipping their supposed deity rather than learning about her.
This time he made a point of remembering to eat, sleep, and bathe. Mostly because Marie made a point of threatening him by saying Caius was under orders to drag him to the bathtub if he caught a whiff of any unpleasant smells.
In the meantime, he had sent letters to the Scale Guild. It was time they knew the situation and what was happening. In their responses, they sounded quite upset that he had kept the existence of the tome hidden from them and that he had taken so long to notify them that a crazed dragon was likely hunting him for it. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any information regarding Lyndria.
His other books on dragons didn’t help either. Other than word-of-mouth and an old book, it seemed Lyndria didn’t exist. He had tried asking Caius once, but his only response was, “I don’t know anything about her. Don’t ask again.”
He decided there was only one other option left. In Geolga, there was one who said to be the mistress of information: an aquarian short-snout by the name of Cutter. She traded information for money, trinkets, or favors. No one knew how she got her information, but she knew just about everything about everyone, human and dragon. William loathed dealing with her because she had a reputation for being violent and unpredictable. Also, being a dragon, there was the chance she wouldn’t want to talk about Lyndria.
She was his final hope, which meant if she wasn’t going to reveal the information willingly, it would need to be forcefully extracted. But that was easier said than done. While dragons didn’t have official titles, Cutter was as close to a Lord as anyone could be. Approaching her with hostile intent wouldn’t be easy, and then they needed to survive the encounter.
William was distracted by a knock at the door of the study. Reaching for the pistol next to him, he said, “Who is it?”
The door opened and his butler poked his head inside. “Forgive me, Lord Delcat, but Lady Masterson is here to see you.”
William quickly stood and straightened his clothes. “Thank you, show her in.”
The door opened wider and the leader of Diamus’s faction of the Scale Guild, Lady Lula Masterson, entered. For the leader of one of the most powerful organizations, she didn’t dress the part. She was dressed more like a common traveler than a noble and her long brown hair was dry and tied in a simple ponytail. Even despite her appearance, her brown eyes carried a hawk-like stare and she exuded authority. It almost reminded William of a dragon matriarch. They didn’t take time to fret over appearances either, but carried themselves with an air of power none could deny. William stood, but she raised a hand. “You don’t have to stand on ceremony for me.”
William sat down, already dreading the turn the conversation had taken. “I take it you wished to deliver your latest response in person. I don’t know if I should be worried or flattered.”
“Both. You are to cease this rivalry or whatever it is you have created with Lyndria.”
“I wasn’t aware I had a rivalry.” He offered a small smile.
She didn’t share the amusement. “This isn’t a game. You’re one of our best members, but rumors are floating about that you’re chasing ghosts and legends. We can’t have people thinking you’ve cracked.”
“I’m sorry, Lady Masterson, but this Lyndria commands far too much power, even in death. Her name doesn’t appear in any history book yet incites fear in any dragon who hears it. We can’t ignore this even if we wanted to. Just by saying we work with her, someone could start a war with the dragon clans.”
“I see you’re point, Lord Delcat, but you do realize that by acknowledging this imposter, you are giving them the notoriety they seek?”
“I understand, but that is a risk I’m comfortable taking. They’ve threatened my wife and made an attempt on my life. I cannot walk away.”
Lady Masterson stared at him for a moment. “Fine. But if the dragon clans take notice, I won’t be able to protect you. As you said, mentioning we are involved with her could start a war.”
He had expected her to argue against it, but he wasn’t about to complain at the sudden fortune. “Thank you for understanding.”
“Of course. They’re threatening one of our own. The risk of starting a war is the only reason why you don’t have the full power of the Guild backing you. But if you do need assistance, I may be able to supply some discretely.”
She folded her arms across her chest. “Now tell me more about this so-called ancient dragon cult. Do you think they survived the Great Rebellion?”
“If they did, there’s no record of them anymore. I’m hoping that’s a good sign.”
“So do I. A group of fanatics stirring things up is the last thing we need with the current climate. All the same, I want any information you have on them.”
“Of course, I’ll be sure to gather my notes and I’ll send—”
“No, Lord Delcat, I’ll be taking the information with me. Safer that way than to entrust it to a messenger. In the future, however, we’ll use your dragon if anything else arises.”
William froze for a moment then quickly began gathering up his notes. That was why he respected Lady Masterson so much. She wasn’t one for taking risks and knew how to run things efficiently. Two hours later, Lady Masterson left the house with the documents she needed.
William wondered if he should have told her about his plan to question Cutter. Better she didn’t know. If anything went wrong, it would be better if the Guild had plausible deniability. Cutter’s wrath was legendary. Once, a man insulted her at a gathering and she pulled his tongue out in front of all the guests. His fate would likely be much worse should this go wrong.
That was why he decided to try the diplomatic approach. He would ask Cutter outright for the information and should she refuse, then he would take more drastic measures. They would kidnap her and transport her to Osharse Fortress, the scaled prison. It was the one place where dragons were imprisoned and the best place to carry out an “interrogation”. It was designed to keep dragons inside and it would be hard for any allies to stage a rescue once word inevitably got around.
It took three weeks of planning, a fortune in gold, six of their best informants, and calling in every favor possible, gathering the people he could trust with such a dangerous task and ensuring there were no information leaks. Everything had to be perfect or else he and everyone else involved were dead. The easy part was getting Cutter to agree to a meet. The hard part was covering his tracks.
A week before the met was to take place, William sent Maria to stay with her distant relatives in Rubelum. It was one of the few places where Cutter had little influence so she would be safest there should things go wrong. She protested at first, but William finally managed to convince her to go along with it. He sent Caius with her, and the Ramscale seemed all too happy to go. Not that William blamed him. Any drake knew better than to go against a Matriarch.
Finally, the day came when it was time to put his plan into action. He had never felt so nervous in his life. Twice, he threw up from nerves.
“Are you sure you don’t want to call this off?” Lance asked as William finished cleaning up after his second round of vomiting. “No one would think little of you should change your mind.”
“That’s not the point. If I don’t do this, Lyndria will continue to come after me. I have to take this risk.”
“Very well. Know that no matter what it takes, I will do my utmost to protect you.”
“Thank you, my friend.”
William sent all of his servants home and told them not to bother returning to work until he appeared in person to summon them, then met Lance outside. The carriage ride was the longest William had ever taken even though he knew it was only a few minutes long.
When it finally came to a stop, he almost didn’t get out. Just outside in the building, she was waiting. Once he went in, there was no turning back. He wanted to knock on the door and tell the driver to keep going. He could take Marie and go somewhere else. Somewhere far away where no one would ever find them. A pat on the shoulder from Lance snapped him out of his worried thoughts and firm his resolve.
With a heavy sigh, he opened the door and exited the carriage. He wasted no time walking straight through the tavern entrance. It was the same tavern where he had been attacked weeks before. He had the place cleaned up a little before her arrival so she wouldn’t suspect anything. Abandoned and isolated, the perfect place for what he needed to do. He prayed it all went smoothly.
Cutter was already there as he expected. The Aquarian Short-Snout was the only dragon there. Short-Snouts weren’t even the largest of the dragon species, but there was no such thing as safe when it came to dragons. This one was small in size, not even large enough for a grown person to ride, but she could easily slaughter everyone in the room. Two humans he assumed were her bodyguards flanked her. Her sea-green scales shimmered in the sunlight pouring through the boarded windows. The light made her scars stand out even more. She smiled at his entrance, the frills on the side of her head fanning slightly. That she was smiling he took as a good sign.
“Ah, so you must be William,” Cutter said. “Took your ass long enough.”
“Forgive me. My driver was a tad slow today.”
“Yeah, sure. Anyway, let’s get to it. I hate wasting time.”
“Actually, I was hoping we could talk alone,” William said, motioning to the two guards beside her. “My request is of a very…sensitive nature.”
Cutter studied his face for a moment. He maintained eye contact lest she got suspicious. Without a word, she nodded to her two guards and they left the tavern without a word. William motioned for Lance to the same. With that, the first stage of the plan had been completed. She was alone.
“So, what information are you looking for?”
William took a deep breath and decided to get straight to the point. “Someone’s trying to kill me. Someone claiming to work for a dragon called Lyndria.”
Cutter leered at him. “Where did you hear that name?”
“I already told you. The one making attempts on my life. Is something the matter? I understand she’s not a very popular topic amongst dragons.”
“If by popular, you mean dragons would rather shove knives up their ass than talk about her.”
Cutter laughed. “I’ve never understood what it is with you humans and swearing. As if you don’t say that kind of shit behind closed doors.”
“It’s seen as rude and vulgar.”
“So is swallowing cock in public, but it still hasn’t stopped humans from doing it.”
“Forgive me, but we’re getting off-topic. Is there anything you can tell me about Lyndria?”
Cutter smiled again, only her frills didn’t move. “You’re smarter than you look. Can I tell you about Lyndria? Sure. Will I tell you? Fuck no. Sorry, but there’s a reason dragons don’t talk about her.”
William sighed. The original plan had failed and it was time to go into stage two. He tapped the table twice. The doors burst open and several armed humans ran into the room, all of them pointing their guns at Cutter.
Cutter continued staring coldly at William. “You killed my guards?”
“Only if they didn’t take the offer to walk away. I assume they did not.”
“Shame. I never liked those assholes.” She looked around the room then turned back to William. “So what happens now? I’m assuming you don’t want me dead or my ass would be filled with holes.”
“I’m afraid your acquiescence is mandatory. You’ll be coming with us, and you’re going to tell me everything you know about Lyndria.” He motioned to one of the men behind him. The man stepped forward with shackles, a muzzle, and a cloth sack.
The other mercenaries kept their guns trained on Cutter as she was muzzled and chained. Then the sack was thrown over her head.
“I’m sorry it came to this,” William said. “But there is something I must protect.”
Cutter spun to face him. Even with the sack on her head, he felt the rage behind her stare. Thankfully, the muzzle kept her from speaking, or worse, roasting him on the spot. A manacle was fastened around her neck, connected to a long chain. Three humans were on each side of her as they led the dragon out of the door.
“That went smoothly,” Lance said.
“There isn’t much she could do against ten guns in such a confined space. If she had attempted to fight back, she would have died. We managed to capture one of the most dangerous dragons alive without suffering casualties. We should be celebrating.”
William followed Lance to the door. “And pray we don’t regret our actions.”