Fire with Fire
5 years later
Arcylaen studied the nighttime cityscape of Lonnex through floor-to-ceiling windows. A seamless, one hundred and eighty degree view of the Heart City from the top floor of Draea Tower. Crystalline sconces sent glowing embers of light onto the polished surfaces of his giant desk and an oval conference table. The abundant space was dotted with metal sculptures, potted plants and a large sitting area surrounding a media station. The lush carpeting was a bold crimson. The color of his Royal blood.
He wore all black, suit, vest and shirt. His tie was gold, two shades darker than the top layer of his fractured, reptilian eyes. The attire, the polished airs and salon styled hair – it was all just another suit of armor, but underneath Arcylaen was still very much a Dragon. In fact, he was the Dragon’s Head. Leader of the Thirteen Dragon Houses. The reunited cities of Skaulling were his. Under his rule and his protection. It was not an honor he took lightly, and fate continued to test that.
On his shoulder, his Echelonite Jesper chirped and flexed his leathery wings.
Two seconds after the warning, the doors to his office were flung open and his brother, Brejeir, entered the room.
“Well, how did it go?” He dreaded to ask. Brej merely gestured toward the doorway, just as two more of their kin hauled a Phoenix in by the arms. They were all sporting the evidence of a physical altercation. Arcylaen sighed in disappointment and reluctant acceptance. “I see.”
He crossed the room at a casual pace, while his brothers helped the Phoenix into a chair from the conference table. He used the precious seconds to keep his composure intact, when every fiber of his being wanted to rage.
“Talex Asher,” he finally addressed the man. “Ex-smuggler and picklock for the Black Dogs of Cayen. Why am I not surprised?”
“Fuck you, Arcylaen,” Talex spat, blood mixed with his spittle due to a double split lip. He glared up at him with blazing, fiery eyes, though one was already beginning to blacken and swell. “You’re no better than a Dog! You think just because your tower’s shinier and your suit cleaner, that makes you different from them? You’re just as much a dirty thug as they ever were!”
Oh, Arcylaen was well aware that he walked a very fine line between two very dark worlds. One of murky grays, and one of pitch black. There was a necessity in violence when it came to defending one’s territory, protecting one’s people. There was never a necessity in organized crime, which is exactly what the Black Dogs had run their cities into the ground with before the Dragons and their allies had finally put a stop to them.
Ignoring the outburst, Arcylaen looked to his brothers, instead. “So, what have we learned?”
“We were finally able to track down a piece from the first robbery back to Nephi, just outside of Meive, but someone’s holding out on the name of the fence,” Daelyn answered, rapping a knuckle on Talex’s skull. The Phoenix hissed in warning, earning himself an amused chuckle.
Arcylaen rolled another chair over from the table, unfastened his suit jacket and sat down right in front of Talex. “I gave you a full pardon, Asher. Five years ago, you threw yourself at the mercy of myself and the Council, begged for a second chance while spouting the same sob story all of the other criminals working for the Black Dogs gave about not having a choice,” he stated evenly. “Since then, the cities have begun to recover. The job market is wide open, unemployment is at an all-time low and about eighty-percent of the pardoned ex-cons have found legitimate work. So, what’s your sob story now, I wonder?”
All Talex did was glare at him, the muscles working furiously at the back of his bruised jaw, but Arcylaen could see the wheels turning in his mind. A battle between what he knew to be true, and a search for an answer that might save him.
“Are you going to tell me that a Phoenix can’t find work?” Arcylaen pressed. “That with all of the new construction and refurbishing projects happening all over Skaulling right now, a member of the ancient Blacksmith’s can’t find an iron-working job? Please, tell me that’s why my brothers have found you squandering your second chance away in criminal activities and do make it convincing.”
Talex’s face contorted with bitter anger, before it fell in despair. “Arcylaen, please… you don’t understand-”
“I’m all ears,” Arcylaen cut him off. “And zero fucking patience!”
“I can’t,” Talex disputed, his expression twisting with anguish. “I just can’t. You don’t understand!”
“Take him to the Unbinding Chamber,” Arcylaen ordered callously, rising from his chair before he did something he’d regret. “He has no need of his Phoenix, if he isn’t going to use it.”
“NO!” Talex panicked, when Daelyn and Grevys moved to haul him up from his seat. “No, Arcylaen don’t do this!”
Talex’s Phoenix burst into flames and swirled around his host, wrapping him in a fiery shield, but he was no match for four Dragons. Jesper and the other three Draea Echelonites squawked before launching from their hosts’ shoulders and merging into one, shimmering gold Dragon roughly the size of a large dog that quickly snatched the Phoenix right out of the air and pinned it to the floor under a taloned claw. The Phoenix cried out, flames rising higher. The Dragon issued a verbal warning of high-pitched chortling, completely unharmed by the fire.
“Please, no!” Talex lunged forward, falling to his knees in begging. “It’s family!”
“Your bonded?” Arcylaen questioned.
When Talex’s face drained of blood at his own words, taking on a sickly pallor, the Dragons knew he was not speaking of his Echelonite. “It’s family,” he confessed, his blackened eyes welling with tears of regret.
Arcylaen tilted his head at Brejeir in a silent command for his brother to check the validity of that information. To see if they could find any Phoenix activity in Nephi or Meive. They would find their fence. It was only a matter of time now.
The Draea Echelonites dispersed, when Brej turned to leave the room, causing the entire space to appear dimmer without the golden glow. Talex’s Phoenix had also reined in his fire and perched himself on his host’s shoulder once again. Both displayed postures of defeat.
“Lift him up,” Arcylaen ordered his two other brothers. When they did, he stepped right into the Phoenix’s personal space and waited for the man to meet his gaze. “Everything that is happening right now, and will continue to happen for the rest of your life, is because of your own bad choices. You can compare me to the Black Dogs all day long, but when you’re alone in your cell with no one else to hear your thoughts, you won’t be able to escape the truth. This was all you, Talex. You fucked up. Now live with the consequences.”
Stepping back, his eyes flicked to Daelyn’s and Grevys’s, unable to stand the sight of the Phoenix any longer. “Get him out of my office, before I change my mind and have him scheduled for the Unbinding Chamber, anyway.”
They couldn’t convict Talex for any of the past crimes they’d already pardoned him for, but they had enough new evidence that he wouldn’t see Cauldex for awhile. Returning to the same spot he’d been standing before, Cylaen took deep breaths to calm the molten rage coursing through his veins. He needed to find an outlet soon or he’d start making his own mistakes. His own bad choices.
It bothered him more than he wanted to admit, having his generosity thrown back into his face like that. The Black Dogs had been a poison on the cities of Skaulling. Their treachery had known no bounds, had dug deep, right into the veins of the streets. There hadn’t been a single office that hadn’t been tainted by corruption. Using fear, blackmail, bribes, threats, murder…whatever they’d needed. The Cayens had warped everything good and decent, until Skaulling had become an unrecognizable monstrosity of its former glory. And their power had rooted itself so surely, the war to remove them had been long, bloody and tragic.
Now, the Black Dogs were no longer. All of their loyalists had been systematically flushed from the sewers. Businesses thrived, lives had purpose and hope again. The entire infrastructure had really begun to flourish. Then the robberies had started. Six of the Thirteen Houses of Dragons had been infiltrated and plundered, but the thieves had foolishly announced their purpose by only taking items which had once belonged to the Cayens. It wouldn’t be the first time they’d run up against Black Dog sympathizers, but none of their previous troublemakers had ever come into a Dragon’s home, into their sanctuary, where they lived with their families.
Cylaen understood Talex’s quandary very well, because he too would do anything to protect his kin. The difference was that Dragon’s had never been, nor would they ever be, criminals. Phoenixes should be able to stake the same claim! That was a whole other irritant, though, and the Dragons were done playing games. The first stages of an elaborate trap were already set and would begin in just two nights. It was time to draw the thieves out into the open, by using bait even the most cautious criminal wouldn’t be able to resist.
“Cyl,” Brej brought him out of his thoughts and Cylaen blinked, surprised to see his brother so close without realizing he was even there.
Glancing at Jesper, he found the miniature dragon curled up, sleeping soundly. Figures.
“Find anything?” He asked, giving Brej his attention.
“Not in Nephi, yet,” Brejeir answered. “But you’ll never guess who just bought the House of Cayen right here in Lonnex.”
Arcylaen stilled. That house had been on the market since the Black Dogs had been run out of it. No one wanted to live there, despite that it was a gorgeous piece of architecture.
“What?” He questioned, unsure he’d heard his brother correctly.
“The House of Cayen has just been purchased.”
“Mantao Leontle of Meive,” Brej answered.
Cylaen blinked. “Cats? A Cat bought a Dog’s house? That’s too painful to be funny, brother, but Meive…that’s not a coincidence.”
“Get me everything-”
“Done,” Brej smiled cockily. “Mantao Leontle is an extreme sports junkie that made a small fortune in filming his own suicidal stunts, having them go viral worldwide and then getting offered his own brand, his own sponsors and a slot on the top rating Extreme Sports show. He’s been interviewed in every sports magazine on the planet, but then he suddenly stepped out of the limelight to ‘explore’ the world on his own.”
“A thrill seeker wouldn’t balk at a little larceny,” Cylaen thought aloud.
“Make sure our newest citizen gets an invitation to the Gala,” Cylaen ordered. “I want to meet this Cat in person and have Rivyr look into the mortgage loan paperwork. I want to know exactly where that money came from.”
“He’s already working on it, brother,” Brejeir replied. “If even a single gold piece can be traced back to the stolen cache, we’ll know it before the end of the week.”
© A.C. Melody
♥ Continue with Episode 3