Bonus Cutscene 4: The Murder Squad

(Note: This is the first of the two bonus scenes I have planned. This one takes place at the same time as Quest 4.15 and expands a bit on what some of the other characters in the UC world are up to. If you don’t remember who Whitley is, she appeared a couple times during Quest 2 (2.17 and 2.22; I went back and tagged her in them for easy access). I don’t have any plans to make her more of a recurring character as of yet, but I have a bit of a soft spot for her and the Sovreillis crew anyway. The next bonus scene should be coming up soon~)

Whitley landed on the side of an abandoned stone building close to the border between Sovreillis and Rivillyr. One wall had started to collapse, but, though she heard the stones shifting, the building held under her weight. Nevertheless, she made a note to start looking for a new place to perch during patrols that would allow her to survey the border as well as this one. She lifted her head to get a better look at the forests and fields around her. This was the highest point in this area. She could switch to aerial patrols, but then she might miss some signs of danger crossing their borders, like small noises that the sound of a dragon’s wingbeats would overpower.

Even so, she knew that the Sovreillis Lord would prefer her to perform her patrols solely from the air. That way, she’d be done faster and stay safer. In fact, Ophelia had made it clear that she would prefer Whitley not go out on patrols at all. That was one of the few orders that Whitley had ignored during her service as the Sovreillis General. She knew that the main reason she even had this title was because it was the best way for Ophelia to justify keeping her close at all times. If she didn’t work hard to fulfill the usual duties that title carried, others would get suspicious of the nature of her relationship with the Sovreillis Lord.

The green dragon wrapped her tail through an open window and shifted to stand on top of the domed roof of the building, extending her wings slightly to keep her balance steady while she moved. The forest was awfully quiet that morning. Where were all the birds she’d heard screeching and singing the last time she came out this way?

She heard some cracking and snapping a moment before she saw one of the tall, leafless trees in the area start to fall. It groaned on its way down, accompanied by some alarmed noises from the birds that took off flying in its wake. Whitley watched as the tree picked up speed and finally dropped the rest of the way. She remained still, listening for clues as to the source of the tree’s fall.

After several moments of silence, she made her way down the side of the building. She paused at its base, listening again while hidden in its shadow. It was smaller up near the roof, but down here it was a massive construction that must have taken several dragons and larger drakes to build. She’d never found any information about the building in their history texts, so its construction and later abandonment must have predated the creation of the Fey territories.

She took slow, cautious steps through the forest. It was a sight that may have looked strange to an observer: a dragon in her true form attempting to be stealthy. Regardless, she felt safer and more prepared to defend herself in that form than she would have in human form. In her experience, there were few things in this area willing to attack a dragon in true form.

She felt a prick in her back leg, followed immediately by a burning that spread like fire through the rest of her body. She could barely process what was happening before she found herself on the ground unable to move. She hissed against the pain and looked around as best as she could while keeping her head still to prevent even greater pain.

“Not to worry; it’s only enough needle drake venom to paralyze you temporarily. You won’t die,” a male voice said.

Like a curtain had been drawn, she suddenly became aware of a group of five Fey in the forest around her. Two stayed back, probably to keep watch. One was a drake of some kind, the other was a griffin, if she was reading her senses correctly. Of course, with that pain clawing at her head, it was entirely possible that she wasn’t. The other three got closer to her. One was a species she wasn’t sure of the name of, another was a sea serpent in human form. The third, a phoenix in human form, stepped into her field of vision.

He squatted down in front of her, a smile stretching his face. In her pain-altered state of mind, it looked as though he had a crown of fire instead of hair. She narrowed her eyes against the blinding brightness of that fire. The phoenix smiled wider, resting an elbow on one knee and propping his face against his fist.

“Well, you won’t die yet, anyway. Perhaps I should clarify that,” the phoenix continued. He had apparently been the one speaking all along.

“You’re lucky that you’re not the first one we’re visiting. We have the dosages better controlled now.”

This time it was a female who spoke. She stepped closer, revealing herself as the one Whitley couldn’t identify. She had a humanoid shape with grey, scaled skin and black claws on her feet and hands. She had short black hair spiked back in a way that Whitley couldn’t tell if it was natural or styled. Two horns spiraled up and back from her forehead. Her face was a blend of human and dragon features with draconic wings folded behind her. She also squatted down, the fabric draped around her in a mockery of clothing not providing much modesty in the new position.

The woman grinned. “The first dragons we visited suffered so much that blood frothed from their lips. An interesting experiment, but it kept them from speaking to us. You, though, should be able to answer some questions.”

“Hey, this is my show here,” the phoenix said to his companion. Turning back to her, he said. “You’re the biological daughter of West, the mate of the Lord of Sovreillis, correct?”

Despite the fire in her body, Whitley felt a chill. The story the three of them told everyone who asked was that West and Ophelia found her as a hatchling and raised her to be a soldier they could trust completely. No one was supposed to know that she was their biological daughter, that they’d broken the dragon laws to raise their own offspring. How had this phoenix found out?

“Hm, well, I suppose I’ll take that expression of yours to be a yes. You see, I have some issues with West. Really just the one issue relating to one thing he did in the past. Did you know that your daddy dearest was involved in the phoenix hunts? Killed someone important to some birds I care about.”

That’s a lie,” she managed to muster the energy to say.

“No, you see, it really isn’t. The Sovreillis Lord has ruled for quite a long time, but her mate only showed up a handful of centuries ago. Right around the time the phoenix hunts were underway. He changed his name around that time too. I wonder if your mother knows what he was up to before he showed up on her doorstep looking for a new life. Feeling all remorseful or whatever bullshit reason turned him away from his life of murder and thievery. Doesn’t change what he did.”

My father is a good person.”

The phoenix walked closer and petted her head. She tried, but couldn’t get her muscles to cooperate enough to bite him. “He must care about you dearly to want to disobey dragon laws. He’ll understand the real pain that he caused so much better once you’ve been taken from him.”

She let out her frustration at her inability to move by hissing. The scaled woman cackled. She heard a male chuckle from the direction of the sea serpent. She couldn’t see the phoenix’s expression well from this angle, but she imagined that he was smiling too. Maybe her mother had been right about these solo patrols being too dangerous all along.

A chirping sounded from the phoenix. It was muffled by clothing until he pulled a crystal out of his pocket. The glow of that crystal so close to her eye was irritating. The phoenix hummed and stepped away.

“Hello~?”

There was a pause while he listened. She saw him grinning again when he turned to gesture something at the scaled woman. He stepped farther away to continue the conversation. His delighted tone of voice when he said “birdlet” was the last thing she heard clearly before he disappeared out of her sphere of vision.

The scaled woman let out a dramatic sigh and looked at the sea serpent that Whitley couldn’t see. “That Nico. What’s he thinking leaving this half-done? This poison doesn’t last forever.”

“I’m sure he’ll be back before she can move again,” a male voice she assumed belonged to the serpent answered. “You know how excited he is whenever he talks about that niece of his; it makes sense for him to drop everything for her.”

“Hm,” the scaled woman picked up a nearby stick and started to poke Whitley’s face with it. “You’re lucky he told us not to do anything to you while he was gone.”

Whitley ignored the poking as best she could. “Nico”? She’d heard that name before. He had some connection to the scholar Elora, didn’t he? She couldn’t remember exactly what she’d been told about him, but she was fairly certain that was part of it. What was one of Elora’s companions doing hunting down dragons and threatening to kill them? Did that mean the rest of these Fey were also companions of Elora? Was Elora behind all this?

No, the phoenix had spoken of the phoenix hunts. Of one phoenix in particular, if she was understanding correctly. This sounded personal for him. He had to be wrong about West, though. She’d always known her father to be a pacifist. He wasn’t interested in contests of strength or taking part in the territorial guard. He always spoke out against fighting anyone unless in self defense. He spent more time in their castle gardens than he did in her mother’s study or the strategy room.

That phoenix had to be wrong. She had to make him see reason.

The sea serpent came closer and sat on her leg with a sigh. “I have to admit, this is getting to be more bothersome than I expected. Hunting down those dragons and their families sounded entertaining at the time, but I forgot about all of the ridiculous dragon customs that would get in the way.”

“Too true!” The scaled woman responded, though she sounded more delighted than frustrated. “Tracking dragon families is like stabbing blindfolded at everything that moves like a dragon.”

“Try not to sound too excited about killing off potentially innocent dragons because they happened to hatch at the same time and in the same place as individuals on our list, will you?”

The scaled woman shrugged. “Too many dragons out there in the world anyway.”

That was about when Whitley came to the conclusion that these Fey were all mad and carrying on with a fool’s mission. They were just senselessly slaughtering any dragons that they thought were directly or indirectly involved. They didn’t care if they got it wrong. It didn’t matter that they were wrong about her father; they were still going to kill her. There was no point arguing with them.

“Well, someone’s lost her will to fight,” the serpent commented. She felt him pat her shoulder. “You can always tell, because they start to slump.”

“Hm, too bad. I was looking forward to seeing that defiant look in her eyes as she died.” The scaled woman stood up and looked towards the forest. “Nico! Hurry it up!”

A few moments later, the phoenix came back in her field of vision. The crystal was back in his pocket and his thumbs were hooked in his belt.

“Well, Murder Squad, it’s time to head out.”

“‘Murder Squad’?” The serpent asked.

At the same time, the scaled woman hissed, “We’re leaving?!”

“Yes. Time to move on to the next dragons on the list.”

“What about this one?” The serpent stood and poked her with his foot.

The phoenix came closer to her and knelt down again. There was no cruelty in his smile this time. Just an affection that Whitley got the sense wasn’t directed at her. “Turns out this dragon has, as certain humans in the Mid-grounds might say, a guardian angel looking out for her.”

“Aw, come on. Can’t we just do a little murder? Don’t tell me I got all excited for nothing.” The scaled woman crossed her arms and frowned. “That girl’s turning you soft.”

“‘That girl’,” the phoenix started, glaring over his shoulder at her, “is my second favorite person in the world at the moment. If she asks me for something reasonable, I’ll do everything in my power to make sure it happens.”

“Told you,” the serpent commented. He started walking away into the forest where the other two were waiting. “Let’s get going then.”

The phoenix searched his pockets for something. “The poison should wear off entirely in a few hours. You might be able to move again sooner than that, but I would recommend against trying to fly. I’ll leave you with this to keep you hidden while you wait.”

Whitley stared at the orange feather that he placed on her snout. “You’re wrong about my father.

He started to laugh. “I’m really not, though. The Overcurrent kept records of the dragons that sold them eggs. Like I said, he was going by a different name back then, but I was able to follow the trail to him here in Sovreillis. Try asking him if you really want to know. Maybe while your mum’s in the room. She was one of the dragons most vocally opposed to the hunts, wasn’t she? His participation might drive a wedge between them.”

He stood and shrugged. “Of course, it’s up to you whether or not you want to continue thinking I’m wrong and that your father’s innocent. If you don’t want to know, then don’t mention what happened here to anyone. If you do, I will make it public knowledge what he did. Then, regardless of whether or not it’s true, the way others view him will change.”

“Yawn,” the scaled woman said. “Threats are far less satisfying than murder. Let’s go find the next dragons.”

“You’ll have to wait a while; we won’t be doing any hunting in Sovreillis in the foreseeable future.”

Whitley watched the two walk out of her field of vision. She tracked them through the forest as they and the others left. Then, she was all alone with her thoughts again. The phoenix was right. If her mother heard the accusations, even if they weren’t true, it would change her relationship with West. Whitley’s choices were to risk ruining her parents’ relationship or to keep this terrifying experience to herself. She couldn’t even fully appreciate still being alive because she felt sick. Still, she did feel grateful for the fortunate timing of that call the phoenix got.


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