After a cold dip in the creek to wash off the sweat and dirt, the three of us found a change of clothes and made our way through the cave to Loden’s workshop. Finding the hidden door had been a thrill, but if we shut it, we had to find it all over again. The process got annoying, so we left it open most of the time.
Bice waited for us in the workshop. I think he wanted to meet here because of the air conditioning, which was fine with me. The temperature seemed to always be perfect, even though we hadn’t yet found the controls for it. I hadn’t even figured out where the generator could be. The workshop provided a comfortable retreat during the hottest parts of the days, now that summer approached.
Kelly joined us and we gathered around a table cleared of most of its clutter. Loden’s organization skills did not match his genius in other areas. Consequently, we had yet to even document everything in here. A number of curious inventions attracted me, but I was a little worried about turning them on without knowing what they could do.
“We need information,” Bice started. “And we need it on a regular basis. We haven’t heard from Stacy in weeks.” Stacy, an actress and the final member of our team, remained in Viridia.
“We also need more recruits,” Rick said. “We need people from all the cities if we’re going to keep up this conspiracy.”
“What do you suggest?” Caedan asked.
“I can’t go anywhere,” Bice said. “I’m too well known. None of you can travel to Viridia safely. Beryl and Kelly might get by for a little while, but if they’re spotted, they’ll be recognized. Rick and Caedan, obviously, have the wrong chromark.”
“That leaves Don and Lovat,” I said. “Where are they, anyway?”
Bice grinned. “On their way to Viridia.”
“I sent them soon after you left this morning. Don is unknown and Lovat… well, he’s been keeping hidden in the city for most of his life. He’ll find Stacy and hopefully set up a regular information exchange. Maybe once a week.”
“So we’ll send them back every week to pick up the news?” I asked.
“It’s not ideal,” Bice said. “But I can’t think of any other method that would work, unless we can get someone on the trains to work with us.”
“Even that might not be so great,” Rick said. “Most of the trains aren’t running right now because of the war.”
“Did you ask Stacy to work on recruitment?” I wanted to know.
“That’s part of her overall job, I think.” Bice stretched and glanced at the door. “But she has to be careful. Ironically, she can’t be spreading the news about our greatest victory.”
“Because if the other dragons found out that we killed Caesious, then they wouldn’t have any reason to be at war with each other.” I groaned.
Rick wandered away from the table, then turned back. “I like what you’ve done, Bice, but I have one problem with it.”
“Who’s in charge here? I thought we chose Beryl to be our leader. Shouldn’t he be involved in decisions like this?”
Bice did not respond for a moment. Then he nodded. “You make a good point. I’ve been operating things on my own for so many years that I forgot we’re a team. With a leader.” He looked to me. “I apologize for acting without consulting you, Beryl. Do you have any problems with what I’ve done?”
I blinked repeatedly. “Uhhh, no. I think it’s a good idea. I just wish… I wish we could move faster. Even with this plan, it may take weeks before we get information we can use. Or any new recruits.”
Bice gestured around the room. “We need a new tech person most of all. I’ve tried to understand some of this stuff and gotten nowhere.”
My eyes wandered around the room. As always, they were drawn to the one item I’d been itching to use since we found this place.
“What about the other cities?” Caedan asked. “Rick and I have the marks to visit Caesious and Atramentous. Maybe we could find out some things?”
“I can’t go back there,” Rick said. “They know me too well. And you…”
“You used to be one of their elite guards,” Kelly said. “Do you really think you could move about without being recognized?”
As Caedan conceded, I stifled a smile. It wasn’t just his face that would get him into trouble. Caedan was a fighter, not a spy. We needed him, but not for that kind of work.
“But I do have a long-range idea,” Bice broke in. “Something for us to think about and possibly prepare for.”
I turned my eyes back to him. “Let’s hear it.”
“Unless things change, I can see the dragons growing tired of this conflict before too long. So far, their fighting has been… well, it’s a bit perfunctory, as if they don’t really want to, but feel like they have to.”
“A couple hundred crispy Viridian Guards might disagree with you there,” Rick said. Kelly grimaced.
“I agree Incarnadine’s actions today represent an escalation. But look.” Bice spread a map of The Circle on the table and pointed at the center of it. “We’re camped over here, near the Blasted Lands. But all of this other land, outside the cities, consists mostly of farms. Crops and herds. The dragons haven’t attacked any of that yet. Why? Because they know in the long run, it would be detrimental. They’re not planning a drawn-out war here.”
“So… fight to show you’re angry, but don’t do anything that would threaten the future?” I thought I could see what he was saying.
“Essentially. And eventually, they’re going to want to talk to each other.”
“And that’s when we hit them all at once!” Rick exclaimed.
Bice shook his head. “I still don’t think the dragons themselves will get together. At least not at first. They’re split too evenly, two against two, with Auric staying neutral. They don’t want to risk the balance there. If Auric came in on one side or the other, it might change things. But he seems committed to staying out of it.”
That confused me. When Caesious the dragon died, his last words had mentioned Auric. He was the most unknown of all the dragons. Even Stacy’s acting troop didn’t perform in his city.
“But the dragons will want to talk peace, one way or the other, eventually. And since they won’t meet face-to-face, who will they send?”
“The draconics,” Kelly answered.
“Right. Their most loyal servants. I can see a big gathering of draconics happening sometime in the not-too-distant future. And that’s what we should prepare for.”
“To kill them?” Rick asked.
“Or… to do something—I don’t know what yet—that will inflame the war even more. Draw the dragons into it. Make them so angry they actually do fight each other. Because let’s be honest: Loden’s plan to kill a dragon was one in a million. I don’t see it happening again.”
“It takes a dragon to kill a dragon,” Kelly said. “I mean, besides what we did.”
“I don’t know.” I gestured at a shelf of strange devices. “There might be something else in here that would work. We just haven’t found it yet.”
“As much as I’d like to believe that, I just don’t see it,” Bice answered. “Loden worked long and hard to come up with that plan, and he never mentioned any back-up ideas.”
“So, let’s sum up.” I gestured to Bice. “You’re working to set up a way to get information. Beyond that, we need to be patient and wait for these eventual peace talks. And try to plan something for that occasion, something that will really anger the dragons.”
“And make them fight,” Rick added. “I’d rather we killed them ourselves, but them killing each other is almost as good.”
“That about covers it.” Bice nodded, arms folded across his chest.
“I think we can do more, though,” I argued. “We might have other means of gathering information. We should work together on identifying everything in this room. Some of them might help us out. I mean, one of them has been staring at us this whole time. It’s absurdly obvious.”
“Which one?” Caedan asked, looking around.
“That one. I’ve been thinking about it since the beginning,” I said. I pointed at the set of wings hanging from the ceiling. “I want to try that one out.”