Hello everyone! A bit of info to know before you get started reading The Fox & the Dragonfly: This is a collaborative story, meaning there are two authors. One of them is myself, NaidaInoa, (obviously), and my co-author is TsumeNagata (hello!).
We write mostly fantasy/romance books together (which is probably why you're here) and we write from the point of view from different characters. The two main characters in this book are Adrik and Vreni. I write for one and Tsume writes for the other. Now, as far as who writes for which one, you get to guess. Please feel free to leave your guess in a review along with what you think of this chapter!
In addition to Adrik and Vreni, there are many other characters in this story and are divvied up accordingly. So if there is ever a point where the flow of the story is unclear, let us know and we will look over that part again and see if editing is necessary.
If you would like to know anything further, I've explained quite a bit on my profile and perhaps that can answer any questions you might have.
While it might not be too apparent in the first chapter, this story is rated M for Mature for the following reasons: Violence, Language, Sexual Content, and Dark Themes that can be considered Triggers for some individuals. Please proceed with caution. This is also the only warning you will get as we will not put warnings before each chapter in order to maintain the immersion, so be forewarned.
Enjoy the read and if you like it, please follow, favorite, and review for updates! (We also take suggestions and consider them thoroughly.)
~NaidaInoa & TsumeNagata
The skies were shrouded by a blanket of gray that made the landscape dark and dreary. The clouds spat a continuous mist that, though light, still managed to seep into your clothes and chill your bones. Adrik pulled the hood of his long, leather coat further forward and hid his gloved hands under the leather as he traversed the lightly populated streets before arriving at his destination: a well-known tavern called The Drunken Hart. As he entered the warm establishment, Adrik pushed off his hood and waved off a working woman before finding a table near a well-dressed individual, whom an informant had told him, after some persuading, was attempting to become one of the Lady Dreygon's exclusive clientele.
Adrik watched the man surreptitiously, while he ordered drinks and food, until the portly individual was approached by another. The newcomer sat quietly while the nobleman ate his fill. Only after he was done eating did they begin to speak. His sharp hearing picked up a rather disjointed conversation that wasn't all that different from others he'd had himself for many years. Adrik couldn't help himself; he grinned. Finishing off his own meal, he tossed a few coins onto the table and got to his feet. He had a meeting to attend.
Flipping up his hood, Adrik stalked down the wet streets, ducking his head as the wind blew stoutly before he eventually came to the second location. The large building made his skin crawl, but the dark haired man shrugged off his unease as he stepped into the syndicate run gambling house. After a quick look around, he found the appropriate man and pushed back his hood as he looked down on him and he said the required phrase, "Watch your wings, we fly or die." The man looked at him for a long moment before nodding in acceptance. Motioning for him to follow, he was led into the back of the building and was made to wait in a room with a single door while a guard was retrieved. When the two men came back he was stripped of his coat, his boots, and his weapons. Or at least most of them. He was then made to wait a second time as the Dragonfly was retrieved.
The Dragonfly, Vreni Dreygon, current head of the Dreygon syndicate that surreptitiously controlled the city of Quarith, sat at one of the meeting tables on the main floor of her gambling house. She was conversing with one of the many noblemen that made up her clientele and was becoming rather annoyed at how the man prattled on; wasting her precious time. The man, Edmond, was in much higher spirits after being delivered the information he had paid for regarding current market trends. Such insight would grant the nobleman considerable wealth when he invested in stocks, so he had eagerly agreed to pay the hefty fee to hear from the Dreygon intel network. Vreni forced a polite laugh as he made a very poor and distasteful joke about his rival, who the poor sap didn't realize was also one of her patrons.
While the loud noises of the casino enveloped them, one of her men approached her for the second time that day, and leaned down to whisper in her ear, "A man has arrived using the code meant for Lord Boris Vanderweele."
Grateful for the interruption, Vreni smiled sweetly across the table at Edmond, "You'll have to excuse me. I have another meeting to attend to." She stood and downed the remaining contents of her wine glass before sitting it gently on the table, "Do contact us again if you find yourself in need of our services."
Edmond stood as well so as not to seem impudent. "Of course Lady Dreygon. You never disappoint."
Offering him a slight curtsy and a curt, "You are too kind," her skirt twirled behind her dismissively as she headed toward a private location.
The friendliness she had shown her client dropped from her face and was instead replaced with a scowl. Once seeing her approach wearing such a fierce expression, the crowds quickly parted to allow her easy passage. Her ankle-high leather boots clicked on the tile as she strolled past them until they reached a door to one of her many back rooms. Once she was alone with the man that had approached her, she turned toward him. "Who is the one that used the code?" she demanded.
"Yes," he saluted, "We believe it to be the Silent Fox. His appearance matches the description and portrait given to us." Adrik. So the top assassin of the rival syndicate, the Adari of Leydohn, had infiltrated her territory and presumably wanted to meet with her? And just after she had received word earlier that morning of the fallout he had had with his previous leader, Stryker Adari. If he had truly left the Adari, what would bring him here? Vreni raised an eyebrow as she considered this. Surely he didn't come to ask for assistance. Her frown deepened as the man interrupted her musings, "My Queen, what would you have us do with him?"
She couldn't help but chuckle darkly. The man had beaten the system, broken their code, and waltzed right on in. It was so unlike the "Silent" title he had received to openly approach her and meet with her directly. "Is he aware of your suspicions?" she inquired of him.
He answered definitively and quickly in order to avoid her ire, "Of course not. We have followed protocol."
"And where is he now?"
"Waiting to be lead up to the room beyond the glass." The glass was specifically designed so that it could only be seen through from one side: her side, so that she might confirm the identity of any suspicious persons and have them killed if need be.
"Very well. Have him brought up. I will verify him with my own eyes. Once he is brought upstairs, be sure to check him again; more thoroughly," she stated tersely. It would be laughable to think her men had stripped him of all his weapons. "Make sure he is left with nothing unnecessary. Ensure him that it is just another layer of precaution. He is attempting to impersonate a man who wishes to be a new client after all."
"Right away, my Queen," he told her assuredly while snapping a deep bow before disappearing from sight. Vreni reached for the gun on her hip as she left for her observation room. She grinned in spite of herself. Things were about to get very interesting.
Adrik glanced up and raised an eyebrow as two guards entered the room. They both offered him rigid, yet respectful bows before addressing him. "My Lord, the Lady is currently speaking with another client. We've been asked to escort you to her private meeting quarters where she will join you shortly to discuss the details of your contract." Adrik sighed as if he were an impatient nobleman that was perturbed by the news of having to wait. He thought, however, that they were already suspicious of him. "Very well," he stated with graceless resignation. Getting to his feet, practically bare as they were, the assassin followed his two escorts through the building and up the stairs to another, much smaller room with a mirror on one side. He held in a dark chuckle as the door closed behind them.
He caught the look the two men shared and briefly studied their stiff demeanors.
"We apologize for the inconvenience, sir," one of them started saying, "but we must check once more for weapons and the like. It's simply protocol." Oh yes, they knew he wasn't a nobleman. Adrik chuckled then and spread his arms and legs lazily so that they might pat him down once more. In the act of doing so, he pulled one of his small throwing knives from where it was hidden and used some quick, unnoticeable sleight of hand to hide it from the two men. He glanced at the mirror with a sly smile before turning to nod at the men and slip the knife covertly into its previous hiding place. Straightening his vest, Adrik then pulled out one of the two chairs in the room and sat down to patiently wait for the leader of the Dreygon.
By the time Adrik was brought into the designated room, Vreni was already on the other side of the mirror; watching. It seemed he was already aware of the circumstances as he, more or less, looked at her and passed around a knife where her men wouldn't see. Her eyes narrowed at his provocation. She didn't believe he was there to harm her, so she decided to accept his challenge. Gun in hand, she nodded to her men. "Good job. The one you see before me is, indeed, Adrik the Silent Fox." The dark-haired man was of a lean and muscular build and his frame had been stripped of most of his belongings. The drawn portrait of him she had memorized was relatively close to the real thing, though it didn't do his eyes justice. Their hazel glow reminded her much of the fox he was named after.
Since she was a busy woman, she would delay their meeting no further. Entering the room, she smiled at him, amused, despite her irritation and dropped all pretenses as she approached, "Hello Adrik." Vreni took her seat opposite him and placed her gun on the table. "Let's cut right to the chase, shall we? What brought you to my city, and more specifically, to me?"
As the inner door opened, Adrik looked up and smiled remissly at the leader of the Dreygon Syndicate. She was a relatively tall, blonde haired, blue eyed beauty, but he knew that her temper was nothing like her appearance. She was a strong, intelligent individual that had managed to dodge and parry all manner of attacks from his own… ex-syndicate for the better part of ten years.
Her black and maroon skirt became her, and he couldn't miss the unholstered gun she laid before him or the dragonfly ornaments that gave the lady her name. He insolently leaned back in the chair supplied to him, balancing it on two legs in a brazen display that was sure to peak her ire. He chuckled; not that he cared.
The assassin crossed his arms over his chest and raised an eyebrow at the Dragonfly's question. He shrugged his shoulders, unconcerned by her threatening display. "Well, I'm not here to kill you," he said confidently, "I'm much more interested in helping you. Or rather, us helping each other." He smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes as he looked at her. "I don't suppose you've received the most recent intel? Obviously, you know that I left Leydohn and the Adari," otherwise he never would have seen her and would have probably been killed on the spot.
For the moment, she chose to ignore his uncivil display rather than play readily into his hands. If Adrik thought such a deliberate attempt to rile her would succeed, he was sorely mistaken. She could only guess as to what he might say, but when he revealed his lack of intent to kill her, Vreni refrained from rolling her eyes. He would not have come openly if that were the case; she didn't think him that stupid. He had earned the title Silent for a reason and he was surely too proud a man to go against that.
Allowing the silence to stretch, she folded her hands in front of her. Did he really believe he had anything to offer her? The mere thought was intriguing. "Your assumption is correct. I know of your falling out with Stryker, as I'm sure you are more than well aware of that." It would be of no surprise to her if he had created such a scene deliberately to ascertain it reached her ears quickly. "I do not, however, have further information than that. I am only one person and information can only travel so quickly." She leaned forward so her chin could rest on top of her laced hands as she gave him a smile that was feline in nature, "But perhaps you would care to enlighten me?"
Purposefully leaning forward so that the front legs of the chair touched down, Adrik laid his elbows on the table, but still much too far away for him to snag her weapon even if he wanted to. He tapped his nails on the tabletop. "Stryker wants your city," he stated matter of factly. Adrik knew that wouldn't come as any surprise to her as she had allowed the older man to waste valuable time and resources on attempts that were always bound for failure. Now, however, he had his sights set on another venture. "He's been raiding villages, and this will probably come as no surprise to you, however," he said, continuing with a harder voice and colder eyes, "his intent is to gather as many resources as he possibly can and enslave all of the Taevashi people that he can find in order to eventually overwhelm you with sheer force and numbers." Normally Adrik wouldn't have left. He would have disapproved, but ultimately he was no stranger to hardship and felt little sympathy for strangers. However, the peaceful people Stryker planned on enslaving were his own, and he would not stand idly by and allow Stryker to do to them that which had been done to him all those years ago.
Now the picture was clear. The Taevashi were a race of people who were stronger, faster, and more intelligent than that of the typical populace and were generally known for their pacifist nature. As such, a vast majority of them had been hunted down to be turned into slaves in order to do their master's bidding. Adrik happened to be one of those people and had even once been a slave himself. It appeared Stryker must have finally managed to cross the line with his right-hand man. Venri allowed the room to remain silent as she pulled a tan cloth from her belt pack. She used it to polish the blade attached to the bottom of the barrel on her gun as she allowed the information some time to soak in. The gun was twisted this way and that, catching the dim lighting in the room, as she meticulously cleaned it.
Pausing briefly, she looked up at him darkly from under her lashes. Her voice rang soft and dangerously low, "And what of value do you have to offer me to keep you alive?"
Adrik was unconcerned, despite her obvious intent, and the long silence failed to disconcert him. He was not an easily intimidated man, and he knew that his life held plenty of value for the syndicates. He leaned back in his chair again and watched her stoically. "My fealty of course," he offered bluntly, "and my aid in countering any of Stryker's schemes."
Vreni delicately raised an eyebrow at him. "You mean the way you swore fealty to the man whom you just abandoned? The very same who has now placed a pretty bounty on your head?" For the syndicates, money was everything. This was especially true of the Dreygon as they were known for being persuaded to partake in anything for the right price. But after more than ten years with Stryker, Adrik had left for his biggest rival, bringing all his knowledge and information with him. She did not underestimate the worth of what he knew of the Adari, but she was not inclined to have him join them, gain intel, and take it elsewhere one day.
Rocking the chair back and forth, the assassin displayed his superior balance without giving it a thought.
He shrugged at her legitimate questions but attempted to relieve her obvious reservations by revealing his hands. Though they were scarred from his time spent as an assassin, his palms bore no cuts. Which proved the truth of his next statement, "Contrary to popular belief, I have never actually sworn loyalty to anyone of my own free will. I was forced, as a slave, to swear fealty to the Adari, but they do not initiate the slaves into the syndicate in the same way they do the free men and women." He chuckled derisively at his own words. "I was given the option by Stryker to work off my substantial debt, or rather my bastard father's debt, by killing for him and I paid that debt several years ago, however, once I was given my freedom, Stryker never demanded that I establish my fealty to him as a free man." Adrik shrugged indifferently. He was aware that the syndicate leader had his own reasons for doing so, but had never questioned it, lest he be asked to prove his loyalty in that way. "I spent most of my life in service to the syndicate. Where else as a young man would I go? I stayed not because of loyalty, but for the sake of familiarity. I have averted my eyes concerning many of Stryker's dealings because I am not a particularly good person and I generally find sentimentality a waste of time and effort, but with this venture, he has gone much too far." Adrik placed his feet on the table still balancing on the back two legs of his chair, "So far that I would be willing to swear my loyalty to his greatest enemy in order to stop him."
The leader of the Dreygon studied him closely as he spoke of his past. Since she ran an intel network, and one that had compiled a vast amount of data on their rival's top assassin, she already knew most of what he divulged. His willingness to part with that much personal information made his intentions ring true. After another moment of silence, she explained plaintively, "Being a Dreygon is for life. Once you enter, you do not leave." Unless she wished it of course. But he would be a valuable asset if he truly meant what he said, and it appeared that he did. Just the simple fact that he had shown up and spoken to her in such a manner showed his confidence in his own worth and his desire to put a stop to his previous leader. The Dragonfly could admire the man's conviction and straightforwardness. Having him on their side would be a bold statement and one that might shake Stryker's ranks. "I have allowed Stryker to thoughtlessly extend himself and his resources ever since my father's death. It does not surprise me that he would go to such great lengths after so many previous failures. It seems that perhaps the time has come to consider striking back."
Stryker was power hungry. When the city Quarith had first been formed, it was far enough away from Leydohn that they both formed their own syndicates. Both cities had grown much larger than any had anticipated, however, and now it was near impossible to tell her city apart from Stryker's. There had been bad blood between the Dreygon and the Adari for generations due to this exponential growth. More than ever the Adari wanted to take control of Quarith now with its female leader. A female in power had previously been both absolutely unheard of and unthought of. It angered not only Stryker, but many of the noblemen as well. She had heard their soft rumblings of secretly funding the Adari to rid themselves of the woman. "And I am sure you are well aware of what joining would mean?" Vreni asked skeptically. With his skill set, he could go wherever he wanted, but to a woman? Honestly, she was uncertain of how such a shift would affect the underground.
Adrik shrugged his shoulders at her subtle warning. He didn't particularly care to go elsewhere. The area had been his home for a long time, and he had no wish to leave it. As for taking action against Stryker? Well, that was why he was there. "I don't give a flying fuck," he told her, "All I care about is a person's competency and so far you have shown that you have the ability and the intellect to take on Stryker and his ilk." He tapped his fingers on one of his legs in his impatience, "It comes down to this, do you want my aide or not? Either way, he's going to attack, the only difference is the intelligence you'll be privy to with me at your side."
Vreni just couldn't help herself. She laughed. "I love a man who can get right to the point." Most didn't dare to defy her so openly in a private conversation. He was an amusing one, that was for sure. Twisting her gun in her hand, she placed it back on her hip. His conviction was strong enough that she knew he could be trusted for the time being. "This could be the start of a beautiful relationship." His information and skill were much too valuable to pass up. She could put that to very good use.
Placing her chin in her left hand, she gave him a malicious smile, "I'm feeling generous today. As soon as you swear your loyalty to me, you may have your items back."
He chuckled and pulled back his feet as he let the front legs of his chair touch back down silently. After a long moment of quiet, he stood with a stretch. Raising a brow at her, he stepped around the end of the table and crossed the small room until he stood before her. Sighing heavily, as if he were taking on a great weight, Adrik knelt and held out a hand. "If I may?" he inquired, as he knew that she was privy to what he was asking.
The two guards in the room tensed as he stood. Vreni simply held up a hand to ward them off. Her eyes followed Adrik until he knelt before her. Up close, she could see that his eyes were not exactly the hazel she had previously thought them to be. They were steel gray, but the part closest to his iris was golden. Perhaps the way his eyes glinted in the dim lighting had something to do with him being the fox rather than just the color as she had previously thought.
Her smile widened as he requested a blade. They both knew he still had one on him. Not commenting on this fact, she humored him and pulled out one of her slender daggers. As she placed it in his hand, her men readied their guns. Vreni slid them an irritated glare. Such insolence. "Stand down," she ordered. There was a strained moment as the guards considered the ramifications of obeying her until they reluctantly relaxed. Vreni narrowed her eyes at them as she released her grip on the weapon.
Adrik chuckled at the anxious guards and waited, hilt in hand, for the Dreygon's lady to release the blade. When her hand was clear he flipped the blade through his fingers with an expertise born of repetition before palming it securely in his left hand. He smiled, "Nice blade." Presenting his right hand, Adrik spoke the words for the vow that he had heard countless times from those of the Adari, keeping eye contact for the duration. With the last word he uttered, he sliced the palm of his hand. The cut was deep. Tradition stated the deeper the cut the firmer the conviction; she was sure to be pleased. "I am yours, My Lady."
His words of loyalty were music to her ears. It was made all the more satisfying with the deep slice he carved into his own hand. As the blood flowed and dripped to the floor, she snapped her fingers. A cloth was retrieved and placed into the Dragonfly's waiting hand. It had once been white, but now it was stained red with the blood of many who had sworn their fealty to the Dreygon and were now among their ranks. She opened it, revealing her signature dragonfly at its center, and draped it across Adrik's hands. "This dragonfly represents the heart of the Dreygon. First marked with my own blood, and followed by numerous others, your blood shall join those of our brethren." She placed her hands on top of his, "We fight for our own. We protect our own. We get revenge for our own." She spoke the last line with vehemence and stood before him; announcing his name as formality dictated, "Adrik the Silent Fox. Previously of the Adari, now of the Dreygon." She knelt to his level and met his gaze with a serious one of her own. Speaking slowly and deliberately, she stated the final lines, "As Queen of the Dragonflies, I welcome you to my family." Vreni searched his face before she returned to her seat, "I look forward to working with you. I expect you'll not disappoint me."
Grinning devilishly, Adrik clasped her hand tightly as she spoke about revenge with passion. His gaze followed her as she knelt before him and nodded seriously as she got to her feet and found her seat. "I expect I'll disappoint you at every turn, but not in any way that matters," he confessed with a teasing tone as he also got to his feet with the cloth still clutched in his right hand. Digging in a pocket of his pants, he removed the red, decorated handkerchief in favor of a clean, white one. He wiped off the blade of her knife before cleaning his hand as best as he could while the gash dripped dark red blood in a steady rhythm. After some difficulty, he was able to tie off the cut tightly. It would need stitches later. He walked up behind her once he had bound his wound. "The first thing I would offer, My Lady, is my expertise in sleight of hand," reaching beneath his vest he pulled out his single remaining weapon and set it beside hers. "They did well, but perhaps some additional training in combating such tactics would benefit them and you."
Chuckling at his response, Vreni watched him tie off his wounded hand. She accepted her blade from him and inspected it closely. There were still blood smears on it that she cleaned off with her tongue. "I am aware. I saw your skill with my own eyes," her head tilted toward the mirror. "I believe it would be a useful weapon to add to our arsenal." Thinking of the intelligence of some of her followers, she tucked her dagger away and added, "If they are capable of learning." She stood and placed both hands flat on the table and spoke softly to the guards in the room, "You allowed blind spots. You will, as Adrik suggested, undergo further training."
Her men knelt to the ground and bowed their heads, "Yes, Lady Dragonfly."
She held out her hand so her handkerchief could be returned to its rightful place. "If you are ready, I shall show you to the back room. And men," she glanced at them, "have everyone gather at the usual place. We will need to initiate him as soon as possible." When they did not move as quickly as she desired, she ordered, "Now." They nodded and snapped into action. Satisfied, Vreni took the cloth and returned it to its resting place before heading to the back door. She spoke to Adrik while handing him his knife, "You are bound to have attempts on your life if we don't make it clear to everyone that you really are one of us. And even so, they may still wish to test your convictions. Though it will deter many of the weaker ones. Or at least make them think twice about it." But that was a battle he would have to worry about, and deal with, on his own.
The dark haired man watched the Dreygon's leader as she addressed her men. He did not wish to get them into too much trouble, but he would rather see them reprimanded by their boss then see the mastermind behind the Dreygon's current good fortune dead. Nodding, Adrik handed the handkerchief back to Vreni and took all of his possessions back, placing them on his person before taking his knife back from Vreni. After tightening the strap of his holster around his thigh, Adrik looked up at the Dragonfly; her mention of assassination made him laugh. "I am not all that concerned," he admitted. There were plenty of people within the syndicate that held violent grudges against him. He was previously an Adari assassin after all. There were family members of his targets within the Dreygon ranks. He did not expect them to succeed, however, as they lacked the skills needed to kill him. He followed her out of the room and towards the back; a place he had never set his eyes on before. This was bound to get interesting.