It was hot enough to fry eggs on the street. Willet and Badger were sharing an extra-large ice-cream when the wave of pheromones hit. It was so strong that Willet swayed on his feet and Badger growled deep in his chest.
“What in tarnation is that?” Even to his own ears Willet’s voice sounded pitchy and fretful.
Badger scratched an ear. “If I’m not mistaken we have a dragon hunter hereabouts.”
Willet swore. “Isn’t dragon hunting illegal.”
“Since when did legality matter much in this city?”
“Point taken. I’d better call it in though.”
“You do that, but call your lady wife first and warn her to stay indoors. This situation is even more dangerous than a queen dragon in heat.”
At first Wenda was inclined to be uncooperative, that being her nature. But then she got hit by the pheromones and conceded that her husband might have a point. She generously promised to stay inside until he could get to her and Willet breathed a sigh of relief before calling headquarters. Seemed every officer on the streets was calling in with a similar message.
Something along the lines of ‘help’.
As nobody had the first vestige of an idea what to do, Willet did want he always did when he faced a problem beyond his experience. He asked Badger.
The winged German Shepherd grinned a canine grin.
“You aren’t going to like this.”
“What I like isn’t really the point right now. So just stop grinning and tell me.”
“You need to talk to A’a’shanto. And he isn’t going to be amused. Dragonheart takes dragon hunters quite seriously.”
Willet sighed, and bespoke the Master Dragon. Unamused turned out to have been a masterly understatement, as A’a’shanto blistered Willet’s ears with boiling curses. Quite how long it would have taken the black dragon to get control of himself is open to conjecture, but he was stopped in his tracks by a female voice that acted like a douche of cold water. Silently blessing all the small gods for the cool intellect of the Master Dragon’s mate, Willet waited in silence. After a short interval of blessed quiet, T’i’asharath bespoke him.
“Apologies for the immoderate language of our mate, dragon friend. He is disturbed.”
Willet forced down the insane desire to giggle at the female’s dismissal of her mate’s tumultuous rage. “He is right to be disturbed. But what may we do?”
T’i’asharath spoke with profound formality. “I will attend myself, bringing such sensible female dragons as I may call to my side immediately. Timewhiles, wilt thou ask thy partner if he and his brethren may track this evildoer through your stony streets.”
And she was gone, leaving Willet to stare at Badger.
“Did you hear that?”
Badger nodded. “I did. Should’ve thought of it myself. Dogs to track and dragons to dispense justice.”
Willet shuddered. “I’m not all that keen on dragon justice.”
“Me neither. But what a dragon hunter will do to any fire drake or queen he catches is even more barbaric.”
Willet must have looked puzzled because Badger actually growled.
“Have you not wondered where he is getting the pheromones from? Have you no idea how much gold he can command for dragon blood?” His hackles lifted and he shook his head angrily. “And I just thought of something else. You wouldn’t be safe neither. Dried centaur heart is thought to cure many human ills.”
Willet did something so unusual as to shock both himself and the normally phlegmatic Badger. He put out a hand and tangled his fingers in the dog’s thick hair. “Wenda. You must go to Wenda. Protect her. Please.”
Badger laid his chin against his partner’s forearm.
“No can do. But my brothers are on their way.”
Willet felt sick with relief. He was about to say something like ‘thanks’ when his wife’s voice filled his mind.
“Will you thank Badger for me. Otter, Wolf, and Bear are here. They have explained. I didn’t understand.”
“Me neither. But I do now.”
He felt Wenda’s hand on his cheek. “Be careful my love. Please be careful.”
Then she was gone. Willet looked at Badger who winked and then leaned companionably against his leg for a second before sitting back on his haunches.
“Okay. Now. Dogs. I’ve put out the word. Let’s see who turns up.”
Willet wondered if any canine would deem it worthwhile to help, but he did them a disservice. By the time a certain thickening in the atmosphere told him a portal was about to be opened he was surrounded by a pack of determined-looking dogs ranging in size from massively chested mastiffs to what Willet could only think of as powderpuffs.
As he looked up, the sky became filled with dragons. Grim-looking female dragons. The golden queen was notable by her absence, as were the fighting males. The only male he could see was gagged and blindfolded and tightly bound between two burly female guard dragons. T’i’asharath favoured him with a grim smile.
“The drake is a volunteer. But he must stay with us until he can be deployed to the best advantage. Were he let free he would run straight into the arms of the dragon hunter. Who would bleed him dry and then sell his skin.”
Willet nodded and Badger took over the talking. “We have his scent. Not the pheromones he would use to trap those he hunts but his own human scent. My friend here,” he indicated a ball of white fluff, “lives at the house where he is lodging. She brought a sock. So we will track two ways. Half of us will follow the pheromones. Half the man smell. If they lead us to the same place, well and good. If not we will still have him and anything left alive at the place where he extracts the pheromones.”
T’i’asharath inclined her head. “A good plan dragonfriend. Who will lead?”
“I shall lead those who follow the man scent with my partner Willet. Those who follow the pheromones will be led by Killer and his humans.”
A huge black and tan mastiff showed his teeth, and three equally large humans armed with clubs grinned too.
“We will have no dragon hunter here.” The biggest one spat a gobbet of mucus into the gutter.
Willet had a thought. “Do the people where he is lodging know what they are harbouring?”
The ball of white fluff snarled.
“They do,” Badger sounded as angry as Willet could ever remember him sounding.
Willet looked at the dragon mistress. “Will you set some sensible dragons on guard, my lady?”
She nodded. “I will.” Turning her attention to the tiny white dog she asked one question. “Where?”
Willet didn’t hear the reply, but there must have been one as four muscular guard dragons winked out of sight.
Then there was no more to be said and Willet found himself at the head of a group of assorted humans, dwarves, and shifters, who followed a pack of dogs with a flight of dragons overhead.
The dogs set a fast pace, but not so fast that the bipeds behind them had any problem keeping up. As they headed through the city streets, Willet began to have a sinking feeling. The dogs appeared to be heading for the leafy suburb where he and many other shifters had their modestly comfortable homes. Badger spoke in his head.
“You have no need to worry about Wenda. My family has her.”
The knot in Willet’s chest eased and he felt able to concentrate on the job in hand.
to be concluded next week…