So, I noticed it was today about an hour and a half ago. (by “today”, I mean when I said I was gonna post the first installment of a story. Which is also not technically correct, because it’s after midnight, but meh.) Life has been, busy the past few days, which is my excuse for only bringing a prologue out for the first post, instead of a whole chapter. But I think I like where it’s going. We’ll see.
[Note: TWbD stands for There Will be Dragons, which is the title of this project of mine. It doesn’t need a huge introduction, just that it exists in the same world as my book. There is magic and, obviously, dragons. Anywho, here goes. (Oh, also, see Pronunciation Guide for a guide on how to pronounce things :3)]
Prologue: Dragon Dealer
The boys at the bar talked a lot louder after their second cup. They weren’t drunk, just a bit bolder than they would have been without the liquor. It’s annoying, sure, but the information is useful. At least, it could have been. For the first half hour, they did nothing but blather on about the dragons they’ve killed and the money they’ve earned, which wasn’t too impressive, seeing as they were all the way up North, desperately searching for any job they could get. But hey, who can blame them; it’s why I was there.
“And this big ‘ol black one—”
“The one with the spikes?”
The first guy clasped the other’s on the back. “Yeah, yeah that one. He stands up on ‘is back legs and claps! He just claps! I never saw such a thing before, and I aven’t since.”
Right in the middle of his third drink, the door burst open and in stepped half a dozen gruff-looking soldier types, though none wore armor. One woman took a deep breath, a scowl crawling across her lips.
“Alright,” she called into the beer soaked room. “Anyone here for the hunt, follow me.”
She turned and followed the handful of other soldiers back out. I stood, stomping after a dozen or so other hunters through the doorway. In the muddy road, snow drifts were melting under the overcast sky. Though flakes dusted our faces as we strode past ramshackle buildings and shops, it wasn’t cold enough for them to stick. By the time I could kick slush off my plated leather boots, just outside the town, the snow had ceased. The misfit group trekked up a wide knoll, vaulting over a low stone wall to stand in a stamped dirt circle at the hill’s crest.
The soldier that lead them gestured to the tents set up on the dirt and the hillside below. The camp stretched all the way to the forest line. “The Commander will be out in a moment with instructions. Wait here.”
She trotted off with her entourage, leaving us to mingle. I scoped the crowd, trying to spot anything interesting. Or concerning. They were all wearing some combination of plated leather or fire-treated armor, and most had nets. I could see one or two pole-hooks, but nearly all were only lightly armed. About two thirds were bulky men, and the rest muscular women; so, I was the odd one out for sure.
Doesn’t look like any of these guys are from around here though, so I may have the advantage. Unless we get any surprises.
I listened to the bar-boys continue their story about the clapping dragon. They were talking just loud enough that everyone could hear, but the other’s weren’t looking impressed.
One man, dressed in black plate and boiled leather, scoffed at the story. “Big deal. Drags’ all got some amount o’ smarts. ‘sides, you won’t be seein’ no clappin’ drag out here.”
A woman in the back nodded to that. “I heard the dragons up here are bigger and meaner than the ones down South.”
A few others agreed. The big guy in black crossed his arms. “Well, I ain’t too worried. All drags go down the same.”
The bar boys laughed, but I didn’t catch at what. The darker skinned one licked his lips. “Not that any o’ you’ll get your hands on it.”
A thick silence wove its way through the group. Either no one was willing to start a fight, or no one really cared. Whatever the case, before anyone could start throwing punches, the sound of footsteps crept up from the hillside.
Over the wall hopped another hunter, but unlike the others, this one was wearing only leather. We all stared, not sure what to make of the person. Their face was round and pretty, and their body slight in features. Dark unkempt hair sat purposefully atop their head, and a long pike was latched into the back of their leather cuisse, nearly twice as tall as the hunter. The androgynous fellow strode up to the group, a bright, ecstatic smile spread across their pale face.
One of the bar-boys puffed out his chest, walking with his buddy over to the newcomer. “Oh, look here Dill. This little punk thinks dragon fightin’ can be done in plain leather armor.” He leaned down, staring eye to eye with the short hunter. “What’s a little bo—”
He stopped, spotting two arrow shaped earrings dangling from the hunter’s ears. The fellow in leather let out a giggle. “Uh oh. You aren’t sure if I’m a boy or a girl, are you?”
The man stood straight. “Well, doesn’t matter who you are. In that armor, you’ll be dead soon enough, boy or girl or otherwise.”
The hunter’s smile dropped, and the scowl that replaced it made the burly man take a step back. “Well, you better hope I’m hiding a snake under these leather trousers, because when I kick your ass without using a single spell, you’ll be telling all your buddies how a big and muscular and manly I was.”
“Dragon dealer, please refrain from injuring the hunters. I have work for them.” A soldier had stepped up from the tents. Purple tinted armor covered her, with a black and purple cape clipped to the spaulders on her shoulders. She was older, too, with short white hair atop her sun-browned and wrinkled face. She held a helmet under her arm, and on her chest plate was a triangle of blue gems.
The dragon dealer flourished in a bow. “Lord Commander, I would never dream of—”
The commander held up her hand. “Cool it.” Then she turned to us. “I am Lord Commander Atíža. I am the one who will be providing the prize for the dragon.” She gestured to the dozen or so of us hunters. Simultaneously, we turned to look at the leather-bound character, the odd one out. Atíža nodded. “This is Damien the Dragon Dealer. You will all report to him, and he will oversee your mission and catch.”
He smiled again, winking at us. “This is gonna be fun.”
The lighter skinned bar-boy grunted. “Did you say catch?”
Atíža nodded. “The Marshal has commanded that no dragons be killed. That is why the dealer is here. When this prey is caught, you will deliver it, alive, to Dami. You will also be paid for any other dragons you may stumble upon in the hunt.” She took a long look at the thick evergreens surrounding them. “Be aware, these forests are unforgiving. I know nearly all of you came to the North from the cities. You would do well to work together.” She waved her hand in the air. “Now, I am leaving camp. We are receiving an envoy within the week, so if the hunt can be ended before then, the prize will double.”
A cheer rose from the hunters. Atíža rolled her eyes. “Alright, I’ll let Dami handle the details.”
She strode away from the hilltop, into the camp below, donning her helmet. Dami strutted in front of the group. “Alright, you heard the Lady. No killing dragons.”
The lighter bar-boy spit. “And why in Brast not?”
Another hunter from the back affirmed the comment. Dami’s scowl returned. “Because you fools aren’t from around here. This ain’t like Erton or the Cities. The dragons you find out here aren’t loners or lost pets or any tsak like that. These drakes and wyverns are more pack oriented. As long as they are running together, they don’t give the locals much trouble. They can take down their own prey without bothering a mage or the army. But you go out killing dragons around here, and you get an angry horde on your hands.” He pointed to the sky, where two airships were circling. “Those soldiers up there would really appreciate you don’t stir up the local winged, fire-breathing beasts.”
“So why are we here, if the packs don’t bother the army?” a call came from the back of the group.
Dami nodded. “Reasonable question. A rogue dragon is more unpredictable. They don’t have the numbers to take down an anso or catahorn. When not properly socialized, they get angry and violent. Big, mean, and hungry. That’s the type of dragon we’re searching for.”
Dami sniffed the air, looking around. “I think that’s about it. The rogue has been hitting farm houses around this town, ‘specially to the north-west, so you should start in these forests. Come back to camp tomorrow for any updates, and we’ll provide supplies and rations.”
A man in the front raised his hand. “Yes?” Dami said with a chuckle.
“Do you have any med-kits or nets, if we have to catch this thing.”
Dami nodded. “Yeah. We’re running low on V bandages though, because of the tsak that happened in Junos. We have some crappy substitutes. On the bright side, we have tons of nets. Good ones too.”
He strode around the wall, and we followed. Set against the mossy cobblestones were three crates. In one, med-kits were stacked all the way to the top. The second had fancy, fabricated nets with claws and weights. The third was stuffed with clear bottles housing a yellow-green liquid.
“Ah, right,” Dami cooed. “Douse your weapons and nets with this.” He plucked a bottle from the crate, opening it and taking a deep sniff. Wrinkling his slim nose, he took a sip. “Strong stuff.”
Everyone just stared, which made Dami giggle again. “It’s Sinners’ Ale. Good for hunters, mildly poisonous to drakes.” He capped the bottle and tossed it to the nearest hunter. “It won’t kill it. Prolly won’t even knock it out. But it will make it dizzy. Just make sure you’re not too tipsy when you fight it. Alright, get to it. If you have any questions, I’ll be in the tent nearest the cages, just over the wall there.”
We all followed his pointing finger, to see a violently red canvas tent, situated next to several metal and wooden cages. As we sifted through he crates, Dami strode off toward his home, leaving us to fight over supplies. I snatched two bottles of the ale and a net before squeezing out of the rowdy group.
Brast and Bata, it’s like being on a school field trip.
I sighed, rubbing my eyes and staring up at the airships far above. They circled lazily, listless in the clouds. With another sigh, I found the nearest fire pit and plopped down on a damp wooden bench. Once I’d set the ale in my pack and tied the net into a bundle against my belt, I relaxed.
“Not rushing into the thick?” Dami sat on a log across the firepit.
I shook my head. “Not until I know what I’m after.”
He smiled, white teeth flashing. He reached over the coals. “I’m Damien Dzilska.”
I took his slender hand. “Sumner. Saíatsa. It’s a pleasure, Damien.”
His hand was soft, but firm. He shook mine briefly, before sitting up straight. Impeccable posture. “I prefer Dami.” His smirk turned devious. “Sort of a kick in the non-existent balls that my parents named me Damien.”
I frowned. “Uh, oh, s-sorry. The Commander said—”
Dami waved a hand in the air. “I give zero tsaks what you call me, really. I just like screwing with people. And if I can get a pretty girl to blush, well, it’s worth it.”
Drops of heat trickled over my cheek. I frowned, glaring at him. “That’s a cheap shot.” I let him giggle, rolling my eyes before changing the subject. “Dzilska, that’s a Kronían name, right?” He nodded. “So, you hail from the bird-folk. Adopted, or good at hiding?”
He winked. “Oh, we all have our secrets. Like a Saíatsa hiding all the way up North.”
I raised my eyebrow. He responded by cocking his head, dangly earrings pouncing over bare slender shoulders. “So, you’re not Delman’s daughter?”
Gods damn it.
I shook my head. “That’d be a bit weird, considering she was a Husket.”
Dami nodded. “Right. Of course. Coincidence then, I guess.” His full lips stretched into a curious smile. “About the hunt. What’s your game plan?”
I reached into my bag and pulled out my water bottle. “Find out what kinda dragon is rushing around, figure out if it’s after something, then find it. If you could answer the first two, that would help.”
His smile was unfaltering. “She’s a biggie. Thirdozi-six irons long at least. She’s not hunting, because she’s been leaving food at the farms she’s attacked. She’s probably not nesting, but that’s hard to tell.”
I shrugged. “Could be, but it’s unlikely this time of year. The weather’s been iffy too, so if she were nesting I’d figure she’d head east toward the sea.”
Dami nodded. “We figured the same. As for where, she’s been circling. From west to east, then north to south, then back around. It’s not super consistent, which at first made us think she was avoiding something. So far, the sightings have been to the north and the west. But she’s been around this town for over a week, and a few people have been hurt pretty badly.”
“The prize still seems kinda big for a rogue.”
The dragon dealer frowned. “Yeah, that has more to do with the envoy. The Grand Council is sending a member to do war reviews. The army is just worried the dragon’ll attack while they’re here.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “The Myrian army pissing themselves because they have guests coming over. It’s cute.”
Dami cracked a little laugh before lifting himself off the log. “Well, I have preparations to make. Let me know if you need anything, Sumner. And be safe.”
With a wink, he strode off toward his tent. I stared a little too long at his leather-clad ass, swishing back and forth as he walked, before standing up myself.
I need to get out more. Brast and Bata.
I hefted my pack onto my shoulder, taking a swig of my bottle and striding out of the camp to the north-west.