“There weren’t always dragons in the valley.”
Rurik sat in the shade of a hostel balcony, letting the crier’s speech float by. He tilted up the brim of his hat to inspect the man, then spat between his teeth. A typical city-dweller – not used to the realities of this new world.
The crier was a short, stout man with a dangerously flushed face. Grey ringlets spilled down to his shoulders. Sweat pearled on his forehead as he spoke and flailed his arms. His fine clothes were already smeared with the town’s dust.
Rurik had come here to get away from his sort. Clean-hands, Jorrin had called them. He looked at his own palms, callused and yellowed from the toll of the years.
Well, what did he have to show for it? The rifle resting on his knees? His father’s fiddle slung over his shoulder? The emptying pouch of gold tethered to his belt?
Looking to the side, Rurik spotted another degenerate in the gutter. With a matted beard and skin burned scarlet by exposure, this man seemed to prophesize Rurik’s future if he didn’t pull himself up from the dirt.
Rurik watched people walk by the beggar. He watched them pause to hear the crier’s words. He watched the crier pause to catch his breath, to build momentum. Crossing his arms, Rurik leant back and listened.
“The honourable Council of Magnates has put a price of one-hundred darra for every dragon’s hide brought back from the valley, fifty for every tooth, one-thousand for every intact egg.”
Gasps circled the gathered crowd. Though they were cattle farmers mostly, Rurik observed these men and women calculating how many years they could live easy with one-thousand darra. Their expressions drooped when they met the reality of how difficult it would be to bring back a dragon egg from the Awlon Valley.
There were a few toughs in the crowd though. Vagrants and placeless men like Rurik. They had nothing to lose by heading for the infested valley.
An Awlon woman came charging out from a nearby saloon. She wailed in the ancient language of her people, and brandished her fists at the crier. He drummed his foot on the boards until two men restrained her and dragged her away.
“You kill us!” she screamed. “This land will remember your savagery!”
Rurik drew his hands away from his rifle. The Awlon lived in symbiosis with the dragons they worshipped. They rode the beasts for fun, built great tents from dragon hide, concocted potions with their scales, and used their acidic saliva in weapons. The Awlon were dangerous enough on their own though. With settlers now riling them up whenever they could, violence was to be expected.
“One-thousand darra per dragon egg,” said the crier.
It would be blasphemous to go into the Awlon Valley and take the dragons’ eggs. To kill the dragons would mean killing the Awlon too. Conveniently, the crier didn’t spell that out for his audience.
Not that they’d care.
One-thousand darra though.
Rurik groaned, and rose from where he’d lounged in the dirt. He would not die a beggar like his father. The Awlon had held this country for millennia before the settlers came, so maybe it was time for them to be brushed into history. And dragons weren’t invincible.
One-thousand darra. Enough to wash away his debts, perhaps to wash away his guilt. A fortune for a vagrant like Rurik. Jorrin would’ve already signed them both up for the chance.
Rurik tossed the beggar a coin without looking at him. He shouldered his way into the gun shop at the end of the street. A withered, weathered man looked up from the counter. A troll’s head sneered from the wall behind him. A taxidermized basilisk stood guard beside Rurik.
“What you wanting?” The man’s voice carried weary suspicion.
Rurik clinked his coin pouch on the counter. “Something to kill a dragon.”
The gunsmith tapped his glass eye. “My friend, you’ve come to the right place.”