Dragon Castings: First edit.

Posted: December 29, 2014 in Fiction

Claude had been walking for 4 hours without seeing the sun. The canopy of the woods was thick. It was so high above them it seemed to make the sky green, like they lived inside a globe that stretched into the blackness of the universe. He imagined the sun scraped the tops of the trees. He hoped they would catch fire and burn the woods down. He hoped it would topple and crash and kill every stupid bug and crawling thing in this hot sticky Hell. He hoped it would kill Gus too. He hoped flame and ash and cinder from this dark green prism would reign down on Gus’s big fat frame and set the old man alight like a tallow torch. He envisioned the meat and grease sliding off the bones of the old man’s fat face in piles and streaks. He dreamed of Gus’s idiot smile peeking through his flabby cheeks in yellow fire. He hoped his eyes would melt and the the goo would slide down his neck like egg yolks. He could almost hear them pop.

“You thinking of girls are you?” Gus smiled. “You’re smiling like you’re thinking of girls.”

“No,” answered Claude.

Gus was wearing a leather vest over his his white cloth shirt and a river of sweat ran down his ass. Claude had stripped to just a simple shirt and untied the collar. He trudged behind Gus dragging the sled. the sled was big, but not heavy. It was made of the spongy durable wood that grew in their homeland. The boat that had brought them here was made of the same stuff. It had brought them from island to island for the last 3 months, and Claude hoped this would be the last one. The fat old man kept singing his drinking song. Claude looked at the vague warm glow from where the sun must have been overhead, and hoped for a spark. Claude was a long lean youth, or he had been. Right now he rested at that spot between a young man and a full grown man that could take between 6 months and 20 years depending on the man. If Claude had married he’d be a man now, or killed a man he’d be a man now, maybe even if he’d made enough money or slept with enough girls he’d be a man now. But he hadn’t. He hadn’t done anything but drink and gather debt. Through the years he should have been learning a trade or raising a family, he’d drank himself into stupors and lost 3 teeth fighting, now it had come to this, Wyrm Hunting.

Wyrm Hunting? Claude snickered when he thought about it. More like Wyrm Hiding. That’s what the job really was. Trailing dragons and picking shit. Claude’s only action in the 3 months on the boat had been having to take the sails down quickly twice to not gain too much ground on the great flying Wyrm. Gus was a cautious man, not that Claude was complaining, the last thing he wanted was to get close to one of those gargantuan murderers. He saw the ruin they laid to whole towns. They ate up whole riverboats and barnyards. They ground up little kids and warlocks. He never understood the people who lived in these burner towns. The Hill Folk made sense, he even liked the Hill Folk. They lived in caves and in woods like these (with less bugs) where Dragons would couldn’t swoop down and gobble you up too easily. They didn’t have a whole lot, but they didn’t get eaten all the time like these fools. Claude had gone to a Hill Folk village during a full moon, and drank a good deal of very strong wine with some hunters and his friend who was from the Hills, but these burner towns sprung up from nowhere to fish or plant fields or whatever, and then hoped the Dragons wouldn’t come; but the Dragons always come. The only safe places were cities, where enough people together could make enough noise to scare the Dragons away, and with walls and towers and enough bows and slings and scorpions to drive the Dragons back. There, and here; in the Dragon’s wake, sifting through wreckage and picking up shit. He knew it wasn’t shit, but this, trekking through wrecked towns and lives, through shores of corpses and this hot miserable forest, this: this was shit.

It was their third day in the woods, and Claude didn’t think they’d find anything. They hadn’t seen the Dragon touch down on this island, and he didn’t know why Gus was so certain it had. “These trees are the tallest things I’ve ever seen,” the old scavenger had said, “and these big bastards love to get way up there and retch. I’ll bet we find three or four.” But they hadn’t found one, and Claude was sure they had to be at least to the middle of the island, and he hadn’t seen or heard anything from the Wyrm. He didn’t care how high those trees went, they couldn’t hide that monster. This Dragon was the biggest he’d ever seen, granted, he’d only seen three, but this one was bigger than the other two by half, and even Gus had been excited about the size of him. “That son of bitch might cough up an Old Coin, or hero’s sword.” He’d laughed. Claude laughed at the hero’s sword, even he knew that was legend, but he’d heard Old Coins had shown up in Dragon Castings. Gus said he’d never seen one. As much as Claude hated the old man, he wasn’t a liar, and Claude appreciated that. “What’s the best thing you’ve ever found?” Claude had asked them on one of the few pleasant nights on the boat, a night where the wind was with them and the shoreline they were traveling down was easy to track, and the Dragon was leagues ahead of them. They’d gotten a little drunk and smoked some of the weed they’d brought with them. “Most valuable thing I’ve ever found was a ring, a big ring with a ruby in it the size of a fingernail,” he said, waving his finger at him to emphasize just how big a fingernail really is. “But the weirdest thing I ever found was a monkey in a suit of armor.” “What?” yelled Claude. “I found a monkey skeleton in a suit of armor. I swear to Every God,” said Gus sincerely. Claude laughed. He knew you found skeletons sometimes, most times, but he never imagined you’d find a monkey skeleton. “Do you think he was fighting?” Claude wondered out loud, clearly stoned. “No,” Gus laughed this time. “I’m sure some idiot Lord or Captain had a suit of armor made up for his pet,” he giggled, or somebody trained one to perform in a show,” he pondered aloud, pretending he hadn’t spent most days of his life since then wondering how that monkey gotten into a suit of armor and then into a Dragons belly. Claude hoped he’d see a skeleton. He even hoped he would. He knew there wasn’t coin in skeletons, but he wanted to see one. He didn’t want to see any meat, but he knew there was that sometimes too. The big ruby ring Gus had found was on a hand that was still inside a lobstered gauntlet he had told him, a big soft pink hand that had bloated and puffed up and lost most of it’s fingernails. It made Claude sick to think about it. It must have been some noble’s expensive armor he figured, which also would have explained the ring. He didn’t ask Gus, he knew if Gus wanted Claude to talk he’d ask, otherwise talking was exclusively a means for Gus to tell you things he had figured out. “A find like that’s not what we’re after though,” Gus went on getting serious. “What we need right now’s a lot of steel. Armor’s fine, but swords are better. Where we’re at steel’s more expensive than anything, and that big bitch ate the shit out of that last castle.”

That last castle was a week ago, and it had hardly been a castle. Claude hated how people from outside of cities called anywhere with walls a castle. Leago had been a town with a fort in the middle and two dozen knights to protect it. Now dead knights. Now knights who’s armor and hopefully swords were resting inside of that Dragons stomach, making it ache and itch until it threw it up in a sick twisted mess of steel and bone and that gross thick char. They hadn’t found much armor or anything in the ruins of Leago, just a few cooks and tradesmen packing up to head to the city and a couple of drunk looking women who Claude hoped would go with them, but was sure would disappear into a nearby burner town. One of the women was pregnant. She had looked at Claude for a long time and kept crying silently. Her big wet eyes made Claude uncomfortable, and they wouldn’t turn away from him.

“What is it we’re looking for?” Claude asked. “I told you, it’s a Dragon Mass.” Gus answered, cutting right back to his song. It was about boats and leaving your family for behind. The old man always talked about family, which was ridiculous, because he didn’t have any. Claude had two brothers he didn’t talk to. They might be dead. His older brother was still at home the last time he’d left him, and Claude suspected if he hadn’t died there yet, he was bound to soon. His middle brother had left on a boat a lot like he had, but he left for a war, not a city, and he was almost certainly dead now. He liked thinking that maybe his brother had made it, maybe he’d climbed up the ranks of a little mercenary company, or even just as a soldier in some marching army. He didn’t know why, but he liked the idea of a mercenary more. Running away to become a soldier seemed like lost rebellion.

“I know it’s a Dragon Mass, but what’s it look like?” Claude spat. “Like a great big lemon made of coal,” Gus said. “Yellow?” asked Claude. “No, Black, with specks of green and blue sometimes… but mostly black.” “And how big is it?” “About the size of a horse cart… hopefully. It might be a bunch of small ones, but I’m hoping for a big one.” “What? it might not even be here!” Claude screamed and something rippled and ran beneath the underbrush. A long ratty tail flopped into the air for just a moment before darting under the grass and roots and moss that seemed to cover everything. “It’ll be here.” Gus assured him. “Where else would a dragon go?”

Gus was right. They’d seen the ruins of the rivertown, it was most certainly a dragon. No army could have dismantled and burned so much of a place, and kept other parts so unspoiled. Buildings would stand as piles of ash that looked like ghosts right next to ones completely untouched. The ground around the ruins was untouched and showed no trace of the many men it would have taken to bring so much destruction. Claude pulled their sled while Gus lugged the pick ass and the backpack of tools. It was so hot.

It was forty five minutes later when Gus spotted it. He pulled the ax from across his shoulder and pointed the head at what looked like a big rock. It was blacker than night. Claude wouldn’t have seen it. It was so dark it hid. It pulled the light around it snug and it ceased to be.

There it was. It was big. 6 feet around at the middle, with divots and bumps all over. It rippled like sun off of fish scales. Parts were smooth like glass, and other’s rough like stone. Claude ran up and touched it. It was warm to the touch. He looked up to the unbroken canopy and wondered where it could have come from. Claude asked.

“Dragon’s wretch’em up you dummy.” Gus grinned and pulled his tools from the bag. “I mean,” Claude kept looking confusedly towards the sky, “it’s still warm,” he finished. “They’ll stay warm for years.” He said smiling, and tossed a spike and hammer to Claude. “It’s huge.” Claude said and pushed against it. He couldn’t budge it. “It’s the biggest one I’ve ever seen,” Gus agreed, “but that doesn’t mean anything.” He said pushing the grass and a fallen tree limb off of the Dragon Mass. “How are we going to move it?” Claude asked. “We’ll have to break it apart and take a piece.” Gus said. Claude was too excited about the mass to even care about having to come back to this miserable woods. He stripped off his shirt and climbed on top of the mass. Gus took a spike and and hammer and drove it into the mass near the younger man’s feet. He brought down the ax and took out a nick from the mass. They did this again and again. The young man’s back ached, but he didn’t slow down.

After an hour of driving in the spikes and chipping at the mass, it cracked open with a hiss. The Mass stunk. The men went to work on the other side. The crust of the Mass came off in flakes. Claude picked up a piece of the dark char. It felt smooth like glass but strong like steel. The crust was inches thick, nearly a foot at points. He drove another ax strike in and heard a clang. Both men’s eyes swelled. They pried at the Mass. A Knight’s helm was pressed and dented inside the giant stone like mass. The men pried it out and Gus held it up. “This is great” he said. “It’s still wearable.” He opened up the visor to see a chalk white skull.” “Holy Hell” exclaimed Claude and turned to vomit. “Get over that whelp,” Gus giggled and swung at the Mass with his beefy frame. They chipped through more and more of hot glassy steel. “So this is Dragon shit?” Claude asked. “Don’t you listen to anything I say boy?” Gus asked. “It’s when they eat, they can’t get through all this good iron,” he said, “it all gets smashed down until they barf it up.” “That’s so gross,” said Claude pulling out a mace head that had come loose from its handle. “This stuff will burn if you get it hot enough.” Gus said, holding up a piece of the black flake. We’ll bring some of this too. It sells for tons in the trade towns.” They pulled out more and more armor and swords and laid them out on the sled. Gus put some of the greasy iron in his back pack and filled the rest with the stone glass. They trudged through the woods.

Claude remembered why he’d gotten so angry. He hated those fucking songs.

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