Dragon Castings Rough Draft

Posted: December 30, 2014 in Fiction

Claude and Gus were Wyrm Farmers, and they were hunting for a Casting, a big ball of steel and bone that Dragons couldn’t digest, and barfed up in the fields and forests after they’d eaten. They wanted to find it and sell it for materials. They’d come along way, and were going to make a lot of gold. If they found it.

They had been walking for 4 hours and Claude hadn’t seen the sun. The canopy of the woods was thick, and so high it made the sky seem green, like they lived inside a giant jade globe that stretched into the nowhere of space. He imagined the sun scraping across the tops of that trees, he hoped they’d start a 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 would reign down on Gus’s fat frame and set the old man alight like a tallow torch. He envisioned the meat and grease sliding off the old man’s bones in piles and streaks. He dreamed of Gus’s idiot smile peeking through his flabby cheeks in a yellow fire. He hoped his eyes would melt and the the goo would slide down his skull like egg yolks. He could almost hear them pop.

“You thinking about girls are you?” Gus asked, “You’re smiling like you’re thinking of girls.”

“No,” answered Claude.

Gus was wearing a leather vest over 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. It was big, but not heavy. It was made of the spongy durable wood that grew back home. 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. 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 person. If Claude had married he’d be a man now, or he’d killed a man, or made enough money or slept with enough girls, maybe then he’d be a man now. But he hadn’t. He hadn’t done anything but drink and gather debt. In the 3 years he’d been in the city he’d done nothing but drink himself into stupors and lose 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. 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 flying Wyrm. Gus was a cautious man, not that Claude was complaining, he’d seen those flying murderers eat up whole riverboats and barnyards. They ground up little kids and warlocks.

He never understood the people who lived in these burner towns. These spots on the river they kept traveling through full of death and sadness. The Hill Folk made sense, he even liked the Hill Folk. They lived in caves and woods like these (with less bugs) where Dragons couldn’t swoop down and gobble you up too easily. They didn’t have a lot, but they didn’t get eaten up like the fools in these towns sprung up from nowhere to fish or plant fields or whatever, and then hoped the Dragons wouldn’t come: the Dragons always come. The only safe places were cities, where enough people together could make enough noise to scare them away, and with walls and towers and enough bows and slings and scorpions to drive them back. There, and here; in the 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. We might find two or three Castings” 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 were, they couldn’t hide that monster. This Dragon was the biggest he’d ever seen, 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. You could buy a whole town with an Old Coin, you could buy a good block of city. Gus said he’d never seen one either. As much as Claude hated the old man, he wasn’t a liar. “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. The Dragon was leagues ahead of them. They’d gotten a little drunk and smoked some of the weed they’d brought. “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 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 for his pet, 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 how it had gotten into a Dragon’s belly. Claude hoped he’d see a skeleton. 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 that happened too. The big ruby ring Gus had found was on a hand inside a lobstered gauntlet, a big soft pink hand that had bloated and puffed up and lost most of it’s fingernails Gus had told him. It made Claude sick. It must have been some noble’s expensive armor he figured, which also would have explained the ring. He wondered how good the steel was. 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 already 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.”

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. That had been a week ago. Those knights were dead now. Those knights’ armor, and hopefully swords, were resting inside of that Dragons stomach, making it ache and itch until it threw it up 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 to get chased or eaten next season, or maybe even later this season. One of the women was pregnant. She had looked at Claude for a long time and cried silently. Her big wet eyes made Claude uncomfortable. They wouldn’t turn away from him.

“What is it we’re looking for?” Claude asked, snapping back to the present. “I told you, a Casting.” Gus answered, cutting right back to his song. It was about boats and leaving your family far 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 at home the last time he’d left, and Claude suspected if he hadn’t died there yet, he would soon. His middle brother had left on a boat a lot like he had, but he left for a war, not a city. He was almost certainly dead now. Claude liked thinking his brother made it, maybe he’d climbed up the ranks of a little mercenary company, or as a soldier in a marching army. He liked the idea of a mercenary more. He could have done well anywhere, his brother was strong and tall, stronger than Claude and Claude was very strong.

“I know it’s a Dragon Cast,” Claude spat, “but what’s it look like?”

“It’s a Casting,” Gus corrected, “Or a stone or a pellet.” He went on. “It’ll look like a big lemon made of coal.” “Yellow?” asked Claude. “No, Black, with specks of green and blue… but mostly black, the char covers everything. You’ll see some blades and armor or other stuff in too. Like sandstone, but much harder and burnt black.”

“How big is it?”

“About the size of a horse cart… hopefully. It might be a couple small ones, but I’m hoping for a big one.”

“If it’s even here.” Claude moped. Something rippled and ran across the top the underbrush then cut deeply into it. A long ratty tail flopped into the air for just a moment before darting under the grass and roots and moss that covered everything.

“It’ll be here.” Gus assured him. “Where else would a he go?”

“Anywhere,” Claude answered. There were more than a dozen tiny islands that Dragon could have gone to. They’d passed a tiny burner town on their way to this island, too small for a name, but not too small for a Dragon to come down and gobble up, snatch fisherman off their boats and gobble up the goats Claude had seen there. It’d crunch up the chicken coop because it smelled like life and burn everything else to ash and ghosts. It could have headed out to deeper ocean or cut back into the mainland. It could do whatever Dragons want to do.

“No, it’ll be here. They like to get up high after a big meal,” Gus said and pointed to the canopy, “that ol’ boy’s up their up right now.” Claude looked up and pulled the sled. Gus lugged the pick ax and the backpack of tools. The old man was thick like a tree stump. They’d left most of the tools on the boat. They couldn’t bring the cart through the brush, and the heavier stuff would have slowed them down. As it was, Gus was still carrying an awful lot of weight. Claude wondered if he could fight the old man. He was taller, and most certainly faster, but the old man was thick with muscle, and he moved like a man who had never been afraid in his life. It’s hard to get old walking like that, Claude thought.

They hadn’t brought much water and no food, luckily Gus had an incredible knack for finding little pools where water gathered, and he knew what plants you could cut and find wet pulpy flesh. Claude’s years as a drunk had inured him to eating garbage, and the bugs here he could grind up and fry so crisp and salty they were even good, but more work than they were worth. He wanted out of the woods.

A short while later when Gus spotted it, the Casting. He pulled the ax from over 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 didn’t let go. If you looked at it too long you lost it in your eyes and it ceased to be.

It was big, 6 feet around at the middle, taller than Gus. It had torn limbs and branches down with it as it fell, and it crashed gracelessly in a pile of green and yellow flora. The impact hid some of it, and buried it with the debris. The Casting was covered with divots and bumps. It rippled like fish scales. Parts were smooth like glass, and other’s rough like stone. Claude could see twisted armor and what looked like the bindings of a barrel. Two swords were bent backwards around the Casting along it’s vague roundness. Thousands of shapes ran into each other but became one mass. Claude ran up and touched it. He pulled his hand back. “It’s still hot,” he yelled to Gus. He looked up at the unbroken canopy. Gus lumbered up with the backpack, and the sled Claude had abandoned. “I found one was that was still on fire once,” he said, “it glowed bright green and I had to wait a full day for it to cool down.”

Claude ran his hand along one of the blades he could see. “How come it’s not melted?” asked Claude. “Don’t know,” answered Gus. “Guess it’s not hot enough.” Claude could see few more swords as his eyes scanned it up and down. Everything in the Casting was steel or iron, but he saw burnt lumber and splintered pieces of tools and weapons scattered about, things that must have fallen from the Dragon as well. A charred piece of debris that might have been an oar hung in a tree 100 feet above them. “How’d an oar make it?” Claude asked. I’m sure a Dragon’s gut’s too hot for an oar”. Gus grinned and pulled his tools from the bag. “The stuff in the ball,” Gus said putting his hand on the Casting, “is the stuff they can’t burn up or digest, but they bring it up and flush out all the stuff that gets stuck in their throats.” He poked around. “I usually see a few swords that are melted to the handle, I think those are ones that got stuck in the the throat and not swallowed down, or maybe stuck in their teeth. I don’t where it’s hottest. I hope I never do.” He said smiling, “But I don’t see any here.” He tossed a spike and hammer to Claude. “It’s huge.” Claude said. “It’s the biggest one I’ve ever seen,” Gus agreed, “see how the swords are bent?” he pointed. “Those are from pushing up through his neck,” Gus said acting out the process. “This one’s big ’cause he’s so big.” Gus pushed grass and a fallen tree limb away from the Casting. “How are we going to move it?” Claude asked. “We can’t,” said Gus, “We’ll have to break it apart and take pieces.” Claude was too excited to even care about having to come back to the woods. He stripped off his shirt and found footing on the big black stone. Gus took a spike and and hammer and drove it near the younger man’s feet. Claude brought down the ax on the spike and took a nick out of the mass. He wedged his pick underneath a bent sword and pulled a blade free. They did this again and again. The young man’s back ached, but he didn’t slow down. They pried pieces loose and estimated their worth.

After an hour of driving in the spikes and chipping away, The steel mass cleaved like a hinge. The Mass stunk. The men went to work on the other side. Claude picked up a piece of the dark char and looked at it. The crust was inches thick between and inside the armor.  “It’s when they eat, they can’t get through all this good iron, but this stuff eats up everything else.”  Gus said pulling out a mace head that had come loose from its handle. “It’ll 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. It would be a good haul. Claude looked down at the take. This would bring more coin than Claude had ever had. Claude was rich. He was going to buy all the booze he could when he got back to the city, and a new whore every night. He drove another ax strike in and heard a satisfying clang. Both men’s eyes swelled. “That was a good ting,” Gus smiled. It was rich and strong and the mark of good steel. Gus was whistling. They pried at the Mass. A Knight’s helm was pressed inside the giant stone. It gleamed strong and perfect. It didn’t even dent where Claude had brought down the pick. The men pried it out and Gus held it to the dying light. “This is great” he said, a giant eagle crest was the visor, with its powerful wings stretched backwards majestically, “You could still wear it,” he said, and tossed the helm to Claude.

Claude caught it and opened up the visor. He vomited. He dropped the visor and fell off of the Casting. “Easy kid,” Gus said. “There a skull in there?” he teased, knowing full well there was. Maybe even a head, that Helm was terrifically made. Claude struggle to his feet and retched again. “Oh come on boy,” Gus laughed. The helm had rolled face up and Gus looked down at it. It was a bloated face with one gangrenous eye hanging loose from its socket. Skin had bubbled and flaked off from the lips. Even disfigured and rotted as it was, Gus could see pretty clearly, the face looked just like Claude.

It’s my brother Claude said. They packed up and walked through the woods without talking.

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