The Old Dragonslayer

Volume #32

– Day 1, 23rd of Basaran, 1582 –

The rumors are true, Snowcliff was attacked.

As soon as I heard of the attack (news about dragon attacks tends to travel fast), I secured passage on the next ship heading to the western provinces. Snowcliff is a good-sized fishing and shipping port town so finding a ship heading there wasn’t hard. I arrived at the port early in the morning and headed directly to the fish market where the majority of the damage had been done.

Despite the fact that it has been almost a week since the attack, the locals are still in a state of utter panic. It’s easy to understand, a dragon attack is a horrifying experience. After speaking with some of the workers, I learned that the dragon attacked the fish market which lies at the water’s edge around sundown. The dragon then gorged itself on several dozen pounds of fish as well as a couple of unfortunate souls that had been in the immediate area. The dragon then left as quickly as it had struck before any of the city guards or soldiers could muster a response. The market itself was nearly destroyed but aside from that, little of the town has been damaged.

This is peculiar behavior. Snowcliff isn’t some defenseless farm village, it’s actually among the larger cities I’ve seen. Aside from the docks and fish market, it is largely made up of stone buildings and cobblestone paved roads. It’s a bustling port town with high stone walls with its own garrison as well as a compliment of naval vessels. For a dragon to attack, seemingly unprovoked, only to feed seems foolish, or desperate. If it hadn’t caught the townspeople by surprise, the guards might have been able to muster a defense and one of them could have gotten lucky with an arrow or spear while it was on the ground feeding. What could cause such behavior?

 

– Day 2, 24th of Basaran, 1582 –

The first order of business today was to go to the great hall at center of town and try to get an audience with the town’s mayor and see if I could get any more information on the attack. Unfortunately, no one had much more information of note. I also tried to secure a contract for my services, but I could only get a half-hearted promise of a reward if I can demonstrate proof of death if I manage to make it back. This is not too unusual, most lords or politicians are not going to pay someone in advance to hunt a dragon, it isn’t the safest of investments after all. Not that it really matters; the real money in dragon hunting is in selling the horns, fangs, claws, bones, and hides of the quarry. There’s an endless supply of nobles and traders willing to pay top coin for that kind of merchandise. A single kill can earn an entire year’s worth of income if you can manage to keep scavengers away from the carcass long enough to get all of the valuable bits.

On the positive side, I was given a voucher for provisions and permission to use of one of the garrison’s horses. I suppose my reputation has preceded me in this case, nearly four decades of dragon hunting will do that I suppose.

My next stop was to head to Snowcliff’s expansive marketplace, which lies inland to the fish market, in order to pick up the provisions I will need. Getting around the market was quite difficult since it is in the oldest and most dense section of town with shops stacked on top of other shops all amongst the narrowest roads in the entire city. Due to having to navigate the labyrinth of streets and old stone buildings, I ended up spending the better part of the morning dodging street peddlers and trying to find the few shops that I needed.

This particular dragon is a flyer so I’ll want enough food to last at least a few weeks. Flyers are difficult to track for obvious reasons and their range can cover hundreds of square miles. I do have a general direction to look (northwest into the mountains) but beyond that I don’t have a lot to go on. I’ve worked with less though.

 

– Day 3, 25th of Basaran, 1582 –

Started today by heading to the garrison’s stables to secure the use of one of their horses as granted to me by the mayor yesterday. The city guards were unsurprisingly reluctant to cooperate so they lent me the mangiest animal they had on hand. I only intend to use the horse to a certain point so this will not be a major setback. Riding to a dragon’s nest on horseback is a pretty reliable way to get yourself killed, not to mention the horse. Once I start to draw near to the dragon’s territory I’m going to want to be on foot, much easier to move around unnoticed.

My last stop before finally heading out was to a fur trader situated at the outer edge of town near one of the gates at the base of the city’s stone wall. As the name implies, Snowcliff is a frigid town at the foothills of perpetually snowcapped mountains and winter is in full swing. This region isn’t known for catastrophic snow storms but hunting a dragon is dangerous enough without having to worry about freezing to death or being buried in an unexpected blizzard. No amount of cold weather supplies is too much in my opinion.

I finally headed out near midday riding atop the miserable excuse of a horse with several pounds of dried meat and cheese to last at least three weeks which I can stretch by hunting and gathering if the need or opportunity arises, all the furs I can comfortably wear, and my weapons; a dagger, bow and quiver, my spear, and a couple of fishing nets (could come in handy). Let the hunt commence.

 

– Day 6, 28th of Basaran, 1582 –

Two and a half days traveling the road into the foothills and I’ve reached a small trading outpost at what is likely the last remnant of civilization before moving into the wilds of the mountains. The horse lent to me by the garrison at Snowcliff (I decided to call him Bob since the garrison didn’t tell me if he had a name) actually held up rather admirably all things considered.

Aside from some protest from my timeworn back, it’s been smooth going so far. The roads in this area are reasonably well protected from wildlife and bandits, which in this cold and rugged climate could have easily been as much of a danger as a dragon. Nothing worse than having one’s hunt ended before it even starts because of a pack of rabid wolves or some wandering brigands.

That’s likely to change after tonight though. After lodging at this outpost, I’ll leave Bob at the stable and head into the mountains. I’ll need to be on foot from here on out, I can move though the wilderness much more stealthily without tromping around on a 1500 lb. horse which will look like a walking buffet to both dragon and every predator within ten miles. Based on conversations with other travelers on the road and here, I’m definitely on the right track. The dragon has its lair somewhere in these hills.

 

– Day 10, 2nd of Phaedra, 1582 –

Damn it’s freezing out here!

I knew it would be cold and yet somehow I managed to underestimate how frigid it can get in the north. As usual. This is made even worse due to a cold snap that snuck up last night. Even with the extra furs I purchased at Snowcliff I haven’t been able to keep as warm as I would like, especially at night. And this dry air has a way of making its way into your bones regardless of how many layers you can pile on. And my old bones suffer from it all the more.

I hate being forced to build a fire at night, but if I can’t manage to keep warm I’ll freeze to death out here before the dragon gets a crack at me. So far, I have been able to stay under the canopy of the evergreen forest that covers most of these hills. Hopefully that will provide enough cover if the dragon decides to take a midnight stroll.

Four solid days in the wild so far and I have yet to see the dragon itself but there are plenty of signs that that I’m in the beast’s territory. The terrain in this area bears the scars of many of the dragon’s hunts. Entire areas of this forest have been turned to ash from dragonfire.

What I have seen are signs of other hunters while moving through the forest. Likely not professionals, judging from the poorly dismantled campsites, but certainly heavily armed. The dense fir and pine canopy keeps anything more than a light dusting off of the ground but the tracks and litter of the others is obvious. One more thing to be on the lookout for.

– Day 12, 4th of Phaedra, 1582 –

I saw the beast for the first time today.

I watched as it flew lazily in high circles for a good hour late in the morning. It didn’t appear to be hunting which isn’t too surprising given how much it seemingly ate when it attacked Snowcliff. It can probably go a month before it starts getting hungry again. Still, I made damn sure to stay hidden during its patrol. Even after all of these years of hunting dragons, the sight of one still fills me with a dread that chills me even more than this bitter cold. The last thing I want is to attract its attention before I’m ready to let it know I’m here.

It’s a big bastard too. I’m beginning to see why the dragon might have been tempted to attack Snowcliff in order to feed, there is very little that could serve as food for something that large in these hills. Everything bigger than a jackrabbit either has been devoured already or has long since been chased out of the region. A dragon can have that kind of devastating effect on the local wildlife.

What’s strange is that the dragon hasn’t moved on to new territory. Normally a dragon would move on long before it resorted to attacking a human settlement, especially one that can potentially defend itself like Snowcliff.

The question is, what’s keeping it here?

– Day 13, 5th of Phaedra, 1582 –

Made excellent progress today. After observing the dragon yesterday, I now know exactly what direction I need to be heading. And apparently I’m not the only one on the trail of the dragon in these hills.

Early in the afternoon I encountered a young knight. I could hear him coming up behind me almost a half-mile away before he overtook me on his horse. I could have just let him pass me by unawares but I wanted to see what if any information I could get out of him. He said that his name was Gregory from the house Ursae, he and his horse was fully decked out in mail and plate. He even had a standard with his house coat-of-arms, a black bear on a yellow and blue background, hanging on the end of a nine-foot-long lance. As if the dragon is going to give a damn what house he hails from. It’s funny how nobles think.

Gregory is the second-born of a local lord looking to make a name for himself by slaying the dragon that attacked Snowcliff. Damn fool is only going to get himself killed. That  dragon is going to know he’s coming before he gets within ten miles of its lair (if it doesn’t already) and the best steel in the world isn’t going to count for anything against a dragon’s fangs or claws, to say nothing of dragonfire. What Sir Gregory (and most other would-be dragonslayers) do not understand is; you cannot battle dragons, you must hunt them. You need a hunter’s arsenal, striking hard and fast and with the element of surprise. Shields and armor do not do any good.

I gave the knight what advice I could (namely to ditch the armor and the horse), I even proposed that we team up but he was confident in his abilities and mission. He’s young and headstrong, but I fear he knows too little about the enemy he faces. We will both find out soon enough.

– Day 14, 6th of Phaedra, 1582 –

Spent most of today tracking behind Gregory since we were heading in the same direction anyway. This was exceedingly easy given that he apparently had no interest in keeping his presence unknown. At around noon Gregory encountered his quarry.

I could hear the commotion despite the battle taking place miles ahead of where I was. By the time I reached the site of the battle it was nearly sundown. The area was a spectacular mess. The violence of the scene was immediately apparent. Aside from a few scraps of armor, there really wasn’t much left of Sir Gregory or his horse.

After searching the scene I managed to salvage some of Gregory’s gear. His shield was damaged to the point of being useless. Gregory’s sword was still in pristine condition having not been drawn. I then found Gregory’s lance, which was broken in two but stained nearly a foot from the tip with dragon’s blood.

Clearly I underestimated Sir Gregory, he did perish in his attempt to slay the dragon, but it seems that he gave it a fight it won’t soon forget. He wounded the beast, and if I’m very lucky, quite severely. The dragon could potentially be bleeding out as I write. If it turns out that Gregory has already done most of the work for me, I should return his sword to his family instead of trying to fence it.

I’m getting close. The dragon would not have attacked an intruder directly if Gregory had not been close to its lair. I’ll have to be extra careful now not be discovered before the time comes to strike.

– Day 15, 7th of Phaedra, 1582 –

Tomorrow will be the day.

Tracking the dragon to its lair was easy as it elected to return to its lair overland after its battle with Sir Gregory. The reason for this was obvious once I closed the ten-or-so miles between last night’s camp to the creature’s lair, a ruined fort in the middle of the forest. Gregory in his struggle against the dragon managed to injure one of the beast’s wings crippling its ability to fly. It’ll likely heal eventually, but for the time being, it’s stuck on the ground.

Another mystery solved is the reason why the dragon hasn’t moved on from this region and has resorted to attacking human settlements in order to acquire food:

She’s nesting.

She has a clutch of three young in the lair with her, still too young to fend for themselves as of yet. It is a shame to have to kill a dragon merely for doing her duty as a mother and ensuring her young are fed, but the price cannot be the lives and livelihoods of the people of Snowcliff. Once the young start to get hungry again, the dragon will head to where she knows there is food. I will have to kill the young as well. It’s nasty work but it’s better than letting them go hungry and cannibalize each other. I’ll make it quick and clean for them.

I’ll set the fishing nets at the entrance of the fort and draw the dragon out of her lair, I’ll be damned if I’ve carried these nets with me for the last two weeks and not use them. Since she can’t fly at the moment corralling her through the main entrance shouldn’t be hard. The nets won’t hold her for long, but I’ll only need moments. Normally I would use a carcass to bait her out, but since she’s already hunted all of game out of this area I’ll have to use myself as bait. Not exactly the way I would normally want to play it.

I’ll leave this journal along with my remaining supplies at the camp. If this turns out to be the last entry that means that I failed in my hunt. If not, then I may yet finally get to retire in peace.

– Final –

Wrong on both counts it seems.

And everything was going exactly as planned. I was able to lure the dragon out of the lair in the ruined fort and right into the nets. And that’s when things went pear-shaped.

Maybe I was over-confident due to the dragon being wounded, maybe I got careless and let my guard down for a split second, or maybe I’m just not as quick as I used to be and I’ve gotten too old for this line of work. Regardless, when I went in for the killing strike I was not quite able to get back out of the beast’s biting range in time and she got my leg. Came damn close to taking it clean off below the knee. I’ve managed to slink my way back to the camp site but I can already smell the rot setting in. I am not in any immediate danger of bleeding out but I won’t last very long with a rotting, nearly chewed off leg. On the plus side, I probably won’t starve to death.

If I’m lucky, one of the other hunters might come along looking for the dragon or maybe even a search party looking for Gregory ay come along. Given my current situation however, I’m pretty sure my luck has run out. In any case, this will the final entry in this journal. I do regret that I won’t be able to add it to my collection whether or not I do manage to survive this by some miracle. Whoever does find this, don’t let the young dragons leave the nest, if they do, things could go very badly for this entire region.

I have delayed long enough, time to meet my fate.

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