A Day in the Life of a Merc
The air settled cold within my
lungs and I wrapped my parka tighter around my shoulders, ice seeping slowly
into boot-clad toes.
“Lord knows why we’re meeting here. It’s fucking freezing. No dragon worth its salt would be near this place.”
“Unlikely, isn’t it? But the signs are there: burnt trees, livestock missing, the usual.” Jess glanced across the lake and then back to me, shivering in her denim jacket.
“I told you to wear a proper coat. The forecast said it would be cold.”
“I know, I know.” She stomped her feet a few times and heaved a sigh.
A deep rumble filled the air and a battered Jeep rolled over the dirt road, coming to a stop on the pebbled shore. Jack pulled the keys out of the ignition and rolled the window down.
“Helloooo ladies! Kinda cold, ain’t it?” He hopped out and pulled a bomber jacket around his shoulders. “So, any sightings yet?”
“No, and I don’t think there will be. This is a dead end.” I sighed heavily and looked away across the lake.
“Well,” Jack began walking around the outskirts of the lake, his destination the wooded area around Siljan, the sixth largest lake in Sweden. “This is where all the action’s at, so…” He let the sentence trail off.
“Fine, let’s get this over with then.” I followed after him and looked over to Jessica. “So why are we doing this again?” I pulled out my gloves and put them on.
“Because dragon bone is worth a very pretty penny on the black market, and we need money.” Jess pulled out a map and began to unfold it. “Our last gig was months ago and the bounty for that is all dried up. This is the life of a merc, Siobhan. This is the way it is.”
“Yeah, I get that. It’s just… sometimes I wonder if what we’re doing is right.” I looked down and kicked a pebble.
“Hey,” Jess looked at me. “They’re just animals at the end of the day. Now this is just a recon. Find out where the lair is and then we go back for weapons.” She motioned Jack over and began dividing up sections of the forest for us to search through. I was to take the north section, towards Insjön, Jack would take the south and Jess east. “We’ll be back here in three hours. If you see it, do not engage. We don’t want to lose the element of surprise.”
I nodded, patted my side for the reassuring pressure of my gun, and took off to the north.
crunched under my boots and dim sunlight filtered through the dense foliage. A persistent
wind rushed through the branches, creating shadows and sounds where there’s
nothing. I desperately wanted to pull my gun, but this was a recon mission and
everything would be spoiled if I scared some civilian out walking their dog into
calling the police. That was something I really didn’t need right now. Not with
the other shit on my record.
I shook my head, clearing my mind so I could focus on the here and now.
There was an outcropping of rocks a little further ahead, covered in moss. There were underlying cave systems all over this place, rumoured to hold silver veining throughout. It was the ideal kind of home for a dragon. They were seriously into shiny glittering things but despite all the ticks on the checklist, the temperature was still a bit of a problem. Dragons don’t like cold climates, made it difficult for the whole fire-breathing thing.
I walked towards the rocks and began to circle them, searching for any opening large enough for a dragon to fit through. It didn’t have to be big, which is the mistake a lot of people make. Dragons are large, but able to slither into holes like the rest of their cold-blooded brethren.
There was a slight fissure on the north-east side of the outcropping, large enough for a man to easily fit through. I crouched down, removed my gloves, and ran my fingers along the ground. It was still wet from the last downpour and a clear footprint was pushed clearly into the mud. It was a foot long and half as wide. The dragon had left a three-digit impression, narrow and long. The dragon had been here recently.
I looked up at the fissure again and pulled out my phone, looking at the latitude and longitude co-ordinates. I wrote them down on the notepad app on my phone and continued my sweep. I was sure that the outcropping was the dragon’s lair, but Jess had specified no contact with the creature. That meant I wasn’t allowed to explore further.
I carried on walking towards the north, but found nothing else of real worth. There was quite a lot of myth surrounding dragons and a few tales of them shifting into humans – as well as humans into dragons – but I didn’t pay much attention to them. Nobody wanted to think they might be killing actual people. I could barely stand it when I knew they were animals. But hey, survival of the fittest.
A car horn blared at me, pulling me out of my thoughts. I startled and fell backwards, a red Volvo speeding past. I’d reached the end of the forest and stumbled onto the road. A loud rumble filled the sky and I glanced up, lightning forking against clouds of a deep grey. Raindrops began to fall, landing hard on the tarmac. I pushed my sleeve up and looked at my watch. Noting that I’d been walking for two hours, I began to head back. The rain came down harder and I cursed under my breath. I wore a parka to ward off the cold and it rains. Typical.
Did anyone find anything? ‘Cause I got shit-all.” Jack kicked at the pebbles
and took a glance around.
“I thought I’d found something, but it turned out to just be a stray’s hideaway.” Jess heaved a sigh and shook her head. “Damn thing almost bit me. Siobhan, anything?”
I looked up and pulled my phone and thumbed through to the co-ordinates. “Actually, yeah. About two miles north of here, there’s an outcropping of rocks. Definitely looks promising: I found tracks.”
“Ok. We go for weapons and gas bombs, come back, gas the fucker out and end him. Then we chop him up and burn the pieces.”
Dragon bones are covered in obsidian, so burning the body doesn’t burn the bones. Well, not unless the fire exceeds 700®C. But it sure does smell fucking horrible. Burning flesh could make anyone gag.
“Right then. I’ll meet you two lovely ladies back at the house.” Jack hopped into his Jeep and drove off.
Jess pulled the keys out of her pocket and jangled them. “Come on. Best hurry up or he’ll pick all the good ones”.
you want the crossbow or the broad sword?” Jack held both in hand.
“I’ll take both. Pass me the scabbard (or sheath) as well and I’ll strap the sword to my back.” I started rummaging through the potions draw.
“Where will you put the quiver then?”
“Well, I’m putting the sword on my back so the bolts will have to go over my shoulder.”
Jack shrugged. “Ok then. Think I fancy the axe, myself. You can get a nice good heft in behind it.” He began to swing experimentally.
Jess walked into the room and frowned at Jack. “Careful with that. I don’t want another hole in my wall.”
Jack stopped with a sheepish look on his face. I finally found the sleeping draught for the dragon and pocketed it.
Jess shook her head and pulled out the map. “Right. Jack, I want you to come in from the west. Siobhan, you come in from the east. I’ll chuck the gas bomb in and wait for it to slither out. Then we kill it. Any questions?”
Jack and I shook our heads, so used to the routine that we weren’t sure why she still asked. We’d been doing this for about three years. Sometimes it’s so much a part of your life that you can barely remember what you did before.
“Ok. Let’s head out.” Jess grabbed a dagger and axe from the weapons chest and swung out the door.
“This is gonna make us some big bucks.” Jack grinned at me. “Soon we’ll be rolling in it.” He followed after Jess and I pulled the door closed behind us.
crouched low behind a bush and watched Jess approach the dragon’s lair. She
pulled out the gas bomb and yanked out the pin. Then she threw it into the fissure.
I counted down slowly in my head. Five…four…three…two…one.
We heard a sharp pop and then green smoke began to seep out. My hand tensed around the crossbow and my breathing quickened. I always hated this part: the adrenaline spiked and for a bare second, I’d have rather run and hide then fight. Times like these when I wonder why I even do this.
Then I remember the pay-out. Guess we really are all just slaves to the money.
“Get ready!” Jess took several paces back and raised her axe higher.
A tremendous roar burst out from the lair and the dragon finally slithered forward. It was at least ten foot tall and covered in black scales. Large menacing spikes rose up along its spine and red eyes glowed madly from the sides of a dusky grey snout. The wings towered out, above and to the sides, leathery black and larger than life. It roared again and stalked towards Jess, fangs bared.
Jack twirled his axe in his hand and grinned. “Oh man. This is gonna be great!”
I stood up and approached cautiously. Jess, Jack and I now stood in a loose circle, surrounding it. We made sure that there was always someone at its back. We made doubly sure that it never cornered us. Wouldn’t want to give it any more of an advantage.
It took a swipe at Jess with one massive claw-tipped paw. She jumped back and swung the axe in a wide arc, missing the dragon by inches. Jack jumped in from the side and took a strike at the left hind leg. I sighted down the crossbow and pulled the trigger. But the arrow just glanced off the scales.
Shit. It seemed bolts weren’t gonna cut it. Pun intended. I pulled the broad sword from my back and tightened my grip around the hilt.
The dragon swung around to glare at me and started to approach, slowly. I held my arm steady and stared it down. It started to swing it’s head from side to side, taunting me. Suddenly, the dragon swung low and came at me from the right, opening its jaws wide and snapping its teeth. I sliced at its snout and it jerked back.
Jack planted the axe in its left haunch and Jess severed an Achilles tendons. The dragon listed to the side and staggered forward. Jack finished off the other tendon. “Come on Siobhan. Finish it!”
The dragon swiped at me with one claw and I ducked, turning quickly to bury my sword in its neck. Purple blood instantly began to pour out, drenching me in ichor. I stumbled back and swallowed air into my lungs. Jack and Jess stood up from their crouched positions, smiles on their faces.
The dragon collapsed, taking one shuddering breath before its eyes turned glassy and the twitching stopped.
Jess stood straight and looked around. “Right. Well, best start building the fire. Wouldn’t want anyone to find this and steel our bounty.” Jack nodded and began looking for dry branches, while Jess started to gather dead leaves. “Go clean yourself up Siobhan. I think we got this.”
I nodded and began walking back to the car, shaking the excess blood off my hand every few steps. Ain’t it great being a merc.