Determined to get as far from his family as he could in a single day, Jeff managed to hitch a ride with a travelling merchant, but when he stopped for the night Jeff decided to just keep walking. When it started to rain a few hours later, Jeff's resolve to not start speaking to the egg broke.
“I tell you Bertie, it’s better this way, it really is, and not just for me, but for everyone. Dad, I mean he just needs to retire and close the family business Let my brothers get on with their lives. I mean, they can still make a pretty decent living as sellswords, or guards or something... farmers maybe. It’ll be fine. I’ll write to mom when I get to a decent enough town and get my bearings. This will be fine, it’s fine, everything’s going to be just fine.”
He was aware that he looked crazy, a man in robes walking in the rain talking to himself, but it had kept him occupied, and given him a place to vent. So much so that when they did reach the next town, he forgot to stop. He received a few strange looks from locals, but at that point, he also didn’t care. In truth, he’d never really worried what people thought of him. As a child he was considered different because of the magic, then in The School of Magic, he was different because he was a warlock. The nature of dragon hunting meant that he had moved so often that he never really got to settle or make friends. And deep down he also knew that if anyone really pushed or tried to bully him, he could rip off their arms and legs with his mind.
“I think I can see an inn, what say we get you on a fire and me some food and something to drink.”
He got them the most expensive room, lit a nice hot fire around the egg and made his way into the tavern for a beer. Where it didn’t take long before a sensual and somewhat familiar voice tickled his ears.
“You come here often?”
He turned to see Genevieve standing just behind him.
“I know you.”
Her face paled as she gasped.
“Oh, don’t worry, I’m not here on business, everything’s fine.”
Jeff frowned, realising how much he’d been saying that recently, and made a mental note to stop, while Genevieve took a calming breath and sat down.
“So… So how, how did it go?”
Jeff raised his hand to get some more drinks and sighed, which brought a chill to Genevieve.
“Work-wise fi… good, but I also quit the family business.”
She tilted her head enquiringly but looked slightly relieved.
“It’s a long story, but I just couldn’t do it anymore.”
“So, what now? Wandering wise man? Emperors' court?”
“I haven’t really thought about it, to be honest. I mean, I couldn’t go into the court just yet, I’ve still got a… personal… thing, to deal with first.”
He handed her a drink and smiled.
“It’s nice to see a familiar face, though, that doesn’t happen to me very often. I’m actually kinda flattered you even remembered me.”
She smiled in reply and raised her glass.
“Well, it’s not every day one meets a warlock.”
Jeff’s eyes sparkled for a moment and his smile broadened.
“To familiar faces!”
They tapped glasses and Jeff put a hand on the small of her back.
“Can I buy you dinner?”
In the morning when Genevieve woke up, he was sitting cross-legged in front of the fire.
“You’re up early, what are you doing?”
“I don’t need as much sleep as other people, plus I wanted to make sure the temperature was right in the fire.”
“Right for what?”
“The dragon egg I’ve been carrying around.”
Genevieve laughed and walked towards him, then jumped and screamed and pointed into the fire.
“Oh my Gods, that’s a dragon egg! That’s the personal thing you have to take care of? Those things are illegal to have, to be near, raising dragons is treason.”
Jeff smiled nervously.
“Yeah, so if it’s all the same to you… can you keep this between us?”
“What, what are you going to do with it?”
Jeff’s face grew grave and he explained the details of his retirement from dragon hunting. It wasn’t a long story but by the end, she looked calmer, and as though she understood.
“So, I say again, what are you going to do with it?”
He let his gaze drift back to the egg in the fire and after a moment all but whispered,
“I have no idea.”
She stared at him hard, then cocked an eyebrow.
“I might not know too much about magic and dragons and things of that nature, but what I do know is men. Specifically when one is lying... And you’re lying. Maybe not to me, but definitely to yourself.”
She got up to stand next to him and ran a gentle hand down his face. He kept his gaze on the egg as he said.
“I know what I should do, or at least, I have an idea. I’m just… terrified.”
“You are the most powerful a human can be, or so you said, what could possibly scare you that much.”
He looked up at her.
“For as long as there has been The School of Magic, there has been a rumour that the mountains overlooking it house an ancient red dragon. If a dragon is the size of a building, an ancient dragon is the size of a mountain. They’re functionally immortal and are so powerful they might as well be Gods. In theory… I mean, I could…”
His voice broke as his fear showed clearly on his face.
“Why that one? Why not any other dragon?”
Jeff swallowed and tried to pull himself together.
“Most dragons move around, and any that smell me coming will know what I’ve done. Dragon slaying stains the soul, so to speak.”
“Is… is that why you’re so scared of them?”
He cocked an eyebrow.
“It doesn’t help.”
“Why didn’t you let them break the egg?”
“I… it was just… it was wrong. Like fundamentally wrong. It looked like they were putting out the spark of the world. I had to do something.”
She smiled at him and he let out a long breath.
“I know, I know… I know. I guess we all have to die from something, and maybe it’s not a bad life to die doing the opposite to how I’ve lived.”
Genevieve bent down and kissed his forehead.
“If it helps, I’ll be there with you.”
Jeff pulled back and looked at her confused.
“Well, since I met you, I’ve seen you kill a ghoul with a single word, heard about you slaying dragons, then stand up to your family to save a dragon egg. And now you’re going to go face your greatest fear to save the life of that thing you’re most afraid of. I think… I think you might just be the most interesting person alive right now, and I want to know what happens next. Besides, if I stay here all I have to look forward to is rain-drench sellswords, smoked fish and sour beer.”
He smiled and let out a short laugh.
“Well then, let’s get going.”