Never had sitting behind a desk felt so good. Jonah wasn’t sure what to expect from his first “mission”. He never thought he’d ever set foot on the field. Sure his father taught him how to handle a gun and how to hunt, but this felt different. They weren’t going up against deer or some other skittish creature that was known to run before fighting back. Actually, he hadn’t known what he was to face at all.
But his first true mission wasn’t as bad as he feared. The client was a store owner who had the misfortune of a pack of dire rats building a nest under his shop. Dire rats were far from the most dangerous creature in the world, but they stood as high as Jonah’s waist and weren’t afraid to fight back when threatened. Other than a few scratches, they managed to clear the nest and bury the holes so the creatures wouldn’t come back. Overall, it was a successful mission. He didn’t even need to fire his gun.
Still, I would have preferred something more exciting than being a glorified exterminator. He thought as a massive yawn consumed him. It took two days to complete the job and even though his grandfather gave them the day off, he still felt as if he hadn’t slept. He had spent most of the break running other errands. Putting them off was an option but he didn’t know how much free time he would have now that he was a full-fledged hunter. Better to not let the work pile up early.
Now he was wishing he had as he yawned again. He looked around the lobby. There was no one here and no one had come in for hours. A little nap wouldn’t hurt, right? was
Even as reasons why he shouldn’t pass through his head, his eyelids had other plans and drooped. His head felt increasingly heavy so he leaned it on his palm for support. He just needed to rest his eyes for a minute to get his second wind was all. Better to rest now before a heavy workload came in.
“Um, excuse me?”
Jonah quickly lifted his head, hoping it wasn’t too noticeable that he was napping at his post. Instead of a human as expected, a Ramscale dragon stood before him. Or what he thought was a Ramscale. This dragon had the signature red-gold scales but that was all. She didn’t have the curved horns, just two rows of pointed ones. Her body was covered in yellow spots, a feature he had never seen on any dragon. Then there was the tail. It had a curved protrusion that reminded him of a scythe. Even with the dragon’s relaxed stance, the appendage gave him chills. It didn’t help she wore a large grin that he assumed was meant to be friendly or welcoming. All it did was show off an impressive set of fangs.
Remembering that he had a job to do, he quickly cleared his throat and asked, “Um, can I help you?”
The dragon trotted to the front desk. “This is the Hunter’s Society, yes?”
The dragon’s grin widened. It didn’t help the tension. “Great! I would like to join, please.”
“I—I’m sorry? You want to join…the Hunter’s Society?”
“Yes, I would.”
“Um, one second.” He rushed into the back, pinched his cheeks, and then peered outside again. The dragon still stood in front of the desk. He hurried into the back again to find Stewart. As one of the newest members, this was beyond him and needed to be handled by a veteran.
He blessed his luck to find Stewart in the breakroom playing cards with some other hunters. Each of them held on to their cards like precious keepsakes and avoided eye contact with each other making him wonder if he stepped in the middle of something serious.
But the dragon standing outside left him too bothered to focus on his intimidation of the man and tapped him on the shoulder, “Uh, sir, there’s a dragon outside. She claims to want to join us.”
Stewart slowly put down the cards he was holding and raised a brow. “Don’t call me, ‘sir’. I told you before: this ain’t the military. Now have you been drinking?”
“Not at all, sir--Stewart.”
“And you’re sure she wants to join?”
“Those were her words exactly.”
He looked at the others at the table. They looked just as confused as Jonah felt.
“I need to see this,” Stewart said.
“It’s probably a stupid prank!” One of the hunters called after them.
“I swear it’s not!” Jonah said quickly. “There really is—”
“Calm down. I know you’re not the type. Don’t worry about it. The wyrm probably got lost.”
Jonah knew that wasn’t the case, but he chose not to argue the point. It would become clear soon enough on its own.
The moment Stewart entered the lobby, he whistled. “A Reaper! Now there’s a species you don’t see every day!”
The dragon frowned. “Please do not call me that. It’s very insulting.”
“My apologies, uh…?”
The dragon bowed. “Felilia. It’s an honor to meet you.”
Stewart bowed as well then elbowed Jonah and motioned for him to do the same. “An honor to meet you as well. Call me Stewart and this is my partner, Jonah. So what can we do for you?”
“As I explained to this human, I want to join the Hunter’s Society.”
“Is this some kind of a joke?”
Felilia tilted her head. “Why do you think it’s a joke?”
In the short time Jonah’s known Stewart, he has never seen the man uncomfortable about anything, not even undressing in front of others. Jonah had gotten scolded about it pretty good when he asked for privacy. “Sometimes you won’t have the luxury of alone time,” Stewart had said.
Now he was watching as this undauntable human rubbed the back of his neck and shift his weight like a nervous teenager. “Maybe you don’t know, but the Hunter’s Society is famous for dragon hunting,” Stewart said. “We’ve killed hundreds or even thousands of your kind over the centuries. No wyrm comes here looking to join.”
Felilia didn’t miss a beat. “Then I’ll be the first, yes?”
“Why do you keep asking that? I am not joking.”
Stewart cleared his throat. “Well, uh, I guess you can join then.”
“Wait, what?” Jonah asked. “Just like that?”
“It’s not up to me, but we also don’t have a ‘No Dragons’ policy so I see no reason why she shouldn’t apply. It’s not like we hunt wyrms anymore anyway.”
It seemed to Jonah more like the man was afraid of angering a dragon, but he also wasn’t going to be the one to tell her no. In a straight fight, neither of them stood a chance.
Before he could voice any more objections, Stewart clapped him on the shoulder and said, “Okay, so help her fill out the necessary paperwork and show her around while I talk to the higher-ups.”
He left the room before Jonah could say a word, leaving him standing there feeling very uncomfortable and Felilia staring at him patiently.
Not knowing what else to do, he settled on doing what was asked of him. No matter how strange it seemed. “I guess I’ll help you sign up then,” he said slowly. He pulled out a registration form and an ink pen. “So your name is Felilia, uh, do you have a surname?”
“A last name. Like my last name is Shroud. Do you have one?”
“I don’t have a ‘last name’. I’ve always been Felilia.”
“So that’s a no. And what’s your age?”
The dragoness proudly stuck out her chest. “I am 20, human.”
He filled in the rest of the form; gender, eye color, hair color, height, and weight—which he guessed because he felt uncomfortable asking for that. Dragon etiquette was foreign to him, so it was better to tread lightly. “So, uh, where do you live?”
“I come from the Dragonlands. A place the humans call Death’s Woods, but we call it Evershade because it is always shady there year-round. It is especially nice during the summer when—"
“No, no. I mean where are you staying here?”
“Oh, I live in the Dragon’s District. That’s what it’s called, yes?”
“Yeah, that’s what it’s called. But I need the address.”
She tilted her head. “Address?”
He sighed heavily and explained. “It’s where you live specifically. You know, our house number.”
“Humans number their houses? I’ll be honest, human, I don’t know. Dragons know where they live by scent and memory. It’s a lot easier, yes?”
“Actually, it’s not, but forget the address, we’ll figure that out later. I just have one more question. Why do you want to join?”
“This is where the best hunters gather, yes? I want to join and become the best hunter.”
“Uh, we don’t really do that, but okay.” He wrote it down anyway and signed his name. He thought about placing the paper on the pile with the other applications then decided it would be better to hand it in personally. “Okay, um, wait here, please.”
It felt like a dream. All the stories he heard from his great-grandfather about the epic battles against dragons and here one was, seemingly oblivious to the bad blood between the two species.
And this dragon seemed out of the loop. He had no idea how things worked in the Dragonlands, but the idea of an address couldn’t be that far-fetched for a dragon to comprehend especially the ones living here. Wouldn’t they have taught her?
The only comfort he had was knowing her words were sincere. If her goal was to attack them, she would have.
He turned his thoughts back to the present when he stood in front of his grandfather’s office. The moment he reached up to knock, the door opened and Omar filled the frame.
“There you are,” Omar said. “I was just coming to get you. We need to talk.”
Jonah nodded and followed him inside. Stewart was already there, leaning on the back of one of the chairs.
Omar made sure no one else was in the hall then closed the door and turned to Jonah. “So, this dragon, she serious about joining?”
“Very serious. I just finished filling out her application.”
“Let me see it.”
Omar stared at the piece of paper, his expression stone-like. Unsure what to do at this time, Jonah stared at the floor and awaited further orders.
Without a word, Omar turned and left the office. Jonah turned to Stewart who shrugged then followed his grandfather into the hall.
He followed the man to the main lobby. Felilia sat patiently on her haunches behind the desk. She rose upon their arrival.
“You there, girl,” Omar said. “Why do you want to join the Hunter’s Society?”
Felilia straightened up and said, “I want to become the best hunter.”
“Don’t give me that shit, girl. Your kind stands at the top of the food chain. You have nothing to prove. What’s your real reason?”
Jonah stared at his grandfather in shock. One, because he had the gall to speak to a dragon that way, and two, because he saw through her ruse. Thinking on it now, it made sense. Dragons once ruled over humans and were called divine; they had nothing to prove to anyone.
Felilia recoiled as if struck and bowed her head. For a moment, she didn’t respond then she broke the silence, speaking in a soft meek tone. “My clan is in danger. Something stalks the woods and sometimes our hunters don’t come back.” She took a deep breath and her tail trembled, making Jonah shudder. “I want to hunt it, but first, I have to become stronger. The clan won’t teach me.” She lifted her head, a renewed fire reflected in the yellow orbs. “They say I’ll die, so I came here. This is where the best hunters gather, no?”
Omar folded his arms across his chest. Jonah felt sorry for the dragoness forced to withstand that withering look. She didn’t cower, however. She kept eye contact, that fire showing no signs of flickering.
Eventually, Omar nodded and said, “That’s all I needed to know. Welcome to the Hunter’s Society.”
Felilia’s face lit up. She bounced in place, holding her tail flat against her body. “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!”
“Don’t get excited yet, girl. We have a way of doing things around here and dragon or not, you will follow our rules if you want to call yourself a hunter.”
The dragoness stopped bouncing and nodded.
“Now, you’re going to need a partner. No hunter goes alone.”
“Actually, can he be my partner?” Felilia asked, pointing her tail at Jonah.
“Wait, what? Why me?” Jonah asked, his eyes fixed on the deadly appendage aimed at him. He was well out of striking range but the sheer size of that thing made him uneasy.
“He already has a partner,” Omar said.
“I don’t mind taking on both of them,” Stewart said. “Besides, she’s a special case. You can’t hand her off to just anyone.”
Omar gave the man a sideways look. “If you’re sure then she’s all yours. Make sure to get them both up to speed. I’m going to talk to our quartermaster and see what can be done about getting her geared up.”
He left the room, leaving the three of them alone. Jonah wasn’t sure if it was appropriate to kiss the man or not. He didn’t know the first thing about working with a dragon and was new to being a hunter himself. The idea of taking on the first-ever dragon member would have been a nightmare.
If Stewart was nervous about training their newest arrival, he didn’t show it. He launched into the same tour and explanation he had given Jonah like a seasoned tour guide. A few of their fellow hunters noticed the dragon being escorted around the building, but other than strange stares, they were left alone. Not that Jonah blamed them. The curved appendage on the end of her tail would give anyone pause.
Jonah didn’t pay much attention to it or Felilia’s reaction at venturing into no-dragon’s land. His mind couldn’t stop focusing on something she said. Something was out there killing dragons. What creature was capable of such a thing? The only thought that came to mind was humans but if it was humans, the dragons would be in an uproar. This had to be something else, but what? His thoughts drifted until he no longer even acknowledged his surroundings.
He thought back to his father’s bestiary that he was forbidden to read. The taboo only spurred his curiosity, and he just snuck a peek whenever his father left for work. Thinking back to reading over those dusty pages, nothing came to mind. There were a few entries about creatures bold enough to go after a lone baby dragon, but only one about a creature, not counting humans, bold enough to challenge them fully grown. But he couldn’t recall the creature’s name.
A sudden rap on his head snapped him out of his reverie. Stewart and Felilia stared at him.
“Pay attention,” Stewart said. “It’s your second day on the job. You don’t get to slack off.”
“Yes, s—Stewart. What were we talking about?”
Stewart rolled his eyes. “I said we have to find out where she lives in case we need to get a hold of her.”
“Oh. Well, she mentioned living in the Dragons District. But is it okay for hunters to go there?”
The man replied with a shrug. “Maybe. For obvious reasons, we don’t go there. If we don’t go showing off, the dragons should leave us alone.”
Jonah knew about the Dragons District but he had never been there. All he knew was that it was the place where most of the city’s dragon population lived. Their own separate slice of Diamus. They said it differed greatly from the rest of the city and every major city-state had one. He always found it sad that despite living among humans, their species were still isolated.
It only confirmed his theory when they entered the district. It was like stepping into another world or the rundown part of town that everyone avoided. The streets turned to dirt, the buildings became shabby and flat, and a strong smell of nature and dragon hung in the air. Strangely, the dragons seemed at home. He expected the place to feel oppressive and look upon dirty and sad faces, but it was quite the opposite. It felt cozy despite the squalor.
Jonah buried his face in his sleeve and pretended to cough so he could sniff his clothes without being rude. The smell of so many dragons gathered together burned his nose.
Stewart turned to Felilia. “All right. Which house is yours?”
“I don’t sleep in one. I always slept outside. The others said there was no room for me.”
Stewart frowned. “That doesn’t sound right. Lead us to where you sleep then.”
Before they could get far, the dragons gathered in front of them, blocking their path. Multiple species and sizes creating a wall of red, green, grey, and black scales.
“What are you doing?” Stewart asked. “Are humans not allowed here anymore?”
“We allow humans just fine.”
The dragons parted to allow a large female with dark green scales to approach. Several small horns formed a bone-like crown on her head. Jonah racked his knowledge of dragon species and recalled this one was known as the Crested Genial.
The dragoness walked to the front of the crowd with her head held high as if it were her victory march. Judging from her posture and the way the other dragons reacted to her presence, he assumed she was the District Lord, the dragon in charge of the district.
“It’s an honor to mee you D—“ Stewart began, bowing. Felilia did the same and Jonah quickly followed their example.
“Save it,” the dragoness spat. “We know who you are, hunter.” Her voice was laced with venom as she spoke the name. “Like I said, we allow humans, but your kind are not welcome here.”
Still bowed, Stewart shook his head. “I didn’t know we were that famous.”
“We know your stench anywhere, and we know what those mean.” She motioned to Jonah who looked down and saw his tags shimmering in the sun on his breast. The damage was already done but he quickly stuffed the tags into his shirt anyway.
“But we haven’t hunted dragons in—” Stewart began.
“I don’t care!” her tail slapped the ground, making everyone stiffen. She turned to Felilia with a cold gaze that made Jonah shiver. “It’s bad enough you spit on our laws, but then you bring these two here. Did they teach you nothing where you come from?”
Felilia flinched and stared at the ground. “But…But…we hunt humans. That makes us even, no?”
Jonah couldn’t hide his shock at her use of tense. Was hunting humans a thing in the Dragonlands?
He turned back to the Genial and wished he hadn’t. Never had he seen such fury in anyone, human or dragon.
“It does not even come close to making us even!” the dragoness roared. “We hunted one another, fine, but what the humans did to us is far worse than anything we did to them!”
Jonah looked around. The other dragons were fidgeting and frowning. A few low growls began to emanate from the crowd. Stewart was backing away, partially shielding Jonah with his body. This was bad. Neither of them had a weapon though he doubted it would do much good against a crowd this size.
A strong gust of wind blew dirt everywhere, making everyone cover their faces. When it died down, a male dragon with red and gold scales stood between them and the wall of lizards. Jonah immediately recognized this species as a Ramscale due to the signature curved horns.
The Ramscale turned the Genial. “What do you think you’re doing?” he said.
The Genial stepped forward until their bodies were almost touching. She easily towered over the Ramscale and craned her neck to glare into his eyes. “Dealing with the trash, pet. Now go back to your human caretaker before I send you in pieces.”
The Ramscale showed no signs of backing down. “Do I need to remind you that you don’t get to decide who’s welcome here and who isn’t?”
“If you think I’m going to let that bitch tell me what to do—”
The Ramscale slapped the ground with his tail, the loud crack silencing the dragoness though she looked more offended by the gesture than cowed. “Talking down about your District Lord?” the Ramscale asked. “And yet you want to lecture someone else on respecting the law.”
Jonah was confused. If the green dragon before them wasn’t the District Lord then who was? He decided to worry about that later. Regardless, she affected the crowd. The other dragons showed no signs of dispersing. If anything, the presence of the newcomer had made them more hostile. The growls had gotten louder and some dragons were even crouching as if preparing to pounce.
“Take those hunters, take that backstabbing human-loving wretch, and leave our home,” the Genial said in a dangerously calm voice.
“But—” Felilia began.
Stewart placed a hand on the dragoness’s neck and shook his head. She gave a small whine and turned away. Jonah went after her but kept looking back to see if they were being followed. They weren’t but the dragons stared murderously at them. Stewart walked backward, keeping an eye on them.
It wasn’t until the buildings changed back to the usual narrow and tall and the roads returned to normal that Stewart spoke. “Didn’t see that coming.”
“Clearly, you haven’t been paying attention to current events,” a new voice said.
Everyone turned around and saw the Ramscale from before trotting up to them. When he reached them, he stopped and bowed low. “My name is Reban. I don’t know why hunters would go to the Dragon’s District, but you stay away. They’re especially wound up right now.”
Stewart introduced each of them in turn then addressed Reban. “You’re talking about the new District Lord, right? I heard a human is in charge now. I completely forgot.”
“Yes, the governor appointed a human as acting District Lord until the dragons can decide on a replacement. They’re less than happy about it. I have to keep coming down here to keep the peace.”
“Wait, I thought they settled that weeks ago,” Jonah said.
Reban solemnly shook his head. “The dragon they chose was exposed for taking bribes from humans. They didn’t like that, so now they’re back to square one.”
“That’s the third one,” Stewart said.
“Yes, and there are rumors floating about that someone is purposely sabotaging them so a human can stay in charge.”
“If they feel that way, why do they keep rejecting the dragons they pick?” Jonah asked.
Stewart chuckled and patted Jonah’s head. “You have a lot to learn about dragons.”
“Um, excuse me, what’s a District Lord?” Felilia asked, tilting her head.
Reban mirrored her action.
“She’s new,” Jonah quickly explained. “She came all the way from the Dragonlands to join the Hunter’s Society.”
The Ramscale chuckled until he saw the others didn’t share his amusement. “You’re kidding, right?”
“Why does everyone keep asking me that?”
“We need to have a long talk,” Stewart said, steering her and Jonah away. “Thanks again for helping us. We’ll avoid the Dragon’s District in the future.”
They said their goodbyes and went on their way. After a time, Jonah heard a soft whistling sound. He looked for the source only to realize it came from Felilia. Her head, wings, and tail drooped, dragging along the ground. It sounded like the dragon’s equivalent of crying.
Jonah started to say something when Stewart touched his shoulder. “Give her some space.”
Jonah nodded. He didn’t want to think about how dragons were treating her before now, but everything made sense. They were likely just barely tolerating her for talking about joining, but now that they saw she was serious, the joke was over. It wouldn’t take long before nearly every dragon in Diamus hated her and she had no home to go to.
“So where will she stay?” Jonah whispered to Stewart.
“She’ll have to sleep at headquarters. I’m not sure where though. The beds were designed for humans.”
“Then she can stay with me.” He turned to Felilia. “Is that all right?”
The dragoness gave a small nod and continued staring at the street.
Jonah put an arm around her neck and pulled her close. “Hey, it’ll be okay. Hunters always stick together, no matter what.”
“No matter what,” Stewart repeated.
There are so many things to pick up here on the behavior and traditions of the Caustic Reapers! It is almost certain that is not what they refer to themselves as, it will be curious to hear what that is. Especially with exchanges like this that make them stand out from any other dragon race: