Bill sat on a bar stool in a tavern, holding a cold mug of ale. At his right sat his sister, Scarlet, a fellow mercenary raised, as he was, by Bollin Anvileye. At his left, sat Kris, who really shouldn’t need an introduction by now.
Bill turned to face his sister, smiling at seeing her again. “Let me ask. What’s this about you serving the Vice Earl of Hillian? Since when do you do government work?”
Kris peeked around Bill’s arm, glaring furiously at the other woman.
“Honestly, the pay was just too good to pass up,” Scarlet laughed. “Besides, it’s nice to actually wield a little authority now and then.”
Kris peeked over the top of Bill’s head, glaring at the other women venomously.
Bill nodded. “I can see that, I suppose. Just never figured you for the type to sit still in one place for very long.”
Kris crawled in the floor, glaring up between Bill’s legs with burning hate.
“We all have to settle down someday, Billy. You included, I imagine,” Scarlet winked at him.
Kris peered under Bill’s armpit, glaring at her with the heat of a thousand suns.
“Kris, what in the Fate’s name are you doing?” Bill asked her.
The mad druid returned to her stool with a sniff. “As the preceding narration described, I am glaring.”
Bill blinked. “The preceding what?”
“Narration!” Kris slammed a fist down on the bar, then whimpered and nursed it.
Bill sighed heavily. “Why are you doing that?”
“Cause it hurt!”
“No, not that. I meant the glaring.”
“You were glaring.”
“Are you sure?”
“You just admitted it.”
Bill pinched the bridge of his nose and counted to ten. Scarlet stared at them in shock. Kris glared at her.
“Oh, you’re right! I am glaring!”
“I know,” Bill groaned. “I’m trying to figure out why you’re doing it.”
“Because of her,” Kris hissed, jabbing a finger at the Half Elf.
“Me?” Scarlet gasped. “What did I do?”
“You called my Billy Billy. Only I call Billy Billy. You don’t get to call Billy Billy! He’s my Billy Billy, and not your Billy Billy! Quite calling Billy Billy Billy!” Kris ranted.
Bill sat very still, waiting for the Elf to tire herself out. It happened pretty fast. Scarlet shook her head, dizzy from listening. The bartender wondered if he should ask them to leave.
“Kris, Scarlet is my sister,” Bill told her as the Elf gasped for air, winded from her rant. “We’ve known each other almost our entire lives. She isn’t calling me Billy for the same reason you do.”
“How do you know that?” Kris implored. “I mean, look at her! She’s got skank eye!”
“Kris!” Bill admonished.
“I’ve got what?” Scarlet boggled.
“Skank eye!” Kris answered.
“Kris!” Bill admonished, getting a strange sense of deja vu. “Behave yourself.”
“I am being have myself!” Kris snapped. “It’s her that’s not being have as she should be!”
“What?” Scarlet gaped.
Bill held up a hand, giving his sister a brief shake of his head. “Kris, what have we talked about?”
Kris grew thoughtful. “Don’t address the audience directly?”
“No, the other thing.”
“Don’t threaten old friends of yours with violent dismemberment?”
“Yes, no, wait, what?” Bill stammered. “You didn’t threaten her like that.”
“Yet,” Kris offered with a dark glare.
“I’m confused,” Scarlet groaned, rubbing her temples.
“It’ll pass,” Bill consoled her.
“You’re confused?” Kris asked. “Really?”
“Yeah. Very.” Scarlet blinked a few times, trying to get the sense of disorientation the Elf had caused to pass.
“So, then, it wasn’t Bill that you were giving the skank eye, but me?” Kris didn’t really ask her, but said it as more of a pondering thought.
“What?” Bill and Scarlet both asked in surprise.
“I can see it, thought,” Kris nodded. “I am pretty hot.”
“Hmm…” Bill moaned, pinching the bridge of his nose and counting to ten again.
Scarlet just nodded her head blankly. “That you are. Yup.”
“I’m sorry, though, you see, but I’m with Bill,” Kris told her, patting Bill’s hand lovingly. “After he dies or falls in a bottomless pit or something else horrible, then maybe we can hook up, but not until then.”
Bill gave her a staggered glare. “Excuse me? That’s my sister!”
“I know,” Kris nodded. “I’m keeping me in the family in honor of you when you’re dead or being eaten for eternity by demons or something.”
“I don’t feel so good,” Scarlet whispered, laying her head down on the bar.
“It’s nice to know you’ll move on after I’m gone,” Bill snarled.
Kris gave him a sad smile. “Of course I will. It’s what you will have wanted.”
“Just so you know,” he told her. “I’ll move on, too, if you go before me.”
Kris laughed hysterically. “No, you won’t. Don’t be silly.”
Bill gaped. “And why wouldn’t I?”
“It’s not what I will have wanted when I’m dead. I’ll have wanted you to stay faithful to me forever. And since I’ll be haunting you, I’ll know if you are going to will have cheated on ghost me.”
Bill felt dizzy. Next to him, Scarlet moaned. The bartender sat down, feeling a bit unsteady himself.
“Wooooo!” Kris moaned, waving her arms at Bill.
“Stop that,” he muttered. “Why are we even talking about this?”
“Cause your sister came on to me,” Kris reminded him.
Scarlet mumbled something incoherent. The bartender nodded his agreement.
“She did not,” Bill sighed. “Now, please, settle down, okay?”
Bill watched her for a long moment, but she just sat on the stool, swinging her feet as she sucked water through a straw. After a few minutes, he felt confident she would behave herself.
“I should really thank you for saving us back there,” he said to Scarlet.
She waved a hand at him as she sat up. “No need to thank me. At least, not with words.”
Bill chuckled at that. “I should have known you wanted something. You never turn up unless you do.”
Scarlet gave him a wicked grin. “You know me too well, Billy.”
He smiled. “How about you just tell me what it is.”
“She wants you,” Kris whispered very loudly.
Night had fallen by the time Bill and Kris returned to the room they had rented at the inn. Scarlet had gone her own way, promising to see them again the next day, when she would make her request of Bill clear.
Whatever it was, Bill already knew it would be extremely dangerous. Otherwise, Scarlet wouldn’t have sought him out to enlist his aid. She was every bit as capable as he was, and they both knew it.
Kris immediately went to a chair in the corner and flounced down, pulling her knees up under her chin and hugging Bunny in a very sulky manner. Bill sat on the bed, watching her with a fair bit of concern, before finally giving another sigh and dealing with the problem.
“What’s the matter?”
Kris pouted. “Nothing.” Bunny’s arms went up and down in her hands.
“Nothing, huh,” Bill nodded. “Okay, then, if it’s nothing, then why are you so mad?”
“Cause it’s not nothing,” Kris pouted, even harder than before.
“Clearly,” Bill agreed. “So, tell me what it is.”
“Your sister,” Kris muttered. “I don’t like her, even though she has an apple on her head and everything.”
Bill rubbed his eyes. “I kind of picked up on that. Care to tell me why you don’t like her?”
Kris made Bunny do a little dance. “She’s tall.”
“You don’t like her because she’s tall? Really?”
“She’s got lots of leg, and it’s not fair,” Kris sulked.
Bill sighed. “Is that all? Her height? That can’t really be it, Kris.”
“Her boobs, too,” Kris muttered.
Bill flushed. “Come on, now.”
“They’re big, and bouncy!” Kris wailed.
Bill felt certain he was going to die of humiliation now. “I guess. I’ve never really noticed.”
“Do they bounce better than mine?” Kris asked him.
Bill gaped. “I’m really not comfortable comparing your breasts to my sisters, Kris. It makes me feel kind of weird.”
“They do!” she sobbed.
Bill desperately wished something terrible would attack the inn, just so he could escape this conversation. “Kris, come on. Is that really what you think I judge your worth by? The bounciness of your boobs? I’m not that shallow, and you know it.”
“I know,” she whimpered. “But I am!”
Bill shook his head slowly. “Okay, so her legs are long and her, um, breasts are, ah, nice. Anything else you want to dislike about her?”
“Her hair,” Kris simpered. “I hate the color of her hair.”
“Seriously?” Bill groaned. “What’s wrong with the color of her hair?”
“It’s red, and that’s your favorite color!”
Bill felt utterly lost at that point. “Red isn’t my favorite color.”
Bill ran his hand over his face and collected himself. Kris made Bunny fall over dead from heartbreak. Bunny didn’t seem to mind.
“Kris, why would you ever think red was my favorite color?”
She shrugged. “You splatter blood all over the place all the time, so I took it you really like the color.”
“Babe, that’s work. Blood splatter is pretty normal when you’re in the business of killing people, you know.”
“So, what is your favorite color?”
“I don’t know. Blue, I guess.”
“Blue? Like her eyes? Bill, you’re so heartless!”
Bill took a minute to compose himself while Kris bawled into Bunny’s fur.
“Kris, this is silly. She’s my sister. That’s all. I don’t see her as anything other than my sister.”
“But she isn’t really your sister, is she, Bill?” Kris asked. “She’s strong, beautiful, and sane. Why wouldn’t you prefer her over me?”
Bill felt as if he’d been hit with an anvil. “Is that what this is about?”
Kris nodded slowly. “I know how hard it is for you. Putting up with me, I mean. I try to be better, I really do. I just can’t. It hurts when I try. It hurts so much, Bill, and I don’t know why!”
He stood, crossing to kneel before her and folded her in his arms, cradling her against his chest. “You don’t have to try so hard, Kris. It’s okay for you not to. It’s hard, yeah, but it’s okay, because I love you, and nothing will ever change that.”
“I don’t want to be like this, Bill,” she sobbed. “I want to be normal. I want to be good with you. Why can’t I be that? Why can’t I be what you deserve?”
He held her tighter. “You will be, some day, I promise. It takes time, that’s all. You just have to give it more time.”
“I don’t want to give it more time!” she wailed. “I want to be me again! I want to be who I was, that person I can’t remember anymore. Who was I, Bill? Why won’t you tell me?”
He looked her in the eye, holding her face in his hands, tears stinging his eyes. “Because, I’m afraid of what will happen if I do. If I pick the wrong time, and it breaks you, I could lose you forever. I’m not strong enough to live with that. To be without you. I’m just not strong enough for that. Okay?”
She nodded slowly. He kissed her. They held each other close, fending off the unknown the only way they knew how.
“Okay, so here’s the deal,” Scarlet said as she paused in front of a stable. “As you guessed, I do need your help. Trust me, though, brother dear, this is one of those times you’re going to enjoy it.”
Bill cocked an eyebrow. Very rarely did he find himself enjoying it when his sister came calling on him with the word help on her lips. Beside him, Kris looked over the sealed up stable with curiosity, preferring not to look at the leggy, busty, red head.
Bill chose to let that dog lie for now.
“That’s what you said about the Klienbeck job,” he pointed out.
Scarlet pursed her lips. “True.”
“And the Golem job.”
“I may have said something similar.”
“Not to mention the Jelbin, Mage Vault and Dark Elf jobs.”
Scarlet scratched her head. “You going somewhere with all this?”
Bill grinned. “What’s the job this time?”
“An official request, from the Vice Earl of Hillian, with a rather considerable pay out,” she winked.
“Uh huh,” Bill sighed. “Which entails what, exactly?”
“You’ve always been a very detail oriented person, you know that? It prevents you from enjoying life,” Scarlet shrugged.
“The job,” Bill pressed.
She frowned, then nodded and waved for them to follow her as she headed for the stable. “In the eastern reaches of the Vice Earl’s domain, a certain problem has arisen that requires very special skills to deal with.”
“I’m sure,” Bill replied as she unlocked the door and swung it open.
“Come on in,” Scarlet told him with a rather dark grin. “Our contact will brief us on the details.”
Bill shook his head and followed her into the darkened stable, Kris at his side. He already knew he was going to help her, she was family after all, but he had never had her taste for the dramatic. It gave him indigestion to be too theatrical.
“Coppin, we’re here,” Scarlet called as she lit a lantern, flooding a small portion of the large building with light.
“About time,” came a voice from the darkness. “Much longer in here, and I think I may have gone crazy.”
“Sorry about that,” Scarlet replied. “Took me a bit to round up some help.”
A snort of derision came from the shadows as a form shuffled. “This is what you got? A Human and an Elf? Looks like you didn’t try very hard.”
“This is my brother, Bill Wick,” she told the voice.
There was silence for a moment. “The Bill Wick? Seriously? Yes, well, in that case, he’ll do quite nicely.”
“I’m flattered,” Bill said. “Now how about we cut the cloak and dagger crap and you get out here and tell us what the job is.”
Laughter floated from the dark. “Yes, of course. Just as direct as his reputation says. I like him very much.”
Slowly, from the darkness, he emerged. The size of a small pony, their contact, Coppin by name, was a dragon. A very pink dragon.
“Now then, down to business,” Coppin said, wings fluttering.
“He’s so cute!” Kris cried.
Bill buried his face in his hand. Scarlet stifled a laugh. Coppin blinked in surprise. Kris threw herself at him.
“What the hell?” the dragon cried as the Elf latched on to him, arms circling his neck and squeezing.
“Bill! Look at him! He’s pink! I love him!”
“I see that he’s pink,” Bill sighed. “But we’re here on business, Kris. Remember?”
“What the hell?” Coppin cried again as Kris strangled him affectionately.
“This is the cutest thing I have ever seen in my life,” she cried. “I just can’t stop hugging him!”
Scarlet was doubled over, hand stifling the laughter she couldn’t hold back. Bill gave her a scathing look before turning back to the mad Druid and her captive dragon.
“Kris, this is serious business, now let him go and let’s get to work,” he demanded.
She ran her tongue down Coppin’s neck instead, then squealed again. “He tastes like cotton candy!”
“Gross!” the dragon screamed.
Scarlet fell to her knees, heaving uncontrollably with laughter now.
“Kris, stop licking the dragon this instant,” Bill ordered, then reeled a bit at his own words. “Did I really just have to say that?”
Scarlet was useless to reply to that. Coppin wasn’t much better off, though in terror rather than humor.
“I wonder what he would taste like if I bit him?” Kris pondered.
“Bite me?” Coppin bellowed, trembling in the Elf’s death grip.
“You’re a vegetarian, Kris. I’m pretty sure dragons count as meat,” Bill pointed out.
She thought about that for a second. “But what if he’s made of cotton candy? It would be okay to bite him then, wouldn’t it?”
“I’m not! I’m not!” Coppin cried in horror.
“You sure?” Kris asked.
“Phooey,” Kris sighed. “I really wanted to eat a cotton candy dragon.”
“Kris, let go of the dragon, right now, and come over here,” Bill told her with his most serious voice.
She pouted, but did as he said, letting go of the dragon reluctantly. Coppin collapsed, clutching his chest and panting. Scarlet tried very hard to stop laughing, but failed miserably.
“Can we keep him, Bill? Please?” Kris asked.
“He’s a dragon, not a puppy,” Bill replied.
Kris stared at him for a minute. “What’s the difference?”
Bill sighed, pinching his nose, and counted to ten. “Puppies don’t usually breath fire and talk, do they?”
Kris shrugged. “Hell hound puppies do.”
“No, we can’t keep him,” Bill told her after taking a long, slow, and deep breath. “You already have Bunny.”
“Oh, yeah,” Kris nodded, pulling the rabbit out and hugging it. “He doesn’t smell as nice, but he’s a lot less squirmy.”
Bill patted her on the head. Coppin stared at her in horror. Scarlet gasped for air. Kris drooled on herself.
“About this job,” Bill urged the dragon.
“Huh?” the dragon blurted. “Oh, right, the job. Yeah, sorry. Kinda distracted here, with the Elf wanting to eat me and everything.”
“We’re past that,” Bill said, scuffing Scarlet on the head to get her in line as well.
She waved a hand at him as she stood, but seemed to have gotten control of herself again. It would have to do.
“As you know, the Vice Earl has invested a lot of capitol in expanding the eastern farmland,” Coppin told them as he sat down. “In a few years, he’ll be one of the major supplies of grain to the entire Empire.”
“Fascinating,” Bill said. “Get to the point.”
Coppin eyed Kris warily. “The point is, as one of the Lythfield dragons that calls the Obertin Forest of the east my ancestral homeland, the Vice Earl and my people reached an agreement of mutual benefit. He makes the forest off limits to logging in exchange for our help with bringing his goal to fruition. An arrangement that is now in serious jeopardy of falling apart.”
“Why’s that?” Bill inquired.
Coppin gave him a hard stare for a moment. “In a word, Grimfang.”
Bill nodded, suddenly seeing where this was going. “Grimfang the Black Death, I assume?”
Coppin smiled. “I see you’ve heard of him.”
“Who hasn’t,” Bill replied. “Grimfang the Black Death, who razed the entire kingdom of Esterchire in only two days. The most feared, deadliest, foulest dragon in the entire western world.”
“Indeed,” Coppin agreed. “He’s in the eastern reach of Hillian now, and it’s your job to kill him.”
Bill smiled. “Is that all?”
“It is,” Coppin nodded.
The dragon chuckled. “Ah, the real question every mercenary asks sooner or later. The reward for succeeding in this task is ten million in gold coins.”
Bill blinked. “Seriously?”
“Half from the Lythfield dragons, half from the Vice Earl,” Coppin nodded. “In writing, as well.”
“See why I needed your help?” Scarlet asked.
“So, let me see if I get this right,” Bill mused. “You get half, and Kris and I get the other half. That it?”
“It is,” she replied with a smile. “But there’s more you need to know.”
“Like the cult of Grimfang,” Coppin answered. “People from the monster races that follow him as if he were a true God. They are marching on the eastern reaches as we speak, intending to drive the farmers out and salt the land. We must stop them as well.”
Bill chewed his lip. “Right. So, the three of us, against a small army of fanatical dragon worshipers, and the meanest dragon in half the world, for a five million gold payout.”
“That’s the deal,” Coppin agreed.
“What do you say, Billy?” Scarlet asked.
He looked down at Kris, who just smiled up at him. He thought it over, very carefully, as he looked at her smile. The risk was enormous, and the reward just as much so.
“Let’s go kill a dragon,” he said at last.
To be continued, next month, in Part 3: Grimfang, The Black Death
©-2017 Cain S. Latrani
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.
Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
No bartenders were harmed in the writing of this short story.