Authors: M.L. Forman
“So this Slathbog,” Alex said slowly. “He’s destroyed several cities and killed lots of people?”
“At least five cities that I can name,” answered Arconn in a serious tone. “There may be more as Slathbog may have been called something else long ago. So to stop his evil forever, we must try to destroy him.”
“I see,” said Alex thoughtfully.
“If you agree to this quest and accept the bargain, you need to sign the contract,” said Thrang, pointing at the paper in his hand.
“May I ask a few more questions first?”
“Yes, of course,” said Arconn.
“How many of us will be on this adventure?” Alex thought twenty would be a small number to attack a dragon, especially one like Slathbog the Red.
“Eight, as I said before,” answered Arconn without saying anything more.
“Do we know how to kill a dragon?” Alex asked hopefully. “I mean, is there a special way that dragons are killed?”
“There’s lots,” Thrang answered enthusiastically. “But none of them are one hundred percent effective. There’s always some risk when goin’ against a dragon—that’s why so few adventurers ever do. Powerful creatures, dragons, and magical as well.”
Alex thought about Thrang’s answer for a minute before asking his next question. The fact that he didn’t believe in dragons was lost in the flood of questions that the little voice in the back of his head was asking.
“If only eight of us are going, why are there twenty shares in the hoard?”
“Said he had a good head for this.” Thrang laughed.
“Shares are given to each adventurer based on experience and special skills,” answered Arconn. “First-time adventurers get one share, experienced adventurers get two, the leader gets three. A wizard would also get three.”
“Do we have a wizard?” Alex asked hopefully.
“No,” said Thrang, stroking his beard. “Couldn’t find one available. Mind you, there aren’t many wizards around these days, and very few of them ever go on adventures.”
“That’s only sixteen shares,” said Alex, quickly thinking the numbers through.
“Well, one share goes to Clutter for setting up the adventure,” Thrang said. “And one goes to the Widows and Orphans fund, which is normal for most decent adventurers. Then there’s a share set aside to pay expenses the group might have while on the adventure.”
“That’s nineteen,” said Alex, not sure why he was so interested in how the treasure was divided. He felt certain that the dragon would be keeping all of the treasure, and he and his new companions would be coming home empty-handed, if they came home at all.
“There’s an extra share for whoever kills the dragon,” said Thrang with a grunting laugh. “If more than one adventurer is in on the kill, they split it up.”
“Oh,” Alex managed to say as thoughts of dragons raced through his head.
“’Course there’s other places to get treasure along the way,” Thrang added happily. “Always the chance of runnin’ into goblins or bandits, maybe even a troll, isn’t there? That’s where the bit about secondary treasure comes into play.”
Alex didn’t like the sound of goblins, bandits, or trolls.
“Before you decide, there are a few other things you should know,” said Arconn. “In signing this document, you pledge to do all you can to help the company achieve its goal. You promise to never desert the company for any reason. You agree to take orders from the company’s leader, and if worse comes to worst, you promise to return the belongings of the other company members to their families or heirs.”
“Oh,” said Alex. “It’s just . . . I mean, the thing is—”
Arconn was looking at him, and something in his look made Alex stop talking.
“Alex,” said Arconn in a soft voice. “Fate has chosen you to go on this adventure. It is your destiny to become an adventurer. If you throw away this chance, you will regret it for the rest of your life. You may not understand everything we’ve said, or even believe it, but it is all true.”
There was a sudden spark in Alex’s chest, and an odd electric pricking in his fingers and toes. He felt a real desire to go on this adventure. He didn’t understand why, but it felt right in a way that he couldn’t explain, not even to himself. All of his short life he’d wanted to do something different, something exciting. He’d never had the chance until now, and he knew that Arconn was right and that he would regret it if he didn’t go.
“All right, I’ll go,” said Alex, taking the paper from Thrang and signing his name to it. “What’s the worst that could happen?”
“You don’t want to know,” replied Thrang with a snort of laughter.
“Perhaps not,” Alex admitted, handing the paper back to Thrang. “Now what?”
“Now we go to Telous,” said Arconn, his eyes gleaming. “The adventure begins.”
Alex followed Thrang and Arconn as together they made their way back to Mr. Clutter’s office.
“All settled then?” Mr. Clutter asked, looking up from his desk as the trio entered the room.
“Signed and ready to go,” Thrang answered, handing Mr. Clutter the paper Alex had signed. “Need you to file that for us, if you would.”
“Right you are,” said Mr. Clutter. “You’ll be on to Telous then?”
“Yes,” said Arconn, looking over his shoulder. “Through the wardrobe?”
“Oh, no,” Mr. Clutter answered, his smile fading. “Someone tried to bring a bummblehog through there earlier today; it’s quite a mess.”
“Bummblehogs don’t like wardrobes,” said Thrang, nudging Alex with his elbow. “In fact, there isn’t much that bummblehogs do like.”
Alex wondered what a bummblehog was, but decided he might be happier not knowing. He looked around the room, and for a moment thought about running for the door, a last desperate hope to escape before it was too late. But he knew he wouldn’t run. Nobody had forced him to sign the Adventurer’s Bargain; he’d done that on his own. And now that he’d agreed to go, part of him was really looking forward to it.
“Out the back door if that’s all right,” said Mr. Clutter, his smile returning. “It’ll put you just outside of Telous and give young Mr. Taylor a chance to see the town.”
“Very well,” said Arconn, walking to the far side of the room. “Thank you for the tea and your help, Mr. Clutter.”
“Not at all, not at all,” replied Mr. Clutter with a laugh and a wave of his hand. “Always happy to help.”
“Off we go then.” Thrang nudged Alex with his elbow again. “No sense hangin’ round here when there’s an adventure waitin’.”
“No,” Alex agreed. “I suppose not.”
Alex followed Thrang, joining Arconn by the wall. He couldn’t see any sign of a door. Without a word, Arconn reached out and knocked three times on what appeared to be a solid wall. To Alex’s surprise, the silver outline of a door suddenly appeared exactly where Arconn had knocked.
“See you when you get back,” Mr. Clutter called, turning back to his desk and shuffling through papers once more.
Arconn pushed on the silver outline and the door swung open to reveal a sunny green field and a bright blue sky. Alex stared in amazement as Arconn stepped through the doorway. Thrang laughed at the stunned look on Alex’s face and nudged him forward. Nervously, Alex followed Arconn through the door and into the field. He turned just in time to see Thrang step through the doorway. The silver door faded behind him, disappearing with a small pop.
“Going to be a nice day,” said Thrang, stroking his beard thoughtfully. “Clear mornings like this are always good for adventures.”
Alex didn’t say anything, stunned by the sudden change in their location. He wasn’t sure what to think, and he wondered what he’d gotten himself into.
“I know it seems strange the first time,” said Arconn in a reassuring tone. “You’ll get used to it after an adventure or two.”
“Let’s go,” said Thrang, starting off across the field. “Bregnest will be waiting.”
“Bregnest?” Alex questioned as he hurried after Thrang.
“Silvan Bregnest, the leader of our adventure,” said Arconn.
Alex didn’t ask any more questions as they walked through the open field. He felt strange and out of place. Walking with a dwarf and an elf was new to him, and he wasn’t sure how or what he should be feeling. Any worries he’d had were fading fast, however, and the longer they walked, the happier he felt about his decision.
A small town came into view ahead of them as they left the field behind and started down a stone-paved road. Alex guessed that the town must be Telous and he looked around curiously.
Alex’s first impression of Telous was that everything looked extremely old. The town wasn’t shabby or run-down—it was actually well-kept and clean—it just
old. The stone buildings along the road all looked as though they had been standing there for ages. The smell of woodsmoke filled the air, and the morning sun quickly warmed the stones beneath his feet.
Alex’s eyes moved wildly as he walked through the streets of Telous. The signs in the shop windows advertised all kinds of things he’d never seen in any shop at home. The people on the street were dressed much like Thrang and Arconn—in brown and green clothes made for the rugged outdoors—nothing at all like the people in Sildon Lane who usually wore suits and ties.
“We’ll find Bregnest at the Swan,” said Thrang, pointing to a large building ahead of them. “I suppose the others will be there too.”
The Golden Swan was three stories tall and stood alone in the center of Telous. It had white walls and many windows, each with emerald-green shutters and trim. Alex thought the building looked friendly and inviting. A large golden swan with emerald eyes hung above the main entrance of the tavern. Alex wondered if the swan was made of solid gold.
“Best tavern in Telous,” Thrang commented to Alex with a smile. “And the favorite of most adventurers.”
“It’s very impressive,” Alex managed to say as they walked through the main doors.
Alex and Arconn followed Thrang into one of several small rooms on the right-hand side of the building. The room was brightly lit by the sunlight streaming in through the windows and the several lamps that hung from the ceiling.
“Thrang,” a voice called from the far corner of the room. “About time you got back.”
“Not easy findin’ our eighth man,” replied Thrang. “Lucky we was able to find anyone at all.”
“Times aren’t what they were,” said the man in a serious tone. “But we needed eight for the job. Who have you found?”
“This is Alexander Taylor,” said Arconn, as they crossed the room. “He goes by Alex, and this is his first adventure.”
The man looked at Alex, his eyebrows rising. “I’m not too keen on taking a first-timer on a trip like this.”
“He was referred by Mr. Clutter,” said Arconn. “The Oracle did say eight, and now we are eight.”
“All the same,” said the man, as he stood and took a step toward Alex, “I’d be happier if he had some experience.”
“We couldn’t find no one with experience,” said Thrang, his voice a little tight. “We’re in a rush, and he was available. Besides, he’s already signed the Bargain.”
“Very well,” replied the man, stretching out his hand to Alex. “Silvan Bregnest.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Alex replied, taking his hand and shaking it.
“Clutter referred you then, did he?” Bregnest asked, returning to his chair.
Alex nodded cautiously.
“He’s a good judge, normally,” said Bregnest. “Hasn’t been wrong in more than four hundred years.”