As much as he hated it, it was bound to happen eventually.
As a very famous (or infamous, depending on who you asked) Dragonslayer, Galanoth had attracted the attention of the Dragonlord Order more than once in all the years he'd been traveling Lore. Hell, they'd even collaborated a few times, not that the Order would care to admit it. But even they knew, as he knew, that no matter how much they preached understanding and working with dragons, there were some that the world really would be better off without. It was only on which of the dragons the world would be better without (his opinion was all of them) that Galanoth and the Order differed.
But that was neither here nor there. Ice dragons had been attacking settlements around his current base of operations, Dragesvard, for quite some time now, earning the city many refugees and a slightly melancholic atmosphere. He'd come here to investigate the cause of the attacks, kill the beasts, and maybe scrounge up some Dragonbane ore in the process since this region was known for having caches of the stuff everywhere. Galanoth had only been in the town for a few months, but already there were thirteen less ice dragons in the world, and the amount of people fleeing to Dragesvard had gone down twenty percent according to the lady managing the refugee shelters. As far as he was concerned, he was doing a pretty good job handling the situation so far.
Which of course meant that the Order had to send one of its members to keep an eye on him and generally muck up the situation. Probably by trying to get him to minimize dragon casualties.
Like he said, it was bound to happen eventually. Galanoth had accepted this. He sure as hell didn't like it, but he accepted it.
One thing he couldn't accept though? The Order had seen fit to purchase the house immediately next to his for their little agent to be using, and had then promptly torn it down to start remaking it in their own liking. He supposed there was a metaphor in there somewhere, but he didn't really care at the moment as the house they'd commissioned the carpenters to build wasn't so much of a house as it was a castle.
There was a moat.
And judging by the the portal he'd seen them install on the first floor, there was going to be some sort of basement to this castle as well. Now Dragesvard, being settled on a giant glacier, had strict laws on the creation of basements, cellers, dungeons, or other such subterranean housing levels being built, since there was only so far that one could safely chip away at the glacier beneath them before one risked causing some damage and potentially breaking the glacier. Normally a basement of seven to eight feet in height was allowed if one had the proper permits, but anything larger than that was strictly forbidden.
So considering the fact that the portal was there, that meant a bigger basement was needed. Galanoth didn't really need to guess what it was going to house. It seemed that not only did the Dragonlord Order see fit to send one of their members to watchdog him, they sent the dragon as well.
And really, that wasn't even the worst part of the whole thing as far as Galanoth was concerned.
The worst part was that the castle they were building was tacky as all hell, and he would be forced to look at it every single day for the rest of his time in Dragesvard. Not even the nights were safe. No, far be it from the Order to commission a castle (and moat) with just regular stone like any other normal group of people. Galanoth had no idea what sort of stone they were using to build the walls, but it was silver, and it glowed. It glowed only faintly, but the point still stood.
"Whoever it was that designed this monstrosity," he mused, "obviously has never heard of the word restraint before."
A rather involuntary yawn brought him out of his musings and back to reality. He'd woken up early that morning, earlier than he'd meant to, and in lieu of going back to sleep he'd headed to his study to kill some time before putting on his armor and getting ready to kill dragons. And he had for a bit, going over his maps, circling towns he'd heard were having dragon problems in red and making a note to check them out after this business with Dragesvard was all over before he'd gotten bored with that and sauntered over to the window to see the progress on the eye-sore next door. The castle had gained the beginnings of a second floor, and at the rate the workers were going the whole thing would probably be finished by this time next week or so. After that it was only a matter of time before his new neighbor moved in and started making his life miserable.
Briefly, he let his eyes wander around the study, and he realized something.
In the few times that he had worked with Dragonlords in the past, he'd never once gone up to the floating fortress they called Dragonsgrasp. No, every time they'd ever worked together, the bastards had come to him. And every time, they felt the need to comment on the trophies (dragons, of course) he'd mounted on the walls, usually in a condescending manner, causing him to feel the need to smack them. A lot.
There was no way that such a situation would not repeat itself here, not when pretty much every room had at least one head on the wall and there was a dragonhide rug downstairs in the living room.
Galanoth got a feeling he was really going to dislike the rest of his time in Dragesvard.
Dragon activity had increased in the following days, not by much but enough for the change to be noticeable. As such there was an influx of villagers finding their way to his front door and either offering to help man an expedition or search party, or otherwise plead with him to save whatever relatives they had in the nearest town. While the thought was appreciated in the case of the former, the case of the latter always left him with a gnawing in his belly.
Dragonslayer or not, hero or not, he was still just one man. There was only so much he could do and so many hours in the day and even if he did send those poor souls off with a "I'll do all I can", he still felt like he was promising too much. Dragon attacks were brutal, he knew this all too well, and it was more likely than not that there would be little that could be recovered afterwards, bodies included.
Which, he supposed, was why he found himself sleep-deprived once again in his study, pondering a certain trophy on his wall.
A plasma dragon. Legend said they hailed from the center of the Earth. From his limited experience they were an offshoot of energy dragons, of a very similar build but blue in color instead of yellow, and possessing an equal affinity to fire as to lightning. Unfortunately, the affinity didn't seem to extend to weaknesses as well, which was a pity, but not really a problem for him. All dragons were weak to his weapon of choice: a spear coated in the bane of their kin.
He'd learned after slaying a different plasma dragon than the one currently mounted on his wall that the species seemed to have two variants: Many-Horned like their yellow brethren, and Ram-Horned, which he had never seen before in a dragon. The head before him was Ram-Horned, and as such was a very interesting trophy, the reason he'd kept it out of the two specimens he had.
Where did one go about finding Ram-Horned dragons? How rare were they that he'd never seen one before or since?
So many questions. And it wasn't like he had any time to ponder them. No, he had work to do and dragons to kill. He could ponder the head some other day.
The morning sunlight streaming in through the window had increased in scale, and Galanoth took that as his signal to start the day.
The Order had seen fit to give him a heads up on who they were sending, and while the letter they'd sent him was appreciated, it was also ultimately useless, as he'd really only learned two things about this Dragonlord.
The first was their name. Kensington Price. While names were helpful, this particular one meant nothing to him. He'd brought it up to Brunhilda once, since as manager of the town's griffons she had a steady source of inbound information. Brunhilda had promptly gasped, and told him that this "Price" person was an adventurer, and well known in many regions, how could he not have heard of them?
Gossip about heroes and adventurers never really mattered to him. Anyone could do anything in a story—he'd heard some of the stories about things that he'd done. They tended to be inaccurate more often than not.
The second thing he'd learned about this Dragonlord was that apparently they were greener than his dragonhide rug. And the rug still had its scales attached.
That was just insulting. They were sending a rookie to keep an eye on him. Oh sure, they tried to make it seem less of a bad thing by claiming that this particular rookie had an abnormally high aptitude for dealing with dragons, but that didn't mean a damn thing when those same dragons were trying to eat you.
His only consolation was that the castle (which became even uglier once they started decorating) was finished, and between that and the letter this rookie would be here soon, the sooner the better, since that meant he could be rid of them even quicker.
In fact, he could hear wingbeats outside. Heavy ones. Dragon.
They had come.
Galanoth descended the stairway leading down to his living room, and without hesitation threw open the front door.
It was time to meet this Dragonlord.
NOTE:And we're finally rewriting Stop Me If You've Heard This One. Those of you who read the first version of the chapter will notice that there's a lot of detail regarding Galanoth's study missing. As well as the beloved "They Fight Crime" joke. I'm sorry, but a lot of this chapter had to be cut to enhance the flow of the scene, and while the descriptions weren't needed, the joke was deemed too silly where it was. It will be missed. Maybe. That was a damn good joke, I'm hoping to throw it in at some point later on in the story, as well as the reference to Zero Hex that was in the original version.