This is a slightly fleshed-out and extended version of the dialogue writing exercise Brandon posted in January 2011. This was posted on Brandon’s forum in May 2011 since we were having some issues with the website at that time, but it’s now getting a more permanent placement.
“I was wondering if maybe we might review my employment situation.”
“What? Now? Lad, this isn’t the time.”
“Er, I’m sorry, sir. But I believe this is exactly the time. And, I apologize, but I don’t intend to move until I’ve had my say.”
“Fine. Fine. Be on with it then.”
“Well, Master Johnston, you know how we’re here to kill this dragon, sir?”
“Yes. That’s our job. Dragon hunters. It says so on your bloomin’ jacket, lad!”
“Well, sir, technically you and the other boys are the hunters.”
“You’re an important part, Skip. Without you, the dragon won’t never come!”
“I believe you mean ‘will never come,’ sir. And, well, this is about my part. I realize it’s important for you to have someone to draw the dragon.”
“You can’t catch nothing without bait.”
“‘Can’t catch anything,’ sir. And that is as you’ve said. However, I can’t help noticing one factor about my role in the hunt. I am, as you said, bait.”
“And it seems to me that eventually, if you put bait out often enough . . .”
“Well, sir, eventually that bait is going to end up getting eaten. Sir.”
“You see my trouble.”
“You’ve been doing this for a year now, and you ain’t ever gotten ate.”
“That sentence was deplorable, sir.”
“What’s math have to do wi’ this?”
“You’re thinking ‘divisible,’ sir. Anyway, yes, I’ve survived a year. Only, I’ve started thinking.”
“A dangerous habit, that.”
“It’s chronic, I’m afraid. I’ve started thinking about the number of near misses we’ve had. I’ve started thinking that, eventually, you and the boys aren’t going to get to the dragon quickly enough. I’m thinking about how many reptilian bicuspids I’ve seen in recent months.”
“I’ve cussed more than twice myself.”
“So . . .”
“All right, lad. I can see where you’re going. Two percent, and nothing more.”
“Sure. Two percent’s good money, son. Why, when I was your age, I’d have died to get a two percent raise.”
“I’d rather not die because of it, sir.”
“Three percent, then.”
“You pay me in food, sir. I don’t get paid any money.”
“Ah. I forgot you was a smart one. All right. Four percent.”
“Sir, you could double it, and it would be meaningless.”
“Don’t get so uppity! Double? What, you think I’m maid of coins?”
“The word is ‘made,’ sir.”
“Huh? That’s what I said. How—”
“Never mind. Sir, this isn’t about money, you see.”
“You want more food?”
“No. You see, er . . .”
“Be on with it! That dragon ain’t going to kill himself!”
“Technically, dragons—being sentient beings—likely have a suicide rate similar to other intelligent creatures. So perhaps this one will kill himself. It’s statistically possible, anyway. That’s beside the point. You see, sir, I think I’d rather change my participation in the hunts.”
“In what way?”
“I’d like to be a hunter, sir. You know. Hold a harpoon? Fire a crossbow? I wouldn’t mind just reloading for the other hunters until I get the hang of it.”
“Don’t be silly. You couldn’t do that while out in the center of the field, being bait!”
“I wasn’t talking about doing that while being bait. I’d rather do it instead of being bait. Sir.”
The two of them continued to crouch behind a formation of rocks that looked uncomfortably toothlike to Skip. The dragon winged about in the air. He was, as Master Johnston would have said, a “large fellow.” That put him close to thirty feet long, with an enormous wingspan.
During his months with Johnston’s Spears, Dragon Hunters, Skip had learned to identify many varieties of dragons. This was a Grummager, distinguished by the black shading of the scales that glowed radiant colors when struck by light, as well as the more webbed pattern on the skin of the wings.
The dragon had a stout, thick neck, and looked like he could swallow Skip in a single gulp.
Master Johnston was a large-waisted fellow with a bushy red mustache and a cap on his head from the military he’d served in years ago. He held his thick-bolted crossbow on his shoulder, and he studied Skip with a thoughtful expression. For him, that meant a lot of crossed eyes, scrunched up eyebrows, and one twitching eyelid. Forcing Master Johnston to think was like trying to start up a pump that hadn’t been worked in two decades. You could probably make it work, but it would spurt out a lot of slop first.
“I see that yer a smart one, son,” Master Johnston said.
Skip sighed. His clothing—coat, shirt, trousers, all sturdy but well-used—dripped with rose water. It had been dumped on him earlier to obscure his scent.
“Lad,” Johnston said, leaning closer. “We’ll talk about this later. I promise. But right now, there be a lizard in the sky and a cocked crossbow on my shoulder. I can’t bother with distractions. Yer tired of bein’ bait? Well, we’ll see if we can find someone else later.
“But lad, in all my years, I’ve never found anyone like you. Yer a superstar, and you have real talent. It’s what the Great Rock did give ye.”
Master Johnston, like most Wingosians, worshipped Lusia, the moon goddess. Scientists had recently explained that, through use of magic and telescopes alike, they’d determined that the moon was really just a big rock held in the sky by gravity. Being pragmatic folk, the Wingosians had adapted their belief system to accommodate this.
Master Johnston reached out, laying a meaty finger on Skip’s shoulder. “You’re special. It’d be a shame to waste that, son. Do what you were created to do. Reach for the stars.”
“Stars are giant balls of gas, burning far away.”
“Yes. Reaching for them, even if it were possible, would likely burn your hand. Sir.”
“Ain’t that something.”
“Isn’t that something.”
“That’s what I said. Either way, son, you need to explore your talents.”
“My talent is getting eaten by dragons, sir. It seems that’s less something to explore, and more something to experience. Once. In a grisly, painful, and abruptly ending sort of way.”
“That’s the spirit! On we go! The sorceress is waiting for us to gut this one, and it ain’t wise to keep a sorceress waiting.”
Skip sighed as Master Johnston waved for the others to continue their preparations. Nearby, Rimbor—a wiry dragon hunter with long hair braided into a ponytail—crouched with a large bucket of water. Skip would take off his rose water-soaked jacket, get doused with water, and wander into the open ground before the rocks. That would draw the dragon.
The mere scent of him would be enough. Most everyone on the Sixthface had special talents, as a function of living in such a magical land. Magic is like bad grammar; hang around it long enough, and it rubs off on you. The people called them knacks, and a person usually had a few. They were mostly simple things. Skip had three, but people only ever seemed to care about the first.
Skip smelled great to dragons.
He was irresistible, actually. He was like catnip to enormous, murderous reptiles. One whiff of him drove them into a frenzy, drawing their attention completely. People tended to be quite impressed by this knack. Or, at least, impressed that Skip had survived as long as he had while possessing it.
“Right, then,” Rimbor said, raising his bucket. “Ready?”
Skip sighed, taking off his coat. “Sure.”
Rimbor doused him with water, washing off the lingering scent of roses. Then Skip dashed out onto the open stone ground, bounded by the rocks.