THE SILVER SUMMONER’S BELL
I felt my brother die.
Two days later a man collecting dung for fuel found Mac’s teeth in a pile of dragon scat. He cleaned and polished them and returned them to me with his condolences.
I sent him away with a fat reward and a knife of my father’s design that was worth much more than the money I’d given him.
No one ever found my brother’s gun.
That was no surprise. A custom-crafted Turnbull gun would be a prize for any collector and trade in such a weapon would have been conducted in the shadows and off the grid. I had passed the word that I would buy it, no questions asked, should it ever come on the market, but so far there had been no nibbles at my bait.
I had not wanted my brother to go on the dragon hunt. We didn’t need the money and we didn’t need the publicity. We had commissions enough to keep us busy into the next decade. But the hunts were a tradition our grandfather had started and Mac was a sucker for tradition.
And unlike me, he enjoyed being in the public eye. He was the “face” of Turnbull, and our clients were often surprised to find that there were two of us running the business. The dragon hunts were a part of that business.
Mac loved that the events were broadcast live and uncut, pulling in more viewers than the Super Bowl and Discovery Channel’s Shark Week combined.
Hunters vied for the five slots available on the yearly hunt, and demand was so high Mac could have led a hunt every week if he’d wanted to.
The producers were supposed to screen the participants, but all they cared about was ratings, so it wasn’t surprising that they sometimes slipped in a hunter who didn’t really have the qualifications or discipline Mac insisted on.
I thought there was something squirrelly about Tobias Smithson from the moment I met him. I begged Mac to drop him and take one of the alternates instead.
He dismissed my concerns the way he always brushed aside my cautions and my caveats—telling me there was nothing to worry about; assuring me that if Tobias turned out to be difficult, it would only make for an exciting show.
And he was right about that.
Four of the hunters died before they even reached the Dragon Lands, all of them succumbing to what the sponsors called “terrible accidents.” I watched the footage five times and was never able to see the artifice behind the accidents, but I know that Tobias orchestrated them all.
Just as he was responsible for my brother’s death.
The robotic camera recording the hunt malfunctioned soon after my brother and Tobias arrived at the dragon’s lair. When it came back online, my brother was dead and a panic-stricken Tobias was calling for help.
The producers cut the camera feed and sent a chopper to evacuate Tobias before the wounded dragon emerged from his cave to kill him too.
They felt it was too dangerous to try to retrieve my brother’s body, which the dragon had dragged into the cave like a housewife storing meat in a larder.
A week later the wounded dragon flew over the nearest village and incinerated everything in his path.
The Mayor, who had escaped pre-mortem cremation only because he had been visiting his mistress one town over, contacted me with a request to kill the dragon before it did any more damage.
I took the job with one condition—he could not advertise the hunt in any way. He agreed and didn’t even dicker over the price.
It took me a week to make the weapon I would use to kill the dragon, then I closed the shop, claiming grief, and went to the Dragon Lands alone.
It wasn’t hard to find my brother’s nemesis. I could hear his groans and wails of pain from several miles away.
A woman whose arm was charred black from the dragon’s breath gave me directions to a back road that allowed me to sneak up on the cave without the creature scenting my approach.
I had come prepared with several kinds of magic potion, elixirs I’d purchased with the promise of a gift of dragon skin.
I tossed a canister filled with a powerful soporific into the cave, then entered as the colored smoke dissipated.
The dragon was groggy but not quite unconscious. It raised its head as I entered the cave and sniffed deeply.
I know your scent it thought. You re the one who sought to cut out my heart. And then it laughed. But I ate yours instead.
Sharing consciousness with a dragon is not for the faint of heart. They do not think the same way we do or frame their thoughts like a human would. It’s easy to get lost the mirror maze of their minds.
I was desperate for answers though, so I performed the rituals that would allow me to enter his memory and see what happened on the day my brother died. What I saw horrified me.
Tobias had used my brother as bait, staking him out like a goat to the entrance of the cave. When the dragon ventured out to claim its meal, Tobias had sneaked into the cave and rifled through its hoard, stuffing several knapsacks with treasure.
Mac had still been alive when Tobias came out of the cave, and the dragon had paused in its feasting to confront the other hunter.
Tobias had panicked then and shot it, but missed a vital spot and only left it wounded and in pain.
I had felt my brother die before; now I saw his death, surrounded by fire like an Old Testament prophet. It might have been beautiful if it had not been so horrible.
The dragon felt my revulsion and laughed again as his memory faded.
In the old days, they killed dragons with swords and faith. I was not so dainty. I killed him with the gun I’d made myself, a gun that had my brother’s name carved into the stock.
I killed it cleanly with one shot between the eyes, then I used a diamond-edged knife I’d inherited from my father to cut out its heart.
I flayed the dragon and left the skin to dry as I explored his cave.
Even with what Tobias had looted, it was an immense hoard, a fortune in coin and jewels and precious plate. The Turnbulls are rich twice over, so I had no use for such glitter and gilt, but my brother had died for these play-pretties and I raked through the pile, looking for something valuable enough to be worth a man’s life.
I came across a crown that had once been worn by a hero and a sword that had been forged by my grandfather and given to a king. I threw them aside and kept looking.
And then I saw it.
A silver bell. It was small and tarnished but I knew it for what it was—the most valuable thing in a pile of things whose worth was beyond calculation.
It was the second of the seven bells forged by Rhodri the Summoner, the one with the blood of three tyrants mixed in with the molten metal.
Legend says the silver bell summons the dead.
I hope the legends are true.
Because I am going to kill the man who sent my brother to his death.
And then I’m going to ring the bell and bring him back so that I can kill him again.