“How to Get a Head in Life…”

Dragon Face, Pilgrim and champion of the Southern Arenas, raced to reunite with his friends, carrying the bloodstained head of his bitter rival in his right hand.

 

He slid to a stop outside the gates of Baruck, holding aloft his gristly war prize. “Hail, guardians of the wall!” He proclaimed in a booming baritone. “Unseal your gates and admit this champion, returning in triumph!”

 

Strangely enough, the guards refused to let him in.

“What is the meaning of this?” Dragon Face roared, banging on the gates with the head of his nemesis. “See not my green kerchief? I am a Pilgrim, come to dedicate this token of my victory to the Infinite Temple–!”

 

“Go away, you maniac!” One of the guards shouted. “Or we’ll use the boiling oil!”

 

Dragon Face snorted in contempt and turned away. He marched back into the prairie grass. He sat down and had a long think, fingers drumming on the head of his lion-faced enemy as he wondered.

 

Fortunately, it was still the crack of dawn. As the sky lightened, purple beads of Mana drifted down from the sky, settling on the blades of long grass like dew.

 

Dragon Face removed his copper dragon mask. He stood with his arms spread, face raised to heaven. He breathed in the falling Mana, purple light streaming through his mouth and nostrils. When he couldn’t breath any more, he strapped his copper mask back on, sealing the power within.

 

Afterwards, it was a simply matter to find a different section of wall and wait. After the guards passed by on their patrol, Dragon Face called strength to his limbs and ran up the wall. From there he dropped down into the city of Baruck, mingling among the cloaked laborers harvesting the morning Mana rain with jars and oiled tarps.

 

As dawn broke over the city of Baruck, and more people ventured out on their daily business, Dragon Face searched for his friends.

 

“Can you show me to Lady Ira’s house?” he’d ask people on the street. “My Pilgrim friends were traveling with her, you see!”

 

Most looked at him with wide eyes and hurried on their way. A few chuckled when he asked the question, like it was the funniest thing in the world.

 

“Sir,” he said, following a gold-adorned Noble as he marched through the market with his retinue of guards. “A moment of your time: do you know where the Lady Ira’s house is? I’m a friend of hers–!”

 

“Guards!” the Lord of Baruck snapped. “This buffoon wearies me! Knock his chattering teeth out!”

 

The guards pulled out hardwood clubs and charged towards the bewildered Dragon Face.

 

%%%

 

“Pssst!” A youthful voice called out from a nearby alley. “The here be over, meat-man!”

 

Dragon Face looked up. “Who are you, stranger?” he asked.

 

“Knowing some of your friends, is I!” the voice replied.

 

Dragon Face relaxed. He loosened his chokehold on the Nobleman’s neck, letting him fall to the ground. He gingerly stepped over all the unconscious guards and entered the alley.

 

A Saurian urchin with ragged clothes and mottled tail feathers crouched by the alley entrances. A hairy spider rested on top of his head.

 

“In front of you be Coco and Jenka,” the urchin whispered. “A great thub-hub we had with Ira. Showing you to her bolthole I can!”

 

“Wonderful!” Dragon Face proclaimed cheerfully. One of the guards moaned and stirred. Dragon Face stomped on his nose. “Lead the way!” he told Coco.

 

%%%

 

Coco led Dragon Face across town the charred ruin of Lady Ira’s estate.

 

Dragon Face starred at the blackened heap of brick and wood and rising smoke. He turned to face Coco.

 

“Did they make it out?” he asked simply.

 

“Now you should be seeing–“ Coco started to say.

 

Dragon Face fell to one knee. He thrust his copper-clad face right up to Coco’s face. “DID THEY MAKE IT OUT?” he demanded.

 

“Y-Yes!” Coco stammered, scooping his pet spider off his head and holding it gingerly between his claws. “Tromping to the Infinite Temple they were!” Coco explained. “A kerfuffle and blasting of holes, and then beaten and hauled away by the Gnashers, the lot of them!”

 

Dragon Face starred unblinking at Coco. Coco chirped softly, an involuntary fear reflex.

 

“I see,” Dragon Face said, standing up. “I’m sorry for frightening you, Coco.” His voice turned gentle. “May I get you food, to repay your kindness?”

 

Coco backed away slowly. “Nah-Nah,” he said carefully. “My stomach be growl-free.”

 

Dragon Face flinched, but nodded. “Understood,” he said. “Thank you for you help, child. Fare you well.”

 

He turned his back on Coco, raising a clenched fist. “My course,” he muttered, “is clear!”

 

%%%

 

A Gnasher marched down the streets of Baruck, fur mantle fluttering in the morning breeze, tapping his bronze mace idly against his thigh. Where he walked, people got out of his way, whether laborer, noble or merchant.

 

Dragon Face walked up to the Gnasher and stood in his way. “Are you a Gnasher?” he asked.

 

The Gnasher stopped in his tracks, looking at Dragon Face with unimpressed eyes. “Yes?” he asked.

 

Dragon Face bowed from the waist. “Please arrest me!” he requested.

 

The Gnasher’s brow furrowed. “Have you committed a crime?” He asked.

 

“I ripped this Lion-man’s head clean off!” Dragon Face explained, brandishing the head in question. A bit of blood dripped from its ragged stump.

 

“That does seem like a crime,” the Gnasher admitted.

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