In a world where dragons are currency, a young man called Trace must protect the most valuable dragon in the world from thieves wishing to kill it and sell as profit. Will the princess Embry know a way to help him?
Trace stared down at the roaring fire, crackling beneath his hands as he rubbed them together to warm them. The bitter cold of winter had set in several months ago and now every morning a new blanket of frost lay thick on the ground. The small cottage he lived in had them open to the elements with a shaky roof and unsteady walls. A trickle of water ran from the roof to form a puddle, risking death to the burning embers of the fire. He took a Ridged Silverback from its space in his pocket. It squinted at the light and looked up at him, sighing its icy breath onto his nose. Silverback’s were the second most common of all dragon currency although not as common as the 1p Thimble Dragons who came to the same size as your pinky fingernail. Trace held up the Silverback to the leak and it blew onto the drips, making them nothing more than icicles hanging from the ceiling.
“Trace, will you stop using the dragons for manual labour.” His father spoke from behind him. He had just come in from outside, a thin layer of wet snow covering his boots as he tread through the cottage. “They are used for money, not servants.”
“Yeah like we could afford servants.” Trace muttered under his breath
“Enough of the attitude.” His father shouted, chucking Trace’s leather bag into his lap. “I want you to go to the market and sell some of these.” He had grabbed some of Trace’s old books and was ramming them inside the bag. He had five books in total. Trace had read them many times but the story’s never got old. They were getting as low on possessions now as they were for dragons. Trace loved my books very much but did not complain as he hoisted the bag onto his shoulder and headed out the door.
The snow hit him in the face as the wind whipped around. There was a long walk ahead and he hoped that the bad weather hadn’t reached the township. He looked inside his bag to check the dragon holder was there. The contraption could hold up to thirteen dragons without hurting them. Around the outside of the structure had little red jewels of Dragonite embedded inside. Dragonite was a very rare and precious mineral that scientist had discovered over a century ago. It accelerated the hatching process so dragons could reach their adult size almost immediately. The bigger the dragon, the higher the cost. The Dragonite in the contraption did the opposite. Any dragon put in would shrink to baby size for easy transportation. Dragon holds were being made and sold pretty much everywhere because there seemed to be an unlimited amount of Dragonite being discovered to keep everybody going each year. Shopkeepers would use bigger ones as their tills as it was good for space and management.
It took a few hours of walking in the snow and numb fingers but he finally reached the township. There were many huts and cottages which were dotted around outside the walls of the castle. All the stalls and shops were situated inside the castle walls and where the home of trade was. They sold everything from material for houses to clothes and jewellery. It was always alive with the noise of dragons and people alike. Trace walked in through the gate and into the marketplace. He would never trade his books at a place so underprivileged and public. Walking carefully to the back of the market without being seen, Trace reached the door. A Cornish Dragon had just sneezed and set some hay-bales on fire. There had been a special fire group positioned inside the castle as fire was common. They threw buckets onto the blaze while onlookers fetched more. It was easy to open the door at the back and slip through.
Inside, a corridor stretched into the dark. There were candles mounted to the wall and he edged along as my eyes adjusted. The light at the end loomed big as he came out into the courtyard. Trace had discovered this place by accident many years ago and this was the only place that he would trade. It was the townships very own black market, hidden inside the walls of the castle. Most did not know of it’s existence, although each time Trace visited, there was always a handful of people browsing and waiting to trade. He knew a few stallholders from previous exchanges but went to the stall at the far left of the group of traders. He didn’t make eye contact with anybody, looking down at the cobbles. There was a puddle of water on the floor from a leak in the ceiling as he looked to see the reflection of himself, the person he hadn’t seen for months. The Elderhorn family had no mirrors in the house so no way of looking at what they had become. The boy with floppy brown hair that needed cutting looked up at him through the water.
Obi was sitting on a stool behind his stall, carving the wooden object in his hand with the knife in the other. He glanced up on Trace’s approach and gave him a huge smile. Obi had the only stall in the market that brought as well as sold.
“Good morning, my friend.” He said to Trace. “What can I do for you today?”
Trace chucked the books down on the table in front of him and laid them out, cover up.
“Hmm.” Obi scanned the collection, picking up one to examine it through the grips of his fingertips.
“They won’t cost much.” He passed judgement on the books, reaching behind him to his dragon holder. He placed two Sandor Dragons and a Cornish on the table in front of them. Trace counted this up to equivalent of £25. The books were at least fifty.
“I was expecting at least a Jade Dragon. These books are very old.” Trace told him.
“Sorry Trace.” Obi said. “Any less and I’d be losing money. I have to make a living.”
“Fine.” Trace snapped, placing the three dragons forcefully in the free slots in the holder.
“Have a nice day.” Obi said to me as Trace stormed off.
He decided to browse the rest of the stalls. Not that he could buy anything. Trace had two Jade Dragons saved at home in a drawer. He check them every day but as long as they are in a holder, it gives them all the nutrients they need to survive. Nothing caught his eye until he was almost to the other side of the market. There was an arts stall selling paints, brushes as well as different cloths and ribbons. Only one person was looking at the stall. They were running their fingers over the rich ribbons, feeling their texture. From the pristine nails, it was obviously a girl. She picked up three paintbrushes and got out her dragon holder while the stall-holder wrapped the products up in a paper bag. Her dragon holder was like nothing Trace had ever seen. There were at least fifty different slots and most of them were full with dragons he had never seen before. The owner of the store didn’t seem bothered as he collected her three Quartz Dragons and she took the bag. As she went to put her purchase in her satchel, he noticed the five books he had donated earlier poking out of the top.
“You like my books?” Trace asked her, gesturing to her satchel.
She looked up at him, the candles on the wall catching the light in her green eyes. He could for the second time today see the reflection of himself, in her eyes. Would she see herself in his brown eyes. Hers were like emeralds. He thought of his like mud. She smiled.
“These are yours?” She asked him.
“Yeah, I just donated them.” Trace said, pointing at Obi’s stall.
“I can’t wait to read them. I love reading, especially new books.” She said to Trace, smiling politely.
“Goodbye Embry.” The stall-holder called to her as she walked back towards the corridor back to the castle with him. They knew her as much as they knew him. She must come here often. Trace walked behind her, watching her walk. She wore a long green coat with a huge hood. The train trailed just above the floor as to not be dragged through mud and puddles. They both slipped back through the door to the safety of the castle walls. A black curl fell from her hood into her eyes as she went to tuck it back.
“Nice to meet you Trace Elderhorn.” She said to him, and then she left. She walked behind the stalls in front of them, up towards the castle. How did she know him? He didn’t know her.
It was still early so Trace headed over to the breeding centre which was an extension of the castle. It was a huge glass building with an open reception glistening in the midday light as the sun hung above. The light ran through windowpanes, creating rainbows throughout the space. It didn’t fit in with the courtyard outside or the castle looming above. Most breeding took place in private but a few cheap dragons such as Horned Red-snouts, Isla and Firefly Dragons were placed in pens where you could go and view them. There were usually three holding pens to view. In the first, the Horned Red-snout lay burrowing in a massive pile of dust and dirt. It was an earth element so it enjoyed dirt. As he saw the dirt on my face in the reflection of the glass, so did Trace. The Isla Dragon was in the next pen. It had reinforced glass on it as Isla was an ice element. The girl dragon in the pen kept firing ice at the glass and still it did not crack or break. In the last pen was around thirty Firefly Dragons, all flying around in circles. They were small light element dragons and got their namesake from their tails which had a tiny light on the end of them. When he was younger, Trace used to watch the younger children in the fields late at night. They would get a jar and try and catch the Firefly Dragons as they flew around. It was a good enough pastime to earn some money. Once the dragons are hatched from the eggs their mothers lay, they are then placed in holders and transported to local banks for distribution. Many people had tried to break into the breeding centre to steal the dragons that were bred there. Most failed. We were all told that dragons at breeding centre’s died if they were tampered with. The banks and places the dragons were distributed to injected them with a special serum to revive them. This was supposed to deter criminals when instead the criminals decided to target the banks after the serum was injected.
He headed to the bank next. It was connected to the other side of the castle to the breeding centre. There was a connecting underground tunnel from the bank to the inside of the castle, a route used most by the rulers of our constituency. There was a King and Queen Inkwood who had four sons and a daughter. They were not ones to be seen much but they did attend important ceremonies. The bank was very expensive to build as it was made of pure marble. Much like the breeding centre, the bank looked out of place to the old stone buildings and shacks around it. It made everyone realise how quickly and hastily the buildings had been constructed after the sudden and drastic change to Dragon currency. The rulers wouldn’t tell anyone why, only that they were told by their superiors that it was a worldwide thing. People had no choice but to adjust.
His feet squeaked on the polished floor as he walked up to the desk. A older looking man was writing on some paper with his quill. He looked up on Trace’s approach and put down his quill. There was usually an woman, Sena who knew Trace well but he would have to do. Trace checked his account almost once a week but every single time, there hasn’t been a penny. The Elderhorn family were poor. They lived in a shack. He still lived in hope.
“Trace Elderhorn.” He said to the man.
He sighed and reached for the book. Trace rubbed his finger in the ink and rolled print onto the paper. He took the book back while the second man next to him went into the room behind. He came back a few minutes later with the paper copy of Trace’s fingerprint. This was the normal method of identification in the bank. It records your fingerprint and is checked with the original print at birth in the database. He handed the two prints back as the escort Aria came through the doors on the right and guided Trace to vault 5063. It was a long walk in silence. He knew from past experience that Aria wasn’t one to talk. Trace counted the vaults until 5063 as Aria’s heals clicked on the floor.
The words Elderhorn Family was etched into the metal door. He handed the two copies to Aria to check as protocol. She glanced over the prints then clicked the code on the door to open it. Trace slipped inside while Aria waited. He didn’t want her to see there was no money inside. The room was larger than the outside looked and boxed with two separate chambers; one for Trace, one for his father. He walked to the chamber with TE etched in the wood above and immediately dived to the floor. Jet black fire shot above from where he had been standing seconds ago. He looked up to the black snout of the dragon staring back. It’s eyes were pure black as it snorted in his face. It was harmless, Trace had just spooked it. This vault had been empty for years. He must be in the wrong vault. Why would Trace have a nightshade dragon in his vault. That kind of dragon cost a thousand pound.
Trace reached out his hand to stroke it’s neck. He felt the warm scales beneath his palm and took his hand away to dark soot. No-one must know about this. People knew they were poor. People would talk if they knew about this sudden appearance of this kind of money. Trace took the holder from the pack, opening it up and he advancing towards the dragon.
“Did you take any extractions?” Aria asked, holding the book out to him as he exited the vault. “If you did, you need to document it.”
“Not today, Aria. Thank you for your help.” Trace said. In reality, he had never taken out a payment. There was nothing to take, but now a dragon shape was burning a deceitful hole in brain and pocket.