“Lay your gun and yourself into the sand.”
That’s the motto I have lived by ever since taking on the mantle of a Desert Gunner.
In a world dominated by wind and sand, it is the one who gives in to the tedium first who will lose.
To the south of the heart of the Dragon Empire lay a vast nameless desert separated from the rest of the continent by the mountain range known as the Dragon’s Jaws. What the outsiders call it out of fear, we call it with pride.
As the sun made its way to its zenith, I took my second drink of the day.
It was almost noon. Under the hot sand it is only through your senses that you can tell the passage of time.
Some people try to bring in those high-tech wrist watches, but they’re usually the first thing to go. Once you feel the difference between following the flow of time from the nature around you and the mechanical tick-tick-ticking of a clock, you’re never going to want to go back.
“And I am now atop the Dragon’s Tongue,” I whispered to myself here in my Hide.
The Hide—Depending on the situation, I could spend days in that little hole—was little more than a shallow divot in the sand with a heat-resistant camouflaged cloth held over it with pegs. By the way, those pegs were quite different to the kinds one might use in soil or rock. They were lightweight with teeth that clung well to the sand. I’ll explain why this is important later.
Let’s get back to the story of the “Dragon’s Jaws.”
About 3,000 years ago, the area was a vast lake with many rivers flowing into it.
According to legend, “Drachma’s Inferno” turned this lush wetland into the desert it is today.
If you were to look at the landscape from above, you would see that the mountains of the region resemble a giant dragon’s jaws opening out to the ocean to the west. When I’m not hiding in the sand, during my long rides on Carriers and Dino-Dragons, I like to look at my maps. I like how it’s possible to hold the whole world in your hands. When I close my eyes, I can still see the shapes of the continents I’ve traveled and the countries I visited.
Death is all that awaits those who grow tired of the tedium.
That is the truth.
I have my maps to keep me occupied, and others have their own ways to stave off the boredom. Some draw, some sew, others mix the gunpowder they use in their bullets. We fight the boredom; we fight the sand and the wind. Loneliness is our greatest enemy, and our greatest ally.
I heard an almost inaudible sound.
I brought in the Inferno.
That was my favorite gun. I called it the dragon that dried the lake, but officially it’s called the Hiel HFR40GDS Desert Special. It was the last great creation of the legendary gunsmith, Hiel, and came with a lifetime guarantee. It was as long as my arm, weighed too much for the average person to easily lift, and was one of my greatest friends. When it’s my time to leave this world, I want to be buried with this gun.
The light ticking of gunshots shook the air. That was Bart’s signature dual pistols. Two down. The remaining targets panicked. The long stake-out was a success.
Nigel downed three targets in one go with his assault rifle.
Randall’s machine pistol spit fire as it discharged its heavy ammunition. Sounds like he’s got six of them with his one-handed pistol… Wait, there’s another. Seven. The target was the 12 members of the smuggling gang known as Vihit. It seemed they’d gotten better; they managed to clear the area without relying on my Inferno. I closed my eyes, and started to divide the loot into thirds.
A roar echoed through the dry desert air. I opened my right eye.
We have been told that the smugglers are carrying an Irregular. They’re making a killing by smuggling creatures from the Dark States, with whom international trade is forbidden, and selling them to the more unscrupulous characters within the Dragon Empire. I accepted this bounty for reasons other than just profit. We felt the need to end this illegal Irregular trading that was endangering our journey. Like the monster they had now…
I flipped open my loosely fastened heat shield, stood up, and raised Inferno.
This gun, masterfully crafted by a legendary gunsmith, is so familiar to me it is almost like an extension of my arm.
As I turned around, the scene played out just as I imagined.
The smugglers’ cargo was destroyed from within.
Bart, Nigel, and Lambert spread out from the wagon where they were hiding. True Gunmen of Dust Storm.
And on the ground was a great beast roaring and spitting flame, a chimera. The smugglers must have been even more idiotic than I thought to believe such a beast could be held in a cage.
I shouted out as loud as I could, trying to spit it out quickly. The three men hit the deck without hesitation.
Three shots roared out. I shot Inferno up and to the left.
The chimera’s lion-like face distorted into something approaching a smile.
It seemed that it had enough intelligence to think that I had missed my shot, or perhaps it thought it was just a warning shot.
But the next moment…
The head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a viper all exploded at once.
The Anti-Beast Flash Grenade that I shot at the creature with Inferno is a half-magical, half-mechanical, one-of-a-kind creation from the same master gunsmith who created the gun itself. The bullet itself becomes a hunter once fired.
No matter which way you shoot it, it will always find the point where it will do the most damage.
What was left of the chimera fell to the ground.
All clear. For now.
I signaled for my fellow gunmen to get up, then took my third drink of the day.
The afternoon sun descended on the desert. Black smoke rose into the azure sky. The wind picked up.
The sand buried all, leaving no trace of what had happened.
I finally lay my gun down before allowing myself to lay beside it in the hot, dark sand.
<<Notes about Terminology>>
Gunmen of Dust Storm
Also known as Desert Gunners, they are the ranger units of the “Narukami,” the Dragon Empire’s ground forces. Together with the air force known as the Thunder Dragons, they can destroy any enemy with lightning speed. Before the start of the Chakrabarthi Divine Era, in the godless age when most of the dragons still slept, they ensured the safety and security of the desert region.
Using lightning-charged guns, some of the rangers learned a secret art to become one with the sands.
A synthetic beast. In many cases they are created in forbidden scientific experiments or dark magic rituals. They are a combination of completely different species, for example a mixture of mammal and reptile.