Repost of short story: Castles and Dragons

(First time was a failed copy and paste. Repeated paragraphs then missed paragraphs. How frustrating. Reposted properly.)

We had deigned to let her play with us in spite of her penchants for screaming and despite the fact that she was too mentally immature to play properly and irregardless of the unspoken consensus that her manners were annoying because Edward had said we should be nice to her and “That it was a secret why.”

But It was Alexis that taught us the new game in the playground.

“I saw my brother playing it, it’s so cool. I’m not allowed yet but it’s called Skyrim. FUS RO DAAAHH!” He yelled, as loud as Miri ever screamed, and we all stumbled back at the force of it and stared. Alexis laughed in that wierd way of his and confessed: “I’m not allowed to play Skyrim so instead we’re playing Castles and Dragons.”

“Lame.” Ranjeev said. It was a common utterance of his.

Alexis ignored him, as he was considered cool like that and he started telling us our roles whilst the rules of the game developed in that organic way of children’s games. I was to be the thief, called Wallclimber, and I took no little amount of pride in my namesake, one which I thought very important because it meant I could rescue the princess by climbing the tower. Ranjeev was to be the wizard, and we didn’t really know what he could do except cast spells, and so we negotiated that Ranjeev could cast any spell that two out of the four of us knew- Miri did not count as she was female. Thus Ranjeev had the entire arsenal of the Harry Potter movies to draw from, as well as those derived from some obscure texts by a man named Pratchett.

Edward, quiet as always, was told he could be the cleric- a term that meant little to us budding atheists and less to Alexis, who had appropriated the term from another game played by his astoundingly cool brother, and thus it was spake that a cleric had the power to transform into any animal or vehicle. “Like a twansformer.” Miri added, and we all politely tried to ignore her.

Alexis was of course, as was his prerogative the game designer, the knight in shining armor. Miri was told to be the princess.

She did not approve of this. “NOOOOOOOOOooOOOOOOOOO WHYYYYYYYYY. NO WANNA BE THE PRINCESS NEVER EVER. NO.” She started to bawl, her stub nose dribbling, and little tears cleaning away small lines of the muck that perpetually clung to her pig-face. So I thought of her then.

Ranjeev and I decided that in lieu of a princess she made a fine dragon. Thus the two of us retreated to the swings to compose our plan for the assault on the dragon’s tower. As we made our way there we casually began to lay down obstacles in our path- arbitrary rules that leant the whole game savor. It was decided between Ranjeev and I that if the dragon otherwise known as Mira saw us, then we were turned immediately to stone. I asked Ranjeev if he had a spell to counter such a predicament and he gravely revealed to me that there was no cure for stoneing.

Thus stealth would be the order of the day.

It was also decided that we had gathered intelligence in advance that pointed to the location of the princess, who although icky, was heir to a kingdom composed almost entirely of summer holidays and would bequeath her demesne to any heroes bold enough to free her. She would be trapped at the top of the slide, also known as the Dragon’s Tower. Which is when Alexis returned to us. He had sprinted over, in other words, ridden on his noble steed to deliver both good and bad news.

The good news, which was really bad news at first, was that Miri was NOT the dragon. Alexis had folded during the cacophonous negotiations, which Mira had resorted to after her failed argument where she pleaded equality of gender- as at that barbaric age we never would have compromised against our staid prejudice that girls were icky and certainly not policemen- which is what Mira, the next member of our fellowship, had become. She was a dragon-cop.

“If she has a gun it’s unfair.” Remarked Ranjeev.

Alexis concurred, and we won a small consolation- denying her access to firearms which would have been in violation of the mileu. We filled Alexis in on our reconnaissance and he rode his steed away, over to Edward and Mira to spread the information. “WAIT UP MANNNN.” Yelled Ranjeev. I pointed out that he was not as fast as Edward’s black warhorse, to which Ranjeev thoughtfully said “Accio Firebolt!” and sped off after him. He returned later with a sullen expression and transmitted to me the afformentionted bad news. As Mira was no longer the dragon it was deduced that the dragon was not only a fire-breathing stone-turning flying lizard, but that it was also invisible. “Dontcha know an anti-invisible spell?” I inquired of my wizardly companion. He answered in the negative, and I wonder to this day exactly what if any spells he knew that were of any use in an actual crisis.

Thus we approached the dragons tower. There were only two ways in. The tower was situated on a high bluff that emerged out of the child-safe-padding around the slide. The main way was a stair case, trecherously high, and with a lava moat between the nearest padded island and it, as naturally, any non-padded surface was lava- we did not even have to say it out loud, it was as given as gravity. The secondary way up was the wall- a steep climb, but one I, The Wallclimber, was more than capable of making.
Ranjeev insisted that we should first try the stairs, even though I pointed out what a waste of my abilities it was. We pondered the long jump between our island to cross the lava moat. At which point Ranjeev said “Accio Floatness” and we floated merrily across. As we made our way up the stairs, Ranjeev taking point, I started to whisper to him “What we gonna do to the dragon when we find it? Fight it? Maybe we jus’ get the princess.” Ranjeev kept saying he did not know, he did know, he knew nothing- then halfway up the stairs he stopped. I waited for a moment, wondering if we had been spotted. “Ranjeev?” I whispered. He did not even shush me.

We stood like that for some seconds till I poked him. He did not move. “Ranjeev?” I started poking him quite a lot, particularly in the ribs, till through a feat of sheer will, or perhaps magic, Ranjeev defied his fate to mutter, with great difficulty, the reason we had stalled. “The dragon saw me and now I’m stone.” I did not know how to curse effectively at that tender age so I merely said “Doggy balls.” which elicited one final gasp from my striken companion. Shedding no tears- for we were made of the stuff of heroes, I began to ponder our fate. At last an ingenious plan emerged, which I told Ranjeev in case he was in there, somewhere. “Ranjeev I’m gonna hide behind you and use you as a shield.” Since he was stone he could no longer respond despite his utterances to the contrary.

I began to try to lift the wizard, but alas, he was a stony corpulent spell-slinger, quite overweight which probably explained his leanings towards the arcane as opposed to the physical. After getting red in the face repeatedly I gave up and decided to beat a hasty retreat before the dragon got me too. I backtracked to the base of the tower, saddened by the loss of my companion and our first defeat, yet also emboldened- afterall, an epic finale requires harrowing obstacles first. Even at that age this was obvious to me.

From out of the distance then came the others. I waited, ready to give them the sad news. They reached me, and I explained what had happened. Edward asked where Ranjeev had gone since he’d been turned to stone. Indeed the stairs were devoid of his chubby mass. “The dragon must have moved him.” Offered Alexis.

Edward pointed to our fat friend at the ice scream stall. At which point I felt it nessecary to emphasize, for the sake of the reality we had so painstakingly invested in that “I saw the dragon move him into the tower so he’s gone.” Edward withered under all our stares, including Mira’s, and we promptly forgot about the doppleganger licking his chocolate Magnum near the tennis courts.

We began to plan anew. Presently we surmised that the new plan was that Alexis would ride Edward who would become a jet, all the way up to the dragon and then Alexis would shout it to death. I assumed this would be similar to Mira’s inherant abilities. I asked what my place was in this grand scheme and was promptly informed that I had failed, and lost the party wizard to boot. Edward and Alexis went up. Mira tugged on my shirt. She informed me that their plan was unfortunately destined to fail as well. “Shouting never ever works.” She said with as much conviction as I had ever seen- far more seriously than Edward always was. Somewhat thrilled to know that the limelight was still upon me, even if I were saddled with a girl for a companion, I asked her whatever we were to do.

At which point she launched into a description of the dragon, one that has haunted me to this day.

Apparently it was bright red, with gleaming scales and darkly mirrored eyes. It made a sound as it swooped towards it’s prey, a terrible noise that Mira immitated. I pointed out that the noise sounded a lot like Edward’s jet engine and she did not deny it. The dragon did not merely breathe fire, which was too quick a death- it clawed and bit, and smacked with it’s tail. And it did so to the princess, as well as those that tried to reach her. The dragon told lies, terrible lies that everyone else believed, and it did use fire- usually on your arm (and Mira pointed to her own). She was almost in tears as she said all this, and this scared me terribly. The dragon was no longer a petty threat, waiting for it’s inevitable defeat at the hands of heroes arbitrarily noble and empowered.

It was a Dragon.

Enraptured by Mira’s ability to describe such things I asked her the question I’d been wanting to ask all the others, but felt far too ashamed to broach- though I thought, personally, that it was of paramount importance. At that age it was a ‘girl’s’ question, though later it would certainly become a ‘boy’s’ question.

I asked Mira what the princess looked like. This bought me a smile.

The princess was apparently blond-haired and blue-eyed, with long tresses that reached down to her hip. She was slender and liked to read books, and always soft-spoken. She only cried when she was certain no one could see, and she gave the best hugs. My heart ached at Mira’s passionate description.

I no longer craved glory. I wanted justice.

I asked her whatever we were to do against all that. Mira told me then, that there was a crossbow- a magic crossbow that she suspected would slay the beast. Once more I wanted a description, as she had a way with words far in excess of her age, and ironic considering her habit of nonsensically screaming at the top of her lungs. Perhaps she was so full of words they burst out of her.

The crossbow she described was unlike any crossbow I had learnt of later, though at the time, ignorant as I was, I took her words for granted and assumed all crossbows had short stub-nosed barrels, and revolving chambers for six rounds of ammunition. And that they came in a chest kept in caves underneath a murky sea upon which were the floating wrecks of ceramic ships. The chest was locked, naturally, but Mira held my hand and confided in me that she knew where the key was.

She had it. In her pocket.

It was real. She took it from out of her torn dress. It was small, like a postbox key, and a bit rusty but certainly real. After that it was over- I didn’t stand a chance, I believed her over the others, despite her being an icky girl. She had props for godsakes.

The battle cry of the knight came then, from the top of the tower. We could not tell if they were winning but we assumed that without the information we had, and without the seriousness with which we were taking this quest, that they were certainly doomed. Quickly we formulated yet another plan. Mira was to retrieve the crossbow and start up the stairs. I was to climb from the rear. I would distract the dragon with wierd faces whilst she plugged the wyrm with the crossbow. A sound plan. We separated and started.

Alone on that slide I began my ascent. I have never forgotten it.

Years later I would run a race in highschool, the finals of a national competition- a hundred meter dash. I had trained for so long for that one race- and I realized at the time that I had begun my training here, on the wall of the tower. As I lined up with the other sprinters and bent down to take my mark I remembered how the cold steel of that slide felt.

With the shouts of Alexis in the foreground I continued up, stealthy as can be, till finally I reached the top.

In the small enclosed tower Alexis swung wildly with his sword, shouting “FUS RO DA FUS RO DA!” Edward had transformed into a mouse, and sat meekly in the corner. The dragon’s back was to me, I thought, probably concentating on Alexis. A sinking feeling possessed me, Alexis never realized, and I felt honor bound to remind him “That it turns things to stone.” So Alexis froze. The inevitable, inviolable nature of the game had taken over. Alexis looked at me, hands plastered down his sides, and with his last ounce of will said “Killit”.

And appearing on the otherside there was Mira.

“BANG BANG!” She said. We gasped.

And her face crumpled into tears. “BANG BANG BANG BANG!” And she froze. Except for her trembling lip and the wet reflection of that invisible dragon in her eyes she was stone.

I found my courage, yelled: “MIRA! THROW IT AT ME.”

And she really did. With one final act she tossed me the crossbow, hurling it with all her little might.

And then she began to fall. The force of her throw had caused that equal and opposite reaction we were too young to know about. She slipped, tumbled back and for a moment hung in mid-air, not unlike in a cartoon. The drop was long, probably fifteen feet. It was a poorly designed playground, and the tower was certainly epic for it. Everything seemed to stop.

I don’t know why I did it, but I ignored the crossbow entirely, and the dragon, and threw myself after her. I caught her by the ankle as she fell backwards, and she banged her head solidly on the steel steps. She started to cry, and Edward helped me get her back up. There was a cut on her arm, and she had cracked her skull quite badly.

And all she kept saying was “WHY DIDN’T YOU SHOOT IT? WHY DIDN’T YOU KILL THE DRAGON? WHY?” She kept asking, over and over and over again. She was inconsolable.

Years later I put it down to her having hit her head, or an overactive imagination.

But even more years after that I learnt the truth, when Mira shared it with me, on our wedding night.

She told me how her mum had come to pick her up afterwards. How they went to the hospital and she got a few stitches, and how jealous she was of her mother there. She had stood in the mirror you see, as the nurses wiped the grime off her short brown hair and the snot from her blunt nose, commenting on how she looked like a boy, whilst a doctor spoke so sweetly to her mother, who years later even I would recognize was beautiful- an awkward discovery. Mira’s mom had golden hair and wore it long. She was incredibly kind and soft-spoken. I used to love going to Mira’s house when I was a teenager, and sitting in their small, makeshift library. The shelves filled with second-hand books painstakingly collected.

I would stare at a picture, completely incongruous, that hung from a wall, of a dark and melancholy forest. It was that picture, and a question about it, that prompted her confession after our weddng.

Mira told me that before, there was no picture there, as there had been no hole to cover up. She told me how after they got home that day with the dragon, how she was so happy, even though she had been hurt- she loved her mum dearly, and somehow she thought that she had really slayed a dragon. When she remembered that we hadn’t finished it she had started to shake and weep. Her mother consoled her, but she also understood the source of Mira’s anxiety.

Mira told me in tears, how she heard the car drive up- how it wasn’t the right day, and yet he came anyway. She told me how she stood in the kitchen window, watching the man with brown hair and a blunt nose she hated so much, walk out of his Farrari wearing his expensive sunglasses, and how he casually came up the drive. She told me how she heard him enter, after Mira’s mum, with a shaking hand, had closed the kitchen door, and told Mira to play. Play in the kitchen, with nothing but knives and soap to keep her company. Mira told me how he saw him take the iron, still hot, and make her mummy scream. Mira told me how she looked at the key, and how she went under the sink, and how she took out the crossbow.

Mira told me how she opened the door and slayed the dragon, leaving only a hole behind a painting that was yet to be hung.

I did not know what to say, so I told her how it was a long time ago, and he was long gone. And she reminded me how real dragons exist in our minds, and how those are not so easily slayed.

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