Meandeer rested his muscles for many minutes after the dragon had gone. When he felt he was well enough, he dragged himself to his feet, retrieved his sword, and then trudged over to the turquoise pool of water.
He tried to stay his trembling hands as he shivered and planted his sword in the ground. I’ve never failed before. Why couldn’t I kill her? My hands have never felt so unsure.
Meandeer looked into the pool of water with a heavy heart.
He remembered a time when his skin was warm and pink; he remembered when his hair was a fiery red instead of a dull one. He remembered when his eyes were bright and wide. It’s hard to believe I was ever alive…
Bitterness closed his eyes.
He took a deep breath and pulled his sword from the ground. “The world will look sweet again soon. I will kill all the beasts, and then the king will revive me.”
He marched through the forest and back out onto the clear, snowy landscape surrounding it.
The sky, which seemed to be painted eternally gray, gave him no comfort. Indeed, it poured rain down upon him.
Meandeer hated his memories from when he was alive with a passion. They seemed to haunt him with their sunny, warm graces.
There was a girl Meandeer knew while he lived. A girl who had never left his memories; she had golden hair and silky white skin with a white dress to match.
He remembered her standing in front of an orange sunset with her shimmering yellow hair being buffeted about in the wind.
She placed a pointer finger to her lips. Shh.
The girl’s name was Sophie, and he had been courting her. Sophie had always insisted to him that dragons were intelligent creatures who could speak, but he saw no evidence of such. She had foolish, girlish ideals of making humans and dragons friends, but he had equally foolish ideals of slaying every single beast while he still lived to garner the love of the common people, so he couldn’t blame her.
Meandeer rubbed his temples. He wished with all his heart that he could resurrect Sophie in his place, but the king had already tried with no luck.
It is not her destiny to carry the will and strength of the dead. It is yours. The king told him.
Meandeer remembered the king telling him about the various Paragons he had elected in the past. All were strong on their own, god-given merits; Meandeer was not so lucky. He was a thin, wiry boy while he lived who could barely lift a sword. It was only when he died that he gained great strength—despite still being very wiry.
He decided to ignore that about himself, however, because he preferred to have high self-esteem instead of low.
He searched the rest of the night for any beasts to kill, and eventually, he happened upon a griffin who snapped an unsuspecting pheasant up in its beak.
Feeling restless and angry at himself for not killing Hipeos, Meandeer sprinted toward the creature and launched himself at it with full-force.
He gripped its brown fur—eliciting a squack of surprise from the beast. It shook violently—trying to knock the aggressor off its back—but the parasite would not let go.
Meandeer was known as an unkillable hero throughout the land for a reason.
His grip was firm and unshakable; he had once broken a sword in his hands due to his strength. The griffin bucked and tilted and shook but the boy would not let go.
Seeing no other recourse, the griffin flapped its feathery wings and began to take to the air.
Meandeer took his opportunity. He plunged the sword into the creature’s back before it could barely lift off the ground. Meandeer pulled his sword from its back and dismounted.
He rotated around to the creature’s head with a dark look on his ashen face.
When he was alive, his village had been beset by a griffin.
He remembered his mother running with him in her arms and telling him not to look back while his father stayed behind and fought.
But look back he did.
His father had wounded the griffin and saved dozens of people in the village, but the griffin opened its horrible maw and snapped his father up in its jaws faster than Meandeer could blink.
Because of such a horrendous, gory memory, he found that he had no compassion for the griffin.
“I guess we’re even.” The griffin laughed.
Meandeer dropped his blad in shock. “You speak, too?”
He realized, in a moment, that the griffin hadn’t said anything at all. In fact, it had breathed its final breaths. I’m just imagining things.
He wasted no time. He left the griffin’s corpse and began searching for his next target.
He sprinted through the cold night, stuck two fingers in his mouth, and whistled.
He had a horse; a horse who came and went when it wanted. Lucky for him, this time, it came.
A horse as black as midnight dashed out from the shadowy night and ran alongside its undead human friend. Meandeer made it a competition to keep pace with the horse until his legs became too tired, and then he recklessly jumped and gripped the side of the wild horse—managing to pull himself up.
He killed three more beasts that very night—a wyrm, a golem, and a roc.
When his muscles were tired and begged him to stop, he made a fire for himself and his horse, Midnight, and warmed his gray and lifeless hands over the fire. He leaned against Midnight, who had curled up behind him, and felt very thankful toward the king who had given him a chance to avenge his own death as well as Sophie’s and his parents.
“You know, Midnight,” Meandeer said to his horse friend. “I’m a very special person. The king tried to reanimate hundreds of other people before his spell finally took and chose to bring me back to life. I was chosen; I was born to protect the kingdom from these beasts. But…”
A frown that he could not help overtook his face. “Is it wrong for me to want to live again? Even if it means I won’t be able to protect humanity anymore?”
Under a sheet of oncoming rain, the boy gazed into the flickering fire until he began to day-dream.
In the bowels of the castle, a lifeless, pale body of a fourteen-year-old boy lay before the king—the twelfth of the lifeless bodies the king had tried to resurrect that night.
“This time, it will work. This time, I will have an undead warrior to protect us from the beasts.” The king poured a red potion down Meandeer’s throat and held his breath.
In a moment, the boy’s eyes opened, but they were not the boy’s eyes. They were the black eyes of an undead, powerful creature.
The king’s eyes lit up. “What is your name, boy? Tell me that you remember it!”
The boy coughed and his head lolled to the side. “Me—Me…”
“Yes?” The king prompted eagerly.
“Meandeer. Sophie… Where is Sophie?” The boy asked.
Meandeer lowered his eyes and hardened his heart. “Tears and regrets are for women! I am the protector of humanity! That is all I need be! I am the King’s Paragon now! Not the weak, dead boy, Meandeer! I have the praises and adoration of all the common folk!”
Indeed; Meandeer remembered the very first time he had slain a beast. The king had invited him to stand on a balcony looming over the castle city and hold out the head of a dragon to the people below.
They fell to their knees in thanks and disbelief and chanted his name with love and admiration.
“Without the dragon eating my sheep, I will have gold to support my family again!” One of them shouted with glee.
“My brother has been avenged!” A hysterical woman wept with glee.
Meandeer basked in their love and was gifted what he always wanted while he was alive; fame, fortune, and admiration. In some ways, he found it greater than being alive; after all, it was his greatest dream to achieve while he was alive.
Invigorated by the memory, Meandeer snapped back to reality with glee. “That dragon has the arrogance to think that I am a monster! I have saved hundreds of human lives from beasts like her! And I will save all-the-more tomorrow morning when I continue beast hunting!”
Meandeer curled up in a ball and hugged himself for warmth. Being unable to sleep, dead as he was, he looked out upon the barren, snowy world with curious eyes.
Meandeer missed sleeping. He didn’t miss how much time it wasted or how difficult it could be to fall asleep at times, but he did miss how well-rested and peaceful he felt when he opened his eyes after a full night of it.
Moonlight was still with him, and he rode on the horse’s back in silence in the pale, pink morning light.
He was in a mood—deep in thought--as he rode.
Sophie intruded on his thoughts as she tended to.
She pressed a pointer finger to her lips and motioned for him to follow her into the woods.
“Sophie? Where are we going?” He asked her.
She giggled. “You’ll see! Follow me!”
Her white dress billowed behind her as she ran through a forested area on her bare feet. Meandeer followed with wide eyes.
When they arrived at a clearing within the woods, the sun blazed down upon them—a strong contrast to the darkness of the woods.
Little flecks of light danced on Sophie’s face as she introduced Meandeer to something that stunned him.
“Sophie, stand back!” Meandeer had cried, unsheathing his blade.
Sophie held up her hands. “No! No, Meandeer… Watch.”
Sophie approached the red-scaled dragon and placed her dainty hand on its snout.
Meandeer paused in terror—his hand screwed tightly around the hilt of his blade. The dragon, whose eyes had been previously closed, now opened them.
It eyed the girl’s hand and opened its mighty jaws.
“Sophie!” Meandeer screamed.
A tongue escaped the dragon’s toothy mouth and licked the girl’s hand.
Meandeer watched with his heart thumping.
“Some of them are smart, Meandeer.” Sophie explained. “Some of them speak. We shouldn’t harm things that speak.”
But Meandeer had never heard the creature speak in the time that he was alive. Sophie claimed that the dragon didn’t trust him enough.
But the opposite was true. Sophie was the one who had trusted the dragon too much.
And Sophie was eaten by a dragon she tried to befriend.