Meandeer’s vision swam as he looked down below. He never knew that he was afraid of heights until now.
The dragon flew over mountains that were caked in snow and the occasional green patch of land. Meandeer wondered if the land had ever been green, but such thoughts only brought him misery and he stopped himself from thinking them.
Minutes of awkward silence passed.
“You said you wanted to know why some of we dragons can speak?” Hipeos broke the silence.
Meandeer, who had his eyes closed to prevent snowflakes from getting into them, replied, “tell me. I want to get to the bottom of this mystery.”
“A long, long time ago, there was a human king who turned one of us dragons into a human woman, and the dragon gained the intelligence of a human. She maintained her intelligence when she was eventually turned back into a dragon. Since then, there have been dragons that are just as smart as humans.” Hipeos told him.
Meandeer turned his nose up. “Liar. For what reason would a human king ever give a beast the gift of intelligence?”
“Perhaps he was a good and kind king.” Hipeos replied. “Perhaps he thought the world would be a better place if it had more intelligent creatures in it.”
“You tell me the most outlandish lies, dragon!” Meandeer chuckled. “No magic exists that can turn a beast into a human! If there are so many intelligent dragons, why have I only met two of you?”
“Because we intelligent dragons are smart enough to stay away from you murderous humans.” Hipeos answered.
Meandeer had no retort.
They rode in silence again.
While exciting and scary at first, eventually the task of hanging onto the dragon’s hair became monotonous and boring.
If Hipeos were being truthful about her daily schedule, Meandeer found it to be woefully boring.
Firstly, she flew him to a flock of sheep out in a snowy meadow. She ate three of them, and then she flew him to a nearby stream where she gulped up a large amount of icy water. Next, she showed him one of her favorite napping spots where they took a break for a time. After that, Hipeos killed more animals and carried them in her mouth toward an unknown destination.
They had flown far south under a red sunset when Meandeer finally saw their destination in the distance.
He saw dozens of dragons flying around a landscape of jagged mountains.
Meandeer’s heart dropped. A nest of them. I’ll never be able to kill them all…
Hipeos pumped her wings furiously toward the mountains without regard for Meandeer’s safety.
“What are you doing? They’ll kill me if you drop me there!” Meandeer cried.
“I’ll show you. We are intelligent and compassionate creatures, unlike you.” Hipeos continued onward mercilessly—propelling herself faster and faster toward the cluster of mountains.
This is it. Meandeer thought to himself. This is how the grand Paragon, Meandeer, dies…
Hipeos landed on top of the tallest mountain which was located in the center of the cluster.
He looked up and saw a gold-scaled dragon with a mighty red mane lowering itself onto the mountain.
It bared its teeth—bristling it mane when it saw the human boy atop Hipeos’ back. “Hipeos, what have you brought!”
“Oh, he is but a harmless, Soft Skin, father. I am showing him that we are intelligent creatures that deserve to live in peace. I will be dropping him off back at the human castle soon.” Hipeos assured her father. To Meandeer she said, “well, climb down. I’ll show you around, Dead One.”
Meandeer dismounted with a gulp and stayed close to Hipeos as they shouldered their way past her father and other dragons coming their way.
“There is not much for a flesh-bag like you to see or appreciate…” Hipeos admitted as she walked eastward with the human boy following after. “But it will give you a firmer grasp on how harmless we are.”
The dragon hopped along the top of the gray mountain cheerfully. Meandeer, for his part, hid by the dragon’s side and tried not to envision himself dying in a dozen painful ways from the dragons. Hipeos stopped prancing when she came upon a hole that had been dug up on the gravelly mountain. Inside the hole, there was shimmering gold.
“Where did you get this?” Meandeer wondered.
Hipeos laughed. “We dug it up! Isn’t is beautiful? It also makes a comfortable bed!”
Meandeer made a face. “You use it… As a bed?”
“Of course!” Hipeos answered. “Don’t you humans?”
She showed him where they kept their food. They had a big supply of dead animals located in a cave on the side of the mountain where Hipeos dumped her own haul from earlier. Meandeer plugged his nose when the dragon showed him. “See? No human corpses.”
Meandeer, indeed, saw no corpses of humans, nor anything else that led him to believe they had been killing humans.
A niggling thought entered the edge of his consciousness.
Have I been wrong…?
But the thought was swept away as Hipeos asked, “are you satisfied? Will you stop hunting us now?”
Meandeer turned his gaze from the pile of animal corpses to the dragon instead. “Well… How am I supposed to tell which dragons are intelligent and which ones are not?”
Hipeos replied. “It will be easy, Dead One. If the dragon is attacking you or eating you, they are not intelligent. If the dragon is keeping to itself, then it is intelligent.”
How am I supposed to convince the king to make me alive again if I can’t kill all the beasts as I planned? He found himself questioning. He knitted his eyebrows and shook away his doubts. What am I thinking? I can’t trust the words of a beast. She must be misleading me. I’ll kill them all and make the kingdom safe! For you, Sophie… And mother and father.
To assuage Hipeos, he said aloud, “very well, beast. I believe you. Can I go home now?”
Hipeos lowered her long neck so that her profile and elliptical eye were in front of his face. “You may not. You must spend a week with me.” Hipeos replied.
Meandeer’s jaw dropped. “I will not! Take me home! I believe you that you are intelligent, I swear!”
Hipeos rolled her eyes. “I can’t be sure. You will spend more time with me so that you will be affirmed of my innocence.”
Meandeer was livid. He took a deep breath and murmured darkly, “fine.”
Meandeer could not be described as having fun while Hipeos flew him around the snowy wasteland they both called home. However, as she showed him the various locations where she liked to sleep and hunt for game, he did find that he was incredibly relaxed for the first time since he had died. The stiffness in his muscles was gone and the constant hammering of his heart had faded away. He needed that stiffness and hammering when he was hunting beasts, but he didn’t need them when he was being shown around by Hipeos.
Am I little more than a weapon now that I’m dead? He couldn’t help thinking.
As she showed him a frozen lake which he crouched by and put a gloved hand on, he realized that he wasn’t afraid of the dragon lurking over his shoulder in the reflection of the ice at all.
If she wanted to kill me, she would have done so by now. He had to accept.
The intrusive thought returned. Have I been wrong?
“Dragon,” Meandeer said, clearing his throat. “You said you were a princess? Why do dragons have need of princesses?”
“We don’t have princes and princesses in the same sense you humans do, but we need some sense of order and right and wrong—that’s what we princes and princesses are for.” Hipeos explained.
Meandeer spun around and looked at the dragon directly. “Why are there so many barbaric dragons? They seem to outnumber you smart dragons by far.”
“Some of them used to be intelligent.” Hipeos said. “But when an intelligent dragon eats a creature that is just as smart as it—like a human—they become dumb and violent. That’s what happened to… To mother.”
Hipeos’ throat groaned with sadness when she said it.
Meandeer had no pity for her. “So… if you monsters could merely control your appetite, my mother… My father—my lover… Even I, would not be dead!”
“Dragons killed you and so many of your loved ones…?” Compassion overwhelmed Hipeos’ guttural voice.
“Do not pretend that you care, monster!” Meandeer yelled. “I know that you’ll eat me as soon as I turn my back! You are mindless, ugly creatures who will sink their teeth into anything! I don’t need you to fly me back home, I’ll walk!”
Meandeer wrapped his cloak closely about his shoulders and started walking.
“You won’t make it far, Soft One…” Hipeos lowered herself onto her belly and waited with a toothy grin on her face for Meandeer to give up and come back. She knew, after all, that he was walking in the opposite direction of where the castle lay.
To her shock, time passed and he was becoming a silhouette under the setting sun.
She was about to take mercy on him and offer to take him back when a horrifying roar resounded throughout the land.
The roar was so loud that the frozen lake in front of her cracked.
She looked up.
A green-scaled, fully grown male dragon was plummeting down through the cloudy sky with its gaze fixed on Meandeer. Hipeos shot to all-fours and bounded through the snow toward the boy.
Meandeer stood where he was with his pale fists clenched and his gaze fixed upward at the dragon.
Just as the male dragon was about to crush him under its feet, Meandeer jumped out of the way and rolled—snow flying up as the male dragon thudded into the earth.
Meandeer was covered in snow and had trouble twisting to his feet.
The male dragon approached the boy quickly—intending to snap him up in his jaws.
Meandeer looked at his doom square in its elliptical eyes and its watering, hungry mouth. He made a whimper for the first time since he had become undead.
He closed his eyes and accepted his fate.
There was a roar of pain followed by an audible thud.
He opened his eyes.
Hipeos had slammed herself into the dragon—pushing him away from the boy.
Meandeer was stunned and frozen in shock as he watched Hipeos fight a losing battle for a human she did not know well and hardly cared for.
The male dragon had her pinned beneath him; he took a bite out of her shoulder.
Forgetting any malice he had toward dragons, Meandeer acted without thinking. He shot to his feet and found his legs spiriting him toward the male dragon. He leapt upon the dragon’s back; tearing the scales from its back with his bare hands and a snarl that made even Hipeos cringe with fear.
The male dragon growled in pain. He rolled—intending to crush the boy under him—but Meandeer leapt off before he could. When the male dragon came out of his roll, Hipeos gripped his neck with her teeth and kept him pinned beneath her.
Meandeer, who had fallen into the snow, was nearly felt too sore to move. Nonetheless, he let his anger fuel him to his feet and joined Hipeos and tearing into the male dragon until he breathed no more.
Meandeer looked up at Hipeos once they had done away with the dragon.
A tense moment of silence passed between them
Synchronously, they began laughing.
Meandeer leapt off the body of the male dragon and threw his arms around the dragon’s neck. “You are a magnificent warrior! You saved my life!”
Hipeos’ eyes scrunched up in a smile. “You are also a mighty warrior, Dead One! I have never seen a human fight with such ferocity!”
“Why do you cry, Dead One?” Hipeos asked after a moment.
Because he hadn’t realized that he was, indeed crying, he answered sincerely, “I am not crying!”
Hipeos said, “well, I suppose I should take you back to the castle...”
Meandeer looked down and said disappointedly. “Oh… I was hoping…”
Hipeos chortled. “Ah! Don’t tell me that you wish me to show you more of this snowy wasteland! Wouldn’t you find it boring?”
Meandeer shook his head gingerly. “Not when I’m in your company, mighty beast!”
“Then hop on, Pink Skin!” Hipeos suggested.
Meandeer did so gladly.