Prompt: Nobody dared go near the tower, as a fearsome dragon lay at the top. One day a knight rode up. “Do you need help to get down?” “Please.”
His horse could only go so far before the magic took effect. The animal had no idea what was happening, just that its legs were giving out. It collapsed onto its side with a panicked whinny, tossing its rider into the dirt. They should’ve been safely in the shade, but nothing was right in the area around the tower.
The same thing happening to the horse had happened to the trees days ago. They were as tall as ever, but thin as paper, blowing about in the wind and barely staying rooted. Some were ripped from their trunks and blown a great distance. Once far enough away they recovered their solidity and rained on the unsuspecting townsfolk a few miles over.
Those injuries, and one death, had brought the knight to the cursed tower. He had no lord and no armor. His knighthood could not be seen in a banner or the stories leaking form his battle scars. He was subtler sort of knight, even dropping the ‘sir’ from his name. Those who asked for his help simply called him Maestro.
He dealt with matters of arcane justice and magical mishaps. His only weapon was an iron rod, good for bashing the heads of mischievous fairy folk. Maestro knew this was not the work of fairies. They didn’t like paper as they had no written language. It always made them feel inferior.
He tried to get to his feet, but had to watch in morbid fascination as his horse lost most of its body to the curse. Its round belly deflated and went as flat as the rest. Its tail thinned to yarn and then string. It was barely more than the picture of a horse, as if snipped out of a giant book, and the wind treated it as such. The animal panicked again as the breeze dragged it across the grass, but Maestro dove on it. His weight kept it down, but something would have to keep doing that if he was to keep his steed.
He pulled out his iron rod and drove it through the edge of the horse’s paper hoof, anchoring it tot he ground as if the animal was a tent. Its noises never ceased, but the knight could only hope that, should it return to normal, a hole in the edge of its hoof would not be a mortal injury. There was some protection on his own body, blessings kissed onto him by a a god-sanctioned witch, but it couldn’t hold up indefinitely. Soon it would flatten him; his body might be the next thing to fall on the poor people he wanted to protect.
They had told him there was a tower at the center of it all: an old lookout point meant to watch more for storms and floods than invaders. This land was just farmers with stale-tasting root vegetables and ornery feral hogs. Bad for conquering. Perfect for magic to cackle and twist through though. Maestro approached the square stone tower, nearly thirty feet high, and looked up. It was featureless, except for something papery whipping out the lone window, which was barely large enough to accommodate an owl. The color was green, and the end arrow-shaped. Only one creature was allowed to have a tail of the devil’s shape. Only the one that could breathe his hellfire.
“Hello!” Maestro called up to the window. There was no answer, so he assumed the wind had taken his voice. He tried again, louder. “Hello!”
“Is someone actually there?” a smokey voice shouted back. The paper tail curled up. “You’re probably gone by now. The wind doesn’t let anyone stay… except for me.”
“No, I’m still here,” Maestro insisted. “This curse is causing a great deal of trouble. Might you come down and speak with me about it?” There was no answer, but the lump of paper seemed to tighten a little. “Do you need help to get down?” he guessed.
“Very well.” Maestro rolled up his sleeves to prepare for the climb, but was dismayed to find that his forearms were nearly as thin as a eucharist. The curse was getting to him. He wouldn’t have strength for long. The flattening of his fingers did provide one benefit; they fit quite well into the seams of the large stones that made up the tower. He climbed halfway up in a matter of moments, but then the wind started to buffet his thinned midsection.
This wasn’t right. When he’d started his training he was told that every last dragon needed to be slain. There was no room for hellfire on Earth. He learned how to slice their throats so their fire spilled out, how to make potions with their blood and bones, and how to properly mount their heads. Now there were so few left, many of them suffering under curses, drawn into hope by selfish wizards and witches looking to put a notch on their dragon hide belts.
The wind pulled one of its hands. He could feel his very substance ripping. There would be blood when the magic was done with him, at the very least. Maestro hurled himself upward with the last of his strength. His flattened form made it through the window and drifted down to the tower’s upper floor. He finally found the culprit. There was a kite on the windowsill. It bore the face, down to the red lips and slit pupils, of a dragon. Its wings were wide and stiff. Its string was down on the floor with him.
“So you see my shame,” the dragon-kite said. Its eyes and mouth could not move; they were just images.
“I don’t judge anyone who’s already cursed,” Maestro said. He could barely lift his head. “Just tell me. I’ll find a way out of this.” He imagined the kite nodded, for its body shuddered slightly.
“All I wanted was to fly without being hunted,” the kite explained. “I hadn’t roasted a man in an age; I thought I’d earned some respect. One of you told me there was a way to fly undetected. To be looked upon as nothing more eventful than a passing moth. My heart burned through my skepticism, and I took this offer.” Maestro didn’t need to hear anything else. What a cruel magic-user. The dragon had come to them for help, and they’d tricked it, turned it into a mere toy. The dragon was stuck in the window the way any other kite might be lodged in a tree branch. With no one to claim the ugly thing, there was time for its hidden tears to make the curse bleed, to spread it to everything around.
“It is your curse to bear,” Maestro told the dragon. “I cannot break it, but I can get you out of here. I can give you a place to fly, even if the wind will make your decisions.” The kite shuddered again and he could feel its sadness as a syrupy pulse of energy. Soon the curse would coagulate into a depression and there would be no cure but to burn the abandoned toy.
Maestro thought of himself as a curl of wood in a carpenter’s shop. He used his shape rather than the muscles that were no longer there. He curled himself back to his feet and wrapped his papery arms around the string. The knight leaned forward, pushing them both out the window.
The wind happily took them. The tower disappeared behind under the canopy of the surrounding forest. The more time they spent in the sky, the stronger the dragon’s heart grew with the paper box of its body. The curse found more room inside it and retracted. Maestro’s weight slowly returned to him, but he kept hold of the string. His solid feet found equally solid ground. The kite circled over head.
Maestro retrieved his horse and was pleased to find the tiny hole did in the hoof did not bother it. He tied the dragon-kite to the saddle so it could fly wherever they rode. Once again he’d mounted a dragon’s head, but he was perhaps the first person in the world to say he did it with love. As long as he lived there would be one of these magnificent creatures left in the sky, and anyone holding the string could feel the tension in their wings, and the joys of magic long killed.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by RealSayakaMaizono during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!