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Adventure Fantasy Friendship

“Oh man, that’s a nice van,” I gazed longingly at the vehicle that was parked on the side of the road. The back window was covered in dirt, there were dents along the side doors and the bumper was hanging off on one side. But still, a nice van. “Hey, Luce, I bet you can’t spruce it up,”

Lucinda glared at me for a moment before responding. “You rhymed two times too many in the past minute. I mean, I know you’re a poet or whatnot but I can only handle so much, Davie.”

“A bard, if you please,” I responded, voice going high and reedy. Lucinda rolled her eyes. She does that a lot. 

We’ve been walking for hours with no real destination in mind. Lucinda carried her tool belt as always, and I carried my guitar on my back. As far as I could tell, the toolbelt carried all of Lucinda’s possessions in the world.

“Can you fix it? We could take her for a spin!” I looked at Lucinda, undeterred.

“It’s not ours.”

“...So?”

“Well, O Bard, that would be stealing.” Both of our gazes fell on her necklace. It was a simple chain, featuring an elegant gem that shone in the sun. The gem was a clear blue that looked like a glacial creek running through blooming flowers. It had an almost magical gleam to it that sparkled even when the sun didn’t bless it with warmth. Lucinda blushed, then tucked it under her hoodie. “That’s different.” I raised my brows. 

I’d met Lucinda in a park. She’d looked lost and scared, so I strummed my guitar and asked her to dance. Ever since, we’ve stuck together. She, a runaway. Me, a tormented soul searching for inspiration. (Shh, I’m not dramatic. Well… I am.) Beyond that is irrelevant. We rely on each other’s friendship and focus not on the past.

I knocked on the van, faded purple paint brushing off under my touch. Lucinda scolded me but tried the door. When it popped open, I smiled.

“C’mon, Luce! It’s asking us for a ride,” I jumped in the passenger seat as Lucinda assessed the state of the vehicle.

“There’s no way we can drive this thing.” 

I gestured to her tool belt.  “We both know you could make it look brand new, Ms. Physics Major,”

“That has nothing to do with this,” Lucinda said. I didn’t answer, letting the silence beg the question. “Fine,” She growled, “Get out of the van, Davie.”

The sun beat down on us, surrounding trees offering little shade in the middle of the afternoon. A few hours later, Lucinda grumbling and covered in dirt, the van looked… drivable. I, of course, contributed immensely. Lucinda told me so. It may or may not have been sarcastic. I strummed a few chords on my guitar, triumphant at last. Lucinda rolled her eyes again. But she was beaming.

Luce pulled out a screwdriver from her belt and proceeded to turn it in the ignition switch. Eyes bright, the van roared to life. Lucinda watched me put on the seatbelt, then stomped on the pedal. I let out a whoop as we tore down the road, although my stomach turned around. Lucinda smirked slightly as if she knew exactly what my stomach was doing. I pulled a map out of my guitar case

“What are you doing?”

“Eyes on the road, metal-foot,” I answered, searching for any sort of amenities. “Where do you want to go?”

“Let’s get lost.”

I sighed, unsurprised by the desire for adventure. Lucinda finally slowed down a bit, as if in compromise. I unslung my guitar easily in the space, plucking a melody I’d been working on in my head for a few days now. Lucinda smiled, nodding her head to an imaginary percussion accompaniment.

We hit a bump in the road, the front of the van dipping down. I stopped playing instantly, unwilling to risk breaking a string. With no destination in mind, a replacement string is too far out to risk breaking one here. I was making sure my baby wasn’t harmed when Lucinda breathed my name. 

I looked up to find no windshield in front of me. And no van. On either side of me was an enormous wing, purple scales reflecting the summer sun. A few of the scales were missing, and there were gashes on the creature’s side. I made myself look beyond the purple life form to see a massive expanse of the forest below me. In the distance, the tips of rooftops formed a village. Meaning that we were flying. On a… dragon? The dragon’s head tilted in front of me as if to say, of course! What did you expect?

The dirt road preceding the van’s shaky driving reappeared just as quickly as it had disappeared. I looked at the map again, my finger brushing a town that lay directly ahead of us. The rooftops flashed in my mind.

“Did you--” I started, wanting to make sure I hadn’t imagined it.

“Yeah.” Luce’s voice was shaky, and although her eyes stayed on the road in front of her, I could see the fear in them. “Should we check out that village?” I nodded in response. We had a destination.

Idle talk blended in with silence as we got closer to the village. The van was pretty spacious, featuring a plaid cushioned bench and card table, as well as a counter lining one side.

“If that was a dragon,” I began.

“It was.”

“Then are we inside the dragon right now,” I asked, and Lucinda bit back a grin in favour of her regular glowering.

“I don’t think that’s how it works.”

We fell into silence as the beginnings of the town came into view. I strummed my guitar in a somewhat dramatic introduction. Lucinda tapped the steering wheel. After a few improvised bars, we were once again on the dragon. The hot wind brushed us as if checking out the new addition to the environment. It rushed away to tell the mountains of our arrival.

The village below us was empty, rooftops shining under the sunbeams. The dragon didn’t slow down, maintaining Lucinda’s ridiculous pace. Lucinda pointed ahead, finger shaking as I followed the path it layed for my eyes. Ahead of us, on the top of a towering hill rife with grass and flowers, was a castle. I’m not talking a chalet or an extravagant hotel. This is a full-blown, ancient stone castle. (I will not apologize for rhyming. I am, after all, a bard.)

Lucinda stared at the castle, and I could have sworn recognition flared in her gaze. Her hand went to the necklace hiding behind her hoodie, and with a blink, we returned to the van.

“Luce,” I said, and she shook her head. Easing onto the gas pedal, we sped beyond the town. “Luce, is there something you want to tell me?” She shook her head again, but her hand remained on the necklace.

I’d never pried before. The easiness of our relationship comes from unfaltering respect. And please, don’t get me wrong. The unfaltering respect will never falter. (I am indeed a master of words.) But something is obviously bothering her.

I pulled out my map, but Lucinda grabbed it and crumpled it up with one hand.

“Where do you want to go?”

“I don’t care. I just want to… I don’t know, I just want to drive.” Lucinda kept her eyes on the road. “Please.”

“Okay. Of course.”

We drove with no particular destination in mind. Lucinda didn’t say a word, so I stayed quiet as well. I tried turning on the radio, but all I got was static.

We drove in that silence for an hour. It was stifling. Lucinda didn’t seem to notice, though. I turned the radio back on, content even to listen to the scratchy static sound. Her attention was solely on the road in front of her. We hadn’t seen another car for miles and miles.

We drove on, up and up until a gas station appeared on the horizon. On the top of a hill. I glanced at the fuel gauge and said, “I think we need gas,” Lucinda nodded.

“Luce. You know you can talk to me, right?” She nodded again, but I could tell she wouldn’t be spouting her feelings anytime soon. That’s okay. More than okay. I’ll be there for her when she's ready. I’ll be there for her always.

Lucinda pulled into the gas station and the radio instantly blared an eerie melody, fiddles crescendoing to an intense peak. Lucinda braced herself as if she knew what was coming. As the fiddles stopped their screeching tune, the gas pumps in front of us disappeared. In their stead stood marble pillars that spiralled towards the sky. They held up a marvellous structure that towered taller than even the dragon we still sat upon.

Lucinda slid off the creature like she’d done it a thousand times and strode towards the castle doors. “Luce!” I called, “Lucinda!” She didn’t stop, gesturing for me to follow. I stared at the ground that seemed to be leagues away. “Please tell me something. Anything. We’re in a crazy world and you didn’t even blink. Is this real? Luce!”

She finally turned around and walked back rather impatiently. Lucinda offered a hand and I reluctantly climbed down. She levelled me with a look that told me if I interrupted with any questions, she would clam up and I would learn nothing.

“I ran away from home, as you know. Well,” She said, gesturing to the castle. “This was home.” I opened my mouth but Lucinda put a finger to my lips. I waited for her to say more, but she just turned on her heel and walked through the doors. I scrambled after her, taking the scary castle over the scarier dragon. The dragon huffed, and I walked faster towards Lucinda.

“Lucinda, wait,” I said, panting slightly.

“Let me do the talking. I know how much you love talking, but… my mother has been searching for me for years.” She hadn’t slowed down but I finally caught up. Lucinda grabbed my hand and pulled me gently into a giant chamber.

Fountains framed the room, tapestries decking the walls in a rich gallery. My guitar brushed against my back and I resisted the urge to pull it out, certain that the acoustics in this room would be amazing. A throne sat in the centre, cushioned in the same plaid pattern as the cushions in the van. The throne’s cushions, however, were in much better shape than the van.

A woman sat on the throne, wearing a crown that reached towards the ceiling. On the top of each silver spike was a small gem, familiar in its glacial hue. One spike was missing a gem. The woman on the throne smiled, although something glinted behind the kind action.

“Lucinda, darling,” Her voice was sickly sweet. “It’s been so long. Why have you returned to me at last?” Lucinda glowered in her mother’s direction. I looked between the two women, beholding a striking resemblance. Lucinda’s mother had the same eyes as her mother, matching the gems on the crown.

“Mother. Your nation is very empty.” The queen smiled cruelly, although quickly traded the expression for sadness. “You’re not fooling anyone. What did you do to our people?” The queen pouted.

“I think I was fooling your little friend here,” She said, not even looking in my direction. “How can you think so little of me? Regardless, they were not your people the moment you stepped into that horrid world with that stolen Apriyeh.”

“I will not explain myself to you,” Declared Lucinda.

“What about to me?” I asked weakly. The eyes of both women turned on me, and I withered a little beneath their stare. Lucinda’s exasperated, her mother’s intrigued. I did not want to be intriguing. No, sir. Ma’am.

After a moment, choosing to ignore my plea, Lucinda’s mother said, “Then why ever did you come here?” Her smile shone again with that same cruel glint. When Lucinda didn’t answer, the queen continued. “I am pleased that you’ve finally returned home, darling girl.”

She gestured vaguely to me, and a flash of fear ran through me. Two robotic-looking guards grabbed me and dragged me out to the throne room. Lucinda didn’t say anything, not even tearing her eyes away from her mother. I could feel my own eyes threatening to spill the liquid that was forming behind them. The unshed tears burned behind my eyelids as I was thrown into a cell. 

I sat there numbly for a while. The time sped by. Or maybe it dragged. I don’t know. Water dripped around me and I swear I could hear rats running around. The sound made up a cursed symphony, growing louder and louder inside my head. I finally pulled out my guitar, desperate to get the rats out of my head. I played a song I’ve been working on for a while, singing the words softly under my breath.

I played until the water droplets stopped and the rats started to listen. I played until the permanent calluses on my fingers ached and my voice was cracking. And then I got louder. My vocal cords protested, but I strummed with more pressure still. I imagined the whole world-- both worlds-- could hear me.

That was when a purple mass crashed through my cell bars. I stopped playing. The dragon offered a wing for me to climb on. I scrambled up the scales, wincing as a few fell off. The dragon took off through the hole it had made as soon as I had a good grip, making for the tallest of towers that the castle sported. I hung on as we climbed through the sky, wondering how we would return.

“Hey!” I exclaimed as the dragon made no move to slow down as we approached the tower window. The dragon and Lucinda would make great friends. We crashed through the window, showering glass inward.

The scene in front of us seemed to halt as they beheld the dragon. And me, I suppose. Lucinda was wearing a lavish gown that matched her eyes and necklace. As well as her mother’s crown. Despite the haunting similarity, she was beautiful. Her dark hair was swept up into an elaborate braid that served as a base for the tiara. Her mother stood in front of her, the crown still perched upon her head. I wondered distantly what they were doing.

The dragon nudged me as if to tell me to say something. “Oh… Luce, we’ve come to take you back!” The dragon huffed as Lucinda rolled her eyes. Yes, great friends indeed.

“I don’t think that’s possible, however amusing that you are,” The queen said, but Lucinda rushed towards the dragon. Her mother reached out an arm to stop her but only succeeded in brushing her neck. Lucinda made it all the way up without her mother making another move. I narrowed my eyes, suspicious.

“Luce…” I began, “How did we get back before?” She reached for her neck and came up short. The queen dangled a chain in front of us, that glacial gem mocking our efforts as it swayed back and forth.

Lucinda growled and leapt towards her mother, but I pulled her back.

“How about a deal, over a nice hot meal?” The queen narrowed her eyes, a cruel mockery of Lucinda’s countenance.

“Davie,” Lucinda said, a warning. Her eyes narrowed as well, but I continued on. The words tumbled out, forming paragraphs of flattery and fluff. I couldn’t tell you what I said, but it must have been impressive because the queen nodded.

We moved to the dining hall, where a hot meal was indeed served. Neither Luce nor I touched the food.

“You spoke of a deal,” Lucinda’s mother finally said. “I assume you want the Apriyeh stone. Mined from our highest mountain, blessed by our gods. What could you possibly give me for it?”

“I can return your people. You chased them away in your search for your daughter. Blamed them for your mistakes.” It was a gamble, but it seemed that I had guessed right because the queen bore a look of shock. “They ran off, scared of what you’d become. Of what you might do to them.” The queen looked at her daughter.

“I did,” She whispered. “I searched for you all over the continent before realizing you’d taken the stone. Clever girl. I know… I know I’m terrible. But I thought that my daughter might make it bearable. Then you left. My dear girl, you left.” Lucinda didn’t answer, looking at me as if to say get on with it. So I explained my plan. Lucinda helped me compose a song that would reach the ears of everyone on the continent. 

We left, soaring over the villages and trees and mountains. Lucinda beat out a rhythm on the dragon’s scales that would catch anyone’s attention as the dragon brought us all over the continent. I strummed my guitar, ignoring the calluses. As the queen, riding with us, sang. Her voice was as sweet as honey, though the coldness of the gilded cruelty still shone through. Even so, her voice reached each tavern, each shop, each inn, each home.

Then the people came out. Came out of those taverns, those shops, those inns and those homes. They came out to listen. They came out to be heard. The queen beamed outwardly, and I caught Lucinda bearing the hint of a smile.

We landed back at the castle, the dragon hitting the ground as gracefully as could be expected. The queen handed her daughter the Apriyeh gem. Both pairs of eyes sparkled in the gem’s presence. The queen embraced a reluctant Lucinda before my friend gripped my hand and we reappeared in the old purple van.

June 24, 2021 21:56

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