Editor’s Note: Luke Haines has a done a series of parodic pieces about just how much his generation doesn’t care for Baby Boomers and other nasty people (like editors). This week, we meet …the Dragon! Who looks surprising familiar. Almost like an editor.
Far above the encampment where the Dwarves were now attempting a sub-par Simon & Garfunkel medley, I clawed my way onto the rocky ledge where Studly’s map had told me I would find the entrance. I felt like kind of a sucker after learning this entire part of the adventure was down to me, but it made sense with hindsight.
Of course the dwarves weren’t going to be doing any of the mountain climbing. It requires agility and reach. It’s the one thing they’re singularly unsuited for. Same reason they ARE good in mines. This fantasy stuff made more sense than you initially suspect.
Still, being the only member of our travelling party over four feet tall and under three hundred years old didn’t mean I was in any way over-competent at this kind of work, not least after last night’s debauchery in the Laketown Inn. I had dragged my hangover up three thousand vertical feet of craggy rock, and now flopped onto the ledge, breathing heavily and taking it as a lesson that I shouldn’t have drank moonshine in a town where there are significantly more families than last names.
There was something else I’d made a mental note about the night before, but I’d had quite a lot of mead and ale and moonshine. Something about…
I let the thought go as I struggled to my knees and realise I was looking at an iron gate in the side of the mountain that led to a dark passage. It was locked tight, of course, but then I noticed a small panel in the rock next to it. It was a standard Dwarven security keypad, the buttons made of slate and the housing made of granite, but otherwise pretty simple. I tried “0000” as a code, as that’s usually the factory setting. No dice.
“1225” ? A lot of people use Christmas. Still nothing.
I tried to think like a Dwarf. “4… 6… 5… 3.” That was G-O-L-D for anyone old enough to remember how to spell with a numerical keypad.
The gate swung open with the barest squeak of hinges. I took a breath and entered the tunnel, groping on the wall for the old-but-still flammable torch that was bound to be there.
God dammit. Libraries closing down, cuts to public schools, now you can’t even get an old torch in an underground passage. I vaguely remembered reading something about the ancient torch replacers union going on strike over pay and conditions, but as always, I hadn’t paid any attention until it affected me. I could maybe have used the torch on my phone, but I wasn’t sure if I owned one – I hadn’t been very clear on establishing the lore in this story and it was too late to start now.
Irritably, I groped further down into the mountain, until my eyes adjusted and I began to see a faint, yellow glow up ahead. I stumbled on, the glow becoming more defined and the sounds from outside the mountain – the howl of wind and Dwarves butchering “California Dreaming” – receding to merciful quiet.
Quiet, but not silence. A slow, rhythmic rumble emanated faintly from below, like a vast bellows being very slowly inflated and then squeezed. The temperature was also increasing as I got closer to the glow, which was now so bright I could almost see the passage walls again.
The tunnel turned a slight corner and I was bathed in a yellow light. I was stood in front of a hole in the wall above a chamber that was filled with gold. Gold in every conceivable form and combination – gold coins by the million, gold chalices, gold plates, gold jewellery, Academy Awards for innumerable minor technical accomplishments… in the glimmering sea of precious metal were occasional sparks of ruby and sapphire, emerald and amethyst.
I realised I was dribbling. I didn’t care.
I vaulted out of the hole in the wall and looked around the huge chamber in which I’d landed, my disappointment at being unable to swim like Scrooge McDuck barely registering as I took in the untold riches before me and the hundred foot winged lizard that aw, fuck.
Dragon. That was the thing I’d meant to remember. Big pile of gold, but also dragon. I’d even written it on my hand, but in my hangover I’d assumed that I’d been trying to remind myself that at some point the Laketown Inn had drag on. (My biggest regret about this whole adventure was that I was missing the Ru Paul series final.)
The rhythmic bellows sound had obviously been the sound of the enormous beast’s sleeping breath. It hadn’t stirred yet and I tried to carefully pick my way back to the tunnel, but silence was impossible. Every step dislodged coins which cascaded in rivulets down the golden piles. Plus, every other step I was stuffing loot into my underpants for safekeeping, and that isn’t a quiet process. Sure enough, either the acrid tang of my climbing-induced hangover sweat or the shifting tinkle of gold coins woke the leviathan behind me, and the sustained note of an impossibly deep growl rising towards the chamber’s vaulted roof let me know that the monster was lifting its head. I ducked behind a pillar and began to seriously regret skipping over the part of this parody where I found an invisibility ring. Also, why the hell did Dwarves build their halls with such high ceilings?! It seemed unnecessary, and this, I realised with chagrin, was going to be my final thought before I was incinerated.
“Thief…” the dragon rumbled. “I smell you…”
This was no great achievement. I spent the night in a pig shed then climbed a mountain. Still, it looked as though the jig was up before the fiddle player had even got started. The dragon shifted its enormous bulk with a cacophony of falling gold and jewels, and began to stalk the room, its massive head swaying back and forth on a redwood-thick, serpentine neck as it inspected every corner and hiding place. I decided I was going to have to bluff this and hope for the best.
I stepped out from behind the pillar. The massive beast whirled immediately to face me, the breeze from the movement pulling at my hair. It was bad enough that dragons were so big, but they were also startlingly quick. And vicious and capable of breathing fire, but “quick” was still somewhere mid-table in my list of concerns.
“Hello…” I said, as brightly as I could manage. “I’m from… uh… Mythical Interiors magazine. We’re doing a series on mountain palaces and lairs and I was wondering if you’d like to be interviewed?”
“Hmmm…” the creature considered me. It’s breath was warm, which wasn’t much comfort when I considered the implications. “You intrigue me,” it rumbled. “I trust that I will be given a chance to read the piece before it goes to print?”
“Absolutely!” I grinned, with the sincere happiness of a man who hadn’t yet been reduced to a smear on the flagstones.
“Very well,” the dragon nodded, and reclined back onto its vast treasure hoard, coquettishly. It looked a little like those Playgirl photos of Burt Reynolds back in the day, if Burt Reynolds hadn’t had a moustache. Also if he’d been a thirty ton, fire breathing hellbeast. The creature’s belly had lain on gold and jewels so long and so often that they formed a gleaming second skin, as much a part of it as the scales along its back, which were hard and horny. And not in the way people like. I noticed that one small patch of its underside was still bare of jewels, perhaps as a quirk of the way that it slept. It was easy to see due to the light in the chamber, which was causing some pretty obvious foreshadowing.
“I am Boomer, the Dread,” the dragon began, expansively. “I came here many years ago and claimed this place from the hated Dwarves. I slew their King Under The Mountain in my fury. I broke his crown and took his chair, and from his lips I drew the- …are you getting all this?”
I nodded, enthusiastically, scribbling desperate notes. “The songs and stories do not do you justice, oh Boomer,” I said. “What does a typical day consist of for you?”
“Well, I get up around eight and go forth to feed on whatever cattle the local residents have staked out for me as an offering to my terrible hunger. Then I return to the mountain and sit here with my gold. Once a month, the townsfolk bring me more gold,” he added, a forked tongue flicking hungrily at his lips at the mention of it.
“…That’s it?” I asked.
“Well, I’m eight hundred years old,” Boomer sniffed. “I’ve earned a rest.”
“Of course,” I said, quickly. “Nobody is denying that. I’m just a little curious as to how the model is sustainable. You have all the wealth, and yet you continue to amass more wealth whilst being supported by the people who have nothing.”
The great, dinner-plate-sized eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Are you here with Dwarves?” the monster asked.
“No! Dwarves?! Not me. No, sir. Never go near ‘em!” I said, in a swift mix of self-serving cowardice and low key racism.
“That sounded like dwarf-talk,” Boomer sniffed. “Always advocating the redistribution of gold from its rightful owners, just because they don’t have any…”
“As I understand Dwarfonomics,” I said, coining a new and probably offensive word, “the Dwarves mined the gold and then used it to buy things from the town, redistributing the gold as they did so. The townsfolk made or grew things and sold them to the Dwarf mine for that gold. Everyone DID something and got gold for their efforts, even if what they did was just mining gold. Then you showed up and carried out… let’s call it a hostile takeover of the mountain, using your natural privilege. In this case the privilege of being a hundred feet long and able to breathe fire, but still, you were born into a lucky position. You now own the means of production without ever having produced anything yourself, and hoard all of the wealth at…” I gestured at his summit lair, “…well, at the top, and live off the labour of others.”
“Please,” Boomer rumbled, “I help this economy…”
“I’m not sure how it helps the economy to put all of the profits in a wheelbarrow, trundle it up a mountain and dump it down a hole into the vault of someone who’s already rich,” I said.
“I’m creating jobs!” Boomer snapped, defensively.
“Well, whoever brings the gold up in the wheelbarrow, for one,” he said. “Plus, they’ve hired a great many more fire fighters in town since I showed up…”
“Is that because you keep burning things down?”
“…and then they hire carpenters to rebuild, creating jobs!”
“You’d think they’d hire stonemasons and make things less flammable,” I pointed out.
“They can’t afford to,” Boomer shrugged, “I’ve got most of their gold.”
“What if…” I began as tactfully as I could, “What if you were to give some of the gold back to the peasants in Laketown-”
The Dragon’s lips drew back in a snarl and revealed teeth like Bowie knives – shiny and constantly reinventing themselves in new genres. “Hear me out!” I said, quickly.
“What if you gave some of the gold back to the peasants in Laketown, and they used that gold to expand their town and bring in more people? That would ultimately mean you benefitted from a larger share in the long run…”
Boomer considered this for a moment with a low, rumbling sound. “They have not earned it,” he proclaimed, finally. “If they wish to have more gold, they can simply eat fewer avocadoes, or else pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”
“They don’t have bootstraps,” I pointed out. “You’ve eaten most of their sources of leather.”
“It’s a metaphor,” the dragon snapped. “If they desire wealth, they should better themselves with education and hard work, as I did…”
“Do you have a degree?” I asked, genuinely curious.
Boomer swept his wing imperiously towards one wall of the great hall. I slipped and stumbled across the undulating gold piles until I was close enough to see a portrait of Boomer receiving his degree from Laketown Free University, many years previously. He looked a little younger, but was immediately obvious in his graduating class picture because he was the only one who was a gigantic fucking dragon.
It was doubtlessly impressive that Boomer had a degree, but the next painting appeared to be of him burning the university down a few years later. The next painting was more recent, and appeared to show Boomer himself handing out degrees to charred and terrified looking students.
“…So how do people gain an education now?” I asked.
“They pay me,” Boomer purred.
“But you already have all the gold…”
The great serpent chuckled. “I give credit,” he said.