Oneshot: Unbirthday (Part I)

night_castle_by_byzko_wader-d5ceyl0

It was nightfall.

Mistral sighed and blew out the candles. It was dark, and everyone else was sleeping peacefully; even Harriet, the lethargic hound, was curled in her corner, quietly snoring. He was the last person awake in the castle tonight.

Today had been, yet again, a wholly uneventful day for Mistral. The sun had risen, as usual; he had dined, as usual; he had studied, as usual; and now, he was about to go to sleep again, as usual. Just another day in an endless cycle of a prince.

And for everyone else, too, the cycle of life had continued, uninterrupted, on its heedless path towards the next cock’s crow. Mistral didn’t begrudge them their lives, of course; he simply had a problem with his own.

That problem had especially manifested itself today, when he had woken up, hoping against hope that today would be, he fervently prayed, at least slightly different. Since today was a special day, although no one knew, nor cared, nor acknowledged. Today was his birthday.

Although Mistral’s logical side — severely lacking, but in possession, nonetheless — had argued that it was yet another day, just like all the other days, this only compounded his greater problem. The problem wasn’t just that his birthday wasn’t special; after twenty-odd years, he had come to expect it, take it for granted — greet it, even.

No, the problem lay in just how ordinary his ordinary days were. Sometimes, Mistral wished secretly, an enemy battalion would charge the gates, an earthquake would ravage the townspeople, a river come swelling over its banks. Oh, hell. Even a different direction of wind would have been welcome.

His calls had gone unanswered, unfortunately. And he was stuck here, in his tower, surrounded by everything he could ever want. Therein lay his problem, he thought and had deduced. He was unsatisfied with the trappings that both bound and contented him. Yes, he could live forever here; but what was the point?

And no matter how many vestments he wore, nor how many gold pieces draped around his neck, there was always something missing. Especially today, of all days.

Mistral sighed. The soft wind blew in from the balcony, bringing forth tidings of a distant land and rustling the purple curtains in the process.

“You must have it so nice,” he murmured to no one in particular, stretching himself out on his bedspreads. The residual heat from the dark candles gave the room an aura of warmth; yet he was still cold. He could have shut the windows, but he had no mind to. He liked the wind, the cold. Preferred it, even. The weather was the biggest variable in his life so far; every day, it brought him something new. A sprig of a spring tree, a rose petal from a garden somewhere across the river. A drift of snowflakes, a smattering of dirt. It brought life into where there was none.

Mistral wanted to be like the wind, going in and out of places he could only dream of. Castles were nothing for such a creature like the wind — it could even jump mountains with nary a glance, fly past oceans with but a second to spare! He sighed; if only he could.

One would think that the gods would have mercy on his plight, Mistral thought. Just for one day. Just for his birthday. But unfortunately, today appeared to be just as ordinary and just as uninspired as all the days that had followed it. Disappointment clouded his thoughts.

Suddenly, a sharp alarm rang through the stone walls. Mistral could hear vague, panicked shouting emanating from below. A single word traveled the farthest and he could discern it clearly; a word so simple, yet with so many implications.

“Fire!”

“Fire!”

Mistral sat up, his heart thumping. A fresh gust of wind rattled the cages of the tower balcony, spreading the chilly air inside. Goosebumps raised themselves on his arms as the cries grew downstairs.

And then, came the second surprise of the night: “Mistral!”

He turned around with a start. There, on the balcony, was a girl. Her face was shining with excitement, and her long brown hair was currently splayed in every direction, drenched in sweat, like the rest of her body. “Mistral!” she beckoned frantically with the hand that wasn’t holding on to the railings. “Come here!”

Mistral didn’t move; this must be, he assumed, what the feeling of surprise felt like, as his insides clenched and beads of sweat began forming on his forehead. “Who are you?”

The girl didn’t immediately answer, looking downwards. Tinges of orange were beginning to creep up the walls. “We’ve got to get out of here,” she said, barely loud enough for Mistral to hear. He had a feeling she didn’t mean for him to hear at all. “Who are you?” he repeated, again.

She looked up. “I’m Nara,” she said, lithely jumping into the room. “We can hash out the details later. But right now, we need to go somewhere.”

Mistral blinked. The whole concept of going somewhere was foreign to him, as was a girl standing in his room. A girl, he now acknowledged as he took a closer look at her, was distinctly foreign. He had never seen her before — not like that mattered much, seeing as how his entire social circle could fit into a thumbtack.

The girl who said her name was Nara looked around the room. Her hazel eyes seemed to take in everything: the paintings, the curtains, the tea set on the dresser. Her eyes rolled upwards for the tiniest fraction of a second, then settled on Mistral, who was still sitting on the bed. “A little slow, aren’t you?” A cross between a mischievous grin and an impatient frown rose on her face. “Listen, there’s a fire on the ground floor right now. There’s no way out of this room, except with me. You don’t want to die, do you?” she asked. “Not on your birthday?”

Mistral raised an eyebrow. It was the furthest extent of his outward demonstration of surprise. “How do you know my – ”

Nara cut him off, jumping on the bed. “Come on, Mistral.” She leaned in. “Haven’t you always dreamed of something like this?” Nara gestured to the window. “Taking a flying leap into the great unknown?”

Mistral chanced a look outside. The flames were even higher now, and the wind was turning smoky. He looked again at Nara. A thousand questions clouded his brain — how did she know my name? how did she know my birthday? — but the growing thickness of the smoke, combined with the increasingly dusty atmosphere, made him put those questions aside for now. “How are you going to get me out?”

She shrugged. “We jump.”

“We – ?”

Nara grunted. It was a surprisingly undelicate sound, Mistral thought, coming from a girl. Those thoughts disappeared a moment later, however, as she roughly pushed him out of the bed.

“Come on!” Nara pulled him toward the window before he could object. Mistral had a final, fleeting moment of sanity as he spied windows exploding, rocks falling, and people screaming.

And then, he went completely, absolutely, irrevocably insane: they jumped.

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