Part 113: Michael's Story: The Gone-AwayMichael's Story: The Gone-Away
As far back as I can remember, I have always found myself on the battlefield. For a really, really long time that is, since time immemorial, I have fought. Awake or asleep, even in my dreams. How many countless years it has been the exact number of foes I have vanquished the very reasons I began to fight time has obscured it all.
Lowly insects! Die!
A hint of my breath was all it took to set the many insects aflame. I watched as they crudely burned and turned to ashes. Weaklings whose strength lay only in their numbers, they could not hope to compare to a dragon such as myself. But burning them in large groups like this never failed to lift my spirits.
Take this! And that! And some of that!
By the time my flames had finished bathing the earth, not a single one of the pests remained. Truly a refreshing sensation!
My names that is, I am known as Michael! Member of the mighty race of dra- Wah!
A current of pain ran through one of my spread wings.
Damn! So there are puppets here too, eh?
Perhaps in possession of slightly more intelligence than the average insect, the things Id dubbed puppets made use of projectile weaponry, which I caught sight of in the gathering swarm below. These guys always gave me trouble err, what were those spiky thing theyd shoot at me called again?
Agh! Who cares?! Hateful peons! How dare the vermin that crawls upon the ground attempt to harm a member of the mighty race of dra- Wah! Wah! Wah!
This time I felt several burning bolts graze my wings.
Hey! Let me finish speaking, you- WAH!
The puppets, who had flocked together in greater number than the insects from before, were preparing a giant weapon that took many of them just to move. Whats this, now? Are they aiming it at me?
Am I in what they call a pinch?
Should I high-tail it? No no! A proud dragon never turns his back on the enemy! But to be honest, this wasnt looking too good
Fool! Do you not see the peril you are in?!
I heard a voice bellow from beside me, snapping me back to my senses. I saw the great weapon had been enveloped in fire along with the bodies of the puppets whod manned it.
Your heedlessness astounds me!
The one who had come to my rescue was another dragon, scales colored a deep red. Her tone was clearly that of exasperation. Meanwhile, I was feeling torn: should I be moved, having been saved by a compatriot? Or insulted, as a prideful dragon? I was leaning toward insulted.
Why do you dawdle there with your mouth agape? Do you wish to die a dogs death?
We were of the same noble race, yet I found her attitude to be beyond haughty.
Then make haste and retreat!
Y-you dont have to tell me!
Frankly, it was beginning to piss me off!
Rouse yourself, Michael!
I awoke to the sound of her voice. To think that, of all things, I had been dreaming of my first encounter with this meddlesome red dragon
It takes great audacity, or great stupidity, to doze off in the midst of a battle!
B-be silent! I can handle small fry like these half-asleep!
Since then, she and I had fought together on numerous occasions. To be more precise, it seemed she had taken it upon herself to look after me not that I needed her help! Despite being an awful busybody for a dragon, and me having given her mine right off the bat, she had yet to tell me her name. To be fair, all the old-timer dragons had a tendency of being tight-lipped, and she had already made quite sure I knew she was my senior.
When I asked her directly about it, shed told me it wasnt in a true dragons nature to divulge his name. And what exactly is that supposed to mean? If withholding ones name, refusing to make conversation, and doing battle with all the enthusiasm of a dead fish is all in the nature of a true dragon, youll have to excuse me for being a fake! The feeling of becoming stronger is pleasing; displaying that strength is valiant. Vanquishing enemies is exhilarating, getting injured by them is vexing, and seeing an ally hurt fills one with sorrow. Arent these all natural ways to feel? Does aging mean becoming stodgy and stale?
Dont speak that way, Michael. Once youve lived long enough, you too will comprehend.
Red would always put an end to our talks this way. She acts high and mighty, but shes really only got a trifling two thousand years on me.
Red aside, though, it was Black who really rubbed me the wrong way. He was a black dragon about the same age as Red and as laconic as all old dragons. What set him apart was his absolutely brutal way of tearing through opponents. Im attracted to strength, so I tried being friendly, but he just flat-out ignored me. Seriously, how annoying!
Lost in thought again, are we? Its not bad to exercise your mind, but theres a time and a place for it.
Sure enough, it was not good to get distracted in battle. In fact, there was nothing more dangerous. Yet I didnt appreciate her pointing it out, so I tried to divert attention away from myself by changing the subject:
Tell me, Red. When do you suppose this battle of ours will ever end?
As I spoke, I realized I had actually been wanting to ask this exact question for a very long time. Ive killed more than I could ever hope to count, piling up enough corpses to fill whole mountains. And yet it went on. The fighting never stopped or even slowed down. The enemy just kept coming and coming. What were we fighting, anyway? Of course I knew who we were fighting; I didnt mean it in the sense I was unaware of the identity of our foes. What I meant was ah, its hard for me to put into words. How frustrating.
Michael. None of us, not even the eldest, can remember when this battle began. So we have no means of knowing when it may end
Red began to say, but her words got cut off, and my entire field of vision when white.
dreaming again, was I?
How strange. I dreamt a dream within a dream. A dream of a distant battle, long past
I heard a voice from atop my back inquire. It was that of the human riding upon me. Humans were creatures that began to appear sometime after those battles had ended. Yes, thats right. The battles I had thought might continue eternally came all at once to an abrupt close. Perhaps that is not even the right way to phrase it; the conflict which had defined our existences as dragons up until that point had not merely ended, but been completely destroyed. What I had been dreaming of was the exact moment it had ceased to exist.
What made my vision go white was an explosion. What kind of magic it was, where it came from and why, I have little idea. Perhaps it was some power gone haywire; suffice it to say, the devastation it wrought was tremendous. It caused all trace of our countless enemies to vanish, and the very face of the earth to change. It even took out more than half of us dragons. The ones who did survive did so thanks only to the natural durability of our bodies protected by the hearty armor of our scales. The skies, once so crowded, felt impossibly wide. There had been enough of us to blot out the sun, but now it was rare to encounter another of our kind. Red and Black both survived, but I had seen neither in quite some time.
The surface of the earth became crowded instead. Soon it was teeming with creatures known as humans and their derivatives, subhumans. They reproduced at an astounding rate and came to far outnumber the insects and puppets I used to fight. But their lives were short and their bodies weak. What Id consider a light blow was enough to make them stop moving. The one riding me now would also die before long, just as every other human Id ever fought with had.
Thats right. In spite of their weakness, humans were almost constantly fighting. Its as if they delighted in shortening their already finite lifespans. I couldnt comprehend it. Perhaps it was out of a sense of curiosity, then, that I sometimes aided them in their battles on a whim.
The voice of the human on my back was trembling, if faintly. Was he frightened? Rather weak-willed, for a man.
Im sorry I dragged you into all this.
What do you take me for? I will not abide your looking down upon me. Do you think you, a mere mortal, could hope to involve me in matters against my own will? I chose to fight with you. In the first place, human skirmishes mean little more to a dragon than do those of an ants. You cannot know of the battlefields I have traversed in my long life, of the corpses Ive left in my wake
I heard him apologize again. This is what irritated me about humans.
We attack! Prepare yourself!
I descended upon the fortress below me which, from my eyes, resembled a childs toy, and cast my fire breath down upon the soldiers who lined its walls
That battle had left a bitter aftertaste. Is that why I had dreamt of it especially? But no all the battles Id shared with humans have been sour, perhaps because they all end up dying long before me. That man was little different. Like the fool he was, he continued apologizing to his last breath. What need was there to ask my forgiveness? I always told him how much I couldnt stand things being repeated, too
After laying his cold corpse upon a stone cliff I stood for a time beholding him, in something of a daze. I knew perfectly well how fragile humans were, how quick they were to die, and yet I held the most scorn for myself, who always ended up feeling a sense of loss, regardless.
Unusually enough, and in a show of particularly bad timing, none other than Black passed by then. His eyes met mine for a moment before he continued on his way, as brusque as ever. Within them I saw ridicule, but also a sense of pity, as if we were chiding me for letting humans into my heart. I didnt need to be told.
Whether they win or lose, all the awaits man is death. Even should they momentarily grasp at glory, it is for a blink of an eye. How meaningless, then, is human conflict. But is it really? Does what Ive said apply only to human beings? What meaning was there in the battle we dragons waged? Looking back on those days, even the old timers I found so agitating seemed nostalgic. If not for our battle, how many more would stood be alive, having grown all the more crotchety and ill-humored with age?
Dont speak that way, Michael. Once youve lived long enough, you too will comprehend.
I remembered Reds words. Though she was only a little older than me, she had understood far better. To live long means to lose much it means to be left behind, to be alone, to keep nothing. Perhaps the reason I continued aiding humans was because, somewhere in my heart, I wondered no, hoped they could give me something. Those creatures, so desperate to whittle down what little time afforded to them by taking up arms maybe they knew something we long-lived dragons did not.
But it was all the same in the end. No matter how I fought, nothing remained. Nothing was gained.
Where is this? Is anyone there?
I realized I was surrounded by a deep darkness. I felt neither the presence of the living or the dead within it. There was nothing.
Is no one no one here?
Hmph. Im certain this is yet another dream Ill awaken soon enough from most likely in the midst of yet another battle. More battles? Ive grown weary of fighting. Battles are no different from dreams. They all fade in the end into nothing. Zero
Ow ow ow!
Something hit the bottom of my chin, where its sensitive. This time I really, truly awoke.
Honestly. Do you ever toss and turn!
Id been kicked by the human Id most recently become acquainted with. A woman who went by the name of Zero. She was crude and violent, ate like a hog and could never stop running her mouth. She did not fear me; in fact, she had a tendency of addressing me in tones quite inflammatory. And on top of everything, she was a terrible sleeper. Oh, how she punched and kicked I didnt imagine it was normal even by human standards. But all this peaked my interest, as well. She was very different from the humans Id interacted with in the past. She would be; after all, she was out to kill all of her sisters. I dont suppose there are many humans out there capable of doing that.
I knew my time with her would be short. She, too, would fade away, leaving me behind. In that respect alone she was exactly like the rest. But I didnt care. Id decided to see her through her task and to the moment of her death. That was, after all, the promise wed made. After this woman kills her sisters, Id
I will keep my word, no matter what happens. I swear it on my pride as a member of the mighty race of dra- ow! You kicked me again! How many times have I told you to let me finish speaking
I heard her snoring. She slept more deeply than any dragon Id ever known. ...well, no matter. At least she never failed to keep me amused.
Thanks once again to kho-dazat for the translation!