They say that time heals all wounds. This truth is tested in this cathartic journey
A lone figure in black trekked across the bleak landscape, eddies of sand swirling at his feet as he pushed onward up the sand dune that towered thirty feet above him. Accompanied only by the scuttling of scorpions and the occasional shadow of a vulture circling lazily overhead, he looked like a specter of death in his long sleeved, full length robe. When he reached the crest of the dune he looked out across the undulating ocean of sand. Waves of heat caused the ocean to shimmer as they arose from its sun blasted surface. The figure stood motionless, scanning the horizon until; finally, he located the landmark that he was searching for.
The remainder of the journey passed swiftly for the man in black, although it was many hours’ walk and after nightfall when he arrived. What he saw when he got there was little more than a scattering of large stones, obviously the remnants of one or more buildings that stood here in some forgotten time, and an obelisk. The man ignored the other ruins as he strode directly toward the obelisk. By the milky white light of the newly risen gibbous moon he searched, his hands caressing the stone to loosen centuries of sediment that obscured the carvings. He circled the obelisk until he found the carving that he sought, a primitive depiction of a group of humans worshiping the sun. He placed his index and middle finger upon the sun and twisted, first left and then back around to the right, and then he pushed in on the rotating disk. An audible click emanated within the stone and, with a shudder, a gap appeared around the perimeter of the carving. Moments later the slab of stone sank into the sand strewn surface, revealing a dark staircase that led down into the bowels of the obelisk. There was a torch sitting in a sconce mounted on the wall just inside the entrance, and a quick strike of flint and steel soon had it ablaze. Taking the torch, the dark figure descended into the past.
The chamber beneath the obelisk was a square roughly thirty feet on a side. The room was bare of furnishings, with the exception of a large silver bowl on a pedestal to the right of the stairway. The man touched the torch to the liquid in the silver bowl and flames ignited, licking hungrily above the rim. With this additional light a thin trough was revealed, about four feet above the floor, running around the perimeter of the room. The figure touched his torch to the trough and it also sprang to life, tiny orange and yellow flames dancing joyfully to combat the darkness.
The light revealed that the walls, nearly every square inch of them, were covered in exquisite carvings. The carvings told the story of the people who had once lived here. The visitor scanned the images of people cultivating crops in a lush, fertile environment that seemed far removed from the arid, ruthless landscape that he had just traversed. He saw images of invading armies who sought to wrest the land and its bounty from its people. There were scenes of kings and queens, plagues and natural disasters, gods and dragons. He paused when he saw the image of a dragon in flight. The carving was so realistic that he could see the tendons stretching across the wings; even make out individual scales. He reached out his fingers tenuously and caressed the relief. As he did the wall before him faded, as if it had been nothing more than a heat induced mirage.
The warriors of the Siqwai stalked through the dense forest undergrowth toward the clearing. As they drew near, the vegetation thinned and they could catch flashes of azure blue peaking through the greenery. Moments later, the group of twenty men gathered at the edge of the tree line. They wore identical garments of light brown fabric that flowed in loose folds to disguise their forms, cinched tight at the ankles, waist, and wrists to keep from hindering movement. The ensemble was completed by the donning of hunting burkas; a fabric headgear with a thin, translucent veil. In their hunting gear the warriors blended in with the trees and brush so well that they were nearly invisible. They communicated using prearranged sign language, and soon two groups of six men each were creeping around the edge of the clearing to each side to flank their quarry.
Their quarry sat lounging in the sun, half submerged in the pond. The pond itself was small, only a couple hundred feet across at the widest point, and the creature in it took up a large portion of that area. The hump of its back broke the water’s surface forty feet from the shore. The glittering scales that covered it shone like rubies in the brilliant sun light, a vast treasure trove some twenty feet long and ten feet wide. Closer to shore a serpentine neck reached out of the water and attached to a head that rested languidly in the soft grass. Surrounding a set of bony spikes that ran down the ridge of the neck and disappeared into the water were alabaster horns as long as a man protruding from the crown of the head. The creature’s head was a good four feet across, and the small red scales covering it had an iridescent shimmer that gave it an opalescent quality.
The other distinguishing characteristic of the dragon was that it was soundly asleep. Deep, throaty breathing sounds reverberated off of the trees that surrounded the clearing, amplifying the sounds of the dragon’s snores.
After a series of hand signals that flew across the clearing like young sparrows in the spring, the two groups of flanking warriors left the shelter of the trees and crept toward the beast, their passage causing barely a ripple in the verdant sea of grass. When they had approached as near as they dared they halted, and the final group likewise approached. When all was set, the largest of the group rose up from the waist high grass, hefted his spear, and with a grunt of effort hurled it forward. By the time the shaped stone spear head imbedded itself deep within the dragon’s neck just behind its head, a deluge of other spears had already taken flight. The startled beast awoke in pain and rage and panic. Its wings rose up out of the tepid water, exposing a wingspan of close to sixty feet. In doing so, however, it exposed its soft underbelly to the incoming projectiles. The dragon bellowed in agony as the weapons struck home. Many glanced off of the thick protective scales on its back, but those that struck the wings pierced the thin membrane, and those that hit the underside delved deeply into its flesh.
Instinct drove the dragon to attempt to gain flight; to flee. The wings pushed violently downward as it leapt from the water, but the force of the air caused the holes in the wings that had been made by the spears to tear. The pain caused the dragon to bellow again, this time rage mingling with fear. The dragon pulled its head back until it rose to three times the height of a man and drew in a great breath to utilize its last bastion of defense; a caustic blend of chemicals that were produced by glands in its throat, excited into activity by the excess of adrenaline that had been dumped into its bloodstream. The flame breath would sear the bubbling, melting flesh from the men’s bones in seconds.
Just as it leaned forward to attack, a stone tipped maple shaft lodged itself directly in its esophagus. The beast felt the acidic mixture seep backwards, down its own throat. The pain it experienced was unlike any it had ever felt, the acid already in its stomach acted as a catalyst and the mixture began to boil inside it. The dragon lunged toward the men with its great maw, pulling itself forward until most of its body was clear of the water, but the men remained just out of reach. The pain became too much to bear, and the dragon whipped its head back and forth in agony. Its tail burst forth through the surface of the water, streaming water in its wake, and lashed out to the left, impaling one of the hunters on a long spike and knocking two others across the grass and into the tree line. Then, inexplicably, it twisted its head until it was nearly upside down and collapsed in a heap. A strangled cry escaped from its dessicated throat as it rolled over onto its right side, curling protectively around its belly, but the damage was already done. The dragon's eyes found those of the chief of the hunting party, and the anguish he saw there, mingled with sorrow and regret and a myriad of other emotions he could not name, touched him profoundly. When the dragon finally shuddered before falling into a deathly silence he found that the elation he had been expecting was missing, replaced by a hollow feeling of regret.
As the men watched in astonishment, the exposed surface of the dragon’s belly began to melt away. The hunters let out a great cheer of victory for finally defeating the beast. They gathered together around the head and produced hatchets and saw blades to begin to hack it away from the body. The men who had flanked the dragon’s left side hurried to check the condition of the wounded men, and found that two of them were dead, while the other was breathing but unconscious. When they finally went to join their comrades they had to walk past the dragon’s body. The smell was horrific, and as they passed they saw that the monster’s intestines had spilled out onto the ground, creating a steaming, bloody mess in the tall grass. While they watched, the intestines began to liquefy, and the mound of gore dissipated before their eyes.
The acid worked its way further down, the skin continuing to deteriorate, until other organs fell from the abdominal cavity. The onlookers started to turn away when a lumpy, misshapen mass fell from the gaping wound. As they watched, the acid ate away at the soft tissue to reveal a clutch of six blood red eggs. After a startled cry the hunters rushed forward, brandishing their own hatchets to chop the unborn dragons into tiny pieces. When they had finished they went to assist their brethren in decapitating the monster.
The figure in black blinked and the world snapped back into focus. Tears flowed freely from hos eyes as he pulled his trembling hand away from the carved stone. He looked to the next panel and saw a picture of the town’s folk celebrating around a great bonfire, while the dragon’s head sat atop a platform in full view of all assembled. He finally tore his gaze away, unable to look any more. He knew the power that the stone carving held, particularly today. The dragon mating cycle occured in twelve year intervals, and this would have been the one hundred forty fourth cycle since that fateful day. Staggering up the staircase, he emerged from the obelisk to see the newly risen sun. Unbidden images of his long deceased mate crashed into the tenuous shell of his psyche. He could still remember the taste of her skin on his lips, the feel of her breath against the nape of his neck, the scent of their combined passion in their most intimate moments. Tears fell from the corners of his wrinkled eyelids, gouging runnels in the dirt and sand that had imbedded itself in his face.
Forced to face this powerful, raw emotion, the man could not stand it any longer. He blindly ran from the ruins, tearing his robe as he went until he was able to fling it free of his body. He ran in the direction of the rising sun, and as he crested the top of a dune he leapt forward and his body appeared to explode. In the span of a heartbeat the man had transformed into a great dragon. The sun reflected dazzlingly off of his copper scales as his tremendous wings beat effortlessly against the superheated desert air, and he gained altitude rapidly. He circled the stone obelisk twice before turning away and heading toward home. As the ruins receded in the distance the dragon could do nothing but lament over the fact that a memory that was more than a millennium old could still be fresh enough to cause so much pain. Apparently time doesn’t necessarily heal all wounds.