Names and Stones
The light rain fell softly. The dark, low, thick clouds which it was birthed in silently covered the sky of late dusk. A chilling wind blew through the dense forest lightly. The humid air was wet with vapor. Everything was calm, quiet, and peaceful.
The old dragon walked slowly. His old bones creaked with every step he took. His dark, smooth scales seemed to summon and trap the shadows surrounding him. So many plans had gone awry. So many ideas, so many thoughts, so many hopes, so many dreams, all were being destroyed. With a sad glance behind him, he looked down at the sign in front of him.
It read “Graveyard.” Not “Royal Graveyard” or “Heroic Graveyard” or “Graveyard of Destiny.” Just “Graveyard.” He slowly entered.
Many stones greeted him. They had names etched across their surfaces. Many, many, many names, on many, many, many stones.
He stopped at one in front of him. It read, Surge, SeaWing, Prince, Son of Queen Coral and King Gill, 18 B. P.—36 A. P. He felt a slight smile on his snout. The fact that they had reset the calendar to match the end of the war had always amused him. It had just seemed so presumptuous. Now, though, he felt a little different. It hadn’t just been the official calendar. Peace had even influenced their personal lives.
He walked on. Another tombstone greeted him. Mindreader, NightWing, Telepath, Son of Intelligence and Knowledge, 9 B. P.—45 A. P. The dragon smiled. “I knew him,” he said to himself quietly.
Liana, RainWing, Tranquilizer, Daughter of the RainWing tribe, 13 B. P.—20 A. P. Umber, MudWing, Soldier, Son of Cattail, 6 B. P.—51 A. P. Cirrus, IceWing, Talon of Peace, Son of Frigid and Hail, 34 B. P.—6 A. P.
More stones. More names. Large stones, small stones, marble stones, granite stones, but all stones. Long names, short names, SkyWing names, SandWing names, but all names. He walked through, reading every stone and every name. Finally, he found one he had come to see.
It read, in soft, smudged letters, Clay, MudWing, Son of Cattail, Dragonet of Destiny, 6 B. P.—47 A. P. Clay had died five years earlier from eating a venomous snake. Once he was gone, his surviving siblings gave up on life and all died within a few years. Umber had been the last to die.
The next stone was another one the dragon had come to visit. Glory, RainWing, Dragonet of Destiny, Daughter of the RainWing tribe, 6 B. P.—17 A. P. NightWing radicals had assassinated her even though she had granted them freedom. Some of them had still seen her as a threat.
Right next to it, another stone sat. Tsunami, SeaWing, Dragonet of Destiny, Daughter of Queen Coral and King Gill, 6 B. P.—37 A. P. Tsunami died as she had lived. She had been in a training battle with another SeaWing who accidentally killed her. Hers had been one of the last deaths Anemone had grieved before her fall to madness.
Perhaps the designers of the graveyard had had a sense of humor, for the next stone was the one he truly wanted to see. It was fresh, clean, and white. Sunny, SandWing, Dragonet of Destiny, Daughter of the SandWing tribe, 6 B. P.—52 A. P. He stopped, and bowed his head. She had died from a disease with no known cure a month ago. The rain mixed with his tears of regret, as he slowly cried onto the stone.
“Hello, Sunny,” he said. “It’s good to see you again. Did you miss me?” He sadly laughed. “Of course you did, you said you would on your deathbed. I knew you would wait for me, though. It’s not like you were going anywhere.” He reached out, and continued, “I never really got over you, Sunny. You were always just so kind to everyone.”
Once he had paid his respects to her, he walked on. Another stone, this one black, awaited him. In the dim light, the old, eroded stone was hard to read, but he could at least make out the name. Morrowseer. He stood there for a long time, just looking at the stone. It was rounded and smooth, and bits were crumbling off.
He reached out, and touched it. “I’m sorry, Morrowseer. We should have tried harder at peace. Instead, both sides paid a price.” He gave a laugh, a miserable, broken laugh. “But then, you didn’t have to see that, did you? You died a year after you showed up again and regained independence for our tribe, a lethal case of an extremely rare sickness. That war happened sixteen years after your death. I wish I could have seen at the NightWing volcano that, regardless of what you might have done, you were a hero like us.”
He glanced up, and then back down. “I wonder… when things started going wrong for you, ten years before that treaty which changed the world… did you go into a graveyard, and visit those you had known? Did you face the same trials I did?” He held the stone tight. “Will I face the same trials you did? Will my creations and plans one day oppose me? Will… will I suffer the same fate you did?”
The stone was silent. The only sound was the rain, pattering down on his scales. But in another way, the stone was not silent. It spoke the name of the one it marked to the dragon who read it. It had spoken through the old dragon’s mouth.
“Perhaps… perhaps you are not gone. You are a legend now. The entire NightWing tribe honors you, and members of every other tribe, even the IceWings attend their commemorations now. The history scrolls read your side of the story just as much as our side. You are finally seen as who you were… who we should have seen you as… who I should have seen you as.” He closed his eyes, too overcome with sadness to speak any more.
He walked on, pulled as if in a dream. More names appeared on more stones. Some he knew, some he didn’t. Fatespeaker. Annihilation. Fierceteeth. Swamp. Vermillion. Blitzkrieg. Blister. Scarlet. Vapor. Finality. Auklet. Doomsday. Glacier.
A hollow, echoing thought rung through his mind. All of these dragons lived lives just like I did. All of them had hopes, dreams, wishes, things they wanted, lovers who never returned their feelings, secrets. And all of it was for nothing. They still died. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, how brave you are, how strong you are, how cunning you are. You will still die someday. There is nothing that can change this. Now you are just stones and names. How can a dragon, a living, breathing, feeling dragon, be reduced to just a name and a stone?
He looked around, at the dark, cold empty graveyard. Did it ever mean anything? We all fought so hard, worked so long, put so much into the world—and in the end, it doesn’t matter. Why is life so valued, then, if in the end it is only fleeting?
He looked at another gravestone. The stone was not much different than most others. But the name stopped him in his tracks. It read, Burn, SandWing, Queen, Daughter of Queen Oasis, 54 B. P.—0 A. P.
He asked her, “Burn…, why? Even if you had won the war, you still would have died one day. Someone would have challenged you and won. Was it really worth so many deaths?”
This gravestone did not speak either. But he said, “I think… I think I know what you would say, or at least what Blister would say. I think you would say that what makes something valuable is what you must do to achieve it, and anything freely given is not worth having, because you have not cost yourself anything in getting it.” A faint smile returned to his face. “At least you were granted the mercy of a quick death. I hope that in your last moments, you were happy. I truly do.”
The dragon walked past the last few stones. He quietly told himself, “In the end, we’re just names and stones.”
The dragon, Starflight, spared one last long, introspective look back. “Goodbye, and don’t worry.” The smile turned grim. “I’ll be with you soon.”
He flew away. He had a world to arrange the saving of.