The Weight of Quietus
Though I outlive even the trees, who will tell you that I am eternal and unchanging as the sun, I have not been here forever.
I was once a child as all creatures were, are, or will be. It is a past as foreign to me as it is to you, a distant land that I have abandoned in search of fertile, unclaimed land that I might hunt for wisdom, sow and reap experience, and claim for myself.
But one thing I remember from the days of my youth. I had many brothers and many sisters, not all of my blood, but to us children, we were all one family, not yet privy to the deep-seeded schisms between one house and the next. We talked often of our hopeful legacies. One wanted to follow in the steps of his father, hoarding what he hoarded, ruling what he ruled. One aspired to the legend of Morovyn, even the most far-fetched tales too small for his eager mind.
But I? I knew from a very young age what I would hoard.
I told my dream to no one; I knew what they would say. I kept it close – the first item of my hoard.
The matter seemed easy enough to me. When I left my family and found my own home, I filled it with all manner of aged artifacts, as many as I could find. I had an easier time of it, compared to some others. I found that, unlike gold or valuable possessions, most of these artifacts were scarecly guarded – some not at all.
Other artifacts were a trifle to acquire. Humans are peculiar creatures, one thing is cast out as worthless, the other revered as if it were a god. All of these things found themselves in my hoard sooner or later.
Look around. I hardly remember where most of these things came from. Some are completely unremarkable, save that I smell the oldness of them. This here, a book, the pages corroded and ashen, the writing faded beyond recognition. This dress. Heh. That is a story I remember. There used to be a small village nestled between the forest and the mountain, alongside the river that runs past the hills. They have long since vanished, how or why or when I know not. But while they were here, they offered me one of their young virgins as a sacrifice, dressed in this very dress of fine white silk. I had no interest in her, but her dress was far, far older than she was. A family heirloom, I imagine. I relieved her of it and sent her away.
I cannot tell you why it works. Maybe it doesn’t, and my longevity is simply luck of the draw. I cannot tell you how I knew – if indeed that is the secret – or what my fate will ultimately be. But I have been collecting these things since the dawn of my dragonhood. A dragon can live for centuries. If he is lucky, nigh a millenia. And I have outlived them all.
The world is different now. Epochs pass in the blink of an eye. I rise in the morning, and when I turn to sleep, it is not the same sky that greeted me.
A few things are the same. The sun is always there, though every day it seems a little dimmer, a little redder. You should’ve seen it in the days of dragons. It was a thing to revere, to stand humbly in the light of its glory. Even dragons gave the sky its due respect.
I find new things to add to my hoard. Things are always getting older.
You ask me about the skeleton tucked in the corner. It takes me a while to remember, but when I do, a smile creeps across my face.
Even the memory of her brings me great joy. She was a human unlike any other.
I am more than happy to tell the tale.
As I said, there was once a village that thrived in the shadow of my mountain. Once I rose and left my cave to see what I could find for my hoard. I observed the empty landscape which had once been filled with houses, and saw only one meager hut.
Curious, I set down on the grassy knoll, wondering if I might find relics in this abandoned home.
I carefully pulled the roof from the little cottage and set it aside.
When I looked inside, I saw to my surprise a figure sitting inside.
“Oh!” I said, and the figure looked up at me. I recognized at once, despite my unfamiliarity with the species, a human female. She seemed old, as far as humans go, and unfazed at the lack of her roof. She gave a warm smile and continued to knit as she spoke to me.
“Oh dear,” she said. Her voice cracked, and I had to lean in to hear what she was telling me. She gave a chuckle. “I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong place, dear dragon. There are no princesses here for you to steal away.”
Curious, I set myself down upon the grass, folding my arms and resting my chin on the wall of the cottage. “Where did they all go?”
“The people? They all moved out years ago when the mine dried up.”
“And you stayed?”
“Where would I go?”
“With your family?”
She shook her head. “No one to go with, and no one to go to – long since before the village disappeared.”
“How do you provide for yourself?”
“My husband was a hunter. He taught me how to set traps – so now I just go out every morning, check the traps, and find enough to cook that night for dinner.”
“What will you do if the traps are empty?”
“I have a small garden out back with some vegetables. Potatoes and carrots, mostly.”
“And if it is winter?”
She had no response to that, save a shrug. “I make do,” she finally said.
“That doesn’t sound very sustainable.”
I sat in silence for a minute; the minute of a dragon, which is much longer than a human minute. By the time I had concluded my thoughts, she had gotten up and was scooping some chopped vegetables into a small pot.
“Human?” I said.
She turned to face me. “My name is Coeli.”
“Yes, dragon?” She responded with a smug smile.
“What if you came with me?”
“Yes,” I continued. “Back to my cave. It’s not far from here, just up that mountainside.” I did not stop to let her speak, talking at a speed uncommon for slow beasts like me. “We can move anything you need up there. I have room. I’ve got all sorts of things that could entertain you. And me – perhaps it is not obvious to your kind, but I am ancient even among dragons. I hoard age. You would fit right in.”
A smile crept across her face. “Are you proposing to kidnap me? Add me to your hoard?”
“Well,” I hesitated. “I suppose so, in a sense.”
“My dear,” she said. “I think that sounds like the time of my life.”
“Of course. I’ve always wanted to be a princess.”
I took her back to my home. She made a place for herself among my scattered possessions, taking what she needed for a comfortable living. I had to go out far more often than I was used to to hunt and provide for her, but her gratefulness made it all worthwhile. In exchange she cleaned up my den, organized my belongings, and made my hoard a presentable showcase.
I enjoyed her company for only a brief sliver of my life, far shorter than it should have been. She lived longer than most men, and she lived comfortably, but even her extended lifespan paled in comparison to mine. She passed away one day, silently. I mourned. It felt like I had not not known her at all.
I try to keep my hoard the way she liked it. Tidy, organized. I am not very good at that, though.
You had taken a seat during my story, and now there was silence between us.
Finally I spoke again. Deep down I knew I had been stalling, and though I wanted to stall longer, my mind would not consider any other path. “You’re not just here to visit, are you?”
You shook your head. “No.”
I peered at you, trying to gaze behind your mask and discern purpose and identity. But my heart had seen far deeper than my mind could penetrate. I knew with aching gut why you were here today. I could not bring myself to say it outright.
“You’re here for me, then? It’s time?”
You seemed to understand my meaning. “Yes. I am here.”
I could not help but smile, giving an awkward chuckle. “I always thought you would be a dragon like myself.”
“I am what makes you most comfortable.”
“Ah. I suppose it’s fitting, then.”
“Indeed. Are you ready?”
I looked around at my possessions. I considered the weight of each of them, the story of their pasts. Most stories I had forgotten. What about my own story? With a pang I realized that there was no one left to remember me. No one even knew me to begin with. Had I made a mistake? No, I thought to myself. This had always been my goal, and I had succeeded. I outlived all my brethern, and had amassed a great library of wisdom and stories. Though I regretted that it would all die with me, that was not my loss. My weight on the fabric of fate was small, and I was okay with this.
“Not really,” I said. “But I suppose I don’t really get a choice do I?”
I pulled myself slowly to my feet, every step methodical, weighty. “That’s what I figured.” You were patient with me, matching my stride with many smaller ones. “Thanks for keeping me company.”
“You’re very welcome. Thank you for the stories.”
“Coeli,” I couldn’t help but ask. “Does she live on somewhere?”
“Will I see her again?”
“I imagine so. If you’d like to.”
“I’d like that very much.”
We walked out of the cave together, you and I. Into the yawning abyss of death, with warm arms I was embraced. The world fell away, the aches of ancient bones faded to naught. Blurry vision was replaced with clarity, then blackness. I felt nothing. You walked alongside me every step of the way, and for this I was grateful. Had you not been with me, I feared I may have gotten lost. We did not speak much along the way, but we were comfortable.
And so I faded from the world, and the world from me. The weight of my death was light indeed. A mere sigh was all it took, and the tie from the world to me was severed. Now detached, now free, I left it all behind and walked with you into oblivion.