Chapter 21:

Regard of the White Dahlias

Faded Scales of a Hyacinth

Aelem gradually opened her eyes to the beauty of the plains of white dahlias that spread out before her. The cloud-stricken atmosphere was bathed in the golden light of sunset. In the far distance, dozens of towering black and white pillars pierced the sky menacingly. On an altar in the center of a stone outcrop in the center of the plain of flowers, a man in black robes curled up on top, his head resting on his knees. He had bright-orange irises, and curly midnight-black hair that fell near his ears.

While Aelem did not recognise the man, she did recognise the atmosphere that he carried along with him. It was like a red-hot aura of churning flame that enveloped the vicinity in a calm, reserved rage. So, her expression wavered, and she spoke aloud inquisitively.

“You’re my ‘torment’, aren’t you?

The Dragon who resembled a man just grinned in response.

“So, why am I here? How am I in this place? Am I dreaming?”

The Dragon shook his head. “No. This is more akin to your life flashing before your eyes before you die. After all, you’re facing death in this very moment.” He laid down on his back, his head falling over the edge of the altar as he looked at Aelem, upside-down.

“So then, are you even real?”

The Dragon laughed. “What is real? Are feelings real when your heart makes them up? Are your ideas real when they haven’t been physically actualised? Perhaps I am real because you think, or because you are thinking, I am not real at all. Perhaps I am one side of me, or I am all of me. Did you know- all that remains of us is our rampant will to live? To trick, to harm, it’s all part of the struggle to survive, isn’t it?”

“Are you trying to say that this was all because you want to live? Why does it have to include me?” Aelem frowned. “Why can’t you just die, and let me live a normal life?”

The Dragon’s smile wavered, and he spoke normally towards her.

“I would die if I could. Do you think I want to spend any more time with you than I have to?”

“Then, why do you try so hard? Why make me suffer all of your torments?”

The Dragon shook his head. “Haven’t you been listening? I wouldn’t be doing so if I wanted to. What you experience is not truly me- the ‘me’ that once lived is unconscious, with the will to survive resting at the forefront. You are not fighting a war against ‘me’, just the animalistic instinct of any other creature.”

“So, in this dream is the only time I can speak with the true you?” Aelem asked.

The Dragon slipped off of the altar, falling onto his back in the grass. He sat up slowly, brushing dirt out of his hair as he smiled. “It’s probably like that. However, it’s strange to assume I know everything. Would you ask a turtle why the sun sets and rises every day?”

Aelem’s expression darkened.

“Forget that. I’m to die now, aren’t I? Isn’t that ‘creature’ approaching me at this very moment? Can I really waste time here?”

“What’s so bad about death?”

Aelem looked at the Dragon with a curious gaze. “I don’t understand that worldview. Isn’t that instinct to survive what is driving you?”

“Not at all.” The Dragon looked up towards the sun that had been gradually setting, now a splash of purple and orange on the horizon. “This ordeal between us is a prison for the both of us, not just you. I wanted to die just like any other creature, and yet I was forced into this position. I crave not to survive like the Dragon’s will does. I just want to be with the rest of them…”

He reached his hand towards the sky as if to grasp it, but he was far too small a figure to reach so high.

“You want to survive, don’t you?” The Dragon continued. “I’ll offer you my power now. However, there’s a catch.”

“What is it?”

“You have to save me as well.”

“Save you?” Aelem’s eyes widened. “Don’t you want to die? How can I save you?”

“No, that’s what I meant. To save me is to let me die. You’ll have to kill off my ‘will’ that rests upon your heart.”

The Dragon sighed.

“That man… he really chose to go along with the one thing I didn’t want…” The Dragon lamented, a pained smile curling up his lips. “This is tantamount to betrayal, isn’t it? From the one I trusted most, no less. Why couldn’t I have been left to die?”

He turned back towards Aelem and smiled.

“Do you know how the ‘Leviathan’ is made, Ms. La’arte? Do you know how that abomination of human and dragon- two beasts that should never mix, is sewn together?”

Aelem shook her head in response. “Was I not born like this?”

“Not at all. You were cursed to be like this from the moment you were ‘truly born’. Infants are taken from their mothers, and their chests are surgically opened. Then, with the finest precision, the runes necessary to hold the will of a dying dragon are etched into the outermost muscle layer of the infant’s heart. Any wrong move, and that child will die a most painful death.” The Dragon sighed. “Isn’t this a cruel way to live, experiencing such pain from the moment you’re born?”

He lifted his shirt that lie underneath his robes to reveal his chest, which had grown large patches of scales. “It’s the same for me. Do not think you’re the only one who feels this pain.”

“You feel as I do?”

The Dragon nodded and smiled slightly. “You’ve never been alone… just by yourself.”

As the sun set, the night crept onto the field of dahlias.

“Well, its time for you to leave. You’re about to die, after all.” The Dragon laughed. “I’ll offer you my power, so survive, and then end my life as promised. Remember, the ‘me’ that rests in the real world isn’t really me. This is just my remnant will to survive. There is no reasoning with it.”

Aelem nodded, and as the Dragon smiled, her vision gradually began to darken.

Ah, I should have told her how to do that exactly. It’s been far too long since I’ve conversed. I got a little bit excited.’ The Dragon thought humourosly.

Then, the Dragon saw fit to say one more line that quieted the night air.

“I wonder why he would embalm me into the heart of his daughter… really, your father was a strange man.” The Dragon chided.

Aelem’s eyes widened. She tried to call out to the man- to inquire further, but the field of peonies gradually began to warp around her, to disappear into nothingness once more. The moss-strewn ruins and the sickly-sweet stench of oil became apparent around her once more, and the corpse that had been lunging at her came into view. However, the gaze that stared back at the half-leviathan creature was different.

Soft eyes had been replaced with slitted pupils- a bright-orange gaze filled with madness and hatred.

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