297 – “Stormy Monday” – Thissraelle

A Pacifist Dragon?

Thissraelle, her heart pounding, dashed along a wide tree branch in the upper levels of Umbrawood City, high up in the forest canopy. Smoke and heat seared her eyes and skin. Shouts and clashes rang in her ears. She moved with a swiftness and stability that wasn’t normally her own. She turned and jumped off the branch, falling through the city. The hot wind helped blow out her sweaty hair. With a roll, she landed on a wide wooden-planked streetway that zig-zagged between the enormous tree trunks and the structures built around them. 

As she stood, a squadron of wood elven soldiers rushed past her, hurrying toward a burning building at one end of the path. As soon as they neared it, opposing soldiers set themselves in the way, thrusting forward with long steel spears. These fighters wore long thick white tunics and gleaming pointed helmets. 

High elven soldiers! She felt a cutting pang of regret and wished it wasn’t her own people attacking the treecity. The wood elven soldiers halted, trying to turn aside the spear jabs with their swords. Thissraelle tried to draw her sword, to jump into the fray, but, of course, she couldn’t move. This wasn’t her body, wasn’t her space. It was only her mind.

One of the wood elves in front of her took a hit from a spear. As he screamed from the wound, a flash of red light sparked from the spear point, and his body shook. When the spearman pulled his weapon away, the jolt threw the dying wood elf off the edge of the platform. Another wood elven defender to his left took a spark and fell, twitching, to the planks. 

Her legs started backing up, then turned to run away. No! Wait! You can fight! 

The building in the tree to her right was engulfed in flames. She ran past it, continuing along the path. She glanced down onto another path below and saw a squad of white-clad high elf soldiers fighting against giant spiders. More Arachins leaped onto the soldiers from above, spraying them with webs on the way down.

A sharp pain struck her back, knocking her forward to her knees. She looked down and saw the bloody tip of a steel arrow sticking forward out of her chest. She went weak. It was suddenly painfully harsh to breathe. She touched her chest and saw her fingers covered in blood. Her vision became blurry and she coughed twice, spraying blood. Her head drooped forward and she tumbled to the floor.

Thissraelle rolled onto her back and opened her eyes, gasping for breath. The sudden feeling of the cool Vast air and the cold stone beneath her was a welcome shift from the hot smoke of Umbrawood City, even if it had only been a projection of her mind. She was glad to be back safe in The Vast, but the shock of being killed felt real, and for a moment she thought about the poor wood elf whose dying experience she had just tapped into. So much killing. So much fear. What’s happening to my world? It’s all coming apart. Her eyes burned and tears trickled out over her cheeks and past her ears.

Her chest twitched and she sniffled, looking up at the expansive nebulae of swirling colors. They billowed larger, closer, and with more animation than usual when she’d watched from this viewpoint on the huge floating rock of Heathrax’s home. The clouds wrestled, rumbling thunderously and flashing frequent strokes of magical lightning. The slow rotation of the stone sphere she lay on made the spectacle look like it was drifting by.

A loud rumble burst out close behind her. Thissraelle jolted up. Wait. That wasn’t the storm… 

She spun on her knees to face Heathrax, who was coughing and clearing his throat as he crawled out of a cavernous hole in the rock. His dragon head was, as always, huge, but there was a brightness to his old grey eyes that she hadn’t seen in quite a while.

She relaxed and managed a faint smile at him, despite her dour mood. “You’re looking a bit better.”

“Yes. I feel it, too. Though I think,” he rasped, “with that entropy storm getting stronger, you had best come inside.”

She nodded sadly and stood, dusting off her skirt. As she walked past him, he snaked his neck around to double back on his long body and follow her inside. “You, however,” he added, “do not look well at all. You look like you need rest.”

“I shouldn’t need rest if the Vast is timeless,” she snapped, drawing a skeptical glance from Heathrax. She just shook her head and complained, “I can’t rest. I can’t get through to Eddiwarth. I don’t know what’s happening in Twynne Rivers.”

“He’s still not responding?”

“No. Not since Karendle told us about Granthurg.” That had been one of the most difficult nights of her life. She and Eddiwarth had sobbed together until their eyes were dry. Her arms had ached to hold him, but all she could touch was the oculus gem connecting their minds. It felt so cold and distant. The last thing Eddiwarth had said as the magic faded was, “I’ve failed. I failed Granthurg, I’ve failed you, and I’ve failed all of Wynne.” She had called out to him, to assure him of her love, but the stone had become a dull, empty blue.

“I’ve been trying to use both mental and dimensional magic. I’m trying to reach out to tap into people’s minds and experiences and see what’s going on in Twynne Rivers and Umbrawood.” She sighed. “When I do connect, it’s not good. It’s terrifying. Fighting, and blood, and flames everywhere. But I have to know.”

Heathrax slithered through the air beside her as she walked in the dark cavern. He lit a magical spot of light above them, helping her to see her steps. She went on, “The InnerWall of Twynne Rivers is reduced to raging flames and fights. Those that aren’t burning in the fires are being attacked and slaughtered by drakes.”

She sniffed and wiped her eyes. “Nobody’s trying to put out the fires. Most of the city’s mages were driven away last year. The nobles’ homes in CenterTown are burning, so they can’t bring their militias to the streets.” She heaved a deep breath. “That was all I could see a while ago. It doesn’t work anymore. All I can see in Umbrawood are bits and moments of the battles through the wood elves’ eyes, and I think those impressions are a few days old, now.” Where is Eddiwarth? Where are they all?

Heathrax nodded. “I’m sure the storm is making connecting difficult.”

Heathrax curled himself up on his bed in the cavern. He rested his head on his shoulders and closed his eyes. Thissraelle sat on a stone, hugging her knees and rocking gently in a vain attempt to comfort herself. Her shoulders were tense and her teeth clenched. 

Heathrax raised his head, tilted slightly, and raised a brow. “I don’t always know how to interpret hominid emotions, but you seem to be-“

“How can you sit here?” She shouted. “You’re Heathrax Dragonfriend! You’re the most powerful dragon wizard ever! People are dying and burning! Tarl knew this crisis was coming. She came and asked for your help and you turned her away! How can you sit here just… coughing?” She dropped her face between her knees. Her heart raced for a moment as tears welled in her eyes again. “I’m sorry. I know you’re not well… I know… You’ve got your reasons, I guess.” Her shoulders shook.

The silence between them echoed in the chamber. He reached forward and nudged her shoulder with an enormous claw. She raised up and rested her arms on his hand while she cried. 

After an awkward moment, he cleared his throat and said, “It’s true that I’m not well, but that’s not what truly prevents me. I am old. Because I’m old, I’ve seen a lot. You’ve read my poems. I’ve seen tyrants and benevolent kings come and go. They all end up blurring together after a time, and the difference between the good ones and the evil ones gets harder and harder to see with each new dynasty.”

She wiped her eyes and he went on, “I’ve fought for freedom and I’ve fought for truth only to see the freedmen become slaves to another king and the truth be distorted into lies all over again. I’m just tired of the fighting. In the long run, it’s gotten us nowhere. Maybe that’s wisdom, maybe that’s just bitterness.”

She ran her hand through her hair trying to straighten the tangles. Her face was streaked with tears. “Well, I can’t just sit here. I have to go.” She stood, “I’ll figure it out. I have to go to him. I need to know he’s still alive.”

“Are you sure that’s wise?” Heathrax asked, “The entropy storm will make it very risky to return to Twynne Rivers, and the city you’d be appearing into is less than stable.” 

She crossed her arms against the chill. As if confirming Heathrax’s thoughts, thunder rolled from beyond the cavern. “I’m young,” she said, “and I don’t have enough wisdom yet.”

Author’s Note: A Pacifist Dragon

Heathrax has been an interesting character to write. His altruistic nature and pacifist beliefs have made him something of an oddity among the dragons. Historically, in the lore of Wynne, he was not alone. In the reign of Maxxin III, the final dragon king, Heathrax and some other more philosophical dragons saw the oppression of the hominid peoples as a bad thing and helped them in their battles. This earned him the name “Dragonfriend”, given first by the wood elves, but eventually adopted by all.

In the intervening years, he’s gone from active combatant to pacifist, with not a small bit of bitterness. Now, he just likes to hide in the Vast and let the silly hominids fight amongst themselves.

I think this is one of the interesting things that come with being a pacifist. There are times when bad actors threaten the safety and lives of innocents. These people must be fought and resisted, often violently. But then, those that fight them sometimes turn into the same kind of oppressors as they try to hold to their own power.

What’s a pacifist to do?

In addition, making a traditionally big, scary, and violent monster into a pacifist hero is an interesting twist, as an author. It makes for a more complex backstory. That, and it’s also been fun writing some problems into his life. He’s kind of a pacifist paragon, so it’s cool to give him some personal issues as well.

Ironically, the life of a pacifist isn’t a peaceful one.