An Uneven Clock
“Compared to me, your life is like the second hand of a clock.”
“Mentor, are you the hour hand then?”
“No… I’m the clock itself.”
It was a rainy autumn day.
We were on a small hill, sparsely populated by small trees.
“You were mighty, wise, and brave.”
Our voices overlapped as we slowly recited the incantation.
“You were sometimes tough, sometimes gentle, and forever heroic.”
There, dozens of people had gathered. Ahead of them all, I prayed.
“Please, I pray you rest in peace.”
—It was Guy-san’s last rites.
His body was gently laid down into the hole we’d dug open in the hill.
The various villagers had mournfully thrown flowers into the hole to lay with him.
It wasn’t that I’d told them to do so.
The villagers, with their own simplistic sensibilities, had established their customs as a matter of course.
Ai calling my name with tears in her eyes, I nodded.
Then, I inhaled deeply—and breathed out toward Guy-san.
Even without using an incantation, it was a dragon flame at high enough of a temperature to deal with an armored bear.
Breathing that out into the hole, not even his bones remained.
“Soil, take this person into yourself.”
When Nina solemnly uttered the incantation, his ashes were buried within the ground.
“And sprout anew.”
A very small sprout burst from the soil, growing rapidly. Before long, it had grown to be around the size of the surrounding trees.
I’d decided on cremation as a means of warding away the possibility of infectious diseases, but it was surprisingly accepted by everyone readily. I don’t think their reason is just that they trust in my flame though, I believe it’s also because of the magic Nina just invoked.
Staring at that small tree, Ai once again called my name.
“Is there really a world after death?”
No, though I don’t think I should answer like that.
Jack Frost’s materialization was most likely due to my lie becoming reality through Ai. As a result of her calling out for Jack Frost day in and day out, her thoughts and emotions accumulated, turned into a significant mass… and eventually became spirit.
An afterworld may be made through a similar way.
“Yes, yes there is.”
Therefore, I answered so.
“There is a world after death, really. So it’s alright, Guy-san is spending his time there in peace.”
＊ ＊ ＊
At a location several minutes of flying north from the village we live in.
It may just be a few minutes, but on a dragon’s wings, that means twenty or thirty kilometers.
My birthplace was there. This was the first time I’d returned to it in many years, my birthplace located in a cave nearby a caldera.
It’s a cave, but it’s not a naturally formed one.
There weren’t any stalactites or stalagmites to be seen and the pathway was a beautifully straight circle.
I used to wonder how this cave was build, but now I know. She’d melted it with her breath.
Just like how I’d opened up that mountain’s ventilation hole.
Once I got to the end of the pathway, I reached a large, spacious room. Immediately next to me was a simmering pool of magma, the temperature here was probably too high for normal humans to withstand. I couldn’t even bring Ai here to inform her of our marriage… Well, I didn’t tell her either way. If I told her something like I married a human, she might doubt my sanity…
“Oh? Welcome home.”
“I’m back, mother.”
What appeared to be a giant red wall at first glance was actually my current life’s mother.
A single one of her outstretched wings were even larger than my entire body.
“I was just about to eat, would you like to join?”
Mother thrust the leg of some giant creature into the magma—it looked weirdly similar to dipping a fry into a dipping cup.
“Time to eat, then.”
Following her example, I put the meat into the magma before eating it as well. This is how I always used to eat my meals when I lived here.
I don’t think that anything other than red dragons would find it tasty at all though.
I’ve heard that the sense of saltiness in taste is just a feeling of heat and pain on the tongue.
I can’t say for sure if it’s the same for dragons, but putting magma directly on a red dragon’s tongue is definitely painfully hot. It gives us a tingling sensation.
For dragons, magma is salty.
Chewing on meat side by side with her, I got a hold of myself.
Even though this is my first time coming back in quite a few years, she’s been acting normally.
I was troubled by whether this was because dragons were patient by nature or if it was because mother was especially leisurely.
“Mother. Could I ask you a question?”
“What is it?”
Mother leaned her giant head down until we were only around my tail’s length apart.
“Mother, how old are you?”
I had to stop myself from spouting back at her to not hide her age.
“How could that be? Right now, I’m around twenty.”
“Twenty? … Ooh. You’re counting by the seasons?”
Mother closed her mouth most of the way and blew out a thin, long flame against the ground. Easily melting the hard rocks, she drew a detailed picture on the ground. Be it in heat or control, she exceeded me by far.
“This is the sun shining in the sky. And this is the planet we live on.”
The picture was of our planet revolving around the sun in an elliptical orbit.
“Once the cycle of morning and night repeats four hundred and twenty times, this planet returns to more or less the same position. However, the orbit isn’t fully complete there, the ellipse itself moves little by little.”
Like a petal, the ellipse revolved around the sun as it spun.
“So then, after ninety-eight times, it will return to roughly the original orbit. That is one year.”
My mouth fell open in my surprise.
Let alone Copernican theory and her understanding of the concept of orbital trajectories, I was shocked by the fact that she was nearly twenty-six hundred years old. No, since the revolution cycles themselves are longer than Earth’s, she’s over twenty-eight hundred in Earth’s years.
From her perspective, she would probably view the fragile, weak humans incapable of their own language and that relied on stone tools as no better than ants. Once again, I was stunned by the vast chasm between humans and dragons.
“… Mother, so far as you know… who’s the oldest dragon?”
“Let me see, I think your grandfather was more than two hundred?”
Two hundred… times ninety-eight.
Even in this world’s year length, that’s nineteen thousand, six hundred years old. Isn’t that basically immortal?
“… You gave birth to me pretty young, mother.”
That’s all I could manage to say.
＊ ＊ ＊
“Welcome home, Mentor!”
Ai ran up to me when I returned to the village.
“I’m back. Sorry, you must have been lonely.”
“No, I’m okay.”
Ai hugged my foreleg tightly, laughing with a smile on her face.
Could I continue living for hundreds, thousands of years after losing her?
No. I’d never make it.
But I also know that I don’t have the courage to end my life with hers.
In that case, there’s only one thing I can do.
I have no choice but to realize mankind’s dream in this world.