Shinzo and Gale: A Tale of Fulai

by Jason Andrew Brown, AKA "VeryGnawty"

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This is my world. I want to share it with you.

"I'm not going back." Shinzo eyed the large black dragon standing before him.

"But you have to!" The beast reared its head back, blackened scales glistening in the sunlight.

"I'm not," Shinzo rubbed his tattered tunic between his fingers. It was the only thing he had left: the only reminder of where he had come from, of who he had been. Now he was just a man in rags, being followed by some beast of a lizard. He cared not for the fate of the others. He didn't care for anything. He was free now. That's all that mattered. Freedom. He continued walking through the forest.

The black dragon lumbered behind him, crushing leaves and twigs underfoot. It crashed through a treelimb with a crackling roar. The beast was clumsy. It began to argue again. "When I saved you..."

"When you saved me, you were doing me no favors." Shinzo called back coldly, brushing aside a long strand of filthy black hair.

"Then where will you go? I can take you. They call me Gale, for I fly like the gale."

Shinzo began stomping his feet into the dirt path, emphasizing each word with a thud. "I don't need you to take me anywhere. I am perfectly fine by myself. If you must know, I'm headed for the Thunderhead Mountains. Now leave me alone."

But the dragon didn't leave him alone. In fact, Shinzo was horrified when he noticed ivory talons closing around him. The dragon lifted him bodily out of the air. Shinzo protested, "Let me go you persistent fool of a creature!" He beat his fists in futility against the massive talons holding him.

"We shall go to Thunderhead now," Gale replied, "you will like it there. The mountain is nice."

Of course it's nice, Shinzo thought. But he couldn't bring himself to say it. Instead, he slumped forward as the dragon deposited him on its massive backside. The dragon's back wasn't uncomfortable. Not that Shinzo had anything to compare it to. He'd never sat on a dragon before. He'd never even seen one before today.

"Go to sleep now," Gale whispered. He leaned low, the massive muscles in his legs showing through scaley skin. With a leap and a flick of the tail he cleared the treetops. Gale churned the air with a massive whoosh. As he gained height, he switched to gliding with his wings rather than flapping. Below, the trees stared back in staunch silence. The wind rustled the leaves of the forest. Tiny forest creatures scuttled about, blissfully unaware of the dark shape looming above them. Behind them lie the fortress of tyrants. But they had only destiny ahead of them.

Gale flew serenely through the air, thinking of dragonly things. He thought about the direction and speed of the wind. He thought about the wind on his face. He thought about the many adventures he had been through during his long life. But most of all, he thought about the Thunderhead Mountains.

"Cough! Humph!" Shinzo awoke in a dark cave. The sound of dripping water echoed around him. Light filtered through an entrance ahead of him, bouncing eerily from stalagmites, like eerie candles without flames. It was peaceful, sort of quit in a strange way. He could recognize the dragon that saved him earlier.

"Ugh!" Shinzo rubbed his head slowly. "So I can see you aren't going to leave. So what's your story?"

The dragon pointed at itself, as if there were anyone else in the cave. "Who, me? I live here. This is my home."

"Your home?" Shinzo stood up wearily, propping himself against the cave wall. "Well, I guess that ruins my chance for a solitary vacation." He laughed at his own joke. It felt good to laugh. "So we are stuck with each other for now."

"Stuck? I'm not stuck?" The dragon looked confused.

Shinzo clarified, "No, I said we are stuck together."

"Are you stuck? Let me help you." The dragon made a move toward him.

"No." Shinzo pushed the dragon away with his arm. "Just, nevermind. Gale, right? What I meant was that I planned on staying in these mountains for awhile, and I didn't know it was your home."

"It wasn't." Gale blinked.

Shinzo pointed a finger at him. "Ah, but you said it was your home."

"No, I said it is my home." Gale corrected him.

"So, it wasn't your home?"

"Not before we arrived last night," Gale explained. "But now it is my home. I am a wanderer. But I can't just say I don't have a home. That's depressing. So my home is wherever I am at the moment."

"Fine," Shinzo accepted, "a wandering dragon with a portable house. Would you happen to have any homely water in your homely home? Dragons do drink, right?"

"Oh yes," Gale thumped his chest with a large paw, "dragons get very thirsty. But you would prefer the stream. The water in here is a bit brackish."

"Brackish, right." Shinzo laughed. "Well then, sir portable homeless dictionary dragon called Gale. Let us go to the stream."

He licked his cracked lips as he left the cave entrance. The sun was bright outside. He must have slept all night. He was at the base of the mountain, atop a large boulder. Cedar trees surrounded the boulder. Climbing down carefully, he looked for footholds and ledges so he wouldn't slip. The moss-covered rock was cold and gritty to the touch. It smelled of wet leaves. Finding his way down, Shinzo jumped nimbly down to the ground. A large crashing sound could be heard as his large companion unceremoniously made his way down from the boulder in a single leap.

"Must you always make so much noise?" Shinzo asked.

"Do you need silence?" Gale ducked down low, his head close to the ground. "I can be stealthy as a cat, silent as a wisp of wind. I can sneak up on a badger."

"A badger?" Shinzo scratched his head. "Why a badger? Nevermind, I probably don't want to know. I don't know why I even care. I suppose someone of your size can naturally afford to talk."

The dragon pleaded with mock indignation. "Did I just detect sarcasm, sir? Surely you don't intend to say I am ignorant of my surroundings. I know everything that is going on. Do you know what that sound is? The rustling in the leaves? It's just a lizard. I'm sorry to disappoint you. It's not soldiers out to capture you, or thieves to take your money, or madmen trying to kill you."

"I get the point." Shinzo blocked the tenacious dragon with his fist. "So let's walk in peace now."

If there was anything this walk was, it was peaceful. Dead leaves crunched underfoot. Squirrels could be seen darting through the trees. The wind howled with soft intensity. There was nothing better than this moment, nothing more pristine or perfect. It could have lasted forever and Shinzo would not have been at a loss. He rubbed his scarred brow. So much pain. Such unbearable pain. But it was worth it all for this moment. If only he could show someone how perfect this was. But there was just him and the dragon. Could he see this? Did he feel this?

His daydream was interrupted when he stepped into the river. That was fast, he thought. He knelt down to wash his dark hair in the water. The stream pushed against him gently. He lowered his head back underwater, taking a breath. The water flowed around him. He lifted back up to watch the droplets fall from him.

Splash! The dragon could be heard as he jumped into the river. Gale lie on his back, damming the river. He looked back and forth awkwardly, "It's too shallow."

Shinzo smiled. He wanted so much just to lie down forever. But something about the silly beast still made him smile. It was an innocence, or an intelligence, maybe both. The antics were perfect in their timing, his words perfect in choice. Shinzo sat in the water. "Let us lie here in the river."

Gale plodded up beside him, and they both sat in the river. They lie there, just letting the water flow over them. It was cold, but beautiful. The water was eternal. It did not judge, did not force them away. The water could not be offended. It was incapable of hate. They sat there for a long time until Gale suddenly leapt out of the water.

"What? Where are you going?" Shinzo called after him.

"Oh, sorry, but there's a girl dragon around here you know." Gale called back hastily.

Shinzo watched his friend fly away. "A girl dragon?" He laughed. "What I wouldn't give to be young again. It's sad that Gale is probably older than me. I wonder how long dragons live?"

The trip back was even more serene than before. Shinzo let the wind dry him as he walked past the trees, for he had no towel to speak of. His old brown cloak clung to him. Finding the cave, he climbed back up to the entrance where the familiar drip of water could be heard inside. Hiding out in the dark recesses of the cavern, he fell asleep.

It was dark. Night had fallen, and with it so had the hustle and bustle of the day. Insects could be heard outside, chirping an endless cadence. Hardly anything could be seen in the cave with just the moonlight. Shinzo peered around as his eyes adjusted to the darkness. "Gale, are you there?"

He heard a shuffle of sound. It was hard to identify the source with the echo from the rock walls. Shinzo reached bravely into the blackness. "Who is that?"

Shinzo was distracted by a sharp pain in his side. He reached down to notice a metal object protruding from his stomach. And there was blood. Lots of blood.

"Argh!" He reached out, grabbing his unseen assailant. He hurled the man into the wall, cracking his skull. Reaching down, he painfully pulled the sword from his gut. Stumbling around in vain, he reached out blindly. "Gale. Are you there? That soldier followed me. I can't believe he followed me this far. How could I have been so stupid?"

"Shinzo." Gale could be heard in the corner of the cave. "Shinzo, what happened?"

Shinzo stumbled toward the voice. "I'm tired, Gale. So tired now."

"No. You won't die. You can't."

Shinzo grabbed the dragon's leg with a bloody hand. "There is nothing left to live for, Gale. What do I have left to live for?"

"So much." The dragon cried. "You have something, everything left. You have the sound of the bees and the birds and the trees. If you only knew how much was there. If you only knew."

Shinzo closed his eyes. "Yes, I see it now, Gale. I see it. My whole life I never saw it. My whole life, it passed right by me. I had so much to live for. So much. But it is only now in these final moments when I have seen how to truly live."

"Don't talk now, just rest."

"Yes, rest." Shinzo lie down, letting the numbness overcome his body.

Gale left the cave in a hurry. He searched far and wide for somebody who knew something of human anatomy. He searched the mountaintop where there were other dragons, but they didn't know anything about humans. He spoke to the creatures of the forest, and they didn't know anything either. He tried contacting his deceased ancestors, but he didn't know anything about spirits or the afterlife. He returned to the cave dejectedly.

Gale slumped down by the prone figure of his friend, running a claw through the man's hair. "I'm sorry. I failed you. I've never regretted anything in my life until now. But I've failed you."

"No, no." Shinzo grabbed the dragon with a weak hand. "How have you failed me? You showed me how to live. If even for just a day, you showed me how to live. And I would gladly trade my entire life for that day. For a moment I remembered how to love. I remembered why I am here. I remembered."

Shinzo lie back, breathing heavily. Gale closed his eyes, trying to hold back the tears. But it didn't work. He could think of nothing else but Shinzo's life. But no matter how much he thought about it, he couldn't save it.

It was a cold morning's air that blew over the grave site. It didn't take long for Gale to dig the hole to bury his friend. Only now, staring into the bright morning sun, could he accept the truth. He patted the grave mound fondly with his tail. "It is a new morning, friend, and there is so much to live for."

Leaving the large boulder and the grave behind him, Gale set out into the forest. It was serene. The birds were chirping and the lizards were scurrying. This moment was perfect. Can you see this? Can you feel this? Gale reached down, grabbing a clump of dried leaves. Blowing them into the wind, he watched them float away. Because in this moment there was no time for despair. This was life.