I floated in rainbows, and tried to remember. The rainbows were spectacular. And they didn't always curve right. There was no horizon (I remember horizons) for them to stop at, so they always came full circle. There were ovals, and even, rarely, a square. But - oh - I do remember! I had found the Last Dragon, and the Dragon's prison.
It was a rainbow, in this world, of course. But this rainbow was shaped like a Mobius strip. That, I remember, was important. The Mobius strip, I mean. Because Mobius meant Forever, and that was important in the Last Dragon's prison. I knew myself as I approached it. I had been searching forever, in a million worlds, for it. I remember that, too. As I neared the Mobius rainbow, I felt a sense of welcome, and sadness, from the Dragon. I imagined that I had feet, and placed them on the rainbow.
The intelligent, comforting warmspeak of the Last Dragon said sadly, [Aye, walk the Mobius. When you find the end, I will be free.] I cursed, softly, in the coldspeak of the ephemeral and knew that I had been tricked again. The Mobius has no end. I believed then that the Lock was only a few steps ahead of me; that if I moved fast enough, I could trick it into freeing the Last Dragon.
** "Fire, ephemeral. It is the key. When you can tell your lungs to make fire instead of air, then, and then only will I teach you." And the iridescent scales shifted as the Dragon turned his back to me. **
But what else could I do? I ran the Mobius, all senses alerted to something - anything - unusual. That was the Lock to the iron cage, the seam in the smooth sphere. And I would break it. I had to.
** "Do not work so hard, ephemeral. Warmspeak is not a language, to be learned. It comes, or it does not. Just relax, ephemeral. Let it flow." I felt too discordant to do anything but curse the substantial body I was trapped in. If I could leave it, like the Dragon, then I would be able to warmspeak. But in order to leave the body, I had to be able to warmspeak. And I wanted badly to please my teacher. I had done nothing in three years since learning to control the Fire. And softly, in my mind, came the touch of the Dragon's warmspeak, disagreeing, for I had finally done it -- He had warmheard my desire and discontent. It had been that easy. **
I do not know how long I ran the Mobius, but finally I knew that I had traced my path over at least once, and found nothing. [I cannot find the lock, Last Dragon,] I warmspoke him softly. I felt the Last Dragon sigh softly within the Mobius. [Then go back to Riaase. You have been too long from your ephemeral body.]
** [Dragon, why can I not warmspeak to Riaase?]
[If you do not warmspeak to him, ephemeral, then it is your own desire. If you are to warmspeak to your lover, then you must be willing to not merely love him, but to become one with him. The consequences of warmspeech between mortals is severe.]
But the Dragon merely nodded. **
I bowed my head in despair. The Last Dragon had been my teacher for half my life. I eyed the Mobius. There was one more thing to try, although I had little hope. I called forth my Fire, made it dance over the Mobius. Nothing, although I felt the Last Dragon's hopeful thoughts from inside it. I constructed shapes of Fire, set them to dancing all over the Mobius, to singing and dancing. But although the Mobius writhed in something akin to pain, it did not break. My Fire fell just short of the task, and the Last Dragon could not aid me from within.
Defeated, I wept, and spoke the words that would take me back to my body in the ephemeral world, back to Riaase who tended my body and waited for my return.
** [Excellent, ephemeral. Very good.]
I spun guiltily to face the Dragon. I had been showing off to myself, coloring my Fire and painting pictures with it. But the Dragon did not seem displeased.
[You grow more proficient every day. When the figures you paint also sing and dance, your Fire will be as close to true Dragonfire as an ephemeral can get.]
And then softly, almost as if to Himself, [And when Riaase can do likewise, it will be time for the final Testing...] **
I opened ephemeral eyes to see Riaase's beautiful face, concerned, leaning over mine. As he saw me move, he glanced at the mirror-smooth sphere which was the ephemeral view of the Prison. It had not been cracked. He looked back at me.
I shook my head, weakly. Tears fell from my eyes as Riaasegathered me into his arms, as grieved as I.
"The Fire will cut it, my love," I told him. "But not my Fire. It will take more than I alone can give."
He looked me wonderingly. Mine was the strongest Fire ever to have existed in an ephemeral. If mine was too weak...
"Riaase... Your Fire is different from mine. I think if we could combine them..." He frowned. We had each tried to teach the other our methods of Fire, but had not succeeded. Last Dragon had told us that the only way to teach a method of Fire was to warmspeak, and then he had reminded us again of unnamed consequence...
"I will warmspeak to you, Riaase. What could happen? My death? An imprisonment like the Last Dragon's? I am ephemeral. All torments end with death, and death comes swiftly."
Riaase nodded. He, too, was ready to die for the Last Dragon. He, too, was willing to commit the remainder of his short life to the freedom of our Teacher.
I had tried before to warmspeak to Riaase, and failed. The Last Dragon had told me that it was because my will was not strong enough. But this time, I had to. It had nothing to do with will, or desire. There simply was no choice. No room for failure. I concentrated on Fire, and its method...
And suddenly was engulfed in Flame! Riaase's Fire, with its difference, so different from mine, was consuming me! I heard his scream, and mine, as we held each other, as we met, and meshed...
The Dragon smiled across a thousand thousand worlds as the Prison broke and shriveled. On the ephemeral plane, the sphere turned itself inside out and wrapped itself around the two dying ephemera as they held each other and screamed in torment.
The Dragon scooped up the small sphere and allowed a tear to fall from his eyes. It splashed on the sphere and was absorbed by it.
[Our pain,] he whispered to those now sleeping within the sphere, [Our pain is in our conception. Never again will you feel such pain... The life of a Dragon is one of beauty and joy...]
And the Dragon, no longer the Last, held the egg close, remembering his own ephemeral lives...
Copyright 1995 by Elizabeth C. Luck. Not to be reprinted for sale of any sort without permission of the author.