Naya on the Moon
A sequel to 'Naya's Tale'
by Doran Eirok
Naya decided to visit the moon.
The black and red dragoness was tired and ready for a break from things, and she hadn't been among the gentle loneliness of the stars for a while. She had some choice; the world of her birth and residence had three natural satellites to pick from. Llovien was the largest and brightest, with its mate Syrthen occupying a slightly smaller mass and wider orbit. Both moons were named in memory of a mated pair of dragons from an old story, old enough that no one had been certain if it was history or myth even when Naya was young. It was the third moon that Naya settled on, however. Othen was a small, irregular captured asteroid with an eccentric orbit, and the misfit nature of the diminutive moon appealed to Naya in her current, somewhat pensive mood. Besides, it was a moon that she had a particular history with.
Although she did not look it, she was old. It was close to a thousand years now since her life had experienced its uncertain and tragic beginning; since the unexplained death of her mother and sudden insanity of her father, since her childhood abuse and torture, since her accidental discovery of ancient and powerful magic that left her body marked down its back with green runes. Since she had been driven somewhat mad with power and fear, and become something between a dangerous monster and a small-scale natural disaster.
It was several years fewer since her self-serving, terrified rampage had been brought up short by the love and acceptance she discovered in a strange and calming black dragon. His name had been Erecrath, and he hadn't feared her. He hadn't fought with her, or judged her; he had simply accepted and loved her. The simple innocence and steadfast warmth of him had been the trigger that made Naya remember that there had been something in her life before fear. At first she'd been too afraid to stay with him. She had fled, far to the North, until she was no longer sure who she was running from; Erecrath or herself. Again, however, she'd been brought up short. This time it was an angry brown dragon, driven by rage over the death of his brother who had been one of Naya's victims. One of the ones who hadn't survived her sadistic play.
The encounter gave Naya the clarity she'd been missing. With Erecrath she'd been tempted to forget everything and lose herself in the love he offered her, but this vengeful brother reminded her that the horrific actions of her past had consequences she couldn't ignore. In that moment she decided to do whatever she could to atone for her crimes, for the seven she had killed and many others she had tormented, and simply allowing this dragon to kill her out of vengeance wouldn't accomplish that. She used her magic to evade him, robbing him of his revenge, but harbouring a new determination to be a force of good in the world and try to make up for the things she'd done.
His name had been Kentis. She'd discovered that years later when she paid her respects at his grave. His younger brother, the one she had killed, had been named Kiro. There was nothing she'd ever been able to do to give their family the satisfaction of revenge or closure, but she'd tried to aid them in what ways she could. She kept them in her thoughts as she travelled the world, using the tragedy she'd inflicted upon them as motivation for herself. Where someone with power was abusing someone weaker, Naya intervened with judgement that she hoped was harsh but fair. As determined as she was to never let another be the bully she had been, she was equally determined, if at all possible, to give those bullies the same chance at clarity and atonement she had been granted.
Her self-inflicted mission to try and better the world scaled up over time from individual bullies to towns, cities, even small countries where a ruler was unjustly exploiting those under his or her care. Though reluctant to take things as far as toppling governments, Naya did as she felt called and, despite a few missteps along the way, seemed to genuinely better the lives of many.
After a few years of such service, and several hard-learned lessons along the path of trying to be a hero, Naya allowed herself to finally give in to one of the strongest sources of her motivation: she tracked down Erecrath. Fate was kind to her; time hadn't seemed to move on much for the black dragon, who was still living comfortably and quietly alone. He had waited for her. She clung to him, sobbing, and explained the story of her life to him as she had never done before, telling him how sorry she was to have fled from him so abruptly. He held her in his wings, simply accepting and loving everything about her and happy that she had finally returned.
Naya finally knew true joy. They spent a long and rich lifetime together. They loved passionately. Together, they continued Naya's work of actively trying to do good in the world and help those in need. They found and forged friendship with long-lost family members of Naya's that she had never previously known of. Naya had found peace, and the happiness of a long, full lifetime with a beloved mate, and it was all that anyone could ever ask for.
One thing she never had was children. Through some quirk of the immense magical power bound to her body and soul, or perhaps the forceful way it had been bestowed upon her, she was unable. While the fact sometimes saddened her and Erecrath, they had each other and remained grateful for that until the end.
Naya did use her magic to prolong her mate's natural life, keeping him healthy and un-aged as the magic naturally did for her. She could have done so indefinitely, sharing her magic with him, but after several centuries together the black dragon grew tired. The magic that granted Naya her immortality of sorts wasn't a part of Erecrath, and at the end of a long and good life he still felt mortal and ready for it to end. The couple took their time coming to terms with it, relishing in each other's company and being so impossibly grateful for the lifetime they'd shared together.
Naya always remembered and cherished the final things he said to her. "Nothing lasts forever, my beloved. Every moment of my life since I met you has been filled such with joy and completeness, that I cannot possibly complain about it being somehow inadequate. We were given more time together than most ever get, and yet if I'd had only a single day with you I would have gone to my grave grateful and content. I am happier than anyone but you can ever know, and now I'm ready to sleep, just as at the end of a long and perfect day."
They held each other tightly, savouring their final moments together as Naya gently withdrew her magic from him and allowed nature to take its course.
Despite the acceptance and grace they'd found together in the decision, Naya grieved long, hard, and deep. She was able to embrace that acceptance and serenity again, but it took her some time. Life felt understandably empty to her, and she took what comfort she could in the friendships that she and Erecrath had forged together, and had no shortage of support from the distant family they had discovered. She spent many quiet hours lost in study, learning what new things she could about the world she still wished to protect. What finally drew her out of her sorrow however was a call to action greater than any she'd previously had.
Through magic, scholarship, and innovative engineering, some of the more learned dragons of her world had begun to watch and study the stars. This pursuit now uncovered a threat that the stargazers had the ability to discern but not to combat; an asteroid bound for their world, if the magical models of celestial movements were to be believed.
With increasing alarm, the stargazers realised the extent to which the impact would devastate their world, and yet the ability to travel up to the stars or send something to turn aside the inbound rock was beyond all of them. All but Naya.
Flying higher than the sky itself was something Naya had no previous experience with, but with the fate of her world hanging in the balance she learned quickly. In the greatest single expenditure of her power she had ever attempted, she sheathed her body in protective magic, soared upward until the sky turned black and airless, and forced aside the asteroid until the scholars' models confirmed it had entered a safe and stable, if eccentric, orbit. Joining the two original moons of Llovien and Syrthen, the dragons named the newcomer Othen, the Wanderer, after the child in the same ancient story that had given the original moons the names of the mother and father. Less formally, many of the scholars took to jokingly referring to it as 'Naya's Moon.'
Realising that she had effectively saved the world gave Naya something to take some measure of pride and happiness in, and helped impress upon her that there were still things to live for. So live she did, continuing in her role as protector of her world. No further asteroids or other threats loomed out of the darkness of space after that, and convincing political leaders to treat their subjects and colleagues with respect and decency seemed mundane by comparison. But she did it all the same, as it seemed like work worth doing. She kept herself honest through extensive study and research, and by heeding the advice of many trusted friends and confidants. She was quick to concede that while her own magical abilities were well in excess of any others', her knowledge of any given local situation was probably not.
She made enemies over the centuries, of course, but never any she wasn't able to handle. She had some close calls, she made some mistakes and sometimes innocent people paid the price for it, but she never let herself grow complacent and she never stopped learning how to do better the next time. In the earlier days, some tried to worship her and hold her up as a goddess. While she couldn't deny that a small, selfish and dominant corner of her found it a little bit fun, she did her best to forestall such treatment. Above all she never stopped taking her power, or the world under her wing, seriously. And most people agreed that she did much more good than harm.
By the end of a millennium of life, though, she was tired. She was finally beginning to understand better how Erecrath had felt, a few hundred years before. She was proud of what she'd done for her world, probably most of all the lopsided little moon currently resting beneath her black paws, but she'd lately begun to wonder more and more what the world would be like without her. Civilisation had moved along a great deal in her lifetime. Dragons and the other intelligent creatures that shared the world had started to communicate and work together more, building larger settlements and exploring new frontiers of engineering, magic, and knowledge. It was exciting to watch, especially with the long view Naya had been able to take. The first ventures into space were now beginning as well, fuelled by means more accessible and sustainable than Naya's own acquired magic. Maybe it was finally a safe and reasonable time for Naya, protector of the world, to retire. Maybe her fellows could look after themselves now.
Naya just wondered where that left her. She supposed she could 'retire' in a way, disguise her identity and try living a quiet, peaceful life for a while. The idea had a certain appeal, though part of her also liked the idea of leaving the world altogether and exploring somewhere new.
Her thoughts were interrupted then by an odd sense that she wasn't alone. Here on the black and tortured surface of her small adopted moon, alone was the one thing she should've been with certainty. Frowning, she looked around to try and discern the source of the feeling. And found herself staring at another dragon, sat a small distance away on a neighbouring rise.
The dragon was quite large, at least twice Naya's size, and at first glance covered by scales of a deep black. As she stared though, his scales revealed a deep iridescence in the cold light, as if every imaginable shade of blue was slowly dancing somewhere beneath the metallic sheen of that blackness. The blue, almost a glow, seemed slightly more pronounced in his paws and wing membranes, but it was his eyes that captured Naya's attention and refused to release it. They were like fine crystals or prisms, seeming to take on a different colour of the rainbow at any moment the way a clear faceted gem does when turned in the light. So much more than that though, his eyes captivated her with the warmth, wisdom, and time that seemed to nestle comfortably within their gaze.
Naya was startled to find him there, of course, but her immediate next reaction wasn't fear or anger or defensiveness. She would have thought it would be one of those, but something about the manner of the other dragon, and beyond that, the simple presence he radiated, felt... safe. Warm. Immensely powerful, but not the power of a monster. Swallowing just a little, Naya suddenly realised she knew exactly how those dragons had felt who long ago tried to lift her up as a goddess. What it must have felt like to be in the presence of a being such as her, so much longer-lived, more powerful, and wiser than they.
However strong the awe those dragons had felt while they knelt at her paws, Naya was certain that what she felt now was that same feeling, yet increased by orders of magnitude. They had thought her a goddess, or some similar being of power and standing so great that she existed at an altogether different scale than they.
They had no idea.
The dragon watched her with a gentle smile while all these thoughts raced through her mind, and it eventually occurred to Naya that she ought to say something. With her brain struck to new depths of uselessness by her awe, Naya's choice of words were something she would long remember with a pained wince and a roll of her eyes at her own silliness.
"Hello," she said.
The simple word immediately seemed the very height of inadequacy for greeting a being such as this, whoever he was. More than that, the word hit Naya's ears in a hollow and tinny way that reminded her that she was only perched on the moon and surviving by way of a form-fitting magical envelope, and naturally a spoken word would not resonate beyond it through the airless space between her and the other dragon.
Nevertheless, the other dragon's smile widened a tiny bit and he bowed his head in a slow, almost reverent greeting. That feeling Naya had of his 'presence' seemed to widen slightly, expanding and increasing around him to fill a larger area. It was like a magical aura, she thought, but with a feeling unlike any magic she knew. She realised then that she felt air around her. "Hello," the other dragon responded in kind, his voice deep and resonant yet containing the same warmth his gaze and presence did. Somehow his choice to use her same word made her feel a little less silly.
She smiled just a little. Somehow even with the immense awe she felt, the dragon felt... likeable, in a surprising way. For all that his presence felt godlike, his manner seemed simple and friendly. Her next words again felt silly to her, but she couldn't help but ask. "Are you... a god?"
This time her voice sounded more natural. The black dragon seemed to have willed a local atmosphere for the two of them into existence. Naya supposed that in and of itself was a partial answer to her question, and his smile seemed to suggest it was one he'd been asked before. "Yes, and no," he responded. "We call ourselves star dragons. We do indeed spend most of our existence living and dealing with things at a rather different scale than you, and we sometimes give major events a nudge in the right direction, but we didn't create your world or the life on it, and we're not privy to the secrets of what happens after life ends. As great mysteries go, those ones are a bit beyond even us." Naya couldn't help but return the small grin he flashed her. "My name is Astrelarien," he introduced himself.
"Mine is Naya."
Astrelarien's smile told her he already knew that, but the introduction seemed oddly appropriate anyway. "It is a delight and an honour to meet you, Naya."
"I can't help but get the sense that you know me already somehow."
He nodded in confirmation. "From afar. Yours is quite a story, and while the magic you carry within you is naturally of your world, the concentration of it has elevated you somewhat and made you capable of great things. Some more wholesome than others."
Naya flattened her ears slightly. Of course, he would know about both the good things she'd done and her younger days when she bullied and tormented others for her own enjoyment. The judgement in his gaze and tone was gentle though, and forgiving it seemed. It also felt to her as though it was mixed with approval, in consideration for the many things she'd done to atone. "I've tried my best to make up for the harm I've caused." She met his gaze, not challengingly, but in what she hoped was simple acceptance and understanding of the many actions and consequences of her life. Somehow she knew the next thing he'd say, so she said it for him. "Although I know none of that can erase that harm. Or bring back those whose lives have been lost because of me."
Astrelarien nodded softly. "I haven't come here to judge you or punish you. Perhaps I might have once, if you'd continued on the path you once were on, and particularly if you'd scaled up that path the way you have the kinder one you settled on in the end. You've found your own clarity and atonement, though, and done a lot of good. Your world admires and appreciates you, even though much that gratitude is owed to Erecrath as well."
The reminder of her beloved mate and what he'd done for her brought tears to Naya's eyes, and a smile to her muzzle. "I owe him everything. So yes... whatever the world might feel it owes me, it owes to him." As an afterthought, she added, "Kentis played a role too."
The black dragon nodded. "The vengeful brother. Erecrath taught you of love and acceptance. Kentis taught you of consequences."
Naya nodded. "From those lessons I've tried to make the best possible use of myself and my abilities. I like to think I've done alright."
Astrelarien gave her a warm smile, and nodded. "You've done wonderfully, Naya. You're right to take some pride in it. You've been a protector of your world and kept it safe from harm, sometimes in ways no one else could have." The small shuffle of a paw was the only gesture needed to indicate the importance of the moon on which they stood. "What you've done with your life isn't unlike what I do with mine, at your own scale."
She smiled at the praise, and tilted her head curiously. "What do you do, exactly? You protect as well? But things... greater than individual lives and worlds?"
"Something like that, yes. We act as protectors in an existence made up of things greater in size and impact, things that exist in different ways from the physical and magical forces you know, and become quickly difficult to describe." He smiled. "Not necessarily more important, though. Sometimes everything can hinge on a single planet, or even a single individual. After all, I can think of one individual who began her life as a terrified youngling walking the edge of death and madness, and through the love of one other dragon went on to save the world."
Naya smiled again softly. Thinking back on her life, much of what made her the dragoness she had become was owed to chance encounters and unlikely events. Some of his words struck her strangely, though, and left her wondering. "You talk of things that exist to you outside of what I know. You said that the magic I hold... the collective power of the ancient mage city I stumbled upon... was born naturally of my world. But what about... I'm sorry, but I have to ask you if you might know... what about what happened to my parents? I've never been able to find that out."
The star dragon gave a deep sigh, his gaze lowering in sorrow. "Without knowing it, Naya, you've just cut right to the heart of why I'm here."
Naya's heart seemed to skip a beat or two, and she watched Astrelarien intently. This was the last mystery she'd never been able to solve. The black dragon seemed to gather his thoughts for a moment, before meeting her eyes and speaking again.
"The life I live as a star dragon... the battles I fight, the riddles I solve, the friends I make, the worlds I explore. These are all filled with creatures, beings, forces of nature, and forces of things far beyond nature, that are too diverse and beautiful and horrifying to even begin to put into words. There are extremes such that your mind simply isn't capable of grasping. There are things so beautiful that they can make me sob uncontrollably each time I come upon them, even after all my time and experience. And there are things so dark and horrific and so fundamentally wrong that they fill me with a terror that utterly dwarfs the awe you felt when you first saw me."
Naya swallowed, feeling a small tremble deep in her being at his words. Even as vague as they were, some sense of what he truly meant came across, and it was enough to make Naya feel smaller than she had in a long time.
Astrelarien gave her a moment to digest his words before continuing. "These latter things are what my colleagues and I spend our existence protecting the rest of creation from. Most of the time we are successful. Sometimes we fail and lose someone we love. Sometimes we fail catastrophically and lose something beautiful and unique from existence forever." He gave another sigh, his eyes holding Naya's as his gazed turned sorrowful. "And sometimes, we fail in such a way that the merest sliver of one of these horrors breaks through our line, and strikes a blow past us into the universe you know."
Naya's jaw dropped slightly, the barest comprehension of what he was implying beginning to dawn. "...That's what happened to my parents, isn't it? This... horror invaded my world and... and killed my mother?"
The dragon gave a sad nod. "The smallest possible portion of the horror survived our battle with it. It entered your world and existed there for what would equate to some small fraction of a second. In that time, it killed your mother and... hurt your father in such a way that he was driven to the madness you suffered under until you found your power and revenged yourself upon him. Both of your parents truly ended the day they were attacked."
Tears welled up in Naya's eyes, and her gaze fell to the barren ground. She was silent for a while, taking this all in. "...And you came here to tell me this? To answer the one question about my past that I've never been able to?"
When she looked back up at him, Astrelarien's gaze was filled with such raw emotion that it startled her. Sorrow, and regret. "No, Naya... I came here to tell you that it was my fault. And to beg for your forgiveness."
Naya stared at him, unable to find words for a long while. She finally had an answer, that at least was something she had never before been able to find. But for him to say it was his fault... should she be angry with him? Some part of her wanted to be. For all that the death of her parents was an event nearly a thousand years old, it played such a defining role in Naya's life, and the torments her corrupted father inflicted on her were responsible for the fear that drove her to a madness of her own for a time. A fear that for all her healing, she still carried deep within her and forever would. And in his own way, this great dragon before her was responsible.
For a moment she even let herself be angry, as if to try it and see if it would actually work. This dragon was a protector who had failed in his duty and allowed something terrible to happen. Didn't he deserve her wrath rather than her forgiveness?
But the thought didn't last more than a moment. It couldn't. In her self-appointed role as her world's protector, Naya had failed plenty of times herself. Some had suffered or died because she wasn't fast enough, made the wrong decision, or missed a detail. Each time it had happened, she'd felt terrible and sworn to herself she'd never allow it to happen again. Whatever different battles this star dragon fought, whatever extremes of creation and vague, indefinable concepts he grappled with, Naya guessed that emotion was something they'd have in common. Something any protector would feel who failed in his or her duty.
Astrelarien watched silently as these thoughts spilled across Naya's eyes, and the dragoness finally gave a small sigh. "I can't truly be angry with you for that. Even if some small, petty part of me might wish to... I can't. There would be no sense in it. Of course I forgive you, Astrelarien."
The star dragon's composure didn't change much, but a look of relief flashed across his eyes and a slightly greater sense of serenity seemed to flow over him. "Thank you, Naya. You honour me."
She shook her head softly. "There's hardly anything to forgive. You must know I've made mistakes or oversights myself, and sometimes people have suffered or died because of it. I can hardly judge you more harshly than myself. Only... what can you tell me? Can you explain any further what led to it? What this failing of yours was?"
A knowing nod seemed to confirm that the star dragon had followed her thoughts and recollections. "It was, as you call it, an oversight. Something dark made an attack at your world, your universe. Three of my companions and I met it and fought it, long and hard. We defeated it, but as the horror faded it lashed out with the very last of its ability, spending what remained of it in one final strike. I was negligent. I had thought it vanquished and let my guard down. That one spark of evil slipped past the quarter I was meant to defend, and struck. My companions and I immediately realised our... my mistake, and rushed after that spark and eradicated it, but we weren't quick enough. The damage had been done, and even with our great power that sort of damage is not something we can undo. I was horrified, I knew it had been my fault, and yet... compared to what that darkness is capable of, we considered ourselves fortunate that the only apparent victims were two dragons. One dead, one driven to such madness that we didn't expect him to survive long." Astrelarien winced softly, eyes meeting Naya's with a look of deep apology and sympathy. "Surely the loss of two individuals was nothing next to the potential loss of your entire world or worse... and yet, Naya, the arc that your entire life has covered is living proof that the smallest thing can make all the difference. The way that event shaped and defined your life and set things on the path that eventually led to, among other things, your having the ability and desire to save your world from a rather more natural but no less tragic disaster. Yours is a tale that I and many other star dragons keep close to our hearts to remind ourselves of the importance of the smallest things."
"As you've just said though... without that having happened, would I, or my world, be here at all now? If things had happened differently... if I'd grown up with a loving mother and father and lived a normal life, would I have still found the ancient mage city? Would somebody else have? Would they have used that power to cause more harm than I ever did, and burned the world all on their own? Or would this moon have been allowed to devastate it? Would someone else have saved my world?"
Astrelarien smiled. "You can see how complicated such questions quickly become. Possibility is a subject that makes even my head ache, and what truly matters is what has come to pass. You have felt great sorrow in your life, and for my considerable part in that, I am and will always be truly sorry, dear Naya. And yet here we are, sat together on this little moon of yours. You've had much happiness in your life as well, you are alive, you are capable, and your world is still here. And what a beautiful, bright, and hopeful world it is."
With a nod of his head, the star dragon gestured to one side. Over the gnarled hills and craters of Othen's surface, Naya's world had just risen. Against the empty darkness of space, the half-lit sphere was a symphony of glowing blue and green and brown and white. Naya nodded softly in agreement; it truly was a beautiful sight. And seeing it drifting peacefully through the stars, knowing that all the creatures living there were working hopefully and optimistically toward a bright future, she swelled up with pride for the roles she had played in seeing it through this far. Once more her eyes filled with tears, and they clung stubbornly to her muzzle in the microgravity until she wiped them from her muzzle.
The two dragons sat together in silence for some time, simply appreciating the glorious sight and reflecting on all the things that had occurred to make it possible.
Without asking if she minded, and without needing to, Astrelarien quietly moved to sit beside Naya and draped a large, leathery wing around her. It was such a simple gesture of affection and approval, and somehow to Naya it felt as though it brought a completeness between them. Of all that had needed to be said and done in this meeting, this was the last thing. She found herself relaxing, leaning gently against the star dragon's side, with a profound sense of contentment flowing over her. For a good while longer they sat together in companionable silence.
When the time seemed right, Astrelarien's gentle voice finally brought an end to the quiet. "Any thoughts on what you'll do now?"
"Before you arrived, I was considering that. I can't help but feel like it's time for me to retire from being a protector, at least for a while. I wondered about hiding my identity and magic and just living a simple, gentle, carefree life for a while. But I also feel somehow like it's a good time to leave this world, let it find its own way without me meddling anymore. So I wondered too about going off exploring, flying off into the stars and finding a new world to nose around in."
Astrelarien nodded softly in agreement. "This world can look after itself now. And I'll keep an eye on it for you, just to be sure." Then he grinned. "So why do not both?"
Naya returned his grin, chuckling a little. "Perhaps so. Do you recommend anywhere?"
The star dragon raised a forepaw and stroked his chin thoughtfully for a moment, then pointed. "Try that one. Good people there, diverse, you'd like it."
She followed the path traced by his claw, and somehow knew exactly the star he was referring to. It was distant, and definitely not one of the brightest in her sky. From here the star looked small, plain, and unassuming, with nothing to really distinguish it from any of the other billion incandescent specks against the darkness apart from Astrelarien's recommendation.
It looked perfect.
Naya gently nuzzled the star dragon's shoulder, then looked up at him and asked, "Will I see you again?"
Astrelarien gave her one final squeeze with his wing before withdrawing it, treating her to a very warm smile. "Definitely."
The dragoness smiled, heartened by his certainty of that fact. Rising to her paws and stretching out her wings, her runes began to glow as she prepared for her journey, the soft haze of her magic flowing over her body. "I'll look forward to that, then. Thank you, Astrelarien... for everything."
He kept his smile, leaning over to plant a tender lick atop her forehead before stepping back to give her room. "You will always be welcome. Fly safe, dear Naya, and take care of yourself."
Rising up on her hindpaws and balancing there for a moment, she replied, "You too," then gave a push. She fanned her wings wide, a vibrant green glow enveloping them as she lifted off from her moon. Her eyes took in the last sight she'd have of her home world for some time, savouring it, before her glowing wings flared brighter and she began to gain speed.
Othen quickly shrunk into the distance behind her, and before long Llovien and Syrthen did the same, then finally the vibrant blue dot of her planet. A short while later, even her home star was just one among many pinpricks of light somewhere behind her. Feeling content in a way she hadn't in some time, and even rather excited by the prospect of new places to explore and new people to meet, Naya soared soundlessly across the peaceful emptiness of the stars.