No one knows why these fearsome beasts must arise and battle to the death. Some say it is a mating ritual of sorts, as it is always younger dragons attacking the older, limiting competition. Other say it is a territorial dispute. The theory laid out by Enraldo van Richeal IV states that this is a ritual of sorts, a primitive instinct of these beasts. In his book The Fire Within he describes a dragon death.
"…the creature fell quite easily after its wings were destroyed. The younger dragons followed a short distance behind, perhaps waiting to see if the deed was done. I raced to the spot where the dragon had fallen and was amazed to find its body mostly intact. The only injuries were those sustained in the battle. I stayed hidden as the younger dragons landed then, surrounding the body, a good distance away. They waited, and I wondered if they would feed on the body. This was not to be, however, for the dragon's body suddenly ignited into brilliant multi-hued fire. In a matter of minutes nothing was left of its body, not even bones. It is obvious this fire originates from within the dragon's body, perhaps triggered by hormones or some other unidentifiable factor…"
This shall be my last flight. I can feel the inferno in my heart boiling out into my throat, scorching my lungs dry and racing through my veins to power my wings. It is consuming me, the fire, melting my bones and eyes and dissolving my scales into a sheet of pure diamond. I raise my head and let the fire loose in a roar that shakes the bones of the mountains.
They will hear my cry. They will know what it means. My kin, my enemies, my salvation. I raise into the air, wings trailing sparks as I uncoil into the sun like a hatching butterfly. It is time to die. I have lived too long and the fire demands that some of the immortals finally fall. I am one of the ones chosen by the fierce soul that resides within.
I can see my kin stirring from their lairs. Sun-dappled hides stretch and preen as gossamer wings uncoil, silken skin still untouched by the heat. They gaze blearily up at me as I gain altitude, letting loose a banshee shriek of anger, ripping the pristine sky in two, dripping venom across the downy clouds.
They know what this means. They see the fire burning my heart into cinders and one by one they emerge, gracefully leaping into the air to follow my frenzied flight. Their claws are ivory and their teeth glisten in promise as they echo their bugle to mirror mine. I hover, waiting for them to come.
There are five of them, all younger and with gem scales still bright and untarnished by time. We are immortal. But even immortals must die before they destroy the earth in their whispered dreams of stone and magma.
I dive then, breathing out fire upon the youngest, a sapphire male. He whines plaintively and takes the hit, rolling onto his back to catch my claws in his own. We tear at each other, jaws snapping and claws ripping between scales to catch the leather skin beneath. Hot blood flows and I wonder if mine would catch fire in the cold air. But then the inferno redoubles and all thought is lost as I latch onto his throat with my teeth, pressing harder, willing for the windpipe to crush.
The others are on me then, tearing into my wings, turning them into autumn leaf drifting down red-speckled. I let go of the youngest, his neck bleeding, his stomach ripped open to reveal glistening bones of the ribcage. He will heal, with time. It is not his turn to die, not yet.
I cannot fly. My wings are gone in a haze of red venom and ivory claws. They watch me fall, gliding along behind. My last honor guard. I roll onto my back to gaze up at the sky, my ancient home and finally my grave. There is no pain. There never was, not since the fire arose and demanded this final flight. The ground is close. My time is over. I close my eyes and the flames rush over me as I sink into the fate of all autumn leaves and immortals.