I want to sleep.  It is a blessing to me, that black oblivion.  In it, I can pretend I will never wake, that this un-dreaming state will last forever, bearing me away across the waves of time.  And yet, I am restless and unsettled for I know that I will wake and that when I do, time will force me to once again rise in a blaze of glory before finally succumbing to the endless flames.  And so I reluctantly open my ruby eyes and raise my head, my brilliant feathers of red and gold wrapped around me.

            "You should not fear death," a voice whispers from behind me.

            I do not turn.  There is no need to, I know who speaks, who would dare chastise the phoenix.

            "I do not fear death," I sigh in response, "I fear immortality and the pain it brings.  I cannot die.  You know this."

            The creature shifts, razor claws and dragon hide against the stone of my mountain perch.  I turn and regard the dragon curled behind me, glittering eyes meeting mine.  It is an elder, the dream weaves its domain and time immortal behind it.  It is as green as the meadow, flecked with emerald splashes of light.  I wish I were so poised and relaxed in my never-ending life.

            "Death comes to even immortals.  My kind fall like autumn leaves, as the seasons turn they carry with them a time when one of us must fall.  And we welcome the flames that consume us."

            "Night brings my fire," I whisper, "and it will never consume me."

            "Perhaps it is because you fear it."

            I fall silent, pondering his words deep within my heart.  A dragon, immortal, bound to death through that spark of fire that seems to burn within the heart of every being that lives eternally.  Is our fire so alike?  Perhaps I was a dragon once, a proud being that ruled the heavens.  Did I fall?  Did I fear the flame that would take my life and so dissolve into this, a magnificent being tied to agony and a false death each night?

            I tell this to the dragon and he listens, pondering my words.  I wish he would hurry, for my time is not like his.  He can sit there for eons, thinking upon this, asking the clouds and stars for their opinions.  But I want the answer soon, for perhaps it is my final key to this prison of mine, the final knowledge that will extinguish my flames forever.  I glance at the sun.  Hours left, scant hours before the red deepens the sky and spills my life out onto the mountain side.

            "I do not think you were a dragon," he finally says, gazing down on me like I were a child, "But I think you fear death too much."

            "Wouldn't you?" I cry, spreading my wings, "You know what happens each night!  You know what fire is, what it means, and how it burns!  When you breath this fire upon the humans, don't they thrash and scream as it consumes them?  The same is for I!  I cannot bear it with grace and power because the pain leaves no room for grace and power.  I hate this life.  Do you not understand?  I yearn for the final death and it is forever denied me."

            He is quiet again and I wonder what is running through his mind.  If I am not a fallen dragon, then what am I?  What have I done to deserve this curse; if it is not redemption for past sins?  I fluff my feathers in agitation, cursing the fate that has made me the phoenix, cursing the dragons and their long lives of peace.

            "No life is without pain-"

            "I am consumed!"

            "-and every being must learn to embrace that pain and let it make them stronger.  We dragons die because we have learned all we can from life, because we are steel forged over and over.  Because we can live with pain and suffering."

            "Have you ever been burned alive?" I accused, flinging the hateful words like an arrow for the beast's heart.

            "Yes.  Many times."

            And he rises into the air, leather wings spreading and blocking out the sun, dropping me into shadow.  I hiss as he disappears into the sky, looping and twisting through the mountains until he is gone from my sight.  All that fills my vision is the sun then, on its ceaseless vigil and journey through the sky.

            "We are one," I whisper to it, "Do you fear your death also?"

            And I lower my head and weep.