It amazes me how callous humans can be. I hear cries of pain and grief and I mourn for them as I would any being, any of my kind. We are so dissimilar, they bound to the earth, I the lord of the heavens and fire. They die, fall into that eternal sleep that I can only taste each evening with the setting of the sun. And yet, I still cannot help but feel my heart break at the mourning of these creatures, at the mother who clutches her dying child, at the son who buries his father. Perhaps it is because I rise every morning with the pale dawn and so deny these humans what they so crave. Perhaps it is because I have tasted the fire over and over and know the pain it brings. Whatever the reason, tears streak my red gold feathers as I soar over their lands.
The village was huddled between two mountains, just at the crux of the plains and the winding pathway that traversed these lofty peaks that I call my home. They are a superstitious lot and I had grown rather fond of them over all my eons of life. I remember the day they arrived with startling clarity, a small band unhorsing the shaggy ponies and erecting houses, then crops, and then finally families. They would look up often in their work, sometimes catching a glimpse of my wings. The sons would make pilgrimages into the mountains and leave incense for me. My own funeral pyre has boasted some of this sweet stuff, the tendrils of smoke mingling with my own ashes as I die yet again and rise in the morning tinted with the scent of honeysuckle. So yes, I love these humans. Poor, overlooked, and now – dead.
They came in the night while I was floating in the shadows of death, while my phoenix feathers were nothing but ash. When the yellow and gold streaked the horizon I reformed, spreading my wings, and the first thing I tasted was yet more death. I could feel it drawing me, a presence in my mind tugging me away. So I leapt from my mountain peak, spreading my wings and catching the cold mountain air, a spark born aloft in the rising dawn. I rose higher, above the tallest of the mountains, and stared out upon my domain. Smoke rose, thick black noxious stuff that I would never allow my feathers to be polluted with, not even in my own fiery demise. Something was horribly wrong. I flew there, dipping down around the smoke, landing on a craggy outcropping to ascertain what had happened. And then it hit me, the full horror of what had happened. Images flashed through my mind, barbarians, raiders, horrid men with hate and rage in their eyes and muscles. Fire gleaming on axes, red gleaming on the ground, feeding the wheat with a liquid more than water. Everyone. Man, woman, child. Everyone.
So I wept. What more could I do? I was the phoenix, life and death were my domain but they were bound to I and only I. I could not restore life to these, I could only heal when the soul was still bound to the flesh and these souls were fled. But fire raged in my heart, the same fire that consumed my wings time and again. It thirsted for vengeance and I reluctantly told it to settle, that nothing could be done. And yet it raged.
I remembered the dragons then, them and their eternal fire that burned in their breasts and could be unleashed in a moment to wreak death upon the earth. And I saw my streaks of blue hidden in my wings and tail among this fire. Slowly, I raised my head, my liquid black eyes unblinking as the fire of rage rekindled itself into a raging bonfire. I could yet have revenge upon these people who killed those that I loved.
I waited until scant hours until evening before I made my move. I occupied myself in the long, tortuous wait by dragging the bodies of the slain to a funeral pyre, made with the very wood I used for my own death. They deserved such an honor. And then I thrust a burning branch I had saved from the houses the barbarians had torched into the wood. I resisted the urge to join them as they burned, to fling myself into the fire and set myself alight in the ultimate sacrifice of respect, to bring my death and resurrection early as a monument to them. But I was filled with hate and a thirst for a different sort of death. So I took to the sky, trailing the barbarians across the plains to where they had stopped for the approaching night. I flew higher, gazing at the sun which sank ever lower. Any minute now. Slowly, pink seeped across the sky, then gold, and then: red. The fire leapt up around me and I stifled a cry of pain, letting the flames consumed my wings and feathers, the smell of burning filling my dull senses. And when the fire was at its highest, when the inferno was greatest, I folded the remains of my wings and fell.
The wind swelled my flames and all I could see and hear was the crackle and hiss of the instrument of my destruction. And it would be their destruction too. I heard screams then, a terrified shout, and then: nothing. Not even pain, just sudden, absolute blackness.
I drifted through death, mingling among the whispering shades of all that had died that day. Some were familiar, grateful, and some were filled with terror. I could not gather anything from them and I waited for morning and when I would be restored to life. It came with all the glory I could expect of it, even more so than usual. For as the ashes became bone, then skin, and finally my crown of color I was able to glean the nature of my fall. I stood, folding my wings tight about my body and looked around me. The ground was bare in a circle around me, burned clean by my unnatural fire, twisted and charred bones littering the blackened dirt. The fire had been contained only to the area that made up these murderer's camp, consuming everything that lay within. The dragons would be proud if they had seen. I rose into the air, my soul at rest with what I had done. Avenging phoenix, taking those that deserved it into death with me. Only they would never rise at the dawn of a new day. And for that, I was pleased.