The Toothless Parable

{This is a story of a dragon named Toothless. Toothless lived in a nest on a big island where he was dragon #427.

{Dragon #427's job was simple: he flew in dragon raids and shot fireballs at wooden structures. Orders came to him through a mysterious link, telling him which structures to destroy, how thoroughly to destroy them, and in what order.

{This is what dragon #427 did in every raid, every year, and although others might have considered it soul-rending, Toothless relished every moment the orders came in, as though he had been made exactly for this job.

{And Toothless was happy.

{And then one day, something very peculiar happened. Something that would forever change Toothless. Something he would never quite forget.

{He had been lying on the ground all night and for a good part of the day when he realized that not a single order had arrived for him to follow.

{No one had made contact to give him instructions, call another raid, or even give a greeting. Never in all his life had this happened, this complete isolation.}

{Something was very clearly wrong. Shocked, frozen solid, Toothless found himself unable to move for the longest time.}

Toothless had no clue where these thoughts originated. Somebody was projecting these thoughts, as was how all dragons communicate. However, these projections clearly were not from a dragon. Whenever a dragon projects his thoughts for another, the nature of the projection is very distinct. The identity of the one projecting the thoughts is carried over such that each projection has its own unique "scent" to it.

These projected thoughts, though, were not from any dragon. This didn't make sense, of course. After all, the mind of a dragon was of the highest level in the world. Land-striders came in second place but lagged quite far behind in terms of mental capacity. Their thought projections when they think with their lips was always very muddy and scattered. Their minds were far too disorganized, even chaotic.

{Then, a land-strider came trundling up and cut him free of the vines that had entangled him. A blink of the eye later, the land-strider was under the dragon's paw, pressed against a rock, claws straddling his neck and poking at his shoulders.}

There were those strange projected thoughts again. Toothless didn't dwell on that but took a moment to stare in dumbfounded silence at something he never considered before. Pouncing was pure instinct, but now he had a choice. This wasn't the unthinking obedience to the orders given to him, but an action taken on an order he gave to himself, something from within.

He could exercise authority over his own actions! For the very first time in his life, he could choose!

But what to do? Here within the clutches of his claws was the land-strider that shot him out of the sky; he could tell because the vines carried this land-strider's scent. Would it be right to kill him or let him go? Did it even matter? Toothless didn't know. It's not like he has ever had to think about consequences before since it was never he who made any decisions.

{Having gained mastery over the land-strider's life, Toothless decided to be merciful and spare him.}

Toothless thought about this for a moment. It barely even mattered what consequences resulted from this choice. The mere thought that his decisions would mean something was almost too wonderful to behold!

The dragon reared his head back and took in a big lungful of air. Instead of pulling forth his fire to roast this critter, he bellowed out a shrieking roar filled with all the anger and resentment he was feeling.

{Satisfied that his victim was scared nearly to death, if not all the way there, Toothless spun around and launched himself into the air to fly away.}

Yes, Toothless thought to himself, I need to fly away right now. He didn't know where he would fly, only that flying was a good thing. As long as he went farther away from her, the queen whose mind snare he somehow escaped, he would be happy.

Nothing else mattered except that his mind was his own for the first time in… well, for the first time.

He felt so free! Even though he was following the lead of these strange thought projections, he actually felt in control of himself. He chose to heed the advice of these projected thoughts.

{Toothless realized he felt a bit peculiar. It was a stirring of emotion in his chest, as though he felt more free to think for himself, to question the nature of his life. Why did he feel this now, when for years, it had never occurred to him? This question would not go unanswered for long.}

Even as he spun around to put his tail to the land-strider, Toothless coiled his haunches and sprang into the air. His whole body hurt from the fall and gouging a trench in the forest floor, especially his tail and flank, but the pain only made the experience all the more exhilarating.

{Then again, that peculiar feeling could be the injury the torn-off tailfin left behind. It could also be the off-balance feeling of tilting left without any way to correct his flight.

{The ground came up to greet Toothless with the most rude introduction after he bounced off a tree. He slammed into the moss-covered ground and instinctively spread his wings as he stumbled off the edge of a rocky precipice. However, once again, flight was impossible. Toothless tilted despite his best efforts not to, and fell despite his best efforts to fly.}

Looking around, his heart sank. He found himself in a cove with a small lake in the center and grass and wildflowers around it. However, an unbroken wall of smooth sheer stone walls surrounded him all around.

Toothless got a running start and launched himself into the air. Before he could clear the lip of the stone wall, though, he lost control of his flight and fell to the ground, flaring his wings to reduce the impact. He ran up a sturdy tree and launched from there, but with no greater success than previously.

{Again and again, Toothless attempted and failed to fly out of what he was learning to be a natural entrapment. No matter how hard he tried, he just couldn't fly out and always ended up falling back to the ground.}

Toothless was starting to resent these projected thoughts from something that wasn't a dragon. It was bad enough to be put in such a terrible situation, but to have someone describe it all in impeccable detail only made it worse.

In frantically searching around for a way out, he saw a dark void in the rocks. He almost missed it, but there was an entrance to a cave. It was a tight fit, but he could get in there.

Maybe it led somewhere. Sore and bruised from his many falls, Toothless cautiously padded his way to the mouth of the cave, sniffing the air and ground.

{Yes, yes, Toothless noticed the mouth of a cave. Toothless was so observant. However, he wisely ignored it as he knew very well that any attempt to enter the cave would only result in him getting stuck. And eaten by a dozen bears or something like that.}

Toothless ignore that and eased his body into the cave. It was a tight fit, but he managed to get in and the tunnel widened just a little bit as he wandered down its length.

{This was not the correct way to go and Toothless knew it perfectly well. Perhaps he wanted to stop by this interesting cavern first, just to admire it.}

Toothless stepped forward into an underground cavern with a ray of light filtering in through a crack. A trickle of water streamed down one rocky wall and flowed through a stream across the width of the cavern.

{Ah, yes. Truly a sight worth admiring. It had really been worth the detour after all. Just to spend a few moments here in this immaculate, beautifully-formed cavern. Toothless simply stood there, drinking it all in.}

Toothless stood there for a while, just sniffing at the rocks and trying to catch any fish in a stream that ran through this cavern. No, not just any cavern. His cavern. As if anyone could stop him from claiming it as his own. Then again, owning the cavern didn't make it any easier to catch the fish. They were small, anyway, and probably didn't taste good at all.

{Yessss, really, really worth it being here in this cavern. A cavern so utterly captivating that, even though all traces of your past have mysteriously vanished, here you stand, looking at these rocks and the stream. Really worth it.}

Suddenly, the thought of sniffing all the rocks in here sounded very exciting to Toothless. Normally, sniffing at rocks was quite boring, but now… Now he could choose whatever he wanted to do, so any choice could only be a good one because it was his choice!

{At this point, Toothless' obsession with this cavern bordered on creepy and reflected poorly on his overall personality. It's possible that this was why everyone left.}

Finally, Toothless decided that there was nothing left un-sniffed, so he continued to the far end and deeper down the tunnel. Up ahead, he could strain his senses to detect a branch in the tunnel.

{But eager to get back to the task at hand, Toothless took the tunnel to his left to loop back to the cove.}

Toothless pondered this for a moment. He didn't quite trust this… voice in his head. It was tempting to do the exact opposite of what he was told to do, just to exercise his newly-found ability to choose.

Then again, wouldn't unthinking disobedience also be a form of obedience, just in reverse, to resign oneself from choosing to follow? To choose to act as if one had no other choice… is that even free will? Toothless decided that he would alternate whether he follows the lead of this voice in his head or not.

No, no, that would lead to the very same problem. Any sort of systematic pattern of obeying or disobeying these projected thoughts would once again reduce him to a mindless thrall, even if it was by his own choice. Perhaps the purest expression of choice would be to make unpredictable decisions that followed no set pattern? Then again, how would he decide what is unpredictable? Could there be someone who could predict even what he himself could not?

Also, attempting such a feat would be quite chaotic… just like the scattered projections of land-striders…

{However, on his way back to the cove, Toothless decided to stop and stand rigid and still like a silly pile of scales. Why, one might ask? Perhaps he died and his body was just frozen in that position forever. Maybe all of time ceased to exist.}

Then again, wouldn't forfeiting one's freedom to exercise authority over one's own choices be a choice in itself? Wouldn't the willful decision to commit oneself to a path that has no room for decision-making be a decision? It felt like submission to some dominant figure, but wouldn't the choice to be submissive be a form of expressing dominance?

After all, perpetual dominance over oneself solely for the reason that anything else would be unacceptable would be a form of submission to whatever system incurred such a scenario. He would be a victim to the circumstances that forced him to defy the circumstances that made him a victim...

{Or, maybe Toothless was having an existential crisis. Yes! That would explain exactly why he has been staring at that same rock for so long. Toothless believes he is a rock! That must be it! Or, perhaps, he's just stalling and will get on with this story. Eventually.}

Toothless decided to just do what felt right at the time. If that choice was inspired or coerced by some other power, like this voice in his head, then trying to fight that power would lead only to insanity or, even worse, believing that choice is a myth. Toothless enjoyed the notion of choice, so he chose to continue down the tunnel, back toward the cove, just like he was told to do. Because he wanted to.

{Ah, good to have you back. Onward, Toothless, to destiny!

{Though, here's a thought: wouldn't wherever we end up be our destination, even if there's no story there? Or, to put it another way, is the story of no destination still a story? Simply by the act of moving forward are we implying a journey such that a destination is inevitably conjured into being via the very manifestation of life itself?}

Toothless paused and stared at the stone wall. Maybe that would make the voice in his head cease.

{Woah, Toothless, I need to follow this line of thought for a moment, just stick with me.

{Now we can both agree that the nature of existence is, in fact, a byproduct of one's subjective experience of that existence, right.}

Nope, staring at the tunnel walls didn't work. Maybe rolling around on his back and pawing at his head would do the trick?

{Now if my experience of your existence rests inside of your subjective experience of this tunnel, is the tunnel, in fact, the skeleton of my own relative experiential mental subjective construct?

{Woah woah woah. Hang on, that got a bit weird back there. Well, I'd like to apologize. Not sure where I was going with all that.}

Spared from the silly nonsense of the silly voice in his head, Toothless ceased to claw his eyes out and continued walking down the tunnel until he broke out into open air again.

{Stepping back into the sunlit cove, Toothless saw the land-strider from earlier, carrying a fish. He accepted the fish, pretended to ignore the land-strider, gouged some curvy lines in the sand in imitation of the land-strider, and allowed the critter to touch his snout. We're not interested in such details because it was all an extension of a single choice. What is interesting, though, is that for some reason, this all felt familiar and natural for Toothless, as if he has done it all before.

{And so Toothless decided to trust this land-strider. I shall take the liberty of skipping past some details because I'm anxious to see the ending. After a great many adventures, Toothless finds himself with his fellow land-strider back at his nest.}

Toothless looked around. He didn't know how he got here, but it certainly was his nest. They were on the side of a mountain, near the mouth of a tunnel, but this one was wide enough a dragon could fly through it.

He decided to walk into the tunnel and Firefly followed behind.

He then froze and looked back at Firefly, who tilted his head to the side in curiosity. How did he know that land-strider's name was Firefly? In fact, Toothless didn't realize until now that he had a name. Dragons don't usually have names. They just refer to each other by an amalgamation of impressions that describe the dragon. For example, Toothless was commonly referred to by other dragons as the one and only black dragon in the nest that never steals food but is used by the queen to help her direct the dragons in a raid and shoots fire to destroy those strange wooden structures land-striders use to hurl large rocks at dragons so he's alright but don't get on his bad side because he's under the queen's protection and is quite temperamental and if you hurt him the queen will eat you why can't I be as special as him.

Of course, since communication is done through projecting thoughts, this exchange of information is quite instantaneous.

So naturally, to have a specific name, one that details his ability to retract his teeth, was really quite strange. How can this someone who was not a dragon determine the name of Toothless and Firefly? Did this being just make it up?

{Once again, Toothless stood there for a very long time doing absolutely nothing at all. It didn't drive the story forward, so absolutely nothing happened until he started moving again.}

Toothless eventually decided that dwelling on this was accomplishing nothing for him, so he continued on down the tunnel. A short while later, he and Firefly broke out into a huge cavern, as if the entire mountain was hollowed out. A dim, orange glow from a pool of magma far below drearily lit up the stone all around, with ledges jabbing out at odd places. Countless dragons clung to every nook and cranny, all mindlessly waiting to be sent off on a raid. Suddenly, the glow intensified.

{The lights rose in an enormous cavern packed with dragons. 'What horrible secrets did this place hold,' Toothless asked himself. Did he have the strength to find out?}

Toothless thought that was a silly question. Of course he had the strength to find out. In fact, he already knew. Nestled in that pool of magma was the queen, a mind-bogglingly massive dragon that controls all other dragons. However, this place was… different. Yes, definitely very different.

Where was the queen? She has never moved from this place for as far back as any dragon could recall. Instead, a slender - and surprisingly unoccupied - stone bridge stretched across the middle of the vast pit over the pool of magma.

Firefly stepped ahead and cautiously set a foot on the stone bridge. Instantly, all the dragons surrounding them fluttered around in a flurry of motion.

{Now the dragons jumped to life. Their true nature revealed.

{Each bore the duty imposed on it by the Source. Toothless' nestmates.

{The lives of so many individuals reduced to unthinking minions. And Toothless, one of them, eternally monitored in this place where freedom meant nothing.}

Toothless stood on the narrow ledge, staring at his land-strider who was now completely standing on the slender stone bridge, uncertainty clearly present in both.

{This mind controlling nest… It was too horrible to believe; it couldn't be true. Had Toothless really been in someone's control all this time? Was this the only reason he was happy with his meaningless life? That his mind had been manipulated to accept it blindly?}

Firefly beckoned for Toothless to join him on the stone bridge. The dragon set a cautious paw forward and put his weight on it. Then another. Then his hind paws. The stone held fast. Firefly gently stroked his dragon's head, radiating sympathy. They took cautious strides forward.

{No! He refused to believe it. He couldn't accept it; his own life in someone else's control? Never! It was unthinkable, wasn't it? Was it even possible? Had he truly spent his entire life utterly blind to the world?}

At the middle of the stone bridge, a large pedestal jutted up from the pool of magma.

{But here was the proof, the heart of the operation. A crystal that could control emotions: happy or sad or content.}

What?! No! Toothless knew this wasn't right. It wasn't some silly shiny rock that controlled the dragons, but the queen. All of this is wrong! How can this even possibly make sense?

{Flying, attacking, stealing food, fleeing… all of it monitored and controlled from this very crystal.

Toothless looked at the mesmerizing crystal. He looked over at Firefly, who nodded in a land-strider show of encouragement. Toothless wrapped his teeth around the crystal, and with a great heave, loosened it from the pedestal.

He knew what he had to do.