New Account Registration re-enabled - apparently the extension we use for ReCaptcha service had a configuration change and to utilize the more secure form it needed different parameters. We did not notice this when it occurred. Sorry folks!
Stan walked slowly and carefully down the dark tunnel. He was nervous, even though he really had no reason to be. Every few minutes he checked over his shoulder, not to see if he were followed, but rather to confirm that the entrance was long behind him.
He looked again at the photocopy in his hand. He had found the ancient tome while researching the Smithsonian. He had been part of a team sent into the vast storage areas of the complex to cataloged some of the long forgotten artifacts. The old adage that the Smithsonian was something America's attic was definitely true. Literally thousands of artifacts had been stored in the facility without being properly cataloged or those records were lost.
While working, he had happened across a trunk once owned by a 18th century cartographer. The man had spent years of his life exploring and mapping the Alps. The maps were in fact very well made, even if surpassed by more modern satellite images.
But Stan had started thumbing through the mans other papers. He had read the mans travelogue with interest, never certain if it were fantasy or reality. He had then carefully repackaged the trunk, cataloged it, and sent it back to storage. The sometimes mystical ramblings of the explorer, who had spent twelve years in the Swiss Alps, were soon relegated to a distant corner of his mind.
But events since that day had caused him to seek out that trunk. He had a desperate need to see if the explorer was truthful. A hope that the fevered ravings of what seemed like a madman were in fact true. It was that hope that had caused him to fly to Switzerland with copies of the map. It was that hope that had led him to search the mountains for hours. It was the only reason that he now found himself in the Swiss Alps, alone, spelunking a long forgotten cavern.
He suddenly heard a clear voice from down the tunnel, "Who is there?" His heart skipped a beat, then two. He dared to hope. The voice was feminine, but contained an element of animal.
For a moment, he forgot the document in his hand. Getting over his shock, he glanced down at it and read, "A friend, a visitor and one in need. May I continue?"
There was a long pause. Stan began to doubt that he had heard anything at all. The possibility that he'd imagined the voice out of his own desperation came to mind.
Then, "Enter as a friend in need.", he heard.
Stan started walking faster. He had no idea just how much further the voice was, the tunnel made the distance of sounds deceptive, but he know that he was closer to his goal.
Abruptly, the cave opened into a dim cavern. There was a small phosphorescent glow on the walls, but little more light save for his light. He heard the same clear voice, "Extinguish your torch, kind sir. My eyes are little used to the brightness of light anymore."
Stan hurriedly flicked off the light. His own eyes, for a few moments his world was plunged into total darkness. He felts warmth near himself, and suddenly his flashlight was gone.
"I see that much time has passed since my last visitor.", he heard again, now far closer. "Your people have contained fire inside of glass and metal, and without the aid of any magic I can detect. I am impressed."
Stan still couldn't see much, but he looked in the direction of the voice, "It is merely a flashlight, friend. They have been common all of my life."
"Then more time has passed than I realized. What is the date by your calendar?" she asked.
"Hmmm. If you still measure time from the birth of the you called Christ, then much time has indeed passed since my last visitor. What is the season?"
"In this part of the world, we have recently entered summer." Stan paused for a moment, "Forgive me, but I cannot see you. May I use my flashlight again?"
"No, for the light will harm my vision. Please, close your eyes a moment." Stan did, feeling a mild rush of wind, as if something passed near, but not close, to his face. "Now, open them again."
Stan had known what to expect from the explorers journal. There had been a detailed description of what the man had seen. Nevertheless, he still was ill prepared for what he did see.
She wasn't exactly the creature of legend, but the resemblance was uncanny. She was easily the size of a two story house and rested on two massive haunches. Her scaled tail was as long as the rest of her body. Her body was much like that of a T-Rex, with arms far smaller than her legs. However, hers were obviously long enough to be useful. Her head rested on a short, flexible neck.
Stan was a little surprised to note, though, that some of what he first though were scales were in fact feathers, much like the first bird fossils. They appeared to shine slightly in the dim light, very closely resembling scales. It was the main difference between what he saw and what legend had called the dragon.
She looked down at him, her expression unreadable. "I assume that you did not fully believe you would find me here?"
Stan nodded, "I didn't know for sure, it was a hope."
She nodded, "I know." She brought her massive body to the floor, bringing her head even with Stan's. "What is it that has brought you to me?"
"I will not live to see another summer. I am dyeing. What I read of you indicated that you may be willing and able to help."
She tilted her head thoughtfully. "You look healthy. What is your disease?"
Stan felt the pain of his situation well up, and it showed in his voice. "My people call it cancer. It is a malignancy of the flesh that slowly destroys you. Medicine of my time has done all it can, but there is nothing left. The best they can do for me now is slow the spread of cancer with the administration of painful therapy. At best, I might live a few months."
She said nothing, but drew closer. She extended her arms to Stan. He suddenly felt like running away in terror, but managed to barely stand his ground. She placed her large clawed hands on his body. A few moments later, she withdrew.
She seemed to consider for a long time, staring hard at Stan. "I see. It will be difficult, but I can help." Stan felt his heart rise. "There will be a price, but one that you can easily afford. You must, however, be willing to trust me fully. Do not pause to reconsider at any point. If you still wish me to help, you must do as I say from this point on. Otherwise, the spell will not work."
He didn't hesitate. "I will."
She curled onto the floor. "Come and lay beside me. We must begin at once."
He walked over to the massive beast and lay where she indicated, on her body, near her heart. He could hear it beating slowly below him. Despite the excitement and nervousness he felt, he could soon feel himself falling asleep.
When Stan woke, he wasn't sure where he was. It was completely dark again, but he couldn't be in the cavern. It was very warm and moist, when caves usually were cool. His body felt unfamiliar, clumsy. It took him a few moments to realize that he was seemingly encased in something soft, almost like leather, but not.
He pushed against it for a few moments, and it began to tear. He tumbled out onto the cool cavern floor, disoriented and cold. Stan looked around a moment and saw the dragon across the cavern. She seemed to be watching him quietly, waiting. Stan managed to open his mouth and tried to speak, but all that came out was a barely audible squeak.
"I see you are awake again, my little friend. Do not be concerned. All that you feel is, for the most part, temporary."
Stan tried to stand, but promptly feel forward. It wasn't until he broke his fall, and saw his feathered and scaled arms, that he realized just what had happened. His gaze slowly went up his arms and down to his tail. He was a dragon, albeit a very young one. Behind him was the torn remains of his reptilian egg.
"It is nothing to be concerned about. It is all necessary if you are to be cured. To be sure, you are cured now."
Stan's mind reeled. He hadn't been prepared for this, never even considered the possibility. The worst possible outcome he'd conceived of was death by being eaten. Compared to the slow torture of his cancer, it was to be preferred.
"While you were in the egg, I heard your thoughts, learned of your world. In many ways, it is magnificent. It is far more fascinating than the world that I abandoned so many years ago." She settled back to the floor of the cavern.
Stan still couldn't manage to speak, but shot a questioning look at her.
"Do not worry at all. All will be clear shortly." She yawned. "Please, do not disturb me for a while. Do what comes natural to you, you have all the instincts of a young dragon for the time being. All I ask is that you do not leave the cavern. I have much to think on, and little time to do it." With that, she went back into her open-eyed slumber.
Stan spent the next days roving the cavern. He stretched his wings, and even took short flights. He didn't think about it at first, but he was still only about the size of a man when he left the egg.
After a while, he realized that he hadn't eaten since before he had entered the cave, whenever that was. He never found a food or water source while he waited for her. He tried out his voice, at first afraid to disturb her. He found that speech was still impossible, but he could manage a slight roar. Oddly, even at his loudest, she was never disturbed. She maintained her silent staring.
After a while, Stan felt it was a couple weeks, he woke again feeling disoriented. It lasted only a moment, but when his eyes opened, he found that the cavern had shrunk considerably. It was only when he looked down and saw the tiny dragon below him that he realized he had swapped places with the ancient dragon.
The smaller dragon spoke, "I wish to thank you, my young friend. I have been trapped here for more centuries that I can recall, alone. Few could even find my prison, and those that did were to untrustworthy to allow my escape." The tiny dragon flexed it's small wings. "As you can see, there was only one way out of this retched place, and that was to become smaller. Much smaller. I thank you for providing the body for it." With an evil grin, the adolescent dragon raced for the small entrance and vanished into the light.
Stan stood in shock again, unfamiliar with the body and not quite comprehending what she was saying. Until she made her dash for the cavern door, he didn't even realize that she intended to trap him here. Leaping forward, he tried to give chase.
It took only one try to see why she hadn't left herself. It took nearly an hour for Stan to loosen his head from the cavern entrance.
Befuddled and betrayed, the new dragon slumped to the floor of the cavern and whimpered until sleep came.