The massive dragon was now a few yards from my face said, "Pleased to meet you, Esmeralda. Call me Sapphire." I didn't offer to shake hands or claws, as it were, because I wasn't going to risk getting gobbled quite yet, even as time was quickly running out. I didn't want to rush the necessary etiquette steps, but I then again I was in a dragon's lair a thousand feet below Michigan and the portal was closing soon. I calculated that if I flat out ran back to the door, and if the werewolves finally had got it open, I could dawdle another twenty minutes tops.
And let's add in that the dragon called Sapphire wasn't even blue or purple-blue much less sparkling pretty, but rather a scary mud color and with massive teeth. I wasn't going to mention any of that -- I saw no need to irritate her. And now I knew it was a 'she,' not an 'it' -- not that it actually mattered -- but I did stuff it in my quickly overcrowding brain. I never knew what would help me in the future. My life wasn't exactly predictable.
She breathed out, nearly suffocating me with her horrific carrion-scented breath, but I wasn't going to mention that she may need a mint or something because I really needed to find out what was in her nest of treasures that was calling me. In my bones I knew it had something to do with my past -- my kind. Star, the nasty fey holding the portal open for me to leave, wasn't going to wait forever and the werewolves still hadn't joined me; so I didn't know if yet they were inside the salt mine tunnels following the glowing spray paint I used to tag my path. I couldn't give that any energy and instead focused on Sapphire the Dragon.
"So Sapphire, you seem to recognize me. Why?" I took a chance and asked.
"There was another like you many -- very many - decades ago. He came to me and offered the same thing. He asked me if he could free me. I told him what I told you. He nodded and asked if I would allow him to visit again. He came often ... until he didn't." She looked off and I made some mental leaps. So the man like me, I figured, was the dead man that the miners had discovered decades ago, and had been imprisoned long enough to befriend the dragon. That was probably why something pulled me -- almost literally -- towards Sapphire's pile of bright and shiny bits. I wasn't allergic to gold, silver or any other metal I'd ever found, unlike most supernatural creatures. I figured I was just ... well, me. Not like I had a ton of role models who popped around the known universe and a few not so known spots.
I didn't see the need to immediately fill the quiet as she mused on her memories of the past man, and I was busy pondering what he'd possibly left behind; and if it was for me to find or just anybody who talked their way past the dragon in the cave. I always found my quest for bright and shiny objects pretty peculiar, since I didn't much care about money and rarely did I keep the finds. I have been known to salt the trail back to great archeological finds that resulted in some major museums building up their displays and hopefully their knowledge. None of the varied archeologists I tempted to 'discover' my finds ever admitted that they may have had some clues that they'd skipped revealing, or mention the outright notes I'd put into their realm for them to read and quickly destroy. I liked the fun of finding something rare and long forgotten for the excitement of seeing the artifact, and being somewhere no longer known by the rest of mankind. I liked trailing my fingers in the grooves from men and women long turned to dust. Watching the signs of a civilization being born. Later when I gave it back to the human race it made me feel like I was contributing to society. My fingers itched to start delving through her treasures.
Her huge golden eyes seemed to regard me for a full beat of a precious minute, and with the sudden thumping of my heart at her sheer size, she calmly said, "Okay, you can look through my cave." Her massive head nodded towards a rather large pile to my immediate left that had to be a half dozen feet tall. I didn't have a clue where to even start. There was more than just gold and silver. Furniture and paintings tumbled with leather tunics and swords. It was like somebody had upended a century worth of items into the pile. For all I knew that was exactly how it all ended up there.
"Talk to me while you search. That is why you are here, right? You need to find something lost?" Funny how suddenly Sapphire's English had vastly improved. I wondered if it was because I reminded her of her past cell friend or if she wanted me closer to snap up and fill her gullet.
"Honestly, I don't know." I saw no reason to not be truthful with her. It wasn't like she was going to go out and chit-chat about my life with others. She was bound to this space until she was freed or died. Sadly I feared the latter was going to arrive before the former. The journal that I had read indicated that the dead man the miners had found had probably died centuries before, given his clothing. With that information, I figured that the dragon must have been imprisoned when America was first invaded by Spain from the sounds of things. Maybe time was different for Sapphire or there was something locked in the enchantment that kept her bound to the cave that changed time. It could work in my favor if I was able to figure out how best to use it. First I asked an important question, "Do you know what year it is?"
She made this rumbling noise that sounded like a freight train coming straight for me on a slick icy track. Watching her shoulders rise up and down I wondered if she was having a seizure or something. Then it dawned on me she was laughing. Dragons' laughter -- wasn't exactly a very reassuring sound. It fact, if I didn't need to find whatever it was hidden I definitely would have popped out and gone far away.
"Esmeralda, I don't have any way to count time here. You are the first I've seen in far too long." She walked on her back legs half bent over and pulled out a large shield with her teeth. Her wings were tucked behind her shoulders and her front 'arms' I guess they were called -- well suffice it to say it wasn't her first line of defense. She wasn't like a T-Rex but her front arms were smaller and heavy on the claw side. Not catching my musing for a change, she simply dropped the large shield between us with a solid thunk, and with her mouth now empty said, "Here's what my last visitor left."
The golden shield wasn't solid gold but embossed into a heavy plate of hammered metal. There was a rose in the center and more Latin around the edges. I didn't know quite how to ask about her carrion-laden breath and the bits and pieces of muck that littered her smile without insulting her. I must not have had the best poker face because she again began that odd sound that I'd decided was her laughter.
"There's a portal on the other side of the cavern where food shows up whenever I grow hungry. I think it resembles a one-direction cosmic funnel. Every now and then there will be addled scavengers that fall into the portal and they are unable to go back through." I decided it wasn't in my best interest to inquire if those rats and such like ever escaped the cave or were late night munchies. A twinkle in her eye let me know that she already knew what I was thinking.
"Alrighty then. So it's been a long time since you've seen any other folks?" I figured calling her a creature would have gone over like a lead balloon.
"No, I said that was the shield from my last visitor. Most creatures that wander down here rarely venture to my side of the mines. There may be a curse on the tunnel leading to me or warnings in the supernatural world telling them to beware." She settled back on a rather impressing pile of what looked to be mostly gold and silver coins from the early sixteenth century. A twinkle or two of cabochon gems every few feet let me know that there were rings and brooches in the mix she was using as a couch of sorts. Her mud-colored thick skin seemed immune to any jabbing or poking from the sharper items in her nest. She looked totally comfortable.
I resisted asking what happen to the shield bearing visitor and decided it was a parting gift from him. Yeah or something -- I liked the delusion I was currently harboring and instead returned to glancing at the pile of debris she had indicated to me with her nod. Not having much time left I decided for the direct approach, "Sapphire, is there something in this particular bounty of yours that the one like me either gave to you or told you about?"
A humming sound as she thought how best to answer me was all I got for a few minutes.
"Perhaps. He was here many times and was concerned often about his fate. We all know we are told we will die down here but it takes a few decades for that thought to really sink in. He was starting to reach that point when he last visited. He didn't look well either. I know he was fed but it seemed like he wasn't eating right. He was growing thin and listless. He even used the door!" She shook her head.
"Wait back it up. What do you mean he 'even' used the door? How did he usually arrive?" Her offhanded comment caught my attention.
"I imagine how you travel. That silly thing where you suddenly are gone? What did he call it? Porting. Sounds like a good drink doesn't it?" Again I struck her funny bone as she rumbled deeply.
"He was able to pop, I mean port, into here? He could travel around the mines?" I know I looked as shocked as I felt because I saw her eyes widen.
She quickly got up and I found that there'd been some major slack in the chain because suddenly she was less than a foot from my face.
"How did you get down here?" The rising anger in her voice caused the hairs at nape of my neck stand straight up. I felt a fissure of terror race through my body until it dawned on me I could pop over to other side of room if I wanted and I went boneless as the fears receded.
"Fey creature's portal back about an hour's hike." I saw no reason to lie because I sensed that Sapphire's abilities encompassed the ability to sniff out a lie. Fear and lies tended to scent the air.
I was nearly ready to flee at the look in her eyes so close to mine.
"Tell me, was this creature's name Star?"
Nodding slowly, I wondered how Sapphire knew that name. "Total bitch," I felt the need to add.
"She put me here." Sapphire sat back on her haunches and rumbled with a different energy this time. It wasn't laughter exactly but more like an ironic 'it figures' sound.
I figured that Star had made more than a bad impression on Sapphire. But the pit of my stomach flip-flopped because it opened the possibility that I wasn't going to be able to exit the portal opened by Star any more than the vermin had been able to escape back through the food chute for Dragon.