The mud-colored dragon named, oddly enough, Sapphire tilted her head right to left and said, "So Esmeralda, what do you want to do now that you know that fey creature Star had me stuffed down here? You came by choice through one of her portals and found me."
That stopped me for a minute because I wasn't sure if Star could sense I'd met up with the chained dragon or not. I knew that the cavern in which Sapphire was magically imprisoned was absolutely massive, and the long chain around her scaly feet seemed to give her free run of the entire place. After offering to remove the collar where the chain was fastened and being rebuffed, I knew there was more to the cage than just what I could see. There was a decidedly strong odor that flowed around with her movement. The air was musty and heavily scented with a very strong fetid scent of wet dragon and rotting vegetation. Given she had told me her food was dropped down a chute, I was pretty sure some of that rank odor was from her getting spattered with the meals' rather sloshy arrival, and her devouring those vermin stupid enough to come down trying to get a free meal. Not that she admitted to eating the rats and such but I had yet to hear anything but us inside the cavern.
"Well, Sapphire," I said her name without a smile, because from my current evaluation of what she'd just told me, it was extremely possible that I was in a world of trouble, "I would think my going back to the portal could be a decidedly fatal decision."
She exhaled again, thankfully away from me -- not that the rancid odor of her breath was any less noticeable -- but at least it wasn't in my face. Nodding to me again as if I'd answered something unasked beyond the obvious she questioned, "And what of your other three companions?"
I didn't remember saying a word about having anyone with me but from the gleam in her eye it didn't matter -- she probably smelt the werewolves on me.
"Sounds like they are on their own. I didn't bring Star to the traveling party that brought me here; actually they did. So not much I can do to change that now." I resigned myself to having to leave via the elevator. That would be when and if I could find it. Dragon had said that I could pop around inside the mines, but I wasn't so sure I could pop out. Besides, now I had more time to look for whatever it was left by the other one like me.
"I gather you will be staying down here for a while, then?" She seemed happy at the news. I hadn't thought of 'staying' -- just more along the lines of not getting eaten or killed. Part of me itched to pop around inside her cavern and see if I was able to, while the other part of me didn't want to find myself unable to and stuck with an audience to my failure.
Pushing the thought aside, instead I smiled and said, "Heaven only knows."
Again she made that odd sound of her amusement that I couldn't quite get myself to call laughing, because I didn't think of trains running off the track while heading right for me as a particularly joyous sound, and her noise continued to fill the chamber. Her chortling was odd; I didn't think my comment was particularly humorous. Seeing the puzzled look on my face she said, "Esmeralda, do you think Heaven has anything to do with this place?"
Slowly looking around the place, I had to admit, even filled with gold, silver and treasures, it was still an abandoned salt mine a thousand feet beneath Michigan -- in the middle of a blizzard -- not that we could tell that so far down. The tunnels were cool but not uncomfortably cold, but more like being in a basement. Much like said basement, there was no snow or ice -- great for storing old abandoned and unused furniture and putting canned goods on shelves for use later. But unlike the average basement, this particular slice of the world was host to abandoned supernatural creatures that had pissed off the reigning supernatural creatures. They'd evacuated the humans and some supernatural creatures and then magically sealed the salt mines with Star's assistance.
Case in point: the dragon currently huddled in her cave. Star really was continuing to tick me off, even so far away. There was a definite chance I would get to flip the tables on her. I thought of the place where I'd walked through the portal, and felt a slight tingle in my stomach indicating that there may be the likelihood I would get the opportunity to pop to her. She wasn't that big and I could easily drag her wherever I wanted without a heartbeat of time. The temptation crawled beneath my skin and I shoved it aside to think about the room. What was here calling me so strongly?
"One can hope, can't they?" I answered finally to her question about Heaven. I believed in a great many things since I'd discovered the creatures that went bump in the night were real. It wasn't that great of a stretch to consider Heaven, because I was very sure Hell existed.
The snort and rumble and Sapphire said, "Fair enough. But once you've been stuffed down here for decades, do get back to me on that."
I gawked at her and said, "I came down here on my own. I didn't get ah -- sentenced?" I searched for the word that wouldn't offend, "I came here to see if that other guy left me a clue."
Sapphire shook her head and looked at me slowly saying, "Are you sure you actually came under your own power?"
Something sunk in my stomach again and I had to admit, "No, Star gave me the access to an entrance."
Another snort and nod and she didn't bother to add, 'I told you so.'
Damn, I hoped she was wrong.
Looking to the far side of the salt cavern I could see, I willed myself to that area without a word. I was instantly there and Sapphire called out, "He could do that too. Once you find what you are seeking try to head up top."
I flipped back to her and said, "Okay."
I wasn't holding out much hope.
Silently I tried to contact Uncle Harry in my thoughts. There was nothing, not even the faint call from Riley that I'd heard earlier. I wondered if the three werewolves had fled topside when I hadn't come back. I didn't think the three hour window had passed, but at the same time if they couldn't break down the door, they may have went up to consult that bitch Star. I gritted my back teeth at the thought that the werewolves were being played by the Fey.
Sapphire said, "Star is evil, you know."
"Yeah, I pretty much figured that out." I cursed my impulsive choice to follow Star just because she'd dazzled the werewolves. Looking back, I knew now that I should have held out for either more information or someone else. She had pulled open one doorway with her power, but I didn't think she could hold every possible exit with the werewolves watching. They'd certainly notice if she began pulling energy to play with all the possible exits. Werewolves weren't stupid, but they definitely fell under her power. It was an uneven relationship from what I'd seen -- she somehow fed off them, I'd seen that, but hadn't felt it proper to point it out to the furred boys, given I was a long way from home and in a blizzard. I really should have asked more questions before this trip, but then they'd told me that, too.
I unclenched my jaw finally enough to ask, "So now what?"
"We find what the man like you, the one left behind."
Her tone was matter of fact and I appreciated her offer of help.
Looking around the vast space filled with all the bright and glittering objects, I still felt my tummy pulled towards the pile she'd indicated with her head. Figuring there was nothing to lose, I finally asked, "What is in this group of treasures?"
Carefully wording the question was important, since I doubted she'd appreciate me calling it junk or crap. There wasn't anything overly stunning on the surface that I could see at first glance. I could see some large pendants with semi-precious stones around the various center pieces of value. They weren't cheap knock-offs but rather nice chunks of jewelry, but it wasn't anything I hadn't seen a hundred times in at least a hundred other places. A few coins would bring a fair amount of money if they were sold to coin collectors, but mentally I shrugged; it was all pretty much trash to me. The gleam in Sapphire's eyes let me know I'd properly asked the question; the avarice of dragons had tipped me to the chance everything she hoarded was valuable to her, and any perceived insult would result in my quick departure from earth and into her stomach.
"Those are the ones the man brought to me from around, before he couldn't travel any more. His captivity wasn't just to the salt mines -- he had access to somewhere else. He didn't tell me where, but brought me things," she revealed, while tipping her snout through the top of the pile until she found something that interested her. She used her mouth and those wickedly huge teeth to bring out a rather sizable silver blade. The mere moving of one piece caused the entire stack to shift and some rings and coins rolled out from the center. Once she had the sword in her mouth I wondered if it was cutting her, since she hadn't grabbed it by the handle but in the middle. She dropped the blade in front of me, and I saw some light teeth marks, thankfully nothing that looked like blood marring the sword.
"This should help you when you try to leave. I gift it to you for helping me remember how kind that man had been. I don't need such things." Given the bite marks in the silver I thought she was understating a bit.
"Thank you. I must gift you back something," I didn't have too much in my backpack, but knew it was never good to owe anything to another supernatural creature. I pulled out a small mirror I used when looking around corners, and set it next to the sword. It wasn't anything you couldn't find at a decent beauty supply store but she seemed excited by the gift. She tilted her head down to the ground and rolled her eyes up and down watching herself in the palm-sized mirror.
"That is quite proper. Thank you." She genuinely seemed pleased. I smiled and nodded not knowing what to say. Her mouth gaped open slightly, revealing the remnants from her earlier meal; she didn't seem concerned by the view so I kept my mouth shut. Dragons didn't appear to mind having bits and pieces in their teeth like humans.
"Please feel free to look in the treasures and see if anything helps. The man came often and kept me company," I felt saddened by the thought that a long dead man had been one of her only visitors. I wasn't up to probing too deeply, because it struck me as very depressing. Heaven only knew how long ago the man had died, but from the miner's journal I thought he'd died a very long time ago -- well before the twentieth century. Given the nature of the salt mines and the cool temperature I already knew the tunnels acted as a way to preserve dead creatures.
Taking up her offer, I began to search through the outer layer of the pile while she kept glancing at herself in the mirror. She was entertaining herself rather well, I thought but didn't comment. I guess the mirror gave her a better reflective surface than any of the assorted the silver-plated armor resting here and there. I wondered if the armor had come with a human center ... now long-digested by Sapphire.