Okay, so this sounds odd, but I know it is a fact. After a while, looking around at piles of gold, silver and precious stones gets boring.
That it is all worth so much money, and that humans have slain entire clans and families over the bright and shiny stuff, doesn't exactly mean spit when it's piled up around you like leaves raked up in the fall waiting to bagged, tagged and set on the curb. The sheer magnitude of the wealth gets old, and the weight of it all means you can't just simply slip handfuls into a bag and not expect to get a crick in your neck. Besides, I really don't need tons of treasures. I find them delightful to look at, and enjoy tracing my fingers over designs carved or cast a long time ago, but after a while it becomes overwhelming and my mind simply shuts off. I wasn't even halfway through the room when I began to get that mind-numbing sensation. It wasn't the first time, and I doubted it would be the last, but still it happens.
Mentally I could imagine Uncle Harry chiding me, "Emma, you are getting far too jaded! The pieces are valuable and delightful."
Well, probably not the last bit, but I know he would definitely say I was jaded or spoiled by my little sport of venturing around the globe finding such caches. Sighing, I decided to head further into the huge cavern and see if there was anything that caught my eye. I pulled out my water bottle and took a sip. The water cut through the dryness in my mouth, and I coughed as some of the dust seemed to slide down my throat. Shaking my head at my odd flight of fancy, I made my way around a stack of coins and plates that looked to be from the golden age of pirates, in the middle of 1650s well into 1720s from the age on the coins and inscriptions on the plates. It wasn't like I was near the coast, but I'd learned long ago that pirates looted each other regularly and didn't always go back to the sea with their treasures. More than one book I'd read gave descriptions and journals from long dead historians about missing gold and gems that were snatched from the ocean and carried off the shores by agile, fierce men. The fascination with pirates was older than the current cult of movies, and the research I'd done did confirm that many of them left behind maps, vague directions to their stash and stories of more gold than anyone could think existed. From the cave it sure looked like a few pirates or explorers had dropped their goodies inside the cave.
I kept seeing coins with various dates in the closest pile that weren't all from the same decade, much less country, giving me further proof that the cave was a stash. As I was over halfway into the cave, I found I was utterly bored with it all, and my skin was getting itchy from the layers of dust I'd been stirring up by walking through the narrow pathways. I could see another dark spot ahead that I figured was an exit. Already coated in dust and not willing to trudge through more of the same, I decided to risk it and just pop over to that area right before the entrance. I'd done it in the past and I didn't think there was any portal to whisk me away to an alternate reality. I shut my eyes and willed myself there. I landed in the middle of a pile of coins and found myself slipping into the room. My light flickered and then as I stumbled against the wall nearest me it went out completely, leaving me leaning against the rough cave wall in the dark.
I went to turn the light back on, when there was something rumbling nearby. I fell into a crouch and huddled down with my hand poised over my sword sheathed in between my shoulder blades. I wasn't alone in the cave. I knew it from the itchy spot in the middle of my neck and the scent. A whoosh of air and I heard something crash against the wall above me only a foot or so from my head. Had I still been standing I would have been clobbered in the face. I was utterly blind in the darkness, and carefully let my breath out trying to not give away precisely where I was.
The memory of one day trip I took as a child to the zoo rushed into my thoughts. The scent of the reptile house was the weirdest thing on the trip I'd ever experienced. I'd wandered away from my parents or they'd wandered from me. I wasn't panicked but bewildered by all the strangers pushing me along with their large group. I wasn't very tall and came up to the waists of most of the grownups next to me. They had a large number of kids around my age and everyone was excited and chattering about the snakes and lizards. Shoved up to the glass of a large enclosure I was horrified to see a huge creature curled against on the other side. It was moving slowly and twining its body around something.
The kids up ahead began to clap and squeal with delight and a few with genuine terror. Their parents weren't really paying attention to the display but arguing about who was going to pay for lunch. It wasn't until a very small girl began crying hysterically that any of the adults thought to look to see what was wrong. The huge snake undulated, pulling its body up the side of the glass and revealed to us all what had caused the ruckus. It was devouring its lunch. A quick glance confirmed to me that the rabbit being gulped down wasn't going to be hopping around dropping off Easter baskets later in the year, and that huge snakes rather enjoyed such meals. The parents began scrambling to move the kids away from the unexpected entertainment, leaving me alone in front of the glass cage. I read the sign and found I'd been observing something called a Burmese python enjoy its lunch. My parents must have heard the scream, because they were suddenly there patting me and making sure I was okay and that nobody had touched me. Instead I pointed to the now much rounder snake and shuddered. My father decided that it was lunch time and whisked me out. But the scent of the snake exhibit had been flush in my face and I wasn't hungry for a long time.
Walking -- stumbling, who was I kidding -- into the cavern, the darkness hadn't bothered me until I got a whiff of that reptile scent. It was dusty and harsh and made me think about that damn huge snake behind glass. I didn't see anything remotely like a cage so my heart began thumping -- faster than recommended. A slight roar and from the far corner I saw a blaze of fire spit out towards the really high ceiling. The lick of flame on the end caught on something dangling and then the room was illuminated. With a huge snort, a dragon edged closer, with its head cocked slightly sideways. I swore it had an amused look on its face.
Dragons came in all sizes and all sorts of temperaments, I knew, having met one and since then, hearing about many others. I hadn't expected to find one guarding this treasure when I popped into the cavern. Stupid me. I well knew that dragons were fond of bright and shiny objects nearly as much as I was.
This particular dragon wasn't extremely huge, or even scary-looking, all things considered in my life. Except for those rather raggedy teeth that were longer than my forearm, the mouth filled with more of them than I cared to count. Plus, like my dragon friend Sapphire, there were the added accents of remnants of the last meal or twenty gnawed from the bones of whatever had fallen afoul of the beast. Suddenly the other room, the one with the bodies, made more sense.
I saw at least one hunk of raw sinewy arm that looked suspiciously like it had come from a human being, or at least something that appeared to be human a bit more recently than those decaying down the tunnel. (Not every creature that appeared to be a 'normal' human was -- I was a living and breathing example of that.)
Not much caring to join whatever the dragon had devoured at any time soon, I cautiously backed away from the largest gem in the room -- that of course was right next to me glowing from the ceiling lighting -- and said softly, "There is plenty to share."
Okay, maybe not my smartest comment but it was true. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I found that this cave was different than the others. The interior of this particular damn cave was covered with semi-precious stones and chunks of gold and silver that accented the spirally designs, and the horrific depiction of the death and destruction of an entire race. The stone-sketched figures seemed to be humanoid, but with longer hands and faces. I thought perhaps a bit of the fae had mixed into the locals before the fall. Maybe that was the source of nibbles and bits currently decorating the dragon's mug. The scales around its chest were also equally spattered with something it had digested. But to my queasy glance, I saw the rust-color blood stains of human mixed with a thicker purple-blue shade that I had seen before in my life. Those creatures with the purple-blue blood weren't easily slain, and that caused me some concern. After all, that meant the dragon had snacked on a supernatural creature fairly recently, as the blood was still wet in appearance. I bit back the bile that threatened to choke me.
The dragon's teeth were gaped slightly open and the mostly dirt-colored beast exhaled, the breath scented with carrion and decaying morsels of the last meal. I realized that this treasure room wasn't the dragon's, but a long forgotten monster's lair -- because I was still alive. The dragon hadn't come through the locked entry like me, but had instead taken probably the better part of two decades to tunnel down to the ruins somewhere behind it. The air was musty and smelled strongly of musty wet dragon and rotting vegetation.
The dragon had yet to speak, but I knew they could if they wanted. It was still bemused and turning its head this way and that as if trying to figure out the best spot to crunch down on me. As it neared, with a quick move I had my sword in my hand. The Dragon rocked back on its heels and stuck its snout in the air and inhaled deeply.
A rumbling sound, then, "Ah, little one, you know Nico?"
Shock rocked me for a change and I said, "No."
Shaking its head, the creature then said, "Then you must have been to Sapphire's cave."
I shook my head, too, in disbelief and said, "Why?"
"Because Nico must be dead and he would have left that sword only with Sapphire." He seemed to find it a natural conclusion and huffed out a bit of fire. Sapphire hadn't been big on smoke and fire, but this one seemed to automatically puff. The voice had been rumbling deep, so I concluded it was a male, but not as old as Sapphire. There was a mischievous grin that seemed to dance across its face.
I lowered the sword and said, "What am I to call you?"
It only seemed right to be polite, because I was still breathing and the dragon hadn't torched me.
"You may call me ... Marcus."