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The Last Dragon
by Michael Bard
Michael Bard -- all rights reserved

The cave of the last dragon. Years of research, hope, prayer, desperation, had made her doubt its very existence, but finally she'd found it. It was remote, nearly inaccessible. The howling winds around the mountain and cliff made it unapproachable by air, and she'd spent the last two days climbing sheer rock falls, ice sheets, glaciers, and deceptively peaceful deep billows of soft powder snow.

But she'd made it, and that was what counted.

Years of dreams, of ridicule, of fading hope. Years that would finally be repaid!

Stopping at the entrance she dropped her heavy snow-covered pack. She'd never need it again. Then she removed her coat, her boots, her goggles, radio, rope, oxygen mask, and let them all thud and clang to the bare stone below the entrance. It was cold, cold as hell, and the air was thin and brittle as she laboured to breathe. But the fragments she'd discovered emphasized that she had to come alone and unarmed if she was to have a hope. For a second she feared that the creature was dead, but then she watched, awed, as the mist from her breath gently blew outward and she began to feel a faint warmth.

Shivering, she walked across the cold stone on bare feet, clad only in cotton pants and white shirt. The breeze grew stronger, warmer, and though her teeth chattered she had hope. Her hair began to blow out behind her, and then, suddenly, the huge tunnel opened up into a chamber that seemed to go off forever. It was warm, her breath could no longer be seen, and quiet. There was no light except for a dim grayness that was all that remained of the brilliant sunshine from the entrance.

Hesitantly she took a step forward and --

A glowing reddish light filled the cave, coming from all surfaces and blinding her for an instant. Blinking tears from her eyes, she looked around and finally saw him.

The dragon. The very last one. Old, ancient, draped in thick craggy greenish scales. The light faded and moved behind her as she watched. With the sound of rusty steel scraping on rusty steel, the head moved. Red eyes opened and looked at her. Limbs moved and slithered as the light faded more leaving only a dim glow, just enough to allow her to see the greenish head of the last dragon.

"Why did you come?"

It's voice was deep, so deep that it made whale song seem high-pitched, so deep that her body rattled and pebbles bounced off rocks somewhere in the distance. All she could do was stare, awed, speechless, terrified. Her dreams were in front of her, and all she wanted to do was run.

"You awoke me. Why did you come?" Then there was a sound of rock grating on rock, before the last dragon continued, "I'm not that easy to get to."

All her attention was on the last dragon, and with the force of will that had kept her hope alive through the long years of dreams and ridicule, she answered. "I --"

"Speak up woman."

Forcing herself to swallow, she spit out the dream that had dominated her entire life. "Iwanttobeadragon."

The cave swallowed he words, and she almost fainted as the dragon cocked its head to look at her. "You wish to be like me?" Its voice was mocking, and again there was the sound of rock grating on rock, and she realized that the dragon was laughing. At her. Rage filled her, rage fueled by a lifetime of hope and dreams destroyed in an instant. All she had read was true, and it was laughing at her! "I came here as the ancient writings said, and according to them, you must honour my request. I have come alone, unarmed, and you will make me into a dragon!" Unbelieving what she'd spoke, both her hands clamped over her mouth but it was too late.

Again there was the sound of rock grinding on rock, but this time it was lighter. "So you do have spunk. And yes, as you have come I must honour your request. It has been a long wait, long and lonely and hun...hundreds of years have made my magic strong."

Slowly she lowered her hands, hardly daring to believe as her iron will filled her with strength. She would NOT let this moment pass! "Then do it. Now."

More rock grinding on rock, and then the dragon spoke again, "My but you are eager."

"It has been my only dream. You must so do it now!" The cave darkened to black lightlessness, and then a greenish glow appeared behind her. Spinning around she saw that a bronze bowl had appeared and burning in it a smokeless green flame.

"There is the fount of the magic."

She stared, hypnotized by the dancing of the fire. Shaking her head to free her eyes of its magic she spoke to the last dragon behind her. "What must I do?"

"To be a dragon you must learn to breathe like a dragon. To breathe the fire of life, the fire of hope, and the fire of magic."

Her voice spilled from her as eagerness flowed from her heart and through her body. "What must I do? WHAT?!"

"You must concentrate on fire, on being it, embracing it, knowing it, breathing it. You must put your hand in the flame."

Her heart chilled for she could feel the intense heat of the flame and see the flickering of heat above it. For a second fear whispered inside her, but she forced it down. "Will it hurt?"

"It will hurt, but it is the only way."

She swallowed, and slowly, hesitantly, moved her hand forward as behind her the last dragon leaned forward to watch, its nostrils quivering. She could feel the heat, an intense hand numbing heat. Fear quivered inside her, but she forced it down. The answer to her dreams was here. Fire, fire, she filled her mind with fire, imagined flames filling her, consuming her, spilling from her mouth. She imagined fire burning in her heart, her soul. She imagined fire filling her dreams. She imagined breathing fire.

And slowly, hesitantly, by force of will, she pushed her hand into the flame.

And screamed!

"Concentrate!" the dragon whispered, its head above her shoulder. Its breath, cold compared to the flame, flickered across the shirt she was wearing and she forced herself to look at her hand, to fight through the pain tearing through her body. The flame rose higher, growing hungrily and she watched her worthless human flesh drip from her hand and watched the fire caress the naked bones of her hand. The pain was beyond anything she'd imagined, it filled her mind, her soul, it drew herself into it. With a last human breath she pulled the fire into her lungs, felt her body scream, and threw herself into the fire.

The dragon watched, liquid dripping from its fangs. A few scrolls, a few hints, was all it took. Much safer than leaving the cave. Smoke hissed up as drips of saliva fell onto the rocks, and it watched as the latest arrival threw herself into the fire. It took only a second for the fire to do its work, to roast her meat to a perfect tenderness, to transform her from life into death.

With a mental command the last dragon caused the fire and bowl to vanish and as the human's body fell, he grabbed it in his mouth and began to caress the transformed tender meat that had once been human.

He'd always liked self-serve food.

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