Time for a new monthly flash fiction piece, this one for the month of March. Since March is best as a surname, I’ve chosen to focus on the birthstone. Mostly bloodstone with a bit of aquamarine thrown in for good luck. A type of chalcedony, bloodstones were once believed to have healing powers and often used to make seals or amulets. All sorts of goodies, right? Let’s go!
March (Bloodstone & Aquamarine)
She found the cave mouth on her fourth day in the mountains exactly as the map claimed. Pushing aside the vines and spiderwebs, she carefully revealed the carved door hidden from view. A pair of trees framed either side of the door, their leafy boughs arching together to blend into the surrounding forest. Flowing runes formed a gently curving arch beneath the leaves. An instruction, perhaps, or a warning. She didn’t care. She’d finally found it and was determined to follow it to the end.
The sun was a mere sliver on the horizon before she found the keyhole. It wasn’t a normal one—how could it be when it was set into a door in a mountainside?—but her pendant slid in smoothly. The design carved into the green and crimson stone fit snugly over the raised emblem, pressing in until something clicked deep within the mechanism. She twisted the pendant, and the door swung open toward the stygian darkness within. Drawing in a deep breath, she flicked on her flashlight and stepped inside.
The paths twisted and turned with stairs leading up then down or ending at solid stone walls. She marked each explored passage with a piece of chalk, retracing her steps back to the first intersection before taking a new path. Down the sixth passageway, she discovered a set of wide stairs carved into the stone. Slightly worn as if used often and free of dust and dirt, this had to be the passage she sought. She clutched the pendant, brought it to her lips, and started to climb.
Along the way, she realized this wasn’t the wisest course for a woman alone to take. If she fell, no one would ever find her. If there were hostile people using these tunnels for nefarious means, she’d be at their mercy. This, her logical side informed her, was how stupid peopled died. She snorted softly. Things like that only happened in movies and books. Regardless of the legends her grandmother had told her, the tales she’d spun for a wide-eyed child rummaging through her trunks for dress-up clothes, the most she expected to find at the top of the stairs was evidence of an illicit affair.
An hour or a lifetime later, she reached the top. Sliding down to sit against the wall, she dug out an energy bar and a bottle of water and caught her breath. What little she could see of the massive cavern looked empty, but a hint of stars glittered in the distance. And a quiet susurration echoed in the chamber.
Rising to her feet, she crept deeper into the room. Water dripped from the ceiling. Wind whistled through the cave mouth to ruffle her hair. And the colossal mound in the center of the floor breathed. She dropped her flashlight.
“How the hell did you get in here?”
She blinked. She’d expected something profound or otherworldly from an unknown creature the size of a freakin’ Greyhound bus hiding away in a mountain cavern. Instead, he sounded like her new neighbor, Daniel, who hated everyone.
“The stairs.” She picked up her flashlight and flicked the light back on. The creature lay on his haunches with his tail curled around his front legs. Iridescent green and blue scales covered his body, and a pair of wings were tucked neatly to his back. A pair of horns spiraled from his head above eyes of the purest aquamarine. He was stunning. He was also… “A dragon!”
“Really? I’d have never known if you hadn’t pointed it out,” he grumbled. “What do you want?”
“Want?” Frowning, she crept closer. She turned the flashlight away from his face, enchanted by how the beam danced over his scales. He shone like a living mound of gemstones sparkling in the sun. “Nothing. My grandmother gave me the pendant, told me all sorts of stories, and I got curious about how much was true. Even after I managed to open the door, I didn’t expect to find anyone in here, much less you. I can go if you’d prefer.”
The creature grumbled and huffed puffs of smoke from his nostrils, but he pointed toward a wooden crate with a massive claw. “Take a seat and rest. You look wiped. Those stairs can be a right bitch.”
“I’m sure it’s by design.” His reply was a smile which showed off his very large, very pointed teeth. “Not a fan of visitors?”
“Not a fan of screams, fainting, and threats of heroic bravado,” he said drily. “Either you’re in shock or you don’t believe I’m real.”
“Perhaps a bit of both.” She ignored the crate to sit with her back against a smooth stalagmite. “Either way, I’m glad I’m here. You’re beautiful.”
“Yes, really. I bet you’re stunning in the sunlight.”
He stared at her for a long moment before he rose to his feet. He stretched out his wings until they brushed the walls on either side of the cavern and shook himself like a dog settling its fur. He was a four-legged dragon, his tail as long as his body and his head resting atop an elongated neck. He was sinuous and beautiful, and she desperately wanted to touch him and make sure he was real.
He walked toward her with slow, measured steps, like she was a frightened deer he didn’t want to spook. There was no way in hell she was going anywhere. The urge to reach out, learn the texture of his scales, feel the strength in his wings, was a visceral need. She curled her fingers into her palm to stifle that need. When she didn’t move, he inched closer, and still closer, until his scaled side brushed against her leg.
“I won’t bite.” He settled down beside her, his body warm and tempting against hers. Amusement colored his voice, and he rested his head on his front feet as if napping.
“I didn’t want to presume.” She reached out, hesitated. “You’re sure?”
“Touch before you explode.”
His scales were warm and alive, as smooth as glass yet they flexed with his every breath. Timidity fled beneath her delighted fascination. She rose to her knees and stroked down his side and up to his wing. The thick membrane shimmered as if coated with mica powders, catching the starlight when he stretched it out for her explorations. He wrapped it around her when she traced one of his horns, giving her a warm, heavy blanket against the cool cavern air.
“I’m sorry about your grandmother,” he murmured some time later. He’d curled his body and tail around her, his wing a familiar blanket. “I met her when she was a young girl, too damned curious for her own good but overflowing with kindness. I attended her wedding to the best man I’ve ever known, celebrated the birth of her children, and mourned with her as age and war and disease took some of them away.”
She frowned. “Did we ever meet? As a child, I mean.”
“Yes, when you were very small. As you got older…” His voice trailed off.
“Grandma’s friend? Oh, I remember now.” Turning, she stared up at him. “No wonder you seemed so familiar when you moved in. Grandma never explained what happened, just said we kept missing each other. What happened?”
“Nicole.” He flicked his tail at her. “That was ages ago. It’s not important.”
“If it’s not important, why won’t you tell me?”
“Because it has no bearing on the present.” A rumble entered his voice, a dragon’s irritated growl. “Don’t push it.”
“Fine. I’ll let it go. For now.” She settled against his side and stroked his scales. “What happens next?”
“That depends on you.” He curled tighter around her. “No one will believe you if you talk about seeing dragons, and they’ll never find me if they come looking.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
“Well,” she drew out the word, hiding her smile behind his wing. “I did ask you out, once. If this,” she petted his wing, “is why you said no, you’ll have to come up with another excuse.”
He laughed, smoke puffing from his nostrils. “Maybe I’ll ask you this time.”
Smiling, he spread one wing to make a ramp. “Climb on, then. I’ll take you flying. You might change your mind before the night is through.”
copyright 2023, Elaina Roberts