The air was cold and had just enough moisture to it that his clothes were damp. He was hungry and since the sun had yet to fully rise he was having trouble seeing where he was walking. After he tripped over something and stumbled for what felt like the hundredth time, Chris turned around and took him by the hand, leading him through the woods to heaven knows where.
The sun was higher in the sky when they finally broke free of the forest and into a clearing. Nick opened his mouth to ask, once again, where they were and what they were doing only to have Chris reach up and use his hand to cover Nick’s mouth. “Stay close to me and no matter what, do not say a word,” Chris whispered.
Nick didn’t feel like walking any further, but he was certain that he wouldn’t find his way back to their camp through the forest without Chris’ help. It was best that he follow Chris now and not annoy the other man.
Chris quickly crossed the clearing and ducked into a small cave that Nick hadn’t noticed until Chris disappeared into it. Fearing that he might be left behind, Nick rushed across the clearing and into the cave. He was shocked to find that the cave wasn’t as dark as the woods had been, in fact he could see plenty of light ahead of him and Chris’ walking briskly towards the light. He’d had to duck a few times where the ceiling was lower but he caught up with Chris quickly. The light was almost too bright ahead of them and Nick wondered if the cave was going to open up facing the sun, he put his hand on Chris’ arm, wanting to stop and ask him once again where they were going. Chris stopped long enough to glare at Nick and to motion for him to stay quiet.
Wherever they were going and whatever was ahead of them, it must be important. Nick had never before known Chris to willingly stay silent. Finally the cave opened up into a large crater, Nick stood at the cave’s edge and surveyed the scene before him. They were about half way up the crater and there appeared to be an old path leading from their cave down to the crater’s floor. Above them, there was only the open sky and the crater’s upper walls. Below lay a large lake, a good-sized belt of green grass and Nick nearly shouted aloud as he saw what else was on the floor of the crater. Chris had heard the sharp intake of breath and once more clamped his hand over Nick’s mouth. “Don’t make me regret showing you.” Chris hissed quietly.
Nick nodded that he understood and that he could be just as quiet as Chris. “Dragons, Chris. There are dragons down there.”
“I know. I told you that if you came with me, I’d show you something spectacular.”
“But how did you know they were here?”
“I could hear them and then last night when I was looking for more wood for the fire, I found the clearing. I saw them flying overhead as night fell and it grew darker.”
“You can hear them?” Nick said loudly, earning himself a dirty look from Chris before he pulled Nick back into the cave.
“Whisper, Nick, whisper. I’m not even going to pretend that they don’t hear us whispering, because I’m sure they do. But, seriously, for safety’s sake you need to be more quiet and not annoy them.”
“You hear dragons?” Nick whispered. “Can you talk to them too?”
“No, I can’t talk to them, but I can hear them.”
There was a rustle of many wings and Nick moved back to the cave opening. Five or six of the dragons were now awake and flying about the crater, skimming the surface of the lake and occasionally diving down into the water before bursting back out of the water and back into the air. His eyes drank in the sight of the colorful creatures; some were red, others yellow or green. There was a black one that appeared to be the size of a large horse.
As if hypnotized, Nick stood and watched them as they flew and swam. He wasn’t aware of time passing or of Chris standing beside him until the last of the dragons awoke and took to the air. The largest of the beasts was a brilliant shade of blue though it’s wings and the scales of its belly seemed to change colors as the sunlight hit them. Blue, aqua, a sharp crisp green shade; Nick hands itched to capture the scene before him on paper. He’d been made to leave his sketchbook and supplies behind when they started their journey and now he wished he’d disobeyed his superiors and brought them anyway.
Finally, the dragons all disappeared over the crater and into the sky. Chris took Nick by the hand and they retraced their way through the cave and back into the clearing. Nick didn’t speak again until they reentered the forest. “Why did you show me, Chris? Why me and not one of the others?”
“Because I knew you’d appreciate seeing them the most.”
“JC would have appreciated seeing them, so would have Lance. Dragons in the wild Chris, you know how rare that is; everyone would have liked to have seen them. Tomorrow we can show the others.”
“No, Nick. We’ll break camp today and continue on our journey. You’re not to tell the others what I’ve shown you, understand? Don’t make me regret showing you.”
“No. If we told them or showed them, it would be bad. Kevin and AJ would want to hunt them; Justin would be frightened that they would be eaten in the process. JC would probably insist on climbing down into the crater to get a closer look and you know Lance would be climbing right behind him. Howie would be torn between fear and fascination and would probably manage to stress himself out to the point that he'd be useless. Joey would want to seal the cave up so that no one else would be able to access the crater and Brian would probably want to send word back to our superiors about them and then before long there’d be troops here to capture the dragons and either tame them or kill them off.”
“Chris, do you really believe that?”
Chris nodded, “yes, I do. Before we return to camp, I want your word Nick, on your honor, I want you to swear to me that you’ll not reveal to the others what you’ve seen or that I am able to hear dragons.”
Nick saw the determination in Chris’ eyes and he knew if he refused that Chris may very well leave Nick to fend for himself in the forest. Hating to keep such a secret from his friends, yet knowing in his soul that Chris was most likely correct about what would happen if the others did find out, Nick put his hand over his heart and swore on his honor that he’d not betray Chris’ secret or the dragons. He’d never tell another soul, but he’d also never forget what he’d seen.