The dragon’s voice barked defensively out of the darkness. “You don’t tell me what I can and can’t do!”
Nick answered aggressively, “No, you tell you that. It was you who told us when we first arrived here why you don’t leave your cave, why you don’t hunt any more,” but his voice betrayed a hint of fear.
“Hundred of years!” the dragon answered. “Hundreds I’ve been cooped up in here!” And a roar and a burst of fire lit his corner of the cave, and Nick and Dora saw a flash of Dimclaxadon, horrible in his agitation, the royal blue scales of his crown black in his own read light.
“I don’t–” Nick started, but he faltered, startled. “I don’t–” he began again, but he couldn’t find the words.
“You put yourself in here,” Dora answered, as calmly as she could, as if she were reassuring a friend. This was only her and Nick’s third visit to the cave, and neither had ever seen him in such an agitated state. “You keep yourself out of sight. You hide from the humans,” Dora said plaintively, hoping to elicit some reason and self-control.
“The humans,” Dimclaxadon sneered. “And what of you humans?” he asked with contempt, his head leaving the shadows of the darkest corner for the first time since Nick and Dora’s arrival, his eye a cruel slit that put fear in Dora’s heart. She gasped and clutched a hand to her chest, and Nick stumbled and fell over backwards onto the cave’s stone floor, and he scrambled backwards quickly, his eyes wide.
This time Dora faltered: “We–” she said, but her racing heart had frozen her mind, and suddenly all she wanted to do was grab Nick and leave the cave. Then, as quick as his head had emerged, Dimclaxadon’s eye softened, and his head fell to the floor at his feet. “I–” he stammered. “I’m sorry,” he said at last. Dora’s heart skipped a beat as if it couldn’t decide whether to calm down or take her out of the shallow cave. “I–” he started again. “I’m… restless.”
Nick got to his feet and placed a dirty hand on Dora’s shoulder. He gripped her warningly, and she could sense his strong unspoken suggestion that they leave. They had discussed their fears at home after the first visit, but after leaving unscathed that time, they had returned, and now they had returned again, even more confident. But Dimclaxadon inspired fear in them anew. He was fearful to behold, a towering fifteen feet tall, and since they’d never seen him in the light, they didn’t know his full length, but they knew enough: a dragon, larger than them and firebreathing, worthy of fear and awe.
“Humans,” Dimclaxadon said accusingly, “and their guns.” He inhaled a long, rattling breath and sighed. “Sometimes the price of safety is more than I can stand.” Then he fell to the ground in a great clamor as his scales shifted and rippled. Dust and dirt flew about the cave, blasting abrassively into Nick and Dora’s eyes and against their skin.
“It was always assumed that we were magical,” Dimclaxadon said sadly with another sigh. “No swords, no spear, no arrow could pierce us, and though there were never many of us, we roamed the world fearlessly. “I don’t know how many of us still are, but I know some of us have died, and we never knew death before.” He had fallen again into moping, which was the state Nick and Dora knew best. “I live here on deer and bear and dog, too afraid to take humans or what they count too closely.”
Dimclaxadon’s head had fallen within ten feet of Nick and Dora, eyes closed. She approached him and kneeled down next to him and placed a hand on his head. Nick had given her one last meaningful squeeze as she left his grip.
“It’s you,” Dimclaxadon said thickly. “Your arrival has woken something in me that I haven’t felt since I fled the world.” He sighed deeply again, and the heat of his breath brushed over her leg and made her wince as she pulled it away instinctively from the corner of his mouth.
She asked, “What is it? What makes you so restless now when you’ve stayed here hidden so long?”
“Respect?” he asked. “Fear?” he asked next. He breathed deep and sighed again finally, and Dora heard a conclusion made in the sound. “The smell of you,” he said without a questioning inflection. Then he said with an unmistakeable note of bitter anger, “I have power.”
Dora had backed away from him as he spoke, and she now felt distinctly threatened and began to turn to Nick to leave, but the dragon’s head lurched towards Dora and knocked her backwards. Her legs flew in the air as she tumbled, and he bit her, ripping her body apart at the pelvis, and her bones cracked between his teeth as she screamed, but the noise petered and stopped quickly, and he dropped her lower half from his mouth. Nick barked a scream, too, and it echoed around the cave and off Dimclaxadon’s scaly hide. He turned to run, but the dragon was on him in a heartbeat, and Nick felt the heat of his throat on his head and smelled his own seared hair as the dragon’s jaws closed, the teeth pierced him, and he died.
Dimclaxadon roared savagely and victorious, a sound that hadn’t been heard west of the Rockies since he went into hiding more than two hundred years before, and his cave acted as a trumpet, blasting the sound out over the Pacific. No longer would he wait patiently for prey and pounce like some lesser lizard. Fire roared forth from his mouth, turning his cave’s ceiling a bright red, and in that glow he reveled in his madness, for madness is what had won: he would be Dimclaxadon, horror of the west, strong and awful and free to fly and fight and eat as he wanted.
He scrambled from the searing cave over the ripped and bleeding bodies. He stretched the wings he hadn’t used in so long and moaned a terrible screech at the feeling in his muscles. He pulled with them, and the ground trembled beneath him, and he took flight and cried again with another burst of flame. For a moment, the world was silent except for the echoes of his power.