This was the fourth stone dragon that Kenya had managed to find and the sight of it was just as jaw dropping as the first.
It lay deep in a mountainside, surrounded by precious gems the size of Kenya’s fists and piles of strange, mismatched oddities. Kenya ignored the gems and bent down to inspect instead what look to be an ancient helmet in the shape of a wolf’s head. He brushed the dust and grime from it carefully, turning it this way and that in his hands before gently depositing it in his knapsack.
Patting his bag, he returned his attention to the great stone dragon, craning his head back to take it all in. It was easily the size of a large house. It lay curled tightly on its side, its horned wings tucked up against it. Kenya stepped closer and reached out to brush his fingers along the stone scales of its long, arched neck. It was cold, but unlike the objects it was surrounded by, it was untouched by dirt or dust.
Kenya laid his palm flat against the beast’s neck before carefully hefting himself up over its neck to its back. He couldn’t help but hold his breath whenever he did this part. Logically, he knew the creature had been asleep in stone for more than a hundred years and would remain so for another hundred if not more, but he still couldn’t shake the instinct to tread as if it could wake at any moment.
He balanced himself carefully on its back, gripping the spikes that jutted out down its spine. Carefully, he turned around to peer over the dragon’s side, straining to catch a glimpse of whatever precious treasure it kept clutched between its claws. The past three dragons he had unearthed had all slept curled around a single item. Kenya wondered what it would be this time. Would it be a priceless artifact from another time or a piece of junk that meant nothing to him but everything to the dragon that had protected it for so many years?
In many ways, Kenya preferred the latter. He liked to imagine the story behind it, the history.
Whatever treasure this dragon was guarding it was guarding it closely. Its long tail was coiled tight around it, nearly hiding it completely from view. Kenya narrowed his eyes, but the dim light in the cave was unable to pierce the long shadows cast by the dragon’s stone form. He flicked on his penlight but the narrow beam did little to illuminate the cave. He thought he could make out something thin and small, pressed tight to the dragon’s belly.
Slowly, Kenya turned around to lower himself feet first down the dragon’s side. Its stone flank was smooth and slippery under his hands and he dropped ungracefully. His palms stung and his ankles ached from the hard landing. He bent down to rub at his ankles then froze. He swore he saw what looked like a patch of dark hair peeking out from the coils of the dragon’s tail.
Frowning, Kenya moved closer. He stepped carefully over the tail then nearly stumbled back over it in shock.
A boy lay nestled against the dragon’s stone belly.
No, not a boy, Kenya amended as he took a closer look, a young man.
He was thin and pale, dressed in an elaborate blue kimono embroidered with complicated white stitching.
Kenya wondered if the man was carved of stone. Everything about him was so still, so strange; an intricate statue with more detail than Kenya would have thought possible. He could even see a faint white line of a scar trailing down the man’s neck into the folds of his kimono. Even his long, dark hair looked soft and lifelike.
Without thinking, Kenya reached out and brushed back a lock of the man’s black hair.
Kenya jerked his hand back. It was soft.
Hesitantly, Kenya reached out a second time and touched the man’s cheek. His skin was cold, as cold as the dragon’s stone scales. A corpse? Kenya shuddered and quickly withdrew his hand. But how could someone die here? And so recently too? Kenya frowned and stood back, head tilted thoughtfully. The cave had been sealed up when he happened upon it and it had taken him a full week to open it up.
Kenya stared down at the man, eyebrows knotted in confusion. How could there be a corpse that looked only a few hours old possibly be here?
Sucking in a deep breath, Kenya pressed two fingers against the man’s thin neck.
Unless he wasn’t dead.
He felt it. Faint, but steady, the man had a pulse.
Shock hit Kenya, soon followed by panic. Just how long had this man been trapped in here? What was the procedure when you found a person comatose in an ancient dragon dwelling? Was there even a procedure?
Hastily, Kenya felt across the man’s body, checking for broken bones before he attempted to move him.
Gently, he shook the man’s shoulder, hoping that might be enough to wake him. The man’s head lolled to the side and his eyes remained firmly shut.
Biting his lip, Kenya pulled back and looked the scene over. The man was deeply entangled with the stone dragon, clutched between its talons and half covered with its tail.
Kenya tightened the strap of his bag and rolled up the sleeves of his shirt.
Kenya was sweating heavily by the time he managed to half carry, half drag the man out of the cave. Harsh sunlight after what seemed like hours in the dark made him wince. The crunch of dead leaves underfoot and the faint smell of a forest after rain all seemed surreal as he struggled under the dead weight of the stranger he had found in the cave.
He trudged them to his jeep and shifted the man’s weight to open the side door.
Groaning, Kenya lifted the man into the passenger seat and strapped him in.
He wiped sweat from his brow and leaned down, hands on his knees, to catch his breath. When his breathing finally steadied, Kenya fished in his bag for his cellphone then cursed. No service. Of course there wouldn’t be cell phone service this deep in the mountains.
Sighing through his nose, Kenya walked around the jeep and slipped into the driver’s seat. He would just have to get the man to the hospital himself.
With a turn of his key the car jerked to life. Shifting into four-wheel drive, Kenya resisted the urge to speed through the forest to get to the main road down the mountain. He drove carefully, keeping an eye out for fallen trees and animals, while watching the man in the passenger seat out of the corner of his eye. The ride was bumpy and he felt a twinge of guilt every time the man’s head bumped against the headrest.
“Almost there,” he whispered to his passenger.
It wasn’t until, nearly half an hour later, they finally pulled out of the forest onto the main road that Kenya felt some of the tension leave him. He slumped his shoulders and dragged a hand through his blonde hair. He reached over to open a window when the man beside him suddenly jolted upright. His eyes snapped open and he gasped loudly, the sound coming out strangled and dry. The young man flailed, sucking in desperate breaths of air like someone who had been drowning.
The jeep swerved dangerously to the right as Kenya jumped in surprise. “Whoa! Hey, calm down. You’re safe now,” he started to say, slowing the car to a crawl. But the man didn’t hear him. He thrashed against the seat belt, fingers scrabbling at it to get loose.
Kenya hastily pulled over to the side of the road before reaching over to place a steadying hand on the man’s shoulder.
The touch seemed to startle him. He jerked away, turning wide, blue eyes on Kenya. He froze as he took him in, eyes darting from Kenya’s face to his clothes. His breathing slowed and he looked around the car, as if only just seeing his surroundings.
“Where am I?” the man rasped.
“You’re in my car,” Kenya said, speaking slowly and clearly. “My name’s Kobayashi Kenya and I’m driving us to a hospital. Do you know what happened to you?”
The man didn’t reply. He looked around the car again, eyes lingering on the dashboard and steering wheel. With a dark frown he turned to stare out the window, craning his neck to look at the road behind them. “You took me out of the cave…?” he asked.
Kenya nodded. “Yes. I found you unconscious. Do you know how long you were trapped in there?”
The man glanced back at him, a strange, wry smirk quirking his lips. “No idea,” he murmured. He slumped back in the seat and pressed the heels of his palms against his eyes. “You need to take me back.”
“….What?” Did Kenya hear that correctly?
The man dropped his hands and turned to stare blankly at him. “You need to take me back to the cave.”
“I don’t think-”
The man cut him off with an impatient shake of his head.
“You need to take me back before he wakes up.”
The man was breathing faster now, his chest heaving in quick, panicked gasps. He was suddenly in motion again. His hands scrabbled against the window, pushing and battering against the glass. When the glass refused to budge he dropped his hands and began to pull and tug uselessly at the seatbelt over his chest. “Why have you bound me?” he demanded, furious blue eyes locking onto Kenya.
“I… I didn’t. That’s just the seatbelt,” Kenya said, bewildered.
The man gaped at him, anger turning to confusion. “A what?”
Kenya stared. After a beat he asked slowly, “have you… never been in a car before?”
When the man didn’t answer Kenya slumped down in his seat and gripped the steering wheel tight in both hands. It was impossible. Kenya squeezed his eyes shut and leaned forward, bowing his head.
Beside him, he could hear the man still frantically trying to escape.
“How long were you in that cave?” Kenya asked.
The man halted. “I told you… I don’t know.”
Kenya looked over at him. “What do you last remember then?”
The question seemed to take the man off guard. He opened his mouth to speak then hesitated and closed it again. Slowly, he sunk back into the car seat. “I don’t… know.”
“You don’t know? You mean you don’t remember anything?”
The man was silent.
“You said something about someone waking up. Who were you talking about?”
The man stared down at his hands then looked outside the window, his expression unreadable. “Where are you taking me?” he asked suddenly.
Kenya hesitated before answering. Was he purposely avoiding the question or was he just distracted? “A hospital. You don’t have any visible injuries, but you should still see a doctor. They can help you figure out what happened and contact your family for you.” Kenya frowned. “Are you alright?”
The man was looking even paler than before, his eyes fluttering as he sunk low in the seat. His breath came out in ragged little pants. “I don’t…” he started to say, breathing heavily between words. “Don’t want to…. get any more people involved… please… don’t…” He reached out and grasped at Kenya’s sleeve, fingers trembling with effort. “You have to…” he trailed off, his voice fading as his eyes slipped shut and his head fell limp against his shoulder.
Alarmed, Kenya reached out to grab him. The man was breathing slow and steady, fast asleep. With a frown, Kenya sat back. The blinkers on his car ticked along with the hum of the engine as he fidgeted, debating on what to do next. Really, it shouldn’t even be a question. He wasn’t equipped to handle situations like this. It wasn’t part of the job. But there was something about the pure desperation in the man’s pleas that was making Kenya hesitate. He breathed out slowly and thumped his forehead against the ridge of the steering wheel.
If he took this man to a hospital he would have to explain where he found him. No matter how he spun it, this would attract attention. Kenya glanced back towards the sleeping man and felt a strange surge of protectiveness.
He sat up and reached into his pocket for his phone, hoping that he was low enough in the mountains now for a signal.
One bar. Kenya breathed out a sigh of relief. He scrolled through his contacts then brought the phone to his ear.
“Hiromi? I have a favor to ask.”