As I hung out in the open air over the side of the cliff my mind wandered to my mortality as it so often did on these expeditions. My hand gripped the thick coiled steel cable that attached to the harness around my waist, this was one of the most dangerous parts of these missions, the transmitter around my right ear was blocking contact with my partner above, to protect me at the same time from any dragons that could possibly be hiding in the cave I was about to enter. Duron would wait patiently to hear from me as he held the other end of the cable with the winch, I pressed the green button on the remote attached to my harness, I lowered another few feet until I could see into the small hole into the cave in the side of the cliff. I switched my grip to hold the cable with my right hand and touched the computer on my right forearm, the transmitter in my ear let out a small beep and the radar layout of the cave entrance projected above the computer, empty as far as the motion sensors could tell. I turned the signal blocker off.
“Duron?” I said quietly, connecting with him, I felt him smile.
“Awaiting your orders,” He hummed.
“Entrance appears to be clear but the hole is too small for either of us to fit through so I need to clear some of these boulders, you may need to be ready to take my weight on the cable at any moment.” I replied, I was scanning the rubble around the cave mouth, the cave was blocked most with small stones. rusted scrap metal and piles of gravel, there were a few small boulders that I felt if I could dislodge it would send the rest of the rubble down into the canyon.
“Understood be careful,” Duron said, a hint of concern in his voice.
I lowered myself carefully down onto the rubble and worked my way slowly to the largest stone that seemed to be holding everything else in place. I almost lost my footing twice as loose shale slide out from beneath me. I began to work at withering away the smaller stones beneath it, I kept one hand on the stone above me to feel if it started to move. It came suddenly, as I removed a good sized rock I heard a crunch and the stone leaned towards me, I barely had time to swing out into the air as the boulder fell away in a crash. The line slipped, Duron must have lost his footing when I jumped, I had warned him to be prepared to take my weight.
I hit the red button on the remote to lift myself up. Dust rose around me clogging my air, I coughed and choked, my eyes watered, I clung to the steel line, as I swung back in forth. My motion sensor beeped angrily in my ear, but was it from all of the rubble falling away from the ledge or was there a wyrm living in this cave. I prayed to whatever entity might be listening; that the sensor was just the rubble.
“Everything okay down there?” Duron asked, he voice on edge, he was not even sure that my transmitter was open.
“Yes just a lot of dust, I need to go dark for a minute, my motion sensor is going crazy.”
“Please be careful,” He said.
“When am I ever not?” I asked, before he could answer I turned the transmitter block on and lowered myself a few feet closer to the ledge. I tapped on the touch screen of my computer, the computer connected to my transmitter and projected onto the screen in front of my right eye, I could see a computer projection of the cavern before me, empty from any dragon like shapes. I sighed in relief and lowered myself all the way onto the ledge. I turned off my transmitter, and waved dust from my face. I unhooked the steel cable from my harness and called up to Duron.
“All seems clear,” I called, I hit the red button on my remote until I heard the clicking of the winch as it reached the close point. Gravel and loose shale showered down into the canyon as Duron climbed down to join me.
My eyes were adjusting to the dim of the cave entrance as the drake landed gracefully on the ledge beside me. He was massive even for his kind. Duron stood five feet at the shoulder in his dragon form, fur covered scaly armor covered him from nose to tail with a pair of large silver eyes to give him the best site the animal kingdom has ever known, like most of his kind his scales were a dull gold color with light and dark stripes randomly covering him, some of his scales had an occasional sparkle. His wide head was set with a thick jaw and thirty-six serrated teeth. One could spend a day looking at his scales and not find every scale or scar, not appreciate the subtle change from light to dark, not see the specks of blue in the silver of his eyes. I have not spent one day with him, I have spent my whole life since my first memory with him, I know him as well as I know myself, I could pick his pattern out of a pack of his kind. Subconsciously as I scanned the scene before me to get a bearing on the cave entrance I reach out a hand and touched his shoulder, he leaned towards me.
Duron and I had been side by side since I was four and he was eight, he could not even take a humanoid form at that time. A wyrm had attacked our village, my mother had just been killed, my father was trying to avenge her, as were the other men of the village, Duron’s family had come to the village to take safe harbor from the persecution facing his race, his father fought alongside my own against the wyrm. Wyrm’s like most higher dragons breathe fire, the pure oxygen they breath out is highly flammable and the flint tips of their forked tongue could light this oxygen, the wyrm was so bent on the destruction of my village that he lite half of it on fire while the fight raged. I had been cowering in the corner of our hut, I was screaming and crying as the wall burned around me, Duron had heard me screaming and came crashing into the burning home, he spoke to me in my mind and told me to climb onto his back, I did and he rushed me from the building and into the woods beyond until the smoke had clear and we returned to find half the village burnt, my father had survived the fight but thought I was dead in the hut, when he saw me riding back into the village on the back of a drake child he had wept and run to me, he had pulled me from Duron’s back and squeezed me so tightly I had thought I would break. My father had never let me out of his sight after that unless I was accompanied by Duron.
I pulled myself from my memories and returned to the cave. My eyes had done what a computer could not, scanned the still surroundings for anything that did not look like a rock. Empty.
Duron wore on his back a large pack, the winch on his back was folded up in his own pack, I took my pack from him and shouldered it. I slide his larger pack from his back and laid it on the ground beside him, he stretched and shook himself. He began to bend in on himself and a thick smoke surrounded him, he transformed in a cloud, when the cloud cleared a man stood before me. His skin was a golden brown his head was round like my own but his face was an elongated muzzle, atop his head the scale fur had grown to fur that adorned his head as my hair did my own. Drake’s unlike Aquarian had no tails in humanoid form, but his scales along his back were still visible, dark striped bands along his back and arms. As he always was when he transformed he was nude, I handed him his clothes and turned my eyes away as he got dressed. When I turned back my companion was shouldering his significantly heavier pack, complete with the winch and ropes for climbing. We would need the equipment he carried to make it through our expedition.
“Ready to go?” Duron asked, his voice was husky and course on the air, but it was a sound I was familiar and comfortable with.
“Yes just let me send the transmission,” I said, I handed him his own computer which he clamped onto his own left arm as I touched the sequence on my own screen to send the start transmission of our expedition. We would be too deep underground to send out an SOS if something were to happen during our exploration of the cave system, so our employer had contingency plans built into our contracts, we sent out a start transmission and our time began, we had two days to explore into the cave and three days to climb out, if we did not send an end of exploration transmission by the end of the one hundred and twenty hours a team would be sent to find us, we carried enough food for eight days, in theory that would be all the food we would need as the rescue team would bring supplies to get us out as well as provisions, luckily for Duron and I we have never taken longer than the three days to make our way out of a cave system, but we have been part of a rescue team, it was not something I ever wanted to put another team through.
With the transmission set we began our job. Ours was not a glamorous or even a well paid position but it was a necessary one to insure the safety of the Eggs as well as the villages that lived outside the government’s rule. We explored possible nesting sites of wyrms, wyverns and long dragons, as well as the occasional hydra but there have not been reports of a hydra in about fifty years, they are believed to be extinct. We mapped cave systems, valleys, canyons and swamps, we looked for any sign of a dragon presence and documented what we found, we never engaged we were survey teams, noncombatant, if there was a treat presence our employing Egg would send out a cleanup team to take care of the threat.
I was reminiscing about the survey that we had met a gryphon with the name Flybuck, we had saved her egg, it had fallen into a fissure in the ledge she had nested on. Her claws had been too large to reach the egg, I had climbed into the fissure and pushed the egg up to Duron who had returned it to Flybuck. She had been so grateful she gave us each one of her feathers, they had special properties just like legend said, you cannot lie in the presence of a gryphon feather, they are also extremely hard and sharp. I wore mine woven into my hair, it was my lucky charm, it had saved my life once, Duron wore his around his neck on a long gold cord along with other mementoes he had collected, he was a dragon after all.
I glance back to see my partner; he was tapping his computer it was beeping quietly as it scanned the entrance cavern. Duron glanced over at me a grin on his face, his fangs flashed in the morning light.
“I have a good feeling about this one,” He said.