Day 9

Title: Day 9
Author: tarotgal
Fandom: Original Fiction
Rating: PG
Pairing: None
Summary: Jameson, an adventurer, goes in search of a dragon. He isn't expecting to find one like this, however.
Notes: Written during my 12 Ficlets in 12 Days in 2018-19 project project for Anonymous.

Step by cautious step, I, Jameson Browner the famous adventurer, make my way down the narrow cave passage. Above the perfectly natural rattling of my armor, there is a low, steady, rumbling sound I have never before heard. If I have to make a guess about it, however, I would wager all I have in the world—which isn't anything more than the pack on my back and sword in my hand, actually—that the sound is being made by a dragon. The rumors of a dragon living in these caves followed me from village to village over the past few months. And though none of the villagers ever venture up this way nowadays, I am not now afraid. I was born to be an adventurer, after all. I come from a long line of them. So I live for moments like this one.

Apart from paintings and illustrations in books, I have never seen a dragon. And my little sister would be quick to tell me that books don't count for this sort of thing, not if you are a true adventurer. Which I absolutely am, of course. She, herself, claims to have seen three dragons during her travels. And our parents claim they kept a dragon as a pet before they started having children. I never quite found out if the dragons were the ones who had children first or if my parents were. They were a little dodgy about the details.

In any case, this seems like my real first and maybe only chance to see a dragon in person. Dragon sightings have become exceedingly rarer these days, what with farmers concerned about their crops and town development expanding into the mountain regions. So I am not about to waste this opportunity, no matter what my instincts say about wandering straight into a dragon's lair, meeting it where it is at home and most familiar. Not that I am scared, mind you. Adventurers don't get scared. We live for moments like this.

As I make my way onward, I see a faint glow at the end of the passageway. It grows brighter and brighter and larger and larger as I go along. It isn't until I am about halfway to it that I realize the sound I'd heard at the start is now gone. I listen hard, straining, and hear nothing at all. Wondering if maybe the dragon has moved on to another part of the cave, I move ahead, adventuring onward with bravery and might and


The light flares brightly up ahead, making me throw up an arm to shield my eyes. But it is the noise that startles me more than anything else. The sound was harsh and growly and not the least bit friendly. I knew dragons weren't all rainbows and kittens. I knew that sometimes adventurers perished upon facing a particularly dangerous beast. But until now, I hadn't considered what finding a dragon might really mean for me. I have my sword in hand, but that will not do much to stop an already angry dragon.

Perhaps I should come back another time? I can journey back to that last village and check back into the inn. I can sit by the fire with a book and a steaming cup of tea and prepare for this adventure another time. Yes. That seems most sensible indeed.

I turn on the spot to make my retreat—ah, I mean to sensibly adventure back out of the cavern—when I hear a low voice the sounds like how sandpaper feels. “Who's there?”

I nearly wet myself. No. Of course I don't. I mean, I bravely turn back around and take a deep breath. I may be shaking in my armor, but my hand with my sword is steady enough. I pull my scarlet cloak around me, fastening it under my chin and at my waist and pulling up the hood, just in case. Passed down from my father's father's father's father, the cloak fire resistant, supposedly, though it has never been put to the test against dragonflames. “It is I,  Jame—”

HURRRSHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” I hear again, and the light in front of me is suddenly so bright I take a few steps back. Then I hear a sound which I can only imagine must be some sort of laughter. But it does not seem the friendly laughter of someone at a tavern greeting me and buying me a pint. And it is not the flirtatious laugh of an innkeeper's daughter asking if I want a refill. It is full of maliciousness and spite and danger.

I take a deep breath and try again, “My name is Jameson Browner of Morningdale! I am an adventurer in search of a dragon!” Maybe I shouldn't have mentioned that last bit. Maybe I shouldn't have given my real name either. Who knows what magiks are at work here? 

“Ahhhhh. Here you are. Best see for yourself. Forward!”

As if by their own volition, my feet stumble forward. My armor clanks and rattles as my body inside it trembles. My teeth chatter. I was born to be an adventurer, but even adventurers have their limits.

A few moments later, I step from the narrow tunnel into a glorious, golden cavern. Coins and jewels glitter from edge to edge of the room, rising up in piles maybe thirty feet high in places. I have never before seen so much wealth. Were I a man drawn to decadence, no doubt I would be greedily scooping up coins by the handful and stashing them away on my person by now. As it is, my hands touch nothing. Only my boots and armor-covered shins come into contact with it as I ascend the slope leading into the room.

For, in the center of the room, is a dragon. A real, live, honest-to-goodness dragon. Or, at least, parts of a dragon. There is a purple tail, slender and long, protruding from one pile of gold. A tip of a leathery, purple and blue wing shimmers from another section of the treasure. And a round mound, covered in purple and blue scales sticks out from a part of the gold-covered floor. In it are two black and white eyes, fixed upon me, half-lidded as if it were narrowing its gaze to study me in full. I find myself doing the same thing. Despite the danger this beast poses, I long for it to shake off the coins, rise, and show itself in full to me. And if I am to perish here on this adventure, I want to at least have seen properly what it is I came here to see. Maybe I am a true adventurer at heart after all?

HERAHHHH...” Part of the gold pile rises. The dragon sounds as if it is gathering its breath to speak, but I take no chances.

I pull the cloak up, and sink down behind it, curling in on myself.


Flames lap at my front and sides. The sword handle in my hand grows altogether too hot to hold, so I drop it immediately. I can just make out its shape, melting, dissolving in the flame. My weapon is gone, but I remain unscathed apart from the uncomfortably intense heat surrounding me.

As quick as it begins, it ends. I stand back up, throwing the cloak back from my face in triumph.

The dragon's snout has emerged now, or most of it, at least. It is not the same blue and purple color as the rest of him but, instead, a bright red. Its nostrils flare as it inhales again, a sound far wetter than I was expecting, as if its head is underwater instead of under coins. It still stares straight at me, unblinking. “So loud outside. I should kill you.”

“I'd rather you didn't.”

It lets out a huff, like a single laugh, the coins rising and falling with each breath, some sliding down the great hill of treasure concealing its body. There is true anger in its voice. “You woke be frub a soud sleeb just to gaze ubod be. Do you dow how lodg it took be to fall asleeb? Ages. I... I... should... I... I... I...” Then out from the gold bursts a hand. Its curled fingers end in sharp, pointed claws that alone are the size of my torso, only there are five of them and only one of me. Instead of using his hand to pull himself closer to me, however, it goes to its snout.

I can see its nostrils twitching and some sort of wetness running from one onto its hand, which moves back and forth under its nose, rubbing furiously to no avail. It keeps trying to finish its terrible speech to me. “I... have... killed... for... for... for less...” It rears back with another mighty intake of breath.

I crouch down again, hiding myself under the cloak just in time.

HURRASSHHHHHHUHHHHHHHH!” Flames erupt all around me. I wince, bracing myself for the worst. But the cloak protects me this time as well. When I feel the heat die down, I part the folds of the cape and peep out. I see the dragon rub his hand back and forth under his snout, sniffing wetly.  

I stand up slowly, understanding what's going on here. “You're sneezing,” I tell the dragon.

The dragon pulls his head up, there is a waterfall of coinage that slides down its face until its whole head is free. “You bust be the bost brilliadt hubad I've ever seed. Obviously I'b sdeezig. Have you dever seed a dragod sdeeze before?”

I don't want to tell him that I've never even seen a dragon before. “I haven't.”

Its giant head goes up and down. “Well, wait a few bore bidutes add you'll see it agaid. SNRFFFFFFF!” He lifts his arm this time in order to get to his snout—his twitchy, streaming snout. “I've beed sdeezig sidce... sidce...”

At first, I think he's going to sneeze again, so I grab for the edge of my cloak. But, it turns out, he's just trying to think very hard. He glances around and pulls a large clock out from the pile of gold treasures. He taps a claw at its face. Tap-tap-tap. Then he drops it. “By tibebiece is broked. SNRFFF! What day is it?”

That is a question I had not been expecting to need to answer. “I left home in April, once the snows had cleared. Then I made my way through the treacherous swamp, headed up the perilous cliffs, waded through the deathly bog...” I tick each off using a finger, calculating time. I leave off mentioning the month and a half I spent in the library of Monoacre but calculate it in the total. “It is very nearly December now.”

“Ah.” The dragon's head goes up and down. Its giant eyes close and open. “Thed eight.”

“Eight days?”

SNRFFFFF! Days? Ha! Doe... lodger thad that.”

“You've been sneezing for eight years?” That seemed quite impossible.

It makes a chuffing noise and quickly wipes its hand at its snout where it runs. “Doe... eight cedturies.”

Stunned into silence, I can only gape at him.

“It was a fairy, you see. A fairy who took offedse to by burdig dowd her forest. She got idto be dose add tickled it with her bagic. Add whed she left I started sdehhhhh sdeeehhhhhhhhhhh Hehhhhh! HEHHHHHH!” He sticks a finger right up against his nostrils, pressing with great effort, but his snout continues to wrinkle and twitch with the intense need to sneeze. I sense he can't hold it back for long.

Still shocked, I can barely move, though I know I must. Slowly, I manage to pull the cloak over myself and drop to my knees. But I still can't wrap my head around what it would be like to be this sneezy for eight centuries. No wonder his nose is so very red. No wonder he is upset about being woken up. Sleep is probably the only respite he has from sneezing.

HAHHHHH-HERSHUHHHHHHH!” Warmth surrounds me as the front part of the room fills with fire from the dragon's snout. I wait to make sure there isn't a second sneeze—my brother always sneezes in twos—then I drop my cape. The dragon blinks tiredly. I'd imagine sneezing for eight centuries would be extremely tiring.

“Bless you.”

The dragon gives a start. He snuffles and stares at me as if he's seeing me for the first time. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or bad. “Doe ode... id all this tibe SNERFFFFFFF!

“No one has said bless you?”

He shakes his head.

“Well, I'd say that after all this time, you're due for it.”

He stares at me for a little while longer. Then the corners of his mouth turn up into the briefest of amused smiles. “Well thadk you... what did you say your dabe was agaid?”


“Jabesod the advedturer.” He mulls this over. Then he sets his head tiredly back down on the gold. I can't imagine how it is comfortable; give me a feather mattress and thick quilt any day. But perhaps after eight centuries, he is used to it. Perhaps to a dragon, this is the height of comfort. Or perhaps compared to the discomfort of sneezing so much, anything else feels good. “I subbose I should SNRRFFF let you live after all.”

“Thank you,” I tell him, though I never intended to let him kill me anyway. “I appreciate that...” It is my turn to trail off. “I'm afraid I haven't learned your name yet.”

“Rude,” he says. “You dever eved bothered to ask. You cabe cladkig idto by boudtaid add dod't eved ask what by... what by... ohhhh...” He scrubs his hand at his nose then lifts his other hand out of the gold and rubs with it instead. “Oh, I feel like sdeezig agaid already.” He glances at me, actually looking a little worried.

“I'm all right,” I assure him. I finger my cloak, getting it ready. “Go right ahead and sneeze if you have to.”

“I have to. I always have to.” He wipes his hand from the tips of his fingers to his forearm under his nose with a great big, snuffling sound. It's a wonder that his sneezes have so much fire to them when his nose otherwise is so wet and runny. It must be a dragon thing. “By dose is just so tickly.”

I'm not sure what to say. 'I'm sorry you've been sneezing for eight centuries' hardly seems appropriate. The fairy had probably only been doing what she thought was appropriate for losing her forest. Perhaps she hadn't realized how long-lasting her magic would be against a dragon. My few meetings with fairies had indicated that they usually acted before they thought. And their fairy dust was certainly not to be underestimated.

HAHHH... HAHHH... HERRRRR-AHHHH... AHHHH...” The sneeze builds slowly, strong breath by strong breath. His snout wrinkles. His nostrils flare wide—so very wide. “HAHHHHHH!

I pull the cloak around myself quickly, hiding within it entirely.


I grit my teeth and brace myself for the fire to surround me yet again.


He sucks in the strongest breath yet.

But then he doesn't sneeze. The sneeze doesn't come. I don't dare emerge from safety until it does. But I wonder how long I will have to wait. I cannot wait another eight centuries, that's for certain.


I brace myself, closing my eyes tight.


I wait.


And I wait some more.

AHHH! HARHHHHHH! HAHHHHHHHH! HUH HUH HUHHHHHHHH!” And then, suddenly, the dragon roars.

I open my eyes and look out from beneath the cloak in just the smallest gap between fabric. The still nameless dragon scrubs frantically at his quivering nostrils. “Stuck!” he groans. He buries his head back under a pile of gold. The sound of his heavy, heaving gasps is muffled but still there.

I emerge from behind the cloak. I step as close to him as I dare, feeling a bit braver now that I know the dragon is vulnerable but still cautious now that the dragon is frustrated. I don't trust a grumpy, angry dragon. It might be sneezy, but I bet his sharp claws and even sharper teeth probably still work fine.

“Ah... dragon?”

AHHHH! HAHH! What?” it snaps at me, and it takes all my willpower not to jump back and run straight for the entrance to the cave straight toward safety.

“I... I think I could help you with that sneeze.”

HAHHH!” It lifts its head slightly, eyes coming up above the level of gold once again. It blinks at me. “I odce had a HAHHHH! a sdeeze stuck HAHHH HERRRR HAHHHHH for over a year. What could you do to helb?”

I swallow hard. I can't believe I'm about to make this offer. But I feel bad for the poor guy. I know what it feels like to feel like you're about to sneeze, and no one deserves to feel that for a whole year. Besides, this will make a fantastic story to tell later. My sister might have seen three dragons, but how many has she made sneeze? Now the trick is just to do this carefully so that I will live to tell the tale. “I think I could reach inside your nose pretty easily and tickle it into letting out that sneeze.”

He blinks at me again. “You would die. AHHHHH! The HAHHH the fire HURRRRAHHH would HAHHHH would HAHHHHH!

“Not if you pull me out right before you sneeze. I've got a cloak to protect me as well. I think we can make this work.” I reach under my armor, which is looser on me in places than it probably should be if I were heading into battle. But it means I can reach things inside my pocket. My hand seizes upon the item I had in mind, and I pull it out. “Plus, I've got this.” Holding my quill pen at its inky tip, I twirl it between my fingers.

His pupils widen in understanding. He lifts his head again, just enough for his fierce, red snout to surface. His belly rubs against the gold as he frees his forearms from having to hold himself up. His hand shoots out and grabs hold of me, scaly fingers closing tight around my body, and I'm sure I would have been injured if not for the armor. “Blease tickle by dose. I deed to sdeeze so badly. HAHHHH! Oh, I've just got to sdeeze...”

“What is your name, dragon?” I ask again. If I'm going to die in this adventure, I at least want a few seconds when I understand everything. I don't want any unanswered questions remaining.

“Ludwig,” the dragon says without hesitation this time. Then he shoves me into one of his giant nostrils. There is just enough light coming in from the treasure cavern to see by. It is wet all around me and a trail across the bottom from the dragon's constantly runny nose. But what I mostly see inside is glitter. Glitter in every color of the rainbow coats the inside of his nose. It's the mark of the fairy's magic, and I know that no matter how much the dragon—Ludwig—sneezes, he'll never be able to sneeze this out.

I also know that this is what's making his nose so irritated, and so it's this that I target with my quill. The pen truly is mightier than the sword... especially as I no longer have a sword.

AHHHHH-HAHHHH! Hurry! HAHHHHH!” He gasps mainly using his mouth, but I can feel air rushing past me in both directions, chilling me as the breath comes in then warming me as the breath goes out. I think again about the fiery sneezes and worry about my fate. But it's too late now. I've gone too far to back out. I'm actually inside a dragon!

Or the front half of me is, at least. My legs are sticking out, and the dragon's hand is tight around me from the waist down. My only hope is that Ludwig is so grateful to feel a sneeze really coming on that he remembers to pull me out in time. And I hope his reflexes are as quick as they'll need to be. After all, only he knows when he's just about to sneeze.

Securing my nervously quivering lower lip between my teeth, I start stroking the end of my feather quill along the insides of his nasal passages. He gives an enormous huff of a breath and a shudder, and then his whole snout wrinkles and trembles, and I know then that this is working. The feather is small, compared to his mighty form, but he can still feel it tickling him. And it's going to make him sneeze.

I vary my technique, sometimes giving long, firm strokes and sometimes tiny, fluttering tickles. I rub the quill at the magic fairy dust, not dislodging any but using it to further irritate his nose. I feel his nostril expanding and contracting around my waist with each breath as his breathing grows faster, more urgent.

Deciding to increase the ticklish sensation, I reach out with my free hand and gently run my fingertips along the inside of his nose. The walls feel soft, tender like his poor red snout looks. And the dust is so fine I can barely detect it by touch. It's just enough to irritate him, but my tickling is more than enough to make him sneeze.

HAHH I... AHHHH I I I gotta HARAHHHHH! I gotta—!”

All at once, he pulls me out and flings me to the side. Relieved, I cover with my cloak, but it turns out I don't actually need to take such a measure. He's thrown me far enough back that I can feel the heat from the flames, but they're directed forward. I am safely out of their reach, out of harm's way. That doesn't keep my heart from pounding in my chest, however. It is a thrill to see him finally sneeze again and know that I had some small part in helping bring that about.

HARASHUSHHHH! HEHPZSHHUUU!” The sneezes are somehow both full of fire and wet at the same time. And Ludwig's entire body seems to give itself over to the sneezes. His eyes are shut tight, pearls of tears in the corners, but his long neck is stretched out as far as it will go and his snout, which surely must have been wrinkled was sleek and elongated now as fire bursts from his large nostrils and mouth in the shape of an O. “HERR-AHHHSHHTTZZZ! HAPTTSHUHHHH!

Feeling as though we'd shared an intimacy that allowed me now to touch him, I reach out and lay my hand on his side.

He flinches at this and narrows his eyes a moment. Then he rises fully out from under the rest of the treasure. He stretches his wings out, one at a time. Then one of his wings curves and folds around me, like a sort of embrace, perhaps a thank you.

He is otherwise incapable of thanking me verbally at the moment, however. “ERRR-HEHSHIKKKZZZZZ! HEHHHHH-EHHHHHH-HEH-URSHZZSHHHHH!

“Bless you!” I call out, and I feel his wing tighten around me just a little.

HEHHHHH! Oh... godda be HAHHHHH a big HERRRbig ode...” he announces, as if his other sneezes had come from a little kitten, like the ones that had played with my socks at the inn back in Uldrich when I sat by the fireside reading. I back away, wanting to give him as much space as possible. I can't imagine his sneezes being any bigger than they are already, so he impresses me when he takes in one gigantic breath and sneezes a sneeze that fills nearly half the room in flames. “HAHHHHARRRRSHHHHHPTZZSHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

When the intense flames die down and wisps of black smoke waft from his nostrils and mouth, I move closer again. He sighs deeply and lifts his hand, rubbing a bent finger back and forth under his wet nostrils. “Ohhhh... that feels so buch better. What a great relief! SNRRTTTT! Thadk you, Jabesod. SNERFFFF! Hah-HAH-SNERFFFFFF!

His nose is running terribly now, dripping messily onto his scales no matter how much he sniffles and snorts and tries to keep it in his snout.

I act without thinking, which really is a first for me, and pull off my cloak in a flourish. I move away from his wing, walk around him, and press the cloak into his other hand. “Here,” I say as I stare up at the dragon's large, inflamed nostrils. “This has seen me through many an adventure.” I remember stretching out under the stars on it to compose poetry one night on the Forgotten Fields. I recall to mind the time I hunkered down under it in the snows of the Frost Forest and dreamed warm thoughts until the sun shone again. “I'm afraid it won't be much use in keeping you warm, it’s far too small for you to use as a cloak or a blanket. But I think it's just the right size for you to wipe your nose with. Maybe you can catch your sneezes in it even?”

SNRFFFFF?” His sniffle sounds like a question, but he lifts the cloth to his nose and hesitantly gives a gentle wipe. Ludwig the dragon gasps in surprise and then rubs it enthusiastically at his nose. He rubs and scrubs and snorts and then lets out a low, rumbling purr that fills the entire cavern.

As if entirely forgetting I'm there, he brings his other hand to hold the cloak between both of them and empties his nose into it with the wettest blow possibly ever heard in the entire kingdom. I don't see a single spec of fairy dust on the cloak afterward, which dries instantly with its own magic. He discovers this by giving his snout another hearty wipe and purrs again, overcome with delight.

I jump back as his wings suddenly unfurl fully. He raises himself into the air, effortlessly. The ceiling of the large cavern is big enough for several dragons to be stacked one on top of another, giving him all the room this single dragon needs to twirl in the air a few times before flopping back down upon his pile of gold, this time on his back. His soft, lilac-colored belly is exposed as it vibrates with purrs and rises and falls with snuffly breaths.

Then his chest quickly fills with a sharp gasp. “HURHHHHHH!” He clutches the cloak tightly, pressing it to his nostrils, which almost match the scarlet cloth in color. “HISHNNXXXXXXXX! Ohhhhhh yes!” He purrs again, his lengthy tail waving slowly from side to side among the piles of gold, overturning some stacks and making glittery jewels scatter throughout the room. I almost lose my footing as two golden dinner platters slide past me. Then the dragon rolls right over and looks at me.  “You cad tage whatever you wadt for this. Sniff! Sniff! Tage by whole fortude, if you cad carry it.”

I laugh and reach down, scooping a few coins up. “This should cover the price of a new cloak and a few nights at an inn.” I scoop up a few more coins at a sudden memory. “And I'll need to replace my sword. But that's all I require.” I think about how many books and journals all this gold could buy me—more than I could ever read in a lifetime. But what would an adventurer do with so much? I can carry one, maybe two books with me at a time. “Though, if I should be back here some day...”

“Ady tibe. You're welcobe ady... ady Harrrrrhh... HAHHH... HEHJUXXXSHH!” The fire-resistant cloak blocks and contains everything he sneezes into it. I'm in no danger and his snout is all the better for it as well. He's purring unconsciously and without stop now, in and out. And the corners of his mouth show he's smiling again. “Ady tibe,” he finishes. “Especially if I have adother stuck sdeeze.”

“My, ah, my pleasure.” In truth, it had been a rather messy and terrifying venture, and I will certainly need a new quill pen at some point. But it had felt genuinely good to risk my life to help him out. “Though I suppose I should be going now.”  

“Stay a little while lodger?” he pleads. “You cad't ibagide how lodely it's beed here, Jabesod. Sniff! Sniff! Sniff! SNIFF! Oh... I thidk I deed to... to blow...” He blows his snout into the cloak again and then turns it over in his hands, marveling at how dry it still is, how dry it always will be. “Just... sniff! Just stay udtil I cad fall back to sleeb? I thidk I will be able to fidally sleeb well, dow that I cad wibe add blow by ruddy dose. Snff! Tell be of your advedtures? Tell be a story? I love stories.”

My heart leaps. I was born an adventurer into a family of adventurers from a long, long line of adventurers. But, deep down, all I ever really wanted to be was a bard. “Oh,” I say, grinning from ear to ear now. “Oh, I have plenty of stories.” Some—the most boring ones—are my own. But there are hundreds of other stories I know—some I've read, but most I've made up in my own mind while walking through the lands in search of a proper adventure. “I'd love to tell them to you.”

So the dragon settles down, burying himself half under his gold, and gets into a position where he is most comfortable, though he keeps the cloak pressed to his sore snout the whole time. And I sit down next to him, leaning back against his side. It's smooth, and I slide against it a few times before I get stable.

HAHHH-HARRUXXXXXTTTT!” Ludwig sneezes into my former cloak, his new handkerchief.

“Bless you.” I wait for him to relax again beside me before I launch into my first story. This is what I truly live for.