and the Search for the Drop of Sun
and the Search for the Drop of Sun
"Now remember class, I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times. Just because school is over in four days does not mean you are at liberty to misplace assignments, cut class, and only fill out your papers with doodle-drawings--as well done and amusing as some of them may be. In fact, this is probably the most important time to stay on task. I would hate for you to start off the summer by getting grounded because you went home with a poor report card, and I would rather not spend my first week of summer answering phone calls from angry mothers asking why their B-average students failed History class and have to tell them that its because every answer on the final was filled out as 'that's what she said'."
The whole classroom chuckled because it was totally true, and Mr. John saw at least half a dozen kids exchange glances with each other and nod mischievously. He smiled, letting them know that serious as he was, he was ultimately kidding around. "And speaking of the final," he turned to the chalkboard and casually tapped the words, "May 26th: FINAL TEST!!" scrawled in large, thick lettering, with his yardstick. "This is the second to the last day of school, so yes, I gave in and we're going to have a party on the last day." Mr. John had to hastily silence the kids before they totally went ballistic so he could finish. "But before you get irrationally excited about that, remember to study for this--" he gave the board a few good whacks, "--because I want to see you in here next year as much as you do. And you all know what that means."
As menacing as that was supposed to sound, Mr. John was pretty much everyone's favorite teacher so getting held back didn't seem like such a bad prospect to most of them, and they laughed again. Mr. John was about to continue when the classroom door opened and a short, stout, balding old man dressed in a suit quietly stepped in. He offered Mr. John a brief smile and, not wanting to disrupt, moved to the back of the classroom, where he leaned against the wall as unobtrusively as possible. Most of the kids didn't pay him any mind, but for a moment Mr. John was speechless. A moment passed before Mr. John realized he'd been silent and hastened to shake it off, stuttering while recollecting his previous train of thought. "Right. Ah, yes. Final's Thursday. Everyone bring something to contribute for the party Friday."
RING! went the bell, and all at once the students leaped from their seats and scurried for the door. Mr. John set down his yardstick and waited for them to file out, glancing questioningly at the man in the back, who simply smiled in return.
"Mr. John?" asked a young, curious voice suddenly from below his desk.
"Yes, Einiaus?" the teacher replied, who hadn't noticed the child approach but recognized the speaker immediately.
"Are dragons really extinct? And is that gonna be a question on the final?"
"Yes, and maybe. I'd remember it. I take it you enjoyed our last lesson?"
"It was totally groovy, Mr. J! But I'm still a little skeptical. Oh well, see you tomorrow!" And with that, the cheerful little elf bolted out of Room 117, Junior High History and English.
"Take care Einiaus," Mr. John called after him. Then the classroom was empty. As the old man began a casual stride toward the front, the teacher in contrast wasted no time meeting him halfway.
"Ernest!" Mr. John exclaimed with pleasant surprise. "Back from Russia already? Its great to see you, but I'll admit I'm a little nervous!" The two old friends shook hands vigorously, and Earnest Mathewson smiled brightly.
"It is good to see you again too Oblivion, as always," said the older man. "And as much as I would like nothing more than to share a bottle of scotch and exchange idle banter until evening, I'll have you know straight away that you are right in being apprehensive. Something has indeed come up."
Oblivion John motioned for Earnest to take a seat in one of the children's desks, and as they sat Oblivion furrowed his brow in cautious interest. "What's the matter?"
Like the turn of a switch, Earnest's mysterious smile gave way to excitement. "We found it."
Oblivion raised a quizzical eyebrow at first. "What on earth are you..." Then it struck him. His eyes grew wide, and for a time he could not think of words to say; he just stared at Earnest in blank astonishment. The old man's smile, in proportion to Oblivion's eyes, only got bigger. Finally, Oblivion seemed to recovered his voice, or at least part of it, since he spoke as if the words were something so delicate they might shatter and never be heard again if not uttered properly.
"You found it."
"Yes! Well, we haven't actually seen it, of course. That's your job. But we began excavating the entrance to the tunnel network three days ago. Once we were certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was indeed what we could have only hoped it was, I came here immediately.
Giddy now as a school-boy, Oblivion leaned in, hardly daring to believe it. "Where WAS it?"
"The Urals," Earnest confirmed with a proud nod. "So, Oblivion. Ready to start your summer job early?"
The school teacher was already up and pacing at this point, clutching his chin in ecstatic contemplation. "Ever since I found that tome in the enchanted forest of the Underworld, I knew that there had to be at least one Drop of Sun flower still around." He leaned against a motivational poster taped to the brick wall of his classroom and looked at the ceiling. "That was only five years ago. But you did it, huh?"
"Yes Oblivion, we did. And I don't need to tell you what that means."
Oblivion grinned. "Fortune and glory?"
"With a little immortality on the side," Earnest replied.
Oblivion's coat and tan fedora vanished from its stand in the flurry of Oblivion's race to the door. "Earnest, find me a sub! Unless you're coming too?"
"In due time, my boy. Will you be taking a Griffin?"
"After what happened last time? Wouldn't trust those things with my mail. No, you're booking me a flight."
"I already have, 8:27 to Yekaterinburg. I'll have a driver waiting for you there to take you to the site." said Earnest. "Have fun, Oblivion."
Holding the door open with his foot, the teacher shrugged modestly. "Its what I do best."
"Oh, and Oblivion?"
"Yeah?" he replied, sticking his head back in.
"What if the rest of the legend is true? Anything is possible, after all."
Oblivion smiled. "Then I guess I'm gonna have to amend my final. Take care my friend." With that and a wink, Oblivion John shut the door and hurried out of the school, without bothering to acquire a hall pass.
~* * *~
Arriving at the Soviet airport in Yekaterinburg was a little disconcerting, but fortunately plenty of Americans of all shapes, sizes, and races were bustling around for him to blend in with. Dressed in his favorite casual attire, which consisted of a white button-up shirt, a khaki vest, and matching pants, Oblivion felt ready to take on the world. And of course he never went anywhere without his hat; a dark gray-banded, tan fedora. Thought at the moment he felt lacking and exposed without his 44. magnum revolver, but the knowledge that it was safely tucked away in his suitcase reassured him as he made his way through the terminal filled with red Soviet banners.
It didn't take long to find his ride once outside. He scanned the lines of cars briefly, when his eyes settled on a strikingly beautiful, red-headed elf dressed in a forest green business suit. A very cute business suit. She stood patiently outside of a UAZ-450 Jeep. Then they made eye-contact, and he knew she was the one. In a few different ways.
"Are you Mr. John?" she asked with a pleasant smile. Her voice was truly lovely, and Oblivion found her Russian accent totally groovy.
"Yes ma'am. You can call me Oblivion, a pleasure to meet you," he replied as he shook her hand.
She giggled. "So I heard that was your name. It is very strange, I'll admit, but only made me that much more interested in meeting you. I am Rosetta Ariane. And likewise. Well, we have a long drive ahead of us, so we better get started, no? It will give us plenty of time to talk. I've heard so much about you."
"Half of it lies, believe me. But off course, we'd better skedaddle." Oblivion opened the driver-side door for her as she turned to get in, to which she laughed a thank you in surprise.
Damn, Earnest... Oblivion thought with a smile.
"So," Rosetta began as they drove. "It is my understanding that you attended Harvard to study World History and Archaeology, could have easily become a professor or attained some other prestigious career, but decided to teach at a public high school? Forgive me if I find that a little hard to wrap my mind around."
Oblivion laughed. "Yeah, most people have that reaction. I don't know, I guess you could say I was a little tired of universities. And I kinda felt that with the world as crazy as it is these days, its important to start instilling values in our kids at younger ages, because by the time they actually get to college, or for those that do anyway, its too late for most of them. As much as I love what I do, my greatest passion has always been the kids. It was kinda like... my calling. But heck, enough about sappy old me. What's your story, Rosetta?"
"Well, I was born in Russia but our family left to live with relatives in England when I was nine, when the war was almost over. Life has become increasingly difficult for elves especially in eastern Europe, but as hard as it was for my parents to leave our homeland, life in the UK was much better for all of us. It had always been my dream to go to a university, so I worked very hard to get into Cambridge, where I studied archeology and botany."
"I thought I heard some English mixed in your accent. So, botany, really?" Oblivion asked in interest.
She looked over at him and grinned. "There's a reason I was highly regarded for this particular dig, Mr. John."
"Makes sense. So when did you come back to Russia. Or, more importantly, why?"
"Two years ago," she replied. "Because of how bad things were getting for my people, and of course, people in general. Its always been my passion to be a part of something that could be beneficial to mankind, and make differences in the world, you know? That's why I joined the Soviet branch of the Fantastical History Society. Discovering knowledge of the past is as important as any other humanitarian effort, no? So I suppose you could say it was my... calling," she said with a wink.
"Then you're not a communist?"
"Unlike most of my countrymen," she said with a frown, "I put my personal values and ethics above any political motivations-- not the other way around. So my political views are, well, anything that agrees with that. As I'm sure you can infer, I do not place much interest in politics."
"Understandable. But that's what makes the world go round," Oblivion said. She shrugged. Time to change topics. "By the way, you have a sexy accent."
Rosetta giggled. "You are not the first man to tell me that."
The drive to the dig-site in the Ural Mountains was a long one, but the time was well spent as Oblivion and Rosetta grew to know each other fairly well in the several hours they conversed. They shared similar interests, leading to a chat rarely interrupted by any awkward silences or random topic instigation. Towards the latter part of the drive Oblivion took some time to nod off in order to catch up with the time-change and gather more rest than what he had acquired on the flight over. The steady hum of the jeep and bumpity-bump of the rough dirt roads sent him off in no time.
Oblivion was awakened with an eager jostle after an unknown amount of time. It was mid-afternoon, he guessed, and quickly sat up in his chair, turning to Rosetta to see what was happening. Pointing ahead, she smiled. "Look! We are almost there."
A majestic, massive, endless wall of jagged stone rose from the earth before them. This was the Ural mountain range. Ahead of them, a long, uneven path just wide enough for maybe two vehicles abreast led the way to somewhere deep within the impregnable formation. Excitedly they proceeded, and Oblivion anxiously grasped the frame of the jeep as they journeyed into the heart of the mountain and onward to the dig site. Forty-some minutes later they arrived.
Oblivion was thrilled. Dozens of men and machines milled about a sizable crater hollowed out in the mountain like a grove in a forest of stone. At the end of the crater a giant, luminous-green stone archway had been almost unearthed, while a couple of dwarven miners continued to chip away at rubble yet covering small portions of it. Rosetta parked the jeep along a side of the crater wall next to a few other vehicles, including trucks and... well, mostly trucks. As soon as he could, Oblivion jumped out, removing his hat as he drank in the sight. It felt good to be back to work. Rosetta smiled and took him by the arm. "I'll take you to Dr. Peder Regderf, he is overseeing the excavation."
Peder Regderf was currently speaking with a small crew of men dressed in worn military fatigues in the middle of the crater. The gaunt, red-headed dwarf noticed their approach and quickly turned to greet them. "Dr. Ariane, you return!" Dr. Regderf said, his slightly nasally voice filled with pleasure. Pushing his spectacles back into proper position, he extended a hand to Oblivion. "You must be Mr. John! Glad to finally meet you; Earnest did rave about you so. I'm sure you and the doctor have gotten to know each other well--how did you find the trip here?"
"Bumpy. You never told me you were a doctor," Oblivion said to Rosetta. "You're only twenty six!"
"Dr. Ariane is an exceptionally bright woman, Mr. John. Not only has she been very helpful with the dig itself, but more so has her insight into what we may find inside been particularly... encouraging."
"I thought I'd wait to let you figure it out," she said with a wink at Oblivion. "But lets get to business Dr. Regderf. That is what Mr. John is here for."
"Quite so, quite so. Yes, Mr. John, now that you are here, things are about to get much more interesting. We can finally begin the most important step of this operation--I can't tell you how excited I am for this, and we're so far ahead of schedule!"
"So I noticed. Well, lets get to it then. Maybe I'll make it home in time for the end of the year party."
Dr. Regderf introduced Oblivion to the four men in combat fatigues. They were the team that had been assembled to venture with him into the tunnel network; "retrieval experts", according to the dwarf. One was an elf, two were human, and the other a dwarf. They weren't archeologists, but that was what Oblivion was for, on top of his unmatched experience in the field.
"I was just informing them of the plan. The entrance is clear enough to send you in, and we've had some scouts already investigate a ways to look for any blockages or cave-ins. None were encountered, and judging from the incredible air quality, we don't expect you'll find any. There's something magnificent in there, that is for certain. My plan is to send you in tomorrow morning, bright and early. It'll be you, Dr. Ariane, and these four fellows. What's important is that you find the end of the tunnels and identify the flower, or anything else of significance, so there's no need to send any equipment or specialists yet. The main concern at the moment, of course, is to determine the fallibility of the other part of the legend, which must be confirmed before proceeding further. I'm sure you all know what I'm talking about."
They did. Rosetta was just about to direct Oblivion toward some food when, all of a sudden, the adventurer thought he sensed something like faint vibrations in the loose gravel beneath his feet. He paused and glanced at Rosetta, who at first raised a curious eyebrow, but then the sensation quickly grew into a tangible shaking accompanied by a dull rumbling sound. Dr. Regderf noticed this too, and it became more prevalent to others in the dig site as the clattering increased in volume, and seemed to be drawing nearer....
A giant tank burst over the crest of the crater's entrance, followed by a number of jeeps, trucks, and a BTR-40 Armored Personnel Carrier.
Nearly everyone working at the dig literally dropped what they were doing and scrambled. Rosetta jumped back in fright and Oblivion tried to catch her, though he had been startled himself, while Dr. Regderf cried out in shock. Like a swarm of giant insects, the military vehicles quickly filed into the dig-site--however they didn't immediately show signs of aggression, so the workers calmed down somewhat, but looked on in fear and suspicion. Oblivion was simply confused at this point, but Rosetta's mouth hung open aghast, and the dwarf doctor furiously watched the scene unfolding with dubious wide eyes. Then the tank at the head of the pack groaned to a halt right in front of them, and gears whirring like a growling beast lowered its main cannon until it pointed directly at Oblivion's head. Slightly apprehensive, Oblivion and the others didn't really know what else to do except pathetically raise their hands.
There was an intense moment of stillness and silence after the vehicles stopped, and the entire dig-site held its breath as the Soviet tank stared down Oblivion.
"Uh. Hello in there?"
The tank's hatch popped open. And rising out of it came the head and torso of a giant, green skinned, hideous creature with massive, jagged teeth, dressed in a highly decorated Russian officer's uniform. The troll looked down at the man and extended his arms in a friendly, welcoming gesture of apparent surprise.
"OBLIVION!" the troll exclaimed with a raspy voice like thunder, beaming. Oblivion John squinted up at the troll, more than a little bit confused. "It is you! Remember me?"
Oblivion's eyes flew open when it dawned on him. "Korrt Jester? Is that you? Well--holy cats--look at you!" The adventurer lowered his arms and smiled at his old friend. Rosetta and the others stared at him as if he was completely mad, aware that they were apparently missing something. As Oblivion spoke, the seven foot tall troll climbed out of the hatch and jumped off the tank, landing with a brutish grunt, and he strode toward Oblivion with a grin and an outstretched hand.
"That's Colonel Korrt Jester now, old friend." They shook hands and clapped each other on the back.
"So I noticed. Man alive, how did that happen? Find it a little hard to be a freelancer in the Soviet Union I take it?"
"The job market of a Red Army officer is a bit more, consistent, shall we say. And more active. I am now happily using my skills in service to the motherland!"
Oblivion frowned, and waved a hand dismissively. "Ah, I don't remember you being this much of a commie. But hey, its been years. So... what exactly are you doing here?"
"You're not still mad at me after what happened last time, are you?" Colonel Jester asked suddenly, suspiciously.
"You know I've never been one to hold a grudge..." Oblivion started. Then he noticed soldiers exiting the vehicles and moving forward to join Korrt in the center of the crater.
"That's good. Then you won't mind this." He made a curt signal with his hand and the soldiers spread out, beginning to fill the dig site with their weapons raised. "By order of Premier Nikita Kruschev of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, I hereby take this archeological excavation under government control-- all personnel, equipment, and findings are now under management of and/or property of the state."
Dr. Regderf cried out in dismay. "WHAT!? This is madness!! You can't simply walk in here and--!"
Colonel Jester calmly drew a hulking pistol and blasted Regderf where he stood. Rosetta shrieked as the dwarf instantly collapsed, clutching his chest. In a lightning motion, Oblivion wrenched his own revolver from its holster and held it at arms length, aiming between Jester's bulging yellow eyes, finger poised against the trigger. A dozen nearby soldiers alertly raised their AK-47s and zeroed in on Oblivion, moving to surround him, but Colonel Jester casually motioned them to stand down.
"What the hell is going on here Korrt!? What the hell are you doing!?"
"We're here for the flower, Oblivion. The power of the Drop of Sun will belong to the Soviet Union. Now that it is no longer a mere legend, and now that you are here, it's time to unearth that power."
"Colonel," Rosetta gasped in between sobs as she crouched over the lifeless body of Dr. Regderf. "This is a privately endorsed, multinational, humanitarian effort that has been sanctioned by the Russian government and--"
"--Is now under the control of the Russian government, yes, thank you for informing me, my pretty little elf," the troll cut in with a fang-bearing sneer.
"IT BELONGS IN A MUSEUM!" Oblivion shouted suddenly.
The whole dig-site went awkwardly silent. After a moment, Colonel Jester broke out in laughter, and the two giant fangs sticking out the sides of his mouth reached up so far they could have gouged out his eyeballs.
"See, that is exactly the reason I left you to die in the Underworld. If you would have had your way with the Book of the Dead, that's what would have happened. We would have risked everything. FOR NOTHING!" The troll's shout echoed through the crater, leaving behind a pervasive sense of dread. "But not this time. It was my own folly that the Book was lost in the end. No, this time, Oblivion, we're going in together, we're coming out together, and the magic of the Drop of Sun will be put to real use. And this time, my reward will be great."
Oblivion breathed in and out steadily, his gaze never averting from Jester's calculating eyes. Slowly, he lowered his revolver, but did not relinquish his stern expression. A young Russian soldier moved in to take Oblivion's weapon, but the troll Colonel stopped him.
"No. He's going to need that."
After Oblivion had eaten, used the restroom, and briefly argued Jester's order that Rosetta was to join them (she ended that by way of volunteering), a team consisting of six Spetznaz operatives, Colonel Jester, Rosetta, and Oblivion, entered the archway into the labyrinth of the Drop of Sun.
Keeping Rosetta close, Oblivion led the way fairly confidently by judging air quality to determine which paths to take whenever they came across a fork in the road. His torch burned bright against the dark stone corridors, and never did he feel the sinking sensation that the walls would collapse in on him. Taking note of some etchings in the rock that matched the color of the glowing stone of the archway, he guessed that at some point in time these tunnels may have been used by an ancient civilization for travel; the part that made him uneasy was how well they still seemed to be maintained.
At one point at a two way split, choosing the direction to travel proved to be particularly difficult. Patience waning, Colonel Jester ordered one of his troops into a tunnel to scout ahead. The resulting scream that started loud and quickly quieted let them know which way did not end in a hidden, mile deep pit. Then, after perhaps an hour or so more of walking, something happened that made everyone, even Colonel Jester's, blood run cold.
Oblivion's torch suddenly snuffed out. A second later, the soldiers' flashlights also went dark. Exclaiming expletives in Russian, they fought with the lights in a panicked effort to get them back on, not understanding why they had gone out for no apparent reason. But Oblivion knew. And so did the troll. Before Rosetta became too frightened, Oblivion hurriedly grabbed her and stifled her mouth. "Don't make a sound, and don't move. Its going to be okay."
He could feel the question forming against his palm, but he pressed down harder. And that's when they heard it. A low pitched, snarling, nearby growl.
"Hell hounds..." Jester muttered. As he said it, a pair of glowing red circles appeared behind one of the Russian soldiers.
This particular soldier slowly turned around as he heard the low, drawling snarl. His training had taught him never to lose his edge, but nothing could have prepared him for this encounter. In the face of the crimson eyes he screamed, and brought up his weapon. A blood-curdling snarl filled the tunnel as the hell hound launched itself upon the soldier, bringing him to the ground with spine shattering force, sinking its maw of several dozen long, razor-like teeth into his face. The other Spetsnaz lost it and scattered, blindly firing their weapons into the dark, despite Oblivion and Jester frantically ordering them to stay calm and quiet. This was to no avail, and the bright flashes of their guns fleetingly exposed the hideous features of the beasts: their snub-nosed, flat faces basically one large mouth, with glowing beady eyes and blackened, gruesome flesh.
Had the soldiers not panicked, the party would have been able to proceed safely by remaining cool, in which case the hell hounds would not harm them, thinking they were dead souls on their journey into oblivion. But that was no longer an option. Oblivion grabbed Rosetta's wrist and shouted for her to run.
Jester's livid bellows echoed behind them as they sprinted as fast as they could down the corridor, somehow avoiding stray gunfire, and when Oblivion heard the growls of impending attack from the hounds he prayed and fired in their general directions. Following his nose for air quality and the luminous guiding light, he led a mortified Rosetta as confidently as he could deeper and deeper and deeper into the mountain. More than once they stumbled and all but fell face-first on the jagged stone, and it wasn't long before tears were streaming down Rosetta's face and Oblivion was choking for breath--all this in near pitch blackness-- until all at once they could no longer hear screaming or shooting, and the growling had ceased entirely. Oblivion slowed to a halt, heaving, and calmly assured the elf that it was okay, everything was going to be fine, and they could take a rest for a minute. She sobbed and sobbed as she sank against the wall, the sound of her crying echoing dimly through the tunnels like a gentle, somber rain.
Oblivion ripped open the chamber of his magnum and reloaded, furiously pondering thier next move. They were somewhere in the tunnel network, but how far they were from an entrance or exit, it was anyone's guess.... Until he noticed that farther down the path and around a bend it seemed almost that the darkness was maybe a fraction of a shade lighter. And tinted something greenish? It could very well be a trick of wanting eyes, but there seemed to be color different from the illumination on the walls. Oblivion stepped forward to investigate.
Sure enough, farther down the tunnel the impenetrable black seemed to give way at least a bit to what appeared to be some kind of green mist. Oblivion was a little hesitant at first, but at least it was a change, and change meant progress. He knelt before Rosetta, placing a hand on her cheek, and soothingly stroked her bedraggled hair. "Hey, hey. You gonna be all right?" She sniffled, and nodded against her better judgement. He pulled her close, and she gratefully buried her face his shoulder. He held her, and whispered into her slender ears. "I know this isn't what you bargained for. But it happened. We're going to make it out of this though, okay? I'm going to get you out. We just have to keep going."
Rosetta rubbed her tear-stained eyes, swallowed, and mustering what strength she could, nodded. Oblivion patted her shoulder and helped her to her feet. Taking her hand, he led the way again, down into the mist.
They traversed with little deviance for at least a half-hour. Oblivion had lost his torch when they first split from Jester, and thus was guided only by the faint etchings and gradually thickening presence of the mist. Soon, however, Oblivion realized that the mist wasn't condensation at all, but in fact merely the presence of light, and plenty of it, reflected by the dust; excited beyond measure, he informed Rosetta they were getting close; where to, he wasn't sure, but an end was in sight.
And it came in the form of an opening in the tunnel that gave way to a high ledge, and as the two adventurers eagerly and finally emerged, they found themselves within a formation that sapped the breath right from their lungs.
A massive cavern, lit only by luminous green stones casting gloomy shadows upon the rocky floor, towered high above them to no discernible ceiling. And the mind-blowing spectacle that fixated their attention as a mortal being would be drawn to the mountain of Olympus was this: stretching nearly from the end of the floor and over a hundred feet high was a mountain indeed, but unlike any conceivable-- fashioned from an endless, sparkling mound of treasure. It was also immediately clear that this treasure was not just a compilation of gold, silver, and precious jewels: heaping supplies of various items and articles of human creation were scattered throughout; scanning the piles Oblivion noticed military jeeps and cars laid wantonly along the bottom edge, along with other large machines, and he could see various weapons, dating from ancient times to modern, as well as other random bits and pieces of everyday, less consequential nature, like suitcases and chairs--artifacts collected over the years of earth's history. But how did all this get here? Who brought it here? And Oblivion was forced to recall both legend and history to determine the answer, though it was displayed in full view before him. High atop the summit of the vast treasure-hoard, its proprietor soundly rested. Its even breath thundered through the stone. Oblivion could not avert his entranced gaze from the shape of the guardian beast. Eventually, the word unwittingly formed in his head escaped his frozen lips.
And there it was. Massive, spiny, rugged grey-green scales in the light, with thick leathery wings furled about its curled figure. Oblivion might have stared at it forever, until Rosetta finally stirred him. She shook his arm and pointed, whispering excitedly. "There it is!"
He was about to say "I know..." when the sleeping dragon shifted its foreleg to reveal, as Oblivion could only just discern, a faint, golden glow. Then he knew what she really meant.
"Yes. Yes! Yes it is! Haha!!" He turned to face her and threw his arms around her in the most exuberant embrace he'd ever given. "I'll be damned Rosetta, there it is!" He couldn't help raising his voice in excietment and the elf, though unable to contain an ecstatic smile herself in this moment, hastened to shush him.
"Shh! You don't want to wake it! Ah, I cannot believe we're actually here! But how do we get to it? We'll never make it up that!"
"Won't know till we try!" A long, half-spiral ledge-pathway ran along the rim of the cavern to the floor and Oblivion was already a fouth of the way down it. Startled, Rosetta bolted after him.
"Fortune and glory...." muttered an awed Oblivion. He stared up at the giant mountain of treasure. The Drop of Sun was up there, and all this besides... he'd be the richest man in the world, easy. A handful of it and he could live care-free the rest of his life. But now came the obvious road-block: how to get up there, and how to get out. Alive. It didn't look like there was another exit. He and Rosetta put their heads together, furiously pondering a solution.
"Do you suppose its as simple as climbing it?" the elf asked, cautiously hopeful as she peered up its precarious slopes.
Oblivion eyed the heap contemplatively. "Probably. But you never know, it could be enchanted... just touching it might wake the dragon. Or even if we did get up there.... Damn it Jester!" Oblivion suddenly cursed and stomped a foot furiously. "If he hadn't come along and ruined everything we could go back and have all the time we needed to think... but we gotta get this thing now." He shook his head.
Rosetta put an arm through Oblivion's and spoke reassuringly. "Don't worry. That troll is dead now. And it is not enchanted." Smiling mischievously, she held out her hand, which held a pair of elegantly crafted earrings in the shape of box elder leaves. "I thought these would look great with my dress."
"Well I'll be..." Oblivion grinned affectionately. "I should be really upset with you... but..." He glanced up at the treasure hoard. "Aw, what the hell?"
And forcing his way through a jumble of motorcycles and chariots, he found the base of the slope and began to climb. "Come on Rosetta! We'll see it together!"
She gazed up at him horrified. "What about the dragon!?"
"We'll deal with that later!" he called down to her cheerfully.
Smiling, the elf shook her head and scurried after him.
The climb was nothing terribly treacherous, though nonetheless difficult-- it was like chunky, metal sand, and dangerous in that every few yards Oblivion would warn Rosetta of a protruding knife or some such potentially deadly object impeding their ascent. Coins and jewels became displaced beneath their feet and jangled down the side. After about ten minutes, the two treasure hunters came tantalizingly close to their goal. Oblivion's blood ran with fear and excitement, and he called encouragingly to a tiring Rosetta, "Almost there-- just a bit more, and its ours!"
The cave shuddered, and Oblivion's blood turned to ice. He froze in place, and coins cascading down the mound echoed eerily in the silence. And he wasn't sure what scared him more; that the dragon started to stir, or the voice that had bellowed his name.
"THAT FLOWER IS MINE, OBLIVION!!"
A cold sweat broke out on Oblivion's brow and he cast his gaze to the floor. Sure enough, there he was-- wild-eyed, with his uniform in rags, beaten, bruised, and furious: Korrt Jester the troll.
"Don't pay any attention just GO!" Oblivion shouted earnestly to Rosetta, and he clambered up the remainder of the mountain with new desperation. Just then the dragon let out a low, tired growl, and at that moment Oblivion felt like a rabbit caught between traps. One he was confident he could deal with. The other....
Oblivion scrambled over the crest with only seconds to spare. The terrible beast, its scaly body radiating intense heat close enough now to touch was growing increasingly aware of its surroundings. He hurriedly helped up Rosetta, knowing they'd only have one shot at this. And lifting its leg to rise, the dragon revealed a small, soft, yet brilliant light in the darkness. A simple golden flower stemming from a magical root, burrowed into a small patch of grass in the center of the treasure mound. Its beautiful simplicity was breathtaking, but now wasn't the time to sit around and smell the roses.
"Your call, botanist! Its now or never. Can we pluck it??"
Rosetta scanned the Drop of Sun for a matter of milliseconds as the dragon now crouched on its hind legs, its weary, crusty eyelids only cracked open drowsily. The elf was on the verge of tears in fear, he knew it, and she shook her head despairingly. "I don't know Oblivion! It could be the last one-- can we risk it??"
The adventurer reached out, tore the plant from its root, and handed it to Rosetta. "Yep."
At that moment the dragon's eyes flew open and it beheld the would-be thieves. Oblivion wrenched his revolver from its holster as Rosetta clutched the Drop of Sun in shock, and the monster, suddenly very much alive and lithe, flared its wings, and letting out a deafening, bloodcurdling roar, it reared its long neck in preparation for what Oblivion rightly guessed was coming next. "We'll get a vase of water when we get out!! JUMP!!"
He and Rosetta flew over the edge just as the scorching torrent of fire exploded behind them and they tumbled down the mountain. The dragon looked after them and fired another raging plume, and barely out of range, Oblivion felt the heat on his back. Enraged, the beast roared again and lifted itself into the air with its powerful wings. Rising high into the dark beyond, it prepared for a swooping attack.
Rolling to the floor after a few seconds of tumbling, Oblivion got to his feet as fast as he could and held Rosetta close, raising his magnum instantly to counter Jester who was waiting for them, with his own giant pistol aimed at Oblivion's head. The two were at a stalemate, but as the dragon was nearly ready to dive, time was running short.
"Don't make me do this, Korrt. Dammit, it doesn't have to end like this!"
To Oblivion's surprise, the troll seemed ponder his offer.
Suddenly, he revealed his jagged yellow teeth in a smug grin. "You're right, old friend. It does not. What need have I of everlasting life? It would be little more than a drag. But this-- no, this is a once in a lifetime chance. Can you imagine the glory of the one who slayed the last living dragon!? I would rather die and my name live on forever than waste away in a world without fear of death! Take your petty flower, Oblivion. I shall destroy this beast, and truly live forever!! The glory will be mine!!"
Casting his weapon aside, Jester took hold of a mounted mini-gun on a nearby jeep, and in an exhibit of incredible inhuman strength, ripped it from its station and held it in his hands. His maniacal eyes blazed a ferocious fire, and he grinned madly. "I AM GREATER THAN ANY MAN OR BEAST!! I, A MORTAL, HAVE DEFIED GODS AND DEMONS!!"
With that last bellow of rage, Colonel Korrt Jester spooled the mini-gun and screamed defiantly as he fired upon the diving dragon. Oblivion and Rosetta did not wait long enough to see what happened. They had bolted for the exit long before, charging up the path, and as they reentered the tunnels the troll's dying shouts, blasting gunfire, and dragon's roaring were the last sounds to fade away to the black.
They didn't know what to do about the Russians waiting for them at the entrance, but Oblivion assured Rosetta he would think of something, and they proceeded through the deep in silence, the brilliant rays of the Drop of Sun lighting the way.
"Do you want to live forever Oblivion?" Rosetta asked as the light of the entrance came within sight. There was a pause.
"I think Jester had a point," the adventurer admitted. "The world would just keep turning around us. I don't think anyone's meant for that. I'd rather just spend the rest of my days with..." they stopped, and he turned, meeting Rosetta's gaze as she looked deep into his eyes. "...with you."
Rosetta smiled and took Oblivion's hand as they prepared for whatever came next. They agreed that if things took a turn for the worse, they'd both have half of the flower ready to--well, they figured eating it might work-- to hopefully prevent their demise at the hands of the communists and keep the power of immortality from their tyrannical hands. They took a deep breath, and stepped out into the dig-site.
A smoldering ruin of charred corpses and vehicles awaited them. Bewildered, the adventurers gazed about them in amazement, like kids looking for the source of presents at Christmas. In a more macabre way however.
"What happened?" Rosetta barely breathed. "Everyone-- the Russians, the workers... gone."
Oblivion looked around, stunned. "It must've... it must've gotten out. And come looking."
Just then an ear-splitting, shrill bestial roar rang in their ears and a black shadow passed over them, and before they had a chance to cry out or even cover their ears the earth shook as the giant, horn-maned lizard slammed into the ground in the center of the dig-site. It faced them, barring their way to the dig-site's exit. The flower forgotten, Oblivion threw his arms around Rosetta and waited for the end.
A moment passed, and it never came.
Slowly, Oblivion lifted his head from Rosetta's shoulders. His jaw quivered as he found the dragon looking at them. Just staring. No sign of hostility. Its yellow, ferocious eyes burned not with hate, but something... deeper. Was it pity? It took a step forward, then leaned its neck in so close Oblivion could feel its steamy, sulfuric breath upon his face. Rosetta was shivering in fear, but she rose slightly from her fetal position to observe the beast that gazed upon them, and it was as if fate itself stood before them in that moment: everything they'd ever done in life--none of it mattered now. All that remained was a choice to be made, right here, right now. The dragon lowered its snout, pointing to Rosetta's protective arms.
It wanted the Drop of Sun.
Oblivion did not need to offer any encouragement or advice. Rosetta, suddenly calm, gently shrugged his arms off her shoulders and took a step closer to the dragon. With her right hand she held out the shimmering golden flower. The scaly beast eyed the elf girl for a moment, and then the flower itself, to ensure no harm was done. Then, with the gentleness of a lioness taking a cub into her jaws, the dragon took the stem between its teeth.
Suddenly the dragon reared its head back, and Oblivion and Rosetta barely had time to dive out of the way before the dragon unleashed a massive pillar of fire at the tunnel entrance. The green stone glowed red-hot in an instant, and immediately began to crumble. In seconds, the gateway was no more, and the mountainside where it had been looked as if no gate ever existed. Then, in a great rush of wind, the dragon leaped into the air and in moments disappeared over the peaks and crags of the Urals.
Oblivion and Rosetta stood among the dig-site ruins, staring up in awe at the clouds.
"Maybe the fortune and glory can wait after all," Oblivion mused, resignedly.
Rosetta grinned at took his hand. "Its like immortality; who needs it?"
He turned to her with a pleasant smile. "Not if I have you I don't."
"Oh, please, what is you Americans say to a comment like that? Cheesy...! But, if I didn't know better Mr. John," Rosetta said in a formal manner that Oblivion was pretty sure meant to be joking, "I would say you just asked to court me."
"Well at least I'll get something out of this mess," he grumbled. Rosetta's expression turned indignant.
"Am I a prize to be won in a contest??"
"Well you gave up the flower! There went any other chance of a prize--"
"Are you forgetting the dragon, Oblivion!? Did you see the way he looked at me??"
"Probably thought you were cute."
"Unbelievable. You are an unbelievable man, Mr. John."
"Especially when you're frustrated. Its pretty groovy."
"Groovy? Groovy?? What is groovy--??"
Oblivion leaned forward and kissed Rosetta full on the mouth. And it lasted a respectable duration of time.
When finally he removed his lips, the elf's eyelids fluttered drowsily and she spoke as if in a dream. "Was that... 'groovy'?"
He smiled. "Very."
"We must do it again sometime."
"You're coming to my party right?"
"If its... groovy."
"Most definitely. You'll love the kids!"
Her eyes widened. "You have kids?"
Oblivion laughed. "Of course! At least a hundred!"
Rosetta raised a dubious eyebrow.
"First thing's first though," he said as they walked toward the exit of the crater, hand in hand, where conveniently one jeep had been left unscathed. "I gotta fix my final."
Cue Indiana Jones theme music