Mike grinned as he looked around his new home. His. House. He was still kind of stunned at that, given how he was only fourteen. Granted, until his mom finished shipping his stuff to him it had less personality than a hotel room. It wasn't exactly a fancy place either, it only had three actual rooms; a bedroom, a bathroom, and one huge room that was everything else. Mostly the last was marked out by the furniture in it. Cabinets and large appliances, with a table built next to the wall? That was the kitchen. A battered cabinet from one of the cabins with an older TV on it and an equally old couch set next to it was the living room. The only other piece of furniture was a desk with a relatively new computer on it. The bedroom had even less, a bed and a chest of drawers that matched the cabinet the TV had been placed on. However, despite the lack of furniture, it was built perfectly. At least if you were taking a dragon into account. The floorspace was huge.
The house itself was partially built into a small cliffside, close enough to the visitors center he could walk there in a few minutes, but placed far enough back, and screened by trees, to hopefully keep most of the tourists away. The entire building was really two stories, and only the upper story was Mike and Toothless' new place. The lower floor had been set up as labs and other facilities for the researchers who would form the main team to study Toothless. There were no inside stairs, or ramps, or anything connecting the two areas, which Mike's mom had been the one to demand in the construction. She'd adamantly insisted that Mike's part of the building was to be his home, and not simply another place they could have easy access to study like an oversized terrarium. So the only stairs he had went down only to a utility room that was separate from the lab spaces and had the laundry machines, water heater, and a furnace squeezed into it.
The upper area had a stone floor throughout. It had costed more, but after seeing Toothless "warm-up" a bed once, everybody had agreed that it was probably the best choice. Along with a good ventilation system. The roof was built like an A-frame, steep to allow snow from the winter to slide down. There had been a few arguments over whether to create a loft area or not, but the decision had been made to leave it open as much as possible for Toothless. There were a few other things to make it easier for Mike to get a dragon in and out of the house. The main doors into the house and to his bedroom were extra wide double doors, with hinges that allowed for 180° movement, that were easily pushed to open.
Toothless had seemed happy with the house as well, scaring the crap out of Paul Macklin, the park supervisor, when he leapt up into the heavy wood beams supporting the roof. Fortunately, while dragons were large, they were far lighter than they tended to appear, and the beams only creaked slightly under the Night Fury's weight. The research team had been absolutely baffled when the dragon allowed himself to fall backwards, dangling with his tail hung over one brace, looking like a giant bat with his wings around him, before rapidly taking notes about that behavior.
There were three adults who made up the core of the research team. The more-or-less leader was David Tresand, an American who had been studying Night Furies in the wild (at least as much as possible) for over twenty years. He was a brisk, intelligent man, with far too many degrees to list, and Mike wanted desperately to smack him within about twenty minutes of meeting the man. He knew a great deal about dragons in general, and Night Furies in particular, but unless you had several PhD's and possibly a Nobel Prize, he wanted nothing to do with you. He'd quickly made it obvious that he only allowed Mike around under protest, and the fact that he couldn't get close to Toothless without the teenager being nearby.
The second was an older woman, Marit Erstad, from Norway, who had been one of the researchers who'd already been in the park when Mike had taken his first flight. She mostly studied dragon behaviorism and was ecstatic at having Toothless so close to hand to observe. She was also the researcher side of the two people who'd signed paperwork making Mike their responsibility, the other being Mr. Macklin. Mike's mother had liked Marit when she'd met her during discussions of who would be in the group, and Mike liked her as well. About the only problem with her was if you asked her a question she'd talk your ear off answering it.
The third was a biochemical engineer, Naveen Johari, who had published a number of theories and papers on draconic fire production. Unfortunately, it was very difficult to study the gases produced by a normal, wild dragon other than a few given that if they were producing it, they were likely to flame you very soon, and the various glands that they seemed to store the chemicals in were the first to decompose after death making the field a mostly theoretical one. He was very interested in finding out the exact chemical composition of Toothless' fire, especially given that Night Furies were the only documented dragon with the ability to shoot a blast that then detonated, rather than a continuous flame. Mike thought he was nice enough, but Naveen seemed far more interested in chemical composition of gases, rather than Toothless as a whole.
In addition to these three permanent members there were herds of undergraduates and graduate students attached to each. They all seemed fairly nice, though whether that was related to knowing that without him there they wouldn't be either, the fact that they actually liked him, or fear of upsetting him and thereby the large dragon following after him Mike didn't know. He supposed it didn't really matter. He had overheard one of them comment "Lucky bastard," after he slid off of Toothless after a flight, but the tone had been one of amazement and envy, rather than hostility.
"C'mon, time to be poked and prodded." He told Toothless. The dragon, who'd been resting beside him gave a sigh, before getting to his feet. Toothless certainly didn't like being studied. However, Mike had worked it out so they could go flying for as long as the dragon wanted after the examination, and it had only taken a couple of days for Toothless to realize that. So while the dragon grumbled and muttered, or at least that's what it sounded like, he followed Mike to the lab.
Mike's day started pretty early. Just about the crack of dawn most days. He tended to wake up when Toothless did. Or he suffered the consequences. Such as a dragon using his snout to roll him right out of the nice comfy bed, onto the cold hard (stone!) floor, and then stare at him until Mike got with the program and untangled himself from the covers. Toothless generally woke at the same time every morning, which was fortunate since Mike didn't have an alarm clock. Or rather, since he didn't have an alarm clock anymore. There was now a scorch mark on the wall where a clock radio had been placed. Night Furies apparently didn't take well to being startled awake by rock music early in the morning.
After Mike had managed to either shove Toothless away before he hit the floor, or fought his way out of the sheets afterwards, he generally threw on clothes from the day before, before taking Toothless out for a flight first thing. The dragon didn't eat everyday if he'd had a large meal the previous day, then the morning flight was usually just for pleasure, but if he was hungry then it was the hunting time. Normally it was fish, which was why Mike never bothered with clean clothes, though sometimes the dragon went after deer. While Mike had no problems with fish, he'd been sick after watching Toothless devour a deer the first time. It wasn't that he was a city-kid who had no idea where steak came from, and thought all meat just appeared cut up in packages… But a butcher shop was a far cry from seeing a dragon disembowel a creature right in front of you, and then start eating while it was still twitching. Animal Planet just didn't prepare a person for that.
After either Toothless fed himself, or simply spent time doing acrobatics (which, to Mike's glee, were getting more and more involved everyday), they would return to the cabin. Mike would get ready for the day, while Toothless either snoozed inside beside him, or outside of the cabin by the cliff, which caught the sun for a long while. Meanwhile Mike dealt with his school work.
His mother had been very worried about making sure he had a decent schooling and finished high school. Mike had wandered over while she had been having a conversation about it with Dr. Bishop and Paul.
"I want to make sure it's a good school, but how many are within driving distance, and would any of those have buses that would make a special stop to pick Mike up?" He'd overheard his mom asking.
"There's several schools around, but as you can imagine, it would limit the hours the team could work with the dragon, not just the schooling mind you, but the transit time as well," Paul had stated.
"What do you mean transit time?" Mike had asked, jumping into the conversation. "I mean, me and Toothless could be anywhere really quick. He's flying further everyday and getting faster. I mean that would be… So… Cool…" He trailed off under the stares of the three adults.
"Dr. Bishop, you were mentioning several online courses I believe?" His mom asked, still staring evenly at Mike.
"Yeeessss…" Dr. Bishop stretched out the word. "I think that might be best under the circumstances. I can get you the websites for several that have a good reputation."
So he wound up with online schooling. It wasn't too bad. He'd never been Mr. Popular with his peers anyway, so he didn't really miss going to a brick and mortar school. Being able to stay with his dragon was far better than having to deal with other kids. He was doing pretty good in his classes so far, though granted they'd only started a week before.
Once he finished his schoolwork, he and Toothless would go down to the labs to let the scientist poke and prod at the dragon, then the two would fly for as long as they could into the evening, before he fell asleep exhausted. Their time in the air had increased dramatically since Mike had first gotten on the dragon's back. In fact he'd been found by Dr. Erstad shortly after the team had been finalized, after a flight, whimpering slightly because his legs hurt so bad. She'd clucked her tongue and had asked him if he walked around after a long flight. When he'd admitted to just tiredly collapsing into a chair she had arched an eyebrow at him.
"You have ridden, not dragons, but horses before, correct?" She had asked.
"Um… Once or twice as part of a day camp…" Mike had answered.
"And I can guess you were sore then?" Marit continued doggedly. "Despite it being a much shorter ride than you are doing now?"
"Well yeah, but Toothless was acting sore before, and now he's doing better, but I'm still stiff and-" He stopped at the look of amusement directed at him.
"Dragons heal quickly, you know that, yes?" Mike nodded sourly. "Despite your closeness to the Night Fury, I have yet to see you grow scales and fangs." She smiled. "Why are you surprised it's taking you longer to adjust? I'll send one of my students to pick you up some liniment or that Tiger Balm stuff. I'd suggest you rub it into your legs. And in the future do some stretches before your flight and walk around afterwards to avoid becoming stiff."
"It makes no damn sense!"
Mike jerked in surprise at the shout. He'd been zoning out a bit as Dr. Tresand had been inspecting Toothless. Since the man generally ignored him he always asked Dr. Erstad what David had learned. Dr. Tresand at the moment was ranting about how something he'd found didn't make sense, and it seemed to personally offend him. He wound up walking off, snarling at one grad student who didn't get out of his way in time.
Mike sidled over to Marit, who was rolling her eyes at her colleague's actions. He stopped by Toothless' head, petting the dragon who was obviously tense from having a human yell right next to him. Mike was grateful the dragon hadn't decided to snap at the idiot, however much he would've enjoyed seeing it.
"What crawled up his butt and died?" He muttered, rubbing at the Night Fury's softer scales under his jaw, until the dragon was purring happily again.
Marit arched an eyebrow at his language. "He is just rather irritated at realizing that previous researchers' data has been confirmed as to how old both the dragon, and the injury, are." She ran a hand along Toothless' tail, opposite his remaining fin.
Mike frowned. "What about that would make him so upset?"
"How much do you know about a dragon's instincts and hunting patterns?" She asked.
"Not much." Mike shrugged.
"Young dragons hunt the way they are taught by their parents, or completely by instinct for those who are abandoned after the eggs are laid. They aren't very adaptable, sticking to tried and true methods. As dragons age, they begin to try new things, likely because they have gotten good enough at hunting to not be on the edge of starvation if they miss a meal. This might be why most legends and tales talk of canny or clever dragons. The older they are, the more experiences they have to draw from, the more adaptable they'd be. Likely if a dragon was older when he decided to enter a human area and hunt, the harder he would be to track and hunt." She explained.
"Huh... Okay," Mike replied.
"This here is why he is so upset." Marit then pointed to two lines on the bare side of the tail. "See those lines? They are ridges down the center of that row of scales." Mike walked over next to her and crouched down to see clearly. He nodded to show he could see, he hadn't really paid much attention to them when he had been making the false tail, as he had noticed other faint scars on the dragon's body as well and had dismissed it. Marit continued, "that is a sign of severe trauma. When the fin on this side was sheared off the scales began to grow quickly to cover it."
Toothless had curled up, causing both humans to move, as he shifted to keep an eye on the humans messing with his tail. Marit froze, lifting her hand from where it had been resting on the dragon's tail, before averting her eyes and leaving her hand still outstretched towards the dragon. Toothless merely sniffed at it before snorting and turning his head to Mike for a scratch. Marit's shoulders slumped and Mike felt kind of sad for her. While Toothless would tolerate the researchers touching him, he hadn't initiated any contact with them the way he casually did with Mike. Neither David nor Naveem seemed to care, but Marit tried nearly everyday to get the Night Fury to touch her.
She only sighed at seeing the dragon turn away and went back to her explanation. "You see how the ridge is near the center of the scale? That means that even after it dealt with the trauma it continued to grow. Now Night Furies haven't been found shedding scales, unless they've been severely damaged. Instead, from what we can tell, they form tiny scales along the edge of mature ones, which then grow larger as well. In fact we are documenting several scale chains that have formed along Toothless' shoulders. Likely from building muscle from flying, thereby needing space to grow."
She then pointed to the space between the two lines. "How far apart would you say that is?"
"Ummm… Three, four inches or so?" Mike hazarded.
Marit nodded. "Now the oldest Night Fury ever found was a corpse recovered from Iceland's Vatnajökull glacier. That one was measured at about ten feet longer that your friend here. Carbon dating had that one's bones at three to four thousand years old. Now if we take that as the equivalent of a truly ancient, 110 year old human, Toothless here would be in the prime of his life, around early to mid thirties. The large spacing, given that records from this park show how slowly this dragon grows, for that area shows that this happened sometime when he was just reaching his adult size. Possibly when he was still an adolescent."
"Now other dragons have been discovered injured when young, but all of them either were recorded as having pined or starved to death if the injury made them incapable of flight. One of my own teachers once had a person inform them of a dragon that had been downed after a bad storm and was trapped in a valley out in the wilds of Norway, north of Grong. It had had its wing badly wrenched and torn. He had the townsfolk feed it, but it simply refused the food. Within the few days it took him to get to the valley it had died. Some have been observed recovering if the injury was only to a limb or body, but until this Night Fury no young dragon has been found alive after losing their flight."
"We are just completely baffled as to why he survived when no others have."
Mike pushed the door open to the lab, blinking at the empty room. Normally when the two of them arrived, students were running around setting up whatever test they were going to do, Dr.s Tresand, Erstad, and Johari would usually be discussing the order the tests would be done in, and Toothless would balk at the chaos. Instead, the silence was broken by one young woman shuffling paper on one desk in the corner. Toothless poked his head in through the door, his bulk shoving Mike inside, obviously puzzled by the quiet as well. He warbled lowly, cocking his head.
The young woman's head popped up from behind a stack of folders and paper. "Aw, hell. Didn't they tell you?" She looked exasperated.
"Tell me what?" Mike asked confused.
The woman rolled her eyes. "Of course not. Why would anybody actually inform the reason we're all here that their presence wasn't needed? That would require planning!" She threw her hands in the air. Mike edged closer to the door.
"Sorry," she smiled. "I get a bit irked at the lackadasical planning around here. Anyways, Dr. Tresand went down to Boulder for some kind of video conference. The internet out here isn't that great, and trying a live video feed just about killed it. Dr. Johari had some samples he was taking to Denver to the university, and Dr. Erstad went with him to pick up a book she had shipped to her. So I'm taking this blessed, unexpected, downtime to try to organize the chaos the three of them have already managed to generate." She smacked herself in the forehead. "Oh, right. Hey I'm Denise, Denise Benelton, grad student majoring in Comparative Mythological Realism in Draconic Studies." She waved a hand at him. "One of the many grad students you've been tripping over in here. I think the rest of the pack went into town."
Mike nodded to her, patting Toothless who was using the lack of people in the room to his advantage in exploring it. The dragon had been shooed away from all the strange things when the other humans were there. "Nice to meet you," Mike replied. "It seems like number of people here multiplies every other day."
"I can only imagine. I mean, it's pretty easy for us. 'Look for the kid with the dragon, that's Mike,' but all of us probably blend together." She then grinned, "and just think, since most of us are here just for a semester, in a few months you get to try and learn all the names all over again."
"Oh, great. I'm never going to be able to keep track- hey! Leave that alone!" Mike yelped, grabbing at a computer screen Toothless had been inspecting, and had almost shoved off the desk. He pushed the rescued screen towards the middle of the desk, scowling at the Night Fury who ignored him in favor of some boxes that had been used to ship stuff here. Fortunately they were empty, so Mike wasn't too concerned with what the dragon did to them.
"So what is it you're here for?" He asked absently.
"Well, my job is to try and keep Dr. Erstad's notes more or less organized and filed. I'm kind of a Type-A, super organized OCD person. Which is good since she seems to ascribe to the 'It's in a drawer, therefore it's filed' method. My doctoral supervisor swore that I'd go blind if I spent any more time deciphering old manuscripts, so he set this up as a 'in field' assignment, since Dr. Erstad is an old friend of his. Speaking of, my doctoral thesis is based on decoding from the old transcripts of the Drakkon Sagas what kind of dragons were actually around back then."
"Why would you have to decode them? I mean if you have written stories…" Mike was confused.
Denise snorted. "That's why most are classified as myths. A number of dragon species went extinct in Europe between the end of the Roman times and the end of theMiddle Ages. While there are stories, the ones from the northern, Nordic tribes are second hand at best. Most were collected several centuries after the Viking Ages ended, and those are the ones I'm focusing on. Most of the Drakkon sagas are skaldic verse, and the skalds had a tendency to do a whole lot of embellishment. There's a running joke in academica that whenever a hero killed a dragon for a village, it grew a foot in length for every mile he travelled from the killing place, and added another dragon for each village he might pass through. So you have sagas about so-and-so who slew fifty Deadly Nadders that were each three hundred feet long, laying waste to villages far and near, when in reality it likely was more along the lines of one half-grown Nadder pestering a farmer's flock of sheep."
"Now why would she put the 24th, the 8th and the 12th in one folder?" She muttered, still sorting the stack of papers in front of her. "Hmmm. They all mention something about the scales, but one is about growth, another about hardness, and the third about color. Maybe I'll sort by chronological, and then go back and separate into catagories. Anyway, as I was saying, some of them went really overboard," Denise continued. "There was one that if I translated it right, the scribe was using words that would mean a dragon that was the size of a mountain, and outweighed a blue whale."
Mike snickered. "Overboard, no kidding."
She nodded, before looking thoughtful. "Funny that I thought of that one. There's a line in it that more or less translates as 'The Hero rode on the Darkest Night, to Kill the Mountain King.' It was used by one of my professors to warn about transcription errors, since it's assumed the original scribe was writing down an oral history. Whoever wrote one of the earlier copies used a lot of dramatic descriptions, and consensus holds that it was meant to describe a black horse, but the word used for 'Night' had the accents that were used in Old Norse for, well, the runes for Night Fury. Or as my professor put it, 'Night as in Dark, not Night as in Dragon."
Mike stood there startled, as Denise went back to muttering and sorting pages. He wasn't sure how long he was standing there like a twit, when Toothless rubbed against him, and almost knocked him over. He then had to reassure the dragon that no, he wasn't hurt, just thinking. It was just the idea of a story that mentioned a Night Fury being ridden threw him a bit for a loop, even if it was only by accident. He could easily understand why academics would assume it was a typo and not truth… But the way Toothless had reacted to everything. The dragon hadn't even twitched at any of the stuff he'd put on him. Not the tail, not the saddle, which had always bothered him a bit in the back of his mind. The complete acceptance of such things by a wild creature was just another bit that didn't fit.
"How old was that story? The one with the night error?" Mike asked distantly.
"Hmm?" Denise put down a sheaf she'd been flipping through. "Hard to tell really. The manuscript I was working with was a copy, of a copy, of more than likely an old oral history. As I said before, most of the sagas were collected much later than the time the stories actually originated. A number were finally written down in the 1300s. That general story, a hero taking down an enormous dragon has been used in a number of tales. Sigurd, Grettis, a few others that I can think of have had it attributed to them. Frequently if there was a local hero, a skald would take that accomplishment and add it to a well-known mythological hero to make it more interesting to people who most likely would've never heard of the original hero. It makes it harder to trace out where stories come from. Have you ever seen the papers where people try to figure out if the Cinderella story spread from one region or simply sprang up everywhere? Kind of the same thing happened with other myths. Things spread and change."
"I've read some really old stuff though, that keeps mentioning giants or giant dragons, or both sometimes it's hard to tell, mostly from the Scandinavian coastal areas all the way over to Iceland. But as for dates? Who knows. Could be anywhere from the 9th century to the 12th. "
"Huh." Mike murmured, before blinking and coming out of his thoughts. "Sorry for bothering you for so long," he said. "Since nobody needs either of us, I think I'll go for as long a flight as I can take."
"Hey, you were no bother. I was planning on digging out my iPod before you came in" Denise waved off apologies. "It's not like I'm doing brain surgery here. And I should apologize for not seeing that somebody told you that you didn't have to waste time coming down here. Go on, enjoy your flight while I stay mired in the Filing of Doom, envying every second you're in the air."
Sooo. An update. Please don't kill me for being so long away.
I'm planning on this and either one or two more chapters being sort of vignettes of Mike's life at the park. I plan of Dan making a reappearance probably in the next chapter, which will be posted sometime between now, and the world ending in 2012. Promise.
Oh, if you haven't seen Gift of the Night Fury- Go, see it now! It is freakin' adorable. The end with Toothless is just, GUH! So sweet!