“It’s mine and you can’t have it!”
He awoke with a start as the words echoed around the storage unit. But there was no one else there to hear them. Talking in his sleep again, he realised. The nightmares of a troubled mind. Shaking the grogginess away, he saw he must have fallen asleep on his gilded throne. Again.
Plenty of people talked in their sleep, of course.
But he wasn’t like ‘plenty of people’. Other people might hide their true self from others – but not in a literal sense.
He looked around him, taking in the crowded space. He’d dotted extra LED lights around the walls to make it easier to see round the chests and piles of objects. It had all been candles, back in the day, but he’d had to modernise or it would have set off the sprinklers. He was well aware of the dangers of fire, so he understood. Flames were beautiful, but they could easily get out of control. That being said, he did miss the old days, with the light of guttering candles dancing on gleaming gold pieces. His treasures hadn’t aged, but he supposed he had.
2023 wasn’t really the age of dragons.
It probably wasn’t the most secure way to pile up riches beyond imagining, but he had to admit that the storage unit was conveniently placed, just off the A21. It meant that he could visit his piles of gold coins, the dazzling rubies of a dozen kingdoms, not to mention his piles of exquisite diamonds, before nipping into Tunbridge Wells afterwards if there was a show on. On the other hand, it did mean that he spent a long time queuing on the way to either as the A21 seemed guaranteed to have some sort of traffic jam.
And no one was any the wiser that he was, in fact, the last of the dragons. No one knew that he had treasures amassed over many lifetimes, hidden next to a frequently congested A-road. No one knew that through his mastery of magical arts he could change form from a 35-year-old man in a smart suit to a fire-breathing flying lizard the length of a bus before you could say, “I didn’t think you wanted that parking space.”
Not that he had been seen in his true form for some years. In the days when he’d stowed his hoard in a cavern, he hadn’t even considered changing his form away from his true self, but he’d moved with the times. Humans had spent a good deal of effort hunting down others of his kind, so he’d worked equally hard to conceal himself.
He had thought about finding a really remote cavern, but despite the fact that they kept trying to kill him, he actually enjoyed seeing people every now and again. The trouble was that whenever he had met them, whilst sitting on his expansive collection of precious metals and jewels, the conversations had mostly been about how they wanted his gold and how he also wanted his gold. Then there had tended to be a fight which had sometimes resulted in injury for him. It had always meant moving his collection somewhere else before people could come back in greater numbers.
No, he had given up on caves some time ago. Even now, despite the fact that most people didn’t believe in dragons, he couldn’t go back to them. There was no point in getting a nice cavern exactly how he liked it, then finding out guided tours came through it.
He regarded his collection and thought about the centuries it had taken to build it up. Since he had taken on human form, the additions had been more limited. It had been far simpler back in the old days. Back then, he could simply approach people as (what they saw as) a terrifying lizard and scare them away from their precious belongings. He had tried acquiring jewels in a human form, but it was much more difficult. It was definitely acquiring rather than stealing as he was fairly sure that all of the glorious shiny things belonged innately to dragonkind.
If it belonged to dragonkind, it belonged to him. After all, the others were all gone. Slaughtered for their gold (or sometimes because some of the more peckish dragons had decided someone’s flock of sheep would be better off inside their bellies than, say, roaming around the local farms).
So that was where greed for gold (and some mutton) had got his race. The riches of times past didn’t seem to shine quite as brightly as when there had been other dragons around. Back then, he had visited other caves from time to time, shared stories of narrow escapes from adventurers, roasted an apple tree or two. Admired their hoards.
Nowadays, humans had come up with better and better alarms. Being a cat-burglar who could swoop down from a roof was fine before the advent of cameras, but now it was too risky.
That was why he had decided to try switching over to trading in commodities. It had been a much slower way to gain further gold, but he had needed a change. The trouble was that it felt so different, buying precious metals and not seeing them.
He remembered one exchange with the humans at a company that he’d worked for. “You’ve done well,” one of the humans had said.
“Thank you. Tell me...” He hadn’t quite known how to broach the topic.
“Tell me – do you ever, you know, want to pile it up? All the gold, I mean. Do you ever want to pile it up into a mountain of glittering riches and... sleep on it?”
The man had tilted his head, just a fraction. He’d frowned and the dragon had thought that he would be found out. Would this be the moment that humans learnt that he was not in fact Geoff from Aldershot, but a dragon named Kraa the Tremendous from the times of the ancients, who could tear the office asunder in an instant?
But that moment did not come. The man had burst out laughing. “Good one,” he’d said. He’d said it to some of the other humans. They had all thought he was joking.
He stroked the arm of the throne he was sitting on. The gold detail was exquisite. There were some scratches and claw marks where he’d carried it off, but that didn’t take away from the fine craftsmanship. The prince who had been sitting on it at the time had held on until they had been some way up. The prince had landed in a river when he’d fallen off, so the dragon didn’t feel too bad for him.
Visible beneath one of the claw marks was ancient wood. The complex gold patterns were only a very thin layer on top of a simple wooden construction. The transformation when the gold had been added must have been incredible, he realised. From ordinary to majestic.
He knew that covering something wonderful with something lesser would be the opposite. But then, wasn’t that what he was doing by filling a storage unit with glittering treasures beyond the imaginations of mortals?
He realised he was clinging onto the throne. He relaxed his fingers and slumped back. It really was a different time now. He had loved sleeping on wealth beyond dreams, but he had grown used to a memory foam mattress now and it really was pretty comfortable.
Had he already accepted that his new way of living, deep down? Perhaps he could still be himself even though he lived in their world, looking like them.
Maybe he could change one more thing.
Saying he came from Aldershot... he could change that. He pulled up a map on his phone and smiled to himself. Even when surrounded by change, you could still keep a little of yourself. He could come from just east of Aldershot. Yes, the other side of the A331. A little place called Ash.