Dinosaurs: An Alternate Ending

FictionIssue Two

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By John Whitehall

King Jayavarman’s waning virility was not surprising. The royal serpent had raised its head to strike so many concubines that it was obviously exhausted or bored, or both. The royal serpent deserved a rest. But Jayavarman thought differently and so, once again in search for the ancient remedy, he mustered the royal hunting party.

To hell with the king’s spoiled serpent, Ponleu thought. Unlike Jayavarman, he hated hunting. He cursed the jungle’s stifling embrace, the teeming sweat, and the relentless insect headdresses that veiled the entire royal hunting party.  He had longed for an excuse to avoid trailing the king on these ridiculous forays through the jungle wall. Of late, he had tried to avoid the king altogether, but Ponleu could only blame himself for being forced into the hunt.

King Jayavarman was, in Ponleu’s opinion, crazier than an elephant in musth. He was heavily dependent upon the pipe and a yellow haze had long clouded his majesty’s eyes, along with his mind. The king was renowned for his mood swings; he became completely unpredictable which, considering his authority, could be exceedingly dangerous.

Jayavarman had for years confided in Ponleu, his Royal Artist. Although Ponleu had dedicated his life to the temple carvings, his role as King’s confidant far outweighed his role as artist. He had become Jayavarman’s chosen ear. The king had taken to him and often sat whilst he worked in the temple, chattering like an adolescent monkey about his spiritual encounters and sexual exploits.

Over time, the king’s sexual and spiritual tales merged and Ponleu’s diagnosis seemed to be confirmed. It soon became common knowledge in the Kingdom that the king proclaimed to enjoy nightly sexual encounters with a spirit from the otherworld, in his chamber overlooking the palace. Lately, the king had struggled with the behaviour of his reluctant serpent and had experienced dark and dangerous moods.

Ponleu was himself to blame for the inception of the hunting trips. When Jayavarman had complained to him that the royal serpent would no longer raise its head, Ponleu had mentioned the ancient Chinese remedy. Jayavarman had become obsessed with the idea and when the hunt was arranged, the king suggested that Ponleu accompany him on commission to depict the hunting scene in stone. He could hardly have declined. To upset the king was to put oneself in mortal danger.

Ponleu fantasized about being back at the palace, in the baths, being treated with herbal poultice and the ministrations of one of the palace handmaidens. A bead of sweat stung his eye and brought him back to the jungle. They were all here in the service of the Royal Serpent, hunting creatures that most believed didn’t exist anymore.

Ponleu knelt next to his king, whose eyes remained fixed upon the trail. The royal hunting party had picked up the spoor and the trackers had, after much consultation, decided to halt the party at the confluence of two steep but small river valleys. The trackers were optimistic even though the spoor was old. They had waited for three days. Ponleu was miserable.

Then the beast was upon them. For a creature of such size, it moved silent as a wraith and the thickness of the jungle and the beast’s mottled skin had ensured that none of the hunting party had seen it until it was danger-close. The creature stopped and raised its snout as if it had caught their scent. Ponleu appraised the creature with his artist’s eye, noting the relatively small size of its head and stumpy legs compared to its elephantine body. He became detached from his fear and clinical in his observance of the size and shape of the creature’s dorsal plates. They bloomed down its spine to peak at its midsection, and then grew smaller towards the tail. But the legendary tail spikes, feared and coveted by all who had hunted this particular species of dragon, were absent. Instead, the powerful tail tapered abruptly, appearing stubby and somewhat malformed.

The dragon remained like a statue apart from its slow, rhythmic breathing.

Ponleu heard the king’s bow sing. It wasn’t part of the plan for the king to begin the attack; he was a terrible archer. The arrow arced high and wide, disappearing into the foliage. The dragon appeared not to have heard the bow, and Ponleu registered its small ears. It tilted its head back toward the ground, apparently satisfied that there was no danger. As it curled its tongue around a young, succulent creeping vine, an arrow thudded into its neck, just behind its jawline. Delivered by the commander of the royal hunting party, it was the signal for the onset of the engagement. The silence was rent with screams, accompanied by several other bows in harmony, as the hunting party advanced.

Ponleu had talked with a few of the hunters as they trekked through the jungle. They were eager and willing to serve the King, even if death was the cost of servitude. They received advance payments for their potential sacrifice through the lifestyles they enjoyed within the palace walls. They looked impressive as they charged, their lithe bodies rippling, their blades dark under the jungle canopy. They were almost within range and Ponleu wondered how many would perish for the glory of the Royal Serpent.

Then the dragon fell, its hind legs twitching. From its throat came a cry which sounded like a small child. The hunters slowed and stopped, their war cries suddenly absurd. They lowered their blades and formed a semicircle around the dragon as it exhaled, its nostrils bubbling thick dark blood. Jayavarman and Ponleu joined the semicircle as the commander cleaved the dragon’s head from its neck. He then moved a twitching hind leg to access the genitals.

‘It is female, my King. It is gravid.’

The hunting party was silent and still, waiting for the King’s reaction. His volatility was renowned, but he remained impassive.

‘Then we shall hunt until we find a male. I must have the penis.’

The youngest of the band of hunters, Piseth, had to look away. He hid his expression but failed to contain a snigger. The whole party heard it. The King heard it. He walked slowly towards Piseth.

‘On your knees.’

But Piseth was already slumping to the ground, paling…

Back in the city, Ponleu meandered through the palace grounds wearing what Jayavarman had once referred to as ‘the ugly face of beauty.’ It was the face he wore when he was working, concentrating, presenting life in stone.

The scents, sights, and sounds of the palace, usually such divine distraction, could not draw him from his thoughts. He passed the bathing pool, shrouded with fine, rich silks that only served to enhance the allure of the bodies beyond. The essence of femininity danced unhindered through the silks on air laced with sandalwood, but Ponleu’s visage confirmed his preoccupation.

Ponleu and the hunting party had been commanded to not speak of their failed endeavour, but Ponleu was affected by the deaths of poor Piseth and the pathetic dragon. Their spirits seemed to have taken over his head; he could think of nothing else.

He passed by the celestial temple, Phimeanakas, where the king had been ensconced since their return. The king spent much of his time isolated in his chamber at the peak of Phimeanakas, a room gilded with a spectrum of precious and semiprecious metals and jewels. It was in this chamber that the king was said to have regular intercourse with the Naga, the nine-headed serpent-spirit. Of course, nobody dared question the king about his contact with the Naga.

Ponleu was one of very few people to have been in the king’s chamber, for he was responsible for its conception and completion. He was particularly proud of his choice of lead as a dull, brooding backdrop to enhance the lustre of the precious metals and jewels encrusting the carvings in the chamber. The chamber was indeed beautiful, but Ponleu had never felt anything like a spiritual presence around Phimeanakas. The presence of the king, however, was palpable. He hurried on.

He nodded at the guards at the Central Gate, declining the offer of transport, and wandered down Victory Avenue. It wasn’t far to Rajavihara but Angkor Thom, The Great City, was bustling and it was a slow, dusty walk to Victory Gate. It wasn’t as crowded past the causeway, past the bottleneck of beggars.

He arrived at Rajavihara near the end of the working day. The stonemasons had completed their contract, leaving the Artists and Decorators on site. There was a fine layer of dust in the air and the cool scent of metal and struck stone was familiar and soothing. It was good to be back.

He greeted Chanvatey, his leading foreman, who was warm in welcome and eager for him to critique their progress. Chanvatey asked about the hunt and was sickened at being told of Piseth’s demise. He was intrigued at the description of the Dragon; Ponleu was as expressive in voice as he was with his hands. Chanvatey was sympathetic that Ponleu had lost his commission. He nudged Ponleu with his elbow.

‘You should draw the animal from the stone before it fades from your memory.’

‘The King ordered me to forget about the entire hunt, that I’m not to mention anything about the Dragon.’

Chanvatey gestured at the temple, adorned with the work that had taken years of their lives.

‘You could carve the animal here, in Rajavihara.’

Ponleu rolled his eyes.

‘The King will never know. The roundels of the southwest Gopura are yet to be completed. You could hide a carving there. Do it for yourself. Do it for the Dragon. You may never see one again. Do it for Piseth.’

Chanvatey pressed a hammer and a delicate chisel into Ponleu’s hands.

Ponleu wiped his brow with the back of his hand, wiping the rivulets of sweat that advanced towards his eyes, smearing more dust onto his grimy face. He breathed slowly onto the stone, stepped back, and scrutinized the carving. He wiped his tools against his loincloth and laid them in their mahogany case. He ran his fingers over the carving, feeling the texture of the stone, tracing the contours of the plates on the dragon’s body. Then, swiping a mosquito from his ear, he left Rajavihara.

Verity traced her middle finger along the contours of the dinosaur’s body, oblivious to the mosquito that hovered around her ear. She wondered how many people had touched this particular carving. It seemed to be situated in a nondescript section of the temple in the middle of one of the many intricately carved steles. She knew the name of this particular dinosaur. It was a stegosaurus. After looking through the ruins for weeks and seeing countless images of elephants, crocodiles, fish, Khmers, Chams, Thais, Buddhas, Shivas, Garudas, cows and chickens, here was a lone dinosaur.

A cicada screamed, piercing her reverie as it pierced the silence. It was so loud, it reminded her of one of her dad’s power tools. What was it called? Circular saw? Bandsaw? Angle grinder. The sound would ever remind her of Cambodia.

A security guard approached.

‘Sorry, closing now,’ he smiled, but the vanguard of dusk mosquitoes was more than enough to encourage Verity to leave. She was the last visitor at Ta Prohm, or Rajavihara as it was once known. Most of the tourists, she knew, were crowded around Angkor Wat to witness the famed sunset, to capture the standard photographs, or being hurried back to their resorts in their buses, or Tuk-tuking it back to Siem Reap.

Verity savored her last afternoon at the ruins, absorbing the still, tropical air. She wandered towards the exit, through the cool chambers of Ta Prohm. Fading, mottled sunlight made the Apsaras dance on the steles. It was, apart from the mosquitos, the perfect time of day but she was exhausted and she had an early flight.

Arriving back at her hotel, she thanked her driver and arranged for him to take her to the airport the following morning. Verity craved a shower and bed but needed first to eat. There was a small restaurant down the alley opposite her guesthouse and she thought it would probably be quick to eat there. She would be able to avoid Armando the Spanish guy and Harold the Englishman, who always seemed to be at the guesthouse restaurant and were relentless with their clumsy advances.

Verity was glad to see the restaurant empty. She ordered Pizza ‘al fun gi!’ with herbs and garlic, and waited with an icy beer. The pizza was quick to arrive, and as quickly devoured. As she paid the bill, she saw a little handwritten sign: Like us on Facebook! Not a fan of Facebook, she decided to recommend the restaurant on the Lonely Planet website. Verity wrote its name on her guidebook: Very Happy Smile Pizza. The significance of the name was lost on her.

Back at the guesthouse, showered and cool, Verity shoved her belongings into her backpack. She lay on the bed, listening to the whirring fan, which made the mosquito net float around her. She googled ‘Ta Prohm dinosaur’ and was surprised to find numerous links. Before long she gave up and put her laptop to sleep. In between conscious thoughts and dreams, she felt a flutter in her stomach; a slight, queasy sensation, outmatched by an overwhelming sense of wellbeing and euphoria.

She wandered in a lush garden beside a muddy, languid river. The garden breathed with the sounds of birds and insects. A rooster crowed somewhere in the distance. She followed a stony path meandering along the bank. A cool breeze from upstream mingled with the warm jungle air, saturated and perfumed with frangipani. A large, metallic-green dragonfly rode the thermals, banking through a copse of hibiscus, contrasted against drooping crimson flowers.

Rounding a bend in the river, she heard voices emanating from the jungle. Two male voices, in animated conversation, their accents unmistakable. The Spanish voice was loud, heavy with accent and emotion and wildly inflective, and the Londoner’s voice sounded as if bred for a TV documentary. The jungle parted and she saw them, both reclined on cushions in an open walled, grass-thatched hut.

The Englishman was tall and thin, immaculate in white trousers and collared shirt. His hair was behaving, disciplined by a strict comb, and his cheeks were blushed as if from a heavy-handed teenage girl. He was clean-shaven and wearing delicate rimmed spectacles of remarkable strength, supporting lenses that resembled the base of shot glasses. His forehead glistened.

The Spaniard wore loose-fitting pants that looked like a tile mosaic. He wore a flowing, off-white, collarless shirt, open to the navel. His wild beard and chest hair were seamless and his Saddam Hussein moustache rested on lips adequate to the task. Their conversation ceased as Verity approached. They both turned and stood.

‘Ah, Verity, how are you? Please jou come and join us.’

‘How do you–’

‘Well, that’s just a silly question, Verity. This is, after all, your dream. Of course we know your name.’

The Englishman presented his hand, which Verity shook.

‘But jou do not know us.’

The Spaniard took Verity’s hand and kissed it, lingering too long, the moustache rasping like the furry side of a Velcro strap searching for attachment.

‘I am world renowned Archaeologist, Dr Manuel Clavicle and dis is my good frien’ Señor Frank Coprolite. He is specialist Palaeontologist.’

‘Yes, thank you, Manny. It’s an absolute delight to meet you, Verity. Please join us. Would you care for a drink?’

Frank motioned to a small table where there were two frosted glasses and a huge silver tankard brimming with ale. Manuel hefted the tankard and made a toast.

‘To Verity, and to de endless search for meaning.’

‘Yes. Quite.’

Frank took a polite sip in the time it took for Manuel to tilt the contents of the heavy tankard down his throat. The Spaniard wiped his mouth with his sleeve and grinned, his teeth gleaming through the untamed forest of his face. He clicked his fingers and Verity noticed calloused hands and seams of red dirt under cracked, yellow nails. A bald diminutive Asian man, wearing only a codpiece and Ho Chi Minh sandals, coalesced from the jungle carrying a tray loaded with a pitcher of the amber liquid. He charged the Spaniard’s tankard and, without a word, blended into the foliage.

‘Please, sit down, no?’

The two men waited for Verity to sit on one of the cushions and then took their places. Frank sat cross-legged, maintaining perfect posture. Manuel seemed to melt into the cushion, slouching against the bamboo rail of the hut, each limb assuming a position requiring the least amount of energy. Verity sat with her knees under her chin, resting her drink on the table.

‘So, lets begin, Verity. Jou are wonder about de dinosaur, no?’

‘Well, yes, I suppose so.’

‘Tis a splendid way to approach this conundrum, dreaming about conversing with such learned companions. You must be quite an intelligent young lass.’

‘Well, no, I just try to search for truth in life.’

‘Intelligent and humble; you are a rare breed. Now, you must know about the fossil record. Our interpretation of the fossil record is that most of the dinosaurs suffered mass extinction approximately 65 million years ago. Those that didn’t evolved into the Avian class. So the most direct contact humans have ever had with dinosaurs is with the birds, who are direct descendants of dinosaurs.’

The Spaniard drenched his moustache with the head of his ale and cleared his voice.

‘My frien’ is confuse because he is look at a record of all of de dead things and den he make belief about de living. Dis, to me, is a little backward, no?’

He nudged Frank.

‘How do jou know all of de dinosaur die? Jou cannot know dis.’

‘Well, what we do know is that humans didn’t walk the earth until many millions of years after the Triassic period. It is impossible that human and dinosaur coexisted. The carving is misleading.’

Frank took another polite sip and shook his head. The Spaniard threw his arms around and continued.

‘Jou know, Verity, how many stories there are of dragon? Many, many cultures have de written history and de painting or carving of de dragon. Dere are so many record dat one of dis man colleagues make a story to esplain why de stories exist. He say dat before we evolve into human and our ancestor were some kind of tiny mammal or someting, dis ancestor were so afraid of de dinosaur dat dis images were burn’ in our little mammal brains. So when we get de opposable tumb we all over de world make drawing or carving of de dinosaur because it stick so much in our nightmare. What do jou tink of this?’

‘It does seem a little far-fetched.’

‘What is a little far-fetched,’ Frank responded, ‘are the fables of the heroic humans slaying the fire-breathing dragons. If you believe that nonsense, well, you can’t really call yourself a scientist.’

‘I don’ have to believe in de fire-breath to believe man live with de dragons. Of course man is exaggerate de story. But de carving and de painting and de description of most of de dragon convince me dat some of dem survive. Of course, man keel de rest of dem. Man is keel, keel, keel everyting. Mostly because he is scare of de big animal, but also man keel for de food, or for fun, or for to be a hero, or for something dat he treasure, like de elephant tusk or de tiger penis.’

Verity couldn’t suppress a giggle. The Englishman rolled his eyes.

‘Ah, you see, Señor Coprolite here he is very sceptic. But you look at de poor tiger. He is hunted because de Chinese believe to eat his penis make their penis hard like a rock, no? And de elephant he is almost keel off because de ivory is precious. Everywhere, man is keel all of de things. We know man is biggest keeler in history and den dis Palaeontologist like Señor Coprolite is assume a big rock from de space is keel all of de dinosaur. If we look at de human history, we must make assume dat de man keel de dinosaur.’

Manuel reached down and pulled an old duffel bag from underneath the hut. He upended it and the contents dropped onto the floor of the thatched hut. A large, round stone thudded to the ground, followed by books, scrolls, parchments, and sketches, forming a huge, dusty pile. The Spaniard cradled the stone and showed it to Verity.

‘Ah, now you see dis? Dis is carving from South America. One of thousands of Ica stone.’ He grinned. I could not help myself and had borrow dis for long time.’

On the stone was a clear engraving of a Triceratops.

‘Why, those stones could easily be fakes. They simply cannot prove the coexistence of man and dinosaur.’

‘As I tell jou, Seńor Coprolite, dere are thousands of dese stone. Jou tink somebody carve dis all for joke?’

He passed it to Verity, who was clearly impressed. Encouraged by this, the Spaniard shuffled through the pile of books.

‘Jou see dis is photograph of engraving on tomb in Carlisle Cathedral. Dis tomb was build in 1496. What do jou tink this look like?’

‘They look like dinosaurs.’

‘Day are de Sauropod dinosaurs. Of dis I am convince.’

Frank scoffed.

‘Ah, jou see Verity? Seńor Coprolite is still stuck in his view of how de world is. Nothing change his mind. How about another?’

The Spaniard tossed a few more books aside and blew some dust off another faded photograph.

‘Now dis is from cave in North America and is petroglyph from de American Indians. It look like Brontosaurus, no? And dis one from Amazon fores’ is pictograph of de hunting of Sauropod. The hunting is common theme in a lot of dis artwork. I show you only one more because I fear to bore you.’

The Spaniard flicked through an old notepad and showed Verity another hunting scene.

‘Dis one is from Kuwait and is more rock art of human and dinosaur together.’

‘Yes, but could it have been faked too?’

‘Could all dis have been fake? Jou have to make up a your own mind. Dere is no fool-proof way to find de truth, but as I say to Señor Coprolite to tease him, dere is a lot of proof of fools. For me, I cannot ignore dis pictures and I cannot ignore de written history. In dis collection of mine dere is written account from Herodotus, Aristotle, Pliny, Alexander de Great, and de list go on, but I must not.’

He fumbled through the pile.

‘Now, where is my photograph of dis Ta Prohm dinosaur? It a must be in here somewhere.’

Finally, he found a photograph of the carving Verity had touched the day before. The Englishman remarked with a single word, appearing somewhat smug.

‘Pareidolia.’

Verity felt foolish to ask, but she knew she could look more so if she didn’t.

‘What does that mean?’

‘It mean jou see what jou wanna see. But everyone who is see dis carving see de same ting. I do not tink day all wanna see dinosaur. I tink day recognize de stegosaur when day see it and I tink some of dem don’ even wanna admit to themselves dat it is what it is, because day wanna see what day tink day already know. See what I mean?’

The Englishman sighed and parted his hair with his fingers. The hair retreated to its fortified position.

‘You know, we seem to cover this every single night, but for the sake of our guest I will again repeat myself. The carving could easily be a baby rhinoceros, surrounded by floral whorls. And the tail spikes, which we know to be characteristic of the stegosaur, are conspicuously absent on this carving. I just cannot believe we are having this conversation again. This whole idea is preposterous.’

‘An’ like I already tell jou, Señor Coprolite, dere are no flowers looking like de plates of de dinosaur on any other carving in de entire ancien’ city. And if jou wanna care look with the fossils not a jam in jou eyes, jou can see de esplanation for de missing tail spike on de carving. Look at de elephan,’ no? His tusk is get smaller and smaller over de years. Even he is get smaller and smaller. Look at de rhinoceros. Sometime he not even have de horn anymore. Jou know why dat is?’

The Spaniard’s voice was getting progressively louder, his arms flailing in cadence. He stood up, knocking his tankard onto the grass. The waiter in the codpiece materialized and silently refilled it, placing it on the table. Then he was gone. The Englishman took his glasses off to clean the spittle that had sprayed from the Spaniard’s mouth. He waved his encouragement and shot Verity an amused look.

‘Please, do tell.’

‘Because, Señor Coprolite, MAN IS KEEL ALL OF DE BIG ONE SO DAY CANNO’ BREED ANYMORE!’

‘Calm down, Dr Clavicle. I believe you are upsetting our guest.’

‘No, it’s O.K. I find this really interesting.’

The Spaniard sat back down and sucked back an enormous volume of beer. Verity turned toward the Palaeontologist.

‘What do you think, Sir Coprolite?’

‘Well, Verity, the fossil record simply doesn’t support Dr Clavicle’s wild explanations. The surviving dinosaurs evolved into birds long before man grew erect.’

He guffawed at his own joke and then his cheeks became a darker shade of pink.

‘Señor Coprolite is make a joke, no? But is not very funny, I tink. Must a dinosaur evolve over de years? It is possible he remain, how you say, static?’

‘This theory is very highly unlikely, Dr Clavicle. We believe certain environmental factors caused all of the remaining dinosaurs to become birds.’

‘Jou keep saying dis over and over, but look at all of de other tings dat are in your fossil record dat have no’ change over time. De crocodile, although he become smaller, the plants like dis pine tree in Australia dat everyone is tink long dead but is now call ‘de living fossil’. What do you tink about all dis? Also dis ocean bug, de Balmain bug he is stuck in the fossil record with de dinosaur and also I ate him las’ night and he taste good.’

‘Well, yes, there are some creatures which have remained in phenotypic stasis, but they are the exception to the rule. You must accept this.’

‘Many creatures have remain de same. Why jou cannot ascept some dinosaur not change?’

‘Because there is simply no scientific proof.’

‘Ah, Señor Coprolite, your speciality and my speciality cannot have the scientific proof. De scientific proof is require observation, repetition, and falsification, no? How do jou suppose we will ever get dis?’

‘Obviously when we study history we cannot, but we can use evidence to arrive at a conclusion.’

‘No, no, we use de evidence to arrive at presumptions, no? Based on de worldview, no? Based on de preconceive idea, no?’

‘Yes, yes, that is correct. Now, can we not hurry this up? Verity has a plane to catch.’

‘Ah, si, but jou know I have one other point.’

‘Of course I know. We repeat this conversation every day, ad nauseam. Please, do get on with it.’

The Spaniard swilled the remnants of his tankard and grinned.

‘Jou see, Verity, it is not often dat someone passionate and charismatic like me get to speak on top o’ loud mouth Palaeontologist. Dead tings in de sediment rock are speak so loud to dem day cannot hear de voice of de artwork and written history.’

He paused for effect.

‘Recently de Palaeontologist find remains of one dinosaur with soft, stretchy tissue and blood cell intact. Day are amaze to find dis. Day cannot believe. Dis is should not be called fossil like we know, because fossil is meant to be rock, not a tissue. Is indicate to me dat de specimen is not very old but because is dinosaur, day say it must be millions of years. Instead of maybe tinking is not so old day are frantic try to find why delicate, err, organic molecules stay in a such good condition. It is example of try to stick de evidence to fit de belief system instead of maybe consider it does not fit.’

‘Is this true?’

‘We did indeed find a Tyrannosaurus rex fossil, remarkably preserved so that its connective tissue could be stretched and its blood cells clearly identified. We are searching for the mechanism by which this tissue could be preserved for so many millions of years. We think it must have something to do with the iron content in blood cells in combination with other as yet unknown environmental factors. There must be some explanation, it’s just that we haven’t found it.’

‘Jou see, Verity? Now day fight against entropy because day must believe millions of years. Never will be ascept dat some dinosaur not so old. Jou know what is derivation of de word, Palaeontology? It of course come from de Greek, palaios, which is mean ancient, and ontologie, which is mean philosophical study. So it is metaphysical study with assumption dat what is study is ancient. It is rigid mindset. So day ignoring de people’s history and listen to de rock instead of reading the writing on it.’

‘A ridiculous semantic argument.’

‘But Verity, I tink she get my point.’

‘It’s definitely something to think about.’

‘And so jou should. Dese people who did de carvings and wrote de history deserve as much, no?’

A bell tolled somewhere in the forest. The palaeontologist and the archaeologist lowered their heads, their eyes closed.

Verity fumbled on the bedside table, knocking her phone to the floor. She felt sick.

Ponleu never again saw a dragon.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.