Light streamed through the irregular glass of Uncle Quentin’s office, illuminating the dust particles that danced and weaved through the air. Charlie loved this room. He loved the piles of dusty scrolls that were stacked high on every shelf, overflowing from tabletops and cluttering surfaces. He was fascinated by the numerous glass jars that brimmed with preserved animals and plants. Most of all he loved the enormous old desk, intricately carved with patterns of feasting dragons and curling flames. It smelled of beeswax and smoke. He would run his hands over the polished wood, savouring the familiar scent and the smooth feel against his scales.
He had spent many happy hours here at the institute, listening to Professor Quentin talk of science and magic. The old dragon would delight Charlie with wonderful anecdotes, often accompanied by beautiful sketches in scrolls. He would frequently diverge from the original subject, rummaging through the shelves only to find an alternate nugget of wonder that absolutely had to be shared. This might be the directions for a complex incantation, or a diagram of an exotic potato, or even a wonky jar containing a pickled cactus.
On this particular visit to the office, Charlie was greeted by Durga. The sabre tooth tigress gently butted her head against him and lovingly blinked her feline eyes. Then she reclined, her striped flanks rising and falling as she gave a contented snuffle. Charlie stroked her long body, and she rolled over to show off her perfectly white undersides.
There were voices outside the door; his parents and Uncle Quentin. There was nothing to fear and yet for no particular reason Charlie decided to hide, playfully squeezing himself into the narrow space under the desk. This dark hideaway had been untouched for years. His breath suddenly sounded extraordinarily loud, so he tried to control his lungs. He watched as three pairs of feet and their corresponding tails entered the room.
"I’m the one who should go.” Manfred’s voice filled the air.
“If you think that you’re going without me, then you’ve got another think coming,” Hazel replied.
“One of you certainly has to go,” said the Professor. “You are the only ones who have ever been, and consequently you are the only ones who can confirm whether the immunizations have worked.”
"I suppose that means we are both going, if you don’t mind looking after Charlie for us, Professor?”
“I’d be delighted. Always a pleasure to have the boy here. And besides, you won’t be gone for long.”
“How exciting,” said Hazel. “Another adventure. I can’t believe it’s been eleven years. I wonder how much it will have changed.”
“Well, we’re hoping there will be dragons this time,” said the Professor.
He leafed through the set of images they had managed to extract from the human device.
"It does look interesting ... oh, ha. This one always makes me smile," he chortled, waving the picture of Manfred caught unawares.
"If I were a younger dragon I'd be joining you. Now, come and have a look at the platform. It hasn't changed much, I'm afraid that there's still a lot of gear." The professor unlocked a door to the warehouse behind his office.
The voices of the three adults faded as the door closed behind them. Charlie wriggled out from his hiding place, past the warm body of Durga who was now dozing. The pile of images sat atop the table. He sifted through them, amazed at this strange place which his parents had once visited. He had never seen anything like it; terrace upon terrace of ruined stone buildings surrounded by majestic, green mountains.
At that moment Charlie knew that he wanted to go on this adventure. He was made for adventures. How could his parents have even considered going without him? Although the destination was a mystery, he began to formulate a plan.
Hazel enthusiastically examined the platform. A long time had passed since she had last seen it. Nevertheless, it felt like only yesterday that she and Manfred had turned up at the institute, breathlessly demanding to see Professor Quentin about a platform full of cacti. She felt lucky that Quentin had believed them, lucky that they found a way to develop a vaccine from the cacti, but most of all, lucky to have her son.
The three of them made their way back to the office, to find Charlie sitting next to Durga.
“Right,” said the Professor. “I must write to the high council. They know all about the trip, I just need to send a final confirmation. I’ll make some iced tea for us first, and put the cat out ...”
“I didn’t realise she was on fire!” Manfred beamed round the room, hopeful for acknowledgement of a joke that he thought was rather good.
“You’re not funny Dad.”
“You’re not funny Manfred. Now please help Professor Quentin put the cat out.”
Manfred grumbled something about being unappreciated as he opened the door for the drowsy sabre tooth tiger, who padded after him.
When the Professor returned with the iced tea, Charlie leapt up to help pour it, taking a glass to his mother and presenting it with his most helpful expression. This went unnoticed.
“Going somewhere, Mom?”
“Not really. Nowhere special.”
“But you are going somewhere.”
“I might be.”
“Well I know you are.”
“Mom you are so annoying.”
Hazel smiled mischievously, putting aside the scroll and engaging with her son.
“Well yes, your father and I are going on a short trip tomorrow. It will just be a quick teleportation.”
“Where are you going?”
“Oh, nowhere exciting, just some boring work for the institute.”
“You know what would be really helpful on your trip?”
“No Mom! Someone to help, you know, carry all your stuff.”
“You must have stuff, you’re going on a trip.”
“Oh really?” replied his mother, returning her attention to the scroll.
“Anyway Mom, you know who would be really good at helping you carry that stuff?”
“You do?” said Charlie eagerly.
“Yes ... your father.”
“WHAT? Mom that is so unfair. You are such a big meanie.”
“Yes. Big meanie Mom, that’s me. What with all my keeping you clothed and fed, making sure your scales are clean and your flame is strong. I am a horrible, evil dragon.”
“But Mom, I want to go. It sounds exciting. Nothing exciting ever happens to me. Please?”
“Absolutely not – this trip might be dangerous. You are forbidden.”
“No buts. I don’t see what the fuss is about. We’ll be gone a couple of hours, if that.”
“I hate my life.”
“Oh have some iced tea little one. I’m sure you’ll have found an entirely new injustice to ruin your life by tomorrow evening.”
Charlie, who was just as stubborn as his Mother, decided that a simple forbidding wasn't going to prevent him from going. He made a solemn commitment to himself to be somewhere on that platform when it lifted off, no matter what.