Ronnie and Tilly landed in a tangled mess of girl and dog. Tilly, having decided that being yanked from his nap so abruptly was just cause for complaint, was whimpering and struggling to free himself. Ronnie let go of his tail and disengaged her limbs from amongst his. Luckily, neither of them seemed worse for wear. Ronnie got to her feet and brushed herself off. She was surprised to be covered in dust.
“Tilly, I sure hope this is another dream” she whispered, afraid something might be lurking nearby. She didn’t want another surprise encounter with the strange creature. The thought made her whip around, but no one was in sight. “Maybe I should pinch myself. That’s a surefire way to wake up.” She pinched her arm, hard. “Ouch! That really hurt and we’re still here – wherever here is.”
Ronnie stepped back a few paces and craned her neck to see what was at the top of the falls. There was the triple rainbow! “Oh my Gawd Tilly, I think we’re inside the picture! How did we get here? More important, how do we get back?” Her questions were interrupted by a distant, insistent voice.
“Key Keeper, please come! We need you!” It was the voice from her dream and sounded even more desperate now.
“Let’s go up there, Tilly. Maybe we can help him find his Key Keeper, whatever that is, and maybe he can help us get out of here.” Ronnie paced back and forth looking for a pathway up the mountainside but there was no way to scale the steep, slippery cliff. On the chance that there may actually be a cave behind the waterfall, she turned her attention there and, to her delight, found an opening. She stepped toward it, calling to Tilly to follow.
Inside all was darkness except a space on the back wall. She reached out and felt and stumbled her way toward the light that shone through the crevice. When she peered into the opening, Ronnie was dazzled by the brilliance of the connecting cave.
“Come on Tilly; we’re small enough to fit through here. Boy, I never thought being small would be a good thing. Maybe that cave has a stairway or something to get us to the top. At least there’s some light in there.” They squirmed through the narrow opening and into a massive cavern.
As Ronnie’s eyes were adjusting to the brightness, Tilly growled deeply at something just ahead. Ronnie blinked several times and then resigned herself to the fact that the creature before her was, indeed, a dragon. The light was more than bright enough to see him and his cavern quite clearly.
This was no ordinary dragon – if such a thing exists. He wasn’t quite so big as Ronnie thought a dragon should be, but big enough to cause alarm. His four wings were like a dragonfly’s but, of course, much larger. His body was covered with thousands and thousands of luminous scales that shone throughout the cavern with tinted light. The ground around him was littered with brilliant, shining scales that he had shed during years and years of cave dwelling.
From the tip of the dragon’s tail to the base of his neck were bumps that reminded Ronnie of a long staircase. She could see his head in profile and it seemed small for his body. He had a colourful beard like one might see on a unicorn – if one ever saw a unicorn. His mouth was curled up, making it look like he was smiling. His sparkling oval eyes, at least the one she could see, shone brilliantly green. The dragon’s ears were positioned on top of his head and were pointed at the tip. He seemed to be asleep though sitting up - not to mention open-eyed. Ronnie thought that, maybe, dragons slept that way. She chanced a quick glance around the cave.
It was so immense Ronnie could think of no word big enough to describe it. Way overhead there was a hole in the roof. Ronnie guessed it was the dragon’s doorway, though it was so far away it looked too tiny for even her to fit through. Tall, cone-shaped stalagmites grew up from the floor of the cave and stalactites of the same shape reached down from the ceiling to meet them. The resulting pillars reflected the light from above, bouncing it off the walls, the floor and the dragon – to which Ronnie returned her attention.
“Ummm, hello,” Ronnie stammered. She was unsure of how one was meant to greet a dragon when one stumbled upon its cave - especially one that might be napping. She worried that she might startle the creature but Tilly’s growls had probably given them away already. “My name is Ronnie Biv and this is Tilly. Quiet Tilly! I don’t think he’s going to hurt us. He doesn’t look mean. You aren’t going to eat us, are you dragon?”
Ronnie expected no response and was astonished when the dragon’s mouth curled up more than it had been, forming an obviously friendly smile.
“Well, well what have we here? Do not fret; I shall not eat you. My diet does not include small creatures. It has been a long, long, long time, indeed, since I have had visitors. The few who discover the cave behind my waterfall are too bulky to enter my cavern. I am pleased that you were able to do so as it will be a treat to have companionship. Excuse me, I forget my manners. I am Wollomombi, Rainbow Dragon, former Key Keeper and former Protector of the Iridalites. I am honoured to make your acquaintance Ronnie Biv and yours also, Tilly.” Wollomombi bowed his head ceremoniously.
Ronnie returned the gesture before blurting, “Wow! You do exist! My father told me about you. I had hoped it was true but never dreamed that I would get to meet you face to face.” Ronnie suddenly remembered the voice at the top of the cliff - the reason she had entered the cave. “ Hey! I heard someone call a Key Keeper. He said that Iridal was in trouble. If you’re the former Key Keeper then whose job is it now to keep the Key? Oh yeah, and who is Iridal?”
“I would be honoured, indeed to tell you my tale and to answer your questions as I am able. Please, do make yourself comfortable.” Ronnie did her best to do just that but the only seat available was atop a pile of discarded dragon scales. She had to make the best of it. Tilly had apparently come to the conclusion that the creature, though enormous, was no threat and had stopped growling. He curled up at Ronnie’s feet. The dragon wrapped his tail around the two of them, creating a cozy space, and began his tale.
“I have lived in this cave since before before. From time to time, I sensed an urge to spread my wings and soar across the sky, taking in the beauty of the scenery below. One day when I was returning from a flight, a triple rainbow appeared at the top of my waterfall. I flew through it and there, beyond the rainbow, was a land where no creatures dwelt. As you may be aware, the sight of a dragon flying overhead can, indeed, be distressing to some. At last I could fly freely, with no worry of causing fear! Sadly, I was met there by a dry, barren, colourless landscape which seemed to defeat the purpose of my flight. After a short time, I was ready to return to my cave and made my way back to the rainbow. When I arrived back at my portal, I discovered that, in my haste to leave my cave that morning, I had burst through the hole in my ceiling with such force that I had enlarged it. A pile of rocks surrounded the hole. I thought that if I could do that - and a little more - on the flat landscape, beyond the rainbow, I could create a beautiful place to fly over.
“I returned to the barren land the next morning and, there, I spent many hours tunneling into the ground and pushing up the earth. Thus, valleys and hillsides were created. Next, I went in search of heavily laden rain clouds and brought them to the hills where they unburdened themselves, causing water to course over the land. When the winds blew in, they carried seed that germinated in the rich soil. Soon the land was teeming with plant life. At last I had a beautiful landscape over which to take flight.
“I feared, however, that I would be lonely. Even though people were generally frightened when I flew overhead, their presence below reminded me that I was not alone on this Earth. I would certainly be alone in the land beyond the rainbow. I came close to despair but then remembered the Dreamtime World.
“In days gone-by, mermaids, fairies, pixies, unicorns, and other creatures of folklore lived here on Earth. When humans grew in numbers, there were few places left for these creatures to thrive. They chose, you see, to remain hidden from humans who they feared would do them no good. They entered the Dreamtime World where they could sleep and dream of better days. It was their hope that the age of humans would be a short one on this Earth and that they would soon be able to return to their normal lives. Alas, for them, humans were able to adapt the world to meet their needs and, as you well know, Ronnie Biv, humans have flourished for millennia.
“I flew to the Dreamtime World. There I awakened all who slept and told them of the new land which could be a place to call their own. Many accepted the offer of a new home and were ready to travel there. To give them a roadway upon which to journey, I arched my back and created a rainbow path. The creatures paraded to the new land.
“As I possess the wisdom of the ages, I shared my knowledge with all creatures that they might prosper in their new homes. They spread across the land, each taking up residence in its own special location. A few were displeased with this Earthly existence and requested that I, once again, arch my back and build a rainbow path thereby enabling them to return to their dreams. They live there still, surrounded by the magic of the Dreamtime World. Indeed, that is why you will never see a phoenix, nor a winged horse, here on Earth.
“While I was in the rainbow form, arched over the new land, a gentle rain fell. The droplets of water ran off me, gathering colour as they fell. They lent an array of hues to the flora below. Wherever they landed upon the bare ground, rainbow creatures sprang to life. I gave the name ‘Iridal’ to the land as it means: colourful. The newly formed creatures became known as ‘Iridalites’. To keep them safe from prying eyes and the exploitation of this world I enlisted the help of the Rainbow Goddess.
“Iris wrapped the land in rainbow magic to retain the strength of the creatures They needed sunlight, as does a rainbow. Iris arranged for the sun to circle the sky from dawn to dusk and to dip just below the horizon before starting its journey again. If you have ever been to the far north during the summer months, you will have seen the same thing happening there. Darkness never creeps into Iridal and so, the Iridalites are strong and vibrant.
“We constructed a gateway using scales that I had shed over the ages. It was fashioned to look exactly like the triple rainbow through which I had flown. Iris, being an Olympian, could come and go through the Gateway as she pleased. Only those who possess the magic of Olympia or of the Celestial Realms can do so. Others, such as myself and you and I daresay your companion Tilly, have need of a Key. I held that Key and as Key Keeper was Protector of Iridal and its inhabitants.
“Alas, I lost my key. It was the very last scale at the very tip of my tail. It was, indeed, never meant to fall off but somehow did. I have searched and searched to no avail.
“Morpheus, the God of Dreams, is there, in Iridal, with Iris now. It is he who calls out to the Keeper. I can be of no help without the Key so here I sit feeling lonely and helpless indeed. I do wish I could find my key but it has been out of my possession for so long now its magic may no longer answer to my call. There may be a new Key Keeper but I do not understand why that creature would not answer the call of Morpheus and come to the aid of the Iridalites.
“I fear the Key has perhaps fallen into the hands of one who cares not for the woes of a distant and mystical land. I prefer to believe the Keeper has been unavoidably detained and will arrive in, as they say, the nick of time to save Iridal.” Wollomombi bowed his head slightly, signifying the end of his story.
“Wow! I am so sorry that you lost your Key. Maybe I can help you find it,” said Ronnie. “I am, after all, much closer to the ground than you and may have more luck.” She scanned the cave floor. “There are so many scales here that I hardly know where to begin. Maybe you can tell me a little more about the Key. Since it was at the tip of your tail, I assume it was smaller than most of these ones. Is it the same shape?”
“It is, indeed, smaller than those you see here, Ronnie Biv. Although they are all triangular, the Key resembles a drop of rain and has more rounded edges. It also holds its own light. The scales upon the floor of my cave depend upon a light source to make them glow. The Key, however, has shone, even in darkness ever since Iris bestowed upon it the power to open the Gateway. I fear that it is not here amongst the others but fell off somewhere outside the cave.”
“Well, that certainly widens the search area. It could be anywhere.” Ronnie, as she usually did when she was sorting out a problem, became restless. She reached up to her throat and started to play with the chain around her neck while she and Wollomombi sat and thought. She pulled out Her Iris Stone and started to fidget with it. As she turned it, she noticed that it seemed to shine onto the other scales rather than pulling in light from around it. She moved it this way and that, testing it out.
“Wollomombi, look at this! My Iris Stone seems to have its own light just like...”
“Indeed, indeed that is it! That is the Key!” Wollomombi, unable to contain his excitement, had leapt up, sending scores of scales flying across the cave. “Its power shines more brightly for you than I ever imagined it could! Why did you not tell me you are the Key Keeper? What has caused your delay?”
Ronnie was surprised, to say the least, at his declarations and his questions but, remembering her manners, she proceeded to tell Wollomombi what little she knew of the pendant’s history ending with how it came to be hers. She told him of the voice she had heard calling out in her dream. She further explained how she found herself at the base of Wollomombi Falls - after seemingly falling into a picture of a triple rainbow, and that she had heard the same voice upon her arrival. In an attempt to discover the source, she had ended up in his cave.
“So, here I am and here, I guess, is your Key.” Ronnie held out her precious Iris Stone to the dragon, saddened at the thought of having to give it up, but aware of the fact that it had never rightfully been hers.
“I regret my former demeanor; please forgive my conduct,” Wollomombi responded humbly. “I did not realize the situation. I will attempt to make clear to you all that has happened since the Key came to you.
“Morpheus is the God of Dreams and, as such, can communicate with humans while they sleep. He has called out to the Key Keeper for a long time, but you could not hear him as you did not possess the Key until this day. I am sure that Pan entered your dream to lead you here, but could only bring your sleeping mind. The Magic of the Key brought you when you awakened. As the Key Keeper, you will see and hear things most Mortals dream not of.” Wollomombi had been settling into a comfortable position curled up on the pile of scales. He suddenly sprang to his feet. “But, we must away to Iridal. Let us waste no more time. You must find out what is needed there and remedy the situation at once!”
“Wait a minute! I don’t know how to help. I’m just a little girl not a magical being, and I do mean little. I’m even small for my age. I can’t possibly help a whole land.” She, again held the Iris Stone out to the dragon. “You take it back and you do whatever it is they need.”
“Ronnie Biv, your size has already proven useful. How else could you have entered my cavern? The Key may never have been revealed to me were it in the possession of a larger creature. No, the Key is no longer mine. Its Magic is yours to wield. You, Ronnie Biv, are Keeper of the Key, Protector of Iridal and all its inhabitants.”
“But, but,” Ronnie stammered, “I don’t know how to wield magic. I can’t even do card tricks without messing them up, let alone use magic to save Iridal.”
“You will learn,” Wollomombi assured her. “Once we enter Iridal, the inhabitants of that land will assist you and the magic will reveal itself to you. Come, we are wasting time. The cries of Morpheus are growing more desperate. They are penetrating the thick walls of my cave.” Ronnie listened and could hear the now-familiar voice crying out for help. “Climb onto my back. Hold on tight to Tilly and we will be there momentarily. Do not fear I would no more drop you than I would eat you.”
Although Ronnie still had many reservations, she coaxed Tilly up, up, up from Wollomombi’s tail to his slender neck. She perched in front of the last bump and wrapped her arms tightly around her confused pet and then around the neck of the dragon. “Okay, let’s go.” She tried to sound brave but could hear the tremor in her own voice. “I sure hope I don’t regret this.”
Wollomombi soared up into the vast reaches of the cave and through the opening he had created so very long ago. As promised, he didn’t drop them. They came to rest on the mountain top at the base of the Gateway. Just as Wollomombi had described, the colours of his scales mingled to produce the effect of a triple rainbow. This was, however, no ordinary arch of colour and light but a solid wall. In the lower right side of the arch was a small slot. Ronnie was led to it and instructed to insert the Key into the slot and to turn it clockwise three times. When she did so, the wall lost substance and became a transparent veil. Ronnie tentatively touched the Gateway and her hand penetrated it. When she pulled her hand back, she found it covered with shimmering droplets of colour. As she examined her hand she was reminded of one of her father’s stories:
One fine summer afternoon Ronnie had seen a hummingbird hovering overhead and asked her father what made its feathers shimmer. He replied that it had not always been the case. Hummingbirds used to have dull, colourless feathers until one adventurous bird flew through a rainbow and emerged sporting a rainbow of colour. The other hummingbirds were envious of his newfound beauty. Being of a kind and generous nature, he shared his secret with them. From that day to this, each young hummingbird receives its final flying lesson when a rainbow is in the sky and becomes a true flier only after passing through the rainbow and obtaining its colours.
Ronnie figured that if tiny birds could bravely pass beyond the rainbow without fear of harm so could she. She took a deep breath and stepped forward into the arch with Tilly and Wollomombi following close behind.