Clark Gillian

The Devious Dragon and the Fall of the Emperor


Chapter 4.
An unexpected visitor.

Sunlight streamed through the window, dappling the fox's tower with warmth. Outside, the memory of the soldier's pursuit still tingled in his paws, fueling his unease. Inside, the ever-studious dwarf sat hunched over his books, oblivious to the fox's anxieties.

"What profound knowledge are you gleaning today, friend?" the fox asked, his voice tinged with boredom.

"Much," the dwarf muttered, barely looking up.

"Always the same answer," the fox sighed, rolling onto his back with a theatrical flourish. "You're no fun at all."

The dwarf shrugged, his eyes glued to the page. Frustration bubbling, the fox padded over, eyeing the books with suspicion. "Surely some of those tomes hold stories more exciting than dried ink!"

The dwarf finally closed his book, revealing a weary smile. "Perhaps. But knowledge is its own adventure, wouldn't you agree?"

"Adventure indeed," the fox scoffed, "but an adventure for the mind, not the belly! Speaking of which, did you remember our rations?"

"Berries I collected," the dwarf offered, gesturing towards a small bowl.

"Berries?" the fox wrinkled his nose. "My dear dwarf, you forget the importance of proper nourishment! My magnificent coat, wouldn't you agree, deserves a feast fit for a king, not a field mouse!"

He paced the room, his voice rising with mock indignation. "Humans understand such things! Their insatiable desire for beauty would compel them to see the value in my fur, its softness, its exquisite blackness... perhaps too well! Imagine, dear dwarf, the horror of being transformed into a mere scarf!"

The dwarf chuckled, a twinkle in his eye. "Weren't you quite fond of the Witch, a human after all? Didn't she appreciate your coat without resorting to such drastic measures?"

The fox froze, his bluster fading. "Well, yes, but..." He trailed off, a thoughtful glint replacing his annoyance.

Fury contorted the fox's face as he roared, his spittle spraying the dwarf's beard. "Human? Don't insult me! First, a witch she claims to be, then she morphs into a princess right before our eyes, using nothing but moonlight! Remember that?"

"I do," the dwarf muttered, dodging another spray.

"Then she's not human at all, she's a chameleon, a trickster!" the fox shrieked, his voice echoing in the dusty chamber.

The dwarf sighed, rubbing his damp beard. "Witchcraft works in mysterious ways. Now leave me be, I'm engrossed in my studies."

The fox paused, his fury simmering. "Fine," he growled, his voice dropping to a sly purr. "But let's change the subject. Any chance of a demonstration of your newfound knowledge? This boredom is gnawing at me."

The dwarf finally cracked a smile, his eyes twinkling. "Very well, if it silences your incessant whining!"

The fox bounced on his paws, excitement replacing his earlier anger. He perched eagerly in front of the dwarf, his hunger forgotten.

"Excellent. Watch closely!" The dwarf plucked a plump peach, its skin glowing faintly in the moonlight. He dunked it in a bucket of water, the liquid catching the light like scattered jewels. With a whispered incantation and a snap of his fingers, the room dimmed as if a veil was drawn over the moon.

The fox, mesmerized, leaned closer, his snout twitching at the strange light show. The water, now swirling with silver energy, began to suck in the moonlight, leaving the room in an eerie half-light. A gasp escaped his lips as a single, tender shoot erupted from the water, reaching for the moonlit ceiling.

It grew with astonishing speed, its leaves shimmering with moonlight, until it formed a miniature tree, its branches casting intricate patterns on the floor. The fox's eyes widened, his jaw agape. To their amazement, roots burst from the bottom of the bucket, embedding themselves firmly into the wooden floorboards.

"Incredible! Marvelous!" the fox exclaimed, his voice bubbling with wonder. He danced around the tree, his excitement infectious. "More! Do it again!"

The dwarf gaped at the miniature tree, his mind struggling to comprehend his own feat. Before he could stammer out a word, a chilling voice sliced through the room.

"Impressive," it said, slithering down the windowsill. A small white snake, its scales glittering like moonlight, regarded them with ruby eyes. "But what use is a peach tree in the middle of a room?"

The fox and the dwarf exchanged bewildered glances. This uninvited guest, making himself comfortable with unsettling ease, left them speechless.

"Though," the snake added, its voice like music laced with honey, "the question I truly wonder is what you intend to do with it."

The dwarf, ever gentle, mumbled, "I hadn't considered that."

But the fox, ears laid flat against his skull, had no patience for philosophical riddles. "Who are you, and what brings you to my tower?" he growled, his voice low and dangerous.

"Your tower?" the snake echoed, its smile stretching into something unsettling.

"Yes, mine," the fox spat, a hint of defensiveness creeping into his voice. "Acquired fairly, I assure you."

"Fairly?" the snake chuckled, the sound slithering across the room like smoke. "Interesting interpretation."

"Listen, snake," the fox snarled, stepping closer. "Whether it was a gift, a purchase, or..."

"Stolen?" the snake interjected, its eyes gleaming.

"Built by my own paws! Regardless, it's mine. Now, answer my question. Who are you, and why are you intruding?"

The snake seemed unfazed by the fox's outburst, continuing its leisurely advance towards the tree. "Merely a friend," it replied, its voice smooth as silk. "One with a few questions... and perhaps a request or two."

The dwarf, ever cautious, raised a brow. "A friend we haven't met before, you say?"

"Oh," the snake hissed, a playful glint in its red eyes, "haven't you heard the saying? Strangers are merely friends you haven't met yet."

The snake's bow was unsettling, its forced politeness sending shivers down the spines of the Fox and the Dwarf. They huddled closer, eyes locked on the slithering creature.

"If 'friend' feels premature," the snake hissed, its voice slithering over them like cold silk, "call me an...assistant, of sorts." It began to encircle the bucket, and a chilling transformation unfolded. The tree's vibrant leaves morphed into sickly shades of yellow, red, and finally brown, before withering and falling onto the floor. The once-proud trunk twisted and shrunk, contorting under the snake's constricting grip. With a final splash, both snake and withered tree vanished into the bucket's water.

A moment later, the snake reemerged, its mouth clamped around the now-deflated and wrinkled peach. It slithered towards them, the silence in the room thick with tension. With a loud crack, it devoured the fruit whole.

"My pleasure," the snake said, bowing again with a mock flourish.

Hesitantly, the Dwarf mumbled a "thank you," while the Fox remained silent, his features stormy.

"But tell me," the snake continued, its voice now laced with curiosity, "I met someone who once called this tower home. She requested I retrieve certain items. Might you be familiar with the Witch?"

The Fox shot out, "Do you know her?"

The snake paused, its red eyes glinting as it slithered closer. "In a way," it murmured, ignoring the Fox and turning to the Dwarf. "I seek a book of fairy tales, brimming with vibrant pictures. Given your studious nature, I'm certain you know where such a treasure might be hidden within this...little tower?"

"Little?!" the Fox snarled, but the snake paid him no heed.

The Dwarf, his hands instinctively clutching the book close to his chest, noticed the tremor in his voice as he replied, "My friend, fulfill this request, and I assure you, wonders beyond your imagination await, just as you demonstrated moments ago."

Terror choked the Dwarf, rendering him mute. Even as the snake's voice purred promises of unimaginable knowledge, its reptilian gaze, unblinking and cold, sent shivers down the Dwarf's spine.

The Fox, his amber eyes narrowed, watched the tense exchange. Fear twisted in his gut, but a defiant instinct to protect the Dwarf flared up. "Just take your book and leave us be!" he roared, snapping the spellbinding stare.

The snake's smile widened, the scales on its throat rippling with amusement. "Indeed, once I have the book, your company will no longer be required. One wouldn't wish to impose, wouldn't you agree?"

Shamefaced, the Dwarf mumbled, "I... I believe I saw one in the next room."

"Excellent," the serpent hissed, its forked tongue flicking. "Lead the way, if you please."

As the Dwarf took the lead, the Fox followed warily, his gaze fixated on the snake. He watched, his fur prickling, as the creature paused near a bookshelf, snatching two or three books with unnerving speed and stuffing them into a silver box that seemed to pulsate with strange energy. He swallowed the box whole, leaving the Fox awestruck and uneasy. His mind refused to grapple with the impossible sight, just as long as the snake left their tower quickly.

With each book devoured, the snake's body grew thinner, its menace seeming to diminish. "Thank you, kind gentlemen," it rasped, its voice losing its earlier charm. "For now, this suffices."

"Good riddance!" the Fox spat, relieved.

The Dwarf remained silent, eyes wide with apprehension.

The snake slithered towards the window, its voice dripping with unsettling insincerity. "Consider it a parting gift. After all, you both seemed famished."

With a final glint from its reptilian eyes, the snake vanished into the night.

Trembling, the Fox and the Dwarf rushed downstairs. On the welcome mat, as promised, lay a gruesome feast: rabbits, mice, and a frog, their lifeless forms stark against the wood.

The Dwarf recoiled, his voice barely a whisper. "That's your kind of food?"

The Fox, staring numbly at the offering, shook his head.

"Sometimes," he replied, his voice hollow.

"But I'm not that hungry anymore."