Clark Gillian

The Devious Dragon and the Fall of the Emperor


Chapter 28.
Light at the end of the tunnel.

Sunlight filtering through clouds peeked into the luxurious carriage, catching the little ghost prince's eye. "Papa, Papa!" he exclaimed, bouncing with excitement. "Look! Green fields, sparkling streams, and graceful willows – isn't it beautiful?"

The Emperor, normally stoic, couldn't help but soften at his son's wonder. "I see mostly dark clouds," he said, a hint of a smile playing on his lips. "And how do you know those are willows?"

"Look, Daddy, look! Riders!" the prince pointed excitedly.

The Emperor sighed. He knew. Guards surrounded them, a constant presence that once instilled pride, but now felt suffocating. A sensation he'd never known, and therefore ignored, gnawed at him.

"Papa, Papa, so many horses and soldiers!"

The carriage lurched, swerving sharply as if dodging something unseen. The air crackled with the clash of steel, swords singing their deadly song.

"Look, Papa! That man's clothes are so fancy!" the prince pointed towards a figure riding at the head of an approaching army. He stood on his horse, a feathered cloak swirling around him, and bowed deeply to the Emperor. To his right, another leader mirrored the gesture, both exuding an air of authority.

This was unlike anything the Emperor had ever encountered. A flicker of curiosity ignited within him, replacing the somberness.

The dream faded, leaving the Emperor gasping awake. Washed, perfumed, and clad in new garb, he found himself chained to the damp cellar wall once more. Helpless, he watched the cracks in the ceiling and walls widen with each tremor from the quake still rattling the capital. While the tremors themselves didn't bother him, they shattered his fleeting moments of solace, ripping him from dreams and memories as he awaited the Counselors' summons for the unwanted marriage.

Then, a violent tremor split the ceiling, dropping a massive stone beside him. "Guard!" he bellowed, panic rising. "Unchain me! The cellar's collapsing!"

Silence met his plea. The tremor rattled the cellar again, shaking everything loose. Without a backward glance, the guard fled up the stairs.

"Wait!" the Emperor screamed, watching giant stones fall around him, already entombing his cellmate. He braced himself for the inevitable arrival of the Dead Knight, accepting his fate.

The wall holding his chains began to crumble, sharp shards showering down. Miraculously, the bolts holding his chains loosened.

"Free!" he rasped.

The dungeon groaned in its final throes, collapsing around him. With no other escape, the Emperor scrambled into a widening crack, plunging into a cavernous darkness.

"Hello?" he cried, his voice swallowed by the vastness. Then, figures flickered in the distance.

"Stop!" he yelled, scrambling over rocky formations and dripping stalagmites. He drew closer, disbelief etching his face. Two cats, one wielding a luminous wand, the other crowned, alongside a black fox and a dog – all fleeing something unseen.

The tremors shook the cave once more. Drawn by the strange animal procession, the Emperor followed, his mind teetering on the edge of sanity. A chilling slithering grunt echoed behind him.

"Human flesh," a guttural voice shrieked, sending shivers down his spine. He dared a glance back, the flickering light revealing three monstrous dog heads towering above him.

"Human flesh, indeed," boomed the monster, its voice rolling like thunder as it caught the Emperor's scent.

One dog head lunged, teeth bared, but the Cat High Priest's wand flared, repelling the beast with a blinding flash. The light, however, proved barely enough. Two other heads snapped and clawed, the monster's hunger echoing from three throats at once:

"Oh, let me taste! I have an age-old hunger. Centuries in the making. A hunger that has been festering for years in the dark."

Terror gripped the Emperor. Tears and screams mingled as he scrambled, leaped, crawled, and squeezed through the jagged cave, dodging monstrous claws as the three-headed beast effortlessly obliterated stalactites and stone pillars in its pursuit.


Outside the city, the earthquake's final, shuddering breath tore open the farmlands. Where once a tiny cave entrance peeked at the world, now yawned a gaping maw. The crack, erupting from its subterranean prison, split right through the cheese farmer's land beyond the City of Trousers.

He watched in horror as half his flock vanished into the earth's sudden scar. Curiosity gnawed at him, urging him to explore the gaping wound. Following its jagged path, he reached the cavern entrance, the air thick with the monstrous growls of a three-headed beast.

News of the farmer's discovery spread like wildfire. Whispers of angry spirits tearing open the land drew curious townsfolk from Trousers. They gathered, straining their ears to the gurgling, barking, meowing, screaming, and howling emanating from the depths. Not everyone could stomach the sounds, but those who braved them debated at length the source of this unearthly symphony.

Soon, rumors twisted the crack into a portal for vengeful spirits, attracting even more gawkers. Before the farmer knew it, his land sprawled under the weight of over a hundred curious eyes and pricked ears.

Desperate, the farmer pleaded for help banishing the spirits. With these unwelcome guests haunting his soil, the rennet in his sheep's milk would be ruined, rendering his renowned cheese unfit for the breakfast tables in the City of Trousers. And everyone knew – the lack of his sheep cheese would turn any rest day sour.

Remembering the old wives' tales - how fireworks could break the clouds and coax stubborn rain, residents dug deep into dusty attics and forgotten sheds. Rockets, sparklers, and Catherine wheels, usually reserved for coaxing rain from stubborn skies, were unearthed and brought to the sheep farmer's land. With nervous hands, they lit the fuses, sending bursts into the crack.

The darkness echoed with the Emperor's hoarse screams, his voice worn ragged from terror. Bruised and battered by falling debris, he scrambled up the rough rock face, fueled by pure fear and the faint light filtering from the cave entrance above. He couldn't afford fatigue; the monstrous growls were his constant reminder.

Then, a shrill whistle sliced through the air, followed by a blinding flash. A flare arced past him, exploding near the three-headed beast with a deafening crackle. More flares rained down, illuminating the cavern with bursts of vibrant defiance. The emperor clawed his way forward, every muscle screaming in protest, the noise and light a chaotic symphony.

Disoriented and overwhelmed, the three-headed dog retreated deeper into the shadows, howling in protest against the assault on its senses. Seizing its moment, the Cat High Priest, Cat King, Black Fox, and Ferocious Watchdog emerged from the crack, bathed in the dying embers of the fireworks.

The townsfolk gaped in astonished silence. Some whispered of omens, others of ghosts, but none dared to make a move. Finally, the Emperor stumbled out, his ears ringing from the explosions, his clothes blackened with soot. The smoke and ash swirling around him added to the terrifying image, and as he reached for help, the crowd recoiled in fear.

"Demon!" they shrieked, "Monster!" 

The Emperor pleaded with the townspeople, but his cries dissolved into raspy croaks, his words lost in the panic. All he wanted was a simple "thank you," but what emerged was a guttural sound, barely human.

Panic turned the growls of the unseen monster into the Emperor's desperate pleas. The townsfolk, consumed by terror, saw only a filthy figure emerging from the darkness, and mistook him for the source of their fear. So, the poor man was clubbed to death to save the sheep farmer’s remaining goats and their luscious udders that bring forth the best milk to make cheese from. The dead body was dragged away and tied with large stones and thrown into the large lake in the middle of the City of Trousers.

A chilling silence followed the brutal act. Relief quickly morphed into unease as they dispersed, leaving the sheep farmer alone with the weight of their mistake. He spotted a glint – the Emperor's emblem, now tarnished and soiled. Shame washed over him like the cool lake water cleansing the body at the bottom.

"What have we done?" he whispered, the question echoing in the vast emptiness. He imagined the still figure, adrift in the depths of the lake.

"We have cursed ourselves."

The sheep farmer's cheese never tasted the same after that day.