Clark Gillian

The Devious Dragon and the Fall of the Emperor


Chapter 17.
New foundations.

"The whole cat city," rasped the Cat King, his voice thick with sorrow, "is nothing but a lid. And the time to lift it... has come."

He trudged across the vast Cat Square, flanked by the Cat High Priest, the cunning Black Fox, and the ever-watchful Watchdog. Sunlight streamed down like golden pillars, highlighting the last exodus of felines scrambling up the cavern steps to safety. His beloved Cat Boulevard, once bustling with life, lay eerily quiet.

"But why let your city perish?" the Black Fox finally broke the silence, his voice edged with disbelief. "This glorious place, built within the belly of the earth... why condemn it to oblivion?"

The Cat King sighed, the sound echoing in the hollow space. "Because within this greatest well lies the greatest darkness," he said, his voice heavy with portent. "Monsters. Challenges. A power beyond imagining."

"But why unleash it then, Your Majesty?" the Black Fox pressed, bewildered. "Why open a sealed tomb so meticulously preserved for generations?"

The Cat King remained silent, his gaze fixed on the departing cats. The High Priest, their religious leader, offered a solemn nod, confirming the king's unspoken decision.

"And are we even safe here?" the Fox's voice trembled, breaking the heavy silence.

"No," the King finally answered, his voice low and grave. "We are not."

The air crackled with unspoken tension. The impending sacrifice of their city hung heavy in the air, a shroud of uncertainty woven with unspoken questions. The final act was set in motion, and there was no turning back.

"A heavy heart weighs me down," the Cat King confessed, his eyes clouded with grief. "But with each painful beat, it reminds me why this must be. We cannot linger in the clutches of the past, bound by fear. It's time for a new chapter, a city bathed in sunshine, not shrouded in shadows!" He gestured towards the departing cats, their silhouettes disappearing into the light. "There, amidst the warmth of the sun, lies our true destiny."

The Black Fox, ever pragmatic, nodded in agreement. While the city's beauty tugged at his heart, he couldn't deny the cats deserved a life above ground, like any other creature. Yet, a pang of loss echoed within him. This subterranean marvel, a testament to feline ingenuity, would succumb to the earth's embrace.

Sensing his hesitation, the Cat King spoke, his voice laced with knowledge. "The pit's secrets remain veiled to you, Black Fox, but soon, its depths will unveil themselves."

A solemn chant rose from the High Priest's throat, accompanied by the Watchdog's muffled whimpers. "The tremors shake the world's core," the Priest intoned, "releasing the imprisoned monstrosities regardless of our will. Better to face them on our own terms, prepared and resolute."

"Our strength lies in unity and knowledge," the King declared, his gaze unwavering. "We stand ready, not with blind hope, but with the wisdom of generations."

The Black Fox sighed, the gravity of their words settling upon him like a heavy cloak. Perhaps their fear had painted a darker picture than reality. But then again, perhaps years spent underground had blinded them to the true nature of the threat they were about to unleash.

The Watchdog, ever watchful, maintained a stoic silence. Though unused to the absence of clear commands, she followed, her suppressed rage simmering beneath the surface. Finally, her voice broke the tense silence. "Can we truly vanquish what we've caged for so long?" she rasped, her question echoing in the cavernous chamber.

The High Priest's eyes squeezed shut, a deep breath escaping his throat in a sigh so long it spoke volumes of his exasperation. Finally, he spoke, each word laced with restrained annoyance. "Yes," he conceded.

"And how, pray tell, do you propose using your little book against this 'greatest danger', this monstrous entity you fear from the well?" The Black Fox's voice dripped with sarcasm, barely containing a burst of laughter. Even the stoic Watchdog, despite her efforts to remain stern, cracked a smile.

A book? Against some mythical well-monster? The absurdity seemed lost on the High Priest and the King, who waited patiently for the laughter to subside.

"It seems you underestimate the power of knowledge," the High Priest finally retorted, a hint of smugness in his tone. Without another word, they turned and pressed deeper into the cavernous depths, leaving the Fox and the Watchdog to exchange bewildered glances.

The journey further into the earth intensified the darkness. They traversed vast chambers and cramped passageways, water dripping from unseen crevices like ancient tears. The High Priest held aloft a flickering torch, his other paw clutching the enigmatic book close.

"Almost there," the King murmured, his voice echoing strangely in the oppressive silence.

The Black Fox and the Watchdog held their tongues, stunned by the alien beauty and haunting eeriness of this subterranean world. Finally, the High Priest stopped, his voice low and hushed.

"We're here."

They stood at the precipice of a cavern far grander than anything illuminated by their torch. Darkness stretched into the abyss, deeper than they'd ever witnessed.

"Careful where you step, Watchdog," the King warned, his paw outstretched towards the yawning chasm.

"It's pitch black in here!" she snarled, frustration lacing her voice. "I can't see a thing!"

The King's reply was calm, almost chilling. "Of course. Only cats can see well here."

And as he spoke, the ground beneath them began to tremble, a low rumble growing in intensity.

The Black Fox and Watchdog exchanged a wary glance, their initial amusement replaced by a gnawing sense of unease. What exactly had they signed up for?

While the High Priest mumbled what seemed like an ineffectual prayer, the Fox grew impatient. "Enough riddles! Spill the beans, what lurks in this infernal pit?"

Undeterred, the Priest finished his incantation and placed the book ceremoniously on a perfectly-carved altar. He began to weave a tale, his voice echoing eerily in the vast chamber.

"Centuries ago," he intoned, "cats and dogs coexisted peacefully under a benevolent Emperor. Harmony prevailed, though human leadership, as ever, was a fickle entity. Some emperors ruled with wisdom, others... not so much. But none matched the sheer tyranny of the one who followed. Obsessed with power, he craved an equally formidable companion. Blinded by ambition, he ordered the breeding of a monstrous dog, forged from the fiercest, most ruthless canines in his empire. He inflicted unspeakable suffering to achieve this unholy creation, and eventually, his wish twisted reality - a three-headed behemoth emerged, a testament to his depravity."

The Black Fox stole a glance at the Watchdog, whose jaw hung slack, a trail of drool escaping her mouth. He shuddered, the image of the monstrous hound burning into his mind.

"This unholy creation served as the Emperor's ultimate weapon," the High Priest continued, his voice dropping to a chilling whisper. "No opposition dared raise its head. Any dissent was met with swift, brutal annihilation. The Emperor's will became law, no matter how monstrous his demands."

"Then came the inevitable," the High Priest's voice resonated in the cavernous darkness. "The people, their leaders alongside them, could no longer tolerate the suffocating shadow cast by the tyrant's reign. Rebellion flared, swords were drawn, and the land echoed with the clash of war."

Yet, the Emperor and his monstrous hound proved undeterred. Like macabre reflections of their creator's ambition, they grew stronger with each battle, fueled by the very conflict they unleashed. A chilling despair settled over the populace. What hope remained when rebellion and escape offered only swift, merciless ends? Life under the Emperor's thumb became a grim pantomime, each breath a testament to his oppressive power.

"The three-headed fiend ruled as an extension of the Emperor's will," the High Priest continued, his voice dropping to a mournful cadence. "Everything, everyone, bent to its whim, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake. A darkness descended, suffocating joy and goodness with its cold embrace."

This darkness, he explained, twisted the very fabric of their society. Dogs, once cherished companions, became instruments of the regime, their purpose reduced to serving the Emperor's every command. No longer watchdogs guarding homes, they now patrolled the streets, enforcing the oppressive order. A twisted pride swelled within them, fueled by the monstrous hound that mirrored their kind, however corrupted. The human world, meanwhile, endured an era of unimaginable suffering, trapped in a cage of their own making.

The High Priest paused, letting the weight of his words sink in. Both the Black Fox and the Angry Watchdog trembled, the sheer horror of the tale surpassing their expectations. 

"But then," the High Priest's voice boomed in the cavern, a flicker of defiance cutting through the darkness, "the cats rose! For even if dogs had resigned themselves to a life under the iron fist, such servitude held no appeal for felinekind. After all, cats too held humans dear, and wouldn't stand idly by as their delightful world turned into a harsh nightmare."

He described how the cats, ever resourceful and cunning, united under a shared purpose. Venturing deep into the emerald embrace of the forest, they sought the wisdom of the enigmatic Seer. An icy stare, sharper than any claw, pierced the very soul of the then-reigning Cat King as she unveiled a book, an artifact imbued with the power to bridge the worlds of mortals and faeries.

"The fairy world?" the Black Fox interjected, skepticism lacing his voice.

"Unite?" echoed the Watchdog, her gruff tone mirroring his confusion.

But the High Priest, consumed by the narrative, pressed on. The ancient Cat King, with unwavering resolve, utilized the book's magic. From its pages, ethereal elves poured forth, their otherworldly grace a stark contrast to the oppressive reality they faced. Together, cats and elves devised a plan as audacious as it was unorthodox.

"Fighting is futile," declared the Cat King, his voice echoing in the cavernous chamber. "We require a different approach."

The elves, with their otherworldly perspective, proposed a strategy that defied conventional logic. They argued that within the monstrous dog's immense strength lay its ultimate weakness. Its very size, its overwhelming power, created an inherent imbalance, a vulnerability waiting to be exploited.

"But how can such strength be a weakness?" the bewildered cats inquired.

With ethereal visions flickering into existence, the elves painted a future: the monstrous hound, consumed by its own immensity, tripping over its own power and plummeting into an abyss as deep as its own darkness. The fall would be monumental, a testament to the inherent flaw within its monstrous form.

"This is the way of the wheel," the High Priest concluded, his voice resonating with ancient wisdom. "Ever turning, ever finding balance."

The Watchdog, enthralled by the narrative, shivered, her fur rippling.

"And in the grand clash of fangs and claws," the High Priest boomed, his voice echoing off the cavern walls, "the feline warriors lured the monstrous hound to the brink of the great well. A blinding flash of elven light momentarily stunned the beast, and with a synchronized pounce, the cats swarmed its colossal paws. Unable to withstand its own immense weight, the three-headed terror tumbled forward, an unstoppable descent into the yawning abyss."

With each plummeting meter, the elves chanted, their voices weaving magic around the falling behemoth. Stone slabs rumbled to life, shifting and sealing the well shut, entombing the creature in the darkness from which it came. Upon these very slabs, our glorious Cat City was built, a watchful guardian standing vigilant over the imprisoned evil. This altar, too, bears testament to that fateful victory, patiently waiting for the day the monster must be faced anew.

Silence descended upon the chamber, the story's weight settling heavily on the Black Fox and the Watchdog. They exchanged bewildered glances, the enormity of the tale sinking in.

"All this time, the beast remained captive," the Black Fox finally spoke, his voice barely a whisper. "Only to be released again?"

"The Seer's words resonate even today," the High Priest declared, his voice echoing off the stone walls. "Keep the monster locked until you are ready to face it once more."

The Watchdog growled, a low rumble emanating from her throat. "But why now?" she demanded, her voice thick with suspicion. "This tale, while captivating, leaves much unanswered. Why unleash this darkness upon the world once more?"

The Cat King stepped forward, his eyes gleaming with a deep-seated conviction. "Another monster stirs in the human realm," he announced, his voice resonating with power. "This creature, far more insidious than the three-headed hound, wields both light and darkness to manipulate and deceive. It claims to offer the world salvation while stealing it piece by piece."

As his words faded, the ground trembled with renewed vigor. From the depths of the sealed well, a guttural howl erupted, raw and ancient, scraping against their souls like rusted claws. It was a sound of monstrous hunger, of power yearning to be unleashed. The echo danced in the darkness, a chilling harbinger of what was to come.

"Who speaks?!" the monstrous voice boomed, shaking the very bones of the Black Fox and the Watchdog. They clung to each other instinctively, fear radiating from their trembling forms.

The High Priest, however, remained calm, gesturing for the Black Fox to activate the next lever on the book. But the Fox, frozen in terror, could only stand shivering, unable to obey. Recognizing his fear, the Cat King placed a reassuring paw on his shoulder.

"We knew the monsters resided within our well," the King whispered, his voice a soothing balm in the echoing chamber. "It was always our choice to face them, no one else's. We imprisoned them, and we alone hold the key to their release."

Finding strength in the King's words, the Black Fox squeezed his eyes shut and pressed the lever. A tense silence followed, laden with the anticipation of impending doom. The Cat King glanced at the High Priest, who continued chanting arcane words under his breath, words the others could not decipher.

Suddenly, the ground split open with a bone-jarring screech. Stone slabs, as vast as entire castles, rumbled upwards and downwards, creating a gaping maw in the earth. From the abyss, a whirlwind of darkness erupted, a swirling mass of countless black birds resembling a monstrous, living cloud. They screeched past the group, blotting out the faint light and plunging them into deeper gloom.

The slabs shuddered to a halt, revealing an aperture larger than their wildest imaginations. Darkness, thicker than ink, seemed to ooze from its depths, and within it, a chilling sight: six eyes, glowing with an unholy red fire.

The Watchdog, her bravery pushed to its limit, let out a low growl. The Black Fox, though still trembling, stood taller, a glimmer of determination replacing his fear. The Cat King, his fur bristling with anticipation, unsheathed his claws. Their unexpected visitor had arrived, and the fate of their world now hung in the balance.

And in the greatest darkness, six red eyes appeared.