Clark Gillian

The Devious Dragon and the Fall of the Emperor


Chapter 30.
The compass.

The Black Fox and the Fool lay locked in a feverish slumber, no earthly remedy reaching their fitful dreams. Yet, within that slumber, their minds intertwined, weaving a tapestry of shared memories. The Fool saw the Fox's journey from the witch's tower to the unsealing, while the Fox witnessed the Fool's life unfold, from the formative encounter with the Enchanted Deer to the Elven horn's bestowal.

In the shifting landscape of dreams, they found themselves face-to-face. "What is this place?" the Fool inquired, disoriented.

"Stuck in memories, I'd wager," the Black Fox replied, a hint of amusement in his voice. "Rather enlightening, isn't it? Glimpsing your forgotten paths."

Thus began their tranquil exploration, retracing the steps of their intertwined pasts.

Meanwhile, the Princess stirred fitfully, the image of the vanishing dragon burning in her mind. Dawn found the Countess beside her, face etched with concern. The arrival of the High Priest from the City of Trousers demanded their immediate departure.

"Dear," the Countess spoke softly, hesitant under the weight of her hidden powers, "The High Priest awaits in the City of Trousers. Our carriage stands ready."

The Princess recoiled. "I... I have no desire for marriage. I long to be with my other half, to see my family. Now."

The Countess concealed her tremor, the serpent's chilling command echoing within her. "Princess, your contributions to the castle's restoration have been invaluable. Now, it's time to build your own future. Though marriage may not be your desire," she admitted carefully, "the matter of your crown requires discussion."

"My crown?"

"Indeed, Princess. Without claiming it," the Countess pressed, her voice veiled, "who will truly heed your voice? Remember, unclaimed, your story risks... fading.”

A flicker of anger sparked in the Princess's eyes. "I am the Emperor's daughter," she declared, her voice firm. "Need I claim what is already mine?"

The Countess's smile didn't quite reach her eyes. "Indeed, Princess. But remember, it's not the Emperor who crowns you. Perhaps the High Priest has insights you lack."

The Princess frowned, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. "The High Priest?"

"Precisely, child. A conversation might prove enlightening," the Countess urged, her voice veiled. "To truly understand your crown..."

"My crown," the Princess echoed, bewildered by the lingering effects of her troubled sleep. "Yes, of course. It wouldn't hurt to discuss it."


Within the City of Trousers, the temple loomed, a titan crafted from cold stone. Stern statues, guardians of ancient knowledge, held its weight aloft. Upon the floor, intricately carved stones bore witness to long-forgotten heroes, their secrets emanating a chilling odor. Young priests, battling the stench with pungent incense, danced amongst them.

Here, hats were mandatory. The Countess provided one for the Princess, subtly scented to shield her from the subterranean miasma. Stained-glass windows cast vibrant pools of light, while soaring ceilings transformed whispers into echoing chants. In the distance, a choir's rehearsal resonated like a hymn for the gods.

Pillars, thicker than trees, housed paintings the size of houses. "Such human marvels," the Princess murmured, "born from dreams and given form."

Suddenly, a voice boomed, heavy with age and power, tinged with a curious sadness. It belonged to the High Priest himself, currently receiving a tour from his Delegate Deputy, the familiar face from the City of Acorns.

The High Priest's booming voice faltered, laden with sudden grief. As if burdened by unseen sorrow, he fell to his knees before an altar intricately carved with a majestic tree. Instantly, priests and disciples followed suit, kneeling in unison.

"My soul yearns for solace," he intoned, "seeking rest near the Tree of Life amidst the Sea of Eternity. My heart echoes the sparrow finding its haven. Blessed are those who tend the gardens of light, aligned with the celestial rhythm."

The Princess, eyes closed, immersed herself in the prayer's atmosphere. Unnoticed, the Delegate had ushered the High Priest to her side. When she finally opened her eyes, they stood directly before her.

"Your Grace," the Delegate announced, "The Princess returns."

A curt bow from both, then the High Priest spoke, his voice weathered by time. "Welcome back, child. But what draws you home this time?"

"Home?" Confusion painted the Princess's face. "Forgive me, what do you mean?"

"Your return," the High Priest elaborated.

Until now, the reason for their return remained unaddressed. Caught in the flow of events, the Princess almost forgot their purpose. Memories flooded back - the fairy realm, the serpent, the books, the Enchanted Deer.

"I… It was…" she stammered, searching for the right words. "A thirst for knowledge. A yearning to understand…"

The High Priest stroked his chin, a fleeting glint igniting his emerald eyes. "And what knowledge compels you to abandon the fairy realm for our mortal world?"

"Everything!" The Princess's voice rang with sudden certainty. "Everything you can teach me!"

The High Priest threw back his head in laughter, glancing at the Delegate with amusement. "Everything, hmm? Perhaps the tables are turned, child. We might learn much from you as well!"

"From me?" The Princess's brow furrowed. "About what?"

"About your adventures in the fairy realm," the High Priest replied, his gaze twinkling. "Surely tales of that fantastical world would be invaluable knowledge indeed."

"Indeed," the Delegate chimed in, a nervous edge to his voice. "Forgive me, Princess, but the thought hadn't occurred to me either."

The High Priest chuckled, his aged eyes twinkling. "Even a delegate learns something new every day, wouldn't you agree?"

His gaze shifted to his flock. "This question applies to all of you. You gather here to learn, but why? Speak now, what drives your pursuit of knowledge?"

Silence descended, the young priests fidgeting under his scrutiny, afraid to utter the wrong word. Sensing their unease, the High Priest softened his tone.

"Remember, knowledge without purpose is but an empty vessel," he declared. "Learning without knowing why is akin to gathering stones blindly. Does it not ring true?"

Murmurs of agreement rippled through the crowd. The Princess, observing their reactions, couldn't help but wonder.

"But how does one find that purpose?" she inquired, her voice echoing in the vast hall.

"Purpose," the High Priest mused, "is your compass, child. It guides you on your journey, dictating the path you choose."

He gestured towards a colossal painting adorning the opposite wall. Its canvas was divided, showcasing two contrasting worlds: on one side, a bustling city of stone and steel, on the other, a vibrant forest teeming with mythical creatures, the Enchanted Deer hidden amongst its verdant depths.

"Imagine each book, each lesson as a stone you collect," he continued, his voice steady. "With a compass guiding your way, you can arrange these stones, building your path one by one. This, child, is how you forge your own destiny."

The priests seemed satisfied, nodding in unison. The Princess, however, remained contemplative. The High Priest's words resonated within her, but a gnawing uncertainty lingered.

"Yet, wouldn't learning without purpose, without direction, be akin to simply standing still?" she pressed, her voice carrying a hint of frustration. "And what becomes of all the stones, unaligned and unguided?"

The High Priest's words hung heavy, echoing in the vast hall. His gaze swept across the assembled faces, settling on the young priests, their expressions mirroring the Princess's contemplative frown.

"Indeed," he boomed, his voice thundering like a distant storm. "Without purpose, each stone you gather becomes another brick in a lonely tower, built high by knowledge yet isolating in its solitude. From its lofty heights, you may see much, but the view comes at a cost - your own seclusion."

Silence swallowed the room, punctuated only by the faint strains of a distant choir. The Princess and the young priests exchanged troubled glances, the High Priest's words striking a chord within each of them.

His gaze shifted, falling upon the figures of the City Guard and counselors lurking at the temple's rear, their faces etched with the memory of past threats and harassment. With a sigh heavy with grief, the High Priest raised his voice, ensuring his message reached every ear within the temple walls.

"Hear now a tale," he proclaimed, "a cautionary whisper of those trapped within such ivory towers of knowledge. They, believing their towers held all there was to know, grew deaf to the voices of others. Sadly, they never grasped the profound truth: every life, regardless of its stature, holds a lesson to be learned. And when their final hour arrives, a chilling question echoes in their hearts - 'What was the purpose of all my knowledge, now that my time is at an end?'"

"The only consolation they give themselves in their passing," the High Priest concluded, "is the hope that someone, someday, will find their treasures and, unlike them, know how to use them."

A heavy silence blanketed the temple. The Princess and the young priests pondered the High Priest's story, its message resonating deeply.

Just as the High Priest turned to address the Princess, a sudden tremor shook the temple. A roaring wind slammed open all doors and windows, extinguishing the sunlight and sending shivers down spines. Panic welled in the faces as they looked out to see the sun, moon, and stars dimmed to a worrying blackness. Forked lightning illuminated the storm clouds, each flash followed by a deafening crack of thunder that sent people scrambling for cover.

Everyone held their breath, fearing the celestial bodies might truly vanish. Amidst the chaos, the Princess scanned the square outside the temple. The once peaceful gathering had erupted into pandemonium. Then, a figure emerged from the throng, walking with determined strides towards her. It was the Countess, her face etched with urgency.

Reaching the Princess, the Countess grabbed her arm firmly. "

"You're getting married. Now!"


Deep within a forbidden, hidden place unknown to mortals, the serpent hissed softly to the Dwarf. "Those Five Giants boast about their size," he declared, "but size alone holds little worth!"

"Little worth?" echoed the Dwarf, eyes wide with curiosity.

"Indeed!" The snake slithered onto the Dwarf's shoulders, peering into his face, his forked tongue flickering near his nose. "I could have grown as vast as those titans myself," he boasted, "but for now, my dwarven friend, I remain small and hidden until my plans bloom."

"I understand," the Dwarf nodded, having been tutored in ancient magics for months by the serpent in this subterranean haven. Here, amidst forgotten tomes brimming with the lost magic of old, the serpent had promised the Dwarf his heart's desire - on one condition: bring his friends.

And so, the Dwarf had led his companions to this forbidden chamber. Now, twenty nervous Dwarves watched in awe as the talking serpent, sporting two obsidian wings, coiled around their friend. A single droplet of water dripped from the high ceiling, which the serpent lapped up with his forked tongue.

"Remember," he hissed in the torch-lit chamber, "when I aided you with that peach conjured from a bucket of water?"

"Vividly!" exclaimed the Dwarf, his eyes sparkling.

"And did I not promise to unveil more wonders? To impart knowledge?"

"Indeed, you did," the Dwarf confirmed, anticipation rising.

"The time has come," the serpent declared.

The Dwarf leaned forward, eagerness mirroring his companions' expressions.

"Gather closer," the serpent beckoned, gesturing with his forked tongue towards a chair positioned within a shallow pool of water. "See this? Similar to your bucket during your peach conjuring in the witch's tower."

The Purple Dwarf hesitated, glancing at his friends who shrugged uncertainly. He then turned back to the serpent, who smiled broadly and pointed again with his tongue. With a deep breath, the Dwarf stepped into the cool water, shivering under the serpent's observant gaze.

"Fear not, little Dwarf," the serpent soothed, "your feet will soon be dry, and then - the true spectacle."

He then inquired, with the Dwarf seated in the water-filled chair, about the Dwarf's thirst for knowledge and power.

"The more I know," the Dwarf replied, "the more I can accomplish."

"And what do you desire to accomplish?" the serpent probed.

"That depends on the knowledge I acquire," the Dwarf cautiously answered.

"Typically," the serpent mused, "individuals seek knowledge to achieve something... to be something. Smarter, more beautiful, wealthier, faster, stronger, finer... better!"

"Perhaps," the Dwarf conceded.

"That's the allure!" the serpent hissed, his voice filled with excitement. "The anticipation alone fills you with power, doesn't it? To be superior? To possess abilities beyond others? Something unique to you? Something... better?"

The Dwarf gazed down at his submerged feet, lost in thought.

"This feeling is foreign to me," he confessed. "All I ever managed was to make people laugh. But why they laughed, I never understood."

"What then, do you truly desire?" the serpent persisted, his voice edged with urgency. "What yearning gnaws at you beyond those who mocked you?"

With a mumbled whisper, the Dwarf revealed a secret wish he'd confided only to himself in moments of despair. The serpent, however, caught every word.

"Speak louder!" the serpent commanded, his eyes gleaming.

Tears welled up in the Dwarf's eyes as he cried out, "I wish I were bigger!"

"Yes!" the serpent exclaimed triumphantly. "That's the answer I craved!"

With a swift dive into the water, the serpent emerged with two additional wings, his form growing monstrously larger. He then coiled himself around the Purple Dwarf, squeezing tighter and tighter until he towered nearly two stories tall! The other Dwarves watched in stunned silence as the serpent finally retreated back into the water, revealing their friend transformed - no longer a Dwarf, but a towering giant!

The newly-formed giant marveled at his colossal hands, arms, legs, and feet, touching his face in disbelief.

"Is this real?" he boomed, his voice like thunder echoing through the chamber.

"As real as can be," the serpent hissed, his amusement evident. "Behold, my giant friend!"

The remaining Dwarves huddled together, fear replacing their earlier awe.

Undeterred, the serpent turned to them with a chilling question: "Now... Who's next?"