Clark Gillian

The Devious Dragon and the Fall of the Emperor


Chapter 32.
The Night Brigade.

The sputtering moon and stars cast the City of Trousers into an unsettling half-light. Fear and confusion rippled through the streets, fueled by the celestial anomaly. Amidst this silent chaos, the Princess found herself under house arrest, guarded by the Council and the city guard. The same fate awaited the Kings and Queens who had already arrived for the coronation.

Unbeknownst to the Council, they weren't the only ones who had slipped into the city. The Bard, his heart heavy with the sight of the ailing heavens, and the Prince of Spears, ever pragmatic, navigated the darkened streets.

"This darkness offers some cover," the Prince remarked, a hint of optimism in his voice. "The Council patrols are everywhere, but with the sun and moon playing hide-and-seek, we have more of an advantage."

"You wear rose-tinted glasses, Spear," the Bard replied.

Suddenly, both reined in their horses, their gazes drawn to the city's central pool. As if the celestial chaos wasn't enough, a chilling new horror emerged from its depths. A creature of inky blackness, its form shifting like mud, emerged from the water.

This mud creature, a nocturnal terror, targeted those who ventured too close to the pool's edge. With its twisted limbs and ear-splitting screech of "Help me! I'm not a monster!", it lured its victims closer. But once within reach, the creature's true nature was revealed. Its desperate pleas turned into chilling laughter as it dragged its prey into the murky depths, their lifeless bodies resurfacing to tell the grim tale.

Groups of citizens, armed with torches, patrolled the pool, determined to keep the monster at bay. The Bard and the Prince, now joined by ten loyal castle soldiers, observed the scene with growing unease.

"Look at them," the Bard muttered, gesturing towards the torch-wielding citizens. "These aren't guards, just ordinary people."

"But why are they patrolling?" the Prince asked, his brow furrowed.

The Bard started to reply, but a flicker of movement in the shadows caught his eye. A dark shape darted away, swallowed by the darkness before he could get a better look.

"Let's ask around," the Bard suggested, his gaze lingering on the alley where the shape disappeared.

But before they could move, the Prince held up a hand, his attention drawn to a commotion in the distance. A chilling scream echoed through the night, followed by the frantic waving of torches and the clatter of panicked footsteps. A group of citizens, armed with makeshift weapons, was charging towards the sound, their faces contorted with fear.

The Bard, the Knight, and their soldiers tied their horses hastily and joined the frantic mob. The sight that greeted them was horrifying. The mud creature, a grotesque parody of life, writhed on the cobblestones, its misshapen limbs trailing slime. In its grasp, a young man screamed, his face contorted in terror.

"Help me!" the creature gurgled, its voice a chilling rasp. "I'm not a monster! Untie me, please! Down there! In the deep pool!"

With inhuman strength, the creature dragged the screaming youth towards the water's edge. Before the Night Brigade could intervene, the young man vanished beneath the murky surface, his cries dying in a gurgling gasp.

Silence descended on the onlookers, heavy and oppressive. No one dared enter the darkness, where even torches offered no solace. Yet, from the depths, chilling reminders surfaced - air bubbles punctuated by muffled screams. Finally, the young man's lifeless body bobbed to the surface, triggering a new wave of mourning and despair.

"What did the creature say?" the Bard asked, his voice hoarse with unease.

"Since the heavens went mad," a trembling voice replied, "the monster hunts again. It claims a millstone binds it at the bottom of the pool, begging us to set it free."

"And you…" the Bard's voice trailed off.

"We cast it in, bound to the millstone, hoping it would drown." Shame mingled with fear in the speaker's voice.

The Bard exchanged a grim look with the Knight. "Strange indeed…" he murmured.


The Princess watched from her window. The mud creature, a grotesque mockery of life, dragged another victim into the inky depths, its pleas echoing in the night. The Countess had locked her up here to be wedded as soon as possible, threatening to take away her chance to reunite with her parents should she not comply to her demands. Guarded by the Imperial forces, she yearned for escape and the freedom to use her magic. The Countess's threats hung heavy - dire consequences for her mother and father if she dared disobey.

Days bled into nights, marked by the sputtering celestial bodies. Each passing moment fueled her anger towards the Countess, her resentment simmering alongside her growing magical power.

Meanwhile, the four royal couples arrived, patiently awaiting the wedding that couldn't happen while the monster haunted the city.

"More time to prepare," the Prince of Spears mused, a glint in his eye.

The creature, unaffected by torches and fireworks, waited until the Night Watch passed before emerging, its misshapen limbs dragging it through the streets in search of unsuspecting souls. It targeted those radiating kindness, luring them with pleas of freedom before dragging them to their watery demise. None survived the journey to the millstone.

The next evening, the lifeless form of a familiar young man floated to the surface. As the Night Watch retrieved him, the Princess's heart lurched. Two faces emerged from the depths of her memory, forever etched in her mind. And with each remembered detail, her magic surged, fueled by grief and fury.

"Is it time?" the Prince of Spears whispered to the Bard.

"Almost," the Bard responded, just as the Princess, defying gravity, landed beside them.

"Princess?" the Prince stammered, surprised.

"Oh, how quickly the title changes," she remarked, a hint of her old defiance returning.

"We always knew, your Highness," the Bard said, his gaze filled with understanding. "But back then, you couldn't hear what needed to be said."

Emerald flames flickered around her hands, a testament to her burgeoning power.

"Then why didn't you tell me?" she demanded.

"My dear," the Bard smiled, "you lacked the ears to hear."

"Listen, Princess," the Prince urged, "we have a plan to free your father, but it requires caution. Your wedding is the key."

"Why does everyone keep telling me a wedding ceremony is the solution to every possible thing!" she scoffed.

"It’s not what you think," the Prince added. "We sent letters summoning the four armies to the capital while the Kings and Queens distract themselves with your ceremony."

"Four armies? Invading the City of Stars? That would have been brilliant..."

"Would have been?" the Bard echoed, confusion etched on his face.

"I refuse to marry," she declared, her voice firm.

"But it's our only chance to free your father and restore him to the throne!" the Prince exclaimed.

"And where is our foolhardy friend?" she inquired, a sigh escaping her lips.

The Bard's gaze deepened, holding secrets beyond their ken. "I wish I knew."

"They'll marry you off to someone else," the Bard warned.

The Princess met his gaze, a resolute glint in her eyes. "And what could be worse?"

He remained silent, turning to the Prince. "Proceed with the plan. Infiltrate the palace."

"But the guards..." the Prince sputtered.

The Bard chuckled, a mischievous glint in his eyes. "Leave that to me. Go!"

He turned to the pool, a wide smile playing on his lips. He grasped the Princess's hand. "Come, witness something extraordinary," he announced, striking the ground with his staff. A song poured from his lips, a melody of light:

"Sun is the father, Moon is the mother, Wind is the womb, Earth is the other."

A radiant beam sliced through the darkness, captivating the Night Watch gathered around the drowned youth.

"Torches and fireworks fail underwater," the Bard explained, the light emanating from his staff mesmerizing the onlookers. "This, however, is no ordinary light."

"Who are you?" one of the townspeople croaked, their eyes dazzled by the staff's power.

"A traveling bard," he replied simply.

"And your companion, the Knight of Spears?" another queried.

"The Council seeks you both!" a third warned.

But their voices were drowned out by the growing chants of "Let him banish the monster!"

Following the song's rhythm, the Bard drew closer to the pool, the water parting before his luminous staff. He conjured a bubble of light, enveloping himself and the Princess, and descended into the murky depths.

The Night Watch gasped as the entire pool's darkness dissolved under the Bard's staff, revealing a breathtaking underwater world. Fish darted between vibrant plants, and the pool floor transformed into a mosaic of stones casting long, intricate shadows.

Following the melody of light, the Bard and the Princess descended, a shimmering bubble protecting them from the water. Finally, they reached their destination: a desolate millstone, chained to a skeletal form. Nearby, crouched a wailing creature, its form a grotesque mockery of life.

"Is this the millstone?" the Bard's voice echoed, cutting through the creature's sobs.

Startled, the creature lifted its head. Tears shimmered on its mucilaginous skin. "Yes," it croaked, "bound to this. Trapped by chains. Forever cursed."

The Bard studied the creature with a knowing smile. "I see."

"Free me!" the creature pleaded, its voice thick with despair. "Break the chains! Let me leave this cold, dark prison!"

The Bard gestured towards the skeletal remains. "Look, friend. You are already free."

The creature blinked, confusion clouding its distorted features. "Free?" it gurgled.

"Indeed," the Bard smiled. "How else could you have escaped the pool?"

The creature hesitated, its gaze shifting between the chains and the skeletal form. "But... that's my body," it rasped. "Bound, broken, cast aside."

"That may have been true once," the Bard replied, his voice gentle yet firm. "But it no longer defines you."

He raised his staff, its light intensifying. As if touched by fire, the darkness clinging to the creature began to dissolve, revealing... the Emperor. His spirit form pulsed with newfound energy, free from the broken limbs and tattered clothes.

"Yes," the Emperor breathed, gazing at his luminous form. "That... was not me. I am... here."

Tears welled up in the Princess's eyes. "Father?" she whispered, her voice choked with emotion.

The Emperor turned towards her, a radiant smile breaking across his face. "Daughter," he replied, his voice filled with love and relief. He extended an arm, his spirit form shimmering as they embraced.

"Wait," said the Princess, her voice trembling. "Are you... what happened to you? Are you... dead?"

The Bard carefully removed the chain from the Emperor's skeletal remains as the Emperor answered the Princess's questions.

"Princess," said the spirit of the Emperor, his voice echoing with emotion, "I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Don't feel guilty about all that happened. I should have protected you. Everything that has happened to you, I take that on myself. The curse was on me, but now I have been washed away and melted away. I am free and happy and redeemed. No darkness sticks to me anymore. Therefore, do not be sad. It's not your fault. If only I had eyes to see when I still had the chance to see. Now I know what I should have done, and I can only say to you: I love you."

"I..." the Princess stuttered through her tears, but she couldn't say anything.

The Emperor hugged her one last time and then ascended, his luminous spirit soaring towards the stars, never to descend again.

The townspeople watched in awe as the Emperor's spirit ascended from the bottom of the pool to the stars. They cheered, a wave of relief washing over them.

The Princess and the Bard resurfaced, carrying the Emperor's skeletal remains. Tears streamed down the Princess's face as she promised to bury his body in the cemetery.

Suddenly, the guards of the Imperial Council intervened, their arrival shattering the moment of peace.

"You are under arrest!" they shouted, "Come back with us, Princess!"

But the people protested, their anger rising. They would not stand idly by anymore.

"If you don't let us through right away," said the guards, their voices strained, "Then we are forced to arrest you all!"

"They have just freed us from the curse that has plagued our city for days, while you have not moved a muscle!" the townspeople cried, their voices ringing out in unison. "During these cursed days we have worked hard to protect ourselves, and still we had to endure all this darkness. Even as more and more of us died we didn't find any of you who wanted to help us with this fiend! We were tormented by this cursed being and sometimes hoped not to go another day, to be spared from the pain. We went on and on with our work, but no longer found pleasure in it, no fulfillment. Broken, we allowed ourselves to do more and more, and we gave up more and more, and we questioned very little because our hearts were heavy. And even then, you laid down your rules and laws more harshly on us, and there was no pity. And we wished nothing more than to escape from the curse and to rest in peace; and we complained and begged in our difficulties and expressed our suffering to you who could help us, but there was no listening ear. And you did nothing to lighten the inhuman burden that lay on our shoulders, and only drew your swords against us instead of against the curse that lay upon us!"

Fueled by their pent-up anger and newfound unity, the townspeople chased the Imperial Guard out of their city.

Meanwhile, in the city palace, where all royal houses were held under house arrest until the wedding, the people began a similar uprising. Guards and councilmen scattered as the populace demanded their freedom.

In the midst of this chaos, the Countess, who had the task of guarding the Princess, witnessed everything unfolding from her window. Fear and desperation consumed her, knowing she had to act quickly if she were to maintain her position.

Meanwhile, the Knight of the Spears searched frantically through the throngs of nobles and their retinues, his heart pounding with worry. He desperately searched for his parents.

Finally, he found them. His father, the King of Spears, lay on the ground, mortally wounded, while the Delegate held a dagger to the Queen of Spears' throat. It was the Countess who had pierced the King.

"Let her go!" roared the Prince, his voice choked with rage.

The Queen of Spears, seeing her son, cried out through her tears, "Son! You're here!"

"Shut your mouth!" snarled the Delegate.

The Prince held his spear at the Delegate, his own soldiers mirroring his stance. But no one dared make a move, the Queen's life hanging in the balance.

"Not one step further or I'll push this dagger down her throat," the Delegate threatened.

The Prince's blood turned to ice. As the Delegate's cold words echoed in the tense silence, a storm of emotions raged within him. Grief for his father, fury towards the Countess, and the agonizing weight of choosing between his mother's life and his own principles twisted his gut.

Seeing his son's anguish, the Queen cried out, "Don't listen to them, my son! Save yourself!"

But the Prince ignored her, his gaze locked on the cold glint of the dagger against her throat. His father's words, "We had been waiting too long for our freedom," seemed to mock him from beyond the veil of death. Was this freedom his father truly desired? To sacrifice his son, his family, in its name?

The cheers from outside, oblivious to the tragedy unfolding within, were a cruel reminder of the city's fragile hope. Was it his duty to shoulder the weight of their redemption, even if it meant his own damnation?

He looked at the Countess, her eyes gleaming with desperation and a hint of fear. Could he trust her promise? Was she simply using him as a pawn in her own power struggle? The bitter taste of betrayal lingered on his tongue.

He shifted his spear, testing the Delegate's resolve. "Release her," he growled, his voice tight with barely contained rage.

"Not until you agree," the Delegate countered, his grip tightening on the dagger.