Clark Gillian

The Devious Dragon and the Fall of the Emperor


Chapter 19.
True to their word.

The tremor that wracked the capital city felt more like a seismic fist, shaking its foundations to their core. Houses groaned, aqueducts cracked open, and once-majestic towers became dust and debris. Screams pierced the air as panicked citizens fled crumbling structures, the ground itself a treacherous maze of gaping chasms. When the final shuddering wave subsided, a devastating silence descended, punctuated only by cries of pain and desperate calls for help.

The city guard, shaken but resolute, surged into the chaos. Rescue efforts began - pulling the injured from wreckage, digging through rubble for survivors. The human cost was horrific; countless homes reduced to splinters, families buried under tons of bricks and mortar. Even the city's famous fountains, once vibrant symbols of prosperity, lay shattered, silenced by the earthquake's wrath.

In the grand council chamber, advisors convened, faces etched with shock and dismay. They scrambled to devise rescue plans, their voices trembling with urgency. But amidst this flurry of activity, two members of the waterworks council sought an audience with a different power – the Lord Serpent.

Following the serpent's serpentine path through the opulent palace corridors, they finally found him, unfazed by the city's plight, gliding serenely on the cool marble floor. Hesitantly, one counselor addressed him, their voice laced with worry.

"My Liege," they began, "the earthquake has devastated our aqueducts. No water flows to the fountains. It's… a disaster."

The serpent paused, not to acknowledge their statement, but to fix them with an unsettlingly cold gaze. "Disaster, it seems, breeds apologies," he drawled, his voice slithering through the silence. "But your voice… lacks true sorrow."

The counselors exchanged bewildered glances. "My Liege," the other ventured, his voice gaining a tremor, "the city lies in ruins. People are displaced, injured, without water. They need our help."

The serpent remained impassive, his reptilian eyes reflecting no concern. "Does water no longer exist?" he queried, his voice dripping with mockery. "Has the earth decided to withhold its bounty?"

A chill crept down the spines of the councilors. The serpent's indifference was worse than fury, an icy indifference that spoke of apathy and perhaps, something more sinister. They stammered, struggling to comprehend this chilling detachment.

"Yes, of course, there is a lot of water on earth. That isn't the problem," said the counselor, but before he could continue, the serpent stopped in its tracks and turned around so suddenly, it shook the counselors to their core.

"And there we have it," yelled the serpent, "A problem, you say. A problem. You only ever see problems, don't you?!"

The shaking counselors looked at each other in amazement for a moment.

"There is nothing to be gained from people who see problems as problems. What I need are people who turn problems into opportunities to benefit."

"Opportunities?" asked one of the counselors. "I have lived in the City of Stars all my life, why should I use the difficulties of my friends and family, of my whole city, to benefit myself?"

"You're seeing it all wrong," said the snake, "It's not something we do to the people. You should see it more as a service to the people because... if we get better, they can benefit from it too, right? A service."

"How?" asked one counsel.

"How?!" hissed the serpent angrily, "That is your job, isn't it? Or don't you believe in yourself? Don't you believe in the Imperial Council?"

The counselors both immediately bowed down very deeply, their noses touching the floor. The scribe also bowed.

"Of course we do," said the counselors obediently.

"Good," the serpent said, its voice slithering into a calmer tone. "Remember, counselors, every crisis presents an opportunity. Use your ingenuity, your skills, to turn this setback into a springboard for progress. And remember, the benefits will trickle down to the people as well. A rising tide lifts all boats, as they say."

"That's absolutely true," the other counselor chimed in, his voice laced with fear. "The Imperial Council's success is undoubtedly a boon for all the people."

"Indeed," the serpent hissed, coiling further around itself. "The more we prosper, the more we have to share with the people, wouldn't you agree? We are, after all, their benevolent stewards."

The counselors bowed once more, their foreheads nearly scraping the floor. "Of course, your Highness," one of them mumbled, his voice barely a whisper. "Your wisdom guides us every step of the way."

The serpent seemed mollified by their obsequiousness. "Excellent," he rasped. 

The counselors murmured their assent, their unease a simmering undercurrent beneath their forced agreement. The serpent's logic held a seductive glint, but something in his reptilian gaze, something cold and calculating, sent shivers down their spines. Was he truly concerned with the well-being of the city, or was there another motive slithering beneath his words?

They left the serpent's presence, their steps heavy with unspoken questions and a gnawing sense of doubt. The task before them was daunting - a city in ruins, its people suffering. But could they truly serve both the serpent and their own consciences? As they ventured out into the devastated streets, the weight of their responsibility, and the ambiguity of their loyalty, pressed down upon them like a storm cloud.

One counselor, however, couldn't shake the disquiet he felt. He lingered behind, stealing a glance back at the serpent's sinuous form.

"Your Highness," he ventured, his voice barely above a whisper, "wouldn't it be less work to simply empower the people, to provide them with the tools they need to solve their own problems as they arise? It would save the council a great deal of effort."

The serpent's form contorted in a sudden burst of rage. He reared up, fangs bared, his body seemingly doubling in size.

"Lazy!" he shrieked, his voice echoing through the chamber. "You dare speak of less work? Do you think yourselves above serving the people you've sworn to protect? Do you think we should let opportunities to uplift them, to guide them, simply pass us by?"

"But Your Highness," the counselor stammered, fear gnawing at his resolve, "opportunities for what?"

The serpent's thin smile sent shivers down the counselor's spine. A single word hissed from his forked tongue, dripping with chilling finality:


The counselors stood before the serpent, the chill of the air as palpable as the fear crawling up their spines. The scribe shivered, unable to tear his gaze from the reptilian menace before them. "What shall we tell the emergency congress about the water crisis?"

The serpent's head whipped around, surprise morphing into something colder, sharper. "Solution? Tell them there is no solution."

"But...Your Highness," stammered the counselor, "the people need water."

"Let them wait," the serpent hissed, coiling tighter. "Desperation breeds compliance. When they're parched enough, they'll be willing to pay any price for a drop."

The other counselor, ever eager to please, nodded quickly. "Brilliant, Your Highness! We can ration what water remains at the functioning fountains, charge a hefty price per bucket, and make them wait their turn."

"Excellent," the serpent rasped, a cruel gleam in its slitted eyes. "And those who can't afford it?"

"They can find water elsewhere," the counselor shrugged, the weight of his words heavy on his conscience even as he spoke them.

The scribe diligently recorded the edict, his hand trembling with each stroke. Was this truly the "solution" they were forced to present?

The counselors bowed to depart, but the serpent's voice stopped them cold. "Wait! Follow me," it commanded, slithering up the leg of one counselor with astonishing speed. "Into your hood. I have much more to whisper in your ear, both for the council and..." it paused, its reptilian gaze flickering in the direction of the dungeons, "...our other little project."

"At your service, Your Highness," the counselors muttered, a sense of dread settling over them like a shroud. As they descended the damp, crumbling stairs, the serpent's voice hissed in the counselor's ear, outlining a chilling plan. Each whispered word painted a picture of manipulation, control, and a power reaching far beyond the water crisis.

Reaching the dungeon's heart, they found the Emperor himself, imprisoned but resolute. Fear flickered in his eyes, yet a spark of defiance remained.

"Emperor," the counselor spoke, the serpent's words slithering through his throat, "Your freedom is closer than you think. But remember, true power comes not from fighting the serpent, but understanding its whispers."

"Because," the serpent hissed through the counselor's ear, "you're more valuable as a puppet than a prisoner."

The counselor, feeling the reptilian warmth against his scalp, relayed the message, stepping cautiously around the debris in the cell. "It has nothing to do with freedom, Emperor. Don't get any ideas. I'll release you from these chains, but not from captivity."

The Emperor, weathered but unbroken, raised an eyebrow. "Then what is it you need from me?"

"To dance," the counselor choked out, the serpent's words leaving a metallic taste in his mouth.

"Dance?" The Emperor's face contorted in disbelief.

"You must come with me to your daughter's wedding. Isn't that a generous gift? Reuniting you with your daughter. How happy and pleased she will be to finally see you again!"

The Emperor's gaze hardened. "Returned to the surface to experience the end," he muttered, more to himself than the counselor.

Another tremor shook the dungeon, sending dust raining down and widening the cracks in the cell walls. Undisturbed, the Emperor asked, "Will my wife, the Empress, be in attendance too?"

"Of course," the counselor parroted, feeling increasingly like a hollow vessel repeating another's will.

"But first," the serpent hissed, its voice like sandpaper grating against the counselor's eardrum.

"But first," the counselor repeated, turning towards his colleague who stood guard at the door, his face etched with confusion.

"And what's the problem?" the guard snapped, the mere word "problem" causing the serpent to recoil in distaste.

The Emperor, wise and observant, kept his silence, his eyes narrowing as he noticed something shifting and squirming beneath the counselor's hood. He squeezed his eyes shut, feigning ignorance, but all his senses were on high alert. This unexpected "gift" from the serpent held a stench of hidden agendas and venomous truths. The dance they proposed was likely more of a macabre spectacle, and the price of this reunion far steeper than anyone dared to imagine.

"The thing is," the serpent hissed through the counselor's ear, "we can't have anyone suspecting the Emperor's involvement in the princess' wedding."

"Of course," murmured the counselor, feeling the reptile's cold breath tickle his neck. "The water crisis consumes my every thought, leave the Emperor to me."

"Precisely," the serpent rasped. "The tighter the circle of knowledge, the less likely any... unfortunate mishaps."

A guttural grumble escaped the other counselor, clearly skeptical but unwilling to openly defy.

"Good," hissed the serpent, its satisfaction evident. "Now, guard… handcuff him."

The counselor froze, the order unexpected and chilling. He dared not disobey, yet his conscience warred with the serpent's command.

"Don't make me repeat myself," the serpent hissed, its forked tongue tasting the air near his ear.

Panic flickered in the counselor's eyes. The guard, oblivious, awaited further instruction. Across the cell, the Emperor watched impassively, his keen mind catching the tremor in the counselor's voice.

"Say it!" the serpent commanded, its tone laced with venom. "Handcuff him! Now!"

With eyes tightly shut, the counselor choked out the words, his voice strained with reluctance. "Guard… handcuff him."

The Emperor, wise from years of subtle power plays, recognized the weight of an order given under duress. He remained silent, observing the unfolding drama.

The guard, surprised but dutiful, grabbed the other counselor's arms and secured him in iron chains alongside the Emperor.

"Do you understand now?" the serpent hissed, its forked tongue flickering near the counselor's ear.

"Do you understand now?" repeated the counselor, unable to meet his colleague's bewildered gaze.

"What am I supposed to understand?" the chained counselor roared, his frustration boiling over.

"There are no more 'opportunities,'" the serpent spat, its tone laced with malice. "When you solve the problem."

The chained counselor struggled against the restraints, his anger a stark contrast to the Emperor's calm composure. The guard, confused and wary, shifted nervously between them.


In the heart of the enchanted realm, beneath a canopy of swirling leaves and dappled sunlight, the Enchanted Deer arrived at the clearing where the four other Giants awaited. The clearing itself hummed with ancient magic, its center marked by a weathered stone circle where the Giants usually congregated.

"He arrives," boomed the voice of the Enchanted Giant Wolf, its form a hulking mass of fur and moss.

"Much to discuss," croaked the Enchanted Giant Owl, its wise eyes piercing through the shadows.

"Why this urgent summons, dear friend?" inquired the Enchanted Giant Fox, its voice melodic and soft.

"A pleasure to see you again," rumbled the Enchanted Giant Bobcat, its gaze sharp and watchful.

The Enchanted Deer bowed its head in greeting before taking its place among them. Its heart, usually light and nimble, felt heavy with the burden it carried.

"I..." it began, only to be interrupted by the owl.

"You, who urged us to sunder the human world from ours, to sever the ties that bound them to the magical realm," the owl's voice echoed with accusation. "You championed the veil, the unseen barrier that separates their realm from ours, all in the name of preserving the essence of our world."

"And now," purred the bobcat, its voice deceptively smooth, "you yourself have ventured into their realm, meddled in their affairs. Do you long for their company, deer?"

A sigh escaped the deer's lips. "Indeed, I miss them... how could I not?"

"Was there another path, then?" questioned the wolf, its voice rumbling with curiosity.

"It seemed the only choice," the deer said, its eyes filled with sadness. "A desperate measure to shield our world from the chaos they were weaving, the destruction they inflicted upon themselves and all life around them."

"Always 'fending off', always distancing ourselves," grumbled the fox, its ears twitching in agitation. "Remember the days when humans, animals, and nature spoke the same language, shared the same breath?"

A heavy silence descended. The Giants exchanged troubled glances, the gravity of the deer's words settling upon them.

"It was our shared decision," finally spoke the owl, its tone more subdued. "A necessary separation, we believed, to allow them to evolve on their own terms, to find their way back to us through the Elven Gate we created."

But even as the owl spoke, a flicker of doubt shone in their eyes. Could their once united world truly heal? Could the bridge be rebuilt, brick by fragile brick, after centuries of separation?

"That precious fairy gate of yours," giggled the Enchanted Fox, its voice laced with amusement. "How many souls have graced our realm through it since you established it and its vigilant guardians?"

The deer remained silent, the weight of its actions pressing down upon it.

"We understand," murmured the Bobcat, its voice surprisingly gentle. "Your hopes for the gate exceeded the reality."

"And so you defied your own decree," the Owl's voice boomed, echoing through the clearing. "You ventured into the human world, and what you saw displeased you, did it not?"

A low growl rumbled from the Wolf. "Displeasure? It affected us all."

"Not entirely," objected the Deer, finally finding its voice. "Something I witnessed sparked a joy I long forgot."

"A human child, untouched by the cynicism of the ages," the Owl's eyes, vast and ancient, seemed to pierce through time itself. "A reflection of the wonder you sought to protect."

"A reminder of what you aimed to shield," the Fox added, its ears twitching with curiosity.

"I went into their world expecting the worst," the Bobcat purred, "but instead, I discovered a flicker of magic where I least expected it."

The Deer nodded solemnly. "I had forgotten what we were protecting."

"And then, you remembered," the Wolf's voice was gruff, yet held a tinge of understanding. "But what actions did your newfound clarity inspire?"

"You have disrupted the established order," the Owl's tone was grave. "The human world now teeters on the brink of chaos."

The Deer bowed its head, its silence speaking volumes.

Suddenly, the Seer materialized beside it, her touch a soothing balm on its fur. She addressed the Giants, her voice unwavering.

"Driven by love for humanity," she began, her arms outstretched, "we shielded a spark of innocence from the harsh realities of their world. We granted it life, an opportunity to re-encounter its lost wonder and return, whole."

A skeptical glint shone in the Owl's eyes. "Do you two truly grasp the complexity of this narrative you weave? Worlds divided, lost fragments given life, reunions, remembrances, journeys through the gate – these burdens placed upon those seeking the faerie realm…"

"The division was necessitated by their rejection of our world!" the Deer interjected, a hint of defiance in its voice.

"But therein lies your error," the Wolf boomed. "As your encounter with the child revealed, that spark of wonder lingers within every human heart."

The Giants exchanged meaningful glances, the weight of the Deer's revelation settling upon them. Could the fractured worlds truly mend? Could the bridge be rebuilt, brick by fragile brick, after eons of separation?

The Seer's words hung heavy in the air, the unspoken implications swirling around the Giants like enchanted mist. "Indeed," she remarked, her gaze fixed on the distant horizon. "The spark of wonder lives within every human, yet most remain blind to its radiance."

"But why choose this one child?" the Bobcat purred, its voice laced with curiosity. "After all this time, what compelled you to intervene?"

The Seer smiled enigmatically. "For this child possessed a unique gift: the ability to pierce through the veil, to see the magic woven into the very fabric of our world."

A collective gasp escaped the Giants. Even the stoic Wolf stirred, his eyes widening in surprise. The Fox pranced with excitement, tail swishing back and forth, while the Owl blinked rapidly, its vast knowledge momentarily overwhelmed.

"The veil we meticulously crafted to separate our realms," the Deer whispered, its voice filled with awe. "This child saw right through it."

"And returned to our world," the Seer confirmed, her eyes gleaming with hope. "But more importantly, they chose to return to their own, carrying the memory of their journey."

The Owl's head cocked in thought. "Does this not suggest, Master Deer," it hooted, "that perhaps our intervention with humanity was misguided? Should we not leave them to their own path, even if it seems perilous?"

A thoughtful silence descended upon the clearing. The Deer pondered the Owl's words, a newfound understanding blossoming within its heart. "Indeed," it finally spoke, its voice filled with newfound conviction. "For perhaps the very act of seeing through the veil, of experiencing our world, has nudged them onto a better path."

The Bobcat purred, its eyes gleaming. "This conversation takes a most exciting turn!"

The Fox could barely contain his glee, bouncing excitedly around the clearing. Even the Wolf's gruff demeanor softened, a hint of a smile playing on his lips.

"Master Deer," the Owl inquired, its gaze returning to the Seer. "Have you come simply to confess your transgression, or do you seek something more from us?"