Clark Gillian

The Devious Dragon and the Fall of the Emperor


Chapter 8.
Watch and learn.

A fateful dawn found Black Fox perched atop his tower, lost in the day's quiet beauty. The sun bathed the land in warmth, making it a most remarkable morning.

Suddenly, a flash of red sliced through the forest. A cat, clad in crimson pants, sprinted past, faster than any feline the Fox had witnessed. This was undeniably…curious.

From the flatlands beyond, another blur emerged - a cat in emerald green pants, its pace mirroring the first. Intrigued, the Fox watched as yet another figure dashed past, this time from the distant mountains, sporting cerulean blue trousers. His whiskers twitched – this was most certainly striking!

His gaze swept across the landscape, and indeed, cats draped in every color of the rainbow streamed towards the City of Stars.

One such cat, adorned in saffron yellow, would soon pass near his tower. The Fox, nimble as ever, descended windowsill by windowsill and landed before the feline.

"Where are you all headed?" he panted, his voice breathless.

Silence. The cat sped up.

Undeterred, the Fox called again, "Where are you going?!"

The cat's only response was an accelerated pace.

Competitive spirit ignited, the Fox launched himself forward, nearly catching the feline. "I'm far bigger, little cat," he huffed. "You can't outrun me. Just tell me your destination!"

Without a backward glance, the cat spat, "To the Cat Capital City beneath the City of Stars! Now leave me be! Very important business. Very, very important!"

Curiosity piqued, the Fox decided, "Might as well see what all this fuss is about, now that I'm running anyway. Wouldn't want to waste the effort!"

As they neared the City of Stars, the rainbow procession of cats vanished through a hidden hatch. Before the Fox could blink, he found himself amidst the bustling underground halls of the City of Cats.

The imposing Cat Palace loomed ahead. Still keeping pace with the frantic cat envoys, the Fox found himself whisked into the throne room without pause. There, upon a majestic throne, awaited the Cat King.

"The last cat envoy has returned!" roared the Cat King, his voice amplified by the cavernous throne room. A thunderous cheer erupted from the assembled cats, their eyes gleaming with feline fervor. Amidst the throng, the Black Fox tried to shrink back, his black fur a stark contrast to the vibrant crowd. But his efforts were futile. Towering over the felines, even the imposing guard cats, he stood out like a lone oak amidst a field of wildflowers. Whispers rippled through the room, curious gazes settling on the uninvited guest.

A low murmur from the wizened Cat High Priest reached the King's ear. His emerald eyes narrowed, then softened with a sigh. "The bells of the seven belfries have tolled," he boomed, silencing the room. "Their vibrations carry on the wind, felt across every land. Rejoice, felines, for we have fulfilled our solemn duty, as ordained since time immemorial."

The High Priest, his fur as white as snow, stepped forward. His voice, though frail, echoed with authority. "The Great Cat Book proclaims: 'Through the bonds of the heart, humans and animals are intertwined. While they rule with compassion, dominion over the creatures they share this world with is theirs. However, should their hearts stray, the animal kingdom shall serve as a reminder, guiding them back to the path of kindness.' This, my loyal subjects, is our sacred pact."

"Aye, the bells have spoken," the King concurred, his gaze sweeping over the sea of bowed heads. All, except one. The Black Fox remained stubbornly upright, a furrow etching his brow. "Agreed upon since the beginning of time?" he muttered, his voice barely a whisper lost in the reverent silence. "No one ever informed me of such a pact."

A hush fell over the court. The High Priest's sharp voice shattered it. "Once rung, the bell cannot be unrung," he declared, his staff thumping thrice against the polished floor. "Bring forth the parchment bearing the seven cat buttons!"

Four white cats hauled a thick, rolled-up parchment into the throne room, placing it before the Cat King with a flourish.

"It was predicted!" cried the Cat High Priest, his voice echoing through the cavern. "Yes, foretold! Verily! The parchment opener with the seven cat buttons is upon us! Brought to us by the wind of change!"

Beside him, a cat lady fanned herself, giving the Black Fox a sidelong glance after his muttered remark about the Priest's sanity.

"You!" the High Priest suddenly screeched, a bony finger pointed at the Fox. "You are the opener! Come hither! Come hither! Parchment opener, come hither!"

The Black Fox stared, surprised. "Me? I just came because I was curious, that's all."

"Almost as curious as a cat!" declared the Priest. "Yes, you belong here! Fox! Black Fox! Open! Open the parchment!"

Hesitantly, the Fox approached the table, peering at the scroll. Seven intricately carved buttons adorned it, indeed impossible for feline paws.

"The answer has revealed itself to me!" the Priest shrieked, bordering on manic. "Behold! The realization has dawned, gleaned from all I've seen and learned! It has coalesced before us! Black Fox, friend, see! Look and see!"

The Fox, finally removing his paw from his ear, examined it. Intriguingly, it was the same size as the buttons.

"He sees it! He sees it!" exulted the Priest, the room erupting in feline cheers. "He will open it!"

All eyes turned to the Black Fox, who stood frozen under the weight of their expectation.

"How is it that only a Fox can open our sacred and adored ancient cat parchment?" the Cat King finally asked, his gaze fixed on the High Priest.

"Don't you see it?" rasped the Cat High Priest, his voice tinged with urgency. "The bells in the Cat Belfries tolled at the precise moment! Only now could there exist a Black Fox unclaimed by the Dog Kingdom, nor belonging to the Cat Kingdom, and due to his unique fur, ostracized even by his own kind! See, Your Majesty, and understand! The Wind of Change sends us an opener for the parchment, one who embodies the unity of the animal kingdom, for together we must unlock the hearts of men! A clear sign, a most undeniable sign!"

The Cat King offered a curt nod to the Priest, then turned to the Black Fox, his voice low and measured. "Why are you here? Who led you to this place?"

"I brought myself here," the Black Fox replied, his voice steady despite the surprise. "Everywhere I go, I bring myself. Unbound by loyalty to any kingdom or land, I've always had the freedom to explore as I please. I wander, I observe, I learn. Until recently, I never had a home..."

The King leaned forward, his gaze sharp. "What do you mean, 'until recently'?"

"Just recently, I acquired a tower deep within the forest. It grants me an even wider view, allowing me to observe the world in greater detail. It's become my most cherished pastime, watching life unfold before me, losing myself in the spectacle."

"But how did you come to possess this tower?" the King pressed.

"A witch bestowed it upon me the night she became a princess," the Black Fox answered, his voice a neutral baritone.

The King's eyes widened in disbelief. He lunged forward, grasping the Fox's leg with surprising strength. "You are truly the parchment opener! You speak of the Princess, the Crown Princess of the Empire! That, precisely, is why the Cat Bells resonated!"

"Behold! Realize!" the High Priest bellowed, his voice rising above the commotion. "Witness and comprehend! Observe and learn! Open it! Open the parchment!"

Startled by the sudden outburst, the Fox found himself standing directly before the parchment, mere inches from the Priest and the King. With a silent prayer, he closed his eyes and pressed his paw onto the first button.

The lock clicked open instantly, but the button flared with an intense heat, like a glowing ember. The searing pain shot through the Fox's leg, forcing him to yelp and scramble back, rolling across the floor in agony.

"What's happening?" the King boomed, his voice laced with alarm.

"Show me your leg!" shrieked the High Priest, rushing towards the whimpering Fox.

"What in the heavens is happening?" roared the Cat King, his voice echoing through the chamber. His gaze darted between the smoldering button and the Black Fox, who writhed on the floor, howling in pain.

"Quick, his paw!" screeched the Cat High Priest, scrambling towards the Fox and yanking his injured leg into view. "Burned! It's burned badly! Fire, fire!"

A stunned silence descended upon the court as the Priest's frantic cries echoed. Even the Cat King, usually composed and regal, stood speechless, his face a mask of bewilderment. But quickly, the shock passed, replaced by a steely resolve.

"Cat envoy with the crimson trousers!" he barked, his voice regaining its usual authority. "To your city at once! Alert all the felines within the walls! Tell them –" He paused, his eyes flickering towards the whimpering Fox, then back to the Priest. "Tell them… the parchment has spoken, and its message is one of urgency!"

As the red-clad envoy scurried out of the throne room, a flurry of activity erupted. Servants rushed in, bearing salves and poultices for the Fox's injured paw. Hisses and murmurs filled the air as the assembled cats exchanged worried glances. But amidst the chaos, one question hung heavy in the air, unanswered:

"Alert them of what?" the Fox rasped, his voice weak from pain. He lifted his head, his gaze meeting the Cat King's. "What has the parchment revealed?"


The Knight of Spears groaned, his head pounding in response to the rhythmic thrumming of his own heartbeat. The night's revelry still clung to him in a haze of ale and boisterous laughter, a stark contrast to the unsettling red glow painting the dawn sky.

"Spear," the Bard's voice was sharp, cutting through the Knight's stupor.

"Look there."

He stumbled to the window, joining the Bard as their eyes were met with a horrifying spectacle. Fields as far as the eye could see, consumed by an inferno of crimson and orange. Flames danced higher than the city walls, casting an eerie light on panicked figures - both man and beast - fleeing from the advancing blaze.

"Fire?" The Knight's voice rasped, reality crashing around him like a tidal wave.

"But how? Why?"

The Bard remained silent, his gaze fixed on the distant horizon. "The sun," he finally muttered, his voice tinged with an unsettling foreboding. "It was merciless today. Unnaturally...punishing."

As the inferno roared closer, the first wave of refugees streamed into the city, their faces etched with terror, some bearing the cruel kiss of the flames.

Among them, the Bard spotted an something strange indeed- a tide of feline figures, hundreds strong, all following a single cat distinguished by its crimson trousers.

"Spear," the Bard's voice was low, urgent. "Look at the cats. Where are they going?"

The Knight narrowed his eyes, recognizing the path they were taking. "The City of Sheets," he said, his hand instinctively gravitating towards the familiar weight of his sword. "The great port on the crumbling mountain."

The Bard fell silent, lost in thought as he watched the feline exodus. "The cats," he murmured, more to himself than the Knight.

"They know more than they let on. What secrets do they carry?"

With those parting words, the Bard turned, his cloak swirling around him, a glint of determination in his eyes. "We have no time to just stand here, Knight. We must follow. The answers we seek may lie in the City of Sheets, amongst the flames and the secrets the cats guard."