Clark Gillian

The Devious Dragon and the Fall of the Emperor


Chapter 33.
When doing nothing is the best thing to do.

Deep into the darkness of the well the Fool had tumbled down, further and further, deeper and deeper until he was completely enveloped by it; And days seemed to go by falling and floating in this darkness. The air about the Fool started to feel closer, warmer and after a while even hotter.

Rugged mountains materialized from the inky blackness, their slopes painted in fiery hues of yellow and red. A vast ocean of cerulean blue mingled with a sea of sun-baked sand in the distance. There, at the heart of a colossal sand dune, the Fool's journey ended with a jarring thud.

Blinking away the stars that danced before his eyes, he scanned the barren landscape. "Fox?" he croaked, the name echoing emptily in the vast silence. No answer. Not even a whisper of wind stirred the endless expanse of sand.

Lost and parched, the Fool trudged across the dunes. The relentless sun beat down, transforming its brilliance into a sickly yellow, then a fiery orange, before settling into a somber red. Nightfall loomed, threatening to drown him once more in darkness, alone and forgotten.

Hours of aimless wandering yielded nothing but fatigue and despair. His throat constricted with thirst, each breath a rasping torture. Exhaustion claimed him, his legs buckling beneath him as he sank into the unforgiving sand. Tears welled in his eyes, a silent plea into the indifferent void.

His cries seemed to fade into the very air, leaving him adrift in a sea of despair. Sleep, a fragile escape, finally claimed him as the desert surrendered to an icy grip.

Just beyond the curve of the next dune, soft creaks of footsteps disturbed the silence. The sound, subtle but distinct, pierced the Fool's stupor. A hand, cloaked in shadow, settled on his shoulder. A figure, shrouded in a robe of deepest grey, knelt beside him, a lantern casting an ethereal glow across his face.

The man didn't speak, yet his intent was clear. He raised the lantern, examining the Fool with a silent inquiry. 

He handed the Fool a bottle of water without a word. The Fool, exhausted and parched, barely registered the man's actions. But when he saw the bottle, he grabbed it and drank, gulping down the life-giving liquid until his thirst was finally quenched. The bottle seemed almost magical, for no matter how much he drank, there was always more water left. He wanted to ask about the curious vessel, but his voice remained lost. Yet, the man in the grey robe seemed to understand the unspoken question, simply nodding in reply. Then, lifting his lantern once more, he vanished into the desert night.

The Fool, driven by both hunger and a strange pull towards the mysterious figure, struggled after him. His legs trembled with fatigue, but he couldn't bear the thought of being left alone again. The Hermit, however, offered no acknowledgment, their journey unfolding in silent rhythm as they traversed the darkened dunes, illuminated only by the lantern's faint glow. The Fool had no idea where they were headed, lost in the vastness of the desert.

After what felt like an eternity, the man stopped and pointed. Following his finger with a shiver from the biting cold, the Fool saw a curious sight in the distance: a tower, not particularly tall, and seemingly devoid of straight walls. It looked more like a gigantic, ancient ruin, half swallowed by the sand, the remaining half crumbling in despair.

Could this be the Hermit's home, the Fool wondered, curiosity overcoming his apprehension. They shuffled towards the dilapidated structure, the lantern guiding their way through winding staircases. After climbing several floors, the Hermit abruptly stopped and opened a door. The Fool peeked inside, finding an empty room except for a pile of straw with signs of previous occupancy.

"This must be the Hermit's bedroom," he thought, stepping cautiously inside. Just then, the door slammed shut behind him, the Hermit locking it with a resounding click. Before the Fool could ponder this unexpected turn of events, utter exhaustion took hold, and he collapsed onto the straw, sinking into a deep, dreamless sleep.

The desert sun woke him the next morning, its rays pricking his eyelids. Groggily, he rose from his makeshift bed and peered out the window. All he saw was an endless expanse of sand, stretching to the horizon in a suffocating embrace. He couldn't help but wonder: was this too part of the elven realm he had ventured into?

Something unnerving about the tower struck him. The uneven floors, crooked angles, and collapsed walls whispered a tale of forgotten grandeur. Judging by the scattered debris, the tower must have been truly majestic in its prime. He descended the dusty spiral staircase, first pausing to listen at the door for any sign of the Hermit. Only the desert wind whistling through the stones met his ears.

The Fool, convinced the Hermit wasn't below, craned his neck upwards. Climbing the spiral stairs offered little hope, but it was his only lead. Each step creaked in protest as he ascended, exhaustion gnawing at him.

Finally reaching the top, he stepped out onto the platform, expecting the tower's peak. Instead, the sight left him baffled. The top simply… wasn't there. The rest of the structure seemed vanished, as if sliced away by an invisible blade.

His stomach lurched as he peeked over the edge, searching for the missing section. Below, half-buried in sand, lay the shattered spire, its jagged point resembling a broken bottle's neck. The chilling realization dawned on him – this "tower" was only half of what it once was.

Driven by a mix of curiosity and trepidation, the Fool ventured into the desert, hoping to find the Hermit outside the precarious tower's confines. But vast dunes stretched in every direction, devoid of any sign of his enigmatic savior. Dizziness overtook him once more, the relentless sun sapping his strength. He stumbled back to the tower, seeking refuge in the familiar straw bed and the oblivion of sleep.

Fevered dreams flooded his mind – his village, his parents, the Princess, the lost paradise, the treacherous counselors, the serpent… a kaleidoscope of memories swirling chaotically. Awakening felt heavy, but a pleasant surprise awaited him. Beside his bed sat a plate of dried fruit and a refreshing bottle of water. The Hermit's silent generosity warmed his heart, even though the only witness to his appreciation was the thick stone wall.

Determined to find the Hermit and quench his thirst for answers, he cautiously peeked out the door, straining to hear any movement. Only the quiet rustle of lizards scampering across the stones met his ears. Stepping out once more, his questions multiplying with each stride, he found himself face-to-face with a chilling sight – a giant tarantula, its hairy form sprawled across the sun-baked sand.

Panic clawed at his throat. Never had he encountered such a colossal spider, its size surpassing anything he could have imagined. He tried to flee, but his feet sank deeper into the treacherous sand with each frantic step. The tarantula, unfazed, glided across the dunes like a monstrous ship on a calm sea, closing the distance between them.

As the spider's hairy legs crawled up his body, reaching his neck and then his face, the Fool's screams died in his throat. He froze, staring into its menacing eyes, the razor-sharp fangs a terrifying spectacle. Just as despair threatened to consume him, a familiar figure emerged – the Hermit, wielding his walking stick like a warrior's spear. With a single powerful blow, he sent the tarantula sprawling.

Before the Fool could stammer his gratitude, the Hermit was already striding back towards the tower. Hesitantly, the Fool scrambled out of the sand and gave chase.

The Hermit remained shrouded in mystery, avoiding eye contact as he entered the fallen spire. He didn't seem bothered by the Fool's presence, ushering him into a peculiar haven built from collected treasures - books, paintings, and everyday objects transformed into a cozy home. Strings of drying meat adorned the walls, contrasting with sun-ripened fruit on a nearby platter. In a dimly lit corner, brown and orange jugs promised cool water, from which the Hermit offered the Fool a refreshing drink.

"Lost in the desert, young man," he muttered, a statement more than a question. "And this isn't a place you simply walk out of."

Gathering sticks and a basket teeming with salamanders, the Hermit's actions spoke louder than words. He skewered the creatures, then instructed the Fool to place them outside under the sun. Upon returning, the Fool found the Hermit slumbering amidst a pile of carpets and pillows. He followed suit, closing his eyes as memories washed over him: the human world, the abandoned castle, the Princess, the endless duties, and the cryptic words of the serpent.

Nightfall unveiled a feast of roasted salamanders, dried fruit, and water beside the Fool. The Hermit, now chewing on a piece of jerky, spoke in riddles. 

"You know, sometimes," he said, pausing to take a thoughtful bite, "doing nothing is harder than doing something."

The Fool suspected the Hermit had heard him speak aloud in his sleep. 

"What is your name?" he blurted out.

The Hermit's eyes, bright like a hare's and mischievous like a raccoon, flickered towards the Fool. He remained silent for a moment, the firelight dancing on his weathered face. 

Finally, he spoke, his voice low and reflective. "I don't remember."

He gazed back at the star-studded sky. "Sometimes," he continued after another contemplative pause, "doing nothing is actually the best thing to do."

"You're right," the Fool admitted, regret lacing his voice. "There are many things I wish I hadn't jumped into without thinking."

The Hermit finally met his gaze, his silver eyes, bright like a hare's and mischievous like a raccoon, held a deep wisdom. 

"If yesterday brings you sorrow," he said, "don't dwell on it today. If tomorrow brings fear, remember, there is only today. Time, not you, will bring what's to come."

He gestured towards the heavens, a dazzling tapestry of white, yellow, and violet light dusted with shooting stars. Under the vastness, they sat, and the Hermit spun tales of "doing nothing" as captivating as the constellations themselves.