Listen close will you? Here is how our world ended. It started very simply: with a dragon and a city. Its king was well-liked, for he had brought a pause to the constant warring the kingdom had made its business. And then the king was dead. He had no direct heirs, but he had a widely circulated deathbed proclamation, which was almost as good. 

The old king had said, “The dragon below the city whispers to me— it is hungry, and soon will free itself from the prison our forefathers built for it. But do not be afraid, for the greatest minds of our people will be gathered, and my crown will go to the one who can solve this problem. In that, I can promise you both a good king and a future to look forward to.”

It was a nice speech, but many people panicked anyway. It was reasonable — word on the street was that more and more people in the palace heard the dragon’s whispers, which meant its freedom would surely be soon. 

To quell any further panic, the greatest minds the powerful could find were brought to the palace, and the Regent spoke to each. When whatever machinations that drove the Regent were finished (even I don’t know what was going on in her head), she announced three finalists: Lord Stracon Inanis, the old king’s nephew. Professor Cecilia Scelus, a well-known patron of knowledge and experimentation. Dame Emilia Malafide, a duchess from the East, whose popularity did not match that of the others. They would all be given wealth and support to show their goals were viable, and would have three months to prove their worthiness for the throne.

Lord Stracon, for his first month, walked amongst the crowd. He learned who ruled which parts of the city, and what each one believed in. By night, he threw elaborate and luxurious dinner parties with his uncle’s wealth. He invited barons and landlords, and as they ate his gold-leafed canapes, he whispered in their ears. By day, he spoke with notaries and taxmen, even smiths and carriage drivers. Every little person who knew intimately the gears of the city, and where and how they moved. At the end of the month, he was called a party-crazed layabout, but he was still the most liked.

Professor Scelus, for her first month, hired the finest craftsmen. She brought the best alchemists and mages to the capital, and directed them towards a singular goal. Her swarm of researchers would descend upon the many libraries and archives of the city, searching through books and theory until it had all been picked clean. In the largest entrance to the catacombs beneath the castle, she set up a great laboratory. It was crammed full of alchemists and scholars, along with their alien instruments. She was accused of having her head trapped in the endless nonsense of academia, but at least her laboratory was real.

Emilia Malafide, people saw very little of. She did not build laboratories or throw grand parties. When she hired researchers, it was by the pair, not by the dozen. She aimed her focus at history: all records of the dragon, of those that had defeated it, of how it had been defeated. And when she was dissatisfied with the results, she came to speak to me. Most everyone had forgotten about Emilia, that is, until the Day of Proclamations.

Crowds were assembled, not that they would have been able to hear anything. Great decorations were crafted, despite the fact they would never be used again. Anyone the Regent thought might count as important was introduced with great fanfare. Thus, an event meant for three speeches became a multi-hour affair. There was food in the nobles gallery, and a general corrosive apathy among the crowd.

Then, at last, Lord Stracon was summoned.

“Good people,” his voice boomed as he addressed the crowds at large. “Your future will be in good hands. I have spoken to all those of importance in the city, as many of you know. My proclamation is thus: we will leave the dragon to fester in its cage, and nothing to burn when it escapes. We will hoist up our foundations, our homes. We will travel to the lakes in the West. There, we will rebuild our city brighter and safer than it has ever been. The dragon will starve when it is freed, for we will move as one to a new home.”

And there was much cheering from the crowds, and much discussion among the nobility.

Then, Professor Scelus was summoned.

“Good people,” she said, her voice quieter as she addressed the nobles’ gallery directly, “your future will be secured. I have consulted with the brightest minds the world has to offer, and with the wealth of this great city we have designed our solution. We will build a grand device, which can siphon the dragon of its power. When it wakes, within moments it will crumble again, and we will be able to wield its power as our own. We will be safe not just from the dragon, but any other that could oppose us. We will steal the dragon’s power, and it will become our greatest weapon.”

There was a great standing ovation from the nobility, and some cheers from the crowd, still unable to hear.

Finally, Emilia Malafide was summoned.

“Good people,” she yelled, seeming to address not the crowds, nor the gallery, but rather the skies themselves. “Do you believe this nonsense?! Why should you unearth your lives, trade away your wealth, for the poor planning of some ancient king? And what hand could we trust to wield a dragon’s power? There is a far better solution you have all ignored. I will kill the dragon, and then I will be your king!”

There was an echoing quiet for a moment, save for the whispers. Then the nobles began to clap, the crowds began to cheer, and Emilia Malafide left the stage.

In the following weeks, Lord Stracon continued to throw his parties, Professor Scelus continued her research, and people still saw very little of Emilia Malafide. 

During the largest of Lord Stracon’s parties, held a week before the end of the second month, the pattern changed. Someone went to Stracon Inanis’s room yet didn’t find Stracon Inanis. Instead, they found his corpse and a scarlet message on his wall:

The city suffers no cowards.

The funeral parade filled the city streets, as hundreds flocked to pay their respects. They spoke with sorrow about what a great king he would have been. This was nonsense. In my experience, there is no such thing as great kings, only lucky men. And Stracon was obviously not very lucky.

There was an investigation, but they didn’t catch the killer. Everyone spoke as if they knew who it was for certain. I found it funny the way everyone seemed to leap to the same conclusion.

“Can’t you hear the whispers—” the palace cook explained to a new hire.

“It’s obvious what happened—” the Regent preached to the high judiciar between glasses of whiskey.

“It’s the work of the dragon. It’s driving people mad,” Emilia Malafide told Cecilia Scelus.

Professor Scelus looked up from her reports and did not bother to hide a glare. She did not believe Emilia Malafide, which is smart. I never told her to kill Stracon.

Hm, perhaps it would make sense if you knew what I did tell her.

In her scramble through old scrolls and historical records, Emilia Malafide found only two things she could secure the truth of: a name and a place.

When they first bound me, the humans had me named Peredam. The only thing humans despise more than what they can’t control is what they can’t name. I suppose “he Dragon” was too literal for official records. Then, to make sure they could check up on me, they left instructions on how to reach the innermost chamber of my labyrinthian prison. Nowhere I could see them, of course. Only the first king understood why that was unnecessary, but he died young. With these in hand, Emilia Malafide sought me out.

The opening of the great metal doors was a sight for sore eyes. New air flowed in, disturbing the rank smog that filled the massive chamber. She pushed through the door carefully, a torch in one hand and a sword in the other. She was dressed in armor, light enough to run in. It would not have saved her, but she didn’t attack.

“Peredam. You can whisper for miles, but can you… speak?” Her voice was hesitant, which was reasonable. What she saw was not a dragon in its prime, with glowing scales and eyes of fire. She saw chains that barely contained the husk within them. Mummified skin with bones sticking up like poles in a tent. All of me oozed smoke, even then, but it was the haze of a dying hearth. I should have tempted her closer, whispering that I could speak, if only she took a few more steps to my mouth, to better hear me. With the last strings of sinew that connected my jaws, I could have snatched her up and devoured her whole.

Instead, I said, “Yes. It may surprise you to find that it’s much easier.”

She looked startled, taking a step back as my voice echoed around her. The air swirled and disturbed with each movement, and I could taste the life within it.

“How did you get down here?” She asked. To my surprise, she sheathed her sword.

I have realized that I might like hearing myself talk a bit too much. I replied bitterly, “I have heard of your quest, Emilia Malafide. They whisper that you have dug up every paper that even mentions dragons. Have you not discovered it, hm? What tale could possibly elude such thorough speculation?”

Her voice was calm. “One that has been hidden. One that you know.”
“And what will I receive for this?”
“I can feed you,” she said, producing a small book. “A one of a kind edition. I toss it to your flames, and you gain nourishment from its destruction, yes?”

“You have done your research well,” I said, and creaked my jaws open, black and red flames dancing up my parchment thin tongue. 

She looked into my eyes. I thought I had caught a light in their depths, but perhaps it was the hope in my own ember sockets reflecting back at me.

She threw the book into my maw. “Tell me your tale, Peredam.”

So I did:

It started with the first King of the city, Vineas the Kind. The title was ironic, given there was nothing kind in his soul. He was hard as iron. He threw armies of men at me, and only after hundreds were dead did he realize his mistake. An attacking army is merely food that delivers itself. Then, he surprised me. I knew he was coming — I could smell his sweat and fear long before he could see me. I let him sneak right up, expecting a little knife in my back before one more meal. Kings have such blood on their hands… they are deliciously succulent in that.

But he did not attack. He barely lurked. He strode up to me and said,

‘You who destroys us all, who feeds on our destruction, you are a fool.’

I replied, ‘More the fool are you, king, who feeds me so well.’

Vineas said, ‘No, this is me attacking you. You do not yet know how it is to be fed.’

I was intrigued, ‘Are you offering to feed me, little king?’

He said,  ‘Yes. Do you know how much destruction goes into making a city? A kingdom? A thousand trees must be felled, ten thousand rocks hewn. The people must see soldiers trample their crops in their passing, and soldiers must kill. You are starving yourself, great dragon, and you do not even realize it.’

Fool I was, for I believed him. He laid the plan out so simply. I would be ‘imprisoned’ beneath the capital of his great kingdom. This great kingdom would wage wars, as great kingdoms do, and the soldiers and bureaucrats of these wars would trudge home to the capital, bringing their destruction with them. Even if the kingdom started to lose, I would be fed — as any invading army would surely air its spear directly at the heart of Vineas’s home. I had grown tired from all the flying about, and the idea had great appeal. No weapons would pierce my skin, and I would lie happy and content beneath a city that could not help but feed me.

So I agreed. We made a great show of him defeating me. There was much ceremony in him binding me in chains. I laughed a bit when they began to build the catacombs, but I doubt anyone noticed.


She seemed awed by the tale, but then said, “But why then, the whispers? Why all this talk of your escape?”

My anger leaked out of me, vents of fire and ashes puffing from my sides. “Because I am starving. Because Vineas lied. I was happily fed when the whole kingdom was at war, yes, but people hate being at war. Eventually treaties were drawn up, soldiers went home and did not return to the front. Even the destruction of trees and rocks lessened as the city ran out of them. They began to import things already destroyed, and that was a meager meal. Vineas convinced me to walk into my own tomb.”

“I… see…” She said, and began to pace. When she spoke again, it was with the air of someone mid-thought. “Then our very kingdom is built on an injustice, a lie. I will be king, mark my words, but a throne of lies is no throne at all. I cannot let you destroy the whole world, as you surely wish, but I will not let this… desecration be our legacy.”

“Who said I wish to destroy the world?” I said, more amused than anything. Humans love their conclusions.

“No, you’re right. You only wish to be fed, don’t you? As all creatures do. Nothing so evil as destruction without cause.” She took a step towards me.

I should have snapped her up, shown her how evil I really was. But I was so hungry, and it was soothing to be spoken back to, for once. I said, “I can be… sated. For a time.”

“Then perhaps we can both get what we want,” she replied. There was that glint in her eye again. That hungry hope. I knew hungry hope to be the easiest kind to manipulate.

“Perhaps we can,” I said, and doomed us all.

We spoke often after that. Emilia was very curious to understand how I knew so much about her. I explained that I could manage to stretch my mind to the palace above me. There, I could whisper in people’s ears. This was common knowledge. What most people didn’t realize is that I could also hear just about everything that went on in the palace. Emilia was very interested to know what I had heard about her two other competitors, particularly the scholarly Scelus. 

Which brings us to what Emilia did after the death of Stracon.

Papers rustled as Professor Scelus repeated her question. “Why have you come to see me, Emelia?”
“Your notorious device, of course!” Emilia hummed, “I’ve heard it requires a human operator, someone to take the dragon’s power into their very veins! What an idea-”

Scelus began to say, “Where did you hear that—” but was cut off immediately.

“—and I suppose you will be the one to take it, hm? But are you sure you are really qualified, Cecilia?”

Scelus was taken aback. She hissed, “I am the lead researcher of this entire project. I have been studying the intersections between science and magic for my entire life. There is no one more qualified. What, you think you’d make a better subject?”

Emilia laughed, a condescending sound. “We’re not talking about me! I’m nobody important — no, we’re talking about you, and that history of yours!”

Scelus was starting to sound nervous. “What history?”

“Just your previous… experiments,” she said, and began to list each atrocity as one describes the weather. “You know. The outbreak in the merchants quarter. Those prisoners of war in Malu-Mora. All that business in the north — oh, they still haven’t figured out that one was you, huh?”

“How did you learn about that?” Scelus spat, because she was not as smart as she thought she was, especially when it came to talking her way out of things.

“The better question,” Emilia said, voice dropping to whisper as she leaned forwards, “What would they do to you if all that became public knowledge? You would not want to end up like good old Stracon, hmm? It looked… painful.”

Scelus took a sharp breath. “So it was you.”
“Does that really matter right now?” Emilia said, voice back to normal.

“What do you want?” she replied, though it was mostly a formality. Everyone knew Emilia wanted the throne.

“Oh, nothing you can give.” Emilia lied, “This is merely a warning. Leave the city within the hour, and you will not be here when it all comes out. I’d advise getting out of the kingdom, actually. Perhaps head south, somewhere they won’t have heard of any of your… deeds.”

Scelus was gone by nightfall. I do not know what she feared more: the consequences of her actions, or Emilia’s impatience.

People were aware of Emilia now. Suspicion filled the palace and leaked out into the streets. Some people wondered if she would get the crown by default, but the Regent was clear. The king would be the one who solved the issue, not the last one standing. Some people formed little coalitions or tried to put forward their own candidates, but most were afraid. Some were afraid of me, and others were afraid of Emilia’s retribution. Rumor flowed through the streets that Lord Stracon and Professor Scelus were not the first rivals she had made disappear. 

But the end of the third month was fast approaching, and everyone was curious what Emilia would do next. 

Speaking as if she were already on the throne, Emilia sent a declaration to the city: all were to be in attendance to witness her defeat the dragon. Some people left the city that night, others prepared to witness a spectacle.

A trusted few were given the instructions to solve the catacombs, and were ordered to drag my still chained body to the main courtyard. Their hands shook and they tripped over nervous feet, but they were still good little soldiers. The great stones of the courtyard were pulled away, and I saw the sky for the first time in what felt like eternity.

I should have tried to wrestle free from my chains. I should have opened my crackling wings and tried to flee. But I could taste the fear of the crowds, and I was so very hungry and so very tired.

When I next saw Emilia, she was dressed very differently. Robes befitting a monarch, with strange wiring and crystals laid atop them, the largest collection on her chest. She beckoned towards a group of servants, who brought more crystals and wires to the center stage. They hung the shining garlands around my body, like a macabre christmas tree.

We had planned it out with meticulous precision. She would make a great speech about defeating me to the crowd and pull a brittle but impressive sword out of its scabbard. She would shatter it on my teeth, and I would use the nourishment of its destruction to melt my chains. From there, I would set fire to the nobles gallery, and once Emilia was clear of the city, I could eat my fill. 

That is not what my plan was, though. I had learned from my deal with Vineas, and my first target upon being freed would be Emilia herself.

I eyed that sword and Emilia with a salivating anticipation, as she walked up to me. Then, right on cue, she turned to speak to the crowd. I had not bothered to listen to her mumbling about her speech beforehand. I should have.

“My people, are you not tired of this meaningless spectacle? Are you not tired of this cruel and stupid world? This kingdom — nay, this world — has been nothing but a continuous cycle of suffering for too long! It is time something was done.” She looked back at me, and threw the sword aside.

I snapped my jaws towards it, but it was too far, and she had thrown it lightly. It landed, intact, in the grass. 

And then, Emilia signaled to some distant helper. Only then did I realize I had been tricked. I had heard a hundred conversations about Scelus’s device, but I had not seen it. I could not recognize what was laying on Emilia’s chest.

Light thrummed through Scelus’ device, traveling down wires and reflecting through multi-colored crystals. The crowd gasped as heat and fire began to travel back upwards, flowing from me to Emilia. I tried to thrash, to escape, but the wires and the chains held me taut.

Scelus’ device had been designed to steal my power from me and give it to a human wielder, and it did just that.

It was a terrible sensation — a feeling like every mote of energy, of possibility, draining from me. Not only was my current strength stolen, but the strengths of my past, too, were ripped from me. My entire life was sucked dry by the crystals on my skin.

Not long into the process, Emilia started glowing. As it neared its completion, she was barely human. Her skin had burned away in patches, revealing magma beneath, and each vein and orifice on her body shone with a white hot light.

When she spoke, it did not ring out. It hit the air like a mallet hitting a gong. “I will build us a new world. A world worthy to be lived in. But first, we must make way for it.”

She began to destroy. She started with the nobles gallery, as she had promised. Lords and ladies burned in their fine gowns, cursing her name. She drank up the destruction and then turned to the crowds. Thousands screamed and ran as she breathed death upon them. With every life she destroyed, she grew larger and more fiery until as large as the courtyard itself. 

At that point, I blacked out. I did not know dragons could black out, but apparently we can. I did not wake again for who knows how long.
Like a sip of water to a man dying of thirst, a blade shattered against my teeth.

I opened my eyes and saw that I was no longer chained. In fact, there was no longer any city to contain me. All the buildings had been leveled, the streets burned down to rock and gravel. It was flat ashe and cracked stone to the horizon in every direction. 

Standing in front of me were the remains of Emilia. It was many stories tall, made of boiling rock and hissing steam. Two forge-like eyes stared down at me as she crouched down. She reached out a hand with too many crackling fingers and pulled me to my feet.

Destruction radiated from her with such force that even her burning touch made me feel nourished. It did not stop my horror from growing. I said, “You have destroyed the world.”

“Yes.” She said, her pride audible, even now. “I have reduced it to its base and drunk pure power from its destruction. I am more powerful than anything has ever been. I am a god. Now, tell me how to use this power to create, and I will fashion a world better than this one.”

“To create?” I muttered, still absorbing what she had done.

“Yes. It may not have occurred to you, the creature of destruction that you are, but with so much power, anything is possible.” She noticed the look on my face, and added, “Right?”

“I am a creature of destruction, and my power only destroys!” I shouted up at her. “It does not change its nature merely because you stole it from me! Whatever and whoever had the power to create, you have killed! You utter fool! You have done nothing but doomed us both!”

“You lie!” she shouted back. She reached her hands towards me, and they grew into claws which she tried to use to take off my head. The power was absorbed as soon it touched my skin, and she didn’t manage to do more than slap me.

We argued for a long time. Years, I think, but in Emilia’s hunger for a clean slate, she had even devoured the sun. We couldn’t kill each other, so arguing was the only option. Each strike at each other would just strengthen the one being struck. 

Eventually, she left, stomping into the distance, proclaiming she would find a solution. We both knew the truth, though: the hunger was starting to get to her. We could both feel it growing, the need to destroy, the thirst for obliteration. But there was nothing left to destroy. 

I doubt she will find a true solution. I have been working for a way to separate us. We are two parts of one whole, now, and cannot eat each other. Once I can figure out how to separate us, I will eat her and end this world once and for all.

In the meantime, I write this story so that I will not forget it. If you’re reading this, it means some small part of our world has escaped into yours. Please, I implore you, follow that thread. See if you cannot poke your head back through the crack, into our burned out world. Visitors are always appreciated. And I am so very hungry.

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