Short Story – Freebie

The Corruption of the Dragons

 

Back before the Great Settling, when the world shrieked in fiery pain, the sentient races struggled to survive.   The dragons, keepers of wisdom and knowledge, sought to help the struggling peoples of the world. They especially felt sorry for those known as humans. Weaker, and less developed than the elves, orcs and dwarves, the dragons took them in and shared what they could with the primitive beings. With the dragon’s help, the humans gained the use of tools and developed true speech. They crept from their caves and learned how to forage and construct clothing from cured pelts. They grew bolder, their numbers increased, and they prospered.

This arrangement did not please everyone. The First, leader of the elves, saw the rise of the humans as yet more competition for the world’s habitable land. Every day they birthed more squalling brats, hungry for food already grown scarce. His people, continually at war with the goblinoid races, could ill afford to find themselves with another threat to contend with. He dared not fight the dragons on this issue, though. Even the weakest of them could rend with claws and crush with serpentine tails. A single dragon could vaporize hundreds of elves with a single blast of its fiery breath. The First needed to find a way to thwart them without bringing another war to his people.

In desperation he called upon his son, Umbral. While he loathed his young son, shamed by the boy’s small size and slender limbs, he knew of no other with a mind clever enough to devise a ploy to stop the dragons from aiding the humans. When the boy answered his father’s summons, the First demanded the youngster accomplish the impossible. Umbral, merely tipped his head, and assured his father he would succeed.

Clever, even for an elf, Umbral allowed the problem to settle in the fertile soil of his mind like a seed. He studied the dragons and over time noticed the many similarities between the birds of the cliffs and the massive reptiles. He observed how they shared similar bone structures. Many of the dragons flew and a few even sported feathers. They laid eggs and cared for their young in much the same way as the predatory raptors of the high steppes. All of these things set the elf to wondering just how much the two had in common.

One day, while leading some gnomes on a merry chase, a gem slipped loose from the bag he’d stolen and fell to the ground. As the elf watched, a bird spotted the glittering gem and snatched it up and stashed it in its nest. And just like that Umbral knew how he could put an end to the alliance between humans and dragons.

Having a plan was one thing, acquiring the tool required to follow through with it proved much more challenging. Not just any pretty bauble would do. Regardless of how much the dragons had in common with their feathery cousins, their intellect would never allow them to succumb to the lure of a mundane gem, no matter how lovely. And so, Umbral hunted. And he searched. He even forced himself to act kindly to the silly, insane gnomes so that he might gain their trust, and then tricked them into handing over the molten gem they called Mother’s Heart. And finally, he negotiated with the hairy, odious dwarves of the Shortshanks Clan in order to have the proper enchantments imbued into Mother’s Heart. In the end, he strode from the dwarves’ caverns, eyes gleaming in triumph, his prize swaddled within the folds of his cloak. He slipped into the obscurity of the night, and with a thought, transported himself to the lair of a certain green dragon he knew of.

When Umbral emerged from the flickering shadows to stand before the dragon, the great creature rose to greet him and said in a booming voice, “How may I serve a son of the elves?”

Umbral shook his head and smiled. “This day, noble dragon,” he said, “it is I who is only too pleased to reward you with a gift befitting your superiority over all other living things.” So saying, the elf whisked away the cloak he’d used to conceal his treasure, and flourished the gem before the dragon’s astonished eyes.

Never before had the dragon seen such an astounding sight. The gem, nearly as large as the elf’s head, instantly captivated him with how it seemed to possess a life of its own. Though enormous, it perched lightly upon the tips of Umbral’s long fingers, as though it weighed no more than a dream. Pictures, images of what was, had been, and what might be floated within its depths. Knowledge beyond even the green’s reckoning seduced him. Its sparkling inner fire dazzled him. He desired it more than anything else in the world. And it occurred to him that the elf spoke true. For all these great many years the soft creatures of the world had come to him seeking much, but offering little in return. This… yes, this was an offering worthy of a being such as he.

Umbral saw his plan had worked, that he had found the dragon’s one great weakness. He took a step back and allowed his eyes to go wide in feigned shock. “Surely, this is not the first such gift you have received?” he said. “Because of your help the dwarves have evolved to where they pull the gleaming blood from the Father’s veins, and craft glorious items of shining silver and gold. Your knowledge has raised the gnomes from savagery and they now cut fine gems like this and create beautiful jewelry. And the humans…”

“Enough!” The dragon cut the elf off. For a moment, Umbral feared he’d gone too far, that the dragon had seen through him, but then the green plucked the gem from his fingertips and clutched it to its breast, eyes shining with newborn avarice. “You have done me a great service, young elf,” he said. “The dwarves, the humans, the gnomes, and even the halflings – they keep these things from us? Learn from us and then hoard this beauty and power for themselves?”

“I-I-I had no idea,” the elf said, turning away as if he could not bear to see the pain of betrayal there upon the dragon’s face. “Oh, forgive me for being the unwitting bearer of such hurtful news.”

The dragon gazed upon the elf with the last vestiges of kindness in its heart. “Do not fret, my child, for you have saved me and others of my kind from this mockery. Go in peace.”

Umbral bowed deeply, as befitted a servant to so great a being, and took his leave, gliding into the shadows. The green quickly called upon his fellow dragons, and showed them his wondrous gem and told them how those they’d loved, as they would their own children, laughed at them behind their hands, and kept such magnificent prizes all to themselves.

The other dragons, captivated by the beautiful gem and what lay within it, desired it greatly. As the green’s story ended, their hearts filled with anger, and their gazes turned to all corners of the world where the two-legged people lived with their treasures.

And so came to pass the poisoning of the hearts and minds of the dragons.