The great and ancient philosopher Utahamanicus tells the tale of a lost civilization:
In the ancient kingdom of Argostolia, there were once two young highborn noblemen named Democritus and Republicus. They came to be known as the Twins.
Argostolia, also known as the Dragon Isle, ruled its world through sorcerous might and sheer power for centuries before the birth or the Twins. However, by the time of their birth, it was slipping from its preeminent place, becoming only one of many nations. Its people were not wholly human, resembling instead the elves of legend – skilled with magic, tall, lithe and beautiful, though psychologically similar to cats, with a callous, predatory and disaffected nature. This was a civilization bound by many traditions.
These were an exceptional people with sorcerous dominion over all, including a race of dragons – but in the decay brought about by their decadence; the dragons were neglected and over the centuries were slaughtered for sport until only one, a female, remained.
Argostolia’s capital and only surviving city is Amrryr, known as The Dreaming City. Most of the rest of the island has been allowed to revert to wilderness in the time of the Twins. Caverns exist below the island, in which the single remaining dragon sleeps, awaiting the Argostolian sorcerer’s summons to war.
Decadence was not the only reason for the decline of the Dreaming City – there was a new age dawning, an age of reason, logic and science with a new race to command it – humans. The Age of Man was beginning.
In The Dreaming City sat the Ruby Throne, upon which sat the dying emperor, Sadric, the sire of the Twins.
Democritus and Republicus were born at exactly the same time, one almost crawling over the other as if they understood their birthright even in the womb. Unfortunately, the stress of a simultaneous birth was too great for their mother, Queen Hestius, and she died while giving them life.
Since the issue of birthright was not decided at birth, the Twins fought constantly for their father’s favor in order that he declare as his heir, one brother or the other.
Tired of the fighting, the dying King sent the young princes on a quest to resolve the question once and for all. The prince who killed the last remaining dragon of Amrryr and returned with its heart would sit on the Ruby Throne as the rightful ruler of Argostolia.
Entering the caverns, both brothers were equally equipped with sword, shield and sorcery to defeat the remaining dragon. Not knowing where he was hiding in the vast caverns under Amrryr, the brothers set about two different paths, Democritus to the left and Republicus to the right.
In his search, Republicus encountered a rocky and difficult path through many obstacles. Eventually, deep in the caverns he encountered an ancient group of Men who had lived in the caverns so long that they had forgotten that there was a world above. He befriended them and asked for their help to find the dragon. The people recoiled in horror – they told Republicus that after a set period of time, about every 4 years, the dragon awoke in hunger and consumed members of their society as food, and only when her hunger was sated, would she return to her cavernous lair to sleep.
Republicus was determined. He told them of his quest and proposed that if they helped him to kill the she-beast, they would be free to live their lives as they wished, absent of the worry of being consumed at the end of every fourth year. They agreed and set about preparations for the hunt.
But as fate would have it, Democritus’ leftward path took him straight to the dragon’s den. The left path had been cleared and paved with smooth stones by the armies of history to allow easy access to the caverns. As he reached the end of the paved path, he saw that time had destroyed the elaborately decorated hatchery and the pens where the warrior dragons were kept and cared for. Climbing over these ruins, he came upon the entrance of a cavern that smelled of ash and brimstone and knowing this to be a sign of a living dragon; he entered and found his sleeping quarry.
Dragons have but one vulnerable spot. Under their chest and over their heart, there is one missing scale where a sword might penetrate and to access this vulnerability, Democritus knew he would have to cast a spell to wake the dragon so she would rise up from her sleep.
The Argostolian sorcery had grown weak as many of the ancient gods had passed as of the Age of Man dawned. Democritus could cast a spell strong enough to wake the dragon but not strong enough to control it (as his ancient predecessors had done).
Casting his spell, the dragon awoke.
Democritus spoke to her, “I am Democritus, Prince of Argostolia and I am here to take your heart!”
And, much to his surprise, the dragon spoke in return, “I am Tartarus of Amrryr, the last of my kind, and I will not allow you to kill me! I know why you are here because even as dragons sleep, they see the affairs of the Argostolians. Our races are linked in mind and spirit.”
Democritus cowered behind his shield and awaited the blast of fire that was sure to follow.
But instead, Tartarus spoke again, “I am weary of my sleep and lonely in my solitude. Inside of me are the eggs of my children. I only wish for life for them and myself. I will help you defeat your brother if you allow me to live. I require only that I am allowed to take as many men as necessary to rebuild my strength and to sustain my young.”
Democritus, caring little for the barbarism of the race of Man, agreed. “You may kill the Men but do not harm my brother”, Democritus declared.
“But you must also subdue Argostolians as well, my Master” hissed Tartarus, “There will be those loyal to your father and brother who must be dealt with.”
“Then you shall kill only those Argostolians whom I direct”, said Democritus, “Agree to that and I shall accept your proposal.”
“Agreed”, said Tartarus.
“Done”, said Democritus.
Upon this agreement, Tartarus and Democritus marched toward the surface, encountering Republicus and his band on the way. They easily defeated Republicus and true to her word, Tartarus spared Republicus. Knowing that Republicus would never give up or forgive him, Democritus chained his brother to the cavern wall. Upon reaching the edge of the forests surrounding the cavern opening, Democritus cast a spell over an eagle so that it would take food and water to his brother in perpetuity.
So thereafter, Democritus waged war on both Men and the Argostolians who opposed him, including some who petitioned for his patronage – as he considered them unworthy and weak.
Tartarus upheld her end of the bargain and within a year, Democritus ruled unopposed and she gave birth to 15 hatchlings. The hatchlings grew quickly and bore voracious appetites. Near the end of the third year of Democritus’ rule, the last Man was consumed and only Argostolians remained.
Soon, beset by hunger, Tartarus and her young began to consume the remaining Argostolians.
Democritus journeyed to her cave to command her to stop, passing his brother, still very much alive but remaining chained to the cavern wall.
“Tartarus! Come forth! I command thee!” shouted the King of Amrryr.
Tartarus lumbered out of her lair, surrounded by her children. “What do you want?” she asked in a defiant tone.
“You have broken our agreement, you are killing my people.” Democritus said, “This must end.”
“I am not killing your people, my children are – and I made no such agreement regarding the actions of my children. Now leave me to my own devices, ere you become fodder for my children, my kiiiiing.” echoed the hissing retort, the last two words dripping with condescension. “We have the power now, we are strong – you are weak. There are no Men left and too few remaining Argostolians with the will to defeat both me and my children, you saw to that as you clawed your way to the Ruby Throne. We will decide who to kill and what we want. You no longer have the power to control us and therefore are no longer of concern to us.”
As the children of Tartarus screamed in unison, Democritus and his retinue turned and ran.
On the way to the surface, he stopped and ordered his guards to unchain his brother.
“My brother, I am sorry for what I did. The beast that I unleashed on our island controls all and seeks to destroy the last of our people. What must be done?”
“Democritus, there is a reason our father sent us to kill the last remaining dragon. Ages ago, our forefathers made a bargain with the dragon race and we were rewarded with the same bitter victory. When our ancient forefathers had subjugated the world, the dragons turned on us and almost killed us all. We suffered greatly in a war for our independence from them. They were commanded by a Dragon Queen called Tartarus, the same dragon you have unleashed on our country. Our father sought to find the heir who would not bargain with this tyranny, rather fight to the death to end it – even to choose death over serfdom. The only way to be free is to kill her and her children. There is no way to bargain with her – because trust is not a quality a beast possesses – a dragon is always a dragon.”
And so began the struggle to recover freedoms lost.
The moral of the story?
Making deals with an evil beast is a dangerous thing when the only drive of the beast is to live.