“You said there was a problem in the crystal mines,” said Mikhail, the king’s chief adviser.
“In a sense, yes,” said Issac, the court magician. “A fairly serious one.”
“It had better be fixable,” said Mikhail. “The kingdom’s prosperity depends on those crystals.”
“It’s fixable, in a way,” said Issac.
Mikhail crossed his arms in annoyance. It went without saying that the crystals, filled with pure unfiltered magic, were the Marchenwald Kingdom’s main energy source, as well as it’s biggest economic export. A threat to the crystals was a literal threat to the kingdom.
Without another word, Issac entered his workshop and held the door open for his immediate superior. Books and instruments lined three of the walls, and two of Issac’s apprentices were nervously working away on side projects. On the far wall rested a massive mirror, currently surviving as a long-distance ‘scrying window,’ and the duo moved in front of this instrument.
Displayed within the window was an imposing dragon. By Mikhail’s estimation, it had to be the size of a castle, and it’s midnight black scales had a greasy sheen to them. The rhythmic movement of its chest made clear to the awestruck adviser that it was still very much alive.
“My apprentices and I found this while checking a side vein in the crystal mines,” said Issac. “We estimate that it’s five-hundred feet below the earth’s surface.”
“How can something that size be that far underground without us knowing?” said Mikhail.
“I truly don’t know, Sir,” said Issac. “The dragon could have gotten trapped in the cavern via natural forces, or it could have been trapped there by an earlier civilization. Without further evidence, though…”
“No, I understand,” said Mikhail. “So what’s keeping the creature down there?”
“That is an easier question to answer.” Issac moved the scry window over to one wall of the cavern with a wave of his hand. Embedded in the wall were the largest crystals that Mikhail has ever seen.
“The Kingdom’s thaumatological community has been trying to figure out why the crystals tend to grow larger at deeper depths.” Moving the scry window back on the dragon with a sweeping motion, Issac said, “Given that dragons are naturally overcharged with magic energy, though? I’d say that the crystals in this cavern have been sapping this dragon’s magic for centuries, possibly millennia. This has left it it too weak to escape from it’s cavern prison, even taking our mining activity into account.”
Mikhail nodded along, then started as insight struck him like lighting.
“Wait,” he said. “That means that all of the magic energy contained within the crystals was drained from this beast.”
“Yes,” said Issac. “And…”
Issac trailed off, clearly worried.
“Well?” snapped Mikhail. “Is there something else?”
“Yes,” said Issac. “Dragons also regenerate magic over time. Thus, the more crystals we remove from the ground, the fewer crystals there are to drain the dragon’s magic as it regenerates, and the weaker its prison becomes. At the rate we’re currently mining them, it will likely escape within two centuries.”
“That’s a long time,” said Mikhail, surprised.
“Not as long as you’d think, sir,” said Issac. “Simply put, we need to replace these crystals with another energy source within that time frame or risk massive destruction when it finally breaks out.”
“Are you certain of that?”
“I admit that it is not our only option, but it’s the only certain solution.”
Mikhail placed a hand over his mouth and paced, eyes to the floor, deep in thought. Issac watched him, nervous. Long minutes passed.
Finally, Mikhail looked up again.
“This stays between us,” he said, flatly.
“But sir…” said Issac.
“No. Do not tell anyone about this, not the king, nor anyone else,” said Mikhail. “This stays between you and the apprentices. Disobey, and your sanctions will be swift.”
“This creature could be a threat to the entire kingdom.”
“In two centuries.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“Put simply?” Mikhail turned towards Issac. “Our problem is keeping the kingdom prosperous. Our descendants can deal with the dragon.”
Issac’s jaw dropped as he tried to find the right words. “With all due respect, sir, that attitude is downright callous…”
“And forsaking the prosperity of the Kingdom would be monstrous,”said Mikhail. “Besides, this dragon has been down there for centuries. We don’t know how much of a threat it really poses.”
“Given the considerable damage that smaller dragons have historically caused, I’m going to guess that it would be catastrophic. It is absolutely irresponsible to pass this down the line.”
Mikhail noted the defiance in the court magician’s voice, and instantly placed him as a potential problem.“If you care that much, then you figure out a solution. You said we had options, after all.”
“Do not push me, Magi, if you value your favor with the king.”
That last threat dropped, Mikhail stalked towards the workshop’s exit. Before he did, however, he took one last look at the dragon in the window. It had shifted ever-so-slightly in its prison and the window currently gave him a clear look into its eyes. They were dusty yellow. The cold indifference in them drew the adviser's gaze like a vortex. Mikhail swore that the beast was looking at him through the window and the thought sent a chill through his very soul.
He’d have a hard time putting the sight out of his mind.
Bryan Wood’s work has been published in Halcyon Magazine and ArtAscent. He lives in the Greater Vancouver Region of BC, Canada, where he spends his days volunteering at libraries and archives, laying power cables or washing dishes for the event industry, and swimming lengths at the local public pool. He writes fiction as a form of meditation from the many worries of modern life and is frequently surprised by the results.