A bellowing screech blasted into the night, slicing the cold air, the sound rattling the tiles on the rooftops.
Crackling fire. The beating of enormous leathery wings. A green silhouette against the drop of the night sky, a bright white moon shining blue light down on flames of green that ate away at the wood, the iron, the cobbled streets. Fire in every corner.
Screams, frantic and bewildered. Confusion and the blurry fog of tears in the eyes of men and women, clutching their children, their animals, their clothing, anything they could hold while running.
A little girl, ragged breath sucked frantically into her chest, her beating heart pounding in her head, her vision a haze of madness, stumbled gracelessly into the street, tripping over her dress, and as she reached down to pluck a dangling ribbon from beneath her slipper, the sound came again.
A sound like steel twisting against itself, ripping the air to shreds, and a gust of heat blasted over the rooftops, rattling the trees and knocking over the carts. Food strewn about the street was flung up into the air from the force of it, in all corners there were flames, green flames eating the doorways, the signs, the merchant carts. Flowers crackled with green fire in the street.
The little girl tumbled forward from the blast. She landed flat on her stomach and her nose smacked hard against the cobbled street. She was vaguely aware that there was pain in her head somewhere, and her vision was now tinged with red. She fell helplessly onto her back and looked up into the sky.
Green embers over green flames, against a black sky, somewhere beyond the veil of smoke there were stars still shining thoughtlessly through.
She hoisted herself up onto her elbows and drew a breath that she could not quite hear, because all sound was now a hazy din, a high-pitched ringing somewhere inside her head. She looked up ahead, she could hear screaming in all directions, yet she saw only the empty street, its contents turned in on itself, lanterns and silk streamers and placards piled on fruit and toys. The ghastly accoutrements of festivity tossed lazily into a swarm of nightmarish fever.
There was a figure against the sky, green as the flames. It was not quite solid, and yet it was corporeal. Glowing lights where a face might be, the shape of wings unfurled, and the body a mass of green flame. Beneath the two lights, the flaming shape of jagged teeth as a jaw opened, and the bellowing screech came again, accompanied by a river of flame in all shades of green, ribbons of emerald searing across the wind.
She held up a hand instinctively to shield herself.
Flames ripped across the rooftops and into every quarter of the city. In the distance a castle was burning, green fire rising from the windows. Emerald smoke hovered in a humid vapor above the city. A trail of green fire burned down the central path of the city, and struck out at an odd angle, where it led into a square of burning trees.
Surrounded by flames, a man in dark armor held a child close against his breast, blood spilling across the metal plate and over his fingers, blood drenching the child’s back and his cotton shirt.
The king wept into his son’s neck, cradling the unconscious boy.
A woman’s voice shouted over the roaring inferno, “It must be done! He has brought the demon with him, it will not cede until he is dead!”
“Woman!” croaked the man, “You speak of your son!”
“My son has been consumed by a devil!” she wailed. The flames cast a flickering shadow onto the stones, that of a slender woman in a thin gown, tangled hair, thin fingers clutching the handle of a long knife.
The king lay the boy down on the stones. His eyes were still wide, though he saw nothing. His chest rose so gently it may not have moved at all.
The king’s eyes narrowed as he drew the sword from his side. He advanced upon her and there was a shriek, and the sound of flesh being pierced. The flickering shadows showed a woman run through with a sword, and a thin arm curving around to stab a knife into the man’s back. A guttural moan as they both fell.
The little boy’s eyes were bright blue, and his gaze held nothing at all, his thoughts somewhere far away from the heat and the fear. Blood pooled around his body, his arm flung to the side and his fingers twitching as if to grasp something that was not there.
There was a clicking of boots, the slow steps of one solitary figure, a mass of black cloak and long dark hair against the bright green of the fire. A man knelt down by the boy, his unkempt hair dangling over his eyes.
“Little prince,” he whispered, “Life has more for you yet than this.”
The man’s gloved hands scooped the boy up in one fluid motion, and his cloak whipped behind him as he walked directly into the green flame, and through it.
Green sparks fell over the dying bodies of the husband and wife who lay gasping on the stones. Green sparks whirled up into the night sky.
There was silence, but for crackling fire and a thunderous, croaking growl.
Though the spread of the fire was too quick to have begun in one place and spread outward, and though several credible sources cite eyewitness accounts of a dragon in the city on the night of the fire, there is still endless debate about what exactly caused the devastation. All that can be known for certain is that the city was almost entirely set alight within a matter of minutes, and in several places at once, as though fire were poured out of the firmament onto the city. Since there is no true record of any dragons existing outside of folklore, and since the same eyewitness accounts who credit a dragon for the destruction also claim that it seemed to vanish instantaneously, there will likely never be any solid understanding of how the great fire happened.
Equally unqualifiable are the narratives of a demon-possessed prince setting fire to the castle. Though the Church has certainly spread this account of events, indeed the belief in possession by a demon led to the religious fervor that resulted in the church stepping in to help rebuild the city, and subsequently take a hand in its governance, there is still little evidence to support any of the myriad claims of sinister thaumaturgy.
What is known for certain is that the history of Alexandria was inexorably altered by the devastation of the experience. Faith in the royal family dissipated entirely, so much so that though the line continued, no member of the royal family since has had any hand in the rule of the nation. Though a theocracy was proposed by the church, the citizenry ultimately adopted governance by council, albeit with ecclesiastical inclination: the majority of Alexandria’s council members have been clergymen or at least professed spiritualists, and several seats on the council are usually filled by representatives of the Church itself.
Folklore about the event persists to this day: mothers whisper to naughty children that the green dragon may come take them away in the night if they don’t mind their elders, and a fervent fear of possession endures in modern religious congregations.
Whether by dragon, by devil, or by human design, the proud nation of Alexandria, once famed for its ceaseless conquer of more than half of the surrounding continent, was dissolved into several regions that became their own governments following the destruction of the capital city, and though a new Alexandria rose in place of the old, the era of a kingdom fully united beneath a single banner faded into the annals of history, and for better or worse the flames of destruction cultivated the land afresh and history gave over to a new age.