Welcome to the cave of Malcolm Blackfire. Sorry for the poor lighting; that big blazing lantern on the ceiling doesn't illuminate things nearly as well as I'd like it too. I'll admit this place looks a little sparse at the moment, for a dragon cave, but that's because I told Malcolm to clear some space for the Silmaril Award Ceremony. He's still left plenty of gold and gems lying around, as you can see…but I would strongly recommend you not touch any of them.
“GAAAH!” I jump and spin around to face a pair of huge, glowing eyes. “Oh. I really wish you wouldn't creep up on people like that, Smaug, it's very unsettling.”
Yes, that's the Smaug. Try not to stare at him for too long, you might get…whammied.
“Overwhelmed by my magical influence,” the enormous, red-and-gold dragon explains. “Hypnotized, to employ the human term.” He laughs. He's got a very creepy laugh. “The use of such power may not exactly be sporting, but there are times when one doesn't want to bother chasing down one's food.” As he looms over us, his belly glitters with a layer of treasure he uses to shield the more vulnerable skin in that area.
Don't worry, I'm not going to let him eat you. Why don't we sit down over there and just watch? Between you and me, I think this is going to end badly. Yeah, even worse than the Least Competent Henchman Ceremony. And the Most Nefarious Villain Ceremony.
Just brace yourself. And be ready to run. I've made sure the back exit is clear.
Let's see, who do we have here…well, Smaug, of course, presenting the awards. You probably know him already. Then there's Clefspeare, from the Dragons in Our Midst series by Bryan Davis. He's the noble and good-hearted father of Billy Bannister. If everything goes haywire, I'd recommend staying near him–he's probably the safest dragon in this place right now (though that's not to say he's actually safe in a general sense).
That red-and-black dragon over there is Amber, or Lady Dragon, from the Rizkaland books by Kendra E. Ardnek. She's…complicated. Technically a villain, but that word doesn't really encompass the full range of her motivations. She thinks she's doing the right thing, which, in a way, makes her even more dangerous, as is the case with all the most formidable villains. I can't really say much more because of spoilers. And because most of these dragons have been extracted from fairly early in their respective continuities, spoilers are incredibly dangerous things right here and now. Saying the wrong thing could alter the histories of entire universes…or even destroy them.
The blue dragon is Saphira, from the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini. She's kind of quiet–she only speaks telepathically–but the magical properties of this cave should allow us to hear her anyway. I hope I don't have the volume on the mental interception sigils turned up too loud; it'll give us a nasty headache. Anyway, Saphira's quite an admirable dragon, in my opinion, if a little unpredictable. Don't threaten her human, and you'll probably be fine around her.
And, of course, we have the red dragon Malcolm Blackfire. True dragon name: Malchazor. And yes, I write him. To say that I “created” him would open the door to all sorts of weird causality paradoxes, so let's just stick to the word “write” for the purposes of this ceremony. The last of the five dragon finalists–the green one–is Julio, Malcolm's son (dragon name Khulyrithar). He's a little more approachable than Malcolm. He and his dad really don't get along, but they're not blasting fire in each other's faces this morning, so at least that's something. I made them promise to behave. Those smug expressions of theirs are worrying me a little, though.
I'm not sure what's in those big goblets all the dragons are drinking from. I was too afraid to ask.
“Good day,” Smaug booms, as he surveys the group of dragons. “I must say, I do look forward to these ceremonies. What an unusual day it is when we dragons convene in such large numbers. Especially without trying to eat each other.” He grins. “Of course, who can say what may happen before this day is done?”
“Excuse me,” says Malcolm, annoyed. “This happens to be my cave, and I strongly disapprove of cannibalism.”
“Hear, hear,” Clefspeare rumbles.
“Bleagh,” says Julio, making a face.
Smaug makes no comment on this, but merely goes smiling in an unsettling way. “Once again,” he says, “it is my duty to reveal who, among the five great dragons selected this year, has been granted the title of Most Magnificent Dragon. Only one of you may possess this coveted Silmaril.” He raises a forefoot to reveal a large, glowing red gem dangling from his claws by a ribbon. Its red light flickers in the eyes of all the dragons. They all lick their lips…except for Saphira, who seems confused by her fellow dragons' interest in the shiny object.
Why is this so important? Her words echo through everyone's minds. It is a rock; nothing more.
Everyone gasps. Amber and Smaug look coldly at Saphira, as if she were a child who has spoken out of turn.
“Moving on,” Smaug grumbles, “we have a…ugh…” He briefly looks ill, then swallows hard and continues. “We have a special appearance–” (his tone as he speaks the words drips with sarcasm) “–from the ‘winner' of this Silmaril from last year.” He uses his claws to make air quotes around the word “winner.” “Though I do not for a moment consider him to have been worthy.”
A young human boy steps out from behind Smaug, looking rather pale and terrified. He blinks in the dim light and leans against the wall to find his way through the cave. Or at least, he thinks it's the wall. When Smaug's scales move under his touch, he squeaks in alarm and staggers back from the beast.
“Introduce yourself, hatchling,” Smaug sneers. “I haven't the stomach for it.”
“Do not bully the boy,” Clefspeare intones, and steps forward. He gives the human an encouraging smile…though encouraging smiles from a dragon are rather easy to misinterpret as hunger. Eustace turns a shade paler, but finally nods and pulls himself together.
“Eustace Clarence Scrubb,” he says. As if in response to his sudden burst of courage, the Silmaril hanging around his neck glitters a little more brightly. “And before you say anything, yes, I know, I'm not a dragon right now, but I used to be.”
“Hello!” says Julio, waving a claw. “Very nice to meet you.”
Malcolm looks suspiciously at the child. “I must admit, I don't see why he's eligible. Honestly, these humans under spells; they think they can waltz right in and claim honors which belong to true dragons…”
Amber's eyes flash. “My natural form happens to be human.”
Malcolm exchanges an uneasy glance with her, then clears his throat. “What I mean is…yes. Never mind. Carry on.” He takes a sip from his goblet to disguise his embarrassment, as Eustace bows briefly from the waist and makes a hasty exit.
“Enough,” Smaug growls. “Let's get this over with. SCRIBE!”
His shout nearly brings rocks down from the ceiling. I rise to my feet and address Smaug austerely. “I happen to be more than a ‘scribe,' thank you very much.”
“Whatever. You're Malcolm's servant, aren't you?”
“Well…” Malcolm begins, but a glare from me silences him.
I hold up the envelope containing the results of the grand contest. “Before we begin, I think a word of explanation is in order.”
The dragons all mutter amongst themselves in irritation, except for Saphira, who simply gazes at me with calm, unblinking eyes, and Julio, who's bouncing up and down on his forefeet with excitement.
“This was an unusually…intense competition,” I say, choosing my words carefully. “And in the end, the contest came down to two dragons who were neck-and-neck in the final hours of voting.”
“Aha.” Malcolm smiles and turns to Julio, who chuckles. “I think we can guess who those were.”
I close my eyes. “Malcolm…”
“It's all right,” he says. “No need for modesty, is there? After all, we are both quite magnificent dragons. It's only logical that we would be the final contenders for the Silmaril.”
“This is true,” says Julio cheerfully. “We are very magnificent.”
“Oh, get over yourselves,” Amber drawls, stretching her wings and yawning. “Good grief. Your world may revolve around you, but there are plenty of others. Mine happens to be very fond of me.”
“That's…not what I've heard,” Clefspeare points out, trying to be diplomatic but failing.
Amber curls her lip at him. “Quiet, you. You're another one of those people who simply doesn't understand. I desire power because I am owed power. I am supposed to rule my world. And once I do, it will be better off, trust me. I'm not another preening, self-absorbed kleptomaniac like those two.” She jerks her head in Malcolm and Julio's direction.
“Hey!” they shout in unison.
“I don't even have time to be here,” Amber adds. “I've got better things to occupy myself with than winning a gemstone, albeit a very intriguing one.”
Saphira shakes her head. I do not understand any of this. Can we not simply fight over the shiny rock and be done with it? I wish to return to Eragon. He cannot manage for long without me.
“We can end it very quickly,” says Malcolm. “Just tell them the obvious truth, Shultz. In the final showdown with my son, I beat him soundly and emerged the one true bearer of the Silmaril.”
I grit my teeth. “Malcolm, will you be quiet for a second?”
“Yes!” Julio adds indignantly. “Shut up so he can tell them that I beat you!”
“Can you just listen?” I throw up my hands in irritation. “The big showdown wasn't between the two of you!”
Malcolm and Julio both blink. “What?”
I hand the envelope to Smaug. “Let's just get on with this,” I say wearily. “Go ahead and read off the placements, Smaug. I did my best.”
Smaug snatches the envelope from me as I go back to sit down. “Very well.” He slices it open with a claw, squints his glowing eyes at the page, and begins to read. “In fifth place, we have…”
“Yes, yes, yes,” Julio whispers. “Get the dragons at the bottom done with so we can find out–”
Silence falls. Julio's jaw drops open, and a wisp of smoke drifts from his throat. “¿Qué?”
“You heard me,” says Smaug. “Fifth place, Julio Blackfire of the Afterverse, with 6.7% of the vote.”
“Oh,” says Malcolm. “I see. Too bad, Julian.”
“Fifth?” says Julio.
“Fifth?” says Julio.
“NEXT,” bellows Smaug, “in fourth place, Amber, or Lady Dragon, from the Rizkaland series, with 13.5% of the vote.”
Amber growls and scrapes a claw on the stone floor. “This is unacceptable. I demand a recount.”
“I thought you didn't care about the gemstone,” says Clefspeare.
“Shut up,” she hisses.
“Fifth?” says Julio.
“In third place,” says Smaug, “Clefspeare from the Dragons in Our Midst series, with 21.5% of the vote.”
Clefspeare merely nods and smiles. “Oh well. I'm very grateful for all the votes I received, in any case.”
Amber clicks her tongue. “Really. A competition of dragons is no time to be sickeningly magnanimous.”
Clefspeare ignores the barb.
“Is there really any need for further delay?” said Malcolm. “You could simply announce the winner and be done with it. You're far too melodramatic, Smaug. I've always said so.”
Smaug glares at him. “You want me to skip ahead to the winner?”
“If you would.”
“Fifth?” says Julio.
“Fine.” Smaug's eyes return to the page. “The winner, with 29.4% of the vote…”
Malcolm smiles and takes a sip from his goblet.
“…is Saphira of the Inheritance Cycle.”
“GLLK?!” Malcolm's eyes grow wide as he inhales a mouthful of his drink and starts choking.
“And the penny drops,” I mutter.
Malcolm's goblet clatters to the floor as he continues coughing furiously in Scottish, sending fireballs shooting in every direction. Clefspeare steps over to help him. “It's all right, friend,” he says, patting Malcolm on the back between his great wings. “Breathe. Breathe.”
“Fifth?” says Julio.
“Wnn…gnn…” Malcolm wheezes. “WHAT?” The word finally explodes from his mouth in a blast of flame that gets rather too near our fragile human eyebrows.
“Malcolm Blackfire of the Afterverse,” Smaug continues, “is in second place, with 28.8% of the vote.”
“This is an outrage!” Malcolm fumes. “I can't lose a Silmaril in my own cave!”
I am the victor? Saphira looks from Smaug to me, then back to Smaug. I have won the shiny rock?
Smaug gives her a disapproving look. “So it would seem. And while this result is far more appropriate than the outcome of the last ceremony, I am not sure that I am completely in favor of your victory. You fail to see the value of treasure. You proudly fraternize with humans.” He raises the gem on its ribbon. “How exactly are you worthy of this Silmaril, and the lofty title that comes with it?”
“Yes!” says Malcolm hoarsely. “How? Who are you, anyway? I've never even heard of you!”
“Now, hold on.” I step forward and put a hand on Saphira's shoulder. Gently, just in case she decides to try to bite my hand off. She doesn't.
“I happen to be fond of Saphira,” I say. “Granted, I only just met her–haven't even finished her first book yet, in fact–”
Saphira's brow furrows in confusion at the mention of books.
“–but she's a very brave, loyal dragon. Easily my favorite character in the story so far. I do think she deserves this Silmaril.”
“Traitor!” Malcolm snarls.
“Fifth?” says Julio.
I smile sympathetically at Julio. “For what it's worth, I voted for you.”
Smoke billows from Malcolm's nostrils in huge, angry clouds. “You…did…WHAT?”
“Why shouldn't I?” I turn on Malcolm. “I've got every right. What difference does it make to you if I consider Julio to be slightly more magnificent?”
“Well, apparently, it might have made enough difference for me to lose the blasted Silmaril!” he roars.
“C'est la guerre, Malcolm. Grow up.”
Smaug, meanwhile, reluctantly places the Silmaril around Saphira's neck. Though she still looks confused by the whole affair, as she glances down at the red jewel gleaming against her scaly chest, a hint of pride comes into her eyes.
It is…pretty. She gently taps the gem with a claw, causing it to swing back and forth on its ribbon. I think Eragon will like it. He will be proud of me.
“He should be.” I smile at her. “Well done, Saphira.”
“And with that, the ceremony is over.” Smaug looks at me hopefully. “It is over, right?”
“Thank goodness. It got very tiresome towards the end. All that bickering.” He shakes himself, causing the treasures embedded in his flesh to jingle against each other. “Which way is the exit, Malcolm?”
“Find it yourself!” Malcolm snaps, as he marches off to sulk in a distant chamber of his cave. “Every last one of you had better be out of here within the next ten minutes, or I'm going to be even crosser than I am now! Get out!”
“Gladly.” Amber rolls her eyes. “Quite a sore loser, isn't he?”
Clefspeare shrugs as he walks along beside her. “He's a dragon. Even the best of us are prone to narcissism.”
Very pretty. Saphira smiles and touches her Silmaril again before following Smaug, Clefspeare, and Amber down the big tunnel leading to the exit.
Well, that actually went slightly better than I thought it would. And tomorrow will bring us a new winner, as Madeleine Rose reveals who has been voted the Most Mischievous Imp!
The lights are getting dimmer. We'd better go now, but thanks for coming!
Darkness falls upon the silent cave of Malcolm Blackfire.
“Fifth?” says Julio.