The Dragon and the Fear
Once upon a time, the prosperous kingdom of Kingdomia sprawled out over a vast countryside. The people were happy. Their Queen was benevolent and their laws just.
But like any large kingdom, they had problems. Somewhere on the nearby plains lived a dragon in a hidden cave, who would occasionally emerge and feed on villagers in Kingdomia. When I say "occasionally", I mean it; a few times a year, the dragon would show up and eat a few people in a village of his choosing and fly away (he was not a very hungry dragon).
But the kingdom consisted millions of people spread over thousands of villages, so often citizens of one village were eaten, and other villages remained unaware until some other time when someone they knew was gobbled up; word traveled slowly in those days. Most inhabitants of Kingdomia lived their lives ignorant of the dragon and the danger it posed.
The high priests of the Journalist Guild were called to meet on the issue.
"This is of the utmost importance!" one exclaimed.
"We cannot stand idly by!" the second cried.
"We must do anything and everything in our power to inform the people so that they can prepare themselves for the coming calamity!" said another.
And so they made a difficult choice. Deep in the catacombs of the castle, there lay a devastating creature who preyed on the nightmares and anxieties of the people. Itself barely a whisper of black smoke, nearly invisible, it grew not by strength, not by force, but by its power over people's minds as it provoked fear. The called it simply: The Fear.
And in this dark moment, the high priests decided they must unleash it. As they opened the sacred chest containing The Fear, they whispered softly through the smoke: "The Dragon."
And The Fear whispered back, ever so softly:
In a flash, The Fear was gone (but it was never really gone). The Journalist Guild continued their meeting. Though they couldn't decide whether the dragon was the most important story of the last 500 years, or the last 1000 years, they agreed that this was the central story of the entire kingdom (of course, it's a freaking dragon!). They put it on the front page of every newspaper throughout the realm.
And The Fear began to spread throughout the land. It moved into the town, through the markets, into people's homes and into their hearts. It infected their waking moments and their dreams. It spread its tendrils across the thousand villages of Kindomia, speaking in hushed tones into the ears of ordinary people:
Soon, the citizens were up in arms. They demanded that the Queen issue a special proclamation on the issue, and change the laws to reflect the dangers they now faced. They gathered pitchforks, clubs, and other implements of war into their homes and barricaded the doors to try to defend their families. After a while, it seemed like no-one talked of anything but the dragon. I mean, how could they??
The next few times the dragon struck, the people were more prepared to fight back. A few times, they even prevented the attack and saved the lives of their compatriots, and these successes spread far and wide, through the writings of the Journalist Guild. The people prepared ever more stridently, at the expense of everything else. They knew nothing but The Fear.
But the dragon was not a hungry one. And while the people waited, barricaded in their homes, their cities languished. The markets withered. Laborers stopped going to work. The children could not play outside or even go to school. The Queen, powerless to assist beyond the simplest mobilization of troops to the borderlands, was locked inside the deepest recesses of the castle. The Journalist Guild continued to publish the latest terrifying reports of dragon attacks in far-off villages, as was their duty, while the people waited anxiously for the next.
One hundred years hence, the prosperous kingdom of Kingdomia was a shell of its former self. Relationships collapsed, as people stopped discussing non-dragon issues. Couples opted to avoid having children, lest they have more mouths to feed and bodies to defend. Some died of starvation. And still The Fear gripped them, assuring them that there was nothing else to attend to, nothing nearly as important as their safety from this fiery beast that could strike at any moment. It spoke now not in a whisper, but in a full, devilish voice:
One hundred years hence, there was nothing left, just a swirling black smoke that engulfs the remains where once there were villages.
Kingdomia was destroyed not by the dragon, but by The Fear.