The Grand Ducal Palace of Lower Gregaria was a most impressive edifice. Covering over fifty city blocks, it was an engineering marvel and a monument to overpowering greed. To the passerby, its flying buttresses, climbing towers and aesthetic spires would evoke comparisons to the Taj Mahal and the Chrysler Building. To the hapless burglar, its cunning security systems and endless supply of guards would evoke comparisons to Fort Knox or a nuclear missile silo. To the unfortunate UN human rights investigator, or more unfortunate prisoner, the sordid prison cells and sadistic jailkeepers would evoke comparison to Nazi Germany.
But if anything could match the grandeur of the outside of the Palace, it would have to be the squalor of the surrounding city. All the wealth of Lower Gregaria went into its construction, and it was indeed all the money—one hundred percent taxation and squads of grim-eyed collectors saw to that. When that money ran out, High Duke Alexei just ran off more in the mints, taking the textiles of the country, along with the wool from the cloths of any peasant foolish enough to resist. “Massacre Money,” the international media called the new Gregarian dollars, but no one took any action.
Now the building was complete, and the city around it in ruins. Winter was coming, so the people lit mountains of Gregarian thousand dollar bills for warmth. They had more money than they’d ever imagined, after the money worked its way back into the now trashed economy, but they couldn’t even buy a loaf of stale bread with it. Million percent inflation will do that to you.
In the Palace, though, stale bread was present only in the croutons. Here, the Duke showered his opulence on his loyal ministers, and wheedled through his latest excess. He didn’t like to go against his advisors, so he made sure that they agreed with him. Now the Minister of the Mint reeled back, shocked by the Duke’s latest proposal. “But, but,” he sputtered, “There isn’t enough! We can’t make another palace, much less one larger than this one. There simply isn’t enough money! No one will lend us cash; the people certainly can’t pay, and—”
“See to it that they do,” said the Duke, slipping out through the crowd. For some reason, he was very tired, and so decided to duck out. He wouldn’t be missed, and the lips of dissidents were always looser when they didn’t think he could hear them. The recording devices would help ensure a large number of arrests.
When Duke Alexei arrived at his bedroom, which in any lesser building would qualify as a ballroom, the guards turned aside, brought out the ducal fingerprint scanner (an inelegant device, but effective), and unbarred the burnished steel doors, over a foot thick. All precautions taken, Alexei entered his room, where anyone besides the Duke entering would be killed by the additional guards in the room. The security system was one of the best in the world, as evidenced by the continued survival of one such as the Duke, which is probably why he was so surprised to see, when the doors closed behind him and the lights came on, the corpses of all ten guards, and to hear the voice behind him.
He wheeled with surprising speed, drawing a revolver he carried at all times and firing it at the creature calling his name above the door. The bullets sank into its skin without any sign of an effect, and Alexei got a better look at the creature. It was snakelike, with a tail splitting into many parts, each tipped with a wicked-looking barb. The thing dangled from the ceiling fixtures, and, horribly, it spoke: “Alexei Dasakovsky. You have nearly killed me, so I must kill you. You make my people turn away from me. I am starving Alexei, starving for their faith. And you’ve destroyed that. Do you have any idea, Alexei?”
The Duke shrank back, terrified, yet already planning escape. Just keep it talking, a small part of him said, while the rest was consumed with blind panic. “What are you? What have I done? What are you?” he screamed, scrambling away.
“I am a god,” it hissed, leisurely swinging from chandelier to chandelier, keeping pace with him, “the god of the Gregarian Dollar. And I am angry. You’ve made the believers lose their faith. All I am to them now is cheap firewood. I had the strength of the currency, and now l am so weakened by this loss of value. You will die for this.”
Some small part of this reached the doomed Duke’s mind as he backed into his bed. Now directly above him, the monster began to unfold its bladed tail. “Wait, what? There is no god of the dollar. That’s absurd,” Alexei asked, puzzled despite the imminent danger.
“HOW AM I NOT A GOD?!” it roared. “I have my faithful. I have power. All currencies are based on blind faith. They all have gods, just as surely as I am one. The Yen, it has believers the world round; it is mighty indeed! And faith is all that is needed to make a god. But I am weakened. You have ruined me with your palace. The people, the masses, they no longer hold me in esteem. Look in the streets! They burn my being to heat them in the coming winter. IS THIS THE RESPECT I AM DUE?!” It paused, then resumed, its voice now building in bitterness. “I am weakened, true. But I will still destroy you, and glean some satisfaction from your death. I may still live on, which is more than would be the case if you build another of your damned castles. You are an ant, compared to me, but a dangerous one indeed. You shall not survive this day!”
With that, it flipped off the swaying chandelier, landing impossibly lightly on the bed. Its claws sped, and the last thing Alexei noticed was that the god’s hide had the pattern of money on it, but looked to be not paper, but human skin and flesh. Shortly, having cleaned its barbs, the god gazed around the room in rage and disgust, before climbing out and away through the hole it had ripped in the reinforced chamber. It slunk off to wait to die of lack of faith when the currency would finally collapse.
Lower Gregaria was quickly rescued from its situation, with Duke Alexei dead. Humanitarian organizations swarmed over the area, removed and destroyed most of the remaining money, and brought in new currency, with actual value, though also in the end backed by faith. Lower Gregaria gradually returned to a modicum of prosperity, and, after a while, all signs of the old country, Mad Duke Alexei’s country, vanished.
It is worth note, however, that many years later, with almost all Gregarian dollars having been destroyed, those few remaining became prized collectors pieces. And so, in a cave in the mountains at Lower Gregaria’s border, something stirred, invigorated by newfound value.