Many creatures imported from Earth were immediately killed by the hostile flora of Heaven. Some survived to thrive in various niches or they were herd animals which men had tamed from old. Keter knew they would breed beyond the ability of Heaven to feed them, man among them.
Just as the bodies of men were incrementally changed by Keter to produce angels and nephilim, there also appeared in Heaven predators from the darkest dreams of man to keep all creatures in check, even Leviathan under the waves who devoured those who foundered therein.
When Keter introduced dragons all that went about on two legs had to keep one eye on the sky as surely as small four-legged creatures feared eagles. But all of the predators created by Keter were merely taken to be strong threads woven into the growing tapestry of Heaven.
Men honored the wisdom of Keter in creating the dragons, and they were not truly afraid. For it was man and not any other beast who were the most terrible predators the universe had ever known from the day that fangless, clawless big-brained ape came down from the trees.
On Earth man had contended with lions and tigers and bears for his meat. Now that he was unleashed on Heaven so much the worse for Heaven, dragons or no. The beasts were safe enough if they remained in their aeries where they bred only rarely, but emerging, they were hunted.
Lays commemorating the deeds of many would-be or actual dragon slayers were told in roadside inns dotting Heaven, even when only a single dragon remained alive. Keter grew weary of last hyz toy after burning portions of many towns and cities across every land west of Adan.
But Keter held Demonstroke in reserve against the chance that Chokhmah might send her avatar to assail the Adanite army directly. The Cherub Lilith, speaking for Chokhmah on the flats of Magodon which lay to the west of the ice barrier, offered Samael a mutual disarmament.
So Samael made the diamond sword Dragonthorn to dart this way and that, and soon Demonstroke was seen in the sky. As he drew nearer the armies of both Brown Beards and Black Beards drew apart, leaving only Barachiel, Lilith, Samael, and Israel standing at the new border.
The dragon circled to the north and lined up on the border. Even Samael backed away from the line then, and the others found it prudent to follow his cue. Lilith was fascinated by the grace of the landing. The wings of Demonstroke spread to their full extent and he sank.
The dragon’s hind legs touched first, then he tipped forward to run on all fours. Demonstroke came to a stop and sank to the ground directly between the four nobles exactly on the trench Lilith had carved. Sha saw that the beast did not belch smoke or even seem to breathe.
With the beast so inert, Lilith’s curiosity overcame har caution and sha advanced to touch the creature’s hide. Sha found its scales did not merely have the appearance of metal, they were metal. Lilith guessed a truth about the dragon then, but said nothing to Barachiel.
Starting at the dragon’s tail Lord Samael walked up along his back. Hy said to Lilith, ‘Come, Your Royal Highness. Let us leave Demonstroke in the keeping of King Uriel and so complete our bargain.’
Sha watched Samael seat hymself forward of a horn on the dragon’s back.
Further, Lilith saw that Samael, who was patting hyz thighs, expected har to sit in turn forward of hym and behind a shorter horn. Sha sighed and took the indicated position, knowing it was the only way to be done of har errand for Michael. And Demonstroke sprang to life.
Lilith was not dismayed by the sensation of sudden rapid flight. Sha had flown much higher and faster many times within the avatar of Chokhmah. Far below sha saw Prince Barachiel turn west to ride to hyz father and say hy had given away the eastern hinterlands of Magodon.
Sha also saw the Adanite force dispersing at the command of Israel to garrison their new province against invaders who would never come. All the while Samael’s thumb touched gems on Dragonthorn and the beast obeyed, which Lilith thought too mundane a ritual for a spell.
Demonstroke’s head bent bent back over them on its long neck and fire spewed out in a jet that propelled the dragon into the sky, pushing Lilith against Samael, and hy in turn against the bony ridge at the place where the serpentine neck joined to the rest of his body.
The dragon rose until the air became almost too thin for Lilith to breathe. Then Demonstroke’s head bent forward again. He extended his wings and with gentle flaps the beast extended his glide as much as possible as the wastelands of Magodon rose to meet them underneath.
Then, when the tops of deadly trees native to Heaven nearly brushed the belly of Demonstroke, he bent his head back again and let loose another long jet of flame. They chased the sun out over the Rammon Sea. Lilith lost count of the cycles as Sealiah Island grew ahead.
Lilith began to wonder, did Samael never eat? Did hy never even piss? If it was to be a test of wills sha vowed sha would not be the first to speak. But as westering Rigilkent sank below the horizon they glided down to one of the many scattered campfires visible on Sealiah.
A party of Brown Beards were preparing to sup around their fire on the moors in the north of the isle when Demonstroke appeared and scattered them all away in abject terror. When the dragon came to a stop, Samael slid off to check what was cooking, and hy seemed pleased.
Lilith joined hym after pissing behind the beast’s bulk and found supper was a good beef stew made all the more delicious by har near starvation. Sha smiled and said, ‘You must have done this before. Will your pet be having some?’
Samael grinned in turn and shook hyz head.
‘Obviously, Lord Samael, your dragon isn’t really alive. It’s a contrivance of some kind, like Chokhmah’s avatar, except that it can appear to move like a beast. Tell me, is that why we must ride on its back? Would we be ducking pulleys and ropes if we rode inside?’
‘You are quite correct, Your Majesty,’ said Samael. ‘What a clever yen to have guessed Demonstroke is mechanical after sitting upon its metal hide for hours as it whisked har across Magodon. Tell me, did you imagine any living thing could maintain such a fire within itself?’
Lilith shrugged. ‘Perhaps I fell prey to the delusion that you have fostered among angels and nephilim and men that nothing is impossible for any of the elohim.’
‘Demonstroke has a different purpose than Chokhmah’s toy,’ said hy. ‘It is not meant to carry anyone around.
‘Think ye Lilith were this Chokhmah’s avatar and we had murdered Eyes of Keter, and had destroyed their stores in the ice, and had scattered Larund yeng to steal their food, how soon the Brown Beards would already be running back like Michael hymself at Salem that one time.’
Lilith took a deep swig from a wineskin no one would try to reclaim by reason of the nearby dragon. ‘By the gods you have thought of everything, Lord Samael. But when we leave the beast with Uriel what is the qualifying stipulation? With you there is always at least one.’
‘I will tell the king that Demonstroke is controlled only by Dragonthorn, which is true, and that Dragonthorn must only be touched by a virgin human female or it will grow brittle, and that is not true now but it will be true when we reach Jelaket in the land of Sastrom.’
Lilith laughed. ‘I knew it had to be something like that. Do you know that Michael calls you Ha-Satan?’
‘Ha-Satan? The Accuser?’ Samael considered it, then hy shrugged. ‘That’s fair.’
‘What puzzles me is who it must be that accepts your accusations. Not Michael, certainly.
‘Michael has said he considers humans and nephilim and angels to be students, Lord Samael. The worst you could possibly do is expose situations where world-dwellers might benefit from instruction. And you would never speak of us to El Elyon, the great city of all elohim.
‘So it seems the only audience you have as you perform the role of this Ha-Satan is Daat, the mother of Chokhmah. And that is pathetic, wouldn’t you agree?’
‘You’ve taken no thought that I’m allowing world-dwellers, collectively, to build the case you are not the Students.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You are not the first world-dwellers we have known. There was another species much like you in a crucial way, in that they would not heed our wisdom. So we watched them drive themselves to extinction. Students are they willing to accept our teaching.’
‘And you, Lord Samael, are deluded if you think you are the sole fount of wisdom. Chokhmah, too, is elohim, and we of Salem, and Rammon, and even some in the other world who embrace Chokhmah are, in fact, willing to accept all her teachings, making us the Students indeed.’
Angered, Samael briefly considered killing Lilith on the spot for the rebuke. But Lilith read hyz fleeting rage as though hy were an unfurled scroll and said, ‘Chokhmah is ready to negotiate that you may join with her, Lord Samael, but my personal safety is non-negotiable.’
‘Do not make the mistake of thinking Chokhmah has all the advantages in a courtship, Your Majesty. She has been in existence for seven thousand years, did you not know? Most elohim become mothers within the scale of a single human lifetime. She cannot put it off forever.’
Then it was Queen Lilith’s turn to momentarily reveal an emotion, but it was one of slight disgust. Sha said, ‘No doubt elohim have physical imperatives, Lord Samael, but I do not care to listen to any details. It would be like the mommy daddy talk, but for living suns.’
‘Then eat your fill of what our hosts have so kindly prepared for us, nay, more than your fill. Tomorrow morning we shall rise over the Nine Mile Wall that rears behind Rumbek. By this time tomorrow we shall be near Elketz. In four days we shall glide over the Wall of God.’
Samael stacked fuel nigh to the inert bulk of Demonstroke out of the wind and kindled another fire there. Upon an outer garment hy stretched hymself out, cursing the need of all world-dwellers to suspend their consciousness when it grew dark, in Heaven as it was on Earth.
Before the Deluge, Heaven was nearly completely circled by the Really Big River that was born on the frozen flanks of Mt. Tureth and twisted its way east between the Northern and Southern Ice, which were then five hundred miles apart. Six vertical miles the river dropped.
In those days the River emptied into the largest sea in heaven, known as Thalury. But the Great Deluge intervened to deepen the ice age. The northern and southern glacial sheets moved to within three hundred miles of each other, and in three places the ice was joined.
West of Rumbek the land of Magodon rises steadily to become the very roof of heaven. Here lies the most extensive merger of the two ice caps, yet glacier-carved U-shaped valleys delve far into the mountains, and a single way exists to skirt Mt. Tureth and pass beyond.
Here pairs of large wooden cages dangling from ropes and pulleys carry travelers and freight over a vast staircase of twenty-four cliffs, each one ranging from sixty-five to three hundred feet. Every haul that goes up is balanced by a slightly heavier haul that goes down.
South of Mt. Tureth the two dozen scattered cliffs merge into a fearsome sheer rock wall some ten thousand feet high that stretches clear to the southern ice pack. This is the Wall of God, festooned with innumerable cataracts, and there is not its like anywhere on Earth.
Demonstroke pitched over. For three air miles he dropped a mile in elevation, even as the treetops of the extreme western marches of Magodon remained just below his belly. Then he reached the ledge of the Wall of God and was out over the void. Lilith gasped at the view.
Lilith saw Thalury then, diminished from its antediluvian majesty yet still the greatest sea in Heaven. A bay reached all the way to the foot of the Wall of God, dividing the land of Sastrom from Haaretz to the south. Demonstroke resembled a gnat buzzing outside a castle.
At the base of the Wall of God was a jumble of talus with some boulders as large as a house. These gave way to foothills that dropped another mile before reaching bottom land. Samael guided the dragon north over a series of forested ridges to reach the city of Jelaket.
At Adan in the east angels number in their hundred thousands, and nephilim in their thousands, but humans only in their hundreds. In Rammon in the uttermost west humans number in their hundred thousands and nephilim in their thousands, but angels only in their hundreds.
Magodon, which had taken Samael and Lilith the better part of a week to cross even by dragon, had angels and nephilim in the tens of thousands but humans numbered only in the thousands. Now they had crossed over into the three lands of the Red Beards divided by Thalury.
There humans and nephilim were counted in the tens of thousands but angels only in their thousands. King Uriel hemself was of the nephilim while hez daughter Dafla was human. Lilith knew the course of young Dafla’s life was to irrevocably change when they arrived in Jelaket.
The city was the keystone of Heaven, a seaport and the first step in the staircase to Mt. Tureth. Jelaket was the gatehouse for all goods moving east and west and grew fat on the duties levied thereon in commerce interrupted only by war or, just once, by Demonstroke himself.
Many of the people of Jelaket remembered when the monster came last, and they were not happy memories. When Samael sticked a landing in the large outer courtyard of the castle of King Uriel, near the stables, hy was most unwelcome, but a flying dragon need never knock.
Watching from the ramparts, King Uriel saw hez archers assemble in a wary circle around the beast as the two riders dismounted. One che recognized as the Seraph Samael, but the other, a yin arrayed for war, che knew not. They conversed with hez guard, and one ran inside.
Uriel reached a silent count of nearly fifty before the soldier appeared. ‘Your Majesty, Lord Samael has arrived, and with hym is Queen Lilith of Salem. Sha says they have flown upon Demonstroke from the frontier between Magodon and Adan and crave audience with the king.’
Uriel said, ‘And shall I treat with foreign nobility while their living engine of war skulks within the walls of my castle like a blade over my neck?’
‘Your Majesty, Lord Samael swore the beast would not move one whit so long as hy and the queen remain as your guests.’
The Cherub Uriel knew of a surety those were the words of Lord Samael, not that che once doubted hez soldier. Che knew Samael could never resist coating hyz menace with a honeyed tongue. Che said, ‘Attend to our visitors’ needs and seat them in the smaller council chamber.
And send to notify the First Minister. When Lord Samael and the queen are ready we will see them alone, Makassar and myself.’ Uriel knew the dragon must portend some deep form of humiliation and it would not do to receive the visitors in the big hall with others to witness.
At a casual first glance, First Minister Makassar Bronzesaber might have been mistaken for the king of the Red Beards, and Uriel merely his son. As a human male, for instance, Makassar really had a red beard, while the actual king, as a jen, could only manage a sparse down.
Lilith and Samael stood up when they entered, but Uriel said to them, ‘I beg you, esteemed ones, be seated once more. I do not relish trying to observe all the correct formalities here. For one thing, Queen Lilith, your claim to be Cherub has outrun any news from Salem.’
They both seemed pleased by this overture and resumed their seats as King Uriel took hez own seat at the head of the table. Makassar remained standing at the king’s side as though interposing between Uriel and Samael, and he was armed with a sword. Samael glanced at it.
Uriel glanced at Samael glancing at it. Che said, ‘Forgive the perceived affront, great ones, that Minister Makassar is girded for violence, but my servants tell me that you, at least, Lord Samael, bear a weapon yourself, and would not lay it aside. I am a cautious jen.’
Deliberately, with a stately pace, Samael brought out the diamond blade and laid it on the table with the hilt toward the king. Hy said, ‘Dragonthorn is not so much a weapon as a talisman, Your Majesty, with powerful spells to act as invisible reins upon Demonstroke.’
‘Lord Samael, what does your dragon, or this blade, bewitched or no, have to do with me or any of the House of Bellon?’
‘Your Majesty, if you please,’ put in Lilith, ‘the answer is bound up with the bloody dispute now raging inside House Adan. My father Melchiyahu is dead.
Samael took the natural death of my father as the signal to rekindle the Adanite family squabble and moved on Salem.’ Lilith then grew bitter as sha spoke. ‘My brother, King Melchizedek, suffered a decidedly unnatural death. So I took my faction west but Samael followed us.
Your Majesty, Michael has revealed to me that no matter how wicked we might deem a particular eloah to be, without exception all elohim hold themselves bound by their word. So it fell to war to unseat my brother from the throne. A mere edict from Samael would not do.
Also Samael has said that wheresoever the boots of his host go, there is the frontier of the House of Adan, forever, and so it must needs be. Yet I drew a line east of Rumbek, and Samael can do nothing but hold to hyz word that no Adanite arrayed for war shall cross west.
‘Yet I knew with hyz dragon alone Samael could lay waste to every city and town outside of Adan. Naturally the question of what to do with Demonstroke arose as we parleyed. In the proposed bargain, Your Majesty, the Dragonthorn blade is to be kept here in your safekeeping.’
‘More specifically,’ Samael put in, ‘the blade must go into the keeping of a human female of the House of Bellon. She must be one who has never known man nor jen nor ambi nor yang. She must remain sexually pure for all the days she possesses Dragonthorn, or it will shatter.’
‘Again I ask, Lord Samael,’ said the king, ‘why the Red Beards?’
‘When I brought humans into Heaven from the other world I have ever played the natural philosopher, mixing potions to see what happens. Can one maid child among you remain chaste or do I break the glassware?’
Lilith spoke quickly to fill the sudden awkward silence as King Uriel fumed. ‘The Lord Samael makes an unfortunate joke, Your Majesty. All of Heaven knows you to be a good and wise king. Who better to keep the dragon out of play than a consecrated virgin in your own court?’
‘It is equally unfortunate, Your Highness’ said Uriel, ‘that I am in no mood for veiled threats, even when explained away as weak jests. Take your diamond sword, Lord Samael, and make your offer to Queen Aurra.’
After Uriel had uttered hez decision the blade began to glow.
Blue and white the weapon shone, so bright that Uriel, Makassar, and Lilith shielded their eyes. Samael simply looked away. When the glow faded once more Samael said, ‘The deed is done. Dragonthorn will shatter of its own accord without a damsel’s touch, and that soon.
Nothing will then restrain Demonstroke from carrying out the purpose I instilled in him when he was first created. He will relentlessly seek out and extinguish the life of every world-dweller in Heaven, no matter how long it takes. And he will begin killing here in Sastrom.’
‘Your orders, my liege Lord? asked the First Minister, and the king saw his hand gripping the sword beneath his tunic.
‘Hold!’ Uriel barked. This was the humiliation the king had expected. Che caught the glance of Lilith. ‘Did you know?’
‘Not the details, Your Majesty.’
Cherub Uriel looked into the eyes of Samael then and saw the matter was clearly nothing even Queen Lilith could describe as an unfortunate joke. Che stood up. ‘Makassar, send for wine and see to our noble guests. A grievous errand has fallen to me and I must be about it.’
The Cherub Uriel loved hez nine year old daughter Dafla above all. Che was almost supernaturally patient with Dafla and denied her not the least thing. Even with all life in Heaven hanging upon one slender thread, che listened to the girl as she spoke of last night’s dream.
Dafla said, ‘Father, I dreamed it was night and the ground was covered with sleeping metal children. People came out of the sky in two tall silver engines of war that spouted fire, but they wore armor and I didn’t know if they were men or women, jin or ambe, yen or yeng.
The first person picked up one of the metal children and they went into the first tower, and somehow I knew that metal child was myself, in the strange way of dreams. We flew into the sky and we were safe. But the second person stayed behind to pick up more children.
Even though I knew I was was flying away and safe, somehow I was also there watching the second person look for as many metal children as they could find, but that person was caught by dark iron men and killed. Then I awoke. Is that not the strangest dream you ever heard?’
Uriel smiled at hez Dafla. ‘I shall interpret your very strange dream, child. The first person in your dream is really myself. You feel protected around me, which is a good thought, because my entire will is bent toward keeping you safe. The second person is your mother.
Dafla, your dear mother wanted to have other children by me, and those were the other little metal people in your dream. But in real life, as we know, she fell victim to poison in her drink, and so she was killed by the palace intrigues that never cease here in Jelaket.’
‘As simple as that, Father?’
‘As simple as that. At night your sleeping mind creates images to express what you feel deep in your heart. You are still dealing with your grief. I take solace from the content of your dream that you do not blame me for your mother’s death.’
‘Never, Father!’ Dafla was shocked at the mere suggestion that she would think that, or even dream it.
The king placed a hand on hez daughter’s hand to reassure her, and che said, ‘If you did blame me, even in your inner heart, your dream would have been very different.'”
‘Father why have you not married once more? Do you fear a second wife would be killed as well?’
‘Not so, Dafla. Soon a woman will try to wedge herself into my life and I will know the identity of the poisoner.’ Uriel did not mention that che would wed Makassar instead.
‘Now we must set aside talk of your dreams, daughter, and our lingering grief for your mother, and our lamentation over things we can never change. Did you see the dragon?’
‘Oh, yes father, but only for a little while. First Minister Makassar came and locked my window.'”
‘Forgive him, dearest Dafla, he did so only at my command, that you might be safe. Did you know this evening I have been speaking with two nobles who came with the dragon from far in the east? One of them is Lilith, Queen of Salem. I am certain you have not seen har before.
But the other noble is a seraph named Samael. In Adan hy is a greater lord than even a king, though hy has no power to rule here. Lord Samael has taken counsel with me before on a number of occasions. Have you learned something of the elohim from your tutors, Dafla?’
‘Yes, father, I have learned that the elohim are alive but they are not like angels or nephilim or humans. They never die. We see them as stars. Chokhmah is really the star we call Nahash, or the head of the snake. Keter and Daat are so close to us we see them as suns.’
‘All that is true, Dafla. Your tutors are excellent. But in less than even your short lifetime the elohim have begun to appear to us in the form of angels as well. No one knows how they are able to do this, but the first was Chokhmah. We know her as the seraph Michael.
The eloah we see as the cold orange sun called Daat is also seen in heaven as a youth named Israel. And the hot white sun, Keter, has Samael as his living avatar. This is the same Samael who has spoken with me this evening, Dafla, and I would have you meet hym.’
Dafla slid off her bed where she had been sitting and rushed to embrace her father. ‘Of course I will see hym, simply because you wish it. But many lords and ladies have visited you before and I was never invited to meet them.’
‘Truly, daughter, I do not wish this for you.’
‘I don’t understand, Father.’
‘Samael has used hyz dragon for murder, and it can hunt down every living thing in Heaven. Queen Lilith has forced a bargain on its master. The dragon will stay with us, forever. But Samael always gives with one hand and takes with the other.’
‘Beloved Dafla, this dragon, Demonstroke, is controlled by a talismanic blade, the largest diamond in heaven. But now only one such as yourself can touch it. Only a human female who has never been a mother or a wife. Do you see why I wish the dragon had never come here?’
‘I think so, Father.’
‘Still, Dafla, you are too young to understand everything that Samael will take away from you if you accept the Dragonthorn. In years to come, what you lose will weigh upon your body and mind as a terrible burden. Yet what choice do you really have?’
‘Father, do you fear that I, at age nine, have no right to decide something for the Dafla at age nineteen? Of course I do! That’s just me living my life!’
‘Such wisdom in a child,’ wondered Uriel. ‘Do you know when I hear your words I hear the voice of your mother?’
Uriel introduced Dafla to Samael and Lilith, who were waiting with Makassar. Lilith knew all along that only the king’s own daughter could safeguard the dragon. Samael had conditioned it upon her celibacy, and Uriel, for as long che reigned, could control that absolutely.
Seeing the diamond blade lying on the table and knowing Lord Samael had given it complete power over the dragon, a deception suggested itself to Uriel as a way to lighten the lifetime burden that was about to be laid upon Dafla. Che said, ‘Behold the Dragonthorn, daughter.
‘Take up the sword and none shall have the power to deny your least whim, save the one matter of which we spoke. With the blade in hand the beast must obey you. All my subjects shall obey you. If you so choose, even I must obey you, as well as Queen Lilith, and Lord Samael.’
Makassar, Lilith, and Samael immediately discerned what the Bellon king was doing, and none dared to contradict hym, not even Samael, who smiled broadly at how Uriel had just set hez daughter on the path to her own destruction and che had no inkling that che had done so.
The king’s daughter did take up the sword, unleashing another light show that impressed everyone present save Samael, who worked it, and Lilith, the wife and first disciple of Michael, who knew all sorcery to be showmanship like the ruse Uriel was carrying out with Dafla.
Lord Samael said, ‘I commend you, King Uriel, Demonstroke is now bound by chains that may only be broken by an act of human will. Furthermore, you have the means to travel anywhere in Heaven in mere days that would otherwise take a year or more. And none dare assail you.’
King Uriel said, ‘Yes, Lord Samael, I considered that when I weighed laying this yoke upon Dafla, that it should be made lighter with a dragon at her beck and call. I need not see you again peddling arms of Adanite craftsyeng and making off with the gold of my treasury.’
Dafla took this cue and decided to test the power of the Dragonthorn blade. She pointed the tip at Lord Samael and said, ‘Leave at once, on foot if you must, and never return!’ She pointed the tip at Lilith as well. ‘You leave as well, for your part in upsetting my father!’
Lilith raised har eyebrows, stood up, reached inside har breastplate, removed a fragment of parchment, and handed it to Samael. Sha said, ‘I do not understand any of the symbols written here, but Michael said you would know them and take this to be our next destination.’
Samael read the parchment and summoned a fold-door, the one bit of sorcery that even Lilith could not put down as a trick. Sha and Samael were enveloped by an insubstantial dome that showed forth a land free of snow, roaring with the dim sound of Mt. Anshar in eruption.
Lilith bowed to the king and said, ‘Farewell, Your Majesty! May good fortune be with you and all who look to you.’ Then with a loud noise that frightened Dafla to tears they were gone, leaving only an unnecessary crater in the floor that would become Samael’s calling card.