DEMONSTROKE2

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From old many living creatures of Earth were brought to heaven through the fold-door.

In the main these creatures were killed by the hostile flora of heaven. Some survived to thrive in various niches or they were herd animals which men had tamed from distant antiquity. Keter knew they would breed beyond the capacity 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 and 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 they could be slain.

Lays commemorating the deeds of many dragon slayers, would-be or otherwise, were told in roadside inns dotting heaven They were told still, even as only a single dragon remained

Keter had long wearied of hyz toy after burning portions of many towns and cities across every land west of Adan. Of late hy held Demonstroke in reserve lest Chokhmah send her avatar to assail hyz army directly. Lilith, speaking for Chokhmah, offered 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.

His 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, and exactly on the trench Lilith had carved and 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 its 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 saw 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 she 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 Keter sank below the horizon they glided down to one of the many scattered campfires visible on Sealiah.

A party of Black 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 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?"

Hy 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 hy. "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 to any of the elohim."

Demonstroke has a different purpose than the avatar of Chokhmah. It is not meant to carry anyone around. Think ye Lilith were this Chokhmah's avatar, and we had finished killing Eyes of Keter, and had finished destroying stores in the ice, and had scattered yeng to steal their food, how soon they would already be running back like Michael hymself at Salem that first time.

Queen 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 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. Did you know that Michael calls you Hasatan?"

The Accuser?" Samael considered it, then 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 Ein Sof, the great city of all elohim.

So it seems the only audience you have as you perform the role of Hasatan is Daat, the other parent of Chokhmah. And that is pathetic, wouldn't you agree?

You know nothing of this, Your Majesty. You neglected to mention my son Chesed, the step-brother of Chokhmah.

Chesed, you see, was a potential open route to Ein Sof through Tiferet, but that way was closed forever when Daat brought him into our, ah, project.

Too late, Samael realized the yin had somehow maneuvered hym into revealing a thing that Chokhmah didn't even know. Briefly, hy considered killing Lilith on the spot, but somehow sha read hyz fleeting emotion as though hy were an unfurled scroll. Sha said, "Chokhmah is prepared to negotiate that you may join with her, Lord Samael, but my personal safety is one of the non-negotiables."

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 bore deep 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 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 was like a gnat sinking 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 Rimmon 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 a nephil, while hez daughter Dafla was human. Lilith knew the course of this 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. She 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."

The king 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 will not move one whit so long as hy and the queen remain as your guests.

And King Uriel knew of a surety they were the words of Lord Samael, not that he 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 form of humiliation and it would not do to receive these visitors in the big hall with others to witness.

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