FRUITS OF VICTORY
By Jonathan Shipley
In the darkness overhead, Ilianthe saw a point of light flash into being. Flash and hold steady. She paused in pacing the parapets on the terrace of the bitter-cold asteroid. Another way station in the void. Another star. Dozens had been created of angel light and dragon fire, and all seemed stable. She let her gaze settle on the distant point, sensing its energy, trying to imagine hundreds more scattered through the darkness of the heavens. That would be the future — or so she had been told. No longer would the Holdings hang cold in the lightless emptiness. With the Gods of Chaos destroyed, the universe would be recreated. But why? So many why’s, so many strange unknowns. War, fire, and darkness was what she knew
Out in the black void a speck of gold glittered, growing larger until it revealed itself as a great winged beast with shimmering golden scales. A Great Dragon. Closer and closer it soared, swooping down, claws extended.
Alighting on the parapet, and furling its wings with a sound like thunder, the huge beast turned toward the vast archway leading down into the Holding.
“Welcome home, Progenitor,” Ilianthe called. “What news?”
Not now, the Great Dragon’s thought rumbled through her mind as It disappeared slowly through the archway.
She frowned. She and Jre-nar, twin Offspring, were often left guessing regarding the intricate conflicts and plans for the Cosmos. The news had to be war — as always. The question was who fought whom, which alliances held and which broke apart. With the Chaos gods eradicated, the Holdings were turning on each other. She enjoyed battle as much as anyone, but had they fought through the eons of Darkness to be consumed by their own battle lust?
She followed her parent in, down the broad, dragon-sized steps to the main living level deep within the asteroid. Jre-nar awaited her at the foot of the steps, shimmering golden in the light of the raging heat of the Great Hall’s firepit. The twins shared golden hair and eyes, her skin a pale gold, his a deep molten.
“Kanthecar Holding has requested our attendance,” he said. “Clan Zher travels there to discuss an alliance, but the talk over the crystals is that Zher’s last ‘discussion’ ended with their host’s destruction. Clan Kanthecar does not intend to end its time in the same way and has called in all its favors.”
“So we go battle-ready? Though victorious over our enemies, we must still fight… and against our kin? Why do the Great Dragons not end this bickering?”
Her brother shrugged. “The crystals carry rumors of discord among the Great Dragons. Some of the Old Ones seem disinclined to step into the future and establish Holdings for themselves.” He dropped his voice. “We hear whispers the angels are meddling… fueling discord for their own purposes.”
Ilianthe grimaced. The Celestial Court had been a firm ally through the Darkness, but had ideas for the future unwelcome to many of the Great Dragons. Now there was a constantly changing battle-mix of dragon against dragon against angel, and probably angel against angel, though the Celestial Court kept silent on that point. At all levels there were clashes over the reshaping of the cosmos.
“We can do nothing about the angels,” she said, “but we can choose how we face Clan Zher — with Kanthecar now or alone later. I say now, with Kanthecar.”
“As do I. But, the alliance will be fragile — no blood bond unites us with Kanthecar.” He gave her a pointed look.
She shrugged. “And never was one needed.”
“The Cosmos is changing. Blood is part of it now.”
She turned away. “I’m going for my armor.”
As she swept off through the Great Hall, servitor lizards scuttling about or warming themselves by the fire recognized her unsettled mood and stayed out of her way. Not for the first time, she questioned the form she wore. These smaller, weaker forms chosen by the Great Dragons for their Offspring in this new world was too much compromise already. But they had done far worse. Great Dragons were spawned through the ancient generative process — in the Fire, of the Fire. For their Offspring they had supplanted this with the bi-gendered mammals’ bringing forth of one body from another, blood from blood! Perhaps there was angelic meddling in this too.
Her brother favored a blood bond with one of the Kanthecar princes, and she could see the tactical advantages. But by the Fire she would not volunteer for this experiment. To bear young like a lowly bi-gendered mammal!
Reaching her chamber, Ilianthe dressed for battle. Servitors scurried about, assisting her with donning impervious dragon scale armor, strapping on swords of dragon claw. None of this would be necessary if she had scales and claws of her own like a proper dragon. When they finished, she stepped back and admired the effect in the polished crystal of the wall. She hardly looked mammalian at all.
When she emerged in the Great Hall, Jre-nar was waiting, similarly outfitted. Fully armored and helmeted, one could hardly tell one twin from the other, which they played to their advantage in battle. And if it came to a fight with Clan Zher, they would need every advantage.
“Do we take any of the servitors?” she asked with a nod at the lower hall where the lizards scurried about their tasks.
“If servitors are needed, Kanthecar has its own cohorts. And what can they do against our kind anyway? If Zher wants a fight, only the Offspring matter.”
“Clan Zher has four princes and Clan Kanthecar three,” she said softly. “The two of us could decide the outcome either way.”
Jre-nar met her gaze with an uplifted eyebrow, holding her gaze. “That’s a different approach,” he finally said. “I’m not sure our Progenitor would understand. Dragons fight one on one ”
“But we are not dragons.” It came out with a bitter edge. She shrugged. “We’ll manage with what we have. A new world demands new ways.”
Side by side they mounted the broad steps to the frigid outer parapet. There they linked arms and focused their twinned will on a distant, barely perceptible star. The void around them roiled, swallowing them into Nowhere and roaring them out onto a high terrace in distant Kanthecar.
One of the new stars blazed overhead, lighting Kanthecar Holding as it spun in an erratic orbit. The temperature was perplexing, neither frigid nor fiery, but hovering somewhere in between. After a moment, Ilianthe gave a long sigh as she felt gentle heat warm her armor and touch her skin. Such a luxurious sensation after eons battling the Cold Darkness. And the smells — a sweetness hung in the air that was new and unfamiliar. Her home smelled only of dragon, fire, and brimstone.. Perhaps they should create a star for their own Holding.
A touch from Jre-nar pulled her back into the moment, and they descended side by side to the assembly on the lower terrace. Servitors stood rank upon rank, armed pathetically with metal weaponry that would have no bite against an Offspring. But at the far end waited the three princes of Kanthecar, armored in scales of green and silver with high plumed helms. One stepped forward and removed his helm.
“Greeting, Offspring of the Golden Holding. I am Tantaron, eldest of the Kanthecar Offspring. Zher is yet to show.”
Her eye caught on him, and his silvered skin and long, dark hair pleased her. Curious to have fought alongside these allies for so long, yet never to have seen their faces. But then her interest shifted to the collection of green, growing things on the terrace behind the princes. The sweet smell was even stronger down here. Ilianthe removed her own helmet, shaking loose a cascade of golden hair. “What is happening at the back of this terrace?” she asked, nodding at the green growths.
“It’s a garden, Princess. The warmth of the star makes life possible for many new growing things. May I show you?”
“We’re here to fight, not stroll in a garden,” she said sharply.
“But as of yet, we have no opponents to fight, if a fight is to be,” Jre-nar pointed out. He removed his own helmet and gave her a pointed look. “There is time to consider experiments.”
Back to the blood bond with Kanthecar. “The garden is appealing,” she told the waiting Kanthecar prince. “If these possibilities come from having a star nearby, all Holdings will want one of their own.”
“That is our hope,” he responded with a smile. “This garden symbolizes what all the cosmos may become as it moves past Chaos and Darkness. May I show you?”
She let herself be persuaded by the garden’s new sights and smells – not, she told herself, to strengthen the alliance through blood bond.
“In this area we have fruit trees,” Tantaron told her as they walked. “They produce edible seed formations. Some are quite tasty.”
“Tasty? Are you reduced to eating like a servitor? They may need sustenance, but we do not. We are of the Fire.”
“Absolutely,” he agreed. “But these mammalian forms we’ve been given are made of sensation as well as Fire. You have felt the sensation of warmth. Pleasing isn’t it?”
“It is not unpleasant”.
He smiled. “Taste is also ‘not unpleasant’. And I understand the bringing forth of Offspring has been arranged to also be a most ‘not unpleasant’ sensation.”
“Enjoy bringing forth like mindless mammals?”
“That’s the old way of looking at things,” Tantaron persisted. “The strict hierarchy of Great Dragons, saurian servitors, and mindless mammals is evolving into something very different. I believe we were born into these softer forms to comprehend this unfolding universe through new sensations. A Great Dragon would care nothing for warmth and gardens and tasty fruits.”
That made Ilianthe smile. Ridiculous to imagine her Progenitor taking notice of such things. Great Dragons were wholly of the Fire and cared for little except flight and battle and the joy of destruction. Never until this moment had she regarded that as a limitation. But now the thought took root. These new sensations did have their appeal.
“In fact,” Tantaron continued, lowering his voice and leaning closer, “our Progenitor tells us that in this new world, mammals will be the new dragons. Can one even imagine?”
At first Ilianthe thought this was a joke. This strange idea had the scent of angelic meddling. No wonder the Great Dragons were riled. But at the same time she sensed a very draconian counter-strategy in motion . . . for were not the Offspring perfectly positioned to step into this new hierarchy at the very top rung? She herself had said that a new world demanded new ways. So now she would broaden her vision. Interesting that knowledge could be power as surely as scales and claws.
“Perhaps,” she said slowly, “I will try this sensation of taste you speak of.”
“Excellent.” Tantaron reached up to pull from a low-hanging tree branch a lush, blood-red fruit. “The red ones are the sweetest.”
“Fruits of Victory” © Jonathan Shipley
Jonathan Shipley, a member of Science Fiction Writers of America, writes short stories and novels in the genres of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. He was one of eight finalists in 2014 for the Washington Science Fiction Association’s Small Press Award with a whimsical story about Hell, and also in 2014, the AFTER DEATH anthology where he was a contributing author won the 2014 Bram Stoker Award. With his list of short fiction publications happily over the five-dozen mark, his on-going goal is to find a publishing home for his nine novels . A listing of his short fiction can be found at www.shipleyscifi.com/publishedworks.
“Storm King” by Fran Eisemann, pen&ink, watercolor, colored pencil, turned from green to gold with photoshop.
“On the Parapet” by Fran Eisemann, using “Dragon Tomb Keeper” by CaoChiNhan and photos courtesy of NASA.
“Dragon Tomb Keeper” by CaoChiNhan, Vietnam. You can see his work at his gallery on deviantArt