Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Birth of the Dragonkin - short story

Surprisingly, I've never placed this story on my blog. Would have been nice, after I trashed my site to do so.

It's a long one, but I think it's kind of worth it. But why wouldn't I?
***

"Lord Travail, why did you summon me out here?" The voice belonged to a wiry youth, his long hair curling around his face, dressed in silk and velvet. He sniffed sharply, plucking at the folds of his tunic, and glanced around the landscape once more.

The sky arched rich and purple above them, a yellow moon sailing slowly across it. There were no clouds, but the debris ring of the planet sparkled in reflected light from the red giant that was this system's sun. Stars were few and far between, but they blazed with blue fire against the violent backdrop.


The ground was a shattered expanse of rock, upthrusting at bizarre angles, sharp from the force of the sundering. Plants were scarce, mostly lichens and a few twisted trees. Crystals sparkled in thick veins across the faces of the land, nearly glowing under the moon.

To a mortal, this planet was desolate and harsh, unbearable in the fierceness of its conditions. To a Chaos Lord, such as these two, it was beautiful and wild, and the perfect place for a pet project.

Travail, in his current form, towered over his guest, nearly nine feet tall. His shoulders were wide, his hips were narrow, his legs were long, his fingers were supple. He walked with an eerie grace, his leather skirt moving as if it were alive, his chest covered in ritual scars and piercings, metal spikes glinting along his spine. Travail's hair was bound in bone and wire, swept back from his triangular face. "Acheron, you will witness my triumph," he whispered creakily, turning to face the youth.

Acheron suppressed a shudder, turning from the high ranked Lord before he could see Travail's eyes. The youth was only considered a mid-level Chaos Lord, his powers not as strong as others. Yet he was a diplomat amongst his people, going between each of the powerful Lords, especially those who could not stand to be in each others company.

Travail was one of those Lords, and Acheron was his favorite messenger. Acheron found himself drawn to the creative, beautiful aspect of Chaos, and was looked down on by some of the darker Lords. Travail was a dark creator, experimenting with raw forces of Chaos and living things, seeking to make dangerous creatures and efficient soldiers. Acheron appreciated the depth of Travail's work, and could not find himself repulsed by the outcome, no matter how some of the other Chaos Lords acted.

"What triumph do you speak of?" Acheron asked softly, yet his voice carried over the gusting wind. He allowed his hair to play in the treacherous claws of the wind, but kept his clothes stiff and still. Acheron couldn't think of Travail's latest experiments, and was ragingly curious about his presence.

Travail passed along the canted edge of a crevasse, stroking his hands along his forearms. Acheron looked up, noting in passing the scales along the other Lord's arms. There was something distinctly reptilian about Travail this day, and Acheron briefly envied the casual way Travail changed his form. "I think I have harnessed the forces of life."

Acheron stepped closer as the wind rose in pitch. He smelled Chaos in the air, a storm racing in to envelope the planet. His skin crawled pleasantly, and he burst into a giant grin. Acheron loved being in the heart of Chaos storms, the raw power of the universe stroking his soul, filling him, reshaping him, giving him strength. He reminded himself to thank Travail for this experience.

"We all have the power of life," Acheron said, seeking the target of Travail's attention.

"We have the power to create, surely," spoke Travail, his voice like a musty tomb. In the crevasse, jewel-colored eyes blinked up at the two men. Acheron heard one of the creatures hiss, clearly aware of the oncoming storm, and continued to listen to his host. "We create, we conjure, we warp, we adjust. But there is no permanence to what we do. The lives we bring about fade away, become nothing. It is fleeting. It is like grains of sand between our fingers." Travail turned swiftly, a jerking motion, and speared Acheron with his gaze.

Acheron tried to look away, but was not quick enough. The instant he met the elder Lord's look, the youth trembled, his heart freezing. His mouth went dry, and he whimpered low in his throat. No matter what form the changeable Chaos Lord took, Travail's eyes were always frighteningly empty. They would be markedly less frightening if they were just void, Acheron thought.

Instead, Travail's eyes were always gaping wounds, weeping softly, oozing flesh boring deep into his skull. There were never eyelids with which to hide the sockets, nothing to block the fleshy caverns. Acheron had never been a queasy fellow, but he was deeply disturbed by Travail's eye sockets. Despite the lack of eyeball, there was always a sense that the Lord saw everything around him.

"What are you proposing?" Acheron whimpered after several silent moments. Travail turned his head, and the youth shuddered, wrapping his arm around his chest. He could still feel Travail's disconcerting gaze, almost as if his soul had been laid bare. Part of him desperately wanted to leave, and part of him painfully ached to know what Travail was doing.

"I've found a way to create new life."

The wind paused, punctuating his statement. Acheron stared in astonishment, even willing to see Travail's gaze again. "What did you say?"

 Travail knelt at the crevasse, reaching for the animals hiding in the cleft. "I can create new life. I'm going to create true life, permanent life. You shall witness my triumph, and you shall tell others."

The Chaos storm enveloped them suddenly, and Acheron cursed himself for not realizing it had gotten that close. Power surged through him, and Acheron gasped, his back arching sharply. His being seemed to expand, his senses stretching to all corners of the planet. Acheron thought he cried out, thought his voice lifted in pain or pleasure, but all he heard was the humming song of the storm.

Time paused. Time flew. Time stretched out to the limits of the galaxy. Pain lashed every nerve. Pain had never been a part of his life. Pleasure was leeched from every inch of his being. Pleasure became the entirety of him. Colors had tastes. Sounds had texture. His skin breathed, his eyes walked, his heart screamed with lust. Everything that could be, he was.

Then it stopped, suddenly, like a lamp being extinguished. He was on his hands and knees, breathless with laughter, tasting blood as it slowly oozed from his lips. Pushing back to rest on his heels, Acheron ran a hand through his hair, enjoying the ravages of the storm.

Travail stood nearby, head tossed back, hair wrapping around anything it could, skirt fluttering in the remaining breeze. At the Lord's feet were a pair of the creatures; they walked on four legs, with thick tails, bellies nearly dragging on the ground, teeth sharp, scales a dusty gray-green like the landscape, and bright eyes. They cowered against his feet, hiding in his skirt, making softly hissing noises. Despite their fear, they seemed to want to be with Travail.

Acheron watched his host, noting how the storm was fading away as if someone had pulled the plug on it. "Why did it stop?"

Travail turned, hands extended above his head. His mouth was parted slightly, lips flushed, sweat beading across his forehead. A miniature storm danced inside his eye sockets, wisps caressing his cheeks. For the first time in memory, Acheron found Travail's gaze beautiful and captivating.

"It stopped because I took the heart of it." Travail's head tipped farther back, and Acheron followed the path of his gaze.

Swirling translucently above the Chaos Lord was a beast. Acheron gasped, the air freezing in his lungs. Malevolence pooled into the air, and he started to see the strands of color take more form. Acheron choked on hunger, and cringed back. He'd always avoided Chaos beasts, simply because of their sheer destructive capabilities. They were sentient in their own way, and that way was incomprehensible to even the Lords who studied them.

What was Travail considering?

Time dilated again as the elder Lord began winding strings of Chaos magic together. The beast screamed in the subsonic range, hurting Acheron's brain. It thickened as Travail's power gripped it, becoming more solid, swirling with oil slick colors. The two solid animals at Travail's feet hissed, then moved slowly away from his skirts, as if under compulsion.

Acheron watched as the two creatures stood side by side, facing Travail. The youth moved away, circling Travail, trying to keep from getting involved with the magic about to unleash. The malevolent scream of the beast continued, like broken glass in his head, yet its focus was clearly on its tormentor. Acheron could feel it struggling to break free, lashing against Travail's bindings, trying to overpower him.

Travail continued to hold it tight, shaking faintly with the effort. He gestured, and the power tightened. Acheron cried out in pain as the Chaos beast was ripped into two, its death shriek puncturing their surroundings. The waiting creatures slithered forward, their jewel-colored eyes dull, their mouths hanging open. Acheron suddenly realized what was going on.

The dying screams of the Chaos beast echoed through the area, painfully sharp, and the voices of the lizard things rose to match it. They lifted their heads, snouts pointing toward Travail's hands. Acheron trembled, watching, focused on Travail, feeling the other Chaos Lord's power wind around the native creatures, drawing the wounded beast inexorably closer.

As if seeing an escape, the beast lunged toward the captivated animals, each half diving into the waiting flesh. Silence fell, heavy, and the two men waited, breaths held, hearts lodged in their throats. Acheron watched in awe and wonder, amazed by Travail's daring. Travail was watching with the intense stare of an artist about to unveil his masterpiece.

The creatures seemed frozen, not even breathing. All the light left their eyes, and Acheron was sure they were dead. The wind whispered around the group, but did not touch them, as if afraid to disrupt the diorama.

Just as Acheron began to tire of waiting, the tension broke. The creature on the left screamed first, tipping its head back, mouth opened wide. The scream wrenched through the watching Lords, reverberating with pain and rage, forcing the youth to cover his ears. The scream went on and on, seemingly never ending.

The other creature began to react, though not as vocally as its partner. She, and Acheron knew it was female suddenly, could taste her sex on the air, hunched to the ground, closing her eyes. Her entire body shook, and she keened lowly as her skin began to ripple. Her mate continued to scream, lifting up off his front legs, and she began to morph.

Acheron gasped sharply with awe as her skin erupted with changes. It pebbled at first, then became blade-sharp scales. Her color ran liquid across her limbs, then became onyx and vibrant. Her body stretched, filled out, pulsed with new muscles.

The male creature's scream mutated as he also began his metamorphosis. He remained reared up on his hind legs as his chest swelled out, deepened through the shoulders, grew heavy with muscles. His back legs changed position, the feet becoming broad through the toes, the heel rising and stretching, his thighs bulking out, his knees dipping forward. His tail grew into a lashing whip, disturbing the rocks and dirt around them.

Travail held still, but Acheron slid back as the couple began to grow in size, their necks stretching out. The male's voice quavered with the growth, becoming deeper, resonating into the very rocks of their surrounds. The female rose to all four legs, her forelimbs beneath her torso, the feet dexterous and nimble. She arched her neck, saliva dropping in heavy ropes from her curved teeth. Acheron inhaled sharply as the saliva plopped heavily into the dirt and began smoldering.

Acheron stared in shock. Travail crowed in triumph as his creations began to settle into their final forms. They were covered in spikes and knobs of bone, theirs scales were sharp and layered, eyes like inky jewels. Teeth curved wickedly, talons arched sharply, breath huffed hotly through deep nostrils. They stared down at the two Chaos Lords, and Acheron stared helplessly back.

Travail trembled softly, grinning deeply. He radiated pride, and triumph, and Acheron felt an echo of that himself. Travail had given raw Chaos a body, had found a way to keep it bound in flesh. Acheron could feel the difference already; these forms were stable, and would not shift again. They would not revert, they would not keep mutating.

"You are gorgeous," Travail rasped with love. Acheron crawled to his host's side, breathless with joy and amazement. He was inclined to agree with Travail.

The male roared, an echoing bellow across physical and telepathic senses. The female hissed, her head lowering toward the ground, lips pulled up in a snarl. The pair of Lords stepped back in shock as each of the creatures sprouted an enormous set of wings. The air popped as leathery skin and muscled arms came into existence, immediately spread, posturing against the darkening sky.

~We are dragon,~ spoke the new life forms as one, their telepathic voices sharp and deep and full of hunger.

"Awesome," was all Acheron could say in response.

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