Friday 1 September 2017

Short Story 2016 Featured Sayujya Sankar

The Dragons of Az-ma’an

There have always only been five.  They were the last five.  Belonging to Az-ma’an, they were the end of the species, but they were the ones who created history.
Na’akul was the black one.  His heart was fiercer than the sun’s core.  He was the dragon lord.  He was not their king.  He was not the crowned ruler of dragon-kind.  He was just the unspoken leader.  His scales rippled like the blackest of nights.  His eyes were two sharp, piercing diamonds that could catch every single thought, every single whisper of a breath.

Na’akul was the only one who had a partner.  Sha’rza was a coy one.  She was golden in colour.  Her nostrils weren’t as big, so her fire wasn’t as powerful.  She was a silent one, a sweet one, and yet she could be vicious.  She had claws and spikes to compensate.  Her eyes were honey-studs.  But of the five, she was the only one who could escape that deep, penetrating glance of Na’akul’s.
Then, there was the bond-brother.  Nobody would have thought that Zian’s scales could wound as they did, nor would one anticipate the speed of those flaky wings.  But Zian was the charmer.  He was an indescribable mix of black and an almost transparent blue. His shades flashed differently in different lights and at different heights.

Of course, Zian was not Na’akul’s blood-brother.  Born of two different blood-lines, Na’akul and Zian had sworn hearts above the water flame.  After all, since water is the only element that can extinguish dragon-fire, the water flame is significant.  A water-flame can only be found in the depths of the ocean, above a sea-volcano.  However, since most dragons are land-dragons, they cannot manage to find the water-flame, or perish in their attempts to do so.  But the expedition is sacred, and history has noted that most of these voyages were undertaken by two dragons usually of the same sex.  So, there were brother dragons or sister dragons. Only on extremely rare occasions were brother-sister dragon bonds forged at the water-flame.

The fourth dragon was Elle’za.  She was the gorgeous one.  She brought out the shades of green in the flash of her tail, in the gush of her wings and even in the gurgle of her fire-laughter.  She was the wild one, the vibrant one, the cheerful one.  Maybe that’s why she was the colour most attributed to nature. Yet, she was inexplicably attracted to Zian’s charms, his lanky exuberance, the blackness beyond the transparent sky-blueness. She would tail him wherever he went, and it couldn’t be denied that he enjoyed that attention. Often, they would wander the skies together, though they were not bound in love.

There was one, however, who was different from the rest. She was the only water dragon. If ever she laid a nest, it would be under-water. Unlike the land-dragons who couldn’t breathe fire under-water, her flames were the most powerful there. She was called Topaz after the colour of her element. But, her wings, her torso, her scales were a glistening white, with streaks of an aquamarine blue. In the sun, her scales would flash a shade of silver, and on cloudy days, her body, too, would take on the greyness of the skies. The colour of her skin constantly changed- not only with the season, but also with her changing moods. Her eyes were a sharp flash of metal that could soften into the mellowness of raindrops at the skip of a heart-beat. Because she was the only water-dragon, she had two small slits for gills, but she also possessed a pair of lungs.

Topaz was one of the rarest few to break the water-flame rule of brother-brother and sister-sister. Though she was of free skies and deep oceans, her friendship ran strong. She was Na’akul and Zian’s closest sister, a relationship neither male could define. Their loves ran strong and bold, but this was the friendship of mellowness, of closeness without words, of space in that closeness, of being different but united, of sibling-hood. In the middle of the night, unbeknownst to the other four, Topaz reached the volcano of water-flame. Slowly streamlining herself to the depths of the water around her, she placed her nostrils against the opening of the volcano, letting out a wave of fire.
Usually, water-flame bonds are built with all the to-be-siblings present. But Topaz did something nobody had heard of ever before. She swore fealty to two male land-dragons without their presence. She swore to be a bond-sister. Of course, neither Na’akul nor Zian was aware of Topaz’s actions. They were lost in their own worlds.

When the humans arrived, they were five too- the beginning five. Five grown adults born of the blood of dragon shed over night-fire. It had been Na’akul’s idea. He was the most idealistic of them all. He had believed that human would be a representation of their thoughts, of their desires, of their ideals. The five humans were born of the five dragons. But, funnily enough, they believe that there were only two in the beginning!

They were said to be one and the same. It had been Zian’s idea, however, never to reveal themselves to humankind. They would be the gods of humans, he said. Initially, the humans did not have names, and the dragons believed them to be a part of their own being. And thus, they took on the names of their creators.

Na’akul’s creation was dark as the deep night- just as he was. He came first. And when the five humans met, he was their unnamed leader, too. He was a warrior, and he loved his fight. He was passionate, he was kind, he was smart and he was bold. Sha’rza created a woman who was cunning, sharp and witty unlike the shy Sha’rza herself. Her creation was the most deceptive. She always flashed a gorgeous, knowing smile and shook out her dazzling hair. Yet, she could be vulnerable. With a drop of his blood, Zian created a youthful, energetic lad. He had a mop of unruly hair, constantly falling on his face. He had a lanky frame accompanied by a lanky grin. He was a charmer, just as his dragon-father was and his agility knew no bounds. Elle’za created a fair and tall, elegant-looking woman. She was the liveliest of the lot. She, like her dragon-mother, loved to walk across the green terrains of hills and dales, and her laughter sounded like the rustle of the leaves. Topaz’s woman was different from the creations of Sha’rza and Elle’za. She was dark like the bark of woods. Her eyes were dark like the depths of the ocean. She was an archer and a swordswoman of the woods. She was a strong and weathered fighter.

These were the beginning five. They had been created across the width and breadth of the lands, but they came together by instinct. They met where Na’akul’s creation lived. The vast savannahs stretched as the five stood in a circle, setting eyes on each other for the first time, filled with an inexplicable bond that tied them together. They seemed so different from each other that they first thought that they were different species. But Na’akul ensured that they understood each other. And so, he created language.

But language was deceptive. Some knew how to use it well. Some did not. The most fluent was Sha’rza’s creation. The silent one was Topaz’s creation. With language came communication. As the beginning five grew more accustomed to their clime and language, they began to communicate more with each other, and less with their creators. The hard-work and bloodshed of the dragons began waning. But, there was one amongst the created five who still believed. Zian still held commune with his creation.

A youth, about twenty-five, Zian’s creation still believed in his god. He asked his creator to help him during his troubles and he thanked him for his small joys. Zian, always a giving dragon, flew through the night and delved into the depths of the world to protect his creation. Zian, of course, never revealed himself to his creation though often, a presence was felt even if it wasn’t heard or seen.
This presence was vaguely felt by the other humans as well. But a feeling in a world of language is usually left forgotten amidst the words. Yet, a few of the emotions felt by the dragons had trickled into their human counterparts. Na’akul and Sha’rza’s creations fell in love. In the vast emptiness of green grasslands, under clear blue skies, or dark, inky nights there was passionate love. And just as with the dragons, the strength of the sibling bonds remained between the humans. Yet, their ties which had never been hindered by space, allowed them to move back to their territories. Topaz and Zian went their own ways, and soon, Elle’za left as well.

Topaz’s creation was the furthest off. She sailed a boat to her native land. Once she touched her home-ground, something pricked her conscience. She felt the dragon in her rising. She was confused about her god. But Topaz was not one to sit still, and watch her creation drift away from her. From the depths of the ocean, she sang a grieving song. And her creation heard it in the lapping waves, the slipping sands of the ocean and in the empty sea-shells. She walked through forest and hill with confused thoughts dashing across the shores of her mind.

With the movement of people, the dragons had to part ways too. Na’akul and Sha’rza were together, but the other three found isolation. Zian flew to the zenith of his territory, scorching the lands he saw. He missed his bond-brother, and the bond-sister he did not know he had. His separation caused him anger. Elle’za waited. Patient. Quiet. Knowing things will blossom again. Topaz sank to the depth of the ocean, remembering an isolated oath that no other breathing creature knew about. Hers was a guttural cry to reunite. Alarms rang in the under-current of the ocean as her shade turned pale with worry. She was the most agitated.

We know that Sha’rza’s creation was the most deceptive. She could hide, with her skilled use of words, the true intentions of her heart. She became so adept at this that Sha’rza fretted. She flew as high as she could, shrieking clarion calls to her friends. But Na’akul silenced her. He couldn’t comprehend that his creation did not remember him, and instead chose to love a woman who did not truly understand his heart. He hoped that his creation would come to him for help, as Sha’rza hoped for hers.
But Na’akul’s creation loved beyond the bounds of his heart’s ocean, and so caught up was he that he could not hear the agitation of the clouds or the distress in his plains. He loved as the night loves day, chasing her without choice, without realising that night and day can never be together. He didn’t even feel the forged bonds of brother and sister straining to come to his aid. They had not been wanted. They had been silenced.

Once, just once, Na’akul’s creation heard a deep wail emanating from the ocean. He spoke to Sha’rza’s creation of his belief that a ghost-wind was sweeping through his land. She just laughed. But she was afraid. Well-equipped with words, she knew that ghost-winds meant omens, and omens were supernatural. But her rationality strained against these irrational beliefs, and she attempted to scoff away these notions.

That was the first death. With the dismissal of the creator by the created, Sha’rza did not know whom to love more- Na’akul or her creation. Are blood and heart the same thing? Blood was child and heart was partner. After dismissal, Sha’rza’s creation felt a ripping shard in her mind-scape and she remembered. A sudden realisation, fear and anguish came upon her. Repenting that she had ever doubted her creator’s existence and forgetting the importance of words, she cried to her creator to bear her to her home, and blood won over heart. The death of love.

Na’akul was devastated and furious that Sha’rza had chosen her blood-child over him. This anger reflected in his creation, but he no longer knew what to believe. He was broken. Na’akul swore a land oath, breathing fire into the skies, promising that he would not allow himself to fall again- for the love of a partner, or of a son. He would be without ties; unbounded. And that was the second death. Stealthily, as his creation lay asleep, Na’akul, black as fury, swept over his son and fed him to the waters. He then clawed out his heart and threw it in with his son and slowly flew away. The death of a heart.

Na’akul’s heart floated above the water-flame, sending deep scars cutting across his bond brother and unknown bond-sister. There was aid at hand almost immediately, but a heartless dragon needs no aid.
The ensuing battle was fierce. Zian, who remained closer to Na’akul’s terrain, reached his brother first. Na’akul turned savagely on him, eyes flashing, steam rising from his nostrils. Zian was anxious. Flying in a downward loop, he met a flare meted out to him by Na’akul. He raged. Zian spread his sparkling-blue-black wings, barely missing the flame. Growling, Na’akul rose off the ground in a massive leap, and just as Zian was about to swing around flying skyward, Na’akul caught his tail-end, clawing it till there was a deep hole in his bleeding tail. Na’akul, for good measure, singed his bond-brother’s sparkling coat until there was a scar running above his right wing. Zian roared and reached for Na’akul’s underbelly with his talons and managed to wound him enough to escape.

Just as Zian was leaving, there was a fuming white blur in the distance carrying a heart of fire. Clanging talons angrily dropped what was her bond-brother’s, on his own land. But before he could reach for it she swished a white tail at him. Amused, Na’akul looked up at her. Her fire was as red as his. Her smoke as black as his. She was impatient. He already wanted a truce, for she had brought him back his heart. But she was deaf with rage. There was a roar of fire which he quickly dodged. She turned into a radiant mix of angry red and furious yellow, letting out another ball of flame. This time, it nearly caught him, but he barely managed to evade it as well. From her tail she let loose a few spikes. But he knew her every move. After all, he had taught her some of these techniques himself. His fury had abated now. He no longer wanted to fight. But Topaz was still fuming. She realised that she could not win without calming down, and she turned beating her wings furiously. But as she turned she let her tear fall.
Na’akul stood above a beating heart that was no longer his own staring at the tear-drop of a bond-sister he hadn’t known he had until he saw her arrival at his heart’s tug. This was the third death. Death of a bond.

While the fights were on, Elle’za, who had always been the wild one, and had tried to stay away realised the need for unity. She went to the existing creations and tried to reach them and talk some sense into them. She whispered about belief and about trust. And she managed to reach her creation, bringing back belief in her blood-child. Elle’za saw a beginning of a new life in this, and as she rejoiced she flew over her land into that of her neighbour- Zian. On the highest peaks of the world, she saw a blue-black dragon keening in anguish as his wounds gushed out blood. Their unity had no name, for they knew the danger that had been brought on between Na’akul and Shar’za with the naming of their bond. But, this was a bond forged in a sphere that was purer than water or land- it was forged in the icy-cold breeze of the air.

Topaz’s creation, too, reached belief, though through a different path. She didn’t look for her creator, but she looked for beauty in the world around her- in the trees and the seas and the sky. And through beauty, she found truth. Neither Zian nor his creation ever found out about their bond-sisters. Na’akul’s creation had died even though Na’akul had gotten his heart back. This was the end of the dragon era. Human had been created and the world had to move on. Zian and Elle’za’s creations brought forth more of their kind. Maybe that is why humankind believed that in the beginning there were only two. But, there were two more creations somewhere, who soon passed on to other worlds. The last five dragons were there as long as belief was there. But soon, belief began to fade. So did beauty. Deception became the need of the day, and so, the dragons, unwillingly, but with not much of a fight, passed on into oblivion.

No comments:

Post a Comment