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Devouring Angel: Book Two of the Elixir Trilogy
#2
Please be warned: Chapter One contains some huge spoilers for the end of Book One, Project Heavenstorm.



Part One:

Deicide



Chapter One
 
A few seconds after he awoke, Vithan Varox remembered that he was still flying.
         Sprawled out in the darkness, silken warmth covering him from head to toe, the young Sentinel Captain stretched his right arm and felt around for his drink box.  His fingertips touched the familiar hard resin of the container, warmed by the surroundings.  He hoped that the box interior was still as cool as icewater, as it had been when he had first lifted off the ground back in Lythinia.
         I know that you are off-duty, came the stately, feminine mindvoice of Squadron Leader Sabilikon, but it would do you well to choose a beverage that will have no adverse effects on your brain.  It is too late for that now.  Or too early, depending on your perspective.
         “Yes ma’am,” Vithan blurted out aloud, drowsily sarcastic.  He knew that nine densely packed metres separated his own little passenger compartment from Sabilikon’s ears, yet the officer could hear him as easily as if they were sitting face-to-face.  As Vithan spoke, his words echoed in the shallow regions of his mind, and that was what Sabilikon listened for.  “Thank you for being such a bloody sticky-beak as usual,” he added.
         Coming from someone of your profession, I would take that as the highest of compliments.
         Not bothering to stretch his body, Vithan pulled the drink box toward him with a tiny burst of psychokinesis.  He summoned a hazy light into his crystal lamp as he flipped open the lid, then rummaged past the assorted beer bottles before settling on the pineapple juice.
         “So,” he gasped, pulling the ice-cold bottle from his lips, “are we really that close?  Sorry, but I’m just too lazy to scan outside right now.”
         We are little more than half an hour before landing, stated the Squadron Leader. 
         “Really?”  Vithan could barely feel the up-and-down bobbing of turbulence, as the thick, trampoline-like support beneath him stretched in and out within the range of millimetres.  The fact he could feel this at all indicated that Sabilikon was flying more recklessly than her aristocratic tone would have suggested.  “So I slept for …”
         Six hours straight.  Which, I might add, is the first thing you have done right since take-off.
         “The first of many to come, I assure you.  Have we reached the West Coast yet?”
         We will in about twelve minutes.  Presently we are approaching the eastern border of Panument, at an altitude of seven kilometres.  There is a beautiful golden-red sunrise right behind us.  I can see the city’s towers gleaming in the glare ahead like the Sun’s own hatchlings.
         “Fine.  So you’re a better poet than I ever was.  Don’t rub it in.”
         He heard and felt a heavy rumbling all around him that lasted only a second.
         Do you want to look outside?  Sabilikon’s tone barely concealed a hint of mirth.
         “Later.”  Vithan took another sip of pineapple juice.
I seem to recall something about a gift.
         “It’s not for you, if that’s what you’re hoping for.  But if you haven’t found out what it is by now, then you’re completely ruining your reputation as a stickybeak.”
         Oh, but I value nothing more highly than your privacy!  Who is thi- … You’re spilling that stuff!
         “Sorry.”  Vithan pulled his handkerchief from his side and wiped the droplets of pineapple juice from the smooth, rubbery surface.
         As I was asking, who is the lucky recipient of this gift?
         “You’ve met her.”
         My, that does narrow things down considerably.
         “She’s rather tall,” said Vithan.  “Green eyes, long shapely neck.  A bit hip-heavy.  Much like you, except she’s a redhead.”
         That rules out Gabrielle and Tilanna, unless Tilanna has stared dyeing her hair and wearing novelty contact lenses.  And I don’t see that fashion craze coming back any time soon.  Would it be the other Squadron Leader, by any chance?
         “Right on target,” said Vithan.  “The other Squadron Leader, who soared through the ranks a lot more swiftly than you did.”
         You are always below the belt.
         Vithan chuckled at Sabilikon’s pun, and kicked outward.  “Only when I’m lazy,” he said.
          I am looking forward to her speech.
         “She’s a cracking good public speaker,” said Vithan.  “Apparently she was speaking fluent Varantuan when she was four, and she hasn’t shut up since.  And then there was her drama troupe.”
         She is usually very talkative in her own language, too, said Sabilikon, although I have noticed her becoming rather pensive of late.   
         “Yes.” 
Vithan chose not to elaborate further.  Today was to be a day both of celebration and mourning.  Sabilikon herself sounded like she was in surprisingly high spirits, considering the personal memory today was certain to evoke.
         We are passing over Panument, said Sabilikon.  Are you sure you don’t want to look?
         Vithan sighed.  “All right,” he said.  “I’ll take a peek.”
         A small hole opened up not far from Vithan’s head, flooding the darkness with golden light and a refreshing coolness.  The breeze was only slight, for the all-pervading energy shield collected and warmed the air, letting it filter in harmlessly.  Vithan wriggled forward until his jaw was leaning on the flexible lower rim of the aperture.  Facing downwards, he beheld the largest city on the planet.
         It was clear that Sabilikon was still flying seven kilometres above the surface.  Hundreds of towers, domes and monolithic business blocks sprawled below him like a strange geometric coral.  The morning sun bathed everything in a rich and shining gold, throwing jagged shadows that must have been kilometres long.  There were few clouds below to obscure Vithan’s view, but even these added to the illusion that he was looking down upon some exotic underwater environment, subtly misted over with the haze of great distance.  With his naked eyes, Vithan could make out dozens of scintillating, gnat-sized shapes floating from one structure to another – flying Dragons.
         “Do you ever get tired of views like this?” Vithan enquired.
         “Never,” said Sabilikon out aloud, easily heard over the distance.
         “Neither would I,” said Vithan.  “I should fly this route more often.”
         “You are more than welcome,” said Sabilikon.
         The lofty view of his world’s greatest city – reduced to the scale of an ant’s nest – threw a faint shadow over his sense of wonderment.  Is this how we look to the Moredrex and Kujiras? he wondered.  All the time?  After six years, he was still finding new ways of asking that same question, new ways of imagining the world through richer eyes.
         With the subject of scale clear in his mind, Vithan raised his gaze to his luggage cases on either side before him, still locked securely underneath the giant belt.  The belt, in turn, was attached to an enormous, smooth underbelly, as lightly azure as the morning sky he could barely see.  Just beyond the luggage belt, two huge scaly claws rested, pointing towards him.  Far beyond the distant curvature of the underside, to his right, Vithan caught a glimpse of the tip of a bright blue, veined wing.
         Whatever technological secrets the Colonists had once held all those thousands of years ago, Vithan doubted that any of them could measure up to the style and elegance of travelling in a Dragon’s pouch.
         “I could slow down if you wish,” said Sabilikon, lowering her long, streamlined head so that Vithan could see her emerald eye peering under her chest.  “It is not as if we are risking a late arrival.”
         “That’s fine with me,” said Vithan.
         There was a faint, oceanic whoosh as Sabilikon flapped her wings more slowly.
         “Would you like to stop at a traveller’s port?” asked Sabilikon.
         “No.  I can hold it for a few more minutes at least.  I haven’t drunk that much.”
         He wriggled forward and leaned over, bending his neck downward to look beyond the slight bulge he made in Sabilikon’s pouch, beyond the distant, daintily oscillating tip of her tail, into the topsy-turvy depths of sky and land and sunrise far behind.  So very far away back there, thousands of kilometres away, was his home country of Lythinia – the place where he grew up, the place where he lived and sometimes worked.
         This is what it meant to be a mortal.  It was all about being dwarfed by the scale of one world, to say nothing of the universe.  Even in times of joy, of peace, the truth would never leave him.  He would never forget his glimpse of the true nature of creation.
         In a twisted sort of way, that was what they were celebrating on this day.  The end of history as it had been known, the beginning of a new and fantastic and terrifying knowledge.  There was so much to celebrate, so many to mourn.      
         A vast swathe of dark blue entered the upper edge of his vision.  Vithan raised his gaze to watch the ocean approach from far beneath.
         “We shall reach New Kesalzhin in just over twenty minutes,” announced Sabilikon.
         “Take your time,” said Vithan, slowly retreating into the pouch, positioning himself so he could just peer through the opening.
 
Sabilikon’s timing was perfect.  Twenty minutes had passed before the green hills, russet cliffs and white beaches of New Kesalzhin Island spread out before Vithan.  Dozens of Dragons could be seen flying over the island’s centre, above the dozens of new structures that could be seen jutting above the forest. 
         It had been six years since he had last set foot on this island – six years since he and his friends had escaped the thunderous destruction of its predecessor.  He had been there when the island had been miraculously remade.  Against all reason, after billions of tons of debris had been ejected into the atmosphere in a blast that shook the world, the very same debris had then been sucked back into the ocean through an enormous funnel, hissing, solidifying and cooling into a wondrous new shape.  Hills, lakes, entire forests had risen out of the ground within minutes.  And, best of all, a new friend believed lost had returned to the world of the living.
         Vithan’s world, the planet Haloken – once called Telekos – had not always been left to the hands of nature and random chance.  Thousands of years ago, it had been moulded and electrolysed by countless machines, prepared with air, oceans, flora and fauna; prepared for the first Human Colonists and the wise machines that guided them.  Thus, almost anything “natural” that he could see – the trees, the oceans, the blue sky itself – had been put there by a powerful and ancient technology.  Yet the island spread out before him now – unofficially entitled New Kesalzhin Island, and soon to receive a new, official name all of its own – was the one known landmass that was truly the creation of a god.  Its very existence was a miracle.
         Within minutes, the myriad structures of the new college spun beneath him like a galaxy of marble and masonry.  Hundreds of tiny Humans and dozens of Dragons were already milling around the vast amphitheatre. 
         Vithan did not need to scan hard to locate his old friend and fellow survivor – one of the few who had fought beside him for the future of the world.  His naked Human eyes were enough.  Those vibrant red-and-blue stripes were unmistakeable, as were the three well-earned gold neckbands of a Skywatch Squadron Leader.  Alathaka, former student of Kesalzhin Island Boarding College for the Psionically Gifted, most beloved of Vithan’s late best friend, now a hero and icon to Dragons and Humans alike.
         On the subject of icons, Alathaka was not the only Dragon form that caught Vithan’s eye.  She was apparently conversing with two other Skywatch officers whom Vithan barely recognized.  The immense figure far behind her, however, immediately gave a solid lump to Vithan’s throat.  He would always know those gold-and-black stripes, even if they were made of gold and onyx.
         I’ll try not to cry, thought Vithan.
         “Why try to hide it?” said Sabilikon.  “People will understand.”
         “Stickybeak,” said Vithan.
         “Flatterer,” said Sabilikon.
         Far below, Alathaka looked up, and her emerald eyes locked with his across the distance.  She roared with elation.
         Vithan, my delightful little joy toy!  Come down and join us ladies!  Our ears need a nice long scratching, and you have the most experienced and accomplished hands of the entire Human species!
         Vithan chuckled.  After all her trauma, arduous training and bands of rank, she was still that silly drama student from way back.  Yet today, there was a subtly strained quality to her mindvoice.  And he knew why.
         Sorry to disappoint you, Vithan mindspoke, but right now I’m too lazy to even scratch my own ears, let alone ones that are longer than my arms.
         In that case, we’ll just rub our heads against you and purr softly.  And we’ll line up in order of rank.
         Pervert, Vithan mindspoke.
         Hypocrite, Alathaka replied.
         Vithan tried to hold his smile, trying not to worry about his old friend’s state of mind.  Just under the surface of her obvious joy and mirth, there was … something else.  Something that Vithan knew all too much about.  It always happened to her this time of the year.  And on this year of all years, on this day of all days, in this place of all places, nothing was going to make her forget.
         Vithan knew only too well how she felt.  It was all he could do to avoid drinking away the previous night.  What was that old saying by Garmatuel?  Remembrance of fallen comrades is the hero’s great curse.  Vithan would never call himself a hero.  Not out aloud.  But there once was a time when he would not have given that line much thought.  Then the world changed, and so did he.
         Sabilikon’s leisurely, spiralling dive lasted a few minutes, giving Vithan plenty of time to drink in the scenery of a newly rebuilt island college. 
         The builders and shapers had been busy over the last six years.  The architecture of New Kesalzhin College was as colourful and diverse as a well-tended garden, but was also decidedly modern in style.  Vithan recognized the jagged angles and fanning blades of the Vundivah Century movement, the spiralling domes of Danshi Revival, the stepped pyramids of Zovanihurst Wave, and New Jenihest’s towering cones hugged by titanic ribcages of curved balconies.  Life-sized statues of six Skywatch Dragon heroes sat upon each corner of a vast stone hexagon, surveying the Island and horizon beyond with eyes of burning jade or gold.  Most striking of all, however, was the new style inspired by the exotic cities of Haloken’s far-off Colonial days.  Honeycombed cylinders burst with layers and layers of flower-petal balconies; not unlike the towers Vithan had once glimpsed in historical holograms six years ago, far underground.
         The new campus was an exquisite banquet for the mind as well as the eyes.  A single Dragon could get lost here if one forgot how to fly.  Yet nothing could truly replace the College of old.  It had truly been an exquisite museum of the history of architecture, covering a full eleven thousand years.  It had been the portrait of a long age, not a mere moment.
         Almost any building with a broad, flat ceiling had dozens of Dragons and hundreds of Humans perched atop, enjoying the view from the edge.  One young female Dragon posed suggestively with one of the male Dragon statues, entwining her neck around it and rubbing her ears against its head.  Her boyfriend hovered in the air before them, rumbling with laughter.  Vithan looked away.  The likeness of that statue had been one of the hundreds of Dragons who had died defending this world, defending all who walked and flew today.  Yet Vithan was quick to smother his anger.  He remembered what he himself had been like only a few short years ago.
         As Sabilikon descended, the proudly modern towers seemed to grow and rise all around them, not unlike the magically conjured trees on this same island six years ago.  The mosaic-tiled ground grew below Vithan like dry skin under a microscope, cells all of jagged stone and autumn colour.  Seconds after the Dragoness’s hind claws touched the tiles, she leaned forward to let Vithan exit her pouch.
         Vithan stumbled around on the tiles like a sailor rediscovering his land legs, clutching his handcase as if his life depended on it.
         “Do you want to hop back in?” said Sabilikon, who had stepped back to give Vithan some room to reacquaint himself with gravity after so many hours.
         “I’m all right,” said Vithan.  “When you have my job, you get used to …”
         He froze as he saw the vibrant bulk of Alathaka striding toward him.
         “Change of plan,” he said.  “Let me back in!”
         “Oh no,” said Sabilikon, taking another step back.  “You’re Alathaka’s toy now.  I dare not get in her path.  No-one does.”
         “Vithan!” said Alathaka.  She gently rubbed her huge muzzle against Vithan’s torso.  Vithan affectionately rubbed his hands over the smooth scales under her hugely luminous green eye.
         “Happy Sakatoth!” said Vithan.  “How are you these days you crazy fat-arsed bimbo?”
         “I am having as much fun as a pouch full of electric eels,” said Alathaka.
         “That good, eh?”
         “You can make it even better.”  She turned her head so that Vithan could see into the long, cupped grass-blade of her ear, immaculately clean and gleaming.  “Please?” she begged in her best impression of innocence.
         “Oh, all right, you oversized neurotic,” said Vithan.  He began to scratch her ear.  “After all, you technically still outrank me.  God only knows why.”
         “Mmmmm,” Alathaka purred heavily.  “You should get paid to do this.”
         “Shut up.”
         “Is your speech ready?”
         “Well, I probably don’t have to improvise.  Much.  And yours?”
         “I shall have the greatest speech of the night,” said the Dragoness.
         “My, we are modest today, aren’t we?”
         “The greatest speech of all time.  Words fit to stun the gods.”
         “Well, that’s good.”  Vithan kept on scratching.  “Keep your goals humble and realistic, and no-one will be disappointed.”
         “You never disappoint, my little joy toy.”
         “Shut up.”
         “Have you seen my statue?”
         “Your statue?  Sorry, I was too busy looking at …”  Vithan briefly glanced upwards.
         “I understand,” said Alathaka.
         “Your statue was Shalyn’s project, wasn’t it?”
         “Yes.  Like that little glass figurine he moulded on the day it happened, on a much more … voluptuous scale.  I am certain it will please you, if you know what I mean.”
         “Oh … shut up.”
         “So you’re at it again Vithan!”
         It was the voice of his wife.
         “And you shut up too,” said Vithan.
         Tilanna Ti-Varox grinned playfully as she approached Vithan and Alathaka, her black wavy hair luxuriantly thick, her jaguar-print blouse and skirt hugging her generous figure.
         “I just can’t leave you two alone for five minutes,” she said as she embraced and kissed her husband of four years.  “Are you coming to the hotel, or do you want to book a giant room with your mistress?”
         “Shut up.”
         “I will drop off your luggage at the lobby,” said Sabilikon.
         “Shut up.”
         “I don’t think that promise deserved a ‘shut up’,” said Sabilikon.
         “Shut up.”
         “Very well then.  As you please.”
         “Shut up.”
         Tilanna giggled.  “You have matured so much in the past six years.”
         “Shut up.”
         Tilanna turned in the direction of the hotel.  “Penthouse Three.  I’ll be waiting.  You two have fun.  Take your time.”
         “Shut up.”
 
The balcony outside Penthouse Three of the Kalina Tathaunen Hotel had a superlative view of the amphitheatre.  The latter had been designed to seat ten thousand Humans and a hundred Dragons.  However, it was not the amphitheatre that Vithan stared at.  It was the statue that towered over it.  The statue that reared so high, Vithan could look it in the eye on the twelfth floor.
         Tilanna appeared beside him, softly wrapping her arm around his waist.
         “It looks so much like him,” she said.
         “It does,” Vithan whispered.
         Olokuvon, Vithan’s best friend, was immortalized forever in gold and onyx, so much larger than life.  Six years on, he still watched over the island he swore to protect, rearing in defiance of the evil that threatened his loved ones, mouth agape in a silent roar of victory – a victory that was sealed upon the hour of his death.
         “Do you think he’s watching us?’ said Vithan.  “Right now?”
         “I’m sure he is,” said Tilanna.
         A white dove landed on the statue’s head, looking as tiny as a gnat.
         “I dream about him sometimes,” said Vithan.
         “So do I,” said Tilanna.  “Maybe he’s trying to reach us from the other side.”
         “Or maybe they’re just dreams,” said Vithan.
         “I thought you put your atheist days behind you.”
         “I did.  But we’re still mortal.  And dreams are still dreams.”
 
Gabrielle arrived three hours after Vithan.
         Vithan and Tilanna met her in the courtyard in front of the hotel, shortly after hastily getting out of bed, showering and re-dressing into their leather Sentinel uniforms.  The twenty-one thousand year old Colonist (with the trim body of a twenty-seven year old) had outwardly changed over the past six years.  They had first met her as a twitchy, moody and slightly psychotic survivor of a long-lost civilization, with a crew cut, a T-shirt and jeans, which she promptly replaced with a figure-hugging battlesuit that talked to her as a personal guide.  Since then, she had let her dark brown hair grow into a silky cascade.  The dress she had chosen for the day was one she had worn to several other recent public gatherings – what Gabrielle called a “traditional Earth dress”, because it used to be revived every century.  It was long and silken red with split sides – a style she had requested from her personal tailor, and had swiftly become a fashion statement throughout much of the world.  Indeed, her influence was guaranteed.  She was a historical figure, a celebrity, an object of adoration and mystery and wonder, a highly esteemed advisor to the Global Council, and a bestselling author.
         Gabrielle was almost incoherently ecstatic as she exchanged hugs and greetings with her old friends.  “How’s the Sentinel going?” she finally said.
         “Classified,” said Vithan, deadpan as ever.
         “Same as usual then?  Are they ever going to let you two work together?”
         “That is not going to happen,” said Tilanna.  “Conflict of interests.  They say emotional bonds cloud one’s judgement and objectivity on missions.”
         “Right,” said Gabrielle, just before pausing awkwardly.  She knew a thing or two about emotions clouding one’s judgement.
         “It’s something of a novelty to see you without bodyguards,” said Vithan.  “Of course, you know the two of us could do a much better job, can’t we Tilanna?”
         “It seems the entire island has bodyguards today,” said Gabrielle.
         “Well observed,” said Tilanna.  “One in ten Humans here is Sentinel.  One in four Dragons is Skywatch.  If there’s going to be an incident …”
         “… they’d have to rebuild the college again once the dust clears,” said Vithan.
         “Well let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” said Gabrielle.  “Hey, is Alathaka here?”
         “I think she’s with a few other Skywatch officers on the far side of the island,” said Vithan.  “You can catch up with her before the ceremony.”
         “Cool.  Well, I’ll just pop into the hotel and catch up with Headquarters.  I’ll see you two shortly.  Ooh, this is going to be epic!”
         She strode quickly to the hotel entrance.
         “Do you think we should go back in and rehearse our speeches?” said Tilanna.
         “I’ve done enough rehearsing to blank walls to be exempt from public speaking for the next few lifetimes, if the gods are fair.  What about you?”
         “I think I’m fine with it.”
         “You think?”
         “Well, no mortal can be one hundred per cent sure about anything,” said Tilanna.  “Sometimes a gut feeling is all we have.”
         “Now I know for a fact that there’s a God.”
         “Why?”
         “You’re finally saying goodbye to that prissy fussy over-achiever you used to be.”
         Tilanna chuckled and playfully shoved him. 
“And why not?” he added.  “Four years in the Sentinel teaches you a thing or two about the world.”
         “And don’t we know it.”
         The pair walked around the front corner of the hotel.  In a park bursting and flowing with every imaginable shade of green, a family of Dragons were relaxing, conversing in the complex clicks and growls of their language.
         “Have you seen the Wall of Names?” said Tilanna.
         “Not yet.”  Vithan froze awkwardly for a few seconds.  “I’ll get around to it.”
         “Get around to it?  We can literally walk around the hotel right now and …”
         A blue baby Dragon, the size of a pony, walked up to Tilanna and Vithan, his waddling gait almost like a clumsy puppy-duckling hybrid.  He sat before the pair and looked up at them with huge, glistening dark eyes. 
Tilanna leaned forward with a blissful smile.  “Hello little cutie!” she said.
         “HELLO WALKY WOOWOOS!” shouted the Joey.  Then he turned tail and ran toward his mother, leaving Vithan and Tilanna laughing with delight.  The mother Dragon – blue with violet spots – gently nuzzled her Joey as she clicked in soothing tones.  The Joey clicked back and poked at her flank.  The mother Dragon lifted her body to let her Joey dive headfirst into her pouch, then weightlessly sat down and winked at Vithan and Tilanna.
         “He’s adorable,” said Tilanna.  “Sooner or later we’ll have one of our own.”
         “What, a baby Dragon?” said Vithan in mock surprise.  “Will he fit in your pants?  What am I saying, of course he will.  You can hide him in the back.  No-one will tell the diff- OWW!”
         Tilanna giggled as Vithan rubbed his earlobe.  “You know what I mean,” she said.
         “I thought we agreed to wait,” said Vithan.
         “I know.  I meant in the long run.  You know, the next few years.”
         “Well, we both get two years paid parental leave.  Plus the in-house crèche-“
         “It’s not about getting a free vacation.”
         “I’m just pointing out the advantages, you know, to compensate for having a little runt with probably death-ray vision or something.”
         Tilanna laughed.  “You read too many thrillers.”
         “Read thrillers?  We both freaking live them!”
         “And that makes us both well prepared for parenthood.”
         “Screw that.  I’d rather face down evil fascist Dragon terrorists any day, belching all smoke and fury.  Being a father is what scares the shit out of me.”
         Tilanna laughed some more.  “You’re pathetic.”
         “I know.  It takes less effort.”
         They walked around the hotel, to the side where the Amphitheatre filled most of their view, and the statue of Olokuvon towered far above.
         He knew exactly where Tilanna was leading him.  To the Wall.
         The Olokuvon statue stood proudly upon a vast box-shaped base of pure granite, polished to a glass-smooth finish.  Engraved on the front side of the base were hundreds of words, bevelled in real gold.  They were the names of all heroes and hostages who had died in the Siege at Kesalzhin.
         Dozens of Humans and one Dragon were gathered before the Wall of Names.  Some Humans gave Vithan and Tilanna surprised glances, and hastily stepped aside to let them pass.  Many a Human – some levitating – would reach out to touch one of the names.  Some would close their eyes as they did, as if in quiet reverence.  Vithan knew why.  The properties of the Wall were already well known.
         “We have to try it,” said Tilanna.  She strode quickly over to the Wall.  Vithan slowly followed.
         Unsurprisingly, most of the names were of Dragons.  Eighteen Dragons of the Skywatch had been wiped out in the sky over Kesalzhin Island.  Hours later, one thousand and twenty three Dragons had been swiftly, brutally slaughtered by Dahal Savithar moments after the Elixir had taken effect and transformed him.  Scattered among the broad list, equally revered, were Human names.  Dahal Savithar had personally murdered fourteen Human students right in front of Alathaka, just to torment her.  He had been a monster long before the Elixir had transformed him.  Kalina Tathaunen, former Chancellor of Kesalzhin Island College for the Psionically Gifted – and secret Priestess of the Church of the Celestial Ambassador –, was also listed among the fallen.  She had committed suicide during a meeting with the monster himself, not wanting to be used as his instrument.
         Tilanna reached out to one of the Human names and closed her eyes.  After a few seconds, she exhaled deeply through her nostrils as her eyes filled with tears.
         “She was my roommate,” she said as she opened her eyes, wiping away her tears.  “Try it,” she added.
         Slowly, Vithan reached out to the engraved name – Kehenta Glathwill.  As soon as he touched the gold and granite, he closed his eyes. 
         Immediately, he saw Tilanna’s former roommate standing before him, her irregularly cropped hair bleached and feathered in the fashion of six years ago, her ears and nostrils studded and pierced, her clothing a patchwork of multiple animal prints. 
         Kehenta Glathwill, said a voice in Vithan’s mind.  Born on the Fourteenth of Azlovah, Year Twenty-One Thousand and Fifty-Six.  Music student at Kesalzhin College from Twenty-One Thousand Two Hundred and Seventy-Four to Twenty-One Thousand Two Hundred and Seventy-Six.  Highly acclaimed lead vocalist, guitarist and songwriter for on-campus Third Wave Thunderfolk band The Chilli Ferrets.  Murdered by Dahal Savithar on Sakatoth Day One, the Thirteenth of Valamana, Twenty-One-
         Vithan removed his hand and opened his eyes.  For a moment it had been beautiful.  The Wall had given Tilanna’s friend the respect she deserved.  But it should not have mentioned his name.  It should not have even acknowledged his existence.  
         He reached out to touch one of the many Dragon names and closed his eyes.  A vibrantly striped Dragoness stood regally before him, wearing two thin neckbands.
         Kalisavax, said the voice.  Hatched on the Twenty-Seventh of Kerosha, Year Twenty-One Thousand Two Hundred and Fifty-Four.  Enlisted in the Skywatch in Twenty-One Thousand Two Hundred and Seventy-Three.  Attained rank of Patrol Officer in Twenty-One Thousand and Fifty-Six.  Volunteered in the ill-fated Final Assault against Dahal Savithar on Sakatoth Day One, the Thirteenth of Valama, Twenty-One Thousand Two Hundred and Seventy-Six.  Patrol Officer Kalisavax is the beloved daughter of-
         Vithan ripped his hand away, already feeling exhausted.  Every victim had a name, had a life, had a history, had loved ones.  Every death scarred at least a dozen other lives.  He knew that too well.  It was futile to even try to forget that.  Not here, not now.
         He looked up, above the bulk of the list, and saw exactly what he had expected, what he had longed to see and yet somehow dreaded.
         He levitated a few metres up for a closer look.
         The largest name on the Wall, elevated above all others, was the name of the Dragon immortalized in gold and onyx that towered over everyone.
 
OLOKUVON
FOREVER WATCHING
 
         Vithan felt a solid lump in his throat.  Slowly, he reached out a trembling hand to the gold-engraved text.
         “Hey Vithan!”
         He turned and looked down.  Gabrielle was standing next to Tilanna, waving.  Vithan almost wanted to sigh in relief.  He was not ready.  Would he ever be?
         “It’s confirmed,” said Gabrielle.  “I can stay the night.  GC Headquarters were sitting on the fence at first, but this time they’re certain they won’t need me until nine tomorrow morning.”
         “That’s great,” said Vithan as he slowly sank to the stone-tiled courtyard.  “What’s it all about this time?”
         “Classified,” said Gabrielle.
         “Fair enough,” said Vithan.  “We’re all working for the Global Council.  We’re all secretive cactus arses here.  Let’s keep up the good work.”
         “Have you seen our statues yet?” said Gabrielle.
         “I haven’t even seen Alathaka’s yet,” said Vithan.  “What’s with everyone wanting to see their statue?  Is this the archetype of vanity or what?  I mean … can’t you just pose in the mirror or something?”
         “Oh, come on,” said Tilanna.  “You’re just as vain as the rest of us.  You just pretend to be so fashionably nonchalant.”
         “Alathaka’s statue is a couple of kilometres to the southwest, at the mouth of the river,” said Gabrielle.  “She’s there to greet the boats, I guess.  And ours –“
         “- should be in her pouch,” said Vithan.  “Or … his.”  He gestured upwards. 
         “We each get separate statues,” said Tilanna.  “That’s tradition.”
         “Alathaka flew us both to safety in the end,” said Vithan.
         “Fine,” said Tilanna.  “So when you see her statue, just pretend that we’re both hidden in the pouch. 
         Remind me to give her the present once all this is over, Vithan mindspoke.
         If I have to remind you, then it can’t be much of a memorable present, can it?   
         Oh … shut up.
         “I just love what they’ve done with Olokuvon,” said Gabrielle, looking straight up at the Dragon form that towered into the sky, its head so distant that a passing pelican looked tiny as it ducked under its jaw.  “Your planet finally has its own Statue of Liberty.”
         “Statue of Liberty?” said Vithan.  “Was that Greek or Roman?”
         “American.”
         “Ah.  I was close.”
         “Maybe you should re-read my Wonders of Ancient Earth.”
         “Sorry to be pedantic,” said Tilanna, “but Alathaka’s statue is the one that greets seafarers visiting our island.  Just like the Statue of Liberty in New York.  And female, too.  And in case you’re wondering, I’ve read your book three times.”
         Vithan gave a loud, exaggerated sigh.  “Same bloody smart-arse show-off.  How do I bloody put up with it?”
         Gabrielle giggled.  “Anyway, I just have to go and see Torlaskavon.  We have to confirm flight arrangements for the morning.  See you in a minute.”
         She disappeared around the corner of the statue base.
         “It’s great to see her so cheerful,” said Tilanna.  “When you remember how we met her …”
         “I know,” said Vithan.  “But in the end, we all wear masks.”
         “If she were hiding her emotions, I would tell.”
         “Oh, look, another stickybeak,” said Vithan.  “Female Humans, female Dragons, all bloody stickybeaks.”
         “Speaking of female Dragons … Alathaka’s doing a great job of masking her grief.”
         “I know.  Every morning she takes enough hydrotreskelin to kill a hundred Humans.  She always insists she’s all right.  And the Skywatch keeps her on because she’s brilliant.  And valuable raw firepower.  And then there’s her … well, status.  But she’s not the only one here who lost a loved one that day.  Not the only Dragon.”
         “Sabilikon?”
         “Yes.”
         Far in the distance, on the roof of one of the broader buildings that towered above the trees, Alathaka and Sabilikon were perched next to the life-sized statue of Skymarshal Banthonotrax.  They were casually facing each other, obviously deep in conversation.
         “So you know who she is?” said Tilanna.  “Who she really is?”
         “What do you think we do for a living?”
         “And you trust her?  She flew you all the way here, so –“
         “So obviously I trust her, yes.  Anyone who’s anyone in the Sentinel or Skywatch or any other branch of the Council knows her background.  Just don’t let the media poke their noses into her family history.”
         Vithan stared at the distant Sabilikon.  Over a thousand Dragons throughout the world had a similar blue-and-gold splotch pattern.  It was a small coincidence, but a coincidence nonetheless.  Vithan had felt a slight tremor in his guts when he had found out the truth four years ago.
         “And everyone in the Council is fine with it?” said Tilanna.  “I know she’s another big asset to Skywatch.  But that day hit her just as hard as anyone.  For a very … specific reason.”
         Vithan nodded.  “Hers is a special kind of grief.”
         “Oh well,” said Tilanna, “so long as Alathaka’s still your favourite lady Dragon, all is right with the world.”
         “Well of course she’s my favourite.  Her bum is almost as big as yours.  Seriously, you should have flown her to safety and saved her the load.”
         Tilanna smiled wickedly and grabbed Vithan by the shoulders.  “I am so going to punish you tonight.”
         “I’m counting on it.”
         They kissed.
         Far above, the likeness of their old friend watched on, watched all, blessed never to die again.
 
~  ~  ~
 
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RE: Devouring Angel: Book Two of the Elixir Trilogy - by DarrenRyding - 04-27-2021, 02:51 AM

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