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Project Heavenstorm (Chapter One of my novel)
Here's a re-edit of Chapter One.  Most of the changes are in the opening scene, with the dialogue between Vithan and Olokuvon.  It is made clear that Vithan's level of power is extremely rare for humans, even in Kesalzhin College.  I have also discarded the Prologue.

I am thinking about swapping the "good-guys-talk-about-stuff" scene with the "bad-guys-commit-mass-murder" scene, but I haven't made up my mind yet.

EDIT:  I've just swapped the two scenes.

NEW EDIT:  I have also added a few lines to the very start.


Chapter One
We are all born pure, thought Dahal Savithar, and then the world makes us filthy.  I shall rejoice in expunging the filth that is the world.
         Far ahead, across the ocean, was the place where the fire was going to be lit. 
         Kesalzhin Island College was still a few hours away; yet in his mind, Dahal Savathar could already smell the stench.
         As he stood on the prow of the Chalivon, his blond mane and longcoat billowing in the ocean breeze, the only thing he could physically smell was the salty tang of ocean.  He did not have the Draconic ability to smell a seagull kilometres away; nor did he have the rare gift of counting Human and Dragon auras a few dozen kilometres away.  Nonetheless, he could feel something over the dusky horizon; a cluster of life, like stars seen through smoke.  This scanning accomplishment, however, meant little more to Dahal than the petty limitations of his Human physical senses.  He set his standards far higher.  His mind’s mastery over matter was a source of far greater pride, but greater still was the privilege of exclusive knowledge.  How many mortals in history knew for a fact that Godhood was a goal within reach – not just a dream or a promise, but a proven possibility close enough to touch?  Compared to such knowledge, all mortal life shrunk and shrivelled to the status of worms.  Soon they would live to see His glory, they would cower before His glorious presence and exalt His Holy Name.         
         Be patient in these final hours, said a voice inside his head.  You shall have your opportunity.
         Dahal unclenched his fists and turned to face his advisor, standing a few metres away, wearing his characteristic slight smile.  The man’s attire was a strangely precise imitation of neatness and affluence - a grey and black pinstriped suit and a matching tilted hat.  Even the expressions on the Pinstriped Man’s porcelain-like face seemed equally theatrical, equally selected.  Whether that smile was out of sympathy, or amusement for Dahal’s passion, Dahal could not be sure.  The Pinstriped Man was the only crewmember he could not scan even at close range.  That mattered little; Dahal owed him a favour after all these years.
         Dahal, said another mindvoice – much weaker than the Pinstriped Man’s, as any Human’s would be.  It belonged to Jihosky, the team’s scanning specialist.  There’s a squadron headed right this way.  I’m not sure if they’ve spotted us, but they’re sure to pass within a kilometre in the next five minutes.
         The news did not surprise Dahal.  So long as they kept sailing at a sea slug’s pace, Commodore Syjilika could camouflage the ship fairly well, even in her sleep.  Nonetheless, the closer they got to their goal, the more risks they could afford to take.  Dahal had spent years preparing for such risks.
         Leave the diplomacy to the expert, Dahal ordered.  He walked past the motionless Pinstriped Man and around the corner of the nearest cabin.   In the wide space beside the towering sail mast, two Dragons lay glistening under the lamplight.  Syjilika had the fine black-and-white stripes of a zebra – the result of expensive scale dyeing rather than inherited genes.  Bysamathark gleamed blood red, more muscular than most male Dragons.  A huge leather eye patch covered the ex-General’s left eye, studded to his skull in four places with red crystal spikes. The Dragons raised their deer-like heads, the stripes on Syjilika’s neck rippling with rainbows as she moved.  All four nostrils on Bysamathark’s huge, blunted snout expanded and contracted alternately as he glared at Dahal.  He seemed more prepared to attack than follow orders.
         “It seems that the authorities are finally catching up with you, Bysamathark,” said Dahal.
         “Your stare is misplaced,” rumbled Bysamathark.  “You are in command.  My responsibility is now yours.  Enjoy the burden.”
         “Shall the camouflage be tightened?” purred the mock-sweet voice of Syjilika.  “Shall all lamps be extinguished?”
         “No,” said Dahal.  “On the contrary, I want you to lift the camouflage.”
         The two Dragons widened their eyes.  Dahal merely smirked.
         “After all,” Dahal added, “we have nothing to hide.  Though you might be the exception.”  He nodded at Bysamathark.
         Syjilika slowly blinked once.  From on board the Chalivon, there was no obvious visual change.  However, Dahal could feel a subtle lightening of the air, as if energy was being sucked out of it.  He knew that, for the first time in twenty hours, the Chalivon would be visible to any outside observers. 
         That included the nine military Dragons appearing over the darkening horizon.
         From this distance, to the naked Human eye, the Skywatch squadron seemed no greater than a flock of seagulls.  As far as Dahal's crew was concerned, they were not much more of a threat.  But there were over five thousand Dragons in the Skywatch, with well over a thousand of them in the Western Seaboard nations alone.  This squadron could call for reinforcements at any time, and they would arrive in far less time it would take the Chalivon to reach Kesalzhin Island.  Leaving the freighter behind and carrying the cargo in a last-minute supersonic flight to the island was not an option - not yet.  For now, caution was required, as was precision.
         Bysamathark rendered himself invisible without any help from his mate.  Dahal and Syjilika approached the bulwarks, shortly followed by the rotund and bespectacled Lieutenant Jihosky.  The other eight Dragons and five Humans on board stood close by on deck, feigning respect yet ever wary of the squadron approaching the ship. 
         The Skywatch Dragons were now close enough for almost any Human observer to scrutinise with the naked eye.  Most of the squadron Dragons each wore the two thin gold neckbands of Patrol Officers.  The leader at the apex of the V-formation, an unusually young spotted male, wore the four bands of a Squadron Leader.  As the entire squadron slowed to a levitating halt, the Squadron Leader nodded respectfully at Commodore Syjilika, then at Dahal.
         “Inconvenience precedes apologies, Senator,” said the Squadron Leader, “but our duty is to scan your vessel, by orders of President Chalivon and Skymarshal Banthonotrax.”
         Dahal smirked.  It was obvious that they had been searching for the President’s namesake – the vast sailship he had stolen the previous night.  The various forgeries Dahal had used to justify the ship’s absence could keep the authorities stalled for only so long.   Inevitably, some would have made a connection between the disappearance of a colossal maxifreighter and the near-simultaneous disappearance of a certain one hundred and twenty large and expensive items.
         “May you state your objective?” Dahal enquired, pretending not to have a clue.
         “That information is classified,” said the Squadron Leader.
         “Understood.  You may approach a few more metres.”
         The Dragon Squadron floated closer.
         Prepare, Dahal mindspoke to his crew.  Jihosky was exempt from this command, for he had no powers over matter.  Bysamathark had to stay camouflaged.  The Pinstriped Man had no need to intervene - not against mortals.  Most others on board were primed to strike.  For a fleeting moment, he viewed the Dragon Squadron through fourteen pairs of eyes, fourteen rapidly shifting angles.  He felt eight Dragon throats inhale, eight Dragon stomachs ignite, five Human auras - including his own – extract ambient energy.  He also felt Syjilika, the fourteenth piece of the living weapon, focusing all her power on only one task – preparing to generate the strongest possible camouflage field over the largest possible area.  There would be no witnesses save for a handful of sea creatures.  They were all ready.  He was ready.
         “Close proximity will improve our scanning efficiency,” said the Squadron Leader.          
         “I know,” said Dahal.
         “Reinforcements are the alternative to your co-operational lacking.”
         Dahal gritted his teeth.  This scaly, spotty brat – barely out of the pouch – was preaching to him – a member of the Varantuan Senate – about his rights and obligations regarding International Law.  And his attempt at mastering Varantuan language and grammar was gratingly peculiar, like so many Dragons.  The world could not keep functioning this way, with the foolish preaching to the wise while hiding behind “Rule of Law”.  No matter.  That would all end soon.
         “Very well,” said Dahal, mustering up a small portion of his considerable energy to keep his smile.  “Call.”
         The Squadron Leader closed his eyes.  A few seconds later, he opened them wide, as if awaking from a nightmare.  “They’re jamming us!” he roared. 
         Dahal extended his hands and fired.  The plasmic energy blasted its way into the Squadron Leader’s chest, causing him to gasp in the instant before his insides were vaporized, his flesh and blood boiled away into gory mist and his naked bones danced and twisted and splintered in mid-air.  To his left and right, most of his crewmembers were disposing of the other eight with adequate swiftness, splitting their flame and lightning into branches, vaporizing flesh and bone before it could touch the surface of the sea.  It was like the execution of that Dragon security guard at the harbour the previous night, multiplied by nine - kill the pests, cremate the remains.
         Within seconds the carnage was over, and ash rained upon the barely perturbed sea.  Dahal held on to hope, knowing that this was only a foretaste of the glory to come.
         “Keep scanning the air for other squadrons or patrols,” he said to Jihosky.
         “Yes Sir.”
         Dahal heard the tremor in Jihosky’s breath, felt the tumult in his aura.  Dahal would have vaporised the coward had Jihosky not been so convenient.  Nonetheless, all present had a role to play.  In the end, it would all be worth it.   
Dahal sniffed the smoky, soot-tainted air.  This time, he stopped imagining the moral stench of Kesalzhin.  He imagined a world cleansed and purified by His Divine Touch.  He imagined that there was no air left to smell or pollute, no flesh to defile the land and sea, just a clean vacuum and purifying sunlight.
         The ship sailed on to Dahal’s glory.
~ ~ ~
The Spotted Dolphin did not understand the politics of Humans and Dragons, yet he understood death.  He understood the cruel tooth of the Shark, the slowing of the ageing pod member.  And somehow, he understood the terrible sight he had witnessed not far away, above the surface.  He had seen the fire and lightning touch the nine Dragons and turn them to skeletons ... then clouds.  Whatever the means, he knew it was murder.  Countless generations had been taught this dire concept.  The needless cruelty of some Humans - and some Dragons - was etched in his racial memory.  It was a fact of nature, and could not be altered.
         Not unless he prayed to the Kujiras.
         Seconds after the death of the Dragons, the Dolphin had submerged.  He sped far, far away from the terrible site, undulating through the reassuring coolness of the sea, dodging the many startled fish he detected with his sonar.  They had bigger things to fear than him.  He had no time to feed.  He had to warn the Pod.  They all had to pray.
         The Humans and Dragons riding in the Floater were not worthy of Mayhara’s Domain.  The Kujiras knew that.  Everyone could hear their ever-present mighty voices, carried through the sea from great distances on their way to equally great distances.  Their language was faster and more complex than those of the other, smaller Whales, and they wove and entwined around common Whalesong like fine kelp around a clumsy Seal.  No one could understand their language.  That did not matter, for the Kujiras understood all languages; the Dolphins, the Orcas, the Humpbacks, the Gulls, the Humans, the Dragons, the shifting colours of the Cuttlefish, the migrations of Clouds, the dance of Stars.  They understood all.  They knew all.  They judged all.
         He would pray to the Kujiras, and they would come, even if they took a whole day to swim here.  They would raise the ocean and shatter the mysterious barriers of land.  They would punish the killers wherever they hid.
         Mayhara Herself would see to it.
~ ~ ~
Vithan Varox awoke as the shadow loomed over him.
         It could not have been described as deep sleep to begin with; merely a drowsy meditation as the haze of campus lamplight seeped through his eyelids.  But now the haze darkened, and remained so.  Even when half asleep, Vithan knew what this meant.  He opened his eyes to face the immense Dragon head eclipsing the crystal lamp.
         “You are resting in our Creator’s Eye,” the Dragon spoke in a smooth, resonant voice.  “Is this another one of your baffling artistic statements?”  The Dragon’s deer-like head was silhouetted against the lamplight.  Only his amber eyes stood out, glowing like the eyes of a colossal cat. 
         “Buggered if I know,” was Vithan’s reply.  He suddenly remembered where he was.  One of the courtyards of Kesalzhin Island College had a vast ground-tile mosaic of the Dragon Goddess Tikamath.  Vithan had lain down in Tikamath’s surfboard-sized pupil ... but when?  Hours ago?  Most probably, judging by the rich deep-sea tones of the sky.  “I should bloody well hope I’m not obscuring Her vision,” he added.
         “Her vision is obscured by nothing, I assure you,” said Olokuvon.  “Not that you would care much,” he added.
         Lamplight bloomed above the Dragon’s ear as he lowered onto his belly.  Olokuvon’s black and gold scales glinted like a city at night, highlighting his tiger stripes.
         “Speaking of such matters;” said the Dragon, “for one who does not believe in ghosts, you most certainly look like one at this moment.”
         “What, more so than usual?”
         “If I filter out my heat vision,” said the Dragon as translucent membranes slid over his eyes, “I can see your clothing blending in with the black tiles.  At this moment, under this light, you are a disembodied white face with floating hands.”
         “Then remind me to pose like this for my graduation portrait.”
         “Relighting of the cave lamps begins in a few minutes,” said Olokuvon.  “Are we to collaborate?”
         Instantly Vithan sat up and crossed his legs, recalling the duty he had agreed to – a duty that Kesalzhin’s more powerful students volunteered for every week.  They were to light a select portion of the thousands of crystal lamps far below the surface of the island, for the benefit of academic researchers and seasonal tourists. “Of course I want to help,” said Vithan.  “I’m almost as strong as you now.”
         Olokuvon moved his head back so that he was not directly over Vithan.  “Is that so?” he said.  “After our last duel?  Prove your boast.”
         Vithan prepared to prove his boast, relaxing his mind and body, letting the universe’s natural ocean of energy flow into his innards and veins and nerves, igniting his adrenaline with ecstatic tension.  Olokuvon inhaled, doubtlessly experiencing similar sensations.  Vithan now felt the tingling energy travel like ball lightning down his arm, splitting as it reached the palm and fingers, itching his marrow with its desire for release.
         “Very well then,” said Vithan, his voice miraculously steady.  “One, two, three, NOW!”
         Olokuvon exhaled a stream of golden-hot fire.  Vithan blocked it mere metres away from him with a bolt of blue fire from his hand.  A miniature nova flashed between Human and Dragon, momentarily filling the surrounding courtyard with daylight.  Nearby small buildings rattled as the shockwave brushed over them.  Vithan was grateful that they were unoccupied.  He had annoyed enough people this year.
         “The improvement is adequate,” said Olokuvon as the smoke cleared and drifted away.  "You should soon be reaching your maximum potential at this age."
         "There are way too many variables.  Psionics isn’t always an exact science.  For all we know, I could be stronger than you in a few years.”
         “Do I hear another boast?” said Olokuvon.
         “Oh, perish the thought!” said Vithan, mocking the Dragon’s grandiose tone.  “Because us little mammals all know how much you Dragons value modesty.  Don’t forget, I did rate one in a million for the Human populace.”
         “Well thank you for reminding me for the seventh time this year.  Don’t you know that you are not the only one on this campus?”
         “Really?”  Vithan raised an eyebrow.  “Wait, don’t tell me, it’s … what’s-her-name, isn’t it?  You know.  That Nekalifan lady in my Mythology class.  The tall one with the braids.  Neck and hips like a Dragon.  Just your type.”
         “Perhaps it is her, perhaps it is someone else.”
         “Ah, the confidentiality clause for your thesis research.  But I won’t have to worry about any of that stuff in a few weeks.  As soon as I finish my exams, I’m going to tour the entire continent.  Properly, this time.”
         “Only one continent?”
         “Well, you could always give me a ride to Tansolu when I’ve gone through every single country in Karastyna.”
         “You only have to send me a mind call,” said Olokuvon.  “I could pick you up personally, or I could send one of my friends.”
         “Good show.  I want to see all the landmarks up close.  The Temple of Mayhara, the Statue of Tikamath, the Star of Kylastoria.”
         Olokuvon cocked his head.  “Suddenly you have a fixation over religious landmarks?”
         “I’m fascinated by how belief inspires such creative devotion.  It’s almost an alien concept to me.  I need to work out what makes you believers tick.  That goes for both species.  Actually, they say that the God Hater vandal was religious himself.”
         “Of course,” said Olokuvon.  “Anything to clear atheists of suspicion.”  He locked his jaws in a smug Dragon smirk.
         “Well, they’re inadvertently teaching us the art of propaganda here, so we may as well put it to good use.  What time are you leaving for the mainland?”
         “The plan has Alathaka and I leaving before midnight.  All other Dragons have already departed.”
         “What do you lot actually do at Sakatoth?”
         Vithan used the most common Human term for the ceremony, for the Dragon name - like all true Dragon names - was unpronounceable to Humans.  Yet he knew how stupid the question was, how discouraged by tradition an answer would be; but he still expected Olokuvon to give something away, through a look or a joke or whatever.
         The Dragon’s gaze was perfectly steady.  “If I told you, I would then have to eat you.”
          “You don’t have to tell anyone,” said Vithan.  “Humans have vivid imaginations.”
         Olokuvon raised an eyeridge.  “Is that so?  Can you calculate the number of positions possible with a long neck and tail?”
         “I have counted them all,” said a third voice, resonating with a velvet purr - a theatrical imitation of Human femininity.  Vithan and Olokuvon turned to face the source of the familiar voice.
         Alathaka was large even by Dragon standards, being of the subpolar variety; yet she seemed to glide from step to step as if walking underwater.  She was living proof that adult Dragons - while conscious and healthy - could control their own gravity weight.  Her stripes were red and blue, as ornate as a suit of vines.  Her neck and breast were as curved as a swan’s.  Her almond-shaped eyes were slightly larger than Olokuvon’s, gleaming like lamps of jade.
         The two Dragons rubbed their muzzles together, purring softly. 
After a few seconds, Alathaka turned down to Vithan and licked his face with her raspy tongue.  “Your flavour ignites my belly,” she said.
         Vithan rubbed his saliva-dampened cheek.  “Well at least it doesn't ignite your breath,” said Vithan.  “Thank God you’re going away for a week,” he added.
         “’Thank God?’”  Alathaka raised and cocked her head.  “Coming from you?”
         “Sometimes you make me want to pray for deliverance,” said Vithan.
         “Your anxiety will be short-lived.  We leave within five hours.  After your lamplighting.  For now, I shall snack on some oxen.”
         She slinked away, deliberately sliding the end of her tail under Olokuvon’s neck.  Olokuvon squinted and purred at the affectionate contact, watching his mate walk away.
         “She’s been hanging around those drama students for way too long,” said Vithan.
         “And why should she not?”  Olokuvon turned to Vithan.  “She’s a living prop.”
         This was not a joke.  Alathaka was the only Dragon actor in a troupe that included nine Humans.  For her last performance - A History of the World in Five Acts -, she played both the narrator and the stage, shifting her bulky posture for every era.
         “Are you prepared for tonight’s task?” he asked.
         “In a sense.”
         “How do you want to ride?”
         Vithan paused for a moment.  It was always cold underground.  The planetary crust was well over a hundred kilometres thick, so it was a long way down before it started warming up.  And while he did not mind resting on stone tiles, he preferred life's finer luxuries.
         “So I can sleep on the way down,” he finally said. 
~ ~ ~
The dolphin was coming along fine.  Now she only had to add the fins and flippers.
         Tilanna Tionomes sat on the floor at the neater end of the leisure room, facing away from her crystal-strewn study desk.  The incomplete dolphin hologram floated before her at breast level, projected by the green crystal on the carpet.  She pinched the dolphin’s back, feeling the sleek softness provided by the crystal’s neurotactile projectors, and stretched the grey blubber upwards and tailwards.  Within seconds she had moulded a perfectly curved dorsal fin.  Only practice could guarantee such finesse.  The typical beginner would probably have made the dolphin’s dorsal fin into a wobbly cone.  But then, Tilanna would not have blamed anyone for botching the job in this environment - not while her roommate was doing everything in her power to provide a distraction.
         Kehenta Glathwill sat in a corner strumming a guitar adorned with black ampli-crystals. She seemed to be serenading an empty wineglass on a footstool in front of her.  She would strum a cord, twisting the tuning peg to prolong the guitar’s sharp whine.  Then she would press a large crystal on the side of the guitar’s neck.  The face of the resinous instrument would liquefy, and one or more of the ampli-crystals would shift a few degrees, focusing their energies more intently on the wineglass.  Kehenta would then strum again, the tone of the cord now subtly altered; more bass, more treble, more white noise, more of everything, whatever suited her.  Frequently, the wineglass would vibrate so strongly that the rim would blur, much to Kehenta’s delight.  Occasionally, the glass would explode, much to Kehenta’s amusement.  After such a successful experiment, Kehenta would use her psychokinesis to bring the shards together over the glass stem, melt them and remould them into the cup of a wineglass.  Then she would start all over again, using new sound combinations.
         Had Tilanna been less tolerant, she would have wished that Kehenta would try the same experiment on her own skull.
         “All right,” she said, “how many ways are there of shattering a wineglass with a guitar?”  She stretched the dolphin’s flanks out into fins.  “Without using the guitar as a club, of course.  Oh, just listen to me.  I’m giving you ideas.”
         “You have sixteen crystals,” said Kehenta, “each with thirty-two facets.  So far, about one out of twenty of my experiments have been successful.  You’re the prodigy here.  You work it out.”
         Within a few seconds, Tilanna worked it out.  “Gods of All,” she sighed aloud, “she’ll be at it until the Universe implodes.”
         The tail-fins complete, Tilanna held out her arm and undulated it rhythmically.  The dolphin mirrored these motions, undulating from head to belly to tail.  When Tilanna stopped, so did the dolphin.
         “It’s looking great,” said Kehenta.  “I know who to ask next time we need props.”
         “Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer a Kujira?”
         “Nah.  Might upset all the Mayhara worshippers.”
         “I thought you welcomed controversy.”
         “My uncle’s a Mayrian.”
         “You wouldn’t want to incur Mayhara’s wrath anyway,” said Kehenta.  “They say her shriek could wipe out a whole city.”  She plucked her guitar, emitting a sound distinctly like a whale call.  “And since this campus is only half a city, I guess that’ll take only half a shriek.”  She made a whale call again, but cut it off before it could resonate.
         Tilanna stared at the projection crystal on the floor.  It emitted rays of light, caging the dolphin; then rapidly retracted the rays and “sucked” the dolphin into its luminous core.  Tilanna picked up the sated crystal and placed it on the desk before she got up.  “I’ve saved it,” she said.  “Time to get on with my own work.”  She patted her hip pockets, making sure the right crystals were tucked there.
         “Has anybody worked out why there’s so much fluorescent moss underground?” said Kehenta.
         Tilanna paused, remembering all the theories postulated over the centuries on this very subject.  She was too much of an expert to provide a simple answer, so she settled on the most sensational one.  “The current theory states that only Humans could really benefit from fluorescent moss.  So someone must have planted it there, thousands of years ago.  Selective breeding could have been involved, or something more subtle.  These are the Colonists we’re talking about, after all.”
         Kehenta raised her eyebrows and nodded.  Whether she believed the tales or not, the subject of the planet’s Colonists always intrigued her.
         On the way to the door, Tilanna glanced at the mirror – and remembered what she was wearing.
         “Are you sure you want me to keep these?” she said.
         “Either you keep them or I’m posting them back to my parents,” said Kehenta.  “I’m not planning to put any weight back on any time soon.  No offense.”
         “None taken,” said Tilanna.
         Unlike Kehenta, Tilanna was not a stage performer, so fashion was never her highest priority.  Had she been planning a night at the dance hall, she knew that the young men (and some women) would appreciate how the long-sleeved top and trousers hugged her rounded contours, their fine black-and-grey lines accentuating even the smallest movement.  It was a small irony that the clothes meant for Kehenta seemed tailor-made to complement her own light brown complexion, her long black braids.  But she was not dressing to be seen.  She was dressing to go underground.  Literally.
         “It’s the practicality and mobility I’m most impressed with,” she said.  “And the warmth.”
         “Then don’t forget to thank me at the end of your essay,” said Kehenta.  “For your field work clothing.  And inspirational music.”
         “Oh, I won’t forget that, don’t you worry,” said Tilanna.  “You’re rehearsals have inspired me to get off my big bum and go out to do some actual research.”
         She walked out the door, leaving Kehenta to her sonic experiments.

~ ~ ~

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RE: Project Heavenstorm (Chapter One of my novel) - by DarrenRyding - 11-14-2019, 08:44 AM

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