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Project Heavenstorm (Chapter One of my novel)
Here is the re-edited Chapter Two.  Most of the changes are in the first few paragraphs.  Vithan would rather stay in "bed" than actually get stuff done, being the reluctant hero.  There is also a brief mention of the rarity of Tilanna's abilities.


Chapter Two
Vithan awoke for the second time that night.  It took him at least a minute to remember that he was in the belly of a Dragon.
         His mind leaden with drowsiness, he lay there curled up in the silken warmth, in the comforting darkness.  He listened to the background roar of the stomachs, to the rhythmic sighs of the spiracles at the edges of the pouch as they inhaled carbon dioxide and exhaled oxygen.  At that moment, nothing else existed.  There were no nightly tasks, no exams, no plans or deadlines, no outside world – just his own private universe, as dark and warm as the thickest winter blanket.
         Vithan had once seen a crystal hologram of a newborn kangaroo in its mother’s pouch.  It looked like a fetus in a bag of moist, wrinkly skin.  Dragon pouches were on another level entirely, just as their brains were above those of simple marsupials.  The body pocket for raising their offspring just happened to be ideal for Human comfort.  But then, Dragons were unlike any other creature on Haloken, right down to their microscopic cells.
         So what were Dragons?  Where did they come from?  Not even the Dragons themselves had an answer outside of myth and legend.  And Vithan – being the person that he was – preferred a more grounded explaination than myths or legends.
         Dragons obviously were not mammals, but they weren’t exactly reptiles either.  No one had ever fully explained how the furnace in a Dragon’s second stomach worked, how the layers of internal force fields functioned without need of conscious control, nor why Dragon blood (once donated) usually had such reliable healing properties.
         Yet somehow, it all worked.  After all, Dragons lived.
         After a few minutes of mindless basking, Vithan remembered what he was doing there in the first place.  Somewhat reluctantly, he slid between the layers of Dragonhide and reached out to the pouch orifice.  As expected, the opening was so tightly shut that Vithan could not even slip his fingers through.
         Why bother? thought Vithan.  After all, Olokuvon could handle the lamps all by himself.  He was tonight’s official lamplighter – Vithan had simply agreed to help out.  Besides, Olokuvon was probably close to finishing anyway.  Perhaps interrupting him would even break his concentration.  All Vithan had to do was to curl up and sleep away the night, letting the real world fade into the haze of dreams.
         Yet, as always, reality struck him like an ice-cold dagger to the back of the head.
         Olokuvon was – at most – a few hours away from leaving the island for the Sakatoth celebrations, and he was not allowed to bring Humans with him.  He would have to leave Vithan on the campus before he departed for the mainland.
         With a heavy sigh, Vithan knew that he only had to give the word, and the outside world would become real again.  Life would continue.
         Open up, Vithan mindspoke.
         In response, the portal to the outside world irised open.
         Vithan gripped the lip of the pouch and poked his head out.  Cold air rushed in, and goosebumps tingled under his sleeves.  Olokuvon’s underbelly loomed above Vithan like a golden sky.  His forelegs and claws swayed and twitched like exotic, upside-down trees in the wind.  The underside of the Dragon’s neck and jaw stretched off into the distance.  Something glowed on the far side of his head, surrounding it with an aura of light.  Two fully charged crystal lamps glowed to his left.  It was obvious that Olokuvon was carefully recharging the third one with the power of his mind.
         Below the pouch, it was a fifteen-storey drop to the tunnel’s smoothly rounded granite base.  This was hardly a concern to Vithan; he was only just reoriented enough to levitate.  He was not quite ready to fly in a straight line, but at least he was confident that he would not fall like a drunken amateur.
         “Did you sleep well?” Olokuvon enquired.
         “I thought you were going to let me know when you started lighting.”
         “The larger lamps are my self-appointed duty.  The smaller lamps are yours.  The present lamp is my final one.”
         “That’s right.  Leave the easy stuff for the mousy little Human.”
         “As usual, you were reluctant to get out.  I could feel it.”
         “Yeah, well, if I have to get out anyway, I may as well make the most of it, you bloody stickybeak.”
         “Stickybeak?  Should I ignore sensations I am feeling within my own pouch?  How is that supposed to work?  If you had a small mammal down your pants, would you ignore it completely?”
         “All right all right, I don’t think I can argue with that one.  Not without sounding … bloody weirder than I already am.  Just let me out and get this over with, all right?”
         Olokuvon’s pouch loosened and Vithan floated out.
         “Have you heard from Javiliki?” said Vithan.
         “She has been out of contact since last night,” replied Olokuvon.  “That is well within character.”
         The pouch opening contracted until it became barely visible.  Slowly somersaulting in his own nil gravity field, he dived under the length of the Dragon’s tail towards the far wall of the granite tunnel. 
The smooth cylindrical tunnel – one hundred metres wide – curved away into the distance, lit by a set of three large crystal lamps every hundred metres.  Dozens of smaller lamps were scattered randomly among them.  
         “They gave you an irregular tunnel this time?”
         “Yes,” said Olokuvon.  “A possible punishment for defeating you in the last duel.  You are still backed by some staffmembers, mysteriously enough.  But here is your chance to justify their support.”  The Dragon turned his entire body to face the crystal-strewn wall. 
Vithan glared at the same wall, cautiously estimating the distance to the crystal pattern and its diameter.
         “Remember what I demonstrated,” said Olokuvon.  “The fire becomes an extension of your nervous system.  Everything it touches will be felt in your fingertips.  Be careful not to shatter lamps this time.  Your success will bolster my thesis.”
         “Well it’s a right mighty honour being your laboratory rat.”
         Vithan outstretched his arms and fingers, feeling the energy entering his body from every direction, then travelling up his bones.  The tips of his fingers tingled as the energy within writhed restlessly.  He let go, and the outpouring of energy spread for hundreds of metres, sparks branching into sparks like trees of lightning.  The crystal lamps brightened at the touch of his mindfire.  Not one of them burst.
         “That should give them an extra week of life,” said Vithan.
         “Impressive,” said Olokuvon.  “Your victory in the next duel is a faint possibility.”  His wings folded back, he gracefully air-swam up to Vithan. 
“Do you ever actually use those wings for flying, or are they just for good looks?”
         Olokuvon outspread his vast wings, like leafy sails, their veins luminous with fire.  “Your theory?”
         Olokuvon exhaled a puff of flame at Vithan, who blocked it off as before.  The explosion briefly outshone all the surrounding crystal lamps.
         “Again impressive,” said Olokuvon.  “The Sentinel may await your return.”
         Vithan winced at the memories this brought back.  He had been booted out of the Vaxlom Sentinel Recruitment College for psionically lashing out during the telepathic hazing ceremony.   Two of his fellow recruits had required extensive therapy afterwards.
“Are you deliberately trying to depress me?” he said.
         “I am merely trying to amuse myself at your expense.”
         “Well thank you very bloody much.  Do you want to go straight to the surface, or do you want to rest first?”
         “The latter.  Freshwater pools are within range.  We can refresh on the way back to the surface.”
         They both floated down to the base of the tunnel.  Vithan felt his black socks touch the smooth granite floor.  He remembered that he had left his shoes inside the pouch, which Olokuvon was now sitting on.  Not for the first time, Vithan felt grateful that Dragons could control their gravity weight; otherwise he would be as flat as a flounder by now.
         The Dragon curled his tail around to his side.  Vithan sat against the curve of the tail, threading his arms between the blunt spines.
         “Do you believe the stories about these tunnels?” said Vithan.
         “The details contradict each other.  One may believe a handful, but not all.”
         “I’m talking about the general gist of them – about how the Colonists created them.  I mean, just look how smooth they are.”  Vithan ran his fingers along the rocky floor in front of him.  His fingertips glided, betraying only a hint of friction.  "Apparently they did the same with all the caves as well, although they were obviously more of a rush job."
         “The tunnels must be purposeful creations,” said Olokuvon, “though the mindpower would have been of considerable magnitude.”
         “They say that they used machines.”
         “If the Colonists created the Elixir Shield, then they could have created machines capable of boring these tunnels.  The energy required would have been far smaller.  Can you sense the Shield’s energy?  It’s still five times our distance from the surface,”
         “Yes, I can feel it,” said Vithan.  “I can just sense it in the background.” 
There was no denying it.  Vithan could sense the Shield like the faintest vibration, the softest hum, the dimmest light.  Yet it was unmistakably there, radiating its presence like a beacon through all those kilometres of stone, like a mountain glimpsed through fog.  The multifaceted, luminously opaque Elixir Shield could have covered a city, and probably did for all one knew.  No Human or Dragon had ever successfully scanned through it, much less penetrated it by force.  Trying to blast through it was like having a mosquito trying to bite through granite.  Compared to the Shield, the combined might of entire armies and squadrons were pitiful.  The twenty-one-thousand-year-old Elixir Shield was a constant reminder of the lost mysteries of the past; and, perhaps, the possibilities of the future.
         “Do you believe the Elixir’s hiding under there?” said Vithan.
         “I believe that something is hiding under there.  How can the idea of the Elixir sound any more preposterous than the Shield itself?”
         “I’m not saying I don’t believe in it,” Vithan rushed in.  “’The Elixir’ is just a name.  Whatever it really is, there has to be a perfectly secular explanation for it.  It’s probably another piece of technology.”
         “How could you be certain?”
         “Well, just look at today’s military shields.  Never mind how much weaker they are.  The Elixir Shield’s obviously designed for defence.  So whatever it’s hiding might possibly be designed for offence.”
         The Dragon nodded.  “Then perhaps it was abused destructively.  That’s what the legends have been saying for twenty-one thousand years.”
“Yes, but unfortunately that’s also one part of the legend that’s most likely to be true.”
         Vithan may only have believed shreds of the legends, but tales of the Elixir had continued to fascinate him long after he had ceased to believe in their literal interpretation.  The legends tended to contradict each other; some stated that the Colonists had created the Elixir, while others stated that the Elixir had always been there, and the Colonists had merely discovered it.  Whatever the case, the results were the same – the Elixir granted power beyond the wildest imaginings of mortals.  It was the original absolute power that corrupted absolutely.  The legends spoke of individual mindpowers magnified by millions, even billions.  They spoke of the War of the Immortals, the razing of cities, the boiling of oceans, the blackening of the sky, the death of tens of millions.  They spoke of events so terrifying that the memories of nearly all survivors had to be erased so that the secret may never be rediscovered.  Vithan had always found that last part a little too convenient, as the details in legends often were. 
“So …” said Vithan, “do you have to get ready for Sakatoth now?”
         “Later.  Resting is for now.”
         “I think I’ll join you.”  Vithan yawned, under the influence of his own suggestion.  He slumped down in the curve of Olokuvon’s tail, cushioning his head against the scaled flesh between the spines.  “Why am I sleeping so much today?”
         “Because, as you would so colourfully phrase it, you are a bloody lazy sod and you visit the tavern too often.”

         “But not today,” said Vithan.  “I haven’t tasted … one drop … since …”  Vithan struggled to keep his eyes open as the Dragon eyes before him blurred and dimmed.  “Oh bugger it, you’re mesmerising me, aren’t you, you … sneaky bastard.”
         “Of course.”
         “Are you sure you’ll … wake up …”
         “On time?  Absolutely.  Do not worry.  With or without gods, the world always spins on to carry us into the next day.  It never forgets its simple promise, and I won’t forget mine.”
         Within seconds, Vithan’s senses dissolved into haze as oblivion reclaimed him.
~ ~ ~
Tilanna stood on the edge of the abyss.
         The chasm was a hundred metres in diameter, taking up a good part of the cave floor beneath the Assembly Hall.  It went down for a whole kilometre before it curved away into a tunnel.  Three crystal lamps lit the smoothly rounded stone for every hundred metres.  Three Administration Towers could have been stacked one on top of the other down there, and the uppermost would still have been more than ten storeys below the level of her feet.
         Ten storeys was roughly the distance from Tilanna’s feet to the rim of the chasm below.  She was standing on the edge of the vast, open Dragon access door in the centre of the Assembly Hall’s floor.  Directly beneath her feet was one of the massive metal slabs that made up the Dragon access door’s spiral shutter.  Multicoloured lamplight from the Assembly Hall’s roof filtered in through the enormous, many-petalled stained-glass window in the ceiling, adding rainbow wraiths of light to the chasm far below.
         Tilanna could understand why many other Humans were afraid of heights, but they did not bother her.  She was one of the few skilled Human flyers on campus.  However, that was not her most noteworthy talent.  When it came to scanning, she was one in a million.  Literally.
         There were quite a few Kesalzhin students capable of scanning through thick walls of masonry.  Tilanna could do this in her sleep, which had given her some interesting dreams over the years.  She stared into the pit and scanned the granite caves below to a depth of five kilometres.  To her mind’s eyes, all granite, metal and marble turned as translucent as bottle glass.  Hundreds of kilometres of tunnels twisted and looped like bejewelled worms in a planet-sized apple.  Scattered among the tunnels were hundreds of caverns, some clearly kilometres across when one measured them against the connecting tunnels.  At this depth, all the tunnels and most of the chambers were lamplit.  Most of the fluorescent moss was found further down, where crystal lamps were scarcer and moisture was still adequate.  However, there were long streaks of moss to be found along some of the shallow tunnels, particularly to the left of her field of vision.  Yes.  That was where she was going.
         A few kilometres from her destination, she could not help but notice the distant sleeping Dragon, his tail coiled protectively around a tiny Human figure.  This week’s lamplighters, presumably.  She would try not to wake them.
         Tilanna relaxed her scanning vision, and the stone returned to its solid opacity. 
         She then jumped off the edge of the chasm and began her fall.
         At first, she let herself fall naturally.  Even after a few seconds of constant acceleration, the trios of lamps glided leisurely past, the scale of the chasm masking the speed of her descent.  She enjoyed feeling the wind between her hair-braids for as long as it was tolerable.  She wove a streamlined shield around herself when the airspeed came close to burning.  After a kilometre, she swerved along the bend in the tunnel.
         As always, she had calculated everything.  It should take her no more than five minutes to reach her destination.  She would then take crystal recordings of four different luminosities of moss - twenty minutes at most.  Then she would spend, say, twenty minutes relaxing and enjoying the subterranean view.  Finally, she would take five minutes flying back up to the surface.  After all, her essay was due in three days, and she wanted to make a start tonight.  She had a reputation to live up to.
         Fifty minutes underground.  That was the maximum.
         She would curse herself if she took any longer.

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RE: Project Heavenstorm (Chapter One of my novel) - by DarrenRyding - 11-15-2019, 02:44 PM

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