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Devouring Angel: Book Two of the Elixir Trilogy
Chapter One

When the anchor dropped that morning, Tanzu had felt his heart jump.  This was it.  This was the last day of his old life.  There was no turning back now. 
         It was ancient tradition to wait here in the middle of the ocean for a whole day.  For Tanzu, it felt like that tradition’s sole purpose was to sharpen and refine suspense to a level that bordered on physical agony.
         His eyes darted skittishly around the deck to the other fifteen Initiates, all dressed in grey robes, all eighteen years of age, all nervous.  And they were still twelve hours away from the big event.
         Tanzu returned his attention to the Priestess standing not far from the prow, her cowled head haloed by the vibrantly setting Sun.
         “Children of the Universe,” said Mother Evonash, “look forward to where the fire of Heaven meets the horizon.  Repeat my words only in your hearts and minds, for Mayhara hears all prayers, loud or silent.”
         She turned to face the setting Sun and outspread her arms.
         “Great Mayhara, Queen of the Seven Oceans, Mother of Titans, Messenger of Greater Powers Beyond, we beseech you hear our prayer.  Bless these gathered here, your Children, so that your light may guide them even in the deepest darkness, so that your warmth may comfort them in the darkest void.  May they swim beside you in your mighty wake and be at one with you when all things return to one.  May thus be your will.  Amen.”
         Mother Evonash slowly lowered her arms and turned to face the Initiates.
         “When the Sun returns to greet us, so will Mayhara Herself.  She will see you all face to face, and speak within your heart.  Rejoice in the day to come, for you will all be blessed as her Children.  Go now, and rest.”
         Instantly Tanzu snapped out of his trance – Mother Evonash always had that effect upon Initiates – and returned his attention to the here-and-now, to the tight wooden planks beneath his feet.  The nervousness returned – a knot in his chest so tight it became solid.  All around him, other Initiates were slowly scattering, some whispering as they headed below deck.  Tanzu could barely walk.  He stumbled over to the nearest wooden bench and sat down, breathing deeply, staring at his knees.
         “Are you troubled, Tanzu?”
         The gentle voice of Mother Evonash always comforted him.  It was a talent common to all Priests and Priestesses of the Church of the Celestial Ambassador.  Tanzu was grateful for it, more so than ever before.  He knew he would need it again in the morning.
         “I …” Tanzu struggled to find the words.  “I don’t know if …”
         “If you’re ready?”
         Tanzu nodded jerkily.
         “I have lost count of how many times I have heard those very words.  Starting with my own, twenty-eight years ago.”
         “You were nervous?”
         “We all are.  We’re only Human.  How could we not feel awe in the face of the Divine?”
         These words only made Tanzu’s heart beat faster, his breaths tremble with effort.
         Evonash smiled knowingly.  “’Divine’ is a relative term,” she said.  “Obviously Mayhara is not the Creator.  She’s just a little higher on the ladder than we are.  That’s what makes her special.  She’s closer to us.  She shares a planet with us.”
         These words only served to remind Tanzu of that world-changing event of six years ago.  Tanzu had been twelve during the Siege of Kesalzhin.  At first, news of the Siege had only mildly disturbed him.  It was just another conflict taking place somewhere in the world.  There were a few of those every year.  But then the Elixir had been exposed, and he had felt it – along with a billion other mortals.  He then spent his entire adolescence knowing for a fact that there were powers in the universe even greater that Mayhara Herself.  The whole world shared this knowledge.  The world would never be the same again.
         So many Humans and Dragons blamed Mayhara for what had happened on that day.  They said that She could have prevented it, but She allowed it to happen anyway.  Others accepted that She had prevented a bad situation from becoming much worse.  After all, Human and Dragon leaders had collected even more blood on their hands (and claws) over the centuries.  How could any politician send thousands to war and call Mayhara a monster?
Mother Evonash gently placed her hand on his.  “She will accept you,” she said.  “Mark my words.”
         “But … She can look into my mind … see all my thoughts and memories … even things I’ve forgotten …”
         “Yes.  She can do all that and more.  She can do things we have no name for.”
         “So how … I mean … there’s so much messed up stuff … if she saw it …”
         The Priestess laughed.  “And do you honestly think that your ‘messed up stuff’ would be the first she has ever seen in twenty-one thousand years?  We are all messed up in our own ways.  Humans have always been messed up.  Have you read Gabrielle Gilson’s books?  We were messed up thousands of years before even her time.  I don’t think there’s a thing in your head that is going to shock her.  You’re not another Dahal Savithar, are you?”
         “No!”  Tanzu cringed at the very thought.  “No!  Not at all!  I’m not that messed up!”
         “Of course not.  Few people are.”
         “But … I’m not … I’m not a virgin.”
         “So?  Neither was I when it was my time.”
         Tanzu faced the Priestess with his mouth agape, words frozen in his throat and brain.
         Evonash laughed again.  “It doesn’t disqualify you.  All it means is that … well, you were just a little impatient.  Like all Humans.  Like all Mortals.  There is always room for improvement, no matter who you are.  And Mayhara will show you the way.  Do you think you’re here because you’re already perfect?  Of course not.  How could you be?  None of us here started off perfect.  The best you could do in life is just slowly, patiently push yourself a little closer to perfection, one day at a time.  And Mayhara can give you a slightly bigger push, to say the least.”
         “What will it feel like?”
         “Oh.”  Evonash closed her eyes and faced the ocean breeze.  “If only there were words.  It was the most beautiful experience of my life.  And it will be the most beautiful experience of yours.  I envy you.  I honestly envy all of you tonight.  To experience Her love for the first time … it will be more wonderful than you could possibly imagine.  And much better than sex.  Take my word for it.”  She winked.
         Tanzu chuckled.  Some of that knot in his chest was loosening already.
         “I think you need a rest now,” said Evonash.  “There’s nothing left to do but wait.  And sleep.  I know that may sound like a challenge under the circumstances, but at least a few hours of sleep would be nice.  Who knows?  You might dream of Her.  She might even reach out to reassure you in your sleep.  Now that alone would be worth waiting for, don’t you think?”
         Tanzu nodded.  Maybe she was right.  After all, she had once been in the same position.  She knew what she was talking about.
         Minutes later, he was in his cosy private cabin downstairs, lying on his bed.  He closed his eyes, surrendering to the gentle, rhythmic undulations of the ship on the ocean.  It was almost as if Mayhara Herself was rocking him to sleep.  And why not?  She was the Queen of the Seven Oceans, after all.  She Herself would command the seas to be calm, to be gentle, to prepare Her children for their wonderful new life.
         He did not need to be reminded that miracles could happen.  But as he sank beneath the dark waves of his own awareness, he was reminded that miracles could happen to him, too, and that sleep could be found in the most unexpected of circumstances.
~  ~  ~
Domison grabbed hold of the Dragonspine before him as Latharixa abruptly gained altitude, missing the mountain peak by mere metres. 
         “I really wish you wouldn’t keep doing that!” he shouted.
         “No need to shout,” said the Dragoness.  “I can still hear you.  See these things?”  She wiggled her long, deer-like ears.  “I’m still young and they’re still working.  And a lot better than those tiny suction cups on the side of your little head.”
“My God, your genius wit is killing me,” said Domison. 
He looked down as the many-hilled and forested landscape flowed far below.  He estimated that his altitude must now be well over a kilometre.  Despite himself, he was grateful that Latharixa could screen out most of the wind and cold, with his aviation gear – goggles and all – doing the rest to protect him.
         He glanced to his right.  Tayraxica, Latharixa’s boyfriend, was carrying Jensi on his neck.  Behind the cargo belt, his barely bulging pouch indicated that Jorin and Manko were safely in place as well.  Jensi turned to him and gave a half-hearted wave across the whistling distance.  Domison returned the gesture, even more lazily.
         “I should be in the pouch,” he said.
         “You’re the deputy supervisor,” said Latharixa.  “You ride on the neck.”
         “And since when have you ever given two short snorts about protocol?”
         “When you started whingeing about it a few weeks ago.”
         “I was joking.”
         “It’s always a joke when it’s convenient to be a joke, isn’t it?”
         She dived straight for another mountain peak, making Domison scream and curse at her, before lifting into the sky at the last second.
         “By Mayhara’s Holy Southern Canyon, you have no control whatsoever!”
         “On the contrary, stunt flight requires exceptional control.  Ask any Skywatch officer.”
         “Which you are most definitely not, and never will be.  Ever.”
         “Precisely.  Because the Council will never waste their most brilliant archaeologist on a suicide mission.”
         “’Most brilliant archaeologist’?  That’s your sister.  They should have let me work with her.  At least she knows when to shut her trap.”
         Domison felt the rumble of Dragon laughter beneath him.
         “Sovilika and I have placed a bet,” said Latharixa.
         “Yes.  The first one to dig up Colonial tech gets first choice at the Sakatoth Feast.”
         “It’s a bit late for that, don’t you think?”
         “I meant for the second night of Sakatoth, dimwit.”
         “Well that’s still kinda late, isn’t it?  I mean, aren’t you and your sister both heretics for working on Sakatoth?”
         “And what century is this exactly?”
         “These days you just never know.  There might be a few closet zealots in your family.”
         “There are no closet zealots in my family.  No closet is big enough.”
         “Oh, that’s your marvellous wit again.”  Domison’s tone was as flat as possible.  “If I laugh any harder I may fall to my death.”
         “Please don’t fall,” said Latharixa, equally deadpan.  “That would break my heart.  I might even have to dive down to save you, and I really don’t want to waste the extra energy.”
         “I still think we should get to keep it,” said Domison.
         “What, the dig?”
         “Yeah.  If we find any nifty colonial weapons, or even another SwanSword …  Just imagine how much we could make on the undermarket.”
         “And this is the part where you go all misty-eyed with nostalgia for when Deep Diggers was privately owned.  The Council pays us double now.  And that’s before commission for any big discoveries.  Not to mention the prospect of a Noravi Award.”
         Ever since the Siege of Kesalzhin and the discovery of Haloken’s true history, archaeology and treasure hunting were suddenly big business.  Humans and Dragons all over the globe were scrambling to find the next piece of lost technology.  The Global Council had promptly bought up the largest archaeology company on the planet for a sum of billions, making its Human founder’s grandson and former chairman the wealthiest retiree of his generation.
         “Fuck the Noravi Award,” said Domison.  “We should have got your sister’s job.”
         “What, and have to dig under a mountain?”
         “Yes.  At least we don’t have to freeze to death.”
         “Aww, poor baby.”
         “Fuck you.  You lot don’t know what the cold feels like.  You spend your first few years all cosied up in a pouch, and then you come out flapping your wings, belching fire and smoke and your last meal.  Hell, you should make me swap with Paxola right now.”
         “Pax stays where he is,” said Latharixa.  “You can swap with Evani if she agrees.”
         “You like Pax, don’t you?”
         “As a friend.”
         “Yeah right.  Don’t forget, you’re old enough to be his great grandma.”
         “In Dragon years, I’m a lot younger than you.”
         “Dragon years, eh?” said Domison.  “So … what do you do again?  Do you minus eighteen, divide by two, and add sixty?”
         “Now I know you’re trying to piss me off,” said Latharixa.  She had a point; as an archaeologist and historian, Domison knew very well how to calculate a Dragon’s approximate Human age.  Latharixa was ninety-six.  In Human terms, that was only thirty-one.
         “I’m sorry,” said Domison.  “You don’t look a day over twenty.”
         “That’s more like it.”
         “So now do I deserve to swap places with Evani?”
“You’re only nice when you have an ulterior motive,” said Latharixa.  “Evani has to wake up first.  And if she agrees, I’m flexing the pouch to keep you and Pax separate.”
         “I’ll be nice to him,” said Domison.
         “Yes, and your word means everything to me,” said Latharika.  “Meanwhile, enjoy the sunset.”
         “I’ll tell you one thing,” said Domison, “if they find one of those death-ray cannons, or a bomb that can crack a planet in two, I’m keeping it.”
         “I wouldn’t trust you with a pair of scissors.  With corks on the ends.”
         Domison paused, trying to think up a witty retort.  Unfortunately, “Bitch” was all he could come up with.
         Far below, the forest was thinning out into white sand.  Far ahead, the horizon glittered with pink sunlight on endless blue.
         “Oh, look,” said Latharika.  “Would you like to go for a swim?”
         As soon as the beach passed beneath her, she began to dive.
         “Don’t you fucking daaaaaaaaaare!”
         The Dragoness abruptly straightened up and soared forward, mere metres over the ocean surface.  Once again, Domison felt the rumble of her laughter.
         “You’re evil.”
         “I know.”
         The ocean sped far beneath them in scintillating waves.  Far ahead, beyond the horizon, was Haloken’s frigid southernmost continent. 
         As they raced towards their goal, the archaeologists knew, in their hearts, that they could always agree on one thing – that the best possible outcome was to make the discovery that would change the world.
         For the better, of course.

~ ~ ~

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RE: Devouring Angel: Book Two of the Elixir Trilogy - by DarrenRyding - 04-27-2021, 02:57 AM

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