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Devouring Angel: Book Two of the Elixir Trilogy
Chapter Two
The ceremony was still over an hour away, but the Amphitheatre was already half-filled, alive with background music and the light of crystal lamp towers.  Thousands of Humans were scattered throughout the bleachers, conversing, snacking, drinking in the view of an historic island college reborn.  Many Dragons sat among them on the outer edge, some curled up in half-sleep, some sitting upright with their eyes closed in hazy meditation, some conversing with their Human friends.  On the outer edge of the Amphitheatre, the blue Baby Dragon was clumsily walking back and forth on his hind legs like a Human, all the while chirping “Walky walky walky walky walky walky!”  His mother sat there watching him, her face bright with pride and delight, clicking words of encouragement.  A nearby group of Humans shared her amusement.  One five-year-old Human girl stomped back and forth in unison with the Baby Dragon, imitating his awkward penguin-like strides. 
         Near the centre of the Amphitheatre, some of the high-ranking Human delegates had already found their places and were deep in conversation.  Most were uniformed military, with Varantuan Defence and the Sentinel being most prominent.  Vithan recognised Lieutenant General Jerikau Karlonen of the Varantuan Army, former head of Coastal Defense.  Of course, everyone recognised Secretary General Ganoville Santagora, former Grand Marshal of the Sentinel.  Six years ago, they had both been present at the Siege.  Their forces had not been given the change to fight, only to escape.  Thus was the case when powers greater than mortals were involved.
         Standing not far from the edge of the amphitheatre, Vithan turned to Tilanna and raised his angled eyebrows.  “Well,” he said, “are you ready?”
         “We still have at least an hour,” said Tilanna. 
         “Walky walky walky walky WALKY WALKY!” said the Baby Dragon.
         “That Joey is going to tire himself out long before the show starts,” said Vithan.
         “Why should he care?”  Tilanna smiled sweetly at the scaly little show-off.  “Right now, he is the show.”
         “And he’s loving every second of it,” said a deep feminine voice from behind.
         Vithan and Tilanna turned to see Sabilikon striding slowly towards them.  The crystal lamps highlighted the gold rosettes against her deep blue scales.  She was like a walking constellation of golden galaxies.      
         “How are you finding the accommodation here?” she said.
         “Positively exquisite,” said Tilanna.
         “Just perfect for … you know,” said Vithan as he winked at Tilanna.
         “The builders and shapers have done an excellent job on all counts,” said Sabilikon.  “I have just come back from-“
         “Glory to Dahal Savithar!  WHOO!” came a drunken male voice, followed by a chorus of equally drunken laughter.
         Sabilikon turned and raised her head, her face fixed in a scowl.
         Vithan and Tilanna turned to face a group of intoxicated young men staggering across the park.
         “Just ignore them,” said Vithan.  “They’re harmless.  We could squash them like insects.  But we’re better than that.”
         “I’m sure they would dare us to do that very thing,” said Tilanna. 
         Sabilikon continued glaring at them.  She didn’t even blink.
         “Hey big bitch!” said one of the young men.  It was the same voice they had heard seconds earlier.  “Wanna fuck a superstud?  I’ve got the size to match, darling!”  He then started making thrusting motions with his pelvis, moaning and grunting.  Some of his friends laughed, but others began to sneak away into the shadows.  Not all of them were drunk or stupid enough to antagonize a Dragon, especially one that wore the neckbands of a Squadron Leader.
         “Valko, shut it,” said one of his more nervous friends as he grabbed his shoulder.  “Don’t aggravate her!”
         “Nah, she can’t do a thing, or else they’ll boot her outta the Skywatch, isn’t that right darling?”
         “What a pitiful excuse for a Human you are,” Sabilikon hissed.
         “Oooooh!  Strong words!  What’s yer next trick, darling?  Threatening a civilian?”
         “Valko, that’s enough.”  His nervous friend was beginning to back away, wanting no part in this exchange.
         “This is a place to respect fallen heroes,” said Sabilikon.  “Parasites like you are not worthy to set foot here.”
         “Parasites?  That’s the spirit, love!  In just a few days you’ll be joining the New Draconic Order!”
         Sabilikon snapped, snarling and scowling like a wild animal.  She levitated Valko up to her eye level, dangling him before her like a doll. 
         “Sabby!  No!” shouted Vithan.  He reached out his mind to restrain her, and could feel Tilanna doing likewise.  Almost instantly, he felt the Dragon’s rage trembling throughout his body.  She was not quite the strongest Dragon he had ever encountered, but any struggle would have taxed his energy all the same.
         Behind Sabilikon, dozens of Humans and a few Dragons had gathered to view the disturbance.  The Mother Dragon gave a few stern clicks, and her Joey trotted up to her pouch and dived in headfirst.
         All Valko’s friends had quickly turned sober.  They were all backing away, wide-eyed and trembling, knowing they were truly out of their league. 
         Valko just floated in the grip of the Dragon’s mind, smiling, more mad than drunk.
         “This insipid culture has blinded you to the truth,” he said, his voice shaky but steadfast in his conviction.
         “I have heard this shit before,” Sabilikon hissed.  In a burst of mindpower, she tore off his shirt.
         On the man’s chest was a tattoo of Dahal Savithar.
         The most hated Human of the century was standing against the light of the Elixir, blond hair waving as if underwater, arms outspread like a welcoming messiah, eyes aglow in his blasphemous display of godlike power.    
         “I KNEW it!” roared the Dragoness.  “You weren’t joking.  You really do revere that mass murdering scum!”
         “Dahal Savithar was a great man!”  Valko was no longer drunk.  His voice and stare conveyed something else entirely.  Something worse.  “He touched the Divine!  He transcended our pitiful plane of existence!”
         “That creature murdered over a thousand Dragons!” Sabilikon roared.
         “They all volunteered,” said Valko.  “They knew what they were getting into.”
         Sabilikon hissed.  “They died so you could live!” she roared.
         “One day,” said Valko, “the Great Lord Savithar shall return, and burn away the unworthy!  Burn away you, and all your worthless –“
         Sabilikon hissed deafeningly, bringing the man closer to her salivating jaws.
         “Sabby!  That’s enough!” Vithan shouted.  “He can believe whatever crap he wants!  He can have a Dahal Savithar tattoo!  It’s not illegal!”
         “I should sear it from his filthy flesh!”
         “No!  Let him be an idiot!  It’s his choice!  It’s his right!  That’s what we’re all fighting for.  Look around you.  All these monuments are for freedom, not tyranny.  Not vigilante justice.  Let him go.  Let him stagger on his own path like the blinkered moron he is.  He’s not worth your attention.”
         Sabilikon’s wolfish scowl slowly began to ease.  She gently lowered Valko to the ground … but dropped him at the last instant.  She closed her eyes and turned away.  Valko got to his feet and staggered after his hastily retreating friends.
         Vithan sighed with relief as he lowered his hand and relaxed his mind.  On the edge of his vision, he saw Tilanna do the same.
         Alathaka landed beside Sabilikon, gently stroking her friend’s head with her muzzle, comforting her in their own language.
         All around, the crowd began to disperse.
         “What a brainless bunch of fucking arse goblins,” said Vithan, staring into the parkland shadows the gang had fled to.
         “I couldn’t have said it better myself,” said Tilanna.  “What are they even doing here?”
         “To that sort, it’s just another public event,” said Vithan.  “They’re here for the booze.  And if they’re staying in our hotel, I’ll be pretty fucking furious.”    
         “I’m pretty sure Dragons would have flown them here,” said Tilanna.  “What sort of hypocrites does that make them?’
         “What kind?” said Vithan.  “Who cares?  We have enough hypocrites stinking up the world as it is.”
         There was a long, awkward pause.  Vithan could feel Tilanna hesitating.  After all these years, he did not need his wife’s exceptional scanning prowess to read her.
         “What is it?” he said.
         “I need to talk to her,” said Tilanna.
         “I really don’t think you’re the best person to talk to her right now,” said Vithan.  “And I think you know why.”
         “That is exactly why I’m the best person to talk to her right now,” said Tilanna.  She stepped forward.
         “No,” Vithan insisted.  Tilanna ignored him.
         “Sabilikon,” said Tilanna.  “I think we should talk.”
         Both Sabilikon and Alathaka turned to face Tilanna, their jade eyes wide with mild surprise.  Like Vithan, they knew where this was heading.
         “We need to talk alone,” Tilanna insisted.  “It’s about time I got this off my chest.”
         The two Dragonesses turned to each other.  Sabilikon mildly nodded, then took a few long steps toward Tilanna.
         “We need to find somewhere private,” said Tilanna as she mounted the Dragon’s neck.  Within seconds, Sabilikon levitated and disappeared into the night.
         Vithan turned to face Alathaka.
         “Do you think they’ll demote her?”
         “Perhaps,” said Alathaka.  “She may need more intensive counselling.”
         “I’m hoping a talk with Tilanna might help,” said Vithan.
         “It should.”
         “Someone should keep an eye on those boys in case they do something worse.”
         “I have just mindcalled two Skywatch officers to do that very thing,” said Alathaka. 
         Vithan nodded in silent approval.  Idiots had a right to be idiots.  He knew that all too well.  But even in a free world, stupidity had its limits.
Sabilikon landed in a clearing on the far side of the island.  Tilanna dismounted her and sat down in the long, cool grass.  It reminded her of that day, six years ago, when Alathaka had carried her and Vithan to this same island, mere minutes after it had miraculously reformed.
         She looked to the east.  The distant light of the night’s festivities cast a faint aura over the forest trees.  Before her, Sabilikon crouched down, as comfortable as she could be under the circumstances.
         “I’m sorry,” said Tilanna.
         “For what?” said Sabilikon, her voice so much more gentle and tender than it had been minutes earlier.
         “I think you know,” said Tilanna.
         The Dragon stared at her, her face and mind unreadable.
         “I’m sorry for …” Tilanna froze, the words like a rock in her throat.  “I’m sorry I killed your father.”
         Sabilikon stared at Tilanna, unblinking, for long, painful heartbeats.  Tilanna braced herself.
         “Never apologise for that,” said Sabilikon.  “NEVER.”
         There were a few more seconds of dark silence, interspersed only by the distant chirp of insects.
         “You are a hero,” said Sabilikon.  “You freed my father.  You freed him from Bysamathark.  You freed him from Dahal Savithar.  They filled his head full of lies and his heart full of poison and hate.  That was not a life.  That was slavery.  And you freed him.  I will always be indebted to you for that.  I will always be your friend.”
         “Sabilikon,” said Tilanna, “I have only told a few what I’m about to tell you, but …” 
         She began to tremble.  Garvatikon had been the first Dragon she had confronted, in the tunnel six years ago.  She remembered gripping his mind, controlling his body like a puppet.
         “I know it was self defence,” said Tilanna.  “But … I’d never used my powers so aggressively before.  I’d never been put in that position, so I didn’t really know the rules of engagement.  But …”
         “The rules of engagement are you kill your enemy before he kills you,” said Sabilikon.  “I guess you learned the hard way.”
         “It wasn’t just the self defence,” said Tilanna.  “That was all right.  That was justified.  It was … I was just so angry.”
         “You were angry,” said Sabilikon.  “On this night, do you think I am in a position to judge you for being angry?”
         Tilanna smirked uneasily.  “I mean … for a short while … I wanted to punish him.  I wanted to humiliate him.  I gripped his mind, and …”
         “I read the report,” said Sabilikon.  “You made him claw out his own throat.  You used what you had.  You did the best you could at the time.”
         “For a moment,” said Tilanna, “I enjoyed it.”
         There was another moment of silence.
         “I wanted him to suffer,” said Tilanna.
         “I wanted that man to suffer,” said Sabilikon.  “And he was no threat to me at all.  Do you really think you are worse than I am?”
         Tilanna looked up at the three moons.  A passing cloud began to cover up the smallest one.
         Sabilikon broke the silence.  “Do you know the last words I spoke to my father?” she said.
Tilanna turned her attention to the twin moons of Sabilikon’s gaze, bright against the night of her scales.
         “’I am ashamed of you.’  That is what I said.  Those were the last words he heard from me before I flew away for the last time.”
         The Dragon closed her eyes, inhaling deeply like a heavy gale.
         “I touched his mind,” said Tilanna.
         Sabilikon opened her eyes.
         “I had to.  I was controlling … and I felt his final thoughts.”
         Sabilikon widened her eyes.
         “They were of you.”
         The Dragon stared, unblinking.
         “His last thoughts were of you.  He loved you, right to the end.”
         Tilanna nearly choked on that last word.  She felt tears streaming down her cheeks.
         “He regretted … he regretted everything.”
         Sabilikon closed her eyes.  She sighed more softly than before.  “Then he has earned Tikamath’s forgiveness,” she said.  “He has earned Tikamath’s love.  And I know that he will be there, waiting for me, one day.”
         Tilanna smiled through her tears.  “I’m sure he will.”
         Gently, Sabilikon lowered her head, moving it forward.  Tilanna held her huge muzzle, stroking her scales gently.
         Under the moonlight, after all these years, their friendship was finally sealed.
~  ~  ~
Tanzu awoke with a start. 
         He sat up in bed, his mind staggering in the timeless dark, trying desperately to reconstruct the huge and complex images he had just seen, the thoughts and feelings that had overwhelmed him.
         It’s just a dream, he said.  It’s just my imagination.
         But he knew that, in all of his eighteen years, his imagination had never produced anything remotely like what he had just experienced. 
         There had been the fleeting impression of something huge and blindingly complex being constructed, bit-by-bit, atom-by-atom, with meticulous precision.  And then something (else?) being taken apart, swiftly, violently, with passionate exactitude, like salting the ashen earth after burning a forest to the ground, only on a scale impossible to comprehend …
         With a single thought, he lit his bedside crystal lamp.  The clock on his cabin wall said quarter to eight.  He had slept for only an hour.
         Minutes later, he was in the ship’s dining hall.  Several other Initiates were there, talking softly, as excitedly as whispers could allow.  Tanzu took a plate and helped himself to some salad and spiced potato skins.  He poured himself a glass of water and sat at the end of the table, away from the others, his mind swirling in a maelstrom of chaos, concentrating painfully on looking for a pattern that made sense.
         “Is everything all right with you, Tanzu?”
         The gentle voice could only belong to Mother Evonash, but it startled him all the same.
         “I’m fine,” said Tanzu, a bit too hastily.
         “Are you sure about that?” said Evonash. 
         “I just had a dream.”
         “Everyone gets vivid dreams before Initiation.  It’s perfectly normal.”
         “I know.  Except …” Tanzu paused.  “I’m having a lot of trouble remembering this one.  I can’t piece it together, because there are too many pieces.  It’s like …”
         His mind stretched to find a suitable analogy.
         “It’s like when you look at a mountain, and you think, ‘Wow, that’s big!’  But then you remember that the mountain is just one tiny part of the world, and you try to grasp how big the entire planet really is.  Not from space, but from where you’re standing.  Like you try to see it all at once, but stay close at the same time.  And you just can’t wrap your head around it.  You could fly into space, but that would be cheating, because that would make it look small.  And the dream, the … message or whatever … it wouldn’t let you cheat.  You had to stay where you were and take it all in, every grain of sand, every blade of grass, every little detail blown up to as big as a mountain.  And you couldn’t.  You just couldn’t.  Am I making sense?”
         Evonash nodded.  “I think you’re making perfect sense.  Many of us have visions like that.  It’s a good sign.  It means you are ready.”
         “Except …” Tanzu hesitated again, fearing where his train of thought was leading him.  “It’s didn’t end there.  Something was happening.  I don’t know what it was.  It was …” He did not want to mention destruction.  Acknowledging it would only make it real.  And, besides, he did not want to hear his fears confirmed.  “It was like a warning, or something,” he added.
         Evonash’s gentle smile dropped only slightly as she looked away.  “A mystic vision is always overwhelming, especially if it is your first time.  The true scale of reality can seem terrifying to us little creatures, even if we are seeing something perfectly benign.  Mayhara will help you tomorrow.  She sees all your dreams, and She will comfort you with Her love and wisdom.  That is a promise.  Not just from me, but from Her.”
         Tanzu took a deep breath.  Mother Evonash’s words were comforting, but somehow incomplete.  After all, the information he had given her was incomplete.
         “I only wish …” he said.  “I wish I could reconstruct the whole thing in my mind so you could see it for yourself.”
         Mother Evonash gently shook her head.  “We don’t have to do that,” she said.  “Your vision is your own.  Now, do you promise me that will get some decent sleep tonight?”
         Tanzu nodded.  “I’ll try my best.”
         “That is always a good start.  None of us are perfect, but our best is all we can manage.  If you are tired tomorrow morning, Mayhara will know why.  If you are nervous, or frightened, She will know why.  And if you had a nightmare, even another one, She will understand it far better than we could.  She understands everything about you, and accepts you just as you are.  Maybe you should be thinking about that when you go back to bed, instead of tormenting yourself with riddles no mortal can answer.  Now how about that?”
         “I’ll be thinking about it.  The good stuff, I mean.”
         “That’s what I want to hear.  Now if you need me, just hold your comm crystal and think of me.  I wish you a peaceful night, and a bright new day tomorrow.”
         “Same to you, Mother Evonash.”
         She got up and left Tanzu to his late snack, his hopes, dreams, and endless questions.
~  ~  ~
“Look!  Whales!”
         Evani could see them surfacing far ahead as Latharixa sped towards them at low altitude.  She adjusted her goggles and held the Dragonspine tight as they soared right over the shoal of whales.  The evening moon glinted off their glossy bodies as they surfaced and exhaled mist out of their blowholes.  They were ordinary, mortal humpbacks, probably no larger than the Dragon she was riding.  Still, seeing so many migrating humpbacks at once was a rare sight. 
Evani knew that she would have had an even better view from the pouch.  However, had she not swapped places with Domison, she might still be asleep by now. 
         “My cousin likes to swim with them occasionally,” said Latharixa.  “Maybe not these same ones, but humpbacks just like these.  They’re very friendly to him.  They probably see him as some sort of weird flying whale.”
         “It would be amazing to see a Kujira up close,” said Evani.
         “I have another cousin – yes, I know, I have a lot of cousins – but he’s in the Skywatch.  He was at Kesalzhin when Mayhara and the rest of the Shoal arrived.”
         “Oh Gods!” said Evani.  “That would have freaked me out!”
         “It freaked him out.  And he’s a Dragon.  No offense, but you know it takes a lot to rattle us.  He still talks about it to this day.  Tikamath bless his scales.”
         By now, the sprawling shoal of humpbacks was far behind them.
         “So, how long to go?”
         “The digging point is ten kilometres inland.  That’s about a thousand kilos ahead of us.  We’ll be there in an hour and a half.  And no, I’m not speeding up.  And I’m definitely not breaking the sound barrier.  That takes time and effort.  Tell Domison to shut his dainty little trap if he asks again.”
         Evani chuckled.  “Is it true you made a bet with your sister?”
         “It’s a family tradition,” said Latharixa.  “We have a huge head start, and we’re boring through more ice than stone.”
         “Sovilixa doesn’t have that far to fly,” said Evani.
         “I know.  Our team is going to get some good sleep once we set up camp.  We start when we’re ready.  Gabrielle’s going to link to us from the Ministry.  She knows a thing or two about what this place was back in her day.”
         “I hope we find another Swansword.  And that she’s friendly.”
         “Oh, don’t you start,” said the Dragoness.  “You’re beginning to sound like Domison.  And that’s a fate I wouldn’t wish on any Human.  Do you hear that Domison?  I can feel you wriggling around in there!  Go to sleep you silly bugger!”
         Evani giggled as the Dragon sped her over the ocean to whatever discovery awaited.
“Big mouth bitch,” mumbled Domison as he rolled over.
         “I hope she didn’t hear that,” said a muffled beside him.
         Paxola was curled up in the back of the pouch, separated from Domison by the kind of precision muscle tightening that only Dragons were capable of.  It was likely that they were both getting an equal share of air spiracles, although Paxola’s comfort was more than guaranteed.
         “Are you ready for the morning?” said Domison.
         “I’ll find you a treasure trove of ancient Colonial gadgets in one minute flat,” said Paxola.
         “Don’t forget,” said Domison, “Tilanna Tionomes herself was standing right next to SwanSword, and not even she could see her.  She couldn’t even sense what she was until she stepped into the camouflage field.  If it weren’t for these new crystals, you wouldn’t stand a chance.”
         “Well, now I do,” said Paxola.
         There was a minute of silence in the darkness.  Domison almost felt guilty for mentioning Tilanna.  She was a hero and role model to Paxola, being a fellow Nekalifan and masterclass scanner.  And now, thanks to this mission, he had lost the chance to see her in person at the ceremony on New Kesalzhin Island.  Nonetheless, he was not the only one making sacrifices today.  Latharixa and her sister were working on the First Day of the most treasured Dragon holiday.  Regardless of results, they all deserved a hefty reward.
         “Let’s just hope this turns out well for all of us,” said Domison.
         “Agreed,” said Paxola.
         Domison closed his eyes in the living dark, hoping to dream of fame and fortune, hoping to live it in the days to come.
~  ~  ~

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RE: Devouring Angel: Book Two of the Elixir Trilogy - by DarrenRyding - 04-29-2021, 11:37 AM

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