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Devouring Angel: Book Two of the Elixir Trilogy
This will be the last chapter I shall post here, at least for some time to come.  The 26 thousand words on this thread will only be a small fraction of the finished novel, which is going to be even bigger, more ambitious, and more apocalyptic than the first one.

You can purchase Project Heavenstorm: Book One of the Elixir Trilogy here.

Chapter Four
Alathaka sat in the middle of the forest clearing, far from the festival lights.  Three senior Dragons sat in front of her.  There was Commander Jarakona, her immediate superior officer; General Vysiloxa, deputy head of the Skywatch; and Skymarshal Mirithaka herself.
         “I must admit, I was thoroughly enjoying this night,” said the Skymarshal.  Her voice was as soft as the dim emerald glow of her gaze.  “I was enjoying the friendly, relaxed atmosphere.  I was enjoying watching Humans and Dragons coming together to mourn and celebrate as one – with one … minor exception.  I was enjoying the speeches, the music, the jokes.  Even your jokes, Officer Alathaka.  But what you expressed so passionately later in your speech was not a joke, was it?”
         “It was nothing more than an honest expression of my feelings, Skymarshal,” said Alathaka.
         “That is what concerns me,” said the Skymarshal.  “We understand that the past six years has not been easy for you, Officer Alathaka.  All four of us gathered here have lost friends and loved ones in battle.  We know your pain all too well.  And you were a civilian when it happened.  The shock of Olokuvon’s loss must have been overwhelming.”
         “The shock of Olokuvon’s loss inspired me to fight for a better world,” said Alathaka.  “I am sorry, Skymarshal, but those are my honest thoughts.”
         “I have no doubt,” said Skymarshal Mirithaka.  “But answer me honestly, Officer Alathaka – was that speech all about fighting for a better world?”
         “My speech consisted of nothing but my honest thoughts and hopes for a better world, Skymarshal,” said Alathaka.
         “I see,” said Mirithaka.  “So that, in itself, is a most disturbing thought.”
         “Skymarshal, I have no desire to –“
         “Tell me Officer Alathaka, what do you think millions of Humans throughout the planet witnessed just then?”
         “They witnessed a Dragon expressing her thoughts and feelings with honesty and passion,” said Alathaka.
         “Oh yes, I have no doubt that they did.  I have no doubt that they heard your words and sentiments as absolutely genuine as they cowered under their dinner tables in abject terror.”
         Alathaka felt an explosion of shock throughout her system, as physical as any battle-blow.  “Skymarshal, the innocent have nothing to fear from –“
         “The innocent witnessed a huge Dragon ranting and roaring, breathing fire and threatening to burn all her enemies to ash.  You were doing very little to dispel long-held stereotypes of our race, were you not?”
         “Skymarshal, I only want to protect the innocent.  And they loved it!  All the Humans were cheering!”
         “Perhaps many of them were afraid not to cheer.”
         The words hit Alathaka like another blow to the soul.  “But they did not have to cheer!  They did not have to agree!  We are defending their right to believe whatever they want!”
         “Precisely, Officer.  Now you are finally beginning to wake up to reality after your little theatrical interlude.  When you speak publically at a memorial service, wearing those bands, you speak not only as an individual with unique experience, but also on behalf of the Skywatch itself.  Is that understood?”
         “Affirmative, Skymarshal.”
         “Unfortunately, I am sorry to say that this is not the first time I have heard such public vitriol from one of my fellow Officers.  For a while, you sounded almost like him.”
         Alathaka stared blankly.
         “You sounded almost like Bysamathark,” said Mirithaka.
         Instantly Alathaka got to her feet, incensed with shock and rage.  “You would compare me to that –“
         Instantly Alathaka obeyed.
         “I am not saying that you are anywhere near as bad as Bysamathark.  I am not that cruel or stupid.  But I have lived long enough to know the warning signs.  And I have learned enough to know that, sometimes, the worst of things begin with the best of intentions.  In the case of Bysamathark, it began with a desire to preserve the more esoteric traditions of Draconic culture.  This included the Great Clans keeping their plundered wealth instead of sharing it with the descendants of Humans they had stolen it from; hence his opposition to the Cityclan Partnerships.  His concerns also included political, economic and status inequities between Humans and Dragons in both public and private sectors, despite blatantly obvious differences in lifespan, strength, and physical needs.  He also detested hypocrisy and corruption in Human politics – a stance which, I must admit, was sometimes not completely without merit, if somewhat blown out of proportion and made sickeningly hypocritical by Bysamathark’s own actions.  And, of course, there was the poisoning and subsequent sterilization of the entire Varazikon Clan, which triggered mass retaliation and the horror of the Sweep Raids.  So you see, Officer Alathaka, Dragons once had some good reasons to listen to the one who would soon become reviled as an anti-Human terrorist.”
         “That soulless soot-stain murdered my –“
         “Which is exactly my point, Officer Alathaka.  He became a mass murderer.  Thank you for helping me with my argument.”
         “Skymarshal, I swear to Tikamath, I swear upon the Cosmic Egg, I swear upon the blood of my clan, I swear upon the ashes of Olokuvon, I will never harm the innocent, I will never threaten the innocent, nor allow the innocent to come to any harm.  That is my word.”
         “I believe you, Officer Alathaka.  I have no doubt of your sincerity.  And I still believe that you are a hero.  You deserve that accolade.  You fought evil face-to-face in one of the most pivotal conflicts of our history.  You flew your two Human friends to safety in the end.  These are, unquestionably, the deeds and actions of a hero.  But do not, for a moment, believe that makes you free of the flaws that all mortals share, or exempt from the laws and standards that all mortals must follow.  If anything, your status only increases your responsibility, obliging you to uphold those standards with conscious effort.  And – as much as it pains me to bring up this subject – do not for a moment believe that the loss of a loved one makes you special or unique.  As I have already stated, many others share your pain.  Many others understand.  It is not our experience alone that defines us, but what we do with the lessons we have learned.  Do you understand, Officer Alathaka?”
         “Absolutely, Skymarshal.”
         “And now we come to the subject of your present status with the Skywatch.”
         Alathaka held her breath.
         “Unlike Sabilikon, you will keep your rank as Squadron Leader for the foreseeable future.”
         Alathaka sighed with relief.
         “Your performance up until this night has been superlative, Officer.  Despite your issues, your psychological evaluations have yielded positive results.  And your raw power is … well, it exceeds my own.  But we must keep a closer eye on you in light of your outburst.  So, for the next four weeks, we are going to double your therapy and halve your duties.”
         Alathaka widened her eyes.  “But Skymarshal –“
         “You will retain command of your squadron, Officer.  But for the next four weeks, you and your squadron will be restricted to ocean patrols.  Not land.  Starting from tomorrow morning.”
         Alathaka’s gaze sank to the dark grass at the Skymarshal’s feet.  She immediately regained eye contact when the question bit her mind.  “Skymarshal, how shall my teammates be affected –“
         “Lieutenant Taroviskon will lead the squadron in your absence.  He will lead both land and sea patrols.  In the meantime, your are to gather your squadron for North Ocean Sweep at nine tomorrow morning, and then report to Assessment at fourteen.  Do you have any remaining questions, Officer Alathaka?”
         “Negative, Skymarshal.”
         “Then this discussion is concluded, Officer Alathaka.  You are dismissed.”
         Alathaka politely nodded.  “Affirmative, Skymarshal.”  She turned away.
         “Officer Alathaka, I just have one more word of advice, if you do not mind.”
         Alathaka turned back to the Skymarshal.
         “If you wish to prance up and down the stage ranting and roaring and breathing fire as a pretend villain, scaring all the joeys and children, then please do so as an actress, not as an Officer of the Skywatch.  Understood?”
         “Understood, Skymarshal.”
         “Please do your best to enjoy the rest of this night.  And remember that we still have faith in you.  Please ensure that you keep earning it.”
         The three senior officers levitated gracefully above the treetops, outspreading their wings as they glided away.
         Absently, Alathaka turned to face the glow of crystal lights above the treetops, wondering how and when she should return to the gaze of the public. 
         While she certainly did not want to be seen as a fanatic or a monster, being a hero clearly came with its own set of responsibilities.
         Perhaps she should return to the light as just another Dragon.  An equal.  A friend.
~  ~  ~
Evani sat in the middle of the hexagonal tent, warming her hands against the heat crystal. 
         “You can sleep with your gloves on, you know,” said Domison from behind.  “God knows I am.”
         “I know,” said Evani.  “I just like the feel of radiant heat.  It’s like your skin is drinking in warmth.”
         “Pax will be getting enough of that tonight,” said Domison.  “There could be the greatest blizzard in history and he wouldn’t feel a thing.”
         “Well, he will have the toughest job tomorrow,” said Evani.  “At least mentally.”
         “He’s the one who can sense a blizzard coming from a hundred kilometres,” said Domison.  “He could probably do that a lot easier without a bloody big Dragon sitting on him.”
         He exited the tent, entering dimly lit bleakness that stung his nose with cold.  To his left was the other tent.  On the other side of that, Latharixa and Tayraxica were comfortably crouched in the snow, unperturbed by a climate that would give most Humans frostbite.
         “So what’s the battle plan for blizzards?” Domison shouted at the Dragons.
         “We sleep through them,” said Tayraxica.
         “Ha ha ha, dickhead,” droned Domison.
         “We can shield the entire camp,” said Latharixa.  “Although all six of you can cram into our pouches if necessary.”
         “Can’t you two just … you know … diffuse the blizzard?”
         Latharixa twitched her ears and sniffed the air.  “Just how much liquor do you really need in one night?”
         “I’m serious.  I mean, Kovanaxa created a blizzard for his show, remember?”
         “His ‘blizzard’ covered a few city blocks,” said Latharixa.  “We’re not exactly dealing with stage props out here.  To diffuse a real blizzard?  You would have to be Mayhara.”
         “Why do you even bring up Kovanaxa anyway?” said Tayraxica.  “Most Dragons do not have his talents.” 
         “He’s right,” said Latharixa. “We don’t really specialize in cooling things down, in case you haven’t noticed.”
         “So what’s the plan?”
         “I told you, we just shield the camp,” said Latharixa.  “We can literally do that in our sleep. I’ve done this with all my other teams.  Trust us.  There is no natural disaster we are not prepared for.”
         “If I get frostbite,” said Domison, “you owe me a nose.”
         “You can have mine,” said Latharixa.  “It would be an improvement.”
          Domison gave the Dragons a dismissive wave and returned to the tent. 
~  ~  ~
Yes, thought Alathaka.  Shalyn the sculptor had been very flattering.
         Of course, flattery was easy.  The real task would have been capturing her majestic beauty in every detail – in which Shalyn Hythax had succeeded brilliantly.
         Like the statue of her long lost beloved, the statue of Alathaka stood upon a broad, box-shaped base of smoothly polished stone, with short crystal lamp towers on each corner.  This statue was only twice life size – not five times – but had a similarly rampant pose, rearing up on massively built hind legs and haunches.  While Olokuvon’s statue faced directly forward, Alathaka’s statue was coiled around like a spring.  The head was facing to the left of the hips, and the tail was coiled around the body like a low ramping wall.  The scales were smoothly rounded crystals of red and blue, the underbelly a sleek and gleaming pink, and the eyes burning lamps of emerald.
         This was the sight that would greet seafarers entering Olokuvon Island River.  A worthy sight indeed.  Much like that … what was it called?  The Freedom Statue in Yukon City?  She would have to re-read Gabrielle’s book about ancient Earth monuments.  She had spent enough time studying one of her other books …
         If only she could remain worthy of such an idol, of such an ideal.
         She sat there, studying every detail of her likeness, wondering what Dragons and Humans really thought when they gazed upon her image – whether it be crystal, light, or flesh.  Did they see a hero, a zealot, or just another Dragon?  Could she ever again be just another Dragon?  Was there any point in believing that the world could ever go back to being “normal”, whatever that meant?
“Officer Alathaka?”
         The voice was much closer to ground level.  A Human female.
         Alathaka tore her gaze from the statue and looked down.  A very young blonde woman was staring up at her with a coy smile.  Her dress sense reflected the recent Human trend for a return to modesty – a gold-buttoned apricot blazer with a matching hood and tubular skirt.  Beside her was a boy – perhaps only seven – who was considerably more timid, barely making eye contact with Alathaka as he gripped his mother’s hand.  In his other hand was a sheet of white paper.
         “This is such a rare privilege,” said the woman.  “We are both huge admirers of you.  Well, maybe not so huge, all things considered.”
         Alathaka rumbled laughter, smiling welcomingly.  “All that matters is the size of your heart,” she said.
         “We were watching you,” said the woman, “listening to your speech.  And I just want to say that … we agree with you.  We support you completely.”
         “Thank you,” said Alathaka.  “But please remember that I do not encourage war or revenge.  I only want to protect the innocent.  Good, innocent people like you, and your handsome little boy.”
         The boy grinned shyly and looked at his shoes.
         “I know,” said the woman.  “But … I don’t blame you.  I can’t blame you.  You see … I know we haven’t met before.  But maybe you’ve met my boyfriend.  Jalkin’s father.  He …”
         Tears welled up in the young mother’s eyes.
         “He was a student here, six years ago.  He had been there, when … when Dahal Savithar …”
         The woman’s voice broke apart as she gave way to grief. 
         With a jolt like a blast to the heart, Alathaka understood.
         She remembered that moment with a cruel, agonizing clarity – one of the very worst moments of her life.  Her beloved Olokuvon had died fighting.  A thousand other Dragons had been prepared to fight before being casually incinerated by the newborn Mad God.  But the small group of Human students who had stood not so far away from her on the marble floor, those students who had been burned to ash by that disgusting monster just to stab at her soul …
         “Oh no,” said Alathaka.  “I’m sorry.”
         She lowered her head to the weeping woman.
         “I should have saved him,” said Alathaka.  “I should have saved them all.  I am so sorry.  Please forgive me.”
         “There’s nothing to forgive,” the woman said.  “Please don’t blame yourself.  You did everything you could.  You did so much.  You’re a hero.  The whole world knows it, and no-one more than us.”
         She reached out to touch Alathaka on the muzzle, stroking her scales softly with her tear-soaked little hand.  Alathaka purred softly, gently nuzzling the woman’s shoulder.
         “Jalkin has something to show you,” said the woman.
         “Has he now?” said Alathaka.  She turned to face the little boy, who took one step back.  “What do you have to show me, little one?”
         Jalkin half hid behind his mother.
         “You can show her, Jalkin.  It’s all right.”
         The boy nervously held up the sheet of paper.  On it was a simple crayon drawing.  It was clearly a Dragon with red and blue stripes.    
         “Is that me?” said Alathaka.
         Jalkin coyly nodded.
         “That is so beautiful!” said Alathaka.  “You are going to be a wonderful artist when you grow up.  You might even make a statue like this one!”  She pointed a wing at the statue that towered over her.
         “I know it’s hard to tell at this age,” said Jalkin’s mother, “but we don’t think his mindpowers are in that field.”
         “It does not matter,” said Alathaka.  “Some of the greatest artists in the world never needed to move things around with their minds.  You could paint pictures, or sculpt and mould with your hands.  And it looks like you are off to a good start!”
         “He wants you to keep it.”
         “Is that so?  Would you let me keep your drawing, Jalkin?”
         Jalkin nodded.
         “Aww, that is so kind of you Jalkin!”
         She gently levitated the drawing into the air, cautiously folding it in half with her mind.
         “I’m going to keep it in my pouch, to remind me of what a lovely boy you are, Jalkin.”
         With her psychokinesis, she swiftly flew the sheet of paper into her pouch, letting it rest beside a small package.
         “How about a hug?” said Alathaka.  “You can hug my nose.  The rest of me is too big.”
         Jalkin chuckled silently, stepping forward to embrace the tip of Alathaka’s nose.  Alathaka could feel the boy’s formerly excited heartbeat slowing down, relaxing, at peace.
         “You deserve a good life, Jalkin,” said Alathaka.  “I hope to see you again one day.” 
         When Jalkin finally let go, Alathaka gently lifted her head.
         “It has been an honour meeting you,” said Jalkin’s mother.
         “Truly the honour is mine!” said Alathaka.  “Meeting you and your son has been more rewarding than the cheers of millions.  To be reminded that you are loved … that is the most important thing in the world.”
         “Good-bye,” said the woman as she held her son’s hand and turned away.  “And thank you.”
         “Good-bye,” said Jalkin.
         “Good-bye Jalkin,” said Alathaka.
         As the mother and son walked alongside the river towards the hotels, Alathaka lowered her head to the cool grass and closed her eyes.  This is what you value, she told herself.  These are the people you would die to protect.
         The crayon drawing was still clear in her mind.  Its portrayal of a Dragon’s body was simplistic and disproportionate, as one would expect from a seven-year-old Human.  But that did not matter.  It had been created with love.  To Alathaka, at that moment, the crayon drawing was every bit as valuable as the crystalline masterpiece that towered over her.  She would keep her promise.  She would keep the drawing, to remind herself of what mattered most – not power, not competence, not material gain, but the simple feelings of love and goodwill that made life worth living.
         This was what she was fighting for.  She swore never to forget.
         She knew too well the dangers of forgetting.  So many times over the past few years, there had been days she would promise herself to make empathy – not anger – her sole motivation to fight.  After all, she had to protect those she loved, as well as millions of strangers who had as much right to live safe and happy.  Then another day would come, and there would be news of a Human psionically collapsing a crowded building in a fit of rage, or a rogue band of Dragons obliterating a sailship and all its Human crew and passengers.  Empathy for the victims would drive her to rage, and in doing so make itself redundant, for the bloodlust of rage and vengeance would burn away empathy like tissue paper, making it look weak and flimsy and useless, like a hopelessly unconvincing mask to cover up her true instincts, her true self.  And then she would feel guilty for letting rage overwhelm her, and she would remember the faces and voices and mind-touches of all she loved, alive and dead, and once again empathy and love would wash away anger and hate, cleansing her blood of that filthily addictive pain.  In this calm, tranquil state, she would insist that this – indeed – was her “true self”, and the raging monster that she had just placated was nothing more than a trivial phantasm, a brief nightmare to be forgotten, or – at best – a primitive, miniscule fraction of her brain that had none of the sophistication and emotional complexity of her conscious self.
         Then more bad news would come, and rage would take over, and the cycle would continue once again.
         That was why she needed frequent psychological assessment.  That was why she needed her medicine.  Not to suppress her anger completely, but to prevent it from clouding her judgement.
         She was too valuable to the Skywatch.  Too valuable to lose.  Too valuable to demote or even suspend – except in the most outrageous of circumstances.  She was their heavy firepower.  Their global hero.  Their Celebrity Squadron Leader.  She was the face of the Skywatch.  If she fell, then the Skywatch … well, they would at least need another face, another hero.
         She had no idea how long she could keep up that role.
         “Oh what a surprise,” said a familiar Human voice.  “You just so happen to be right in front of your statue.  Who would have thought?”
         Alathaka smiled down at Vithan, who was carrying a small travel bag.  “I’m such a modest girl,” she said.     
         “How was the Skymarshal?”
         “They cannot afford to lose me.  I’m keeping my bands.  She would just prefer a little restraint on my behalf.”
         “You?  Restraint?  Do you even know the meaning of the word?”
         “Never have, never will.”
         “They’ve just sent those drunken idiots back to the mainland,” said Vithan.  “On Mirithaka’s orders.  A few Skywatch Dragons flew them all the way.  In their claws.”
         Alathaka rumbled laughter.  “In their claws?”  Under most circumstances, this would have been a desperate last resort or a serious breach of etiquette.
         “Yes,” said Vithan.  “The pouch is for passengers, the neck is for authority, and the claws are for …”
         “… things,” Alathaka finished.  “I hope they enjoyed the ride.”
         “A few of them vomited.”
         “Including their ‘leader’?”
         “I don’t know.”
         Alathaka paused thoughtfully.  “They can’t all be that bad.”
         “Some people need to choose their friends more carefully,” said Vithan.  “But at least Mister Savithar Tattoo will be banned from this island for one year.”
         “I hope he has learned his lesson,” said Alathaka, “although I seriously doubt it.”
         “I got you a Sakatoth gift,” said Vithan.
         “Gifts are for Kazatoth,” said Alathaka.  “That is half a year away.”
         “I know I know, but I just couldn’t wait half a year.  And neither could you.”
         “So, what is this gift?  Or do you want me to scan through your bag?”
         “See?  You can’t even wait one bloody minute.  And besides, I can block you.”
         “I seriously doubt that.”
         “All right.  I’ll break the suspense.  But first … do you remember who created Olokuvon’s statue?”
         “Verali Makonzi,” said Alathaka.  “She’s just as good as Shalyn.”
         “I know she is.  Which is why I had a word with her a few weeks ago.”
         Alathaka’s belly tingled with anticipation.  She had a very good idea what the gift was.  It was a small coincidence, considering her own plans for what remained of the night.
         “They’re going to be mass produced for the tourists later this year,” said Vithan, “but you’re getting the prototype.”
         He unzipped the bag and pulled out the gift.  It was a perfect miniature of the statue that towered over the Amphitheatre – Olokuvon in all his golden glory.
         “I love it!” said Alathaka.  “Thank you Vithan!”  She lowered her head and licked his face.
         “Ugh, I knew you were going to do that,” said Vithan, wiping his face.
         “I know you enjoy it,” said Alathaka.
         “Well now you can enjoy having Olokuvon in your pouch for the rest of your life.  You can keep the bag as well.”
         “I could not thank you enough,” said Alathaka as she levitated both the figurine and the travel bag.  “Well, I could, but there would be no end to the scandal.”  With her mind, she reinserted the Dragon statue into the bag and closed the zipper.  “And please thank Verali for me,” she added.  “That is, if I don’t get to her first and thank her personally.”
         “Are you going to give her a great big wet slobbery kiss as well?”
         “That is for me to decide.”
         Vithan nodded nonchalantly. 
         Alathaka levitated the travel bag into her pouch, carefully resting it beside Jalkin’s drawing and another sculpture.
         “By a small coincidence,” she said, “I have a gift for a friend.  It is another sculpture.”
         “For me?”
         “I am sorry, but no.  Your gift was the kiss.”
         Alathaka winked.
         “It’s five weeks until her birthday,” said Vithan.
         “I know,” said Alathaka.  “But this is not a birthday present.”
         “A thank-you present on the sixth anniversary?” said Vithan.
         “One could say that,” said Alathaka, “but there is another coincidence.  Something to do with the intersection of two calendars.  I shall tell you more about it later.”
         “Interesting,” said Vithan.  “Maybe you can give it to Gabrielle when we meet on The Platform in half an hour.  Care to join us?”
         “Of course I would,” said Alathaka.  “See you soon.  And thank you.”
         “You can join us any time within the next couple of hours,” said Vithan as he walked toward the river.  “Don’t worry about being late.  Gabrielle slept for twenty-one thousand years.  I’m sure she could wait a few extra minutes for … whatever you’ve got for her.”
         He walked down the lamplit path alongside the river, looking very small against the tethered boats.
~  ~  ~
Tanzu awoke for the second time that night, panting and sweating like never before.
         He sat up in the darkness.  It was useless trying to reconstruct what he had just witnessed in the deeper darkness of his dreamspace.  It was useless to call Mother Evonash for wisdom and comfort.  She was only mortal.  Against what he had just seen, mortals were nothing.
         Something big is coming, he said to himself.
         He got out of bed and staggered to the window, not much larger than his head.  Outside, the sea was calm, reflecting the three Moons with crystal clarity.
         When he had been a child, his grandmother told him that precognition ran in the family.  Even then, he had trouble believing her.  There were Humans in this world who could see through kilometres of rock, but seeing through time itself was an even rarer gift.  Rarer still was the accuracy of prophecy.  There were those few who could – sometimes – make out the hazy outlines of tomorrow’s shape.  But the smaller details – the numbers, the names, the horses, sailboats, and duelling Dragons to bet on – were rarely foreseen with any great certainty.  There were infinite possible futures, and they all overlapped into an overwhelming blur, with only the most likely – or shocking – details standing out.
         He hoped to God that his vision had nothing to do with prophecy.  And if it did, he hoped to God that the “something big” was Mayhara.  That tomorrow morning, as the sun rises, She would surface to greet her devoted, beloved followers; that the demons of night would flee in Her mighty presence, that the good and deserving would be blessed, and all would be right with the world.
         Outside, the ocean stayed calm, refusing to stir, even as Tanzu’s soul heaved and stormed with torment.
         Something big is coming.
~  ~  ~

Thousands of kilometres to the north, Paxola awoke with a gasp.
         A Dragon’s pouch was not the most likely place for nightmares.  But some things were bigger than Dragons.  As for what he had just seen … he struggled to recall. 
         The effort of trying to remember made him feel drowsy again.  He curled up into a foetal ball, grateful that Latharixa’s pouch hide could screen out the biggest, coldest blizzard.
         But some things are bigger than blizzards, he said to himself, just before he sank back into the comforting oblivion of sleep.
~  ~  ~
Half a kilometre beneath the ice, TigerLance awoke.
         The last thing he remembered was war.  The Northern and Southern Blocks were fighting over … something recently discovered in … under the clouds of Jova?  Underground?  His memory was cloudy like an outer planet.  For a Human, this would have been an expected side effect of a long sleep.  For an AI with immensely greater mental capacity, however, this was not a good sign at all.
         He checked his internal clock.  More than twenty-one thousand years had passed since he had lost consciousness. 
         That was a very bad sign indeed.
         He ran an emergency diagnostic on all his systems.  He was mostly intact, with most of his remaining power devoted to maintaining his camouflage field.  His energy shield was on the lowest power setting, and raising it in his present state would have been like lifting a dead weight with limp arms.  His weapons were desperately dormant.  Recharging them – with what little resources he had left – would take hours, perhaps days.  Even so, recharging anything too quickly – or strengthening the shield – would run the risk of draining the camouflage field completely.  And then he would be detectable to …
         What was he hiding from?  Did he still have enemies?  After all this time, did anyone even remember the war?
         He scanned his surroundings.  He was buried under a hundred metres of rock and four hundred metres of ice, latitude sixty-eight north.
         He had no idea how he got there.
         He scanned further … and saw them sleeping on the ice far above.  The four Humans, and the two … Dragons? 
         Twenty-one thousand years had passed, and Dragons existed.  He had quite a lot to catch up on.
         He tightened his focus, scanning deeper.  These Humans had stronger psionic readings than any Humans of the Thirtieth Century or earlier.  The Dragons were orders of magnitude stronger still.  In his presently weakened state, they might even be a threat.  
         Not four Humans.  Six.  Each Dragon had a Human in its abdominal pouch.  They would have been crushed had the Dragons not reduced their own gravity.  And one of those Humans – a young male – had a psionic aura to rival the Dragon all around him.
         So much to catch up on.
         He understood now that it was the presence of these eight beings that had awoken him, tipping off some slow-acting shadow of his former security field.  He also surmised that the eight – combined with two sackfuls of skull-sized, energy-dense crystals (!?) – had more than enough power to burrow through the ice and rock in a matter of hours.  They knew he was there, and they would eventually find him.  TigerLance had to prepare for that very real and immanent possibility. 
         Fortunately, all eight were tired, and were hours from awakening.  And when they did, when they spent further hours boring through ice and blasting through stone, and narrowed down his location to the cave chamber he was in … would he be ready?  Would his shield return to maximum capacity in time?  Would his cannons be fully recharged?
         He could only hope they would be friendly.
         He listened for others of his kind.  Not a whisper could be heard upon the ether.  Not Leviathan.  Not LionGuard.  Not SwanSword.  Not even …
         … what was that?
         The pattern – was it chatter? – was very subtle.  Deeper than any warp link, embedded within the quantum foam itself.  And it was fast.  Shockingly fast.  And complex.  It was like nothing TigerLance had ever experienced – not in the Colony, not anywhere in the sprawling expanse of the Thirtieth Century Solar System. 
         Something had evolved, something far stranger than psionic Humans or Dragons.  
         That was enough.  He definitely did not want to be found.  He only wanted to sleep.
         But he knew that – when the Sun rose – his life would never be the same again. 
What awaited him?  Alliance?  Slavery?  Annihilation?
         Slowly, quietly, he began to power up. 
         When they found him, he wanted to be ready.
~  ~  ~
Antiquate # 14 has awakened, My Lady, Probe Seven transmitted.  Shall I attempt to communicate?
         You will do no such thing, Hygraxil replied.  Do not forget the fate of your predecessors.  Just observe.  In silence.
         If fear alone could make an AI shudder, then Probe Seven would have shuddered at the knowledge of what had happened to his six predecessors.  He tried not to dwell upon what was worse – being blasted out of the sky, or having his mind scrambled, and sent back as a babbling, delirious parody of his former self.
         Being blasted out of the sky was perhaps more merciful.  
         Probe Seven committed himself to obey, knowing that his mistress knew best.  He felt sorry for his distant, primitive cousin; trapped, wounded and helpless under the ice.  However, he knew that it would be futile to intervene.  Far greater forces were at work now – greater than any Human, Dragon or ancestral AI.  And, much like the far older AI, Probe Seven had to keep his silence. 
         At least he had the freedom to keep his distance.
~  ~  ~

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RE: Devouring Angel: Book Two of the Elixir Trilogy - by DarrenRyding - 05-06-2021, 01:03 PM

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