TITLE: The Dawning War: Chapters 1 & 2
By Jason James
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Two hundred and twelve years earlier. . .
Zadok blinked his eyes. Above him the pure azure of the morning sky was piercing, softened only by two white clouds slowly drifting across the royal blue field. He blinked again. The lithe summer grass beneath him was a perfect quilt covering the young Elf with a comfortable warmth like he had never known. All he had to do was close his eyes a final time and he would sink once more into the perfect sleep from which he just awoke.
Zadok’s eyes fluttered, ready to close, but then a movement at his side arrested his attention; another Elf was lying next to him. He turned to get a better look, but as he lifted his head he saw the whole field filled with Elves, each lying on his back across the whole expanse of the plain. Zadok laughed softly to himself. How long had he lain there thinking he was alone? Then, in front of him, one of the Elves rose to his knee. And then even farther forward, a female Elf rose to her knee. Then another followed suit, and Zadok himself felt the need to rise, but before he could get to his knee, all the Elves rose as one.
That’s when Zadok saw him. Standing in front of the Elves, just on the edge of the open plain waited an awesome figure, both terrifying and beautiful. His height was daunting. His arms and legs were as thick as tree limbs. His silver hair and dark gray eyes were majestic, and his pearl white wings, spreading out from the backs of his shoulders, were frightening. Zadok knew the figure’s name at once, although he knew not how.
“Praise the name of Valinn,” one of the Elves suddenly shouted into the air.
Zadok drew in his own breath, ready to echo the cry, but before a second chorus could be joined, Valinn raised his hand and began to speak, “Be at peace Elves, and save your praise for the one deserving. I am only his messenger, come to greet you and bless you in Avidd’s name. But for now, stand and listen to the story of your creation.”
In the beginning there was only Avidd, but after spending an eternity of being all that was, Avidd called forth from nothing the Book of Alarnon, saying, “In this book I will record all that will forever be.”
When he saw the book appear, Avidd took delight in his newly formed creation, but when he looked around him he saw that he was surrounded by the dark, cold, formless mass of nothing. This nothing was the opposite of the beauty and order found in Alarnon, and so Avidd despised it. He named the nothing Kaos, and to end that Kaos he opened the Book of Alarnon and began to speak.
With each word he spoke, a delicate silver script traced quickly across the golden white page, “I will create in my image four creatures. They will hear and see; they will smell and taste. They will feel and move, and they will have knowledge both of themselves and the world around them. In this way, they will be like their creator. But as a constant reminder that they were created by one who is greater, they will also be different. I will give them corporal bodies with arms, legs, and wings. I will give them faces with eyes, ears, a nose and mouth.”
As the silver script scrolled across the page the darkness of Kaos churned and melted, revealing four figures standing in front of Avidd. Each of the newly formed creatures was distinct from the next, and yet for all their differences each possessed the same radiance of new life. But for all of that beauty, they were also terrible to behold. For the moment they stood motionless in front of Avidd, their heads bowed low, their wings spread wide, and their arms raised with open hands to their creator.
Avidd continued, “These four will surpass all of my creation in power, wisdom, and authority. They will witness all that is to come after them, and they shall share with me in the joy of creation. I will call them Arcrindel, and I will name them Yinthrel, Taion, Kaol, and Valinn.” But when Avidd looked around, the Kaos remained.
He turned the page in the Book of Alarnon and spoke again, “It was good to create the Arcrindel. Therefore I shall bring forth a host of beings created in their image, and the Arcrindel shall have authority over them. These new beings shall have bodies like the Arcrindel, but they will not have wings. In this way they will remember the Arcrindel were created first and given authority over them.”
Even as Avidd spoke, silver lettering traced across the page. At once, the darkness of Kaos trembled, and from the depths of the formless expanse a great multitude of new creatures issued forth. Each of the newly formed beings resembled the four Arcrindel in power and beauty, and like the Arcrindel before them they stood still, their heads bowed; waiting for Avidd.
“To this great host,” Avidd’s voice rose again, “I will grant both power and wisdom. They shall witness all that is to come after them, and they will rejoice in what I create. I will call them Crindel, and I shall give a portion of their number to each of my Arcrindel.
As Avidd finished he looked around him, and still the Kaos persisted. So once more Avidd turned a page in the Book of Alarnon and spoke forth his creation, “It’s not good that the Kaos is in darkness. Therefore I’ll create the opposite of darkness so that darkness will no longer exist, and I will call my creation light.”
As he finished, a brilliant light pierced the expanse of Kaos. Immediately the Arcrindel and Crindel turned away, shielding their eyes against the radiance. Then Avidd cupped his hands and the light was drawn away from the Kaos, swirling into a brilliant sphere.
“I will divide the light in half so it will no longer be as bright, and so the Arcrindel and Crindel will open their eyes and see.” Avidd spread his hands and the ball of light divided into two separate orbs. The one on his left shone with a warm, golden light, and in his right, the orb radiated with a soft, silver glow.
“The golden light shall be called Day and the golden orb will be known as the Sun, and the silver light shall be Night and the silver orb will be called the Moon. For the faithful task the light has performed I will give each of the orbs dominion over half of the Kaos. Now Arcrindel and Crindel open your eyes and see that the darkness is gone.” At once, the assembled host obeyed the words of Avidd, opening their eyes and looking to the Kaos. They could see the darkness was gone. Instead, the formless mass was a roiling sea of black and gray shadows.
Avidd turned the page in Alarnon and spoke again, “It’s not good that the Kaos is formless. I will bring order to the Kaos through moving air, and I’ll call my creation Wind.” As he spoke, a great wind rose on all sides of the formless mass, and then, with a deafening roar, it raged against the Kaos, causing the formless mass to heave, swirl, and fall in upon itself like an empty sea suffering through an angry storm.
As the wind assailed the Kaos, the Arcrindel and Crindel shielded their faces for fear the violence of this new creation would destroy them all, but even as they cowered, the wind continued its task. Slowly the formless void of Kaos began to spin, yielding itself to the relentless force of the wind, and as it turned faster and faster around its axis, the Kaos began to take shape until finally it formed a massive globe.
At that very moment, when the Kaos took its shape, a crack of thunder split the frenzied air, drowning out the roar of the wind and sending the Arcrindel and Crindel to their knees. In that instant, when the last rolling echo faded to silence, the Kaos was transformed to order. Avidd cupped his hands again, and the wind spiraled into a single vortex.
“I’ll divide the wind into four equal parts so that it won’t be as strong, and so the Arcrindel and Crindel will not be afraid.” Avidd spread his hands and the vortex of wind divided into four, smaller whirlwinds, each dancing back and forth in front of their creator.
Avidd continued, “I will name the four winds North, South, East, and West, and for the faithful task the wind has performed, I’ll give each of them dominion over one corner of this new globe. Now Arcrindel and Crindel stand and uncover your faces. See that I have brought order to the Kaos.” Reluctantly the Arcrindel and Crindel obeyed their creator, rising back to their feet and turning their eyes to the Kaos, but as they lowered their arms from their faces, they were lost, at once, in awe. Where the formless expanse of Kaos used to exist, in its place was a perfect world of brown, green, and blue, slowly turning on its axis.
“Before the light and wind the Kaos was dark and formless, and I despised it. Then I created light, and the darkness of Kaos ceased to exist. After light I created wind, and I used the wind to bring order to the Kaos so it would no longer be formless. I have transformed the Kaos, and I no longer despise it. Instead, I will name this world Ethalion.”
Once more Avidd turned the page in Alarnon, “Now I will create time to mark the passing of history for Ethalion.” As he finished, a large hourglass appeared in his hand. Its thick glass globes were supported by a dark wooden frame, and although the bottom globe was perfectly clear, the top reservoir was colored milky white. As of yet no sand poured through the glass.
Avidd continued, “The creation of time marks the beginning of history for Ethalion, but just as time has not always existed, it shall come to pass that time will end. When it does, the history of Ethalion will end with it.
“Glorious Avidd,” the hesitant words came from Kaol, the tallest of the four Arcrindel. Avidd turned to him. Kaol stepped forward from the others and lowered his head.
Slowly he continued, “Why create a world only to destroy it?”
Avidd answered, “It is a mystery, but you should know that nothing in the Book of Alarnon will ever be destroyed. When time draws to an end, I will summon all of my creation to stand before me, and I will hold that creation in judgment.” Kaol looked up at Avidd, his face twisted in confusion, but Avidd persisted, “Don’t be troubled by what you can't now understand, but rest in the assurance that I’ve created time as a blessing, not as a curse, for as long as time remains, there is hope.” Kaol lowered his head once more, and returned to his place among the Arcrindel.
Avidd continued, his voice rising, “I have also created this, the Hourglass of Palindor, to measure the passing of time. When the last grain of sand falls, time and history and all of creation shall be at its end.” Avidd held out the hourglass so all could see, and as he did, a stream of fine white sand poured through the channel into the lower globe.
“And now,” Avidd turned yet another page in the Book of Alarnon, “I will create life in Ethalion.” As he finished, a thin gray mist formed over the ocean. Gradually, this fog grew darker until it was impossible to see the ocean at all. Slowly tendrils of the charcoal cloud twisted over Ethalion, winding around the peaks of the mountains, until the whole sphere was enveloped by the cloud.
All of a sudden a loud splash could be heard over the ocean. This was followed by another, and then another, and with every one of the splashes the gray fog grew lighter.
Finally the splashing ceased and a new sound could be heard rising in Ethalion. An echoing roar split the still air from the very center of the land, and just like the splashes before, the sound caused the fog to lighten. After a moment’s silence the roar came again, and this time it was answered by a chorus of howls, barks, yelps, brays, growls, and a hundred other calls. Now the fog had lightened so much that the shadowed silhouette of every land animal in Ethalion was visible through the mist, almost forming from the cloud itself.
As these land animals continued in their chorus, the mist floated higher into the air. There was a sudden sound, like the wind rushing through a forest, and then a single, piercing cry. All at once, what remained of the fog broke into the shape of a thousand birds, flying and diving through the air in every direction, and the fog, which had covered Ethalion, was gone.
With this, Avidd closed the Book of Alarnon, saying, “I have recorded all of my creation: Arcrindel and Crindel, light and wind, time and life. Above all else, I have created for you the greatest of gifts, hope, which shall last as long as time remains.
Avidd turned slowly to face the four Arcrindel, the closed Book of Alarnon still in his hands, “When I created you I promised you would share in the joy of creation. Yinthrel, come forward.” As he finished, Avidd held out the heavy tome of Alarnon to the Arcrindel, and in his other hand he offered a golden quill.
“Before you begin,” Avidd’s voice echoed over the host of Arcrindel and Crindel, “I ask only two things. Whatever you create, I ask that your creation honors me as their one and only god, and secondly that you never write in the Book of Alarnon unless first bade by me.”
Yinthrel nodded, “Then let it be so.”
Avidd’s voice resonated again, “Then we shall withdraw and leave you to create alone.” No sooner had he finished speaking than Yinthrel found himself alone with the Book of Alarnon. He looked down to the empty page and lifted the quill, but before he could begin, he paused.
Finally, Yinthrel reasoned aloud, “What’s left to create that Avidd hasn’t already created? Instead of something new, I’ll combine that which has already been called into being. I’ll use the form of the Animals, but instead of leaving these creatures dumb, I will grant them the knowledge that Avidd first gave to the Arcrindel, knowledge both of themselves and the world around them. I’ll call my creation the Knowing Animals, and I’ll create one male and one female in each species.” Now, as he spoke, he moved the golden quill furiously over the page, recording each of his words, “I will begin with the lions.”
As Yinthrel wrote the words in Alarnon, the orange light of the morning sun exploded in piercing whiteness, washing all of Ethalion in its brilliance. The myriad of colors, etched in every tree, rock, and animal of the natural world, were all lost in black silhouette, and then even these shadows were consumed by the enveloping light until at last a roar broke across Ethalion and the brilliant whiteness faded to dull orange again.
In this waning light on the open plain, a pair of golden lions now stood where none had been before. The male shook his mane against the heavy morning air and roared again as the lioness pawed the dirt.
The lion turned to his mate and growled, but in the low purr of his throated voice, he spoke, “This way.” Then in silence, both lions turned and started across the open plain, stalking toward the forest edge rising on the horizon.
Over the Book of Alarnon Yinthrel continued his writing, describing more and more Knowing Animals, creating them both male and female, and when at last he finished with the Knowing Squirrels, he laid the pen down on his completed page.
No sooner had the quill left his fingertips than Avidd returned to the Arcrindel, placing a heavy hand on Yinthrel’s shoulder, “The Knowing Animals are a good and worthy creation. Go to Ethalion and greet them in my name.”
Yinthrel bowed and then raised his wings high above his head. As he snapped them back down, a peal of thunder broke over Ethalion and the Arcrindel was gone.
Deep within the great forest, rising from the very center of Ethalion, stood a sprawling grove of giant Braximers, their thick trunks colored a warm blend of sienna and red, and their great boughs, heavy with dark green needles, wove together in a grand canopy high above the ground. Under this dome of Braximer branches, still scattered throughout the glade, a number of Hylone trees also ascended skyward, each one of their thin and twisting trunks crowned with a perennial crimson as if their leaves were set on perpetual fire. The sheltered ground beneath this scarlet and emerald cathedral was blanketed by soft, delicate grasses and a velvety moss; the tangled undergrowth of thorns and briars, so common in the great forest, failed to penetrate the wooded sanctuary. Finally, at the very middle of the Braximer grove, in the center of a tiny clearing, a ring of young dogwoods stood as silent sentinels, and it was inside this ring that the Knowing Animals now sat and waited.
Just then a crack of thunder split the still autumn air, and in the middle of the animals appeared the towering figure of Yinthrel. The fur of the animals bristled, and a chorus of whines and yelps rose as each shrank from the mighty being standing in their midst.
“Fear not!” Yinthrel’s rich voice boomed across the clearing, and suddenly, as if the words themselves had a power, all who heard the command fell silent, a deep and resonating peace settling over them all.
“I’ve come in the name of Avidd, your creator. I bear his greeting and a blessing for all Knowing Animals. But first come in closer, and hear the story of creation.” So Yinthrel told them of Avidd, Alarnon, and all that transpired before they were written into being.
Finally, as he finished his story, Yinthrel said, “Your loyalty, above all else, lies with Avidd. He is deserving of your praise and of you reverence, and in all things you should strive to do his will. But what Avidd asks of you may prove more difficult than it would seem. What may appear good to you, Avidd may despise. And what you consider to be unfortunate may well be Avidd’s will. Therefore you should gather together to encourage one another, to seek each other’s counsel, and to discern Avidd’s true will. You should meet at regular intervals, and also in times of direst need. In this council all voices shall be heard.”
At this Yinthrel paused and looked at his creation. All sat unmoving, all of their attention focused on Yinthrel, some nodding at the Arcrindel’s words.
He continued with a smile, “But there are many of you, and where there are many voices often none of them are heard. Therefore one must be chosen to lead. This leader will not be thought of as greater than any in the council, but rather as servant to all. Good Lion, come forward.” At the command, the male lion stepped forward and bowed his head to the Arcrindel. Yinthrel touched his hand to the lion’s mane, “Your name shall be Cairwyn, and you will bear this mantle of leadership.”
Once more Yinthrel’s voice rose so that all could hear, “You are the first creatures of Ethalion to be given knowledge and speech. Use these gifts wisely. Explore your world, protect those in need, and keep Ethalion well. This is the charge given to all of you, and Cairwyn, above all others, this is your responsibility.” Yinthrel raised his wings, and as they fell another crack of thunder rolled across Ethalion and the Arcrindel was gone.
After a moment’s silence the low, warm growl of Cairwyn filled the empty space, “Good Animals, we’ve been given a task, and we will see it done. But we’ve also been charged to gather at regular times to encourage and counsel one another. So in the fifth season of falling leaves, let us return to this place –”
“And if there should arise some need before that time?” Cairwyn turned to see the Knowing Wolfhound step forward into the circle of animals, “We were also ordered to meet in times of dire need. What then?”
“Well thought of, good Wolfhound,” Cairwyn nodded at the words, and then turned his eyes once more to the assembled animals, looking at each in turn.
At last he spoke to the golden eagle standing just to his right, “Good Eagle, would you accept the responsibility of calling us to council in times of greatest need?”
The russet-winged bird cocked his head to one side and hopped awkwardly into the circle of animals, “I would consider such responsibility an honor.”
“Very well then,” Cairwyn growled again, a broad smile spreading across his wide, golden face, “If need should arise, go to the Knowing Eagle, and he will carry word of an emergency council to us all.”
Cairwyn paused and looked once more into the eyes of the gathered animals. When he spoke again his voice seemed to resonate somehow even deeper than before, “Explore your world, protect those in need, and keep Ethalion well. We shall meet in the passing of five seasons' time. Now go into Ethalion in peace and safety until Avidd brings us together again.” The great cat finished with a roar, and as his last words echoed into the distant forest, the Knowing Animals parted from the ring of dogwoods in silence.
As Yinthrel returned from Ethalion with a low roll of thunder, Avidd turned to face Taion, “It is your time to write creation in the Book of Alarnon.” As he spoke, Avidd held the book and quill out to Taion. The Arcrindel bowed his head and reached for the gifts.
Avidd continued, “But remember what I ask of you. Have your creation honor me as their one and only god, and never write in the Book of Alarnon unless first bade by me.”
“Even as you command, I will obey,” Taion answered in a whisper.
“Then once again we’ll withdraw and leave you to your creation.” At once Taion was alone with the Book of Alarnon. He pulled back the cover and turned open the pages, finally stopping on the first empty page he found. He lifted the quill, ready to write, and then, like Yinthrel before him, he stood frozen.
“The Knowing Animals were pleasing to Avidd at least in part because they were his own creation combined in a new way. And so I will call together different physical forms and give them each knowledge of themselves and the world around them. I will call my creation the Mythenes,” as Taion finished he touched the quill to the empty page and started writing.
He began by describing a creature with the legs, body, and tail of a horse joined with the arms, torso, and head of a Crindel. Then he wrote this creature’s name, Centaur.
Even as he wrote, in the great forest of Ethalion, the dead and dying leaves littered across the ground caught in the wind, whipping into the air and spinning into a vortex. One by one, more of the brittle leaves leapt from the ground, joining the whirlwind in an ever-thickening wall of swirling leaves, until finally, without warning, the wind stopped and the leaves dropped lifeless to the ground.
As they fell, standing in what was the eye of the vortex, two dozen Centaurs stood watching. Their horse-halves seemed sleek and powerful as their long tails twitched back and forth, and their Crindel side was just as strong, if not more wild. Each of their arms was tightly woven with muscle, their shoulders were broad and sturdy, and their eyes danced with intelligence and curiosity.
Taion looked at his creation, and then he touched the quill once more to the page and wrote again. This time he described a creature with the legs, arms, and body of a Crindel, but bearing the head of a bull. He called this new beast Minotaur.
Once more in Ethalion, in a different part of the great forest, the dead leaves whipped into the air, and as they fell, in their place stood two dozen Minotaurs.
The Minotaurs were massive creatures, each one standing a whole head taller than a Crindel, with thick bodies to balance their bull-like heads and a pair of pointed horns, curving forward to reach just ahead of their eyes.
Taion wrote again, this time of a creature with the body of a lion, but the head and wings of an eagle. He named the creation Gryphon and, like the Centaurs and Minotaurs before it, as Taion spelled out the creature’s name, a whirlwind of leaves rose in the great forest of Ethalion and when they fell, two dozen of the Gryphons remained.
Once more Taion touched pen to paper, this time describing a Mythene with the head and front legs of a lion, the hind quarters of a goat, and a long tail formed from the head and body of a snake. He wrote its name, Chimera, and like the other Mythenes before them, two dozen appeared from a vortex of leaves in the great forest.
When he had finished he laid down the quill on the open page of Alarnon.
At once Avidd was with him, “Well done, Taion. The Mythenes are a good and worthy creation. Now go to Ethalion and greet them in my name.”
Taion lifted his wings and, as they fell, the Arcrindel was gone, a ripple of thunder echoing behind him.
In the great forest of Ethalion, the dry, frosted air of the North had finally taken hold over the land, bringing with it a dust-thin layer of snow. The barren branches of the trees seemed to sparkle with a light all their own as the slanting rays of the morning sun caught in their ice-covered fingers. On the forest floor, where the falling snow could find its way through the latticework of twigs and tendrils, the ground was brushed in pure white. Likewise the northern river, twisting its way through the center of the forest, was frozen over with a paper-thin sheet of ice, and covered in a layer of snow.
The Centaurs walked in single-file along the bank of this river, the snow crushing softly beneath their hooves, until suddenly a piercing crack of thunder broke across the sky above them. The Centaurs froze and the largest of them, an auburn-coated male at the head of the column, pawed the ground nervously with his front hoof.
Then from behind a knotted oak, just ahead of the Centaurs, Taion stepped into view.
As he stepped forward the lead Centaur reared up on his hind legs, recoiling back from the Arcrindel, and the column of Centaurs edged away in retreat, but before they could turn and run, Taion raised his hands, his voice echoing into the air, “Fear not!”
At the words of the Arcrindel, the Centaurs stopped. It was as if Taion’s voice, even more than the words he spoke, held some power over the Centaurs so that as he finished the column of Mythenes felt an overwhelming peace settle over them, and instead of retreating from the fearsome figure, they were drawn in closer.
“I’ve been sent from Avidd, your creator and your god. I’ve come with his greeting and with a blessing for you all, but first I’ll tell you the story of your creation.” So Taion began his tale of the Mythenes and of all creation before the Centaurs were written into being.
When he had finished, the foremost Centaur stepped forward, “I’ve known from my creation of God and his existence. I knew of him the same way I knew how to breathe, but now we know his name,” the Centaur paused, a slow smile starting at the edge of his mouth, “And we will praise the name of Avidd forever.”
At the words of the Centaur, Taion fought back a smile of his own, “It’s right that you should say so. Avidd is worthy of all our praise and, much more than that, he is deserving of your reverence and your obedience. Follow Avidd’s will in all things --”
“We’ll gladly do all you say,” the lead Mythene spoke again, his voice rising so all the Centaurs could hear, “and we’ll do more than that, if asked. But tell us the will of Avidd.”
A wide smile broke across Taion’s face as he began his answer, “At times the will of Avidd will lay plain before your eyes like the light from the rising sun. At those times what is required of you will be unmistakable. But at other times Avidd’s will shall be hidden from you. In those times you must use all of your senses, all of your reason and experience, and all the knowledge gifted to you by Avidd to discover what his will truly is.”
“Of course we --”
“Make no mistake,” Taion continued, his voice strained, “If you fail in this and idly choose a course before weighing that decision, more often than not you’ll be led away from what Avidd truly desires. You are the first Mythenes of my creation. You’ve been given great physical strength, and you’ve been equally gifted with reason and intelligence. Use all of these gifts for the good of Ethalion. Use your strength to aid those weaker than yourselves. Use your intelligence to advise those who seek your counsel. Question the world around you, and never cease looking for those answers.” As he finished, Taion turned back to face the lead Centaur, his voice dropping, “And you will be their leader, and your name will be Claystorm.”
“But I --”
“Lead them well.” Without another word Taion raised his wings and, as they fell, the Arcrindel was gone, and a low roll of thunder echoed across the forest.
From the Centaurs Taion appeared next to the Minotaurs. Then he went to the Gryphons, and finally to the Chimeras, each time telling the Mythenes the story of their creation and giving them Avidd’s blessing and their charge.
Finally, when he had finished, the Arcrindel raised his wings again, and with a piercing crack of thunder, he was gone.
As Taion returned from Ethalion, Avidd looked to Kaol, offering him the Book of Alarnon and the quill with which to write his creation, “It’s your time --”
“Glorious Avidd . . .” Taion interrupted.
Avidd turned slowly back to face the Arcrindel, his voice soft, “And what burdens you, Taion?”
Taion drew a quick breath, “When I went to Ethalion I spoke first with the Centaurs. They seemed to hunger for what I had to say, thankful for every one of my words. But the other Mythenes, the Minotaurs especially, met my words with indifference, and I don’t understand why.”
Avidd lowered his eyes and, as he spoke, his resonating voice was filled with warmth, “And what did you expect from them?”
“I thought they would answer as the Centaurs had!”
“But you created your Mythenes as individuals, not as a mold, just as I created individuals when I wrote the Arcrindel and Crindel into the Book of Alarnon. Each one will hold his own opinion. Each one will make his own choices, and each will have to live with those choices. So some of your creation will use their intelligence to discern what my will truly is, as you’ve asked them all to do, but others will allow themselves to be deceived.”
At this last thought Taion closed his eyes, letting his chin fall heavily to his chest.
Avidd continued, “But don’t be burdened by any of this, for hope still remains. Ethalion is still very young, sand still falls from the Hourglass, and Kaol and Valinn have yet to write their creation in the Book of Alarnon.”
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