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After some comments, I went back to change the first chapter of my book. Hopefully this gets into some action a little quicker than the original two chapters. I'd love to know what you guys think. And if you're feeling extra-ambitious, hit me with a little compare/contrast between the new chapter 1 and the old chapter 1 & 2. As always, thank you for your time and insight.
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 a perfect sleep.
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 covering 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. Even farther ahead, a female Elf rose. Then another followed suit, and Zadok himself felt the need to rise, but before he could get to his knee, all the Elves around him 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 his back, 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 it. I am only his messenger, come to greet you and bless you in Avidd’s name.”
At the sound of the name of Avidd, Zadok felt a wide smile slowly overspread his face, and he closed his eyes, filling himself with the warmth of the summer sun.
Valinn continued, his voice rising in volume and richness, “After an eternity of being all that ever was, Avidd called forth from nothing the Book of Alarnon, and in this book he wrote his creation. He wrote of this very world, and he named it Ethalion. He wrote of light, and wind, and time. He wrote about the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the beasts of the land, and as he wrote, each one came forth in its time.
Avidd also wrote of the Arcrindel, four creatures that would surpass all of his creation in beauty, power, and authority. I am one of these four. And he granted us authority over a host of beings, each created in our image. He called these creatures the Crindel, and although they appeared as the four Arcrindel, they lacked our wings, a constant reminder of our authority over them.
And then Avidd gave us our most precious of gifts. He allowed each of us to share in his joy of creation. He gave the Book of Alarnon to the first of us, my brother Yinthrel, and Yinthrel wrote in its pages of the Knowing Animals, a race of common beasts gifted with speech and reason. When Yinthrel was finished, Taion wrote next in the Book of Alarnon, and he called forth the Mythenes, a race of Centaurs, Minotaurs, Gryphons, and Chimeras. But then the book passed to Kaol, and with his creation, my brother betrayed us all.”
At his own words, Valinn’s eyes fell shut, and once again, he could see his brother’s rebellion.
As Kaol opened the Book of Alarnon, he already knew what his creation would be. He quickly turned past the pages of Alarnon describing the Knowing Animals and the Mythenes until he found, at last, an empty page. He lifted the golden quill, ready to write his new race into being, but as he lowered the pen he hesitated, and looked up.
Far in the distance Kaol could see Avidd, standing surrounded by his host of Arcrindel and Crindel. Kaol’s lightless eyes scanned quickly across the crowd, finally resting upon the one he desired, Aticor, first among his Crindel.
A thin smile edged across the Arcrindel’s face, and Aticor felt the eager stare of Kaol upon him at once. He lifted his eyes, and as he met the piercing look of the Arcrindel, he saw Kaol lift his arm, beckoning him to his side. Aticor turned from Avidd and started immediately to join his Arcrindel.
As he approached it was easy to see that Aticor was strikingly tall, almost rivaling the height of Kaol himself, and like the Arcrindel, his hair was colored deep black, although his eyes held to a lighter shade of brown. In every way, the Crindel’s features worked together to give the appearance of strength and intelligence, and when he reached Kaol and the Book of Alarnon it was obvious to the Arcrindel why Aticor, above all others, was chosen as his captain.
Aticor bowed his head, “What service do you seek from me?”
“Do you remember the promise of Avidd at the moment of your creation?”
Aticor’s brow creased at the simplicity of the question; nevertheless, he answered, “Avidd granted the Crindel both power and wisdom. . .”
“Power!” Kaol’s voice was indignant, “And what power do you have, Aticor?”
Aticor stayed silent.
“Power is authority, and authority can only be measured by obedience. Who obeys you?” Kaol paused for less than a moment, a disgusted smile starting at the corner of his mouth, “You have just as much power as a Knowing Squirrel, and just as much power as me, because we both have none.”
Aticor lowered his eyes, taking in the full meaning of the Arcrindel’s words; Kaol continued, “There’s only one being in all of creation with any real power. And do you know why?”
Aticor looked quickly up meeting the eyes of Kaol, “He has power because we choose to obey him.”
A smile broke across the face of Kaol, “We choose to give him that power, but we can still claim the power we were promised. We can yet be worshipped as gods.”
Aticor’s eyes darted to Avidd and the gathered host of Crindel standing in the distance, “How?”
“I will write into creation a race that bows to our authority.”
“But he’ll never allow it.”
“He won’t know until it’s too late. It will only take a moment, and then once it’s done, it’s done . . . .”
Aticor stifled a mocking laugh, “But a moment is more than enough time for Avidd to intervene.”
“Then for a moment he’ll have to be distracted, and you’ll be the one to distract him, and while he’s lost in that one moment, he’ll be undone.”
Aticor turned back to face Kaol, “And if we should fail?”
“If we fail, then how will our fate be any worse than it is now?”
Aticor lowered his head, but finally he answered, his voice strained but strong, “As you command it, Lord Kaol
In the next moment Aticor was standing before Avidd once more, bowing low before his god, and as his voice rose in the distance, Kaol threw open the Book, seized the golden quill, and began to write. He started by shaping his creatures in the general form of the Crindel, but then he altered their frames to better suit his purpose. He wanted his creation to be stronger, faster, and more dangerous than anything yet created by an Arcrindel. He covered them with rows of heavy scales for their own protection and falling from each of their chins, he gave them a pair of long, cat-like whiskers to heighten their senses. Next Kaol gave to his creation an in-born knowledge both of themselves and the world around them, but he also instilled in each an instinct for obedience to him alone. Finally the Arcrindel wrote the name of his creation, the Kasyk.
In Ethalion, the sprawling, stagnant swamp of the Black Heath began to bubble as if the whole expanse was drawing to a slow boil. The crisp spring air was filled with the pops and gurgles of spewing mud as the thick black slime burst forth. It was amid this noise and upheaval that the first grim figure rose from the depths of the swamp, lifted his chin toward the sky, and filled his lungs with his first breath.
The first Kasyk stood with the same frame and height as any Crindel, but his broad shoulders, thick neck, and strong limbs were covered by row upon row of sturdy, ashen-gray scales. His legs and feet were set out wider than those of a Crindel, and the ends of his long fingers were tipped with dark, dagger-like claws. His deep-set eyes were a dull yellow with a thin black slit in each. His nose was little more than two cuts just below a slight protrusion at the middle of his face and, instead of ears, two indentations marked either side of his head. His mouth and jaws seemed burgeoning, full of thin, needle-like teeth, except for two long fangs jutting up past his lower lip. Finally, hanging lifelessly from his chin, a pair of long, translucent whiskers reached almost to his chest.
As the Kasyk’s lungs swelled he bellowed a wordless cry, announcing his presence to all of Ethalion, and while this first call echoed in the morning air it was taken up by each new Kasyk as the whole host of Kaol’s creation rose from the rotting swamp.
Once more Kaol touched the golden quill to the page of Alarnon. Now the Arcrindel described a magnificent black sword, the blade of which was carved from solid obsidian, and was joined to a handle and hilt of heavy iron. The black blade itself shone with the luster of a reflected light. Then into the hilt Kaol set a large, crimson jewel that radiated a flame along the length of the blade, enveloping the sword in molten fire as if just pulled from the forge, and causing the obsidian sword to glow as if darkness itself were set alight. Kaol gave the blade the name of Orth’iln, and the scarlet gem inlaid in its hilt he called the Fyrnshier. As he finished the names, the gruesome blade appeared in his hand.
Kaol looked once more to Avidd; the hollow praise of Aticor still ascended into the air. Then, clutching the golden quill in one hand and the sword of Orth’iln in the other, Kaol snapped down his wings, and with a low peal of thunder, he was gone.
In Ethalion a crack of thunder split the still air over the Black Heath and the gathered Kasyk. Suddenly, all of their yellow-slitted eyes turned to the sky. Above the waiting horde the dark silhouette of Kaol appeared against the blue sky, his massive wings spread wide. Below him the scaled Kasyk cowered in fear, pressing their ashen bodies down against the tar-like mud.
A thin smile spread ever wider across the Arcrindel’s face as he saw his creation lost in fear. Kaol slowly descended until he stood in the midst of his Kasyk, “I am your creator and your god! Your lives belong to me!” The Arcrindel’s voice broke over the silence of the swamp just as the thunder clap before, and at his words the Kasyk shrank back even farther in their fear.
“To your knees, all of you!” The Kasyk obeyed at once, rising quickly, and Kaol’s cruel grin forced itself even wider. “You are right to be afraid of me, but I am all you need to fear.” Kaol looked over the scaled heads of his creation, waiting as each lifted their eyes to their creator. “All of Ethalion is yours! Any who bow before me I will give to you as slaves. Any who refuse me, cut them down.” In unison, the Kasyk shouted in triumph at the words of the Arcrindel.
Kaol looked over the gathered Kasyk once more, waiting for their wordless cry to die on the wind. Then he pointed the tip of the black sword at the tallest of them, “You are the strongest of my creation and the leader of my Kasyk. You will wield the black blade of Orth’iln, and your name will be Dolos.”
As the Arcrindel finished, Dolos rose to his feet, stepped forward, and received the obsidian sword, bowing his head as he took the blade from Kaol. Then, without another word to any of the Kasyk, Kaol raised his wings and, as he brought them back down, a piercing crack of thunder rent the stagnant air above the Heath and the Arcrindel was gone.
As Kaol returned from Ethalion he listened once more for the voice of Aticor; the Crindel’s words of praise still carried into the air. Hurriedly, he took back up the Book of Alarnon and laid the golden quill down upon its page.
As the pen touched, Avidd lifted his hand, stopping Aticor mid-sentence; Avidd spoke softly, “Who do you seek to honor, Crindel of Kaol?”
Aticor locked his jaw, glaring back into the face of Avidd, but he said nothing.
Avidd continued, “Your master has returned from Ethalion.”
“He’s no more my master than you are!” Aticor shouted, “I finally have the power you promised me, and I honor only myself!”
Avidd offered no response, and turned instead to Kaol and the Book of Alarnon.
“You’re too late,” Kaol hissed through his teeth, “There’s nothing you can do to deny my power now. You promised each of us the joy of creation, and as long as the Kasyk exist I will be worshiped as their god. Destroy them now and all of creation will see you for a liar!”
“Enough!” Avidd’s voice thundered across the heavens, shaking the very foundations of Ethalion, and the host of Crindel fell down terrified before him. “Who are you to speak to me? Where were you before I called you into being? Where were you when I formed the Book of Alarnon from nothing? It was by my will you were created, and it is by my grace you continue to live. Are you so arrogant to think I could be deceived? Even before your creation I knew what you would do.”
Kaol smiled back defiantly, “If you knew what I was going to do you would have stopped me. You’re not as powerful or as wise as you would have us believe.”
Avidd sighed as the anger in his voice faded, “Have you understood nothing?” Avidd raised his hand, and in his grasp there appeared a large hourglass. A thin layer of black sand fell like a blanket over the white sand already in the lower glass, while a stream of black continued falling through the channel. Avidd spoke again, “All of my creation was free from evil, and if no one else were to have written in the Book of Alarnon it would have remained so, but I wanted you to share in the joy of my creation. I asked only that your creation honor me. Yinthrel and Taion obeyed my command and their creations were good because of it, but by your choice you have brought evil to Ethalion. Black sand now falls from the hourglass because evil holds sway over my creation.”
For a moment, Avidd paused, his eyes focusing into the distance, and then quietly, he continued, “But as long as time remains, there is hope. Good may yet prevail over your evil. The fate of my creation will not be decided until the last grain of sand should fall and all of time comes to an end.”
A sinister grin crept across the face of Kaol, “So it must also be possible for evil to reign over Ethalion. What if the last grain of sand should fall black? What then mighty Avidd?”
“Evil is drawn to evil. No one who seeks evil can claim my ways just as no one who receives me as their god can fall to the ways of wickedness. It is like the light and the darkness; where one exists, the other cannot. If Ethalion should choose evil then you would gain the worshipers you so desperately desire, and you would indeed become their god.”
“Is that fear in your voice?” Kaol sneered.
“No Kaol, it is pity,” Avidd stared for a moment at the Arcrindel, his anger again subsiding into grief, “You could have been the best of my creation, but instead you bowed to your own selfish pride. Now, even if all you wish should come to pass, you will be the most wretched being in creation. Your ambition will never be satisfied. The power you seek, the power to control, is hollow. Evil is drawn to evil, and all those drawn to you will only care for themselves. They will seek to satisfy their own purposes, their own ambition. Real power Kaol, the kind you will never know, comes when your followers set selfish interest aside, and trust in you for all they need.”
With his voice rising, Avidd continued, “You are one of the Arcrindel, and so you will be allowed to speak before you are judged. At that time, the Crindel and Arcrindel must choose who they will serve. But first Valinn will write in the Book of Alarnon. As for your Captain, he has already made his choice.”
At this, Avidd turned to face the host of Crindel, “Aticor, come forward and be judged.” The dark haired Crindel immediately stepped from the crowd, his eyes flashing defiance.
Avidd continued, his low voice echoing over them all, “You may no longer remain in my presence. You will be exiled instead to Ethalion, and you will remain there until the last grain of sand falls and all of time comes to its end.”
At this Aticor turned away from Avidd, his eyes rolling slowly over the Crindel and Arcrindel, a sneer of disgust starting again at the corner of his mouth, “There are worse fates to endure.” But even as his words echoed against the still air, Aticor fell in exile.
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