This is the new first chapter of my latest work in progress. I don't have a title yet, so for now it's just "the Nephilim book." You can also click here to watch me read it aloud.
Chapter 1: What the Family Was
His parents sang him songs of love. All the parents did. His parents were one of two hundred pairs, and each pair had a child like him. They shared the duties of parenthood as one great family. The mothers prepared towering piles of food and sewed together garments of massive, ever-increasing size. The fathers taught the secrets of the earth, including enchantments, metallurgy, and weapon-making. Every week, the family would gather so that the parents could remind the children of their solemn warning and promise.
“The armies of Heaven will come for us, but we will be ready.”
His father was Armaros, an angel. His mother was Zemira, a human. They named him Cadiel. For his mixed parentage, he was born a Nephilim, a strong and beautiful giant. When he was only ten years old, he stood as tall as a human man, though his hairless belly stuck out, and his soft, boyish face betrayed his true age. He was among the youngest of the Nephilim and for years he was jealous of his fully-grown cousins. For example, he secretly wished to be as tall as cousin Talavel, who was four times the size of his own mother, even though Talavel mocked him by holding his favorite fruits out of reach.
Still, Cadiel behaved. He listened carefully as his uncles taught their lessons. He poured his envy into his blade as he sparred with uncle Azazel, the boisterous angel who taught the family to make weapons and armor. Impressed with his abilities, Azazel told Cadiel he would make a fine addition to the guard one day. Yet, when Cadiel asked if he could travel beyond the family’s walls and see the guard in action, his uncle went quiet and refused. From his own father, Armaros, he learned an enchantment to shrink himself down to human size and walk the earth in secret. In this, he found surprising relief, for the enchantment required him to clear his mind and calm his heart.
When Cadiel at last was fully grown, he towered over his mother and made her laugh as he picked the highest olives from the trees in their garden. He insisted that they were the best tasting olives on the tree because of their extra sunlight. She smiled and grabbed his finger, clutching it tight.
“No, Cadiel, what makes the olives so special is the love and care we put into the tree, not their height.” With her other arm, she lowered her hand down to her knee. “Just like you were special to me when you were only this high.”
Cadiel shrunk himself down to her size. He held her tight and kissed her, for she was Zemira, his mother, wife of Armaros, and the kindest and most beautiful woman in the world.
Even Talavel, when he saw him now, was a cherished friend. They would wrestle together, compare notes from their studies, and occasionally sneak out past the walls. Their favorite adventures involved guiding rebellious human daughters out into the wilderness, where they would wrestle for their amusement. The winner would accept whatever favors the girls were ready to give, and the loser would sometimes earn some attention with a plea of pity. Only once did they get caught by a pair of their cousins in the guard, all clad in heavy armor and heavier faces, who ordered them to stay within the walls.
As his twentieth birthday drew closer, Cadiel dreaded it. That would be the day he was inducted into the guard. By that time, he had heard stories of what the guard did to scare off enemy tribes of men, who worshipped Heaven. The Nephilim would barge into their villages and eat every scrap of food, simply to leave them starving. They would slaughter men, women, and children by the hundreds and leave them in rancid piles under the hot sun. Some would even shame the fathers of the enemy by parading their daughters before them as slave girls. Of course, Cadiel wanted to keep the family safe, but at what cost?
Then, Cadiel turned twenty. He enjoyed a day of celebration with his cousins, then returned home to his parents in the evening. Everything was set for Uncle Azazel to induct him into the guard the next morning. That night, Cadiel felt so young. He wanted nothing to change, and he admitted as much to his parents. So, Armaros did the same thing he had done every night before. He carried his wife and child up into the night sky to show them the stars. He asked Cadiel to recite their names, just as Uncle Baraquiel had taught. Then, he asked Cadiel and Zemira both a question.
“Which of these stars is more precious to me than you are?”
They giggled and made their guesses, as they had every night before. For each guess, Armaros gently told them they were wrong.
“The answer is none,” he said. “There are no stars more precious to me than you. There is nothing in the universe more precious than you.”
The next morning, Cadiel did not join the guard, because the angels had all vanished in the night. In a panic, the wives and the Nephilim searched every corner of the family’s land. Zemira swore that Armaros had not stirred in the night, and many of the other wives said the same of their husbands. Cadiel and a few of his cousins went to check Uncle Azazel’s workshop. His tools scattered around his workshop, as if he had just been using them. When Cadiel returned home, he found Zemira nervously watching the walls. He wrapped his arms around her.
“Mother? What is happening?”
“I don’t know” she whispered.
From behind them, they heard a wave of women’s screams, followed by a wave of rushing water louder than any they’d heard before. They turned and ran toward the screams, only to freeze in place when they saw their source. The wall, which stood as tall as twenty men, was dwarfed and consumed by the wave of water. The screaming women were Cadiel’s aunts, running away from the wave. Some searched frantically for their children, even running back towards the wave if they saw them there. Others had found their children already. Their children, in turn, used their massive Nephilim forms to scoop up their mothers and run faster than they could. Cadiel did just the same with his mother and he ran towards the gate opposite the wave. A crowd of mothers and Nephilim swelled at the gate, blocking it off.
“Cadiel!” his mother screamed, “Where do we go?”
Cadiel nodded towards the wall itself. He picked a bare stretch of it away from the crowd and charged, cupping his giant hand over his mother’s head and bracing his shoulder for impact. At the last moment, he noticed a crack and steered toward it, bursting through the wall in a cloud of dust. As he ran for the hills beyond, the water only roared louder. When he could ignore the sound no longer, he looked back.
“Hold your breath!” he ordered.
He wrapped himself in a ball around his mother, tucking her legs and arms into his hardy frame. For all his strength, the water swept him away with such force that he fell unconscious.
When he came to, he was on a long beach he could not recognize, half buried in the sand. As he rolled to shake off it off, he felt something cold slide off his chest. His heart pounded as he recognized the form lying beside him. His blood ran colder than the chill water still dripping from his hair.
“No,” he said.
He stood, despite the ache in his bones and the shaking in his limbs. He lifted the body of his mother. It was bloated and perfectly still.
“No!” he yelled.
He looked up and down the beach for someone, anyone who could help. He spotted another lump lying in the sand. As he ran over to it, it too stirred to life. It rose and shook itself off, revealing itself to be Talavel. Tears of hope ran down Cadiel’s cheeks.
“Talavel!” he shouted. “Cousin!”
Talavel heard him, recognized him, and ran to join him. Cadiel guarded his mother from the impact as Talavel gave him a huge hug.
“I feared all was lost,” said Talavel. “What do you have there?”
“My mother,” said Cadiel. “Please. She’s cold. She’s not breathing. Help me find a healer!”
“Yes, cousin, I—”
Talavel stopped. He took a step back, eyeing Cadiel with a strange glare.
“What’s wrong?” Cadiel asked.
“I’m not going to help you,” said Talavel.
Cadiel searched his eyes. There was something in them he did not recognize. Something that wasn’t his cousin.
“I won’t help you,” he said, “because I hate you.”
Cadiel shook his head. This didn’t make sense. Even when Talavel had mocked him before, it was always just play. His cousin loved him, and he loved his cousin.
“Talavel, what are you—”
The answer came to Cadiel before he could finish asking. It seemed to come from his own mind. This was Talavel’s fault. Talavel was a dirty, vile, disgusting creature. He was lower than dung. He was an unworthy thing, a monster who deserved to die. Cadiel hated him with every fiber of his being. He hated him enough to drop his mother in the sand and raise his fists.
This time, the wrestling was not for sport. They did not laugh as they rolled through the sand. They bled. Talavel dug his nails in the skin of Cadiel’s belly and ripped off a sheet of it. Cadiel howled and slammed his head against his cousin’s with a crack. Talavel moaned and rolled out from under him. As Cadiel flailed in the sand, Talavel planted a foot on his back and reached down to grab his ear. There was a twist. A quiet snap. The sound was nothing, but the pain sent flashes of white through Cadiel’s vision. He roared and flipped himself back over, sending Talavel stumbling back. He turned to see Talavel holding his bloody, detached ear and inspecting it. With a pained expression, Talavel stuck the ear in his mouth, chewed it, and swallowed. Cadiel watched as he grew just a bit taller, and new gashes opened in his skin. Cadiel knew those gashes were not his doing, but they were still his opportunity.
Cadiel ran and plunged his fingers into one of the new gashes in Talavel’s chest. He seized the flesh and jerked downward. He pulled out a fistful of bloody, red meat as his cousin wailed. He stared him in the eye as he showed the mess into his mouth. As he swallowed, his own body grew larger. He looked down at his arms as new gashes opened up, but he did not care. Power was surging through him. A booming voice came into his mind.
Now that he understood, Cadiel wasted no time. It made no difference to him that Talavel was older. He was chosen to be the strongest of the Nephilim. Whatever voice spoke to him now promised him this. He swept Talavel’s leg out from under him and grabbed his head with both hands. He slammed his knee into Talavel’s face. He slammed it again. Again. When the blood caused his knee to slip, he only adjusted and slammed it again. When the jagged, broken skull bones cut into him, he slammed again. He slammed his raw, bloody knee into the pulpy, crimson mass until it came apart in his hands. He licked his hands clean as he fell to his knees. He dirtied his hands again as he ate, but when he was done, the bones were clean.
He stood and looked at the surface of the water. He was now twice his height and covered in gashes, though his torn off ear had grown back. His skin, once a gorgeous amber, was now marred by pools of green, bleeding gashes, and dark, festering holes. He could not bear to look at himself, so he turned. When he did, he saw the bones of his cousin, a cousin he once loved. He turned again and saw his mother, lying dead and discarded like an old fish. His heart burned. His eyes stung. He brought his hands to his face and screamed.