As a brief recap, last time we saw Poz, he had found Nicandros, learned Nicandros was working for the Alohym now in hopes of getting Tomah resurrected, and had to run and hide…eventually consuming manflesh to try and survive. I tried to write the part where this gets recapped in story – let me know how that works as I keep experimenting with the “longer in one POV” thing. Also, I had to fix something on mobile, and formatting is messed up. I’ll fix when I get back to a pc.
Edgeminster swarmed with the Alohym’s troops. Nicandros scowled at them. It had been almost a day since Poz had escaped him, and so far there was no sign of Underfolk. At this point, it was very likely he’d fled the town completely. You damn fool, Nicandros growled to himself. If Poz had just given him the egg, he could have let Poz walk away. The Alohym would have what they wanted, and wouldn’t have cared about the fate of a single Underfolk.
But no. Poz had felt the need to lead him on a wild chase throughout the town and vanish. Now, if he was still in Edgeminster, there was nothing he Nicandros could do to save him when the Alohym found him.
Don’t say nothing, Nicandros thought. There was still a hope that he could find Poz first. Get the egg, let Poz escape. He didn’t need to die for this.
“You seem concerned, Nicandros,” a buzzing voice said beside him. “Are you worried that one measely little Underfolk could escape us?”
Nicandros shot the speaker a look. He knew what to expect – a form that blended Alohym and human. She called herself Ashliel, and claimed to be the half-human daughter of an Alohym named Daemryon. Nicandros didn’t know what to make of that, but given that Tythel had thought of herself as the daughter of a dragon, it wasn’t the strangest notion. Is there a human under that somewhere? The Alohym were being maddeningly stingy with information. It was almost like they didn’t trust him.
Which shouldn’t be galling. He had every intention of betraying them the moment he had Thomah back. But they shouldn’t be aware of that.
“Girl, there’s nothing measely about Poz. You underestimate him at your own peril. Or did he not lead you on a chase halfway across the continent.”
Ashliel buzzed in displeasure. “Have a care, Nicandros. You serve us, but your leash is short. You’ve yet to prove that you can be useful.”
“I’ve been dodging you people since before you were born. You want me to think like a rebel, and that’s what I’m doing. Nothing in our deal said I had to put up with mealy mouthed girls making vague threats. I had enough of that from Tythel.”
“You…aren’t like most men I interact with. Most bow and scrape at my mere words.”
“Most of them think your father is a god. They liken you and your siblings to the godlings we had before.” Nicandros shrugged. “I’ve seen gods die. I’ve seen godlings die. I’ve seen Alohym die. I don’t think anything can’t be killed. Makes it hard to be overimpressed by anything. Flath me sideways, you couldn’t even catch Poz when he was in Grubflesh.”
Ashliel whirled and closed the gap between her and Nicandros, leaving only a fraction of an inch between her mandibles and his face. Black liquid dripped from her jaws. “You are bound not to speak of that, human.”
“That wasn’t part of our deal,” Nicandros said levelly. The truth was he felt a shiver of fear down his spine from her implied threat. Ashliel was nearly as tough as an Alohym, and could move like lightning. From this distance, she’d have no problem gutting him.
But that would make her ‘father’ unhappy, and gave him a measure of protection.
“I’m willing to deal for that,” he said.
“And what do you want in exchange for your silence?” Ashliel asked. Even with the buzzing in her voice, Nicandros knew the sullen tone of a teenager sulking. He’d heard it enough of his life to be able to place it even through alien tone.
Opprotunity rarely presented itself so well. “If he can be taken alive, I want Poz alive. I have a fondness for him from the old days, and I don’t want to see him die needlessly.”
Ashliel’s wings twitched. “I can only promise to take that to my father,” she admitted. “The Underfolk are…problematic.”
Nicandros’ eyebrows raised. “Oh? And why’s that?”
Before she could answer, an Alohym soldier ran up. “Sir! Ma’am! We’ve found something.”
“What is it?” Ashliel asked.
The soldier pointed up a nearby belltower. “Some kind of organic residue, ma’am. It looks like a cocoon.”
Nicandros swore. “Ashliel, you need to take me up there.”
“You don’t give orders-”
“Please, pride later. The sooner we see what’s in there, the sooner I can tell you what kind of flesh Poz has eaten, and what he can do with that. It could be vital for catching him.”
Ashliel clicked her mandibles in irritation, but turned her scythe-like arms back into hands and scooped them under Nicandros armpits. “Have a care how you speak with me in front of the men. It doesn’t do for them to see mortal speak back to gods,” she said as they took off. Ashliel was moving at a more sedate speed, something that wouldn’t blind Nicandros as they flew.
“Why does it matter, girl?” Nicandros said. “He knows you could gut him in an instant, or blast him with unlight, and the most he could do is give you an earache with his screams. So what if he sees me get mouthy?”
“There is a system to how we handle things. There is a way things work. You…wouldn’t understand. You’ve been on the other side for so long, I can’t imagine you’d possibly understand. But you will learn. After all, Tomah did.”
Nicandros went cold at the name. “How dare you speak of him?”
Ashliel scoffed. “Nicandros. You know so little. Let’s just not say it was an accident I was chosen for this mission.”
He twisted to glare at her, and Ashliel sighed. Her voice lowered a bit so she was whispering the words in his ear. “I was chosen because you’re not the only one with an interest in seeing Tomah returned to the land of the living. I knew your son, Nicandros.”
Light, what does that mean? Surely she couldn’t be implying that…not when she looked like…
His mind shying away from the image, Nicandros was relieved when they reached the top of the belltower. Relief that was quickly quashed when he saw the cocoon.
It was open. Poz had already emerged. That would be a relief normally, but not with what he saw. The Underfolks’ cocoons would have traces of what flesh they consumed. Dark black fur would cover it for ratflesh, thick grey for Wolfflesh, scales for lizardflesh…he’d seen a variety. But this…
“It looks like human skin,” Ashliel said.
“Because it is,” Nicandros said in a hoarse whisper. “Ashliel…Poz has eaten manflesh.”
Ashliel scoffed. “So he’ll get, what, superior throwing ability and the gift of sweating? He’s already intelligent, so it can’t be-’
“Damn it to Shadow, girl, that’s exactly the problem. He doesn’t just become as smart as a human. He adds human intelligence to his own.”
Ashliel cocked her head in frustration. It was so close to Tythel’s gesture of confusion, it was offputting. “What does that mean?”
“It means,” Nicandros said, “we’re all in terrible danger.”
“We’ve found him!” said a voice over the songstones in their ears. “We’ve got him cornered in a cellar. Moving in.”
“No, damn you!” Nicandros shouted. “Fall back. Fall back!”
“Belay that,” Ashliel said. “Move in and eliminate.” She glared at Nicandros. “You do not give orders here.”
Before Nicandros could even begin to explain, screams filled the songstones. Ashliel froze in shock. “Somtimes, it’s best to put your pride aside,” Nicandros said.
“Hello,” said a voice through the Songstone. It wasn’t the person who had been speaking earlier. This voice was Poz’s, but it was smooth and cold in a way Poz had almost never been. “Right now, I’m certain you’ve found my cocoon and Nicandros has told you what that means. You’re likely formulating a vareity of plans to try and detain me. I look forward to your efforts. Based on available variables, there is a eighty-seven point three percent chance that those efforts will fail.”
“I have an army here. You are one man,” Ashliel hissed.
“Correct. That is why it is not a one hundred percent chance of failure.”
“I am a god,” Ashliel responded.
“And I am the smartest being presently on this world. What is a god to a genius? I suppose we will learn. My hypothesis is that you will fail. I look forward to testing that hypothesis. It should yeild some interesting data.”
“You-” Ashliel started to say, but Poz cut off his end of the connection. Ashliel shot Nicandros a look. “Well? This is your area. What do we do?”
Nicandros shook his head. “Hope for the twelve point sevel percent, I think. Let’s get on the ground. We’re in for an ugly time.”
Suddenly, keeping Poz alive seemed much less important.
Nicandros was much more concerned with surviving to the next sunrise.