“We have to go to her!”
Ossman moved in front of the shouter, his arms folded across his chest, and glowered. After what had felt like an eternity trying to get the situation to calm down, Ossman had decided that trying to convince people that their princess was, in fact, safe inside of a building that was doing its best impersonation of a bonfire wasn’t going to work for him. He’d settled on relying on the fact that he towered over most of these people to make them hesitate.
Eupheme had adopted a similar tactics, although she relied on leaning against the ruins of what had once been servant’s quarters and trimming her fingernials with a dagger. Every time someone stepped closer, she would make eye contact, and precisely shave away one of her nails without breaking eye contact. The motion carried the message well, and that message was “I have ten fingers, and you really don’t want to find out happens when I’n out of nails to cut.” So far, no one had wanted to.
Armin was the only one speaking, his voice carrying over the crowd. “Listen, everyone!” he said, a note of command to his words that Ossman was certain Armin couldn’t have managed before their trip into the swamp, “She. Is. A. Dragon. The only thing she needs right now is for everyone to stay calm, stay quiet, and let her finish.”
“The building is on fire!” someone added.
“Oh no,” Armin said, not even managing sarcasm with his words, just adopting a dry tone that sounded as bored as Eupheme looked. “Fire. On a dragon. However will she survive? Truely, this will be the end of her line, as dragons are notorious for their flammability.”
Ossman had to fight back a grin. So Armin could maintain the air of leadership for a couple sentences, and then was back to normal. It was progress by baby steps. One of the soldiers took a step forward-
It wasn’t hard for Ossman’s glower to intensify. Ever since he’d been exposed to massive energies from a Lumwell, nearly mutating in the process, the voices had been constant companions. They’d gotten easy to ignore, and their urgings towards violence only really increased in the presence of unlight. The soldier that had stepped forward was holding such a weapon, an arcwand that had been scavenged from the Alohym, and Ossman’s knuckles cracked as he tightened his fists.
The man gulped and took a step back.
“The fire’s stopping!”
“I just said-” Armin started, then he caught up with what the soldier had shouted and glanced over his shoulder.
True enough, the gold and silver flames of what Ossman hoped was Heartfire were beginning to die down. There were still normal flames mixed in with the others, but without Dragonflame to sustain them, they weren’t lasting long on the stones.
Poz, the skittish underfolk that had brought the egg, was on top of the ruins Eupheme was using for a backdrop. He had clambered up there the moment the fire had started, and had spent the entire time acting like he hadn’t run up here out of fear, but because he felt this was just the best place for him to be. Armin had muttered something about cats at the sight, and Ossman had made a mental note to ask him later. Now that the fires were dying down, however, Poz had shifted into a crouch, watching the smoking building with an intensity Ossman could only call catlike. If the Underfolk had a tail, Ossman would have expected it to be flicking back and forth.
“She’s coming out!”
That got Ossman to finally turn away form the soldiers and to the Guardhouse. He gaped at the sight, even before Tythel was visible. Now that the flames were gone, the stones of the building that hadn’t been blasted aside by the initial wave looked like crystalized blocks of flame, golds and reds shifting within them. He’d heard about that. Dragonforged objects were rare and highly prized for their immense strength. This guard tower would likely stand for a thousand years, even if the rest of the keep around it crumbled into dust.
Then he saw her.
Tythel was not the same woman who had gone into the guard house. Ossman was barely sure the word ‘woman’ would even apply anymore. That was a human-centric term. Was there a term for a female dragon?
She was still bipedal, but her legs were now so strongly avian in their construction that they couldn’t be mistaken for anything attached to a human. You also couldn’t compare them to a bird, however, as they were corded with muscles under glistening bronze scales. Draconic was the only word for them. Those scales were more pronounced, too, no longer looking like a subtle pattern on her skin but the thick armor of a dragon. Her tail had grown, nearly as long as she was tall and half that again, and lashed the air gently as she walked, shifting to offset her balance. Her head was the most human part about her, and in there Ossman could still see the princess he had known, but her hair was completely gone, instead replaced with rows of short and vibrant red spines. Those rows merged together, forming a series of spines that started getting shorter until they reached the back of her neck. Her wings were wide open, the brilliant green undersides on full display.
The whole thing was almost enough to distract him from her hands. She was holding them close to herself, like she was cradling a child, and in her hands something stirred. It looked very much like a feathered dragon with feathers the color of of flames, and was idly nodding on Tythel’s finger. Its eyes made little “U” shapes as it was closed.
People started to drop to their knees for the princess, or just in awe or fear of the being that Tythel had become. The sudden motion startled the dragonling in Tythel’s arms and its eyes popped open. It stared curiously at them, then back up at Tythel, and chirped a question. Tythel smiled and stroked the back of its head. “Rise, all of you,” Tythel said.
“What is going on down here?” The speaker came from the doorway to the keep. Duke d’Monchy was striding out into the courtyard. He gave Tythel the barest of bows mandated from customs. “I could see the flame from the windows. Your highness, are you all right?
“I’m fine,” Tythel said, and it seemed like Duke d’Monchy was finally noting her appearance. “My brother has been found.”
The Duke blinked. “Brother?” he said, eyeballing the bundle in Tythel’s arms. The little dragon stuck out his tongue at the Duke, then let the tongue withdraw when Tythel started scratching his head again. The tip of the tongue still shone form between its lips.
Tythel nodded. “My father’s egg has hatched.” Tythel saw Duke d’Monchy’s furrowed forehead and shook her head. “My brother on my adoptive father’s side. This is not my heir as a princess. He is the heir to all that is mine that came to me from Karjon.”
A little bit of the tension in Duke d’Monchy’s shoulders relaxed, and Ossman couldn’t entirely blame the man. It was going to be hard enough to convince people the half-dragon before him – for that’s what she truly was now, a perfect fusion of dragon and human – was the Princess. Taking a dragon as an heir, t hough… “I am gladdened to see the dragons will live again,” Duke d’Monchy said. “And I hope we can help care for your brother as much as you have cared for us.”
A diplomatic answer. Ossman had known Tythel long enough to know the look in her eyes, which were now slitted like a cats. That was the look that she was going to remember your exact wording, and consider it carefully. “Thank you. Although…he is not a dragon. He is a phoenix. If there was another…then the phoenix would continue.” her eyes met Armin’s. “They would be the true legacy of the dragons.”
That meant nothing to Ossman, and from Eupheme’s furrowed forehead she was as clueless as him. Armin, however, looked like Tythel had just unslung her warhammer and hit him in the stomach at full strength. “There-” Armin’s voice cracked on the word. “You’re certain of that? Didn’t the Phoenix go extinct?”
Tythel nodded. “Dragon eggs have been stolen for countless millennia, and the tradition of rebirthing eggs died with it. I…didn’t even know what would happen. I never imagined this was the true source of the phoenix. There were never enough of them…” Tythel’s words trailed off. Armin looked white as a sheet, and everyone was staring at him.
Armin fixed a smile on his face. “Your highness…my friend. You should celebrate the good news of the recovery of the egg. And then I…then come talk to me.”
Tythel nodded nodded slowly. “I will. But not after celebration.” Tythel held the baby phoenix up and let it rest on her shoulder. It crawled across to drape itself over her neck, the red and gold of it’s flames standing out strikingly against the purple of Tythel’s backless shirt. It chirpled sleepily, nuzzled against her cheek for one last scratch under its chin, and as soon as it got what it wanted, it promptly fell asleep. “Duke d’Monchy. I need to know where the wounded are. The most critical cases. The ones that we have no more hope for.”
“Your highness-” the Duke said, and something in Tythel’s stance made him shift where he was going with that. “Today is a day of celebration. Surely you want to enjoy time with your…brother.” He trailed off on the word.
“Sarven,” Tythel said. “My father always said, if I had been a boy, it’s what he would have named me. Sarven.”
“Surely you want to enjoy your time with Sarven, then.”
“I do,” Tythel said. “But not while there is suffering I can fix.” She gestured to the tower. “I have Heartflame. I don’t know how long I can maintain the period of easy channeling. Like Ghostflame before it, I expect there to still be a learning period before I have it mastered. Let me heal them.”
Those last four words obliterated any objection the Duke had. “Of course. First, we should-”
“Is Latheriel still in rest with you?” Tythel asked.
The duke nodded.
“Then I think it is best I start with the fallen goddess, who can heal if I struggle to manifest Heartflame again,” Tythel said. “Have someone bring Haradeth. They’ll both want the other one present when she awakens. Now. Lead me to her.”
And, moving like a queen who had given her orders and expected them to obey, Tythel strode forward.
No, Ossman realized. That wasn’t what she was moving like. That’s what she was. Ossman and Eupheme fell into step behind her, while Armin rushed to find Haradeth.
And, for the first time in months, Ossman realized something had changed.
The voices were quieter, and their words were too muffled to make out. Something about seeing Tythel had changed their cadence. And whatever they were saying now…it was certainly a relief.
Want more books by me? Why not check out The Wastes of Keldora and the Trains of Keldora, or my other books on Amazon? Already read them all? Check out the books in the 2020 publishing derby! There are some great ones in there, including one by me. (To be announced later – but can you guess?)