Haradeth was only dimly aware of the others leaving. He was just focused on his mother. “I…I’m sorry,” he said, when he was finally able to speak again.
Lathariel’s forehead wrinkled. “Sorry? My beautiful boy, what could you possibly have to apologize for?”
“I…I gave up.” The tears were threatening to return now, welling up in his eyes. He blinked them away, not wanting to start again. It was an effort to swallow the lump forming in his throat. “I didn’t think…”
“Shhh…” Lathariel said, putting her hands on his. “You don’t need to apologize. The fault is mine.”
Haradeth blinked. “You didn’t do anything!”
Lathariel gently pressed a finger to his lips to silence further objections. “Help your mother up?” she asked, holding out a hand.
It made Haradeth sick to his stomach that she needed the help. His mother had, his entire life, been a completely stationary figure. Immortal, unchanging, and unbreakable. Children always believe their parents to be indestructible, but for Haradeth, growing older hadn’t come with the realization his parents were mortal beings that would wither with time. His mother was immortal. He’d never have to go though the pain of losing her. And yet…she looked the same, in so many ways, but there was a hollowness to her eyes, a sunken quality to her cheeks.
He took her hand and gently helped her up. “Are you sure you should be sitting?” he asked, although he didn’t stop helping her. Her movements were slow, her limbs trembling with the effort. This wasn’t right. It shouldn’t be like this.
“Yes,” Lathariel said. At least that hadn’t changed. The weakness in her body had done nothing to undermine the absolute uncertainty to her tone. “I’m not dying. And we have much to discuss.”
Haradeth’s forehead furrowed. “You just woke up, surely that can wait.”
“It’s waited too long already,” Lathariel said. “There’s so much I never told you…things that if you had known, would have helped you understand what was happening to me. What happened to me.”
Haradeth nodded, and settled into one of the seats. Lathariel sat on the edge of what had been her litter and was now a sort of bed. She took several slow, deep breaths. For a moment Haradeth thought she would faint. Instead, the moment passed, and she remained upright. She saw his face and smiled, reaching over again and to take his hand in that unique way of mothers, holding his hand in both of hers and pressing her fingers into his palm, strong and reassuring while at the same time gentle and tender. “I’m an arrogant fool,” she said.
Haradeth looked at her in absolute shock. “How can you-”
“Hush, my child,” she said, and her voice had the same energy as her hands. “I knew the Alohym were a threat. I knew that they had killed so many of my kin. And yet I did not plan for my own fall.” She sighed. “Karjon and I discussed this, during our last conversation. He urged me to take precautions.”
“He didn’t come to your aid,” Haradeth said, unable to keep his voice harsh. “If he had-”
“If he had, he would have died with the rest of his kind, and Tythel would have never survived to come to us,” Lathariel said, her eyes narrowing. “Let go of your anger, Haradeth. Karjon was no coward. He was right. The fight against the Alohym at that time was unwinnable. We knew so little. His idea – to hide away and gather strength and information until the right moment – that was correct.”
Haradeth didn’t agree with her, but couldn’t make himself argue with his mother. Not after just getting her back. “As you say.”
Lathariel’s eyes sparkled. “As I do indeed,” she said. “And maybe you’ll listen in time. But…that isn’t what I didn’t tell you. It’s about what we are. How we came to be. I didn’t…think you were ready. I should have known better. I should have known war would not wait for me to find the right moment.”
Haradeth nodded slowly. Lathariel leaned back a bit, letting go of his hand to use her arms to brace herself. “What…what is wrong?” Haradeth asked, unable to stop the tremble in his voice. “Are you dying?”
“Only in the broadest sense,” Lathariel said softly. “I had to sever myself from…actually, I should start at the beginning.”
Haradeth settled in to listen.
“It was thousands of years ago,” Lathariel said. “When the Alohym – the true Alohym, not these corruptors – departed the world. I wasn’t there for that, you understand. I was born a millennia after, so I am basing this off what I was told. No one I spoke to could give me the true reason they left, although there were whispers of a rogue Alohym and a distant world. But when they did, they knew Alith would need to be guarded. There were threats in the void. So they created guardians for the world, beings that could fight against any monster that came from within.”
“The Little Gods,” Haradeth said, breathing the word.
“No,” Lathariel said. “Dragons.”
Haradeth blanched at that. “Dragons? I thought this was about…us.”
“It is,” Lathariel said, smiling gently. “If you’ll allow me to continue.”
Haradeth apologized, and Lathariel continued.
“Dragons. Beings of immense power. But also beings of immense appetites. The dragons weren’t created from nothing. By creating the flame and exposing beings to it, those beings were ascended to draconic status.”
“Phoenixes?” Haradeth guessed.
Lathariel shook her head. “The Phoenix were the end result of the Ancient Alohym’s work. They were the failsafe, should the dragons ever fall. A way for their race to continue. The first dragons were instead made of powerful creatures that ruled the sky, animals of lupine intellect and voracious appetites.”
Haradeth considered for a moment as his mother waited for him to put the pieces of the puzzle together. It hit him like a thunderbolt. “The Aeromanes,” he said.
Lathariel nodded. “The first dragons were aeromanes bathed in Heartflame. It is how “true” dragons are born, and why dragons so rarely kill their only rivals for the sky. Dragons can produce offspring in the traditional way, but unless those eggs are bathed in heartflame, aeromanes will hatch from them. The Dragons original form.”
“Mother…Tythel has heartflame now. If she were to find an aeromane, could she…” Haradeth remembered something Tythel had said, long ago, and shook his head. “Of course not. Only true dragons can create a half-dragon.”
“I’m certain she believes that,” Lathariel said. “Dragons do not speak of their origin until their children have mastered Heartflame. It leads to young wyrmlings to push themselves too hard, and they can burn themselves out by doing so. Haradeth, there is no such thing as a true dragon – or rather, there is no such thing as a half dragon. A being, bathed in Heartflame for long enough, becomes a dragon. However, a human like Tythel that became a dragon would need centuries to be able to hold enough Heartflame to complete that. Unless, of course, she had someone to provide the strength. A being of pure Heartflame, reborn of it. That is the role of the Phoenix – to lend strength to dragons to aid in their creation of more, and to find aeromanes to transform if there are no more dragons.”
Haradeth was speechless. Lathariel smiled as his shock before continuing.
“Now that she has hatched Karjon’s phoenix, Tythel will form a bond with it that will empower her own flames. In time, she’ll be able to create new dragons herself. And if she should fall, instincts will awaken in the phoenix to drive it to seek out an aeromane. Thus the dragons will be reborn.”
“It was so close,” Haradeth said, whispering the word. “The dragons…there were no phoenixes. They were extinct.”
Lathariel’s face darkened. “Yes. The work of the Necromancer dragon. And how that happened…will become apparent in time. But we’ve gone astray from what you need to know. The Ancient Alohym had made Dragons to be a part of the world, but that made them vulnerable to the corruption of the world. So they needed a force that could balance the dragons. The great beasts to guard the world against threats from beyond the world – and the Gods, to ensure the dragons never grew too corrupt.
“But how to ensure the Gods never became to corrupt? To that end, there were three safeguards put in place. The first two were the…I don’t know if beings or forces would be the correct term. The Light and the Shadow. One to shepard the living, one to guard the dead. One to reveal, the other to hide. One to heal, the other to protect. Both those powers are forbidden to gods – they are in the hands of the mortal races. Dragons were given flames that can channel and refine their powers. Humans were given the ability to channel both Light and Shadow. And the Underfolk were given the power to exceed any of them, if only they consumed their flesh. The third safeguard.
“But the Alohym erred. Humans feared the Underfolk and drove them underground, and the Underfolk thought their gift to be a curse and forbade its use. The gods fell into squabbling amongst each other for power and formed pantheons that oversaw human kingdoms, utilizing them as proxies. The dragons became greedy and isolationist, sitting on their hoards in their mountains. The Sylvani arrived, beings the Ancient Alohym had never even imagined, and they were pushed to the edges of the world.”
Haradeth nodded glumly. “Power corrupts,” he said.
“No,” Lathariel said, her voice firm. “Power does not corrupt. Power is simply a fact. That is like saying fire kills, and ignoring the life it can preserve in the face of winter. The problem was not in power, but in people. Those that were already corrupt, once gaining power, used that power to remove those that were not. Human Lumcasters guarded their knowledge from others. Underfolk spurned the Forbidden Fleshes so that no member of their race could use them to form an empire of their own kind. Dragons hunted down their own that tried to live among mortals. And the squabbling of the gods meant those who were not corrupt were slain, or driven into the wilderness where they would have no power.”
“That’s what happened to you,” Haradeth said.
“I wish it were so.” Lathariel looked away. “Just as I wish I could claim that this wasn’t the reason I hesitated to tell you. But…I was chosen to ascend because of my ambition. And I wielded my power as any other of the Little Gods did. I demanded worship and subservience from mortals. And when they rejected me…when the Cardomethi spurned me and my pantheon…” Lathariel’s breathing grew ragged. “I helped my fellows shatter an empire that had wounded my pride.”
“No.” Haradeth was the one being firm now. “I don’t believe it. You were the one that taught me that I should never place myself above mortals. That gods were to serve them, make their lives better. You couldn’t…it’s not…”
But in his mother’s eyes, Haradeth could only see sorrow. “I wish I had told you sooner,” she said.
Haradeth took a ragged breath. “It was a long time ago,” he said. “And you’re not that person anymore.”
“Not for a very long time.” Lathariel said.
“Then…it is what it is.” Haradeth shook his head. “I…I just got you back. I can’t comprehend the rest of it right now. This is like when Bix talks about words in our blood. It’s too…it’s too much.”
Lathariel nodded and patted Haradeth on the knee. “It gets easier. And I’ll be here to help you through it.”
Haradeth nodded, but his mind was bouncing around a thousand leagues a second. “Though…you said something earlier. What did you mean about the broadest sense?”
“Earlier I told you I was chosen to ascend,” Lathariel said. “I was given a spark of divinity, bound into a gem. That gem was bound to me for the longest time. After what happened…after what I did. I bound it to the forest instead. Still tied to me, but also tied to it. Limiting my power outside the borders. So I could…so I wouldn’t. Never again.” Lathariel ran her fingers through her hair, and that scared Haradeth more than anything else. His mother didn’t fidget like that. “When the Alohym’s weapon struck my forest, unlight corrupted that gem. I had to sever myself from it to avoid death. But in doing so…”
“You gave up your divinity,” Haradeth said.
Lathariel nodded. “I’m mortal again.”
Haradeth shook his head. “No. No, that can’t be right. I…there has to be another one of those sparks, right? Something else that could…”
“There was one left,” Lathariel said. “I…I should have gone through proper channels to find another for it. But I didn’t. I wanted to be selfish. I didn’t want to outlive my child.”
Haradeth stared ahead, unable to fully comprehend. “You said…no flame will ever touch me.”
“Yes. Your gem feeds on flame. Grows stronger from it. It’s also how you can do so many things. I told you it was because you were my son. And…in my defense, that wasn’t entirely a lie.”
Haradeth stood up abruptly. “Are you well enough to walk?”
“Yes,” Lathariel said, her forehead creasing. “What’s going on?”
“Magic gems don’t explain everything. There’s something different about me. Its in my…the words in my blood. That Bix told me about. If that’s true for me, it should be true for you. Maybe…maybe she can find a way to fix you.”
Lathariel’s face softened. “Haradeth…it’s too late for me. I doubt this Bix, whoever she is, can fix something created by the-”
“Mother,” Haradeth said, and now it was his turn to be firm. “You haven’t met Bix. If anyone can find a solution…it’s her. We’re going to her now. And then….and then we’ll see.”
Silently, he begged the Light that Bix had a solution.
Hey everyone! Instead of reminding you about my books this time, I want to refer you to a book published today. Leveled up Love, by Tao Wong and A.G. Marshall is a science fiction rom-com gamelit, and if that mash up of words sounds like it shouldn’t work – I felt the same. However, after reading it, I want to give it an unqualified recommendation. Give it a try!