Tythel had expected to find Heartflame had its limitations. In theory, she should feel that helping hatch her brother and healing a goddess was enough. In practice, however, the fact that she couldn’t generate enough Heartflame to hatch another one of Armin’s trove of eggs was a frustration.
This limitation wasn’t like dragonflame or ghostflame. With those, she could tell when she’d used too much because her throat had been burned raw. A problem that, hopefully, she wouldn’t have to deal with as much now that she had developed into a more draconic form. But after a couple moments of heartflame on the eggs Armin had found – moments which had been enough for her to feel the life still stirring in those eggs – Tythel had started to feel dizzy and had to stop.
“It sounds like Light depletion,” Armin said, after helping her to chair.
Tythel cocked her head. Sarven was still asleep on her shoulders, and chirped sleepily at the motion and nuzzled tighter around her neck. Tythel reached up to stroke the spot between his eyes. Sarven wiggled happily and cooed before started to fall back asleep. “I haven’t heard about this,” she said.
Armin nodded. “It’s not something Lumcasters talk about often. But we only have so much Light at any given time. We can draw more from the environment or form Lumwells to empower it. It sounds like you have a similar limit.”
“I hate having limits,” Tythel muttered.
Armin smiled. “Even the Little Gods have their limits. Everyone does.”
Eupheme, who had fallen silent to stare enraptured at Sarven, furrowed her forehead. Tythel wondered how long it would be before Eupheme asked to carry the baby phoenix around. She mentally noted that Eupheme might think it was rude to ask, and resolved to feign needing to unload him for a bit to give Eupheme a chance.
She was the only person Tythel would fully trust to hold Sarven.
“I don’t,” Eupheme said.
Armin’s eyes widened. “You mean for your Umbrist abilities?”
Eupheme nodded. “At least, not in the way you do. As long as I can move normally, I can slip in and out of shadows as easily as I can run. A bit more tiring than walking, but hardly noteworthy.”
“That…goes against everything I’ve been taught,” Armin said. “I don’t want to say you’re wrong about how your abilities work, but I’m struggling to reconcile that.”
“Maybe it’s just a function of the Shadow?” Tythel said, getting both their attention. “Light and Dragonflame are bright and flashy. Shadow isn’t. Perhaps you need so little energy for Umbrist powers that you run out of physical stamina before you hit any limits Shadow imposes.”
Eupheme considered for a moment. “Something about that feels…wrong. I can’t refute it, but…it doesn’t match with what I feel when I do it.”
“Necromancers have limits to how much Shadow they can use,” Armin said. “Which would lend credence to Tythel’s theory.”
Eupheme spread her hands helplessly. “As I said, I can’t refute it. But imagine someone told you that you were actually seeing through your eyebrows, and your eyes were vestigial. It would feel wrong, even if you couldn’t prove it.”
“But you could disprove that,” Armin said. “If you cover the eyebrows and not the eyes…” he saw Eupheme’s face and held up a hand. “But we don’t have a simple test like that for power. The only thing we could do is find some way to give you limitless physical energy, which isn’t possible. So your point is well taken. Sorry.”
Eupheme nodded in acknowledgement of the apology. She was clearly going to take longer to forgive Armin for hiding the eggs and his outburst at Tythel than Tythel would. Tythel could appreciate that attitude – if Armin had hid knowledge of Eupheme’s sister from her, Tythel would have been similarly slow to forgive.
Tythel stepped back into the conversation. “As fascinating as this discussion is – and academically, it is – it’s something that is best left to the scholars, I think. Right now, we have more pressing and immediate concerns.”
“Pressing and immediate?” Eupheme said, giving Tythel a smile.
“Yes.” Tythel tried to return the expression…but it felt even faker than before. More baring her fangs than smiling. That might just be how it felt, though. Neither Armin or Eupheme seemed put off by the expression. “I have to get to Tellias to use Heartflame on him. He’s holding on, but I don’t know for how long. And we have the attack on the Citadel.”
Armin stroked his chin. “And that last one is…going to be difficult.”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” Tythel said, nodding to show she wasn’t arguing. “But I think there’s a way we can deal with the difficulty.”
Armin and Eupheme shared a look. “What did you have in mind?” Eupheme asked.
“The citadel is near impregnable, from what Marketta described,” Tythel said. The door creaked open to admit Ossman. The Underfolk, Poz, was with him. Tythel nodded for them to both sit. She trusted Ossman with her life, and Poz…well, if he was an Alohym agent, he was a damn terrible one, since he’d kicked the entire Resistance into newfound motion and returned the egg. Tythel quickly caught them up to speed before continuing with her thoughts. “Dozens of ways to spot anyone approaching and kill them as they do. So we have to approach without being noticed and gain access to the citadel.”
“That is the main goal, yes,” Ossman said. “I just don’t see how you’re going to pull it off.”
“By approaching from an angle the Alohym don’t expect,” Tythel said. “We steal a ship.”
That bought a series of gasps from everyone present. Armin was the first to give the objections words. “Tythel…we don’t have a way to steal a ship. It’s just not possible. And even if we did, we’d have no way to fly it. And even if we could fly it, we’d have to convince the Alohym we have valid credentials.”
Tythel nodded. “There’s a few tricks we can use, I think. For stealing it…we would have to get it in flight. I can carry two people with me. They won’t be expecting it. Eupheme would need to come with me, as she could let us on. Lorathor should be the other. His ability to shift his form means he’ll be able to manipulate whatever controls they have in – he can just grow hands in the shapes needed.”
Sarven chriped and bit Tythel’s ear reproachfully. Tythel sighed and scratched his chin.
“The four of us can go in,” she said.
“Tythel…he’s a newborn,” Eupheme said.
“A newborn phoenix,” Tythel countered. “And every bit as smart as a draconic wyrmling. He’s inherited a degree of Karjon’s understanding the world.”
“You…didn’t know much about phoenixes before,” Eupheme said, choosing her words carefully. “How do you know that?”
Tythel held out her hand so Sarven could climb onto it. “Sarven, land gently on Eupheme’s head,” she said, careful to keep her gaze locked on the phoenix. Sarven flared his wings and, with a quick beat, launched himself for Eupheme. He flared his wings a moment before he would have smashed into Eupheme’s skull, delicately landing on her hair.
Eupheme’s eyes went wide and she stared up at the Pheonix with a look like a usually unfriendly cat had decided to climb into her lap.
“Even if that wasn’t the case,” Tythel said, watching with amusement as Sarven started to knead Eupheme’s scalp gently, “I cannot ask – or tell – Sarven that he has to stay here and wait for me to go out and fight, see if I come back alive. Or, rather…I can, but I won’t do that to him. He understands enough, and…and I can’t leave him behind.”
A moment of silence followed that. All of them were trying to recalibrate from the rather fragile, somewhat useless blobs of adorable flesh that were human infants. Sarven was a baby in terms of age, but he was a baby phoenix. He was far from helpless.
“Okay,” Armin said. “Let us just pretend, for a moment, that’s going to be as easy as you make it out to be. And put aside the child in danger aspect. And all the other ways that could go wrong. That doesn’t give us a way to fly the ship.”
“Someone is already piloting the ship,” Tythel said. “Otherwise it wouldn’t be airborne. I don’t see an Alohym lowering itself to the gross manipulation of piloting. They’ll use humans or some other beings from their vast empire. There will be an Alohym captain – “
“Remember the last time you fought an Alohym and you lost an eye?”
“I’m not likely to forget,” Tythel said, fighting down a surge of frustration. Armin was being obstinate here, but it was coming from a place of concern, not malice. “But I’ve evolved since then, and I know how to manage Ghostflame consistently. If we do this right, I’ll be able to flame the Alohym through a wall without it even knowing I’m there. And then the existing pilot…we persuade to keep the ship going, and fly it under our direction.”
“And if he or she refuses?” Armin said. “If they are going to dig in their heels and would die for the Alohym rather than let us take the ship?”
“Then we tell them to land the ship and we’ll release them alive. They’ll do that much at least. And if they don’t…then we cripple the ship, abduct the pilot, and set the ship crashing into the ground. Or let it just hover if we can’t do that. All we lost was time, and we took down an Alohym ship in the process.”
Armin was silent for a minute, then shook his head. “No. Tythel, this won’t work. It’s not worth the risk for one ship if we don’t know we can fly it…unless…” Armin trailed off. “Damn. Actually, that might work.”
Tythel’s nicitating membranes flashed and she motioned for Armin to go on.
“Bix,” Armin said. “A Sylvani automaton. She’s been in different kinds of void ships before. If anyone can pilot it, it would be her.”
“Then I’d like to ask her,” Tythel said.
“Promise me one thing then,” Armin said. “Promise me that you won’t go ahead with this plan unless you have a pilot.”
“I swear to you on my father’s hoard.”
Armin seemed to understand the gravity of that promise.
“That doesn’t solve one problem,” Ossman said. “How we’re going to land it on the Citadel. They likely have some way to check ships haven’t been controlled.”
“Do they, though?” Tythel asked. “I’d be surprised. Why would you bother? A generation ago, none of us knew flying ships were even possible. We hadn’t even dreamed of it. Even the ones in the stories were gods, not men. Do you think the Alohym will imagine we’d try something so foolhardy?”
“You do realize,” Eupheme said, “that part of the plan hinges on the Alohym not believing we’d be so stupid to do exactly what it is we are doing. Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.”
“It is possible,” Poz said quietly. Everyone turned to look at him. As quiet as the Underfolk had been, it had been easy to forget he was here. “I saw the potential. However, when I saw it, it required a pilot. I didn’t think that was possible. If this…Bix, you said? If Bix can pilot an Alohym ship, the Alohym will not have safeguards. I’m certain of that.”
“How can you be certain?” Armin asked.
“I…I don’t know if you’ll understand the significance of what I did. But I was able to temporarily enter a state of heightened intellect.” Poz grimaced at the thought, and there was a hollow look to his eyes that made Tythel certain she didn’t want to pry right now. “In there, I was able to gain some insights. I considered that possibility. The only flaw was finding a compliant pilot.”
“Then,” Tythel said, standing up and holding out her hand for Sarven. “I think it’s best we go find Bix and find out if she can. If so…then we know what we’re going to do.”
Want to find out how that goes now? Dragon’s Scion part 206 and 207 are live on Patreon! Updates should be more regular going forward. Also, if you’re looking for something else to read – check out some of my published books! Fans of my other serials – the week where I update all of them will be the last week in December, alongside a sale and some very special announcements for the new year.