Armin lead the group to the portal stone, after explaining how it worked and – more importantly – why the long dormant stones were working now. It give them an advantage Tythel could barely even comprehend, but she made notes to consider it more. If nothing else, being able to appears anywhere in the kingdom faster than even the Alohym could travel would be huge.
“One thing with this plan,” Eupheme said to Tythel as they were walking. “Why not just fly the ship up to the Vacuity Engine itself?”
“Size,” Tythel said without hesitation. “The Vacuity Engine, from what Armin uncovered, is larger than cities. We’d never be able to do enough damage to take it down before the Alohym pilots shot us down.”
Eupheme nodded, her face still tight. “I don’t like that this plan exposes you to so much danger.”
“I don’t see another option,” Tythel said. “But…that bothers me too.”
Eupheme looked at Tythel, then at Sarven. The little phoenix was asleep on Tythel’s shoulders again, and a tiny stream of drool was running from between his jaws. “You’re worried about him?”
Tythel nodded, careful not to disturb the sleeping form. “I’m all he has. Before we leave, I’m going to have enough energy to hatch some of the other eggs. No matter what, a few of them will need to stay safe, so our species can continue. But…Sarven only has me.”
Eupheme put her hand on Tythel’s back, directly between her wings. “No. He has us.”
That got a happy blink from Tythel. “Just so you know,” Armin said, now that the portal stone was in sight. “We’re going to the Sylvani’s home city. It’s…it’s something else. Like being inside of a ship. Because that’s what it was originally. The Sylvani came from the stars, millenia ago. They, uh, fought the Alohym before. On their world. And lost.”
Tythel froze and stared at Armin. “Light and Shadow, man, you’re just going to throw that out as an aside. ‘Just so you know?’ That feels like something important.”
Armin rubbed the back of his neck. “There’s been a lot going on, okay? I couldn’t cover everything, and that doesn’t impact what we do.”
“Well, it certainly makes me feel better about recruiting this automaton to help us with operating the craft,” Ossman said, grinning broadly at Armin’s discomfort.
Tythel huffed. “It’s history. Important history.”
“Important but not pressing,” Eupheme said, which got a laugh from Armin.
Poz just glanced at the group, watching intently. He was…interesting. Tythel had never met an Underfolk before. She’d seen woodcuttings, but they always depicted the Underfolk so differently than others. That was their metamorphic nature, although the books Tythel had access to didn’t agree on why and how they underwent so frequent transformations. “I don’t think I thanked you properly,” Tythel said. “For the return of the egg. I feel like I should reward you somehow.”
“Thanks are not important, your highness,” Poz said, giving her a small bow. “And I need nothing.”
“If nothing else, you have my gratitude,” Tythel said, stepping onto the portal stone. “And if you do think of anything I could do…”
The rest of the sentence trailed off as she saw her surroundings. Metal hallways like nothing she’d ever imagined. Unnatural light coming from softly glowing orbs. Strange doors that dilated at sensing their presence. In front of them was a collection of steel and wires attached to some kind of device that whirred to focus on them.
Someone shouted from inside. “Lorathor. There’s more meat outside. Tell them if they want to come in, I get to stab the winged one!”
Eupheme moved quickly to put herself in front of Tythel. Armin waved frantically. “She’s strange,” Armin said, as quickly as he could. “And likes to stab, but will usually settle for a prick on the finger or something like that. Nothing serious.”
“Haradeth got blood on my floor!” the voice inside said.
“Usually,” Armin said. Lorathor came rushing out, waving his hands to make sure they saw him.
“Your highness!” Lorathor said.
Tythel stepped forward, drawing a scowl from Eupheme. She patted the umbrist on the shoulder. “Lorathor. It’s been too long.”
“Likewise,” Lorathor said, giving her a bow. Tythel quickly motioned for Lorathor to right himself. As far as she was occurred, anyone who stood by her side in the fight against Theognis shouldn’t need to bow to her. “I’m glad to see you, princess. Although you come at an interesting time. Bix is just about to wake Synit.”
That last sentence was addressed to Tythel, but Lorathor’s eyes rested on Armin. He flushed and cleared his throat. “Something else I forgot to mention,” Armin said. “Synit is a woman the Alohym experimented on, an early trial of the half-Alohym you fought. She’s on our side. Was there in the lair, for the final battle with Theognis. Helped us slay him.”
Lorathor nodded to confirm. “The experiments damaged her body. She couldn’t move without pain. Bix has done something she believes will repair her body.”
“I do appreciate the warning,” Tythel said, trying to imagine how she would have reacted without it. Probably would have lunged for the poor woman. “I was hoping to talk to Bix.”
“She will…almost certainly want to draw you blood, your highness,” Lorathor said, choosing his words carefully. “Not for any malicious reason, but because she is something of a scientist. She’ll hope to glean insight from studying it.”
“And Haradeth bleeding in there?”
“Haradeth was incautious with his word choice when agreeing to be stabbed,” Lorathor said. “Likely due to his mother’s presence.”
“Ah,” Tythel said. From the way Armin was nodding along, this was not an unexpected response. “Given she’s involved in such an important project, perhaps we should come back later? We were hoping to ask her if she could pilot an Alohym ship.”
Lorathor’s skin rippled with colors as he thought. Before he could speak, however, a voice came inside the structure. “Anything that meat built, I can fly,” the voice – Tythel had to assume it was Bix – said. “Don’t insult me by implying I can’t, your scaleness. The question is – why would I?”
Tythel considered her words carefully. This one…she wouldn’t be tempted by talk of nobility or the grand destiny of Aelif. She wouldn’t be interested in liberating people from false gods that appropriated the True Alohym’s name for their own twisted purpose. Even with this brief exposure, it wasn’t hard to see that about this woman. So what would appeal to her? “Because if you do,” Tythel said, speaking as clearly as possible. “There’s a very good chance you’ll get to stab an Alohym in the face, and keep stabbing until it ceases to amuse you.”
There was a long silence from inside. “You’re speaking my language now,” Bix said. “I mean, I know you’re doing it to manipulate me, so don’t feel clever just because it works. All right. Grand Dragon Fancy Pants, you can come in. Your pet Shadow Walker can come in too, because I know how hounds get separation anxiety. Everyone else, stay out there.” There was a pause, and a whirring sound. “Actually, the Underfolk can come in too. I haven’t stabbed one of you yet. Slipper buggers.”
“Promise you won’t stab me so much I bleed on your floor?” Poz asked, a slight tremor in his voice.
“See, Haradeth?,” Bix said, although her voice was fainter and muffled, like she was speaking away from a tunnel she’d previously been speaking into, “It’s not hard. Just got to be clever.” Her voice regained it’s previous strength. “Deal. Unless you piss me off. Lorathor, stay out there with the other boring meat. It’ll be too crowded in here.”
Tythel gently transferred Sarven’s sleeping form to Ossman. The phoenix looked up at Ossman, then back at Tythel. “I’ll be back,” Tythel said. “But it’ll be crowded in there. Stay with Ossman, okay?”
Sarven looked at Ossman, then back at Tythel, then back up to Ossman before nuzzling into the big mans arms and pawing sleepily for scritches under his chin. Tythel quickly showed Ossman the spot Sarven liked.
That settled – although Eupheme’s face was tight as a wire – the three of them headed inside. Tythel had just enough time to see Lathariel glaring daggers while wrapping a bandage around Haradeth’s leg before she noticed the small automaton, currently hanging from the ceiling by one of three tails as she manipulated dials.
“Good. Now sit down and shut up so I can wake up Synit. Don’t look at me like that, Umbrist. I’m not showing any respect to your princess because I don’t have any, and you’re just going to have to deal with that.”
Tythel again put a hand on Eupheme’s shoulder. “We need her,” Tythel mouthed.
Eupheme let out a weary sigh and nodded.
Then the room was filled with a hiss. A tube that was covering a bed started to unfurl. Inside, Tythel could see someone – a woman, part Alohym, part human, but different than what Tythel had seen before. Not a human wearing an Alohym suit, but the fusion of human and alien, blended perfectly together. Her skin was carapace except for the joints, giving her the impression of wearing armor. Her arms bifurcated like Alohym limbs, and two large, gossamer wings emerged from her back. Her legs turned up, the ankles high above where the foot would touch the ground, much like Tythel’s own legs but with a slender grace. Her carapace wasn’t the greyish coloring of the Alohym, but jet black, like polished obsidian. Her antenna were twitching, sensing the air. That being said, there was a symmetry to her appearance and a grace to her movements as she sat up that infused her with an otherworldly beauty.
She was human fused with something else. Something far more powerful than humanity, but without the form completely breaking from the human norm. And from the way Synit’s eyes – twice as large as a human’s, with six irises in a hexagonal pattern and each iris a different color blending together – fixed on Tythel, there was no doubt Synit caught the similarity too.
“Your highness,” Synit said, her voice strained and on the point of cracking. “Forgive my lack of decorum, but I…I…I don’t hurt.”
And then the half-Alohym woman burst into shakes that Tythel recognized. The shakes of a human body trying to cry in a form that didn’t have the instincts. Lathariel was starting to move, but Tythel was already there, kneeling down to Synit’s level and putting out her hands for Synit. Neither of them smiled. Neither of them needed to. “Touch isn’t the same across species,” Tythel said quietly. “Do you find comfort in it?”
For answer, Synit reached out and clutched Tythel’s two hands in her own four.
Hey everyone, exciting news! The first book of The Dragon’s Scion, Dragonflame, is now available for pre-order on Amazon!It releases 01/11/2021 – a great way to kick off the next year better than this one. It also features some heavy rewrites to bring it in line with my current quality of writing, especially to the beginning third of the book, I’m so excited to – finally – be bringing it to you all! Patrons, you’ll get your copy a week in advance if you’re on the $5 and above tier. If you want to check out the beautiful cover and read the revised intro and chapter 1,you can do so here!