The Dragon’s Scion Part 157

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Bix stood up and made a slashing motion with her hand. Haradeth stopped clapping before Synit – the half Alohym woman looked less certain than he did about what the gesture meant. “I’ve never seen anything like that,” Haradeth said, doing his best to convey shock and excitement over the feat as opposed to letting any of his horror at the carnage slip though.

It’s not that he felt bad for the Alohym soldiers Bix had laid low. This was a war, casualties would happen. Bix hadn’t been especially cruel in the slaughter. Haradeth had just never seen anyone or anything kill so many people with such…frivolity. She’d been singing, for the light’s sake?

“What are you?” Synit asked. She’d barely moved since the beginning of the fight, and had not yet taken her eyes off of Bix.

“I’m amazing.” Bix turned back towards the hallway. “You two need to pull your weight some, though. I can’t kill all of them myself. Well, I mean, I probably can, but it will take slightly longer.”

Haradeth nodded, his brain finally kicking back into focus. The danger hasn’t passed yet. Theognis is still out there. “Synit, can you shoot an arcwand?”

“No,” Synit said.

Haradeth clenched his teeth. He didn’t mind that they’d found this woman. If she hadn’t been honest about being on their side, she easily could have betrayed them during Bix’s slaughter of the soldiers earlier. Haradeth had been completely transfixed by the carnage. However, he was starting to wish he’d left her in the cauldron. “Then what can you do in a fight?”

“I’m part Alohym,” Synit said, as if that was an answer. “Their blood runs in my veins as much as my human side does.”

Haradeth took a deep breath to avoid screaming at the obtuse woman. “I’ve seen Alohym fight. They move at incredible speed, strike hard enough to crack stone, and can command unlight. Can you do any of those?”

Synit nodded. “The last one. I can command unlight.”

Haradeth sagged with relief. “So you’re a lumcaster. When Teognis arrives, I’ll  need you to-”

Synit’s antenna twitched, and Haradeth felt his heart sink. “You misunderstand. I can project unlight beams. Theognis is a true lumcaster, he can do far more than I.”

Haradeth clenched his hands into fists. “So when you said you didn’t need an arcwand, it was because you are one. Why…why did you not simply say that?”

“I answered the question you asked.” Synit shrugged. Haradeth could see her wince from the pain the gesture caused her. It tugged a bit of sympathy out of him, but the irritation was still strong. There was a murderous lumcaster coming for them, and she was playing word games.

“You really should let me stab her,” Bix said.

“Don’t tempt me,” Haradeth responded. “Synit, get to cover and get ready. Bix, would you be so kind as to toss me one of those arcwands? I’ll need it when Theognis arrives.”

“I will, if you’re absolutely certain I can’t stab the Alohym woman right between her spines.”

“Yes, I’m absolutely certain that you-” Haradeth caught the way Bix’s eyes started to narrow. “I’m absolutely certain that I’d prefer if you didn’t stab her.”

“Yay you can learn. Fine.” Bix skittered over to one of the arcwands and kicked it towards Haradeth. “Now why don’t  you-”

Bix’s sentence was cut off and she started to shriek, a harsly metallic sound that sent Haradeth’s hair standing on edge. An unlight dome had dropped around her, and Bix was slashing at it with all four limbs.

“Synit, get back!” Haradeth barked, raising his arcrifle and pointing it down the corridor.

Theognis walked into view, his face contorted into anger. Haradeth opened fire. Theognis held up his hand and caught the unlight beam with an open palm. Haradeth pulled the trigger again and again. Each beam was intercepted as Theognis’ hand blurred, catching each individual bolt. That shouldn’t be possible. No one can move that fast. No one should be able to move that fast. Even the speed Bix had shown wasn’t on par with this. And yet Theognis was easily keeping up with Haradeth’s attacks.

“A godling using an arcwand. How delightfully pedestrian,” Theognis said. The hand he’d been using to block began to suck in the ambient light. Next to Theognis, Bix had switched all four of her limbs to the tiny rotating saws and was pressing them against the unlight barrier surrounding her. They made a harsh grating sound as they dug into the energy barrier, but it did not break. “I’ve gotten very tired of dealing with this inane meddling. Surrender, godling, and I’ll make your death quick.”

Haradeth tossed the arcwand aside as it clicked empty and grabbed a new one. “I’m sure to get right on that,” Haradeth said, aiming the arcwand at Theognis’ head. “Let me guess. If I continue to resist, my death will be long and painful?”

“Oh no,” Theognis said. “You’re the last surviving godling. You’ll be used to spawn more of your kind, and you’ll watch as your offspring are bound with Alohym and made into new beings.”

Haradeth paled at the implications. “I would never touch -”

“Please,” Theognis interrupted. “The Alohym do not need you alive. They merely need your blood. That is more than enough to fabricate all that they need. I should have been clearer – your blood will be used to create more godlings. The question is if you are alive to witness what your progeny become, or if you rest in the Shadow while we make them.”

Haradeth responded by shooting again. Theognis caught the blast.

“So you choose to watch. I see. I suppose there’s no point to even asking you where Synit is?”

Haradeth frowned. Is that why he’s here? He’s looking for her? How could she be that important. “What’s a Synit?”

Theognis sighed. “I endured this idiocy from Armin earlier, little godling. Tell me where she is or I will-”

“I’m right behind you.”

Theognis whirled to face the voice. Synit had emerged from behind cover, her hands held together. No, Haradeth realized. Her hands have merged together. The limbs formed a star, and the center was drawing in so much unlight the entire cavern darkened to the level of twilight.

She let loose a blast of unlight as thick as the main weapons of the Alohym’s skyships, focused directly on Theognis’ chest.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 156

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“Lorathor, behind you!” Armin shouted.

Thankfully, Lorathor didn’t wait to turn to look at what had Armin shouting. He dove forward, and Clarcia’s outstretched hand passed through the open air. Clarcia let out a low hiss and began to shamble forward.

“Light and Shadow!” Lorathor said, bringing up his arcrifle and sighting Clarcia with it. Before Armin could even speak, he fired three short bursts. Arclight flew and struck Clarcia in the shoulder, chest, and forehead. She staggered backwards and fell over. “Thanks for the warning,” Lorathor said, raising the rifle. “I thought she was dead.”

“She is,” Armin said.

“Right, now. But I mean when I came in she looked…” Lorathor trailed off. “Necromancy?”

They both turned back to Clarcia. Her limbs were jerking unnaturally as she started to rise. She reached a crab position and her head turned unnaturally until it was facing them. “Necromancy,” Armin confirmed.

Lorathor shot her again. Beams of light streaked across the small cell. Clarcia barely rocked at the impacts, hissing and scurrying across the floor with preternatural speed. “Flath!” Lorathor shouted, throwing himself to the side as Clarcia’s jaw snapped shut inches from his knees.

Armin backed up, staring at her with wide eyes. It was Clarcia. It was Clarcia. She still looked like herself, even unnaturally twisted like this. “Armin!” Lorathor shouted. “Move!”

Clarcia was closing the gap between them. When she got close, her legs folded up over her body. For a moment she was walking on her hands, then her feet finished their arc and touched the floor, pulling her body and head upright in a swift motion. Armin threw up his hands and caught her on the shoulders. She bowled him over as her head twisted back into place. They hit the floor hard, and Armin wheezed as the wind was driven from his lungs.

Clarcia wasn’t impeded. She was snapping her jaw at him, only inches from his face. There was breath coming with the snaps, each one unnatural hot and reeking of the grave. The smell was enough to turn Armin’s stomach. If not for his hands on her shoulders, she would have torn out his jugular in an instant. Even with his hands in placed, her strength was immense. Armin pushed her upwards, and her fingers dug into his arm. Armin screamed as her fingers began to tear deep furrows on his skin.

An arclight beam struck Clarcia in the back of the skull. It blew straight through, and flesh, bone, and brain matter tore from her face. Clarcia didn’t even flinch at the sensation. The jerking motion tore one of her eyes loose, and it dangled from an optic nerve on the side of the head. “Get her off me!” Armin screamed.

A tentacle wrapped around Clarcia’s neck and began to tear her backwards. Armin stared at it in wide eyed horror as more tentacles join the first, grasping and tugging at Clarcia. Scrambling back and rising to his feet, Armin looked at the tableau, trying to process what he was seeing.

Lorathor was gone. Where he had been was some kind of…thing. Tentacles from an octopus attached to a humanoid torso. The tentacles wrapped around Clarcia as she struggled against the bonds. The creature wrapped a tentacle around her throat and wound it up to her forehead, pulling her head back so her jaw wasn’t able to reach the other parts of the thing. “Armin, get out of here!”

That was Lorathor’s voice. Coming from this monstrosity. Lorathor’s voice, and now that Armin looked, he could see the eyes. Yellow and with oddly-shaped pupil.

Sylvani eyes.

Armin sat down hard, his knees no longer able to support his weight. It was too much by far. He couldn’t process it. This horror, something out of the depths of both the ocean and nightmare, was entangling the undead being that had once been his friend. Clarcia growled and hissed, snapping at the creature, but unable to find purchase. There were dull plates covering the tentacles, flexing with them, and her fingers could not find purchase on their bulk.

“Armin, move!”

Barely able to think, Armin just kicked his leg, letting the thing that had once been Lorathor hear the clatter of the chain. Lorathor snarled and began to tug hard on the Clarcia zombie.

Armin began to hear the cracking of bones. Clarcia’s struggles became more frantic, and flesh began to tear under the force.

Someone was screaming. Dimly, Armin realized it was him.

As he watched, helpless to do more than scream, Clarcia’s arm came out of its socket. Freed from her shoulder, it started to try and wrap around the thing that had been Lorathor. He – some part of Armin was willing to accept that this thing was, in fact Lorathor, although he could not hope to process how that had happened – brought two free tentacles around to grab onto the flailing arm. Bones crunched under the stress, and then the cracking sound turning into a grinding noise.

When Lorathor tossed that arm free, it was still twitching, trying to move and rejoin the attack. However, he’d shattered every bone in the limb, and it couldn’t do anything but flop uselessly on the floor. Bit by bit, Lorathor started to dismantle Clarcia.

She wasn’t helpless though. Lorathor’s grip would slip at time, and her jaws would find purchase. She bit through the strange armor that shifted with Lorathor’s form, cracking both teeth and plate with the force. Lorathor howled in pain, although Armin couldn’t see anywhere for him to be howling from. 

It took nearly a minute. Lorathor tore Clarcia bit to bit. At the end of it, Clarcia had been reduced to a collection of twitching flesh, and Lorathor was bleeding from a dozen wounds. The mass of tentacles retracted and reformed into the Sylvani Armin knew.

“Armin, I can get that chain off you,” he said. Lorathor’s skin was paler than its usual vibrant colors, and he took a step towards Armin.

Armin recoiled from the motion, bringing up his hands. “What…what the flath are you?” he shrieked.

“I’m a Sylvani. We’re shapeshifters, Armin. Remember? You saw me slip through that crack in the tower, even though it was barely an inch wide.”

Armin nodded at the memory.

“I usually don’t go that far out of the form you know,” Lorathor continued. “But I needed to. I’m sorry.”

The words were so normal, Lorathor’s tone so calm, Armin was able to start thinking again. “I…I didn’t know you could do that.”

Lorathor grinned. The expression was strained, and Armin could see pain behind his eyes. “I don’t show it off often. An arcwand or blade is usually a better weapon anyway.” He glanced over at the twitching mess on the floor. “Usually. Who was that?”

“Clarcia” Armin whispered.

Lorathor flinched. “I’m sorry you had to watch that. Come on. Let’s get out of here.” He held his finger up towards the lock on Armin’s shackle. The digit protruded into the lock, and it unclasped like he’d turned a key. “Come on, Armin” he said, offering a hand.

Armin took the hand. “Ossman. Aldredia. They-”

“We’ll get them. But first…pull yourself together. You’ve been through the deepest Shadow. But I know we can pull yourself together. We can’t let Bix and Haradeth fight Theognis alone.”

Armin nodded and took a deep breath. I’m not losing anyone else. The thought was firm and he held it in his head like a drowning man clutching driftwood. “Alright. Let’s go. And while we do…I have two questions.”

“Ask away,” Lorathor said, peering out into the hallway.

“How did you get here, and who the flath is Bix?”

Lorathor smiled. “Would you believe me if I told you those answers went together?” And, without waiting for a response, he started to explain.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 155

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Bix leapt onto the chest of an Alohym soldier. The man screamed and tried to raise his arcwand towards her. Before he could finish the motion, Bix buried a dagger in each of his eyes. The man fell forward, landing on his knees. Bix kicked off his shoulders, sending his body rolling into the ones that were behind him. Two more raised their arcwands and shot at her. Bix rolled away from the point of impact and left to the roof of the passageway. Her daggers and feet dug into it, and she began to skitter across the ceiling.

That was when she started singing. It was a tavern song, one Haradeth knew well. His eyes widened as he listened to it come from the mouth of an automaton dispensing bloody death.

“I met a man on the road to Greymoan,” Bix sang as she dove off the ceiling, her daggers held outwards. She sliced through the necks of the two who had shot, and they clutched their throats. Blood ran between their fingers.

“When he saw me, he called to me.” Bix flipped around, her tail lashing out to wrap around a soldier’s neck. One next to the newly struck soldier swung with his arcblade, trying to sever Bix’s tail. Bix’s dagger lanced out, catching the blow. In one fluid motion, she snapped the man’s neck and drove her dagger into the other man’s knee. When he fell, her other dagger met his chin.

“Oh, fair maid, why do you walk alone?” Three more soldiers charged her, screaming in what was either defiance or fear. Bix waited until they grew close. The moment they were in range, she popped up on her tail like a Jack-on-Spring and thrust daggers into two of their chests. Holding on by the daggers, her tail lashed up and caught the third in the groin.

“Because alone is how I wish to be.” The soldiers began to back up now, arcwands unslinging. They started opening fire, beams of unlight lancing towards Bix. She dodged them with the speed of a monkey dancing among the treetops, using her tail and feet and arms interchangeably.

“He called me fairest he’d ever known,” Bix kicked off a wall, driving herself across the chasm. Her tail sprung a blade with the motion, and with quick whips she drew it across the stomach of every soldier she passed. Three fell, clutching their guts and screaming in agony.

“And for my hand he started to plea.” True to the song, Bix drew out the last word as she flipped between unlight beams.

The Alohym soldiers stopped firing. “So, I” Bix sang, drawing out each word. As she sung, her back began to vibrate and four new hands sprung from her back, each ending in a bizarre implement unlike anything Haradeth had seen before – one some kind of needle attached to a tube, another a serrated blade that spun, a third like a two-pronged fork with lightning dancing between the tines, and the final a device that looked like it was loaded with tiny needles attached to thread.

“Stabbed him, stabbed him,” Bix sang the words as she danced into the group. The original lyrics were far bawdier, and far less murderous, that what she was singing, but Haradeth could barely focus on that. His attention was completely held by the spectacle.

The sawblade lashed out, severing a man at the knee. “Stabbed him,” Bix sang, and the electric fork rammed into a soldier’s kidney, causing him to dance and bleed from the eyes, “Stabbed him,” Bix brought one of her knives around directly into another man’s groin, and Haradeth winced.

“I stabbed him right there on the road,” The limb that ended in the needle loader aimed at fleeing soldier. It began to fire needles, and they started to wind through his skin.

More were starting to break and run. “I stabbed him,” Bix swung the needle-tube around and shoved it into another man’s neck. The tube constricted, and the man clutched at his head as blood ran from his ears.

“And offered to carry-” Bix had to duck under a frantic slash, her tail lancing up to crush the man’s trachea “his-” Bix dove forward on the closest fleeing soldier. “loooooooooad.” She ended his screaming with two daggers thrust into his lungs.

The remaining Alohym soldiers were routed. They were hardened men, veterans of dozens of battles, and they’d seen horror before. Yet even the strongest man was not prepared to stand against a metal woman half their size singing lewd songs as she cut their fellows down.

Bix turned to Haradeth and bowed. She was covered in so much blood, her usual bronze color was almost uniformly crimson. After a moment, she glanced up at him. “Start clapping.”

Haradeth began to clap like his life depended on it. Synit joined in, her antenna twitching in terror.

Bix smiled and bowed again.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 154

“Can I stab it?” Bix asked, breaking the silence that had fallen over them. The half-Alohym hissed at Bix, her jaw widening to reveal mandibles. Bix reached out and rapped her across the forehead with her metal knuckles. The woman recoiled from the blow, her hands coming to her head to grab at the impact. “No. Bad freak of nature. You hiss at me again, and I will stab you. Actually, I might stab you anyway.”

“Don’t,” the woman growled. “Please.”

That last word froze Haradeth’s hand as he reached for his blade. There were many things he could imagine an Alohym saying. Please was not on that list. “Bix, wait.”

Bix glared at him. “Try that again, godling.”

Haradeth swallowed. “Bix, I’d appreciate it if you would wait till we understood more.”

“Better. We are kind of on a tight timeframe though.” Bix’s head swiveled until it was facing backwards.

“What are you?” The half-Alohym woman asked.

“I could ask you the same thing,” Haradeth said, offering her a hand.

Synit stared at it suspiciously. “My name’s Synit. I’m an early attempt to merge human and Alohym. A failed experiment.” After a moment’s pause longer, she took Haradeth’s hand and let her take him out of the cauldron. “I…was supposed to help Armin and the others. But the battle turned against them so far, but the time I could move, it was over.”

Haradeth didn’t have trouble believing that, seeing how stiffly she moved. It looked like she could barely do more than shuffle. “What were you supposed to do?” Haradeth asked.

“I’m a natural lumcaster. Same as all…well, same as my sire. Rephylon. I came here to try to tap into Light. I hoped it would…” she shook her head.

“It seems trusting.” Bix said, crouching on the cauldron. “I don’t like it. Things that trust too much usually want too much trust.”

“I heard you call him a godling,” Synit said. “I know of the Little Gods. The Alohym want you all dead almost as badly as they wanted to wipe out the dragons.” Her mandible clicked together. “Anything that the Alohym hate that much is an ally of mine.”

“Even disease?” Bix asked. “The Alohym hate diseases. Think it’s messy. Is disease your ally, plague-bringer?”

Synit looked at Bix, then back at Haradeth, then back to Bix. “Obviously I meant any-”

“Bah. Wasting too much time. Haradeth, I’m going to stab her.” Knives appeared in her hands.

Synit nearly fell over from the surprise, and she groaned in pain when Haradeth caught her. “Bix, please, you’re scaring her. She can barely walk!”

“Yes, I know.” Bix sighed and stalked away. “She’s useless. You should let me stab her. Since you won’t, hurry it up. We have a serious problem coming soon.”

“She…she’s insane,” Synit said as Haradeth helped her to her feet.

“You’re not wrong,” Haradeth said, keeping his voice low. “She’s also been very helpful. Light and Shadow, I’ll take a dozen psychopaths like her if it means we get to defeat those monsters.”

“Agreed,” Synit said. Her sight was a contrast to Bix’s metallic gargle – when Synit sighed, it sounded like slabs of meat slapping together. He was glad she wasn’t in contact with him anymore. He didn’t think he could suppress the shudder any more than he had. “She’s not incorrect, however. I was…less than useless in the last fight. I’ll just be a liability.

Haradeth grimaced. “Then climb back in that cauldron and wait until the fight is over.” Synit gave him a shocked look, and Haradeth shrugged. “I don’t have time right now to learn if you’re right or wrong. If you can fight, fight. If you need to hide, do so and we’ll keep you safe.” He fought an urge to roll his eyes. It was as bad as dealing with Tythel all over again. Synit was a half-breed obsessed with vengeance against the Alohym who would whine her way through anything she could. At least Tythel is competent in a fight. 

Synit stood there, perfectly still. Haradeth got the impression he might have offended her. He really wanted to care, but he couldn’t. “You work with Armin? I heard you talking when you arrived.”

Haradeth nodded.

“He tolerates your attitude?”

“I’ve never given him a choice.” Haradeth shrugged. “Look, Synit, I-”

“Have to justify things. Yes. I understand. You are…very human, little godling.”

Haradeth bristled at the insult. “Look here you-”

“Light and Shadow, will you two kill each other already!” Bix shouted. Both of them turned to face her. “Flath, meat is so stupid. Look. You. Synit. You are half Alohym so Haradeth finds you offensive because you’re a perversion of life he finds so precious. Haradeth. The first human who wasn’t in the service of the Alohym she met was Armin, who – if half of what you told me about him was true – was all ‘oh no you poor thing, let me hug you lots and make you feel better moo moo moo.’”

Haradeth stared at her as Synit spoke. “Moo moo moo?”

“That’s the sound humans make when they’re trying to be affectionate.” Bix said.

“I think you’re thinking of cows,” Haradeth said.

“No, cows go Mwraaww. I’ve heard them. Moo is a human word.” Bix shook herself. “Haradeth. Do you think bug girl hates the Alohym?”

Haradeth nodded curtly.

“Synit, do you think leafy-green hates the Alohym?”

Synit considered for a second then nodded.

“Great. So, we’re united in hatred. Story for the flathing ages. Now shut up because something nasty is coming up this tunnel and I’m gonna stab it until it stops amusing me.”

Synit’s antenna twitched. “I can hear them. A couple dozen Alohym soldiers.”

“Flath. Bix, we’re outmatched here.” Haradeth said. “We should try to-”

“No, Haradeth. You two are outmatched here. A couple dozen Alohym soldiers are a warmup for me. Climb into the cauldron if you’re not going to let me stab Lady Alohym over there.” Her tail lashed the air like a cat waiting to pounce.

“Bix-” Haradeth started to say.

“Nope!” Bix said.

At that moment the first of the Alohym soldiers rounded the corner, an unlight arcblade held in his outstretched hand. He shouted and charged Bix.

Haradeth could barely see her arms move. He just got a vague sense of movement from them.

It was, he imagined, what the mouse saw right as the viper strikes.

The soldier fell at Bix’s feet. His torso landed first, divested of its previous attachments. It was followed by his collapsing legs and then by his right arm. His left hit the ground in three sperate chunks. His head sailed over Bix to land behind her, clattering against a pile of gold coins. Bix shivered. “Now. Let’s get stabby.

Not waiting for Haradeth to speak, she dashed at the speed of a diving falcon for the next soldier to round the corner.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 153

The Portal Stones – Haradeth refused to think of them as boogers, even if he’d say the word aloud to placate Bix – were objects spread across the world. Myths from various cultures held different significance to them. The Cardomethi had claimed they could access the realm that the ancient Alohym had used when they left. The Dor’nahi had maintained they were gates to the true ancestral home of humanity, and would one day lead them back. The Kingdom, before it’s fall, had believed them to be pagan iconography from a pre-Light religion. The warriors of Xhoa held they were gateways to the Shadow, where their Holy and Eternal War would one day spill out of that realm and into the mortal world. The Underfolk had held the belief that they would lead to a world where there was only darkness above and light below, a sacred land where humanity would be forced to live beneath the Earth.

In hindsight, Haradeth realized it should have been telling that the Sylvani were the only peoples who didn’t ascribe any significance to them. Sylvani travelers, when asked about the stones, would only repeat one of the other culture’s legends. Usually with song and drink, because the Sylvani bought their way into acceptance through entertainment when they could, and getting the locals too drunk to organize a mob when they could not.

To the best of his knowledge, no one had asked the Alohym what they believed the stones would lead o. They might not even be aware of the portal stones’ existence.

He voiced that possibility to Bix as they were gearing up, and she shrugged – an expressive gesture with metallic limbs. “Who knows? But I’m guessing not. If those things could have accessed an interplanetary method of rapid transit, I think they would have lept on it with all four hands.”

“You mean they could have activated it?” Haradeth asked. That thought had never occurred to him, and its implications were disturbing. Were they just handing the Alohym another weapon to use in their domination of the world?

“Not without me stabbing them lots. Even Anoirita would have acted then, I think. The only way to fully control the boogers is from here, and the Alohym would have come here if they knew. Also, if they knew what the boogers were, they probably would have figured out that we hadn’t all died out. They would have come and murdered everyone in the face. Except me. Because I’d be stabbing them, you see.”

Haradeth nodded, a small part of him surprised at how easily he’d come to take the little automaton’s violent nature in stride. “But once we activate them, can they trace it back here?”

“Probably not.” Bix looked uninterested as she worked on the console.

“Probably?” Haradeth asked.

Bix sighed. “Haradeth. We last fought the Alohym like, back when your people were deciding that eating cooked meat was a better long term plan than waging wars with flung feces. Excremental artillery. Shit showers. I think that’s all of them.”

“Okay, I just don’t-”

“Wait, no, I have one more. Crap catapults. Okay, now I’m good. What was your most likely stupid question?”

Haradeth waited for a second to make sure Bix was, in fact, done with her jokes. She motioned for him to continue. “I don’t see what that has to do with them being able to hijack the portal stones.”

“Because we’re talking about thousands of years, no matter what world you’re on. I wasn’t just making fun of you for being a bunch of monkeys who developed culture and decided it made you rightful masters of this world. Back then, you had…flath, I used all the good terms. Insert a scatalogical weaponry reference for me okay? Okay. But by the time the Alohym arrived, you’d gone from that to castles and catapults and stabby death, which is a much more refined way of waging war compared to the poop. Even if the Alohym hadn’t shown up, given thousands of years, even you idiots would have figured out arcwands. Technology grows and changes. The Alohym couldn’t crack the Transmatter Warp Platforms back when they invaded us, so they might not be able to crack it now. Or perhaps they’ve figured it out in the millennia in between.”

“Wait, what did you call the portal stones?” Haradeth asked.

Bix pressed a knife against his throat. “Boogers?” Bix asked.

“Boogers,” Haradeth agreed.

The knife vanished, as fast as it had appeared. “It’s a Transmatter Warp Platform. It bends spacetime curviture so the distance between here and there is shorter. It’s their proper name, but I long ago gave up trying to get you people to call them by that. Since you insist on calling them portal stones, I decided to give them an equally stupid name. Thus, boogers. Now, I’m almost ready. What’s the plan?”

“Plan?” Lorathor asked, walking around the corner. The Sylvani was wearing some kind of blue armor that reflected light in a dull manner. It was unlike any metal Haradeth had seen before. He’d told Haradetha bout it. It was a cultural artifact of the Sylvani, but they could be used with special approval. Bix had a suit she could authorize someone to use. The…what was it Bix had called them? The polycarbons in the suit would shift to match the wearer’s natural shapeshifting, allowing Lorathor complete access to his natural talents.

“Yes. Plan.” Bix gave them both a level look. “You don’t have a plan?”

“I didn’t think you’d be in favor of one,” Haradeth said.

“Of course I’m not. It’s no fun messing up someone’s plans if they don’t have one.” Bix crossed her arms and glared at Haradeth.

“Well, that’s part of why I didn’t have one. You can focus on the fact that we’re disrupting the Alohym’s plots?”

“Patronize me again and I’ll…flath, these are complicated equations, even for me. Do me a favor and assume I threatened you and you were truly terrified of it.”

Haradeth thought for a moment and discovered coming up with possible torments Bix could unleash was more frightening than any of the threats she’d actually make. “Done,” Haradeth said.

Bix nodded in approval. “We’ll only have a few seconds. This is some slipshod math. But it will get us there, and there is a ninety-six percent chance we’ll arrive with every body part we left with.”

Bix pushed a button on the console, and the air over the Portal Stone distorted. As Haradeth watched, it folded in on itself, almost like someone pulling a sock inside out, if the sock was the fabric of reality. It hurt his head to watch. “Wait, what was that last thing you said?”

“No time!” Bix said cheerfully and dove through the portal. Haradeth gaped at Lorathor, who laughed and followed. Swearing under his breath, Haradeth jumped through after them.

The portal snapped shut after them. They were in a treasure room lit by dozens of Alohym arcglobes. There were three soldiers in here, staring at them in mute astonishment. “Get Theog-” one of them started to shout.

For his quick thinking, he died first. A dagger sprouted from his throat, moving so quickly Haradeth could barely track it. Bix stood there, grinning at her handwork. The two soldiers remaining began to raise their arcwands.

Haradeth dove for cover as one of them opened fire, unlight ricochetting off a pile of gold. Lorathor closed the distance between them in two great strides, unlight glancing off his armor. The third stepped around and took aim at Lorathor’s back, and Haradeth hurled a gold plate like a discus.

It hit the side of the man’s head and lodged in there.

Bix chuckled. “I knew I kept you alive for a reason.”

“Lorathor.” Haradeth pointed down the cororidor. “Wear one of these faces, and tell Theognis the portal stone activated. Then find Armin and the others.”

Lorathor started to run, his skin and armor already running as he did. Bix gave him a sideways look. “I’m no strategy expert, but why did we just give up the element of surprise?”

“Because we didn’t,” Haradeth said, taking cover. “He’ll be expecting resistance fighters. He definitely will not be expecting a godling, and he can’t possibly be prepared for you.”

Bix nodded at that and headed over to climb into a cauldron. “I’ll pop up when he least expects it. Then I’ll stab him.” She clambered up the side and looked in. “Hey, Haradeth, if someone’s in here, should I stab them? She looks…weird.”

Haradeth ran over to the cauldron and looked in inside.

A half alohym woman was huddled in the bottom, staring at them both with wide eyes.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 152

One day earlier. 

“I don’t know what you want me to check out here,” Bix said. “It’s just some manky swamp in the middle of nowhere.”

“Middle of nowhere is where the resistance often has to hole up,” Haradeth said. The three-dimensional display in front of them showed a near endless swampland, dotted with ruins. It was a dismal landscape, full of mutated life. “We can’t exactly hide our forces next door to the capital.”

Bix sighed, a sound like nails rattling in a tin. “Fine. It’s not like other watchers can’t look in different places while we do.” She studied the landscape, tapping her food. Clangclangclang – “I remember Dor’nah back when it was…you know, actually a nation. Before everyone who lived here got murdered and started sinking into the sea?”

“Oh?” Haradeth asked.

“Oh yeah, absolutely. Back when it was the Three Empires – Hallith, Dor’nah, and Cardometh. Dor’nah was different from the other kingdoms you humans put up. Sylvani were welcome there, as were the Kan’nah. I actually went a couple times. Only stabbed someone once.”

“Kan’nah?” Haradeth said, furrowing his brow.

“You call them Underfolk now. Back then they didn’t live underground. Interrupt me again and I’ll make a necklace from your teeth. Understand?”

Haradeth nodded furiously, and Lorathor flashed him a reproachful glare. Just as Haradeth started to wonder if Lorathor had caught Bix’s unique brand of lunacy, the Sylvani winked and turned his attention back to Bix.

“Now, where was I?” Bix said. “Yes, Dor’nah. Humans, Kan’nah, and Sylvani. I went there a few times. In the night, because I didn’t want to be seen. This was…a long time ago. Everyone living together in a state of mutual hatred that never quite bubbled over into bloodshed, which is the closest you meat ever gets to peace. I didn’t even stab anyone when I was there because a random murder could have boiled over into indiscriminate warfare, and I didn’t want that. There’s no fun in random murder.

“But I hear you wondering how all these different people lived together. No, no, don’t say anything, not if you want to keep your teeth. See, all those people had one thing in common. They hated dragons. Which is a stance that can, perhaps, be understandable in the days when those three races were considered food sources by dragons. However, it’s not a very good idea to hate dragons when you share territory with a dragon that also was the most powerful necromancer alive. His lair is right over….ooooh, what’s this?”

Haradeth waited to make sure Bix wasn’t going to say anything else before asking, “What’s what?” The drone was flying up towards a structure that loomed over the landscape, even though it was sunken into the terrain. Haradeth tried to get a sense of how large the building had been, but his mind rebelled at the scale. For perspective, on top of the building was the skeleton of an immense a dragon, overgrown with moss, still clinging to the top of the building.

“Bah. Why do you even have eyes if you don’t use them?” Bix flew the drone lower to the ground.

Haradeth’s eyes widened and Lorathor gasped. Skitterers, sitting in the swamp outside the building. At least a dozen of them. “Okay, fine. I am only going to say this once,” Bix said, her eyes whirring as they narrowed into slits. “You were right, we should check here.” She flew the drone into the building.

“Thank you. I’ll never mention it.” Haradeth said.

“Good, you do learn quick,” Bix said, her voice light and cheerful. “So, it looks like someone brought a military presence into the ruins of Dor’nah and decided to take a stroll through a dragon’s lair. That’s…completely illogical, but you lot often are.”

“Is there a portal-” Lorathor started to say but caught himself with Bix’s gaze fixed on him. “Fine. Is there a booger here?”

Bix gave him a look that was so clearly a ‘proud parent’ look that Haradeth had to suppress a laugh. “Oh yeah, most dragon lairs have at least one booger,” she said. “At least the old ones. They used to consider it a status symbol to pick one and stick it in the hoards, because they were so rare.” Bix paused to consider her words. “Actually, they still are rare, but they also were. Even at the height of things we only had about fifty on this landmass. There’s one down there, though.”

The drone’s vision switched, giving them a false-color image of the pathway, it was travelling in pure darkness. Gems glittered on the walls among the artwork, woven between thin sheets of precious metal foils. It was beautiful. “A dragon made this?” Haradeth asked.

“No, no no no. Draconic art is different. They do their art by melting stones with their breath and reshaping it into something else.” Bix sighed. “I truly do love their artwork. It’s so wonderful to look at statues made with molten stone. Art made into a destructive act. I do hope we find some down here. Anyway, this art was made by humans or Underfolk or Sylvani. Probably humans because there’s more of you buggers. Talons aren’t good at fine work like this.”

Haradeth nodded, watching the display. These drones were incredible creations. They could cover a hundred leagues in a day. The path in front of them flew by in a rush as it sped down into the depths of the dragon’s lair.

And into a group of Alohym soldiers. “Light and Shadow, look out!” Haradeth shouted.

Bix gave him a level look. “What are you shouting about? Are you afraid of the big bad soldiers?”

Haradeth stared as the soldiers ignored the drone. A couple waved hands in its direction. “Bix…how small is this thing?”

Bix held up two fingers close to each other. “Too tiny to stab easy. Or notice. At least right now. I activated a couple circuits on it that give us a temporary spatial distortion that…” she noticed the glazed looks on their faces and gave another of those mechanical sighs. “This is why I call things boogers. Fine. I turned on the tiny maker. It’s tiny for a couple hours. Then it will re-enbiggen.”

“I followed that,” Haradeth said.

“I know. I put it on your intellectual level.” She directed the done to fly under a locked door.

In there was Armin, chained to a wall, and that bastard Theognis.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 151

Armin reeled back from the threat. “I…I don’t even know what you’re talking about,” he said, and hoped Theognis would take his widening eyes for fear, not shock.

“Please,” Theognis said. Just that. Please. It was an archly dismissive word, one that said everything it needed to say about Theognis’ thoughts on Armin’s protest. He gave Armin a level stare before continuing. “We tracked her here. I would love to know how you found her first – and believe me, I fully intend on torturing the information out of you later – but for now, I simply require you to tell me where she is.”

Armin felt his skin go clammy. This couldn’t get any worse. Not only was Theognis asking for something that Armin didn’t want to tell him, he couldn’t tell him. Synit could be anywhere by now. Think, Armin. Think. “We didn’t find her!” Armin protested, deciding that letting the fear show was the best tactic right now. The fact that he couldn’t have held it back even if he wanted to was immaterial. Torture me, you bastard. Rip me apart to prove to yourself that I don’t know. Leave them alone. “I don’t even know who you’re talking about!”

“Then why were you here, hmm?” Theognis tapped his fingers on his chin.

Armin hesitated. There wasn’t any harm in telling him, was there? Not about the Vacuity Engine, of course. If they survived this, it’d be best if the Alohym didn’t know they were looking for it. “Gold,” he said.

“Gold?” Theognis asked, cocking his head to the side. “You came all this way for lucre? You’ve never been the material kind, Armin.”

“It’s…”

And then Armin clamped his mouth shut. Let him think he has to push you. Let him drag it out of you. Give him a lie to disprove, so he’ll accept it as truth. “I know we can’t win,” Armin said, looking down. “But I’ll be damned if I join you all. I was going to take the gold and set up a life somewhere, far away from here.”

Theognis laughed. “So, you brought Ossman? Ossman. You expect me to believe that he was going to abandon your resistance?”

“None of them were,” Armin said, the lies rolling off his tongue more easily now. “But I’d hoped to convince them. Tempt them with the appeal of a better life, one that doesn’t involve…all of this.”

Theognis shook his head. “Armin. You disappoint me, boy. That upstart half-wyrm ‘princess’ of yours killed Rephylon. You claim that after you got your first ever taste of victory is when you betrayed your cause?”

“It wasn’t a victory,” Armin said. His voice was miserable, and at least he didn’t have to feign that. He had plenty to be miserable about, although the death of Rephylon wasn’t one of them. “Everyone was acting like it was, but…it was one Alohym, and it nearly killed her in the process. I think I’d…had it in my head we’d win once we managed to kill one. That it was the big stepping stone, and once we crossed it, victory would be assured. Then you all broke us at Hallith. You had that…”

Armin’s eyes narrowed as he made a connection he’d missed before. “That was that thing in the air! The flying Alohym. That was Rephylon’s daughter!”

Theognis gave him a long, careful look, before chuckling. “You’ve gotten better, Armin. Not quite as dense as you used to be. You’re not quite right, however. Synit was…an early attempt at fusion. The one you saw was much better integrated.” Theognis paused and then shook his head. “Of course, you already knew that, didn’t you? You figured out they were kith and kin long ago. That’s how you tracked her here.”

“I had no idea,” Armin swore, and it was nice to tell the truth here.

Theognis absentmindedly swatted at a fly that was buzzing around his head. It dodged his blow and flew back to the door. “No, you didn’t, did you?” Theognis said, more to himself than to Armin. Armin started to relax, but Theognis wasn’t done. “You didn’t know they were one in the same. I can hardly blame you for that – wretched creature is so badly twisted she doesn’t look a thing like her brother. But if you think for a second that I believe that you came here to fill your own pockets…” Theognis shrugged and stood, finally getting off Clarcia’s back. “I think we’ll start with the eyes. Send her to you, blind, Ossman’s flesh welded over her vision. That will be-”

Armin broke into a cold sweat. The earlier threat hadn’t been an exaggeration – Theognis truly meant to do it. “Wait!”

Theognis paused. “Oh? Decided to tell the truth finally?”

“We’re broke,” Armin said. The words came out in a babbled rush, and not just because he wanted to convince Theognis he was terrified. He was, of course, but he needed Theognis to believe it. So much for your vaunted moral high ground, you monster.  “Not us, the resistance. We’re running on coppers and prayers. We came here to plunder the horde to fund our operations.”

“Another stupid lie,” Theognis sighed.

Now Armin’s heart started to pound in earnest. “I’m telling you the truth! We didn’t know anything about…about anyone. We needed the funds!”

“You have access to the horde of Karjon the Magnificent. The last of the dragons. The largest horde on all of Alith. And you claim you’ve already exhausted it?”

Armin gaped at Theognis, his mouth hanging open and his eyes wide.

Theognis chuckled. “You do, don’t you? Your vaunted ‘princess’ came to you with piles upon piles of gold, didn’t she? I figured that was why you chose her for the lie, because she’d bought her way into it.”

“What?” Armin asked, his voice high. Theognis had gone from being terrifying to insane.

“Oh yes, we know all about your little ruse.” Theognis sat back down on Clarcia, and the fury helped Armin cut through the confusion. “The Alohym have remarkable devices. One of them is…well, in their tongue it is a throk’lahypth. We haven’t been able to come up with a good Cardomethi translation for it, because we don’t have the words for the concepts it refers to. The best term would be a “hereditary detector,” I suppose. It analyzes little fragments of information we all carry in our blood. Some was taken from the ‘princess’ while she was our captive, and then analyzed against the same information in the bones of the royal family.” Theognis leaned forward. “They didn’t match. Your ‘princess’ is a lie, and we know it.”

“You’re lying,” Armin said, swallowing on a suddenly dry throat.

“Why would I bother lying?” Theognis spread his arms wide. “You’re going to die, Armin. You won’t spread anything I tell you to your peers. I gain nothing by telling you this. I, honestly, thought you were high enough in their ranks to know about the ruse.”

Armin’s mind worked furiously. Her transformation. She’s turning into a dragon. Maybe that fools their machines. She wouldn’t lie to us…except she had, hadn’t she? She’d been in the conversation where they’d discussed resources, and she’d offered this place up for treasure. Hidden in the swamps of Dor’nah, fraught with peril. She’d never even mentioned her father’s hoard. It hadn’t even occurred to Armin.

After all, why would she lie?

“And now I see you know nothing.” Theognis looked almost…disappointed. “You don’t know the ‘princess’ is a lie. You don’t know you were sent here for Synit. You don’t know anything that could be of use to me. And because of that…” Theognis stood up. “I’m still going to drag what information you have out of you. Slowly and painfully. Who knows? You might know more than you realize.  At the very least-”

“Sir!” Someone was pounding on the door. “Sir, we need you. Immediately!”

Theognis frowned and threw open the door. “What is it?” he said with a scowl.

The man outside was dressed in the garb of an Alohym trooper, his eyes hidden behind the green visor they used to see in darkness. “One of the portal stones, sir!” The man’s voice was high with panic. “It was in the hoard. It’s activated! Something…something came through!”

“Impossible!” Theognis shouted, sweeping from the room. It seemed he didn’t believe his own word. “Stay here with this one. I’ll have your corpse slaving in the sewers if he escapes.”

The guard blanched and nodded, turning to face Armin and closing the door behind Theognis.

“Can we get a bit of light, Lumcaster?” the guard asked.

Armin sighed and created a sphere, his mind too occupied with bitter thoughts to care.

Not that stopped him from screaming when the guard’s features melted in the face of the light. “Quiet!” the guard snapped. “This is a rescue mission, Armin.” His features had resolved into Lorathor’s grinning face. “Now, let’s get you out of those chains.”

Armin couldn’t speak from the shock. Relief, confusion, and joy washed over him.

Right up until he saw Clarcia stand up, her dead eyes glowing with unnatural malice.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 150

Clarcia’s corpse shuffled to the side, and Armin looked up. He’d settled into the corner, his head down on his hands, giving him sight of Clarcia’s feet but sparing him the terrible view of her lifeless face. However, she was moving now, and he had to see.

Ancient hinges creaked and the door ground open.

Theognis stood there. He was exactly as Armin remembered, tall and imposing. His face was crisscrossed with scars, the remnants of old battle. He wore purple robe with golden thread, giving him the appearance of nobility. Theognis gave Armin a mocking grin. “Master Armin. How do you find the accommodations, hmm?”

Armin didn’t answer with words. Instead, bared his teeth and lunged for the elderly Lumcaster, snarling animalistically. The wait had turned grief and despair into a dull rage and seeing Theognis had stoked that flame until it burst.

The chain stopped Armin’s attack, snapping around his ankle and sending him crashing to the floor. Theognis hadn’t moved during the entire lunge. When Armin looked up, he was inspecting the underside of his fingernails for dirt. “Well, that was certainly….pointless,” Theognis said, not even bothering to look at Armin. “A failed Lumcaster, barely able to manifest light. What did you think to do? Did you intend to engage me in fisticuffs, like some street brawler?” Theognis laughed, and the sound was made more grating by how obviously fake it was. He gestured towards Clarcia. “This hunk of meat would have torn your limbs from your body and beaten you bloody with them before you’d even managed to touch me, even if it hadn’t been for the chain. A pointless waste of effort. But then again, that phrase perfectly encapsulates you, doesn’t it, Armin?”

“You bastard,” Armin growled, forcing himself to his feet. “Light forsake you and shadow damn you, Theognis. Why?” the last word lost some of its anger, coming out as more of a plea.

“Ahh. Why. Such an irritating question. You were always full of them. ‘Why can we draw from Lumwells where others can’t?’ ‘Why don’t we try to find a way to limit the mutations?’ ‘Why do we serve the Alohym?’ I should have slit your throat back then…but my masters insisted that I keep up appearances. They wanted to prevent the very rebellion you lead. I warned them…Oh, I warned them. They did not like that I was correct.”

Theognis’ hands went up to his face, brushing against the scars. “They made me keep these for failing to suppress your rebellion, Armin. Did you know that? Of course, you didn’t. You, Armin, have only ever cared about what you want. What’s best for you.

Armin clenched his hands into fists so tight he thought they might draw blood. “You dare call me selfish? You?” Armin took a step forward, the chain rattling, a reminder he couldn’t wring his old teacher’s neck. “You sold us out to the Alohym! You betrayed the entire Collegium, you and your lackeys. And for what? For power?”

Theognis chuckled and snapped his fingers. Clarcia’s corpse got down on her hands and knees, and Theognis sat on her back like she was a stool. “That was why you were always a terrible student, Armin. You could never see the bigger picture. No, dolt, I do not serve the Alohym out of a desire for power.”

“Then I ask you again – why?

Theognis tapped his chin. “Ah, so that is what you meant by why. I thought it might be something more pertinent, such as – why am I still alive? Why did I come here? Why did you spare Ossman and that swordswoman? Maybe even why did I kill the sniper? But no, you are focused on the past, as you always were.”

Armin tried to keep his face blank. Relief that Ossman and Aldredia were still alive warred with grief for Guiart, but both of those were overshadowed by a ray of hope. He doesn’t know about Synit. That meant there was still someone out there. Someone who could help them. “I limited my question to one I thought you might actually answer. But no, shame drives you to speak in circles.”

“I feel no shame, Armin. Nor do I fear telling you. I serve the Alohym because I care about mankind. I did it for Alith.”

Armin rocked back on his feet. “You…you honestly believe that?”

Theognis nodded. “Oh yes. That is what you could not understand, Armin. The Alohym came to us with wonders we had never seen before. Hardened pills that would erase any disease, without the need for Light. Ships that could transport goods across vast distances. Boxes that would prevent food from spoiling, ensuring no one ever starved again. Do you know that one in four children died in their first year of life before their arrival? Do you know that of those, nearly half were in childbirth, and many of them took their mothers with them? Now only one in twenty perish in their first year. Deaths during birth are minimal now.

“You and your rebellion are spitting on the beings who give us gifts, Armin. They give us wonders that would have taken us centuries to achieve on our own. They do this, and all they ask in return is that we pretend they are gods and worship them. Is that so high a price to pay?”

Armin found himself backing away from Theognis. “You – what about the dozens they kill every day? What about those they force into their service? For the Light’s sake, what about what they do to the Lumwells?”

Theognis held up his hand, three fingers outstretched. He ticked one down with each point. “The dozens they kill are traitors who claim oppression in the face of wonder. The ones forced into their service are needed for the greater good. And what of the Lumwells? Their Light is as valid as ours.”

“They exterminated the dragons. They wiped out an entire species because they were afraid.

“And?” Theognis asked, raising an eyebrow. “Our ancestors were no better. Or do you truly believe the Underfolk prefer to live in caves beneath the Earth? I can see from your face you did. No, our ancestors forced them into those depths. They were able to adapt – bats are such remarkable animals – but we do not have the right to claim superiority.”

“That doesn’t justify the Alohym!” Armin shouted.

“Perhaps. Perhaps not. It is immaterial, really.” Theognis waved his hand dismissively. “As…entertaining as it has been to catch up with you, Armin, I didn’t keep you alive to educate you. You already proved yourself to be unteachable, regardless. Now.” Theognis leaned forward and rested his head on his knees. “Tell me where you hid the Daughter of Repylon, or I’ll have my men slice strips of flesh off Ossman and sew the swordswoman’s face shut with them.”

The Dragon’s Scion Part 149

Double update day – after you finish this part, click the button to the right for the next part!

Armin awoke in darkness. He thrust his hands forwards into the shadow, groping blindly for anything he could find. For a moment all he felt were the aches of his own muscles, protesting the movement. I’m dead. This isn’t shadow, it’s the Shadow, and I’ll be judged for my failures here. His failures like Clarcia. In the darkness, he could see the way her head had jerked back, that terrible wound in the center of her forehead, the Light going out of her eyes to be followed by the light of life. She’d be here. Had the others survived? Had they-

His fingers brushed stone, and Armin realized he still lived. Relief and despair washed over him in equal measure. Relief because if he was alive, the others might still live as well. It wasn’t too late for him to do something for them.

Despair because it would do Clarcia no good. She would not magically resurrect because Armin had survived. And that was a burden he would have to carry.

Something made a scraping sound in the darkness. Armin shivered. There was something wrong about that sound.

Mindful of the sound, Armin took a hesitant step, keeping his fingers pressed against the stone to guide himself. When the ground did not give way beneath his feet, he took another step. This one was accompanied by the metallic slither of chains being dragged along the ground, echoing in the empty cell.

Not dead. Captured. Armin took another step, keeping his hand on the wall. He walked until the chain had reached its limit – only a few steps, and not enough to reach the opposite wall.

If the others are alive, they aren’t in here. Or if they were, they were still unconscious. Either way, he had to take stock of what he had to work with. If they were alive, he had to do something for them. Ossman, Aldredia, Guiart, even Synit – whom he’d only known for hours – flashed in front of his vision. What if they weren’t? What if he’d gotten them all killed?

He tried to grapple with that idea. His oldest friend, two brave soldiers of the resistance, and a woman who might have held the key to defeating the Alohym, all dead along with Clarcia because of his failure. Something scraped again. It sounded like wood on wood, but somehow different. It was happening outside the edge of his reach. Probably something on the other side of whatever door is on this room. That thought comforted Armin, and with the relief, tears began to well in his eyes. For once, Armin was glad for the darkness. He didn’t need to stop his exploration of his cell to clear his vision. He could weep while he explored.

Three steps later he was on his knees, his head in his hands.

It’s your fault. He should have…should have…

Armin couldn’t figure out where his failure was. If he’d left behind guards, they would have died first. If he’d waited to go in, they would have been between Theognis and the entrance and been cut down when they left. He couldn’t have arrived earlier, no matter how hard he’d pushed – maybe an hour or two. If they hadn’t rested after the battle with the undead, they would have collapsed halfway down the immensely long path that lead to the abandoned lair.

It only made the tears come harder. Duke de’Monchy would have known what to do. Somehow, he would have figured it out.

You’re a failure. 

Armin couldn’t argue with the treacherous little voice. It felt so right. 

The scraping sound brought him to his senses. Though he was a failure, there was no reason to compound that with inaction. He forced himself to stand and resume walking, arms outstretched, as he traced the length of the chain and reached the opposite wall. Well done, Armin, he thought bitterly, you’ve made it across a room. If there was anything in here he could use, it wasn’t on the walls. As long as he was blind, he couldn’t do anything.

Taking a deep breath, Armin reached out for the Lumwell nearby.

Its power flared within him, and even with his weak lumcasting, he could create a globe of light. It burst to life in the palm of his hand.

The room was stone and worn by the ages. Some back room the dragon had once used for storage, perhaps. The chain was held in place by an iron loop embedded in the wall, which suggested this room might have stored something other than treasure. He tugged at it, but it remained securely in place. Of course. 

He turned to find the entrance. It was a wooden door, out of reach of the chain, and blocked by a small figure. His heart caught in his throat. He knew that outfit, he knew that hair. “Clarcia?” he said, choking out the word as excitement made his throat tight. It’s not possible. I saw her die! It must have been better than I feared.

Clarcia didn’t respond. Her head was pressed against the wood of the door, and she had curled her fingers. As Armin watched, she raised her fingers to the door and dragged them down against the wood. The wood scraped under her grip.

“C…clarcia?” he said again, the momentary relief at seeing her alive replaced with dread. Inch by inch she dragged her fingers across the wood of the door, and Armin could see that she’d managed to dig furrows in the thick wood.

Her hand fell to her side. Armin stared at it. Something about her hand looked wrong. The tips were too white.

Bone white.

“Clarcia!” He shouted, his voice breaking from panic.

Clarcia turned to face him with agonizing slowness. Her jaw hung loosely, as though she didn’t have the strength to close it anymore. Her eyes were milky-white and unfocused. Worst of all, in the center of her forehead, was a perfectly round hole where an unlight beam had bored through and destroyed her brain.

Armin started to scream as Clarcia stood there, staring at him. He didn’t know if he would stop. He didn’t know if he would ever stop.

His voice gave out before he did. He slumped to the floor, now weeping openly. He wanted to put out the light globe he’d created, but the idea of being in the darkness with her standing there, staring at him, kept him from giving in to that temptation. His shoulders shook.

The entire time, Clarcia’s corpse stood there, watching him with a blank expression.

Armin understood now.

He was a prisoner, and Clarcia was his guard.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 148

The crystal bottle that had once held the Phoenix Flame lay still lay in the grass where Tythel had dropped it as she left this valley. It was now home to a small mouse and her pups, who apparently didn’t mind that predators could see them. Not when they were safely in a bottle that had contained liquid hot enough to burn a dragon’s lifeless body to ash. Tythel hopped out the Skitterer and began to walk towards where that ash had been left – her father’s last resting place.

In her grief, she hadn’t thought about Phoenix Flame and what that would mean. The phoenix were a race of dragonkin that had gone extinct during the era of her great grandsire, the necromantic dragon Grejhak that had created the lair Armin was now delving into. The timing was no coincidence – Grejhak had waged a genocidal campaign against these creatures that could defy death. Their name, in the old Draconic tongue, meant “Second-Born,” a reference to their phenomenal regenerative prowess. Aside from that, Karjon had spoken only little of them, save that their flames had been opposite those of normal dragons – a Phoenix could breathe Heartflame from birth, and only later would learn Ghostflame. Their third flame was similar to Dragonflame, but for two key differences.

Phoenix Flame lacked the sheer destructive potential of Dragonflame. It was hotter than any flame mankind could produce, and hot enough to burn a dragon’s scales, but it was still dwarfed by the heat their scaled cousins could produce.  However, unlike Dragonflame, it did not just leave behind ash. It helped decompose that which it burned, accelerating years of natural breakdown into a handful of seconds.

And dragon bodies fueled plant life unlike anything else in the world.

In the year since she’d been gone, the spot where her father had been cremated had transformed. It was awash with Drakebloom. The flowers grew taller than even the Sunflowers that sometimes lined the roads, their stalks twisted and arched to look like a dragon rearing up to let loose its breath weapon. Their petals were red and orange and gold and glistened with morning dew. Bees, stripped green and black, flitted among them. When the Drakebloom was ready to reproduce, the flower would rise up until it was facing the sky, then spray its seeds. It was said to look like a dragon flaming as the red and gold seeds caught the air to be carried away.

Tythel had to swallow to process the implications. Drakebloom could breed true with other flowers though some process Karjon had not been able to explain. It was still rare because dragons normally incinerated their dead, and much of the nutrients gained through normal breakdown were lost. Where they weren’t incinerated, they would decompose only slowly.

But Tythel had incinerated Karjon with Phoenix Flame. Everything in his body had been returned to the earth in an instant.

The Drakebloom would spread throughout the valley. Eventually, enough seeds would crest over the wall to spread into the rest of the world. The normal yellow honey bees outside would take over from the green bees of Karjon’s valley, and they would spread the Drakebloom further.

Dragons may be gone, but Drakebloom would one day be as common as lilies.

Tears threatened to well in Tythel’s eyes. She hadn’t meant to, but she’d given Karjon a legacy even better than the cold stone she’d carved for him. It was still there, although she had to brush away some vines that had begun to creep their way up the mass of rock. She traced her fingers along the letters of the message she’d written, so long ago.

Here lies Karjon the Magnificent

Who battled the Wizards of the 9th Circle

Dueled the dread necromancer Gix

Sat upon the Council of Twelve

And was the greatest Father to have lived.

Behind her, she could hear Eupheme and Tellias dismount from the Skitter. They spoke briefly amongst themselves – “Is that her father-” Tellias started to say, but before he could finish, Eupheme interrupted.

“I think so. Help me unpack this? I think she needs a moment.”

“I imagine she needs more than that,” Tellias said, but not in an argumentative tone. He sounded somber, and at that moment, Tythel could have hugged them both.

She didn’t. Instead, she savored the moment here, pressing her hand against the cold stone as she once had against her father’s warm scales. I’m sorry I didn’t come back sooner, Father, she thought, and in the twilight shadow she could almost imagine the Drakebloom formed his profile perfectly. It’s been a long year. I’ll tell you all about it once we’re done. But…right now, I need your protection again.

Tythel knew her father well. He would have hunkered down, bringing himself eye-level with her, and cocked his head just slightly. He would have said “What trouble you, my child?” Or something along those lines. Immediate concern for her, the rest to be considered later.

The Alohym – Those From Above – have a new thing. A thing that is half human and half of them. It hunts me and my friends. I don’t…I don’t know if I’m strong enough to beat it. The feeling of tears continued to build, and her nictitating membranes began to flash in reflex.

This time, she could practically hear him. “Of course you are. You are my daughter, after all.”

I’m still human. I’m still too weak. I think I lead us all to our deaths. 

“Oh, really? Then tell me, my beautiful human daughter – why don’t you weep?”

Tythel knew the voice wasn’t real. Knew it was her filling in what he would be saying – but also realized he was right. She brought her hand up to her cheek and found it dry. Her nictitating membranes were still flashing – the way dragons relieved sadness, their version of a human’s tears – but tear ducts were human things. Dragons shed no tears.

Tythel shed no tears.

Finding one more thing in common with her father made her smile even through the flashes of her membranes. She slid her hand down the stone and stepped back.

Even if they died here, she’d do so with the knowledge she’d taken on one more draconic trait before she passed.

Tythel turned to help Eupheme and Tellias unload the Skitter. She could sense their desire to comfort but their uncertainty about doing so. When she met Eupheme’s eyes, she shook her head, but made herself smile.

Knowing they cared was enough.

In the distance, Tythel heard the buzzing of Catheon’s wings, and knew that soon this valley would be a battleground once again.

She glanced at her father’s grave one last time as they moved to pick the point where they would engage the enemy, and silently made a vow.

No matter what happened here, the Drakebloom would be unharmed.