Dragon’s Scion Part 171

Tythel found Tellias on the banks of the lake. The mud he was laying in had turned black from being soaked in his blood, and it was beginning to soak into the water. Tythel rushed towards him, her heart pounding so hard it threatened to burst out of her chest. “Please, no. Not another one. Not him.” she said. She wasn’t sure who she was begging for him to be alive. The Light, the Shadow, the Cosmos themselves. Anyone or anything who would listen.

No one answered her.

Tellias wasn’t moving. Tythel knelt next to him, her nictitating membrane flashing. It was a reflex from the early days of her transformation. Dragons didn’t have tear ducts, and her transformation had gone to the point where she had no tears to cry.

So she expressed grief the way she’d seen her father show it. She tilted back her head and let out a roar of anguish. The sound was distinctly draconic, a low rumble that built to a sound like blocks of granite being rubbed together, slowly increasing in pitch from there until it blended into a shriek. Birds erupted from trees, moles fled to their burrows, and even the insects fell silent at the sound. In the aftermath of her cry, the entire valley was silent.

And it was only in that silence she could hear the faint sound of his heartbeat, far too faint to be heard normally.

“Tellias!” Tythel exclaimed, hope rising in her chest. She pulled the face mask of his armor, wrenching the damaged plate away with brute strength. I’m not too late, I’m not too late. I’ve got him, I’ve got here in time, I’ve-

The sight of Tellias strangled that hope. Red streaks ran from his mouth, nose, and ears. His head had tilted to the side, which had spared him from drowning in his own blood,  but it let her see the side of his temple. It was curved inwards. Shards of bone had to have been driven into his brain. He was alive in the most technical sense of the term, but only because his heart still beat, and his lungs still drew air.

She’d seen injuries like this before, in the aftermath of battles. They were, in some ways, worse than death. His body would linger for days until he starved to death. If they got a hold of the Alohym’s technology, the same ones that had allowed her to survive after that first fight with Tomah, the machines that put tubes into arms and provided nutrients, that could be extended to weeks, maybe even months or years. She’d even heard rumors there were some the Alohym had kept alive from the initial war, now seventeen years past. Their bodies were withered with disuse and they looked like little more skeletons, but they still lived.

Not even rumors suggested those had ever reawakened. Tellias would not return. His body was nothing more than an empty vessel. Or worse – there were some who believed that his soul would still be trapped in his body like this, that it would not go to the Shadow until his body fully failed.

If she still had tears to cry, she would have wept.

Eupheme appeared behind her. “Leora’s bound. We’ve got a day before more of the drug is needed, and with her injuries I don’t think…she’ll…escape…” Eupheme’s words trailed off as she saw Tellias’s injuries. “Light and shadow,” she whispered hoarsely.

Tythel couldn’t respond. Even her own injuries seemed a remote and distant thing right now. “He asked to court me,” Tythel whispered, finally breaking the silence. “Right before we left to come here. He said I was fierce and beautiful and wonderful and that…” Tythel’s voice broke, and she had to swallow a lump to continue. “I told him no. I told him…dragon’s don’t love the way humans do. Not…not when it comes to romance.”

Eupheme knelt behind Tythel, beginning to work on bandaging the still bleeding wound between her wings. “Was that the truth?”

Tythel nodded miserably. “I still…I should have-”

“No,” Eupheme said. The word was an odd combination of tender and firm, friendly and strict. “That would have been worse. What you did was honest. Hard, but honest.”

“If I had, though…he would have…”

Eupheme pulled hard on the bandage. The sudden pressure cut Tythel off with a hiss of pain. “Tythel, listen to me,” Eupheme said. Her words were as firm and as sure as her hands. “A lie to protect someone from a painful truth is far more cruel than honesty could ever be. You wouldn’t have spared him any injury if you’d told him a lie, you just would have set him up for more pain later. It would have broken his heart to learn the truth – that you’d never be able to love him back the way he wanted – if he’d had time to fall in love with you. Instead, you spared him that, and hopefully set him down a path where those feelings could have turned into loving you as a friend, or a comrade-in-arms, and eventually as his Queen. You saved him from that anguish.”

“But…” Tythel choked on the words. “Eupheme, he’s gone. You don’t recover from injuries like that. Even a Lumcaster…they’d have to use so much Light that it would turn him into one of those monsters that guards the Lumwells.”

“Does Heartflame create monsters?” Eupheme asked.

Anger rose unbidden, and Tythel snarled the next words. “I don’t know how to use Heartflame. I can’t help him.

“Not yet.” If Tythel’s anger got through to Eupheme, she didn’t show it in the slightest. “But you learned Ghostflame to defeat Rephylon. You grew wings to survive Catheon. You will learn Heartflame. This is a lingering wound. We have the Skitterer. We’ll get him back to town. We’ll put him in in the care of someone with the Alohym tools. They’ll keep him alive. They can keep him alive for years. And then, when you learn Heartflame, you’ll return, and you’ll restore him. But that only happens if we start moving now. If we don’t get him care soon, his brain will swell with fluids and he’ll die.” Eupheme tied off the bandage. “So…can you move?”

Tythel was tired. She was so tired, and in so much pain. She wanted to lay on the grass and sleep for the next decade.

But Eupheme had given her real hope. And hope is more powerful than fear or love or anger or hate when it comes to finding strength you’d thought depleted.

“Do you have an arcell?” Tythel asked.

Eupheme handed her one. Carefully, Tythel drew a thin line along it with her talon. Light began to leak out of the crack, and Tythel dropped it in the armor. It wouldn’t contain enough to mutate Tellias, and it certainly wouldn’t contain enough to revive him, but it would stabilize him enough to survive the journey. “Stay with him. Scavengers still dwell here, and they might come if we leave him alone. I’ll go get the-”

“You stay with him,” Eupheme said, cutting her off. “I’ll go get the Skitterer and Leora. You stay here.” She stood up and gave Tythel a tired smile. “After all…what is better for scaring off scavengers than a dragon?”

Tythel’s eye flickered in appreciation, and Eupheme vanished into a nearby shadow.

Now, there was nothing to do by wait and hope.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 170

Tythel whirled, her talons stretched out, but Leora had already leapt back. The dagger was still stuck into her back, wedged between her shoulder blades. Moving was agony. Flight was out of the question. With a single stab, Leora had grounded her. Got to get the dagger out, Tythel thought, reaching for her back.

Leora had already produced another dagger and was lunging for her. Tythel had to leap out of the way, hopping back from the thrust that was aimed squarely for her heart. Eupheme. Where’s Eupheme? That thought leant her motion an extra edge of panic. Reflexes Tythel didn’t know she had drove her to flap her wings, and the sudden lance of agony caused her to stumble when she landed. Leora’s next strike was aimed straight for Tythel’s heart, and she barely got her hands up in time. The blade of the dagger passed between Tythel’s middle and ring fingers. At the last second, Tythel caught it by the pommel before Leora could drive it into her heart.

“Die!” Leora shouted, bearing down on the blade. Tythel had to drop with Leora’s motion to avoid having her hand cut in half. With a flick of her wrist, Tythel was able to wrench the blade from Leora’s grasp. It bit into the scales between her fingers, deep enough to give her a new source of pain.

Leora drew a new dagger out of her sleeve and brought it around in a wide thrust aimed for Tythel’s throat, one Tythel was too badly positioned to block.

So. This is it.

There was a ring as the dagger struck another blade interposed in its path. Eupheme emerged from the shadow provided by Tythel’s wings, pushing Leora back. “Not. Today.” Eupheme hissed between clenched teeth.

The two were locked in a contest of strength, giving Tythel a moment to think. Leora and Eupheme both were covered with a dozen tiny cuts from where they’d managed to strike each other. Leora had a similar injury on her left arm – one that Tythel now realized she’d only used to draw new daggers. Eupheme had been spared any deeper injuries so far and seemed to have the upper hand – but there was no telling how long that would last.

Tythel reached for her back, trying to get at the dagger. I can help Eupheme. I just need to-

Her fingers closed around the hilt, and she sunk her talons into it. Bracing herself against the pain, Tythel pulled the dagger out.

She roared at the sensation. Not a scream, not a shout, but a true roar.

The sound threw both Eupheme and Leora off their balance. There was a primal instinct in humans, ones that went back to when their ancestors had huddled in caves as the ancestors of dragons roamed the sky. Something deep in that ancestral memory told both women that sound meant they were in terrible danger, and the sudden surge of adrenaline sent them both stumbling, breaking the lock they’d been held in.

Leora reacted first. She flipped the dagger she’d been holding and to grip it by its point and tossed it straight at Eupheme. Eupheme raised her hand in a warding gesture, and the blade went straight through her palm. Eupheme cried out in pain.

That wasn’t what caught Tythel’s attention, however. It was the way Leora’s eyes widened at Eupheme’s scream, the way her jaw dropped, the look of absolute horror that stretched across her face.

Tythel took advantage of the distraction and lunged. Leora didn’t start to dodge in time, and Tythel was able to catch her by the shoulders and shove her against a tree. The branches shook from the impact, and Tythel sunk her talons into Leora’s arm. From what Eupheme had told her, now Leora wouldn’t be able to step into the shadows without taking Tythel with her.

Leora snarled and reached for a dagger, but Tythel just wrenched her arms. She was rewarded with a grinding sound and a scream from Leora as her shoulder popped loose of her socket.

“I don’t know who you are,” Tythel hissed, her face inches from Leora’s, “but I made myself a promise. If I could, I’d spare Eupheme from having to kill you. I could see how much this battle tormented her. I’ll send you to the Shadow  myself if it spares her that.”

“Then…do it,” Leora spat out the words between agonizing gasps. “Just shut your flathing mouth and do it.”

“Not until you answer a question,” Tythel said. “Why did you look like the sight of that blade in Eupheme’s hand made you sick?”

“She…she should have ducked,” Leora said, the words thick on her tongue. “It wasn’t…it wasn’t supposed to…” now there were tears in her eyes. “End me, damn you. Send me to the Shadow.”

“It wasn’t supposed to what?” Tythel demanded.

“It wasn’t supposed to hit!” The words came out in a frantic rush. “Light and Shadow take you, she’s my sister and I wasn’t trying to injure her!”

Tythel stared at Leora in shock. Silence fell on the valley in the wake of Leora’s exclamation, silence that was finally broken by the sound of soft footsteps. Eupheme was approaching. “Move, your highness,” Eupheme said between pained gasps. The dagger was still wedged in her hand, but a new one had been drawn in the uninjured limb. “I’m going to end this monster’s miserable life.”

“Eupheme…” Leora said. Tears were starting to stream down her face now, tears that even the injuries Tythel had done to her couldn’t cause.

“I’ll make it quick,” Eupheme said. “I owe you that much, Leora.”

Tythel shook her head. “Don’t.”

“Don’t?” Eupheme asked, stopping in her tracks. “Tythel, she betrayed the order. It’s not for you to kill her. That duty falls to me.”

“Eupheme,” Tythel said, choosing her words carefully. “Catheon came to kill me because I killed Rephlyon, who he thought of as his father. Nicandros abandoned me because I killed Tomah. I fight the Alohym because I want vengeance for my father. And this…this is your sister.”

“My sister,” Eupheme said numbly, “is dead. I’m just killing the thing that poisons every memory of her.”

Leora’s tears were flowing freely. “I did it…”

“Quiet,” Eupheme said. “I told you, I don’t care. Tythel…don’t put  yourself in the middle of this.”

Tythel’s lips tightened as her mind raced. “Is there a way to stop her from stepping into the Shadow?”

“A drug,” Eupheme said. “It numbs our ability to sense the other side.”

“Do you have any?”

Eupheme nodded.

“Give it to her,” Tythel said. “We need….she’s the last one alive. We need to know what she knows.”

“And then?” Eupheme asked.

“And then I leave you to decide her fate,” Tythel said. She had no right to deny Eupheme vengeance, if vengeance was what Eupheme wanted. But she owed her friend a chance to think through what she was doing before she killed the last remaining member of her family.

Eupheme considered for a moment, then stuck the dagger into the ground. “As you wish, your highness.” She pulled out a vial and walked over to Leora. “Open your mouth.”

Leora did. Tythel and Eupheme both watched her throat to make sure she swallowed.

Eupheme produced a rope from under her cloak and started to bind Leora’s hands to her feet. “Where’s Tellias?” she asked.

Tythel stood up. The  motion made her head spin, and she could feel the blood running down her back. If Leora’s dagger had gone any deeper, she would have punctured a lung, maybe even Tythel’s heart. Just a bit longer, she thought. Just a bit longer, and then you can get that dealt with. “I saw him by the lake. He killed the lumcaster. I’m going to go…I’m going to go find him. You all right?”

Eupheme didn’t look at Tythel. Her eyes were locked on her sister’s. “I will be,” she said, her voice quiet. “Thank you.”

Tythel whispered a welcome and began to walk towards where she had seen Tellias. Silently, she begged the Light that he would still be alive when she got there.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 169

Catheon descended through the illusion. He’d rebuilt his suit – his thrissulth – so it completely covered his form again. By exposing how it worked like that, it did lend credence to one popular theory about how those thrissulth worked for the Alohym. And, if they were right about that…This absolutely demented plan just might work.

Tythel circled the spot he descended through in a wide, lazy arc. He wasn’t scanning the skies – why would he, when he was the only one who could fly? “Where is the body?” Catheon said aloud, although Tythel couldn’t hear anyone near him. “Where is it?” his words started to sound more frantic as he began to search through the underbrush.

Tythel knew it was now or never. He’d take off soon, reclaim the skies – and in doing so, see her. An aerial battle with Catheon did not favor her. She had the instincts, but he clearly had far more practice. Tythel brought in her wings and stooped towards Catheon, breathing deeply with the dive.

When she got close, she let loose a long stream of brilliant blue ghostflame. Catheon shrieked as the edge of the flame caught him, the fire leaving his body unharmed but burning him at his core. His wings began to flutter, and he took to the sky, trailing wisps of smoke. “You – you can’t fly!” he shouted, indignation and shock combining with pain to overwhelm common sense.

Tythel’s response was to hurl the sack at Catheon. He responded exactly as she’d hoped – a wild slash that cut the bag open across the middle.

The payload was in the bottom and looked out at the sun, its eyes blinking in the sudden light.

Animals don’t have names as sentient beings do. They know who they are, others can recognize them, something as complicated as a name wasn’t needed. If the creature in the bag could be said to have a name, it would be in the emotional response his fellow creatures associated with him.

So this creature could, accurately, be said to be named Angry.

Angry rarely had ‘good’ days. There were days he found enough food and had minimal disruption, and those were the days he was less angry. Today had not been a good day. Things had been getting increasingly tense in the valley. Predators knew the dragon was dead and were starting to move in. None of them bothered Angry, not yet, but the increased fear had been a factor in worsening his mood. Then there had come a thing that was shaped like a man but smelled like metal and it had grabbed Angry. Angry had sprayed the metal-man-thing, but it hadn’t reacted. Then it had stuck Angry in a sack. Then Angry had been jostled around and suddenly Angry had smelled dragon. Dragon’s frightened Angry. They could burn from further away than he could spray. He’d gotten very still.

The dragon had gone away, but Angry hadn’t been able to get out of the sack. Then there had been lots of loud noises, and then the bag was picked up again and he could smell dragon. Angry was living up to his name and had gone past anger into outright fury.

Then the bag had been ripped open.

Thousands of years ago, before the Underfolk even had come to this land, there had been a race of creatures Angry’s species remembered in their instincts as The Great Eaters. They had hunted things like Angry, and they had been large and black and covered in chitin. They lived in hives and were very dangerous. This thing looked like a Great Eater but could fly.

So could Angry.

He flapped his wings to keep altitude as the thing that looked like a Great Eater but didn’t smell like one hovered in the air, staring at Angry. “What is this?” he asked.

Angry didn’t know what the noises the thing made meant. He knew the noises sounded like buzzes, and that sounded like the Great Eaters.

Angry knew what to do about Great Eaters. Flapping his wing, Angry brought his anus to face this new adversary and let out a warning hiss.

The thing did not move away.

Angry let loose.

Then the Great Eater started screaming.

Tythel couldn’t help but smile as Catheon clutched at his face. The Muskbat was known for how foul its defensive excretions could smell, so much so that people rarely got close enough to get sprayed. What wasn’t known was what the Muskbat would use that excretion for – it would spray it into the hives of communal insects, letting the noxious concoction kill them.

Because the excretion would turn their exoskeletons into paste.

Catheon had taken a full blast directly to the face. The Muskbat squeaked and flew away, clearly certain it had done A Good Job. Tythel couldn’t argue with that – Catheon was screaming now and flailing wildly. He was blind.

Tythel dove towards him again, her talons outstretched. She shifted to dive under one of Catheon’s wild swings and let her talons sink into his armor.

The smell was revolting, like rotten meat left in a latrine to ferment under sunlight. Tythel fought back the gag reflex and she let her momentum carry them both to the ground, dragging Catheon towards the forest floor. He fluttered his wings, but with her claws around him, his superior mobility didn’t help. It was just a contest of brute force at this force, and Tythel’s wingspan was three times her height. Catheon’s buzzing only slowed their descent.

Then they hit the ground. Tythel stretched out her arms and was rewarded with a sound like paper being shredded as Catheon’s wings were torn to shreds. He – or rather, his thrissulth – screamed in agony at the pain. Bits of its body began to become thinner, rushing on instinct to rebuild the wings, only to be torn away again.

Catheon finally recovered enough of his wits to regain control of the thrissulth. He formed his arm into a blade and swung for Tythel’s neck.

Tythel responded by slamming him the rest of the way into the ground. Her own momentum carried her forward, out of the blade’s reach, and sent her tumbling along the ground until a tree arrested her movement.

Catheon lay at the bottom of a deep furrow. He shuddered and his arms bent at unnatural angles to reach the ground at the side of the furrow. Gradually, he began to pick himself up. “You…think that you can…still win?” The words came out in a sickly rasp. The thrissulth had pulled away from Catheon’s lips, and its eyes ran from their sockets, exposing Catheon’s human eyes. They burned with hatred. “You are…nothing”

Tythel stood up and began to limp towards Catheon. He was slowly righting himself, his body twisting in ways that should have broken every bone in his frame, yet those eyes betrayed no pain. “Come then…” he hissed the words, “come and die, you pathetic imposter. I will rip-”

Tythel let loose a torrent of flame before he could finish. She focused on her breath, pushing aside Catheon’s pained screams, and the red-hot Dragonflame shifted to the blue of Ghostflame.

Catheon’s cries stopped.

Good, Tythel thought, too numb from the flood of emotions earlier. Now I just need to-

The thought was interrupted by a scream of her own as Leora’s dagger rammed into her back.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 168

Tythel ducked and Catheon’s claw cut through the tree behind her. Leora and Eupheme had to vanish in its shadow to avoid being trapped beneath its branches. Tythel rolled to the side as Catheon finished his work, cutting the tree stump down the middle with an overhead slash. She inhaled with the motion, focusing on her breath, and let loose a gout of dragonflame only feet away from the half Alohym. Fire washed over him, and Tythel kept up the flame. Don’t push too hard, she reminded herself, stepping forward. Dragonflame didn’t kill Rephylon. She was certain she couldn’t count on it to finish the job here either.

True to her expectations, Catheon came bursting out of the flame, flying towards her. He’d expected Tythel to still be where she had been, and the step forward meant his blade overshot. She caught his arm before it could strike her and pivoted, hurling Catheon over her shoulder and into the ground. Dirt and stones flew from the impact sight. She pulled back, ready to slam him again, but Catheon lashed out with his other hand. If she wanted to keep her wrists attached, she had to let go of his arm.

He’s so fast! It had been the same with Rephylon all those months ago. In some ways it was worse. Rephylon had been inhumanly fast but had greater bulk that made hit harder for him to redirect his momentum. Catheon was every bit as fast but could pivot in an instant. Tythel  had to leap back from his strikes again. A knife passed over her head when she dodged one particularly close blow, and Leora frowned in frustration before Eupheme forced their battle back into the shadows.

There was no sign of Daetor or Tellias. Tythel silently prayed that Tellias was all right.

“You monster,” Catheon hissed in that distorted voice.

“I’m the monster?” Tythel responded, landing on a boulder and reading herself for Catheon’s next strike. “Look at yourself. You’re twisted.”

“I’m perfect,” Catheon said, breathing deeply. He was wearing down as much as she was, and they both were taking advantage of the momentary pause to their battle. “I was remade into a god. You…you’re a dead end. The last member of a dead species. Not even – a half-member.”

Tythel resisted the urge to lunge at Catheon. It was what he wanted. If she tried to press the attack now, his speed would turn the tide so quickly she’d probably be dead before she even realized she’d made a mistake. “The Alohym killed them,” she said, spitting the words through clenched teeth. “You were remade by murderers, and they set you like a lapdog to finish their dirty work.”

“Sent me?” Catheon said, the words loaded with scorn. “You think they sent me? I came of my own free will. I gathered allies. I hunted you. If I’d been sent, I’d have a fleet behind me. You’re a dead woman. You realize that, right? I just wanted it to be me that killed you.”

Tythel recoiled slightly in confusion, tilting her head. Her nictitating membranes flashed as she processed what he was saying. “That…why? What wrong have I done to you?”

“You don’t know,” Catheon said. The words weren’t really directed at Tythel. He seemed to be talking more to himself than anything. “After all this…you have no flathing idea.” Catheon hissed out a breath and refocused on her. “You are a monster and a killer. A murderer and a rebel. Dozens of deaths lay at your feet, Tythel. I came to make sure you answered for at least one of them.”

Tythel felt a chill creep up her spine. Who did I kill that he cared about so much? So many things made sense now – Catheon’s dogged pursuit, his hatred, the fact that he seemed to bear her particular ill wills. It must have been one of the Alohym soldiers she’d killed in their battles. Right? Or perhaps, a treacherous voice in the back of her mind whispered in Nicandros’s voice, it was one of the farmers in the fields you torched. Perhaps an innocent civilian in a burning home from your battle with Rephylon. How many have you killed, girl? Do you even know? “Who?” Tythel asked, choking the word out.

“Who? Who?” Catheon flew at her, striking with even greater fury than he’d previously shown. Tythel was barely able to dodge his strikes, and a few managed to slice narrow lines on her arms and legs.

Tythel dropped to one knee and brought up her unlight shield. Catheon’s blade tore it in half with a screech of metal and a shower of unlight sparks. The display blinded Tythel’s good eye for a moment, and she felt Catheon’s hand close around her throat. “You killed my father you shadow-damned bitch!

No. Tythel grappled the limb around her throat, but Catheon’s skin was shifting, flowing like wax, pulling its chitinous mass over to harden his arm. She couldn’t get her talons in deeply enough. As it pulled away, it revealed a human arm dangling at his side. A small part of Tythel noted it was not a normal arm – it was shrunken and shriveled, like it belonged to someone deeply malnourished. He’d curled the hand into a fist, but it seemed that effort was so great it caused the limb to tremble. The skin was grey and slick with excretion.

Tythel remembered the slug she’d pulled out of Rephylon. Tiny and shrieking and half mad. It had the same texture to its skin, the same near-helplessness.

She couldn’t draw breath to flame. She couldn’t break free of the iron grip of his healthy arm now that he’d reinforced it. Tythel kicked out, trying to slash his stomach with the talons on her feet, but the angle was all wrong. She managed to croak out a single word. “Who?”

The grip around her throat tightened. “Rephylon. You murdered him in the street, where everyone could see. You pulled him from his thrissulth. You didn’t even let him have the peace of death within it!”

Tythel’s eyes widened and she tried to speak again, but Catheon was beyond listening. His wings buzzed and they were shooting airborne. Tythel could see Eupheme right where they’d been. Even in his rage, Catheon wasn’t completely distracted. The valley shrunk beneath them.

They passed through the illusion and higher into the air. Catheon’s armor continued to flow. His head was exposed to reinforce his chest as she tried to kick at him, and for the first time Tythel saw his true face. It belonged to a boy about her age. His hair only existed in splotchy patches across his scalp, his eyes were far too wide, and his adult teeth had somehow grown in behind the infant set, giving him a double-jawed look. “You deserve nothing but death,” Catheon hissed. Without his armor – his Thrissulth, Tythel supposed – his voice was hoarse and pained.

The valley was now so far below them, Catheon had to stop ascending to still have air he could breathe. Even the tip of her father’s mountain was beneath them, and the individual trees ran together into a sea of green. Tythel’s vision was starting to go dark, and Catheon’s grip on her neck lessened slightly. “No, Tythel,” he croaked. “You don’t get to…die like that. You will…die like your father.” His mouth twisted into a terrible mockery of a smile. “In terror as the ground approaches.”

Catheon let go.

Tythel started to fall, tumbling end over end. No! It was exactly like before, only there was no Karjon beneath her, trying to guide their path to something safer. She spread out her arms and legs, trying to brace herself so she’d fall facing the ground. Tythel’s mind raced, and just as Karjon had tried to slow their descent with his flame, she let loose a burst.

It didn’t do anything to her fall, just sent her tumbling again. The benefit of the flame had been the thermals it had provided to Karjon’s wings.

Not like this. Tythel ground her teeth together as the ground rushed closer. Not like this! 

Why not, girl? Nicandros’s voice sneered in her mind. He’s just doing exactly what you want. Avenging his father. Why do you have the right to seek vengeance when he doesn’t? Why is it just that you killed Tomah, and unjust that the Alohym killed your father? Are you really any better than Catheon? Let the ground come. End this cycle of death. Rephylon had been Catheon’s father. Just like Karjon had adopted her, Rephylon had adopted Catheon.

Tythel felt despair well up in her chest, far greater than the mere fear of death. Her nictitating membranes cleared away tears as the ground loomed even closer. Wasn’t that right? She’d only done this to herself. How did she have the right to hate above all others?

She passed through the illusion, and something drew her attention. The bank of the lake had been scorched by lumcasting and arcfire. Daetor’s mangled corpse was slumped onto the ground, as was Tellias, still trapped in his armor. He had no power, and worse, there was no sign of motion.

Stop mourning the dead. This time it wasn’t Nicandros’s voice she heard, but her father’s. Instead, look for the living. 

I want to live! The thought burned through Tythel’s mind. The ground was so close now she could see blades of grass. Something ripped behind her. I can’t die yet!

An immense strain pulled at her back, so great it almost tore her shoulders from her sockets. Her path towards the ground turned horizontal as instincts she didn’t know she had pulled, and suddenly those blades of grass were rushing past her instead of towards. Her path took her over Tellias. She could hear his heart for an instant, a single beat assuring her that he still lived.

Tythel looked over her shoulder to see a pair of beautiful, golden wings stretched out from her back. Her armor still clung to her by the band at the waist and at her throat, protecting her front. That barely registered – she had wings.  She smiled fiercely and banked, turning her momentum. It felt so natural, so right, she had to fight back the urge to whoop with glee. Grief was forgotten. Pain was a distant memory.

She dove closer to the ground and snatched a struggling sack from the earth before pumping her wings and pulling herself into the air.

I can fly. Tythel was giddy with the thought, all her despair – for the moment, buried under joy. I can fly, and Catheon has no idea.

Tythel pushed herself up towards the barrier of the illusion, waiting for Catheon to descend.

She’d be ready for him.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 167

A ball of light formed under Tellias’s grip, forcing him to let go of Daetor before it snapped his fingers. Daetor pushed away before Tellias could grab him again. Daetor turned his hands towards the ground. A beam of light sprung from Daetor’s hands and propelled himself upwards. Tellias followed, the tiny engines in his arcplate sending him hurtling after the Lumcaster. Neither of them had any ability to actually fly. It was more of a guided leap.

Tellias drew his arcblade. The weapon was far larger than the personal models utilized by ground troops, and he’d had to re-sheathe it to recharge the arcell. Daetor was lining up a shot on Tellias’ chest, and Tellias kicked his engines on again, pushing himself to side. Daetor’s own blast changed his trajectory.

It was a war of attrition. Daetor’s attacks could damage Tellias’s armor, but it took a great deal of force for him to really do serious injury. However, the Lumcaster could pull far more power than Tellias’ arcells could hold. Conversely, arcplate meant Tellias could fight without tiring for far longer than Daetor, and if Daetor tired before Tellias’s arcells ran out, a single blow would turn the battle in Tellias’s favor.

If he could land the blow. The Lumcaster was surprisingly slippery – Tellias had never seen a Lumcaster use their constructs and beams for propulsion the way Daetor did. It made keeping up with him a nightmare.

During the brief window where Daetor was above the illusion and Tellias below it, Tellias kicked the engines again, coming up at a different angle than Daetor was expecting. He swung his sword in a wild arc, but Daetor brought up a shield of light. Tellias’s arcbade clashed against the barrier, and then they were pushed apart and falling back to the ground. Tellias fired his arcwand and Daetor sent a stream of light streaking his way, but both missed as the tumbled back to the ground.

Daetor was the first to his feet, slowing his descent with his light. Tellias had to twist along the earth to avoid the blasts as they gouged out chunks of grass and dirt. He swung his arcblade, catching the beam along the edge and splitting it in half. The two beams flowed past him, cutting a swath through the nearby trees. The energy in the beams overloaded his armor’s readout and temporarily blinded him.

His vision returned just in time to see Catheon streaking towards him.

Flath! Tellias thought, trying to move the arcblade to intercept. Catheon ducked under the strike and drove a clawed hand into Tellias’s chest, sending him flying backwards. Numbers and words began to flash across Tellias’s visor, displaying concerning terms like “Hull integrity compromised” and “primary arcell damaged” and “Power: 49%”. Tellias barely could process the news as he tumbled across the ground, bouncing until he skidded to a start.

What happened to Tythel? Tellias swung his blade wildly, not even knowing if Catheon was coming. The half-Alohym didn’t appear.

With a single blow, Catheon had badly damaged his arcplate and effectively taken Tellias out of the fight for a few moments. He can’t be that strong, he already would have won. Tellias carefully forced himself to stand and took stock of himself and his surroundings. He had skidded to a halt near a lake, just a few spans away from falling into the water. The birds he’d heard when they’d first entered the valley had fallen silent. Tellias took a moment to orient himself to the valley map Tythel had drawn in the dirt. Catheon had tossed him only thirty spans – only thirty spans! This armor weighs close to forty stone! – but the underbrush he’d passed through hid the battle from him.

Tellias began to trundle back into the forest, assessing the damage done to his arcplate. There was some comfort in the assessment. Catheon’s strike hadn’t been random. He’d hit the exact spot Daetor had been hammering before, a spot in his arcplate that had already been worn thin from multiple blasts of light. Catheon wasn’t strong enough to rend the plate with a single strike – just strong enough to exploit a weakness.

It was a cold comfort. Had Catheon broken away because the fight with Tythel was won? If so, Eupheme and Tellias were already dead. It was just a matter of when the other three would pick them off. But if Tythel was dea- defeated, Tellias though, correcting himself with a furious determination – then Catheon would have stayed on Tellias.

He’d just broken away for a moment, and in doing so, reshaped the odds of his battle with Daetor.

Where are you, coward? Tellias thought, scanning the forest. There wasn’t any traces of active light constructs he could pick up. If Daetor was out there, he was laying in wait.

Or he’d taken advantage of his distraction to aid Leora or Catheon in their fights. Tellias was already pushing himself as fast as the armor would move, but he still tried to get some extra power out of the damaged suit.

Fear made him careless. Daetor’s strike came from above, a sweeping beam of light that crossed the center of Tellias’s chest and sent him staggering backwards. The warnings on his visor began to turn red, including words like “critical power levels” and “imminent catastrophic failure” and, most damningly, “Power: 33%.”

Tellias pushed those fears aside. Daetor was taking aim again.

Desperation fueled Tellias charge towards the Lumcaster, his sword angled to catch the beam on the edge of his blade again. It was like trying to hold the blade deep in a raging river, and Tellias’s advance was ground to a halt. Daetor’s face curled in a sneer. “You’re too late, little Arc Knight. At this point, it’s only a question of what breaks first. Your blade, your armor, your body, or your will. Surrender, and I’ll make it quick.”

Tellias ground his teeth together. It was so bright, he could barely see the Lumcaster, but Tellias didn’t need to see him to know he was right. Daetor was pouring an immense amount of power into the beam, and unlike before he wasn’t letting up. Tellias’s greaves began to slide back in the dirt, drawing deep furrows in the grass.

No. Tellias thought. Steeling himself, he forced the armor to take a step. It was like walking against a hurricane. “No,” he said again, the word coming aloud this time.

“I’m sorry, what was that? You choose a slow death? As you wish – Catheon will be happy with that.” Tellias could see Daetor’s face now. What he’d thought before was a sneer had been the shadows cast by the beam of light, or perhaps just Tellias’s imagination. Daetor didn’t look smug, he didn’t look arrogant. He looked almost sorrowful. “I still might make it quick, to be honest. I’m not a sadist.”

Tellias brought his foot up. The momentary unbalance almost toppled him, but he found it in him to bright the foot back down ahead of where the last step had been. He advanced. “Not…what…I meant.” Tellias said, grunting out the words.

“Oh?” Daetor said.

“My Armor…is holding.” Tellias took another slow, deliberate step. Daetor’s eyes widened as Tellias drew closer.  “My blade…is holding.” The next step came faster than the one before it, and Tellias was able to raise his foot almost immediately again. Warning lights on his armor were flashing red now, demanding his attention, but Tellias didn’t care. “My body…is holding.” His steps were coming quicker now, and he had the most beautiful thing on his side all of a sudden – momentum. Daetor was the one clenching his teeth now, light pouring from both his hands. “And my will…will never…break!”  The last words came out in a defiant roar, and Tellias was running across the forest floor, the little remaining power in his arcplate pushing with the strength in his legs, the energy of Daetor’s split beam cutting through more of the forest. Daetor’s eyes widened in sudden shock as Tellias closed the gap between them.

It was a beautiful moment. A moment of absolute clarity, the kind of things the bards sing songs about in taverns for centuries afterwards. Tellias had found the strength to cross the battlefield and close the gap between himself and his foe, and there was nothing Daetor could do.

Daetor didn’t need to do anything. When there were only ten spans between them, the power indicator lights on Tellias’s vision flashed “Power: 1%,” followed by all the indicators flashing out. All of a sudden, the armor was just forty stone of dead weight. Tellias would have stumbled forward, but the beam of light was still there, and it sent him tumbling backwards, rolling across the ground for the second time. This time, the armor’s systems that protected him from buffeting were powerless. Tellias was battered like he was in a rockslide, and once again his path nearly took him to the lake.

He could hear Daetor’s approach. “You fought well.” His breath was ragged, and he was panting from the effort. “I want you to know that. Aside from other Lumcasters, Alohym, and dragons, I’ve never fought anything that pushed me as hard as you did.”

Blood was getting into Tellias’s eye. He’d split his forehead. I hope it’s only the skin. Tellias had seen terrible injuries, and could imagine he was laying there with his skull partially split open, not yet aware he was already dead. Shock was settling in.

“I am going to be quick about it. For the fight, if nothing else.” Daetor stood over him, energy building his hand. “Well done, little Arc Knight. Goodbye.”

A frozen moment. A strike. Tellias howled in pain.

The effort of moving his arm against the weight of the dead armor and lifting the immense arcblade, had dislocated his shoulder. Probably his elbow too.

It had still been enough to split Daetor from stem to sternum. Death was near instant. Daetor had just enough time to look surprised.

Tellias knew he was supposed to say something clever here. “You should have split” or “You talk too much” or…something. Something that would establish how completely his victory had been. That’s what always happened when the bards recounted moments like this.

Instead, Tellias threw up from nausea. He was starting to feel cold. Was it from shock? Or was he dying?

He didn’t know.

He just wanted to close his eyes for a bit…

Darkness came.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 166

Eupheme saw Tythel duck under Catheon’s wild slash, the blade cleaving the air over her head. Tythel lashed out with a slash of her own talons, once again raking the thick chitinous plating that covered his body. He shrieked and took the sky, giving Tythel a moment to dive into cover. She pressed her back against a tree, and that let Eupheme know Tythel was at least safe for the moment from Leora.

Leora, however, wasn’t interested in Tythel at the moment. Eupheme leapt back and Leora’s drove her blade into the empty air Eupheme had just vacated. Twisted herself mid-air, Eupheme vanished into the shadows.

Instantly, she was taken to the place between.

Eupheme never spoke of this place, not even with Tythel. It was the great secret of the Umbrists, something never revealed to outsiders. The world between Aelith and the Shadow. A frozen realm where time barely passed. This section of it, at first, looked just like Karjon’s valley did in the real world, but the colors were faded to shades of grey and everything ran like a smudged painting in motion. The ground was the only solid object here – trees, shrubs, and people were as substantial as the smoke their blurred outlines resembled.

Leora would appear here any moment. Eupheme ran a few paces away and dove through a tree to give herself cover.

Pausing to wait, Eupheme glanced upwards.

The sky was always different in this place. In the Capital, Eupheme saw a twisted, nightmare world that she took as the Alohym’s home dominating the sky. In the fields, she’d see shifting lights that took the forms of animals and people that vanished into mist. She’d expected to see the same here, but that was not the case.

The sky above this valley was dominated by an immense skeletal dragon, far larger than any dragon had been in life. Its eyes were the only spots of color, twin points of cold blue light in the center of its empty sockets.

The crunching of boots wrenched Eupheme’s eyes from the specter above her. Leora had entered this place.

“Eupheme? Where are you?” she said, her voice almost playfully singsong.

Eupheme’s answer was to duck down and peer around the tree, trying to pinpoint where she was. Her hand tightened around the hilt of the dagger.

Here, Leora would be as insubstantial as any other person. They’d have to jump back to the real, physical world to try and strike each other. Duels between Umbrists were complex dances of feints, trying to trick your opponent back to the physical so they would try to strike you since they believed you overextended while at the same time striking because you truly had the upper hand. Eupheme would wait until Leora was close, and then she would-

The dragon overhead roared. Eupheme flattened herself to the Earth, and Leora let out a frightened sound.

It didn’t move from where it was floating. Smaller sounds echoed after the roar.

The shadow reflection of Catheon had raised its hand, and a beam of unlight was beginning to emerge from the appendage. It moved so slowly here, barely at a crawl, but far faster than anything else could travel. Wisps of smoke rose from its length as it started to stretch towards Tythel.

“Tick tock,” Leora said mockingly. “Are you going to make it back in time to shove her out of the way? I do hope you try.”

Eupheme gritted her teeth. Tythel’s hair was starting to rise in slow motion as she lowered her head. Would it be enough? It has to be, Eupheme thought. If she reappeared in the physical, she’d give Leora a clean shot before Eupheme could return to this place.

There. Leora walked through a shrub that parted for her passage, no more disturbed by her presence than anything else here. Eupheme lunged for her, her arms wide open. It looked like a frantic, desperate move. Like Eupheme was taking a stupid risk, exposing herself.

Leora didn’t blink, keeping her eyes wide open as Eupheme passed through her like she was a ghost. “You honestly thought I was going to fall for that?” she asked, sneering at Eupheme.

“You always were greedy,” Eupheme muttered, standing up. They both dropped into fighting stances and began to circle each other. Daggers that couldn’t cause any harm lashed out, each one trying to bait the other.

The unlight beam was halfway to Tythel now. “Come on, Eupheme,” Leora hissed through clenched teeth. Even though the blows were painless, their brains were both insisting they were in mortal peril. The longer this went on, the more likely it was one of them would instinctively make the jump back to the physical world, driven by pure reflexive desire to protect themselves. “Let this go. Walk away. I won’t stop you.”

“Walking away was your thing,” Eupheme said, her blade passing through Leora’s eyes. This time she did force the other Umbrist to at least blink. “I stayed, Leora.”

“Don’t you dare call me that,” Leora said with a sneer. Her blade passed through Eupheme’s heart, and biologic panic made Eupheme tumble. Her body was insisting she should be dead. It wanted to get away. “I thought you’d use my proper name.”

“You abandoned that when you abandoned us!” Eupheme shouted. She lunged, her blade rising through Leora’s chest. Leora shuddered, trying to fight the same demands on her body that were plaguing Eupheme.

“I told you to come with me. You didn’t understand. You never understood.”

“I was ten!” Eupheme said, the words coming out as a strangled cry. “What was I supposed to understand, Leora? I’d lost my mother and my father, I’d watched my home burn, and my older sister was saying we had to join the people who had done it!”

Leora had the decency to wince. Behind them, the unlight beam struck the tree that Tythel had been pressed against. She’d ducked in time, but it was a near thing. The tree was already starting to swell, splinters were forming along its length. It would explode any moment. “I didn’t expect you to hide,” Leora said, her voice hoarse. “I looked for you, Eupheme. I looked everywhere.”

“You didn’t look here.” Eupheme spat the words. “I spent a full day in real time here. By the time I got out, you’d killed everyone else.”

“It wasn’t just me,” Leora countered. Sweat was beginning to bead her brow. Eupheme would be relieved, but her own hands were starting to tremble. They’d both bounce back to the physical as soon as the splinters hit them. Their bodies would insist. “And I’m sorry that happened. But you didn’t let me explain, Eupheme.”

“No. I didn’t. And I don’t care, Leora. You betrayed your oaths, you betrayed our order, and you betrayed me. I stopped caring for you a long time ago.”

“I’m your sister,” Leora said, stepping forward.

Eupheme lunged for Leora’s heart. “My sister is dead.”

Leora leapt back and jumped back into the real, believing Eupheme overexposed. Eupheme followed and tossed the dagger she’d concealed in her other hand.

Leora was already gone. She’d already stepped back into the shadow.

What? Eupheme tried to follow, wondering what Leora’s trick was. Something struck her in the back, sending her stumbling forwards. She whirled.

Their Lumcaster, Daetor, stood there. In her focus on Tythel and Leora, Eupheme had forgotten about the man. Eupheme’s back screamed with pain, and she could smell her own charred skin. Worse, it had lit up the entire forest. Eupheme had no shadows to jump into.

“Goodbye, little Umbrist,” he said with a grin.

Before he could fire, a gauntleted hand closed around his wrist and tugged. The beam of light went wide, and Daetor barely was able to raise a screen of light between himself and Tellias’ next blow. The artificial light he’d created faded. “We’re not finished,” Tellias snarled.

Eupheme didn’t waste time thanking him, instead gritting her teeth and diving for a nearby shadow.

The duel with Leora would have to continue there.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 165

Ghostflame washed towards Tythel’s targets like a cresting wave. She didn’t sustain the burst, having learned from her past attempts how badly that would damage her throat. It came out in an arc of flame that rushed towards her adversaries.

Their reaction was immediate. Catheon’s wings flicked to life and pulled him into the air, away from the fire. Leora dove into the shadow of a bush and vanished. Daetor threw up his hands and set a half crescent of light between himself and the flame.

Ghostflame could penetrate any physical matter, leaving it unharmed, to sear the very soul of the creatures it struck. In the past, when dragons had attacked human settlements, they’d sometimes fly low and let loose a long running wave of ghostflame as their opening barrage, leaving dozens of seemingly unharmed corpses in its wake.

Tythel had hoped it would pass through Light with the same ease, but instead the wave broke when it hit Daetor’s barrier. It wasn’t completely stopped again. Instead, Daetor’s lumwoven construct caught aflame, as if it was thick wood.

Exactly what happened after that, Tythel didn’t see. She was already moving, leaping from the branch of her tree and onto the next. She’d given away her position with that trick, but that had been an expected consequence.

Her movement was proven to be the correct choice mere moments later. An unlight beam came down from above, and the tree she’d just vacated detonated like it had been struck by an entire storm’s worth of lighting. Splinters of wood bounce off Tythel’s scales.

All right, now he’s going to have to come back into the illusion to see and…The droning of Catheon’s wings betrayed his approach. He was alert this time, ready for her to shoot another blast of flame his way. Tythel tensed, waiting for him to draw closer. “Oh won’t you please come out,” Catheon said in a mocking voice. “I want to end your life, and if you do, I’ll make it painless.”

His path drew him close to her tree. The moment she thought he was distracted enough, she propelled herself out of the tree with all of her might.

Catheon didn’t try to dodge this time, instead shooting a beam of unlight the moment she started to move. If she’d tried another burst of flame, the beam would have cut her in half. Since she’d leapt, it passed under her. Catheon swore in surprise and Tythel brought up her feet. She hit his chest and sunk all four sets of talons into the black carapace that surrounded him.

The scream that Catheon made had no trace of human pain in it. It was just that strange buzzing that overlaid his speech. His flight began to falter, and they started to fall towards the ground.

The moment Catheon was between Tythel and the dirt, she kicked off, pushing herself upwards and propelling Catheon even faster down. His wings began to flitter furiously, and he stopped himself a mere span before he would have slammed into the ground. His wings kicked up a storm of dust as he righted himself. Black fluid leaked from where Tythel’s talons had torn the carapace.

Tythel turned her leap into a flip and landed in a crouch, letting loose a torrent of ordinary dragonflame the moment she touched the ground. Her blast met Catheon’s unlight beam midair. Just as Karjon’s flame had once meat the unlight cannon of an Alohym ship, and as Tythel’s flame had met Rephylon’s.

Catheon wasn’t interested in a protracted trade of fire, however. He dove to the side, breaking off his beam as the flame passed through the space he’d just vacated. He turned his dive into a roll and came up on his feet, shooting another beam at Tythel with the movement.

Tythel was already moving, dashing to the side. Their fight turned into a mutual circling, Tythel sending quick bursts of flame in his direction, Catheon lashing out with unlight beams. Both of them were avoiding the shadows that surrounded their battle.

There was another war happening there. Tythel could catch glimpses of a fight in the shade of the trees, Leora and Eupheme appearing for brief flickers to slash at each other before both vanished. Leora struck in one flash, and the coppery taste of blood reached Tythel’s nose. Eupheme! 

The distraction nearly cost her the battle. Catheon shifted one of his arms into a wicked, scythe-like blade and dashed in. Tythel barely managed to duck under the blow and lash out with a slash of her own, forcing the half-Alohym back. Catheon took to the air, merging his arms into a single unlight cannon.

It was a reflex he’d likely developed over dozens of battles, and it would have served him well in most fights. In this case, however, the instinct played in Tythel’s favor. He cursed as he passed through the illusion, and Tythel dove under the trees while he’d lost track of her.

Then she slashed wildly with her talons, two quick arcs that cleaved the air. On her left side, she felt something give under the slash. Leora let out a surprised yelp and vanished again. Strips of cloth hung from Tythel’s claws. I didn’t hit her. She’s going to be re-appearing any moment, and knows I can’t cover my back with that trick, so-

Tythel leapt into the air and kicked backwards. She felt the impact all the way up her back as her heel hit Leora’s face and sent her stumbling away. Tythel landed awkwardly on the ground.

Eupheme appeared then, driving her dagger towards Leora’s heart. Leora vanished before the blade could end her life. Tythel stood back up and gave Eupheme a shaky grin. “Looks like we-”

She didn’t get to finish the sentence. Her left arm exploded in pain before Eupheme could even shout  warning. Catheon gave Tythel a sick grin as he withdrew his arm-blade from Tythel’s shoulder. He hadn’t been flapping his wings to hide his approach and had used the cover provided by her missing eye to his advantage.

Tythel drew her warhammer and swung for him, but Catheon was still inhumanly fast. Her blows struck only empty air as the half-Alohym drew away, and his mocking laughter made Tythel’s blood boil.

The first engagement had left Tythel and Eupheme injured, and only knocked Leora senseless for a moment while scratching Catheon’s armor. There was no sign of either Tellias or Daetor.

Fear gripped Tythel’s heart. If this was how the fight went…don’t give up. Not yet. 

This time, when Catheon approached, Tythel was ready.

Dragon’s Scion Part 164

Strange Cosmology is now available! If you can pick it up and leave it a review, I’d immensely appreciate it! Absolutely up to you.

Tythel climbed a tree to prepare herself for Catheon’s assault, burrowing as close to the trunk as she could go. It was easier to climb than she remembered, aided by her thick talons biting into the bark and giving her purchase her fingers never could have managed before. She smiled at the thought.

When she’d been younger, she’d used these trees as her own personal highway, leaping from branch to branch and giving Karjon daily heart attacks. She’d always known that being gifted with Heartflame would give her the ability to climb like she’d had back then. Well, she’d always hoped. It was wonderful to have that childish hope confirmed.

Everything had been so…terrible since Karjon’s death. War and death and fear and loss. Nicandros had abandoned her. She’d seen more death than she’d ever imagined seeing. She’d lost her eye. It hadn’t all been bad – she’d made friends – but she’d rarely taken the chance to just revel in being a dragon. The thing she’d wanted most her entire life, and she’d barely taken a second to enjoy it.

When I’m done here, I will. The first moment I get. 

Exactly what form that would take had to be considered later, however. Catheon’s wings were growing so loud that they had to be almost here. Tythel strained her ears to listen.

“I’m telling you, there’s an illusion over this valley,” a male voice said in a frustrated growl. It didn’t have the buzzing quality that Tythel had come to associate with Catheon. That must be their Lumcaster. 

“Then what’s beneath it?” Catheon hissed. His voice was distinct – the blend of Alohym buzzing and human speech that made it both alien and familiar. It was somehow worse than the Alohym’s voice, as if the fact that it was recognizable as something that a human throat could produce but also not made it more alien than the Alohym’s native speech.

Of course, it probably didn’t help that his voice was thick was something between arrogance and pure hatred.

“I can’t see through it,” the Lumcaster said, his voice harsh. “That’s veilflame. I’m a lumcaster.”

“You speak pretty boldly to a Scion, Daetor,” a woman’s voice said. That must be the Umbrist. Leora Dimici. The Thirteenth Forsworn, one of the Umbrists that had betrayed their calling. The only one, if Eupheme was correct. Tythel wondered, not for the first time, who Leora was to Eupheme, and why her betrayal had hurt her so much. “Perhaps you could tell us what you can do with the illusion?”

“Well, if you drop me into it, I can fall through it. If you press my face against it, I can see sparkly lights. If you kill me, I could probably haunt it. I can do about as much to Draconic magic as I could to your Umbra, Leora. But trust me, it’s there.”

“I didn’t doubt that it was,” Catheon said in a low purr. “But I’d like more details. Can you tell me at least how close to the ground it is?”

“Fifteen spans,” the Lumcaster – Daetor, Tythel now knew – said promptly.

Whatever was said next was partially cut off by the sound of the Skimmers roaring past. “-be sure?” Catheon said.

“Because that’s the height Karjon stood in life,” Daetor said in the careful tones one would speak to a particularly dense child that’s prone to dangerous tantrums. “I’d be a waste of his power to make it higher, and it’d be pointless to make it lower.”

“You’re certain Karjon made this?” Leora said, “and not that half-dragon bitch?”

“Of course I am.” Daetor scoffed at the question. “If she had access to the deeper draconic mysteries, we’d have died in that fight. She had Dragonflame and Ghostflame. At best, she might have Heartflame. But Veilflame? Warpflame? Strangefire? If she knew how to use those, the only one of us who might have survived would have been Catheon, and only if he flew away very fast.

Tythel heard the wood begin to crack as she tightened her hands into fists and forced them to relax before she tore apart her perch. Karjon had barely mentioned the deeper mysteries, and Tythel had barely even considered them. Especially not now. It was impossible to learn the deeper mysteries without another dragon to assist you. Another part of her heritage that was lost forever thanks to the Alohym. It galled her to hear Daetor talk about them, but more importantly…how did Daetor know this much about how dragon’s magic worked?

Her anger caused her to miss part of the conversation. Leora was speaking. “-overstated. If you were so skilled-”

“I was chosen for this because I fought in the Conquest for the Alohym,” Daetor said harshly. “I’ve faced dragons before. That’s more than some murderer hiding in the shadows can ever claim.”

“You face dragons as part of our army,” Catheon said coolly.

“As part of the Alohym’s army, yes,” Daetor conceded, and Tythel noted that he refused to acknowledge Catheon’s use of the possessive there. She filed it away but didn’t think it would be useful. They were long past the point of clever words saving them. “But I still have seen them.”

The sound of Catheon’s wings was growing louder. He was descending. Tythel tensed up for a reason besides anger. It was almost time.

“What should we expect then?” Catheon said.

“Given the terrain? She can’t fly and thank Your Father for that. She knows the area, though, and will probably try to hit us with flame the moment she can. Dragons almost always open with a burst of fire to try and pick a few targets off. She’s saved her Ghostflame for you.”

“Leave the Umbrist for me,” Leora said. “I can handle her.”

“And I can take care of that bastardization of Imperiplate,” Daetor said. “The war proved Alohym could defeat dragons, Catheon. By the same logic, I’m certain that a half-Alohym can beat a half-Dragon.”

Then they were in view. Catheon’s…whatever it was he war. Alohym skin refit for a human. It was bulkier than before, covered in gleaming black carapace as opposed to the brown he’d had before. Leora was dressed in a bodysuit of dark greens and greys, tight enough to avoid catching but loose enough to avoid restricting her movement. Daetor wore a Lumcaster’s robe that had been divided between the legs and re-woven into loosely flowing pants. “Call me that again,” Catheon said harshly, “and I’ll ensure you regret it.”

“Apologies. I meant no offense,” Daetor said, sounded not even slightly apologetic. “I thought you’d take pride in both parts of your heritage.”

Catheon stiffened, and Tythel realized this was it. This was her moment. She’d never get a better shot on all three of them.

Taking a deep breath and focusing her hatred on Catheon, Tythel took a deep breath and fed that loathing into the fire in her stomach. When she let loose, it was with a beautiful wave of blue ghostflame.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 163

Strange Cosmology is now available! If you can pick it up, I’d immensely appreciate it! It’s only 2.99 USD on the US market! Thank you to everyone who has helped make the book’s launch so successful! 

Also, it’s been awhile since we checked in on Tythel – you can refresh yourself here.

The distant droning was growing louder. Tythel was perched in a tree, high enough to see over the walls of Karjon’s valley. She squinted in the direction the sound was coming from. She could barely make out the shape against a cloud, a small cluster of black specs. Tythel leapt out of the tree and landed next to Eupeheme and Tellias. “They’re almost here.”

“How many?” Tellias asked anxiously.

Tythel shrugged. “I can’t say for certain. At least one carrying a couple people, and two other shapes in the air. The other two are moving pretty fast.”

“Skimmers?” Eupheme asked.

“Most likely,” Tythel said.

“Why not stay up there longer and make sure-” Tellias started to say, then he caught himself halfway through the question and shook his head. “You do that, and they’ll be able to see you.”

Tythel nodded.

“They’re going to go up the mountain first,” Eupheme said. “Looking for the entrance to the lair. Are you sure they won’t find it, Tythel?”

Tythel nodded again, this time more definitively. “I melted it shut with a sunstone before I left. They’ll find a place where the rock was molten if they really look, and they might figure that was the entrance. Would their Umbrist be able to get in?”

Eupheme considered for a moment. “Probably, but I don’t see why they would. Unless they assume you entombed yourself, which seems pretty unlikely. Besides, I imagine there are other spots of molten stone. Unless they know it’s hollow behind…”

“Alright.” Tythel took a deep breath. “Then we’ve got another hour until they get here. Probably half that time for the Skimmers. Give it an hour while they look for the entrance, and then they’ll come into the valley. Tellias, did you find it?”

Tellias grimaced and handed Tythel a sack. The sack struggled and kicked and hissed. “It’s not particularly happy. Thank the light for this armor.”

Tythel’s nictitating membranes flashed at the thought. “I’m just glad it didn’t stick.” She took the sack gingerly, making sure that it didn’t open. The thing inside froze the moment Tythel’s hand closed around the bag. Poor thing smells dragon. Probably scared out of its mind. “You didn’t hurt it, did you?”

Tellias rolled his eyes. “Light, Tythel. What do you think I am? No, I didn’t hurt it. I just…how did you know it would be here?”

“Lots of small animal gather near dragon lairs. We scare away larger predators, and they’re usually not large enough to be worthwhile meal. Especially not…” Tythel gestured towards the sack. When they got truly desperate, a dragon or an aeromane might swoop down on a small mammal. It had to be pretty bad to get to that point – they were usually prey for wolves or cats, and those kind of predators avoided dragon territory.

And any animal, no matter how great a predator and no matter how desperately hungry they were, would think twice before hunting one of them. “I’ll finish setting up this part.”

“Are you sure that will work?” Eupheme asked.

Tythel shrugged. “From what you’ve both said, it sounds like the Alohym have the same senses we do. They avoid coarse fabrics, they keep the streets free of waste, they avoid things we find unpleasant. If we’re right about how that suit works…it’s worth the chance.”

“I just don’t know how you expect to be able to aim it,” Tellias said.

“You’ve never seen one of these in action. They make their more terrestrial cousins seem…tame by comparison. Trust me – you only escaped the worst of it because it through you were some kind of mobile rock in that thing.”

“Lovely,” Tellias said, clearly meaning anything but.

A silence fell over the group. After a moment, Eupheme broke it. “I guess we should get into position?” she asked.

The words hung in the air, and Tellias grimaced. “Yeah. I guess it’s now, isn’t it?”

“It is.” Tythel looked up in the direction where the flyers were coming from. Now that they were getting closer, she could hear the rumble of the Skimmer’s organic engines. “If we don’t-”

“We will,” Eupheme said, firmly. “We’re getting back to the resistance, so save it for later.”

“No.” The word came out more harshly than Tythel had intended, and she winced at the sound of her own point. “Eupheme, Tellias, let me say this. I think we’re getting back. I think everything is going to be okay. I think we’re going to survive.” The lies came off her lips easily, but one thing she’d learned watching soldiers was that these were the lies they always told each other, no matter how untrue they seemed. “But if we don’t, I’m not…I’m not missing my chance to say goodbye. So, if we don’t…the past month with you two has been wonderful. Thank you both. For everything.”

“Thank me again, on the other side,” Eupheme said, but she smiled with the word. “That goes both ways, though.”

“Likewise,” Tellias said. “On both points.” He gave Tythel a serious look. “I mean it. Sorry for getting…sorry for sulking.”

Tythel made a dismissive gesture. “I’ve already forgotten.”

He gave her an awkward grin and turned to lumber off, his arcplate whirring. Eupheme gave Tythel a quick salute and stepped into a shadow before vanishing. They had their roles. Tythel had hers. She grabbed a boulder, larger than either of the others could have lifted, and placed it over the end of the sack. “You’ll be okay,” Tythel said to the creature inside. “Even if we need to use you, you’re not going to be hurt.” As soon as she stepped away, it startled to scrabble against the thick burlap again. It would be able to tear through in a day or two, long before it was in danger.

And it was good to know they had the option. If things got desperate.

Tythel looked one more time at the Drakebloom, nodded to herself, and started climbing.

It was time to wait. They had a plan, they’d made preparation, and they were facing off against foes vastly superior to them.

At this point, only Light and Shadow knew what would happen.

I’m on BookBub now. If you could give me a follow, I’d appreciate it. And if you’ve already ready your copy of Strange Cosmology, early reviews would be hugely appreciated!

The Dragon’s Scion Part 162

Slowly, Haradeth’s eyes cleared, and the ringing in his ears faded to a dull whine.

The detonation had been bright and loud, but the destruction had been relatively contained. Where Theognis had stood was now a pool of molten gold streaked with charred, black bit that Haradeth tried not to think about too hard. Lorathor and Synit were both red on the side of their bodies that had faced the explosion, like they’d been in the sun too long. Bix was removing blast shields that had dropped down in front of her eyes.

All of them were staring at the molten pool where Theognis had died. It had been such an abrupt end that Haradeth could barely believe it had worked. Part of him still expected Theognis to come dropping off the ceiling, or emerging from behind some other pile of treasure. He wasn’t alone with that. All four of them waited with baited breath.

Finally, it became apparent that it wasn’t happening. Theognis was well and truly dead.

Haradeth let out a ragged breath of relief. He held up his hand and pressed it against the unlight cage that still surrounded him. It felt as solid as it had before. “Can someone get me out of this Shadow-damned box?” Haradeth asked as the rest of the group began to relax.

“Nope,” Bix said. “If it’s like a lumcast box, it’ll take a bit of time before it fades on its own. Probably a couple hours.” She walked over to Armin and nudged him with her foot. “Or sooner if he wakes up. He’s interesting. Think he’ll mind if I stab him?”

“Yes, Bix, I think he will,” Haradeth said wearily, sinking to the floor. “Most people don’t like being stabbed.”

“People used to like it when I stabbed them,” Bix said. She nudged Armin again. “Are you sure? I could probably get him up so he can let you out of the box. I didn’t like being on the box so I assume you don’t either. But maybe you do. I don’t know what kind of things you like.”

“Most people don’t like being in boxes.” Lorathor said, walking over towards Synit and offering her a hand. “Although there are always exceptions.”

Synit took his offered hand gratefully.

“I really should stab her,” Bix said, pointing her finger towards Synit. She pointed towards Aldredia. “Or her, although I broke a bit so it’d be harder to stab her properly. But if I don’t stab that one, she’s probably going to die.”

“I’m sorry, what?” Haradeth said.

“She has major sub cranial trauma. Massive fluid buildup. If I don’t release it, she’s going to have a fatal aneurysm.” Bix gave Haradeth an inquisitive look. “She also can’t properly reason what’s going on, so she can’t really agree to be stabbed. Are you sure she doesn’t like being stabbed.”

Haradeth gaped at her. “Light and shadow, Bix! If it’ll save her life, then yes, stab her!”

“Yay!” Bix said, bounding across the distance to Aldredia. The woman’s head was starting to droop, and Bix grabbed her by the chin. “This part might get a bit gross.”

Haradeth dutifully looked away, as did Lorathor. Synit didn’t, instead staring in what Haradeth thought might be horrified fascination. Lorathor started to go around, checking on Armin and Ossman. “They’re both alive,” he reported over the horribly suggestive sounds that were coming from where Bix was working on Aldredia. “Ossman’s going to be in a sling, and Armin…I don’t know what’s wrong with Armin.”

“He pushed himself too hard,” Synit said. She hadn’t taken her eyes off Bix. “Whatever he was doing to Theognis’s lumcasting took a lot out of him.”

“What was he doing?” Haradeth asked.

Synit shrugged, wincing at the motion. “You’ll have to ask Armin. He’s the one who did it. Haven’t you seen him do that before?”

Haradeth shook his head. “It was new to me.”

“And me.”

“Me too!” Bix said cheerfully. “All done over here.”

Haradeth looked back. Bix had torn Aldredia’s sleeves from her tunic and fashioned them into headbands. Aldredia was laying down, her head carefully resting on a pile of gold.

Synit spoke first. “Bix…why do you want to stab me?”

“Because you’re weird and gross and kind of useless,” Bix said, her voice still full of cheer. “Although that whole ‘I am a living arcwand raaar’ thing was pretty neat. But I can’t fix you being weird and gross. I can fix you being kind of useless.”

“How?” Synit asked, her voice sharp.

“You’re in constant pain because you have two spines,” Bix said. “You don’t need two spines. No one needs two spines. Honestly it’s pretty greedy of you. And stupid, because it hurts you lots. So I’d stab you, I’d remove the fluid sack that’s keeping your spines apart, and I’d fuse them into one. You’ll be in a lot of pain for a very short time, but then you’d be in…” Bix’s eyes whirred. “Well, you’d still be in constant pain, because you’re very poorly made even for meat, but you’ll be in much less constant pain.”

Everyone was staring at her. “Bix,” Haradeth said. “What did you say you did on the Sylvani homeworld?”

“I stabbed people.” Bix shrugged. “I’m good at stabbing people.”

“Were you a medical-”

“Nope!” Bix said. “I told you, I’m very, very good at stabbing people. And you have really known how people are put together to figure out how to best take them apart. I probably am better than most medical Lattice Minds were.”

“Do it,” Synit said, practically pleading. “Please.”

“Woo!” Bix said. “I get to stab you. Haradeth, stay in the box. Not that you can get out. Lorathor, make sure he doesn’t get lonely or start leaking fluids or something. I’m going to stab.”

Haradeth watched them walk off, his mouth hanging open, unable to form coherent words. “I think…” he finally said, licking his lips, “I think when we get back to the resistance, she’s going to be d’Monchy’s problem.”

Lorathor laughed. “Please, Haradeth. You know damn well he’s going to put her under your care.”

Haradeth groaned, then laughed. “I can’t believe we survived that.”

Lorathor chuckled with him. “If we can survive what just happened…maybe there’s a hope in hell we’ll be able to win this war.”

Haradeth stared ahead, thinking of the new possibilities offered by this treasure trove and by the portal stones and Bix’s strange Lattice Mind. “You know, Lorathor?” He finally said. “Maybe you’re right.”

So, now that we’re done with that sequence, I’d like to know – did you all like sticking the focus on one storyline for a while as opposed to hopping around? Let me know, I’m eager to see how this experiment worked out. 

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