The Dragon’s Scion Part 185

“Do you think we need this, Ossman?” Aldreda asked, picking up a scroll and waving it in his face. “I mean, I’m not expert in ancient gibberish, but apparently I should be able to tell what Armin needs and what he doesn’t.”

Ossman held out his hand for the scroll. “I don’t expect you to be an expert,” he said.

Aldreda rolled her eyes and gave him the scroll. In spite of her frustration, she still was gentle with the relic. “I know you don’t. But you’re not an expert either. Why did Armin give us this job? Shouldn’t we be hauling heavy objects with the others?”

Light, I wish I knew. Aldreda’s frustration mirrored his own, although he didn’t want to admit it. “I’m sure Armin has his reasons, ‘dreda.”

Aldreda brushed back a strand of hair from her face and flushed slightly. Ossman blinked, puzzled. “You’re loyal to him,” she said. “I get it. I’m not saying that he’d wrong, Ossman, I’m just saying it doesn’t make sense. And…flath me sideways, Ossman, you’ve known him longer than me. Are you going to look me in the eye and tell me there’s nothing to worry about?”

Ossman looked down at the scroll first and unrolled it carefully. The glyphs on here were impenetrable to him, but Armin had explained what to look for. The language that he needed samples from had over ten thousand characters, all of them polygons with lines drawn through different segments. This scroll had a couple dozen repeating characters, all of them circles with varying shapes in the middle. 

He put it on the second pile carefully. The tomes and scrolls and other texts that weren’t what they needed, but Armin wanted to keep safe. Aldreda was still staring at Ossman, her arms crossed. “Well?” she asked.

Ossman looked up and met her eyes. “There’s nothing to worry about.”

Aldreda snorted. “You’re a terrible liar.”

Ossman turned to the next document they hadn’t sorted. This one was a fragment of a clay tablet. “Help me look for the other half of this? It’s got a three point break that looks kind of familiar, I think we already saw it somewhere.”

Aldreda sighed and turned to the fragments they had gathered. “He’s not normally like this, is he? Snapping, broody. That’s not the guy I got to know at least.”

“He’s also never lost anyone before,” Ossman said, finally engaging the topic as he joined her in sifting through the fragments. 

“Everyone’s lost someone,” Aldreda said, not looking up.

“No, I don’t mean in general. Bad phrasing on my part. He’s never lost anyone he was commanding before. Ever since the Collegium rebellion, every time he’s taken command, he’s gotten back with everyone alive. I’m not saying I’m not worried.”

“Even though you just did.”

“Well, you called me on that lie. If I’m being honest, I’m not saying I’m not worried. What I’m saying is I don’t think I should be worried. Armin’s dealing with a new kind of grief. Can I really blame him for processing it poorly at first?”

Aldreda grunted, lifting a large chunk of a clay tablet. “Give it here?” she said. She slid it next to the piece that Ossman had found. They looked like they belonged together, but the lettering was too different, and the break didn’t quite line up. “Damn. Thought I had it. And I hear what you’re saying. But…shouldn’t he let go of command until he’s dealt with it? Put Haradeth in charge, or Lorathor, or even you.”

Ossman’s heart rate spiked at the thought. “You’d be better than me,” he said, wiping the back of his arm against his forehead. “Anyone would be better than me.”

“No thank you.” Aldreda shuddered. “I want it about as badly as you do. So Haradeth or Lorathor, then. Until he’s dealt with the grief. There’s no shame in letting someone else take charge when the mission is done.”

“He doesn’t see it that way,” Ossman said, quietly.

“Which part?”

“The mission isn’t done.” Ossman picked up another fragment. This one did fit with the peice they’d found, but only a small fraction of it. “We’re going to need more, but I’ve got part of it. Hand me the sealant?”

Aldreda did so, and bent down to help Ossman hold the pieces in proper alignment when it hardened. “How is the mission not done? We beat Theognis, we’ve got the samples, and we have enough gold to fund the resistance for another year. What is missing?”

I don’t know. Armin was still in mission mode, and it was bothering Ossman. “Probably just won’t count it as complete until he has looked at the fragments and decoded Theognis’ codex. With that, we’ve got everything we came for. Then he can call it done.”

The sealant began to expand, filling the crack so perfectly that it was almost impossible to tell there had ever been a gap there. Only a slight break in the lettering revealed the flaw. 

“Then why in darkest Shadow did he send the two least literate people in the group to retrieve scrolls and tomes? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to pick anyone else?” Aldreda gestured at herself and Ossman. “We know, between us, eleven different weapons and one language, not counting Alohym battle cant.”

“You mean Alohym swears?”

“They’re one and the same, and you’re not going to distract me.” Aldreda wiped her forehead too. Gathering books shouldn’t be hard work, but when half the books were large enough to be one of those eleven weapons, and the other half were written on clay, it was more exhausting than Ossman had expected. “So one language between us, because battle cant doesn’t count as a language. Meanwhile, Haradeth is a godling and fluent in three languages – which I only know because he’s mentioned it a half dozen times. Lorathor is a Sylvani, so he at least speaks their language and ours. Synit…okay, so Synit would probably be worse than us, but I’d wager she at least can speak the Alohym’s tongue, so that still makes her a better linguist than the two of us. And that creepy little automaton has probably forgotten more languages than the rest of the Resistance combined knows. Yet…we are the ones gathering up the scrolls and tomes?”

Ossman rubbed the bridge of his nose. “I don’t know what to tell you, ‘dreda. I’m worried about him. And you’re right, it doesn’t make sense.”

“Because you’re looking at it the wrong way.”

The sudden voice was so unexpected, Ossman nearly dropped the tablet fragment he was holding, and Aldreda whirled, one hand going to her sword. Armin stood there, leaning against the room’s entranceway.

“Armin,” Ossman said. “How long have you…”

“Not long, but sound carries a long way down here.” He walked over to the clay fragments. “I chose you two because you aren’t going to get distracted. If Haradeth finds a copy of The Lineage of the Little Gods, he might stop to read it. If Lorathor finds an account of the early Sylvani’s interactions with humanity, he might stop to read it. If Bix saw a book that looked like it had a face, she might stab it. Then read it. Or maybe the other way around, I can’t figure it out.” Armin reached down and plucked out a fragment. “Sealant?”

Ossman handed it over, and Armin slid it into place. 

“And me,” Armin said, “I’m likely to end up just sitting here and trying to decode the entire damn thing without eating. I picked you two because you can do what’s needed without getting distracted. Maybe Synit could, but she still finds movement painful. I wanted to get her treatment.”

“Armin, I didn’t mean to give offense,” Aldreda said.

Armin looked up at her and smiled. Ossman hated how it didn’t reach his eyes. “I know. And…you’re right. I shouldn’t be in charge of anything dangerous right now. I’ve already talked to Haradeth. If we find ourselves in a fight, he’ll take command. But outside of combat, I’m still leading this mission. Can you trust me with that much, at least?”

Aldreda nodded. Armin looked over at Ossman. “And you?” he said.

“Always,” Ossman responded without hesitation.

“Thank you. Both of you.” Armin stood up. The fragment he’d picked out – from walking into the room, after both Ossman and Aldreda had been looking – fit in place perfectly. “I think this will be enough. Let’s-”

find and grab and break and tear and shred and –

“of here.” Armin glanced over at Ossman, and his forehead furrowed. “You alright? You look like you just saw a ghost.”

“Stray thought,” Ossman said, dismissively. “Distracted me. But I’m with you. Lets get out of here.”

Armin and Aldreda both looked concerned, and Ossman smiled. “You sure you’re alright?” Armin asked.

“Absolutely.” 

“Alright then.” Armin relaxed. “Let me know which of these boxes I can handle? Without throwing out my back, I mean.” 

Aldreda pointed to one of the boxes and gave Ossman a wink. It was nice, in that moment, to be able to prove Aldreda wrong about one thing. 

When he needed it, he was an excellent liar.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 184

Armin nudged the edge of the portal stone with the tip of his boot. He jerked his foot back like the touch had carried an electric shock. Nothing happened. He’d seen portal stones before, going back to his days at the academy. Conventional wisdom held that they’d marked ancient religious sites, where the precursors of the Umbrists would attempt to commune with the Shadow, or perhaps they were a pre-Cardomethi’s civilization attempt to achieve the impossible and create new lumwells. No one had been certain, but there were enough stranger, superstitious rumors about them that even with his education, Armin held the stones in wary reverence. “You’re certain this thing is safe?” he asked.

Haradeth gave him a wry grin and placed another chest on the flat stone. It wasn’t full of gold – it would have been impossible for even the godling to lift that much – but instead the bottom was lined with golden coins and then filled above that with gems, art, lighter metals, and other valuable artifacts. As much as they could carry. That one chest enough probably held enough to sustain the Resistance for a month. It was being placed alongside twelve others like it. This would be the third such load they’d sent through the portal. “You’re afraid of Sylvani magic, lumcaster? I figured your sort would be more comfortable with it.”

Armin grunted and turned away from the stone, reaching down to grab another handful of gems in the chest in front of him. “I lost two people getting in here. I don’t want to lose anyone else getting out.”

There was silence for a moment as Haradeth shifted the chest backwards to make sure it was fully on the platform. One of the chests had been half off the stone, and it had been cleaved neadly in two when they’d activated it. There was still half an empty chest laying next as proof for how dangerous it could be. “Bix says they are,” Haradeth said.

Armin looked around. “And you trust her?” he asked. The little automaton had gone through the portal with Synit and the first wave of chests, saying something about smoothing it over with “That stupid entertainment system we decided was a god when I was obviously the better choice.” Armin hadn’t understood half of what she said, but he’d understood enough to know that it had to do with the Sylvani’s internal politics. “She’s…not exactly stable. And don’t flathing mock me for finding her frightening. I saw the way you looked at her.” 

Haradeth laughed, although it wasn’t directed at Armin. “Light and Shadow, of course I won’t mock you for seeing the threat she poses. I’d call you a fool if you didn’t think she was a threat.” Haradeth grunted as he picked up another chest that was half hanging over the side, placing it on top of a crate they’d found. “But I do trust her. Bix is unstable, strange, has an…abnormal morality, and absolutely will stab you because she finds it amusing…”

“Oh, well, you’re certaintly convincing me of how trustworthy she is now,” Armin muttered.

Haradeth smiled and kept talking as if Armin hadn’t interrupted him, “but she likes us, as far as I can tell. Or at least doesn’t actually wish us harm. And she wants to fight the Alohym. Probably because she finds them more fun to cut into than we are, but that still makes her trustworthy.”

“I think you were in the Sylvani land too long,” Armin said after staring at Haradeth for a moment. “You’ve clearly gone insane. ‘We’d be less fun to stab’ is not a good basis for trust. You do still realize that, right?”

“It’s not for a human, or a sylvani, or…anything made of flesh, really. But you’ll understand once you get to know her. She’s not a threat. She’s just strange and unusual.”

“In my experience, strange and usual is the definition of threatening. Or at least untrustworthy.” Armin said, unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice.

Haradeth grimaced. “You’re not talking about the Alohym, are you?”

“No, I’m not talking about the flathing Alohym.” Armin threw the next load of treasure into the chest with more force than was strictly necessary. “She lied to us, Haradeth. She lied about being the princess. She hid her father’s hoard. We came here to get funds for the resistance and Clarcia and Guiart are dead because of it.”

“We dont know that she lied,” Haradeth said. “She might have been lied to about who she was. The Alohym might have taken Karjon’s hoard after his death. It’s a bit too quick to jump to conclusions.”

Armin slammed the lid of the chest shut. “I can’t believe you are speaking in her defense, Haradeth. I thought you trusted her as far as I could throw her.”

Haradeth walked over to take the chest from Armin, but rested his hand on Armin’s shoulder first. “I don’t trust her motivations,” Haradeth said. “She wants to use our Resistance as an outlet for her grief, and weaponize us against our foes. But that doesn’t mean I think she’s a liar, or that she’d do things to deliberately put people in danger with no reason. Least of all you and Ossman.”

“So, you’re going to speak up for her?”

“I don’t like seeing someone mistrusted for the wrong reasons,” Haradeth said with a shrug. “And I don’t believe she was lying about her heritage. Especially since her lying means we’re trusting the Alohym over her.”

Armin wiped at his eyes. They were itching for some strange reason that absolutely had nothing to do with feelings of betrayal or anger. “And the hoard?”

Haradeth sighed and picked up the chest. “Did you love your mother?” Haradeth asked.

Armin blinked at the change of topic. “Of course,” he said. 

“And do you know the tale of Queen Olanni?”

“Every child does,” Armin said. “Queen Olanni, the High Queen of the Necropolis, who steals bad children from their beds and feeds them to zombies. Especially bad children who don’t finish their food, according to my mother.”

Haradeth laughed. “Exactly. So imagine Queen Olanni was real. Imagine, then, to defeat the Alohym the Resistance had to defile a grave. It could be Olanni’s, or it could be your mother’s. Both could be guarded by the Alohym. Which do you choose?”

Armin shook his head. “I see what you’re saying, but I don’t agree with the analogy. I never would have dreamed of suggesting we create dragonscale armor from Karjon’s hide, even though it’s nigh-impervious when properly infused with light. That would be far too much. But his hoard? His things? Who cares about things more than lives? Tythel does, apparently. And that…that’s unacceptable.” Armin held up a hand to forestall Haradeth’s objection. “I’ll hear her out. I know Theognis just told me those things to try to turn me against her. But damn me to darkest Shadow if I’m going to accept a weak excuse. I want to know why Guiart and Clarcia had to die, Haradeth.”

Haradeth didn’t try to defend Tythel further, just shook his head and sighed. “I think that’s the last of the chests,” he said as he settled it in place. “If we want more, we’ll need to get them from the Sylvani.”

Armin nodded. “I’ll wait here for Ossman and Aldreda. They’re the last two. You go through.” Lorathor had gone with the second wave of treasure. “I’ve seen you work the stone enough to know how to do it.”

“You were nervous about it a second ago, and now you want to operate it?” Haradeth asked with a furrowed brow.

“The Sylvani know you. The sooner they see you, the better they’ll feel – and the better I’ll feel taking my people through. Go ahead. I’ll be fine.”

Haradeth shrugged and stepped onto the portal stone. He spoke the command word, there was a flash of light, and he and the treasure were gone.

Armin breathed a sigh of relief, then checked to make sure Ossman and Aldreda weren’t coming yet. He’d set them to the task of gathering up texts and tomes he’d need to decode Theognis’ codex fully, although he already knew more than he expected. It had been a pretense to distract them. Same as sending Haradeth through the portal first.

He checked the sack he’d hidden inside a gilded chair. He was now glad he’d kept this secret from Haradeth. The godling couldn’t be trusted not to tell anyone about them. It’s not the same as what Tythel did, Armin thought. No one’s in danger.

But Tythel had been lying to them. Maybe from the beginning. And she’d been desperate to recover a single one of these. Armin couldn’t help but be suspicious as to why. Why did she want to recover the one she’d lost so badly? Was it just symbolic? Or did it have a purpose? For all Armin knew, that single one could be used to destroy the Resistance from within – or a weapon that could destroy the Alohym once and for all?

No, until he knew if he could trust her, it was far safer to keep the cache of dragon eggs safely hidden. With the portal stone working, he could return here whenever he needed. He just needed to move them away from the other treasure so no one would accidentally find them.

Not until he was ready.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 183

Dawn crept over Hillsdale like a thief, slipping into the window and robbing Tythel of a beautiful dream where she was in Karjon’s lair with her father and Eupheme and Tellias and Armin and Ossman, and he was telling her that Nicandros had gotten sweetrolls. Then the lair had turned into a palace and she was sitting on a throne, but it was also Karjon’s horde, and she’d had her own horde of books – somehow recovered from the drowned library of Golmanni. She knew that because a fish was telling her.

The beauty had started to decrease the more logic started to intrude. 

“Good morning,” Eupheme said brightly as Tythel stirred.

Tythel groaned. “Do you ever sleep? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you sleep.”

“I sleep,” Eupheme said. “I just only do it when you aren’t in danger. Or potential danger. Or there is a possibility of danger. No matter how remote.”

Tythel forced herself up. The ache between her wings was less, and Tythel wanted to try to stretch them. As if Eupheme had read her mind, her eyes narrowed and she shook her head. “There’s always a remote possibility of danger,” Tythel murmured, shaking her head to try and clear it. “So when do you sleep?”

“Between moments,” Eupheme said. 

“I don’t know what that means,” Tythel said.

Eupheme smiled. “I know. Now, Otis stopped by. The tailor is willing to work on the unique request, discreetly. There’s a small question that still needs answering. Color.”

Tythel’s nictitating membranes flashed, clearing the last blur of sleep. “I’m sorry, but…color? Does that really matter all that much right now?”

“Well…” Eupheme hesitated, and Tythel motioned for her to go ahead as she settled into a sitting position. Eupheme moved behind her with a brush and began to work on Tythel’s hair. “You have the right to the royal colors. Purple, black, and gold. It would suit you well, I think, and it would send a clear message you are claiming your heritage.”

Tythel frowned in thought. The idea of wearing something so bright to a battlefield was a serious concern, not to mention the audacity of wearing the royal colors when she hadn’t even made a real claim to the throne. It was a step she needed to take, sending her formal claim to the various nobel houses. Assuming Duke d’Monchy hadn’t done that already. No, he can’t. He needs the locket to seal it properly. So that was something she had to do, and it felt wrong to do so before she’d made an official statement. And then…that would be that. She’d officially have declared her intention to rule once the Alohym were defeated.

“Your hair,” Eupheme said, breaking Tythel’s train of thought.

“What about it?” 

“It changed. It’s…coarser. And…well, feel for yourself.”

Eupheme bought some of her hair around, and Tythel ran her hands through it. There were far fewer strands than before, and each one was significantly thicker than it had been. It was like running her hand through thin copper wires. “It’s like scales,” Tythel said after a moment. “I was wondering like that. Hair isn’t something dragons and humans share in common. I guess this is the next closest thing. I figured either this would happen, or it would fall out. Still might, I suppose.”

“You don’t seem bothered by that.”

Tythel shrugged. “Hair is something humans have. I’ve gotten used to it, and it doesn’t bother me enough to cut it off, but I won’t mind if it’s gone.”

“You are a strange woman.” Eupheme said, and Tythel could hear the smile in her voice. “So…the colors?”

“I’m not sure.” Tythel explained her earlier thoughts about claiming the color too soon. 

“Then we could have it made for when you make the claim.” Eupheme said. There was an edge to her voice, one Tythel couldn’t quite place.

“Is something bothering you?”

“Tythel. You’re my friend. I’m here for you and I’m fighting in this resistance. But you’re also my princess and will be queen one day. So far, though, you haven’t done much in that regard. Anything, if I’m being blunt, aside from that one statement in the aftermath of killing Rephylon. I know you’re hesitating on this, but after what Otis told you right now…we need you to be what you are. We need to know there is something after the Alohym are driven back, that we aren’t just going to replace them with more chaos. More riots and death. You can be that symbol.”

“I’m not certain about that,” Tythel said. “I’m…not good at being human. I can’t smile and wave without the expression looking fake. I can’t read people, to try to figure out what’s going on beneath the surface. The only time I’ve ever led anything, the first time it was a raid that ended with everyone getting captured and us barely escaping. The second time Tellias ended up…ended up like that.” Tythel gestured in the direction of Tellias’ bed. It was hidden by a curtain, for privacy, but with her hearing Tythel could hear the faint rasping of his labored breaths.

“What happened to Tellias wasn’t your fault,” Eupheme said.

“Wasn’t it, though?” Tythel asked. “He was there because he was following me. I should have sent him to rejoin with the resistance.”

“And then you and I would be dead. Or do you think we could have handled the three of them alone?”

Tythel shook her head. “I don’t know. Maybe you’re right. But that’s not the point. I didn’t think about the danger I was putting you both in. I was just focused on ending the threat. That’s been me since I started this. Everything I’ve done…I haven’t thought about the consequences. And look where it’s gotten us! Nicandros serves the Alohym. Tellias is in a limbo between life and death. Armin and Ossman went off to a dangerous swamp because I was too afraid of giving up my father’s horde. What right do I have to lead anything?”

Eupheme continued to work the brush through the coarse strands of Tythel’s hair. She was silent for several seconds. “You’re aware of it,” Eupheme said. “You’re aware of it, and you regret it. You’ll do better in the future.”

“And if I don’t?” Tythel said, feeling very small.

“Then I’ll convince you to use your position to create a new government. Abdicate your throne after this is all done, once stability is restored. But right now, we just need a symbol. We can figure the rest of it out later. But with that symbol, we hope. And hope is in very short supply.”

“Promise me,” Tythel said. “Promise me that if I won’t be right, you’ll tell me. Promise me you won’t let me become…I’ve studied history, Eupheme. I know what bad rulers can cause. Even ones that aren’t malicious. Incompetent rulers cause famines, wars. They make plagues worse. They watch their people riot and end up in civil wars and they don’t even understand how it happened. Promise me that you won’t let me become that.”

“That’s the final tasks of the Umbrists,” Eupheme said. “I promise.”

Tythel didn’t need to wipe her eyes. The transformation had taken care of that. Her nicitating membranes were still needed to take care of the burning. “Thank you. Then…I suppose one in the royal colors would be good. The rest should be in practical colors, though. I’m not going into a battlefield dressed like a flower. Browns and greens that will hide me, thank you very much.”

“I’ll get two in the right colors. Just in case.” 

It was nice to hear that the smile was back in Eupheme’s voice.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 182

After he was done with Tellias, Tythel and Eupheme let Otis lead them to beds to tend to their wounds. “Light, you have wings now,” he whispered when Tythel removed her cloak.

Even with everything going on, even with her worries about Nicandros, Tythel couldn’t help but smile. She’d only gotten to fly once since she’d gotten them, and she laid on her stomach to stretch them over the side of the bed so Otis could get to her back. The deep gash between her shoulders pulsed with pain when she moved. “Do you think you could so that up well enough I could fly again soon?” she asked.

Otis leaned forward to remove the bandage, and Tythel hissed involuntarily when the bindings were pulled away. Eupheme had done the best she could, but Otis was an actual doctor. “I know absolutely nothing about wings,” he said, carefully scraping something off her scales, “but I do know injury. That one’s deep. Does it hurt when you move the wings?”

Tythel nodded emphatically. “Shadow takes me, it hurts.”

“Then whoever stabbed you must have gotten through the flight muscles,” Otis said. “This is going to sting a little.”

He had undersold it. The liquid he put onto the injury made it flare up like he’d poured liquid metal into the injury. Probably worse than that would have felt – given how resistant dragons were to heat, Tythel suspected that molten steel would have hurt less. “What?” she gasped when he was done.

“Disinfectant. The best there is. Makes sure the wound won’t fester. You know its working because it burns.”

“Then it works very well,” Tythel muttered.

“You’d be surprised how often I hear that,” Otis said. “I can sew this up. But you’re not flying until it heals. The cut went into the muscles below. They’ll knit back together. Muscles are good at that. At least, they would for a human. You’re the first half-dragon I’ve treated, so I’m not certain exactly how it works.”

“I know dragons heal like humans” Tythel said.

“Then you will fly again. But I can do very little to accelerate it besides make sure the wound is clean and stitched back together. If you try to fly before its ready, you’re just going to reopen the wound. I think you got lucky – there are likely other muscles back here that, if they’d been cut, meant you wouldn’t have been able to even move them without reopening the injury.”

Tythel shuddered at the thought. She felt Otis press something sharp against her back, and then withdraw it. “Problem?”

“I…the needle isn’t going through easily.” Otis sighed. “Of course not. Dragonscale is hard for swords to pierce, if the stories are true.”

“So…what does that mean?” Tythel asked, worry making sweat break out across her forehead.

“I’m going to have to use a binding agent instead. You’ll need to make sure you don’t move until it dries and hardens. It’s as good as stitches, and will fall off on its own in time. That’s also the biggest downside – it means it’ll fall off before you’re fully healed, and if you try using your wings then, you’ll tear it open.”

“I understand. How long until it heals?”

“If you were a human stabbed in the same place? I’d give it a month, maybe two. For a dragon…I don’t know if you heal faster or slower than we do. I’d say to avoid even trying until you’ve had two months. When you move the wings, if the pain is more of a dull ache than a sharp pain, you’re probably fine.”

“I’m going to hold your word to that,” Eupheme said from the other bed.

Tythel grimaced. “What if it becomes a dull ache sooner?” she asked.

“Then you’re going to be cautious and not take risks, your highness,” Eupheme said, her voice firm. “I’m not having you tear your back open just when you’ve started healing.”

Two months. It could be worse. It could be like her eye, unlikely to ever work again. That’s probably how long we’ll need to meet back with the others, Tythel thought. “Fine.”

“Your word?” Eupheme asked.

“My word,” Tythel said.

The binding agent stung less than the disinfectant had, although it still wasn’t a pleasant sensation. “What is that, anyway?”

“Glue,” Otis said.

Tythel looked over her shoulder at him. “You just glued my back together?”

“It’s something the Alohym brought with them. A special type of glue, one of the strongest glues there is. I normally use it over stitches, to seal the wound, but it works fine on its own.”

“I’ve never heard of glue that could hold skin together.”

“It’s a fairly new treatment. The Alohym don’t use it that way – or if they do, they don’t mention it. A doctor I know who works with the Alohym field hospitals has found it’s a good way to provide battlefield injury treatment. Seals them up until something better can be done, if something else is needed. In your case…it will hold.”

“Thank you,” Tythel said. Eupheme and her both had other injuries that needed attention, and Otis tended to them with swift professionalism. Tythel tried not to note that Eupheme bore the treatment much more stoically.

“I don’t suppose you know where we can find a tailor that is both discreet and willing to handle odd requests?” Eupheme asked when Otis was done.

“For the wings, you mean?” Otis asked. Eupheme nodded in agreement, and Otis considered for a moment. “Are you staying the night? I might have someone for you, but I need to make sure they’re available.”

Tythel looked at Eupheme, who gave her a slight nod. “We will,” Tythel said.

She almost felt bad knowing Eupheme intended to spend the night spying on the staff to ensure there weren’t any unpleasant surprises.

Almost.

 

The Dragon’s Scion Part 181

Otis worked in silence for a bit. “He’ll live,” Otis said after a bit. “I’m sorry, your highness, but that’s all I can say. He’ll likely never wake up again, and he’ll certainly never be the same.” He gave her a sidelong glance. “At least, not without the Heartflame. You’re certain it will work?”

Tythel did her best not to look at how dangerously collapsed parts of Tellias’ skull looked, tried her hardest not to listen to how ragged his breathing was. “No,” she whispered. “But I have to try.”

Otis nodded and began to pack up his medical equipment. “I don’t…I can’t afford to cover the tax after the two months,” Otis said. “Not without bankrupting myself quickly.”

“It won’t be a problem,” Tythel said. “Light and Shadow, my father’s horde is…it won’t be a problem.”

“Good.” Otis sighed. “I’m surprised to find you back here. After everything that happened in Edgeminster, I figured you’d want to be with the resistance. Reclaiming your throne.”

“We were separated in the ruins of Hallith,” Tythel said. It felt like years ago. “And we were leading away a monster that was chasing us. What happened in Edgeminster?” The question was an afterthought. She was so worried about Tellias, she’d missed the dour turn to his eyes, the way the word came out as a harsh whisper.

“You haven’t heard? Then…I’m sorry to be the one to inform you. There was a massacre. Hundreds are dead. Maybe thousands.”

Tythel stared at him, her eyes growing wide, and Eupheme gasped in surprise. “Tell me everything. Please.”

Otis sat back down. “What I’ve heard was mostly rumor and hearsay. The Alohym have not released a statement, and when they do it will probably be full of lies. There was…someone in Edgeminster. An Underfolk. That much, most of the rumors agree on. The Alohym arrived hunting him, including a thing that looked like a human encased in the carapace of an Alohym. And…someone else.”

Tythel nodded, feeling numbness creeping in. Another like Catheon, she thought. The same kind of being that had nearly killed all three of them. And there were more of them. What if the Alohym had an army of those things? They couldn’t fight that. No one could fight that. If they were waiting…wait. Her brain started to catch up to what Otis had said. And, more importantly, how he had said it. That hesitation, the way his eyes had gone to the window, a mixture of fear and anger creeping into his voice… “Someone else?”

“The hunt for the Underfolk became dangerous,” Otis said, like she hadn’t spoken. “A bell tower exploded. Everyone agrees on that. Then, somehow, the Underfolk hijacked the song network. He or she or…I never learned a good word for the Underfolk maharim, but it probably wasn’t one of them, since they never leave the caves. Although these days, none of the Underfolk do, so who knows?” Otis shook his head. “Anyway, the Underfolk takes over the song network in Edgeminster and starts playing what the Alohym and the…other person were talking about.”

There it is again. “Someone else.” “Other person.” Each time like he was avoiding speaking the name for fear of invoking some terrible curse. “Otis…who is it?”

“They were willing to destroy the town to get the Underfolk. Made it very, very clear that…that they didn’t care what happened to the people in there.” Otis’ voice cracked on the word care, and Tythel knew he was thinking about his wife, and how well the Alohym’s ‘mercy’ had gone for him. “They made it abundantly clear that the town was nothing to them, that Edgeminster could burn, even their own soldiers could burn. The entire town heard it, including the Alohym’s troops. No one knows who shot first. Some say it was the soldiers. Some say it was the townspeople. Some say it was the soldiers shooting at each other, or at the Alohym, or at…at her guest. No one’s positive. But…the Alohym shot last. That much is certain. They’ve got some of their ships hovering over the town all day round right now, and they say there’s a dozen Alohym personally on the ground, hunting down rebels. They say that the rebels include their own soldiers. They also say you’re there, fighting alongside them, or that you were there and died, or that there was no Underfolk and it was you instead, but…” Otis gestured to Tythel. “At least I know that rumor is a lie.”

Tythel took a deep breath. “Eupheme. We…we can’t sleep tonight. We have to get back up the mountain, get my father’s horde. The resistance will need it, and Tellias will need it so Otis can keep him alive.”

“All of it?” Eupheme asked, her voice carefully neutral.

“All we can carry,” Tythel said, giving Eupheme a slight nod. The Alohym slaughtered an entire town. She couldn’t wrap her head around that. It was too big. Armies clashed. People died. But cities…cities were wiped out in wars, but this felt different. Worse. In the past, it was done with swords and arrows and fire. Now it’s done with unlight and from ships that fly too high for anyone to fight against. 

In their initial invasion, the Alohym had avoided damaging civilian centers. It seemed those days were past. As dead as what passed for peace these days.

“Understood,” Eupheme said, and Tythel could practically feel the relief radiating off her.

Otis, likewise, looked relieved, and Tythel hated to shatter that relief, but she had to know. “Otis…who was it? The person you don’t want to name, I mean.”

“I don’t know for certain,” Otis said. “But some people claim to have heard the Alohym speaking to him, and some of the descriptions of him match…they match.”

“They match what?”

The next word was like a dagger straight to her heart.

“Nicandros. I’m sorry, your highness, but it sounds like Nicandros.”

“Impossible,” Tythel said, although she knew even as the word left her lips she was saying it not because it was impossible, but because she didn’t want it to be impossible. “Nicandros gave up everything to fight the Alohym. Everything. He only stopped when his son signed up with them. He wouldn’t…he would never betray us. He’d never work with them.”

“Never?” Otis said. “He was…he was close to Freda. Not me. But from what she told me, from what I saw, Nicandros was a man who would do whatever he thought was necessary. His hatred of the Alohym was only eclipsed by his love for his son, and he would do anything to protect his Tomah.”

“Tomah is dead,” Tythel said, the words coming out far harsher than she intended. “I should know. I killed him with my own hands.” As if their mention reminded them they existed, her hands started to shake. “There’s nothing else Nicandros can do for Tomah. All he has left is hating the Alohym.”

“No,” Eupheme said quietly, putting a hand on Tythel’s shoulder. “Tythel…he has someone else he can convince himself to hate.”

Tythel didn’t mean to let the sob out. Without tears, it was a harsh, ragged sound, and she clamped it down before it could be followed by more. Eupheme’s hand on her shoulder tightened, and Otis looked at her with eyes full of sorrow.

“There’s something else,” he said. “Some of the rumors carry the exact words. One in particular…he was demanding the Alohym give him his son back. Just like they offered…pardon the language. Just like they offered “that bitch her father.”

Sorrow is a powerful emotion, but it has little it can offer to hold off the advance of dread. Rephylon had offered her Karjon. Had offered her Karon returned to life with Alohym technology. Nicandros…what would Nicandros do if it meant he could have Tomah back?

Shadow take me, that’s the wrong question, Tythel thought, the fear taking root in her heart. It would be much better to ask what he wouldn’t do to get Tomah back? 

For the life of her, Tythel couldn’t think of a single thing for that list.

 

The Dragon’s Scion Part 180

I’m very sorry for another silence after the last one – I had a family crisis, and that plus my continued illness left me unable to write. The family crisis is resolved and the individual is doing much better as of today, and I can breathe through my nose, which is goddamn amazing at this point. Thank you all for your patience and understanding. Especially to my patrons – I admit I was dreading seeing how much pledges had dropped in my absence, and I was rendered speechless to see no one had unsubscribed. You all absolutely blow my mind and I cannot thank you enough.
As I get back into the groove, updates will not be on a set schedule, but I’ll be shooting for an average of 3 updates to all stories every two weeks. I’ll have a set schedule by February, barring yet another crisis. 

If Tythel had any doubt about Catha’s honesty when it came to Freda’s fate, those doubts were erased upon seeing Otis. The man Tythel remembered was large and full of life and bluster. This man was half the man she remembered. He was thinner, his clothes hanging loosely like they were still sized for the man he’d been before. There were dark circles under his eyes, and his hair had turned the color of ash. The last few months had aged him decades, and Tythel wanted to hug him and tell him they would find the people responsible for his suffering and make them pay.

Unfortunately, the woman in question stood behind Otis. Catha looked as worried as Tythel felt. How dare you pretend to care for him? You did this to him. Tythel again had to restrain herself from leaping at the woman across from her and putting her talons to use. Eupheme’s hand on her shoulder reminded Tythel she needed to constrain herself.

Otis gave them both slight nods and got to work inspecting Tellias. It was clinical and detached, the examination of a man who had seen too many horrors to let one more nightmare bother him. 

“Can I be frank with you?”

Tythel nodded.

“Your friend here isn’t alive. Not in any meaningful sense of the word. He has a pulse, he’s breathing, but his pupils aren’t dilating to light, he shows no responses to external stimuli. If there’s anything of the man you knew still in there – which I quite frankly doubt – he’s lost in a private world of agony.”

“I suppose I did ask you to be frank.” Tythel said. “I just didn’t expect…”

Otis gave her such a forlorn look that Tythel closed her mouth. “Miss, I don’t want to pretend this is something other than it is. The best thing you can do for your friend right now is let me fill the bloodwetters with poppy milk. If there’s anything left of him, his pain will stop.”

“Along with everything else,” Tythel said, clenching her hands into fists.

Otis nodded. “I’m sorry. As much as the…as the Alohym have advanced what we can do for patients – and Light help me, it is infinitely better than what we did for them before – he is beyond our ability to help. A lumcaster’s too, though there are precious few of them left around. It would require far too much Light to heal him.”

“There’s a way,” Tythel said.

She expected Otis to protest, to try and convince her she was wrong. She didn’t expect him to close his eyes tightly, taking a deep breath. “I understand that hope, miss. I do. And I know how hard it can be to let go. But right now, your friend is just suffering. Let me do what I can for him. Let me spare him that pain.”

“No,” Tythel said. “You have to keep him here. You have to keep him alive.”

Otis took another slow, deep breath. It wasn’t anger, like Tythel had initially thought. He was holding back tears of his own. “Alohym law means that, unless his family makes a claim and funds his survival, I cannot prolong it longer than two weeks. After that, if no family has come forward-”

“What right does his betrothed have?” Tythel asked, snapping the question.

“She…would have the same right as family, although their claim would supersede hers if they came forward. Upon her instructions, I can prolong his life for two months. After that, I’m required to take a tax to fund the treatment of patients with a hope of survival.”

“Then I have two months to get you the money.”

Otis’s expression made it clear he didn’t believe her hasty lie, but didn’t care enough to protest. Or maybe that was too harsh. Maybe he just couldn’t bring himself to crush her hope. “I hope in two months, you’ll reconsider. The tax is…designed to discourage needless suffering.”

Designed to make sure only the wealthy can keep their loved ones alive, binding their hope to the Alohym and their machines, Tythel translated, though she held her tongue. “How much?”

“Two thousand keys a month.”

“I’ll pay it,” Tythel said, without flinching. A single jewel from her father’s horde would buy Tellias ten months of life. A dozen of them…if she couldn’t learn Heartflame in that time, then maybe it would be time to admit that Tellias was gone.

“Catha, can you check on the other patients?” Otis asked, looking over his shoulder at her.

Catha nodded and exited. Otis turned back to Tythel. “So it really is you?”

Tythel’s heart stopped beating for a moment, then started up again at a runner’s pace. “Really is who?”

Otis snorted. “Your disguise is not a good as it could be. Makeup covers a great deal, but your voice…I remember your voice. I remember how cavalier you were about money then too. A dragon’s view.”

“Otis…” Tythel reached out and took his hand. “I’m sorry about Freda.”

“Thank you,” Otis said. He paused for a moment, and a bitter smile spread across his lips. “Your highness.”

“You don’t…you don’t need to call me that.” Tythel’s nictitating membranes flashed, clearing away tears that weren’t coming. She’d lost her tear ducts at some point, and her eyes just burned instead. 

“He should,” Eupheme said, speaking up softly. “He is one of your subjects, after all.”

“She’s right,” Otis said, before Tythel could protest. “My father always claimed one day I’d treat the illnesses of dukes. I never expected to skip straight to the royal family. I certainly never expected to do it without knowing that’s what I was doing.”

Tythel winced. “I didn’t know either.”

“I believe that.” Otis squeezed her hand one more time. “You…have some dragon magic that can save your friend?”

“I will,” Tythel said. “I just have to learn it. Heartflame.”

“I’ve heard of it,” Otis said. “Heals like light. But instead of turning people into monsters, too much…too much makes them into dragons.”

“I’d say just enough,” Tythel said.

“Is that what your friend – your betrothed – wants?”

Tythel sniffed. “I don’t know. And he’s not…” Otis gave her a warning glance, and Tythel cut off her denial. “I don’t know.”

“Some would say you shouldn’t do that to him without his permission.”

Tythel had to rub her eyes to dispel the itch, the nictitating membranes not doing enough to relieve the need to cry. I’ll be past that one day. I’ll be like my father. My sorrow wont burn my eyes. “If he prefers death to being a dragon, he can fall on a sword once he’s healthy enough to make that choice. But I’ll be damned to the blackest Shadow if I don’t do everything I can to let him choose.”

Otis nodded. “I did say some would say. I wouldn’t be one of them.”

“Otis…you should know. Catha…she called the Alohym on me. What happened to Freda…”

Otis looked at her with eyes that had stared through a thousand torments and shook his head. “Catha wanted to. I agreed, your highness. I thought…I thought they’d spare us if I did.” The tears he had fought for so long finally began to mist his eyes. “I should have known better. That’s not how the Alohym show mercy. They only spared me.”

Tythel found herself unable to speak as the man who had saved her life and doomed the woman he loved collected himself. It took some time. 

The Dragon’s Scion Part 179 (Start of Book 3)

And, after far too long, we return to Tythel and co. I’m going to be holding off on trying to keep a regular update schedule until after the holidays to give myself time to keep recovering from illness and all that, and that also is delaying the release of early access chapters on Patreon slightly – but that will be coming as soon as possible. I’m so excited to bring this back. Enjoy.

Tythel felt like she’d never fully escape Hillsdale. Her entire life she’d wanted nothing more than to explore the town, be among the people so far below her father’s lair, see what they did and how they lived. She hadn’t thought of them as her fellow humans – she was far too much her father’s daughter to feel like other humans would be her kin – but she’d wanted to understand their lives, see the stories they lived with her own eyes instead of reading about them in tomes her father had gathered over centuries. 

It was darkly amusing how much she’d come to hate this place. 

Maybe if she had come here under better circumstances at at least one point in her life. If her first visit hadn’t been because she was clinging to life after being shot with an unlight beam and ended with her fleeing for her life alongside Nicandros. If her second visit hadn’t been because she and her friends were trying to lure a monster to her father’s valley for a battle to the death, a fight she had half expected to end with her dying in her father’s home. 

If her third visit hadn’t been because Tellias was clinging to life, a life she could save if only she’d been able to master Heartflame.

“Freda!” Tythel hissed, banging on the door once again, hoping the woman would be the one to answer the door. This was the place she’d recovered once before, through the kindness of Otis and Freda, and anyone could save Tellias it was them – or they would know where to take him. 

“Are you sure they slept here?” Eupheme asked. Her voice was quiet, and although Eupheme knew better than to whisper when trying to avoid notice, Tythel could still hear the tightness in her voice. She was standing next to the litter they’d built to carry Tellias off the Skitterer and to this place. Tythel could hear his breathing, wet and ragged. He’s not suffering. Not with his skull damaged like that. If Tellias was still in there in anything resembling awareness, his brain was far too broken for him to feel any physical sensation. But that didn’t mean his body was flourishing. It was barely clinging to life.

The slow death. That’s what they called these injuries these days. The mind was damaged beyond the repair of even Alohym medicine, too damaged to be healed with light without causing mutation. There was one thing that could heal an injury like this, and it was something beyond Tythel’s current powers. Yet if they could get him to the machines in time, he could be stabilized. Kept alive until Tythel could learn how to heal him.

If only Freda would answer the flathing door.

“I hear someone in there,” Tythel growled, and she raised her hand again. To knock, although she was a moment away from bashing down the door with brute force and dragging whoever was in there out to help.

She didn’t need to. The person inside finally began to move towards the door with hesitant steps, and Tythel could hear the scrape of a latch being undone. “Who’s there?” someone said, opening the door a fraction.

“Someone who desperately needs healing,” Tythel said, trying not to sound too angry. It was a woman speaking, and her voice was strangely familiar.  It wasn’t Freda, that was certain.

The figure on the other side opened the door. “What happened…oh, Light and Shadow.” The swear came as soon as she saw Tellias’s form, and her distraction helped her not notice the way Tythel’s eyes widened when she saw the speaker.

Catha Lambright. The woman who had sold Tythel to the Alohym, and had almost gotten her killed in the process.

Tythel was glad Eupheme had insisted on the disguise. Tythel’s wings had been a huge problem for getting into town unnoticed, but if she draped them across her her shoulders they could hide – barely – under a cloak. Add to that some modifications Eupheme had down with powder and charcoal, both to hide Tythel’s scales and alter how her features looked, and Catha was unlikely to recognize her. 

That didn’t stop Tythel’s hands from twitching in a reflexive clawing motion. Thankfully, Catha was far too focused on Tellias to notice.

“Bring him in, bring him in,” Catha said, motioning them frantically. “Careful with that litter, if you jostle him it could damage his spine…”

The way she trailed off made it clear Catha was already putting together how little that would matter with the injury to Tellias’s skull, but she was still clearly a professional if nothing else. Under her instructions, Tythel and Eupheme were able to carry Tellias up to one of the cots they had here for the most serious cases. “I’ll get him on a bloodwetter right away, and some medicine to kill off infection,” Catha said. “Then I’ll get Otis. He’ll be able to tell you more.”

“Freda,” Tythel said. Otis had vassilated on whether or not to report them. Tythel had far more trust for Freda’s skills – and her discretion.

The mention of the name had an immediate reaction on Catha. Her eyes widened, and began to glisten. She started to get to work on the bloodwetter. Tythel was familiar with the device – it kept you from starving or dehydrating while you were unable to eat or drink. “I’m sorry,” Catha said. “I didn’t…you knew her?”

Tythel noted the past tense and gritted her teeth. “Yes. I did.”

“I’m so sorry,” Catha said.

“What happened?” Tythel asked. 

“She was taken by the Alohym for abetting rebellion. When she wouldn’t tell them…she held on for so long, they say.” 

“She was executed,” Tythel said flatly.

Catha nodded, and Tythel couldn’t help but note that she wouldn’t meet either of their eyes. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

You killed her, Tythel thought, and if they hadn’t needed Catha to keep Tellias alive right then, Tythel didn’t know what she would have done. Freda had saved her life. The first human Tythel had ever met who wasn’t trying to kill her. Freda was dead, and Tythel hadn’t even known. I didn’t even check when I was here last time. There had been a reason for that, wanting to avoid drawing Alohym attention to this place, but now…now Tythel wished she’d tried to stop.

“Thank you,” Tythel managed gruffly.

“Your friend here…what’s his name?”

“Dommo,” Eupheme said, speaking before Tythel could. Tythel wondered if it was because Eupheme didn’t trust her to be able to remember the lie right now, or if she just wanted to speak before Tythel started clawing Catha’s throat out. 

“Dommo. How was he injured? Otis will want to know what to look for.”

Eupheme shook her head, putting on an angry expression. “Flathing idiot had heard rumors there was still a Dragon’s horde up in the mountain. We came along to try to keep him from breaking his fool’s neck. He pushed ahead of us in the climb, and…”

It was the only lie they’d been able to come up with that would explain how badly battered Tellias was. 

“Third person we’ve had try that since the dragon died,” Catha said, shaking her head. “Although I’m sorry to say your friend is the worst injury we’ve seen because of that.”

Eupheme sniffed convincingly. “That’s Dommo. Has to outdo everyone at everything. Even has to fall off a mountain and get more injury than everyone else.”

Catha smiled sympathetically. How can you smile. How can you smile through the weight of your sins? Tythel wanted to scream, but kept her mouth clamped shut. “Did you clean his wounds?” Catha asked.

Eupheme nodded. “Best we could.” There would be enough dirt from the transit where it would look like an amateur job. At least, they hoped. 

“That’s the only reason he’s alive still. No fever from infection yet. You did a good thing there.” Catha finishing putting the needles in Tellias’s arms. “I’ll go get Otis. You two stay with him, but put these on first.” She handed them a pair of fabric masks with strings in the back. “They’ll filter any contagion on your breaths.”

“Shouldn’t you have worn one?” Tythel asked.

Catha’s response was to open her mouth. There was something silver and artificial, a mesh behind her teeth that stretched as she spoke. “Standard for medical work,” she said, and now that Tythel knew to look for it she could see it flex and move. It was a strange thing. “They activate when we need them.”

Tythel just nodded and tied on the mask. “How far away is Otis?”

“He’s just downstairs. I’ll be back in a moment.”

Good. Tythel could hear what happened, and what she said. She gave the woman a slight nod.

Catha exited and there was nothing to do but wait.

 

The Dragon’s Scion Part 178 (End of Book 2) (Resumes December 10th)

“An interesting theory Nicandros,” Poz said through the Songstone. Nicandros glared at the stone, trying to figure out how in the Shadow this was happening. “However, I think you have much bigger problems to worry about. See, you are correct about a number of factors, although you underestimate my injury.” That was a lie.

“Damnit, Nicandros, where’s that smithy?” Ashliel said.

“North of my position,” Nicandros said, but his words were cut off by Poz’s voice.

“He can’t speak. I’ve hijacked his song. Apologies, Nicandros, but I can’t have you speaking. Do you remember earlier, Ashliel, when Nicandros warned you there was a risk of a popular uprising incurring in Edgeminster?”

“I have nothing to say to you,” Ashliel began to fly towards Nicandros, and he waved to try to get her attention. Unfortunately, Poz’s voice was continuing in his taunting. As fast as Ashliel was, speech was faster.

“So you do recall. Well, then, did you know that the Alohym’s Songstones link perfectly up to the city-wide song network? Do you know that the Alohym’s Songstones link perfectly up to the city-wide song network? Of course you do, the Resistance used the same thing to broadcast Tythel’s message to the rest of this corner of the empire. But I don’t think that was the best use of that technology. I think it is far more interesting for the people to hear what the Alohym think of them.”

Ashliel crushed her Songstone in her fist, a childish display of frustration. “What does that mean, Nicandros? What is he doing?

Nicandros looked at the Songstone in growing horror. “Ashliel…these things. Do they listen at all times, in cast they are activated?”

Ashliel nodded. “Of course, why wouldn’t they…oh. Oh no.”

Before they could even begin to react, Ashliel’s voice came through Nicandros’s Songstone. Not just his, either. As Poz had promised, Nicandros could hear Ashliel’s words echoed a dozen times over.

“I’m not interested in questions of morality. These people are disposable. Our soldiers are slightly less disposable. The only three beings that matter, in this entire city, are myself, you, and the underfolk. There are millions to replace even the thousands that might die here. This isn’t a police action to protect the citizens, and I swear by my Father’s Holy name, if I must burn every living being in this city to ash to achieve victory, I’ll do so with a smile and a laugh.”

All around them, troops were beginning to slow down. People were staring up at the speakers in growing horror.

“These people are disposable. Our soldiers are slightly less disposable.”

“No, no no no,” Ashliel started to moan the words and took the air on buzzing wings. Shouts began to come from the ground as people spotted her rise into the air.

Nicandros slunk away from where she’d taken off.

“”If I must burn every living being in this city to ash, I’ll do so with a smile and a laugh.”

Somehow Poz was cutting parts out of the conversation as they had happened. Nothing changed the core meaning, however, and people were coming to realize that the flying thing above the city was the source of the words. People were pointing at her, shouting. Soldiers started to move towards the people, but Poz played another segment. Or maybe he had predicted what parts he’d need to play when, for maximum impact.

“Our soldiers are slightly less disposable. The only three beings that matter are myself, you, and the underfolk.”

The soldiers of the Alohym began to hesitate. The crowd began to mutter angrily. Someone shouted. Nicandros couldn’t make out what the shout was, it was too far away, but it began to grow. More people were gathering. Fury was building.

“We deserve to live!”

“She’ll kill us all!” Officers began to bark orders, telling their soldiers to disperse the crowd, shouting at the citizens to go home, adding more chaos to the clamor. Ashliel was circling overhead, and the crowd was pointing at her, their screams getting louder. Nicandros wanted to tell her to leave, to get out before the situation erupted, but she had destroyed her Songstone in a fit of pique and was too high to hear anything.

“Look at her!”

“Burn us to ash?”

“Disposable!”

Arcwands were levelled at the crowd, and Nicandros’s heart began to pound. No. Not this. Please not this. 

The motion only incited more anger from the crowd.

“They don’t care about you either!”

“You’re nothing to them!”

“You think you’re less disposable?”

“Who’s the other one?”

“I think it’s him! He was with her!”

A finger was pointed in Nicandros’s direction, and the crowd began to surge. Soldiers pulled out unlight shields and tried to move to intercept the crowd.

Then everything fell silent again, as Poz’s voice once again came over the Songstone, and now Nicandros knew he was listening in, monitoring the situation, and deliberately pushing things over the edge.

“What was it you said when you were brought before my father? ‘Burn the resistance, burn the princess, burn my very soul to ash if you have to. I know you offered that bitch her father if she served you. Give me back my son, and I’ll be your creature until my last breath.’”

Nicandros took a step back, but there was nowhere to run. The crowd surged again, their screams turning to pure fury, their taunts now aimed at him as well as Ashliel.

“Stop this at once!” The voice cut over the crowd, magnified somehow. Every head turned to look at the source. It was Ashliel, coming down to land on top of a watchtower. “Listen to yourselves! This is a cheap trick, designed to turn you against us. You think that we are the monsters here? We have given you food beyond what you had before us. Medicine that exceeds the greatest works you had. And have we been harsh? Have we been unfair? What have we done that would lead you to believe I would say such things – that I would believe these things? When we came to your world, we did not slaughter your innocent. We only fought the soldiers of the old regimes – the monarchies that forced you into serfdom. Are your lives not better under us? How could you turn on us, after everything we’ve done for you?”

Silence followed. Nicandros held his breath. That was it. That was what they needed. It would muddle the issue, confuse things. She could have sounded less indignant, could have been more conciliatory, but-

“Your resistance – apologies, your former resistance – relies heavily on support from the populace. Whenever their action results in the deaths of civilians, it reflects poorly on them. Their allies begin to withdraw. Their support begins to dry up. In the meantime, if we enforce quarantine, we are labeled as tyrants and dictators. By allowing the population to engage in normal activities, we are seen as the reasonable actors. If people die…it doesn’t make us look like the antagonistic force.” Ashliel’s voice, once again coming from the Songstones

“You put people’s lives at risk to win a popularity contest?”

It was Nicandros’s voice, and he winced, remembering what came after those words. Ashliel’s damning response.

“Yes. Revolutions aren’t won on battlefields or in back alleys. They are won in the hearts and minds of the people. And, by the same token, that’s also where they are lost.”

For a moment, it felt like time itself was holding its breath.

Nicandros would never forget that moment. That single, frozen moment, where it seemed like everything could still be salvaged.

Then someone threw a stone. It glanced off the helm of a soldier, sending him staggering. The soldier next to him, his comrade, possibly even his friend, snapped his arcwand back up.

Then he opened fire blindly into the crowd. A woman screamed.

And the crowd began to charge. More stones were throne. Soldiers screamed orders, and Arcwands began to fire again, and again, and again. The screams of rage began to mix with screams of agony of the wounded and screams of anguish from those standing near the dead.

Nicandros felt himself being lifted into the air. Ashliel had hooked her hands under his arms and was dragging him skyward. A stone flew in their direction, but she was able to block it with her carapace.

Someone threw a torch. A building caught flame.

Edgeminster began to burn, and the riot turned into a massacre.

And, Nicandros was certain, somewhere far below in the chaos, Poz was able to slip away with his prize.

It would later be called the Edgeminster Slaughter. It would be remembered as the day that seven hundred civilians were killed, and three times that many wounded, by Alohym in their attempt to catch a single individual. It would grow with each retelling as it spread from town to town like a wildfire, Ashliel’s words being twisted further and further.

By the time it reached Tythel and Eupheme, sitting at the bedside where Tellias was hooked up to machines that were his only chance of survival, Nicandros’s name was spoken of in the same tones as the foulest creatures spawned from the Shadow. Tythel hugged her friend, and together they wondered if their battle had somehow pushed the Alohym over the edge into slaughter.

By the time it reached Duke De’Monchy, they said it was seven thousand dead, and the entire city of Edgeminster burned to the ground. He knew that now, the citizens knew the Alohym were as terrible as he’d always feared, and the only window they’d ever have to fight back with a hope of winning was now. He swore a blood oath that those that died in Edgeminster would be avenged, and that tale was spread throughout the kingdom as well.

By the time it reached Poz, emerging from the cocoon in Lizardflesh, he knew he was responsible for the deaths, and wept for nearly three straight days. He too swore that the deaths would not be in vain, although his tale would not spread until far, far later.

It would not reach Armin for longer than the rest. He had the treasure horde of Grejax to deal with, using the Sylvani transporters activated by Bix to carry it where it could be moved to the resistance. By the time he heard it, rumor had been separated from fact, and the true number of dead was established at seven hundred and thirty four, with twenty thousand and ninety three wounded and thirty two soldiers dead.

It was the perfect time for him to receive the terrible news, because he could counter it with hope. With Synit and Bix’s help, he’d decoded Theognis’s ledger. He knew what the Vacuity engine was. He knew what they could do about it.

He did not yet know what to do with the two dozen golden eggs they’d taken from Grejax’s lair. He had questions about them, along with a great deal of other questions forming from what he’d learned in the lair of a long dead monster, questions that could only be answered by a woman who was now being called the Dragon’s Scion.

But that is all in the future.

For now, Edgeminster burned, and with it Nicandros saw hope turn to ash.

-END OF BOOK 2-

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Dragon’s Scion Part 177

Poz could not accurately calculate how long he laid on the floor of the blacksmith, insensible with pain, the stench of his own burned flesh filling his nostrils. The smell should have filled him with revulsion, but instead reminded him of how long he’d been in Manflesh and how long he’d been without food. His stomach was rumbling at the smell of his own burned arm, and the knowledge of that was another fact that he put aside in a box in the back of his mind. When he left Manflesh, when his intellect was sooner, many of these facts and information he’d gleaned while in this flesh would be lost as his intellect diminished to the point where he could no longer make sense of them. He was certain that he would not lose the knowledge that, when desperate and on the border of death, he’d been hungry for his own arm. That seemed like the kind of knowledge that would linger, something he’d recall when he woke up screaming later nights.

For right now, however, he had to ensure those later nights would occur.

The loss of blood he’d suffered when his arm had been burned off was severe. It had left him weak and his thoughts unfocused and muddled. The weakness was something that could be overcome. The difficulty in thinking was a far more serious impairment, since his intellect was the only weapon he had left.

Why did the Alohym care what happened to Nicandros? 

That thought seemed like it might be critical to uncover, but Poz lacked sufficient data to make an accurate prediction. Alohym rarely cared for what happened to the humans under their command. Nicandros was a valuable human, but not so valuable as to be worth endangering whatever their primary mission was. The recovery of the egg. They needed to recover it. It was vital that they did, because if they were able to get the egg then the only hope left for the world would be a young woman more focused on anger and revenge than freeing world from Alohym rule. A young woman who they could control, because the egg would be a tempting prize.

Poz forced himself to stand. It was difficult, and his vision turned black from the effort and from lack of blood. He reached for the Songstone, only to remember it was on the side of his body that lacked an arm now, and all he was doing was waving a stump in the direction of his pocket. He reached across his body with his free hand, his only hand, and awkwardly worked the Songstone out of his pouch. Trousers with pouches sown into them. I must remember it. It is a vast improvement over the current designs.

He flicked on the Stongstone.

His earlier modifications had allowed him to listen in as if he were Nicandros, hear whatever Song Nicandros was being sung and to hear what songs Nicandros was singing. It had allowed for other things, including turning it into a weapon of last resort. Perhaps there would be some insight he could glean.

“You let him get away,” Nicandros said. His voice was thick with pain, but underneath it Poz did not hear anything that sounded like reproach. It sounded more like confusion and wonder.

“I saved your life.” Ashliel’s voice was hard to make out. In addition to its natural buzzing quality, there was also the sound of wind whipping past her, and the background thrummed with the sound of her wings. “Would you prefer I left you to die?”

Nicandros grunted. “Of course not. I just…why?”

How convenient, that they’re discussing the exact information I wish to know. Poz thought it was easy. Too easy. Poz tried to calculate the odds that he would turn on the Songstone at the exact moment to hear what he wanted to hear. They were minimal. He then calculated the odds that this discussion was a bit of theater for his benefit, if they suspected he was listening in. Those odds were still small, but they were more in his favor.

“I’ll explain later.” Ashliel’s voice was curt, and Poz breathed a sigh of relief. If it was theater for his benefit, there was no reason for her not to give a prepared answer. This seemed more natural. They didn’t suspect he was listening in. Of course they don’t. The Alohym don’t understand how dangerous I am to them. 

“Hold on,” Nicandros said. “I think I might have something.”

The line went silent, and Poz tensed. What did Nicandros suspect? What had he seen? Was he outside the door right now, ready to burst in? Poz tried to figure out his chances of survival if he did. They were minimal. Poz walked over to where the anvil was and took out the egg, placing it on the anvil. While Nicandros investigated whatever he’d heard, Poz wrapped his fingers around the blacksmith’s hammer. What he was contemplating was monstrous, but no more monstrous than letting the egg fall into Alohym hands.

“He’s in a smithy about three blocks from me,” Nicandros said. “Or he was. You took off his arm with that last blast. I doubt he’ll have gone far.”

There’s still time. Poz lifted the Stongstone to his lips. It was time for his final gambit.

“An interesting theory Nicandros,” Poz said, setting the hammer back on the floor. “However, I think you have much bigger problems to worry about. See, you are correct about a number of factors, although you underestimate my injury.” That was a lie.

“Damnit, Nicandros, where’s that smithy?” Ashliel said. Three blocks could mean any direction.

“He can’t speak. I’ve hijacked his song. Apologies, Nicandros, but I can’t have you speaking. Do you remember earlier, Ashliel, when Nicandros warned you there was a risk of a popular uprising incurring in Edgeminster?”

“I have nothing to say to you,” Ashliel spat, but Poz could hear the undertones of fear in her voice. He smiled.

“So you do recall. Well, then, did you know that the Alohym’s Songstone link perfectly up to the city-wide song network? Of course you do, the Resistance used the same thing to broadcast Tythel’s message to the rest of this corner of the empire. But I don’t think that was the best use of that technology. I think it is far more interesting for the people to hear what the Alohym think of them.”

He pressed another button, one that would silence Ashliel. Well, it would silence present Ashliel.

The city of Edgeminster would hear what Ashliel of the past had to say. And in the chaos that would follow, Poz would be able to escape.

Ashliel’s voice was harsh when it came across the entire city, broadcasted so loudly no citizen could hope to not hear it.

“I’m not interested in questions of morality,” Ashliel said, her buzzing voice clearly the product of an Alohym throat. “These people are disposable…”

Poz tucked the egg back into his pouch and waited for the riot to begin.

Dragon’s Scion Part 176

“Give up, Poz,” Nicandros growled from the darkness.

“Question,” Poz said, pressing his back against the stone he’d taken cover behind, his heart pounding in his chest. Keep him talking. It would give Poz time to think, which even with his enhanced intellect he desperately needed. He’d already found an appropriate means of egress from his predicament, but it would high a high probability of resulting in his dismemberment, with a slightly lower risk of death. Slightly. He tore off part of his shirt and wrapped it around the knives to prevent bleeding. “In your experience, how often has demanding someone give up work at this point?”

“At this point?” Nicandros said.

Poz could hear him moving to circle around his cover, but the acoustics of this place made determining his exact location extremely difficult. Perhaps if I were to fashion some sort of amplification device, perhaps utilizing a series of horns linked to spider-web to detect faint vibration, I could pinpoint. The designs were half formed in his head before he reminded himself that doing so would be impossible. He lacked spider-webs, horns, and time. “At the point where it’s certain that defeat means death. What incentive do I have to surrender?”

Nicandros’s movement halted, and in the darkness, Poz could hear a low chuckle. It didn’t sound amused. It sounded more sad than anything. Nicandros was likely feeling sentimental about their time together before. “I forget how much of a pain in the ass you are like this. How long have you been in Manflesh? Clock is ticking, right?”

“Ah, yes. I fully intend to provide you vital intelligence in the middle of an armed conflict.”

“I suppose not. Can’t blame me for trying.”

Poz sighed. “No, I suppose not. I guess I should reward the effort. I have thirty one days, seven hours, and eleven minutes left in Manflesh.”

Nicandros’s movement halted. “You’re lying, Poz. You told me you’d burn out after, at most, half a day.”

“Perhaps I am. Or perhaps I solved that problem already. Perhaps I’ve be sandbagging. I suppose you’ll need to let me survive to test that hypothesis.”

“Sorry, I can’t do that, Poz. If you wanted to survive, you should have handed over the egg when you had the chance.”

“I suppose so,” Poz said, making sure his voice sounded with a bitter irony he didn’t feel. Right now, his only hope of survival depended on Nicandros’s human side. Fortunately, Poz knew exactly where he was most vulnerable. “Can’t blame me for trying.”

The echo of Nicandros’s earlier words drew him up short, and Poz could hear him hesitate again. Poz took the opportunity to pull the two daggers from his arms, clenching his teeth against the pain and moving quickly to staunch the bleeding. Battlefield treatment dictated a puncture wound should not be re-opened like this, but Poz was running low on options. Now, he at least was armed. “It didn’t have to be like this,” Nicandros said. “Light and Shadow, Poz, you could have just given me the damn egg.”

“Yes. And if it had been just you to ask, I would have given it. But you didn’t want it for yourself. You wanted it for the Alohym.”

“I wanted it for Tomah,” Nicandros growled. He was angry now, and his footsteps came quickly.

There’s the opening. Poz rose up, the daggers in his hands. “Then I hope you tell Tomah that Uncle Poz died on his feet.”

Nicandros was in the open, as Poz had predicted, and he stumbled at the words, the reminder of the bond Poz shared with his son. Poz flicked his wrists. The first dagger missed Nicandros by a hair, tumbling past his ear, driven off course by a spasmodic twitch in his injured arm. However, the motion brought Nicandros’s hands up to his face reflexively.

It left him exposed for the second dagger to sink into his gut.

Nicandros doubled over with a quiet grunt of pain. Poz frowned. The plan would not work with just a quiet grunt. He leapt over the barrier. Nicandros lunged for him, his hands outstretched, but the motion was rendered clumsy with pain. Poz wrapped his fingers around Nicandros’s wrist and moved past his bod, twisting as he did. Nicandros’s arm bent so it was stretched behind him, his elbow facing up, and Poz applied pressure to the wrist to drive Nicandros to the floor. “Scream,” Poz said.

“What…” Nicandros gasped. “You’re a sadist now?”

“No. However, the Alohym saved you from the explosion of the bell tower. She has an interest in your survival. Your screams will draw her attention.”

“Never,” Nicandros said, growling the word.

“Then I promise, when I’m back in a more empathetic flesh, I’ll feel terrible about this.”

He drove his free palm into Nicandros’s upturned elbow, bending it almost a perfect forty-five degrees in the opposite direction. To Nicandros’s credit, he didn’t scream at first, not until Poz continued to apply pressure to bend the arm further. However, Nicandros was only human. He couldn’t withstand too much abuse before instinct took over.

At the point his forearm was almost perpendicular to his back, Nicandros started to scream.

Now. Poz released the pressure and dove towards the entrance. The top of the bell tower was being torn apart by some force, a plurality of ink black arms rending stones from stone. “Leave him alive or your screams will echo across a thousand worlds!” Ashliel screamed as she ripped the top of the tower off with greater speed than Poz had calculated would be possible.

She descended towards Nicandros like a comet, one of her arms forming a protective dome to drop around his prone form. Her other arm extended towards Poz, forming an unlight cannon.

Poz dove through the door. The unlight cannon fired. Poz felt something tug on his arm, but he was in the street and running, and Ashliel was sure to waste time checking on Nicandros before she pursued. A simple brace will repair the damage, so long as the stomach wound does not go septic. Alohym medication will likely prevent that. Poz felt lightheaded, and as he ran through the street, people screamed and ran from him.

That surprised him. Humans tended to react with the least fear to his Manflesh form. He glanced at his arm, trying to see what the Alohym had hit him with. Perhaps some brand that marked him as a target, or…

“Oh,” Poz said aloud.

The arm ended in a stump just above the elbow. Shock was the only thing preventing him from keeling over in agony.

Several new variables raced through his head, although he had to remind himself that he couldn’t trust his own calculations. He’d lost a lot of blood already. Have to find Gecko when I’m out of the city. That Flesh can let me regrow the arm. Maybe. He’d be dumb for days, barely better than Grubflesh, but he’d survive if he could get it in time.  The regrowth was uncertain, but worth the risk.

Poz saw a smithy and dove through the open door. The huge man behind the counter bellowed in surprise, and Poz hit him in the throat with his remaining hand to silence him as he vaulted over the counter.

The man had an apprentice, one who raised a hot iron in a defensive pose when Poz burst in. “I’ve crushed your master’s trachea,” Poz said, not certain if he’d actually managed that. “If you get him to a healer in time, you can save him. If you give me that hot iron, I’ll let you go. What is more important, his life or his wares?”

The young man couldn’t have been more than fourteen. He blanched at Poz’s words, and although he likely didn’t understand what a trachea, he understood enough. With a curse, he tossed the hot iron to the ground and ran to the front of the store.

Poz shoved his stump against the red-hot metal. No amount of shock could spare him from the pain of cauterization, and his screams chased the blacksmith and his apprentice into the street.