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-

Sign up to the blog to the left or go to my subreddit and type HelpMeButler <The Dragon’s Scion> in response to any thread to make sure you get notified when it returns! when the story returns, it will, like Staff and soon Small Worlds, run 3 parts ahead of the main story if you sign up on Patreon!

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.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 175

Poz caught himself on the line he’d secured before detonating the bell, slowing his descent enough to avoid injuring himself when he landed. High probability I killed Nicandros with that explosion. The Alohym hybrid creature, on the other hand, is an unknown variable. The only abilities I’ve seen from it is the ability to fly and shoot unlight from its hand. It might have been able to save itself or Nicandros. Poz considered the thought and shook his head. The idea an Alohym would save another was a variable not worth considering.

You killed Nicandros. 

There should be some emotion attached to that thought. Sadness at killing an old friend, satisfaction at achieving a victory and eliminating the only threat that could educate the Alohym on Poz’s current abilities, but at the moment all he really felt was a need to move to the next stage and prepare for the Alohym’s likely counterattack.

Every time it’s come at me before, it’s done so from the air. It favors rushing in and letting loose with a large burst of Unlight, then follows that up with moving into close combat when I’m exposed. His mind worked furiously, trying to find a way to counteract the advantages the Alohym posed. Forcing it underground would neutralize the advantage it had in flight but doing so would also give him little room to outmaneuver its beams. Engaging it in the open would give him room to evade, but no means of counterattack while it remained in the open. The only remaining option was engaging it within a structure. It would give him some room to maneuver, while limiting its flight. Except it would have no reason to not just bring the structure down around you. Human hostages were considered and discarded. The Alohym would not hesitate to slaughter any humans that stood between it and victory.

And, even if he engaged it in a structure, he currently had no means of injuring it.

Poz grimaced. Assuming the bell hadn’t ended the conflict before it even began, Poz was in an uncomfortable position. Enhancing his intelligence really only served to make sure he knew exactly how low his odds of success were against the Alohym.

Except it’s not an Alohym. It is a hybridization of some kind. Approach the problem from that direction. Also, the stonework on this structure has erosion patterns that indicate it’s at least a century old given average precipitation and weather patterns in this area. I wonder if there would be some way to increase its longevity. It occurred to Poz that some kind of coating over the stone could reduce the weathering from wind and rain, a sealant of some sort. Perhaps something based off of oil. If he could find a way to solidify it, the sealant would prevent water degradation due to oil’s hydrophobic properties…

Poz shook his head, trying to clear away the distraction. There were important things to focus on. His life was in imminent danger, and there was a very real threat of failing to find somewhere safe to feast on new flesh before his brain overheated and left him comatose and dead.

He felt the Songstone in his pocket. He still had a card to play. If he used it properly, it would create just enough chaos to escape. If he did not use it properly, it would result in the pointless loss of human lives and still leave him trapped. Too early, and the chaos would be subdued before he could take advantage of it. Too late, and he’d already be a smear on the cobblestones.

The only possible option for the hybrid is a human. So…what weaknesses does a human have that an Alohym would not cover? That was a more interesting question, because it was solvable. Alohym had a hardened carapace that made up for humans comparably thin skin, inherent sensory dampeners that made up for most of the human sensory flaws, and an extended thorax that provided additional mass…

Mass that has to be supported by the human knee and spin. 

The two major structural weaknesses in the human frame. Knee and spine. The Alohym’s hardened carapace would help protect it against attacks focusing on the spine, but the knee…it was a joint. Joints were weak points. A plan began to form. It would be risky, but it was viable if he could just-

A faint sound reached his ears and reflex drove Poz to leap to the side, rolling with the motion. A beam of unlight lanced down from the damaged bell tower and tore a chunk of cobblestone from where he’d been standing, digging a furrow as wide as Poz was at the shoulders through the streets and sending stone flying into the air. Poz kept moving as the beam started to chase him. He could see the Hybrid above him on the edge of the ruined tower – might as well use its name, Ashliel – and dove into the tower she was standing on before she could catch him in the solid beam of destruction.

He’d been so focused on solving the problem he’d forgotten to move. A flaw of manflesh. An easy one for it to figure out and exploit. Light and Shadow, it probably hadn’t needed to know it was a weakness – all it had to do was check to see if it could see him from the elevated altitude. Now he was in the tower and had blocked his escape path with his own debris. You’ll hear her wings when she starts moving again. Then you can-

A motion in the darkness of the room. Poz leapt back, his mind racing through the possibilities. Before he could figure out the most likely threat, pain blossomed in his left bicep. Sharp pain, sudden warmth. I’m bleeding. There’s a metal object inserted into my arm right now. His attacker had thrown three blades, along the primary assault path and the only two spaces Poz could reasonably move to in evading it.

Poz realized he was shouting in pain and made himself stop. Instead he lashed out with his hand, catching the fourth dagger before it could impact him in the chest. He hurled it back into the darkness but wasn’t rewarded with any sound of pain or drop of a body hitting the floor. Poz pivoted, heading towards the entrance.

A beam of unlight blasted down inches in front of the door before he could exit. If he’d jumped to the other side, he would have been moving through it at that exact instant and would have been vaporized.

Poz leapt into the air. It was an absurd move, one he never would have tried normally, but had the benefit of moving him out of the path of the daggers that were coming out of the darkness.

Another weakness of manflesh. Pitiful vision in the darkness. His attack knew that and was exploiting it.

Poz leapt again, ducking behind some rubble.

“Nicandros,” Poz said. “It appears I had miscalculated your odds of survival.”

A damaged arcell flew over the pile of rubble and landed next to Poz, pulsing and glowing with unlight. Frantic calculations told Poz he had five seconds before it detonated. Four now, it had taken him a second to calculate it. At three seconds, his fingers closed around the arcell. He had to reach out of cover to grab it, and this arm sprouted a dagger as well. He ignored the pain. Two seconds. He tossed it wildly towards the entrance. One second.

It detonated just after passing through the entrance. The explosion rocked the street outside, but Poz was spared from the blast.

Poz had escaped certain death and traded it for an uncertain survival.

It appeared there were other odds he’d miscalculated.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 174

The Songstone sprung to life again in Ashliel’s hands. What came out wasn’t the normal speech Nicandros was used to, but the clipped mishmash language the Alohym had taught their human soldiers. It was where terms like ‘flath’ had originated. The speech was terrible for conveying complex information, abstract ideas, or anything resembling artistry. It was, however, ideally suited for relaying hard data concisely.

In this case, it took the speaker on the other end just fifteen words to inform Ashliel that another squad, a group of three men, had fallen off the song in the same general area as the last five. Squads were preparing to cut off the streets leading into and out of that area, and the soldiers were already starting to search the homes along those blocks to try and flush out the aggressor. Skimmers were en route to begin patrolling the skies above the block to locate any sign of Poz from above.

“He is just a single being, yet he’s already killed eight. This is not some half-dragon or man clad in plate. It is a cave-sucking grub-eater.” The words came out in a hiss from Ashliel’s mandibles, and she whirled to face Nicandros. “Stars forsake us, what is happening?”

Nicandros didn’t look at her directly, instead scanning the ground around them. They were in a courtyard, and with the break of dawn people had begun to spill out into the streets. They all gave the Alohym soldiers a wide berth and curious gazes, but they were still present. Edgeminster was a large enough city that the presence of this many soldiers was not cause for alarm – at least, not yet. “We have to get the civilians out of here,” he growled.

“That’s impossible,” Ashliel said with a dismissive wave of her hands. “A city this large, at this time of day? We’d have to put the entire place under Quarantine.”

“Then put it on Quarantine,” Nicandros said.

“Nicandros, I know you’re new to our way of doing things, but right now no one can leave the city. These people might hide your little friend, but he cannot escape the city. The moment we enforce quarantine, we are going to be faced with possible riots. He could use the chaos to escape – and more importantly, we’ll lose our biggest advantage.”

Nicandros’s eyebrows furrowed. “Advantage?”

Ashliel nodded. “Surely you’ve noticed. 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.”

If Ashliel had not been so potentially dangerous, if Nicandros hadn’t needed her so badly, he would have tried to drive his blade through her chest just for that sentence. “So you put people’s lives at risk to win a popularity contest?”

“Yes.” The word was as blunt as it was direct. “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.”

Nicandros clenched his fingers into fists for a moment, then forced himself to loosen them. “Girl, the normal rules don’t apply here. Poz has eaten manflesh. He was not exaggerating when he said he was the smartest being on the planet currently. The more things there are out there for him to work with, the greater the risk to us. He can exploit any loophole we leave him to grab ahold of. If he has to, he’ll kill thousands of people – morality means very little to him right now.”

“I’m not interested in questions of morality,” Ashliel buzzed the words harshly. “Nicandros, it’s very important you pay attention here. 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.”

Nicandros did look at her now, fixing her with a glare that carried the full force of his rage. “You…”

“Want nothing more than you do, Nicandros,” Ashliel said, her voice now smooth as silk. “Tomah returned to us. We don’t get what we want if the Underfolk escapes. What was it you said when you were brought before my father?” One of her segmented fingers came up to her chin, and she tapped the space between her mandibles as if in thought. Something in the motion told Nicandros is was a mockery, that she knew exactly what he had said and was merely trying to score some kind of petty point. “I believe it was…yes. ‘Burn the resistance, burn the princess, burn my very soul to ash if you have to. I know you offered her father if she served you. Give me back my son, and I’ll be your creature until my last breath.’ Does that sound familiar?”

Nicandros turned away and began to scan the crowd again. The words hit him like a blow to the stomach. He’d been drunk at the time, drunk and desperate with grief and fury. He hadn’t even known it was Daemryon he’d been speaking to – just that he’d been hauled before an Alohym and thrown on the floor. He’d expected death, and had intended to go out with one final shout of defiance…but then he’d remembered the offer the Alohym had made to Tythel. The rebirth of Karjon. If they could give her that, couldn’t they also give him the same?

“So please, Nicandros, spare me your morality. We both want Tomah. We will have him. But spare me your pitiful attempts to convince me that the methods of conquest that have served the Alohym on a dozen worlds will not work here because you want to keep your hands clean. You will not budge me.”

Nicandros slammed his fist into a wall. Don’t argue. Get her moving, get her acting. That’s how you save these people. “Fine. Then we need to find Poz. Even with his intelligence enhanced the way it is, he’ll want to seek something comfortable to think. Send your soldiers into cellars, send them into sewers. The Underfolk like the dark places of the world, and we’ll either find him or some trace of him when we-”

Nicandros didn’t get to finish the thought. There, on the bell tower. 

He’d been so very wrong. Poz had gone to the last place Nicandros would have dared to suspect – the very place where Ashliel and Nicandros had just been. The same place he’d left his cocoon. It had been so long since he’d last seen Poz in Manflesh, he’d forgotten what it looked like. The Underfolk stood tall and straight, his back almost painfully rigid. His frame rippled with muscles – not the thick cords of a soldier, but thin and lean.

It was the eyes that Nicandros could never forget. Black as pitch and unyielding as stone. There was no familiarity in that gaze, no comradery. No friendship.

Poz slapped something against the side of the bell and leapt away. It detonated afterwards and sent the immense iron bell ringing as it was propelled from the tower by the force. “Move!” Nicandros shouted, lunging for Ashliel.

It was too late. The bell was heavy, and the tower wasn’t built for that kind of strain. As the slab of iron flew through the air, it began to pull the tower down to the side, chunks of masonry flying along with its arc to rain down towards Ashliel and Nicandros.

Ashliel didn’t budge at Nicandros’s shove. Instead, she wrapped one arm around him and drew him close, extending her free arm over her head. The arm began to widen and lengthen, going from a simple appendage to a disc that stretched out and anchored itself to the ground on chitinous tendrils. At the same time her skin pulled away from her face and the arm around Nicandros’s back, revealing a second layer of skin beneath it. Skin that had gone pallid with lack of sunlight, but nonetheless was human skin.

Stone crashed into the barrier Ashliel had erected. It drove the struts of her shield into the stone around them, but not enough to push the full weight of the stone on top of either of them.

Ashliel looked at Nicandros with eyes that were unmistakably human and, equally unmistakably, were in pain. “Why?” Nicandros asked. “You could have flown and-”

“Tomah…would never forgive me…if I let anything happen to you…” the words came out in harsh gasps, like her breathing was labored. Most of her carapace had pulled away to form the barrier, and what human bits of her Nicandros could see were weak and frail. “I can…get us free. But…you need to tell me how to beat…what we’re dealing with.”

Nicandros nodded, and his mind worked furiously as Ashliel’s armor moved like a mass of liquid stone to pull away layers of debris.

Right now, however, he was running terribly short of options.

Dragon’s Scion Part 173

Note: if you read part 172 in the first hour of posting, it was originally this part. Click the back arrow to get the real part 172. Sorry about any confusion!

Poz stood up from where he’d dropped the five men that had found him, sliding the Songstone into his pouch. What if pouches were woven directly into trousers? A sort of self-contained pocket so they could not be cut by sneak thieves? Perhaps sealed by some sort of abrasive cloth – I shall have to investigate the properties of brambles to see if there’s a way to replicate. Poz stepped over a bleeding man. The man would die in another five minutes and thirty five seconds. Poz could end the man’s suffering immediately with a quick strike of the heel to the bridge of the man’s nose, but such an effort didn’t seem important. What seemed far more important, at the moment, was an observation that the blood spatters from the earlier slaughter had produced a fractal pattern on one portion of the wall which implied some interesting things about the air currents in this room.

Manflesh. It was foolish to act like he needed to be reminded of what this state was, but he still felt the need to do so. Manflesh was forbidden for several reasons. The first and foremost of them was, of course, the related decrease in empathy that came with the heightened intellectual state. Most of the Underfolk thought that this decrease was related directly to some inherent property of mankind, an implication that humanity was by its very nature more cruel than any other animal. Having experienced it, however, Poz disagreed with that assessment.

The truth was, suffering was not inherently interesting, and mankind was an inherently curious species. When added to the Underfolks own curiosity and intelligence, things like suffering just had trouble holding Poz’s attention, not when there were so many more interesting things to hold his attention. The interplay of blood on a wall. The theoretical possibilities of sticky fabric on pouches woven into trousers. And, of course, his survival odds over the next twelve hours and thirty minutes.

That timeframe was important. Based on his observation of Alohym ship movements and their proximity, it was the minimum amount of time before a True Alohym arrived with a new deployment of soldiers. Despite his earlier boast to whomever was on the other end of that Songstone, Poz couldn’t actually calculate them that precisely. Boasting that he could however, had a high probability of unsettling has adversary enough into to believe him, especially because he’d convinced Nicandros of that possibility during his last time in Manflesh. However, Poz was quite certain that his odds of survival dropped below twenty-five percent if he was still here when reinforcements arrived.

That timeframe was also important for the second, lesser known reason Manflesh was forbidden to the Underfolk. The Underfolk had evolved to adapt the traits of any animal life they consumed. They had not adapted alongside humans, dragons, or Sylvani. Now that Poz was again in Manflesh, he’d come to the same realization he had during his last bout in this form. Increased intelligence had a byproduct – increased energy required. The Underfolk brain had not adapted to handle the temperatures required to sustain this level of intelligence. In twelve hours and thirty minutes, he would begin to experience critical internal organ failure as the proteins in his body denatured from the heat. In sixteen hours that organ failure would result in permanent damage. In twenty, he would be comatose, and two hours after that he would only be producing heat from the various organisms generating it as they caused his body to undergo decomposition.

I think there must be another actor to produce those heats besides insects. The ‘invisible demon’ theory of hygiene has some merit, although invisibility is unlikely. Perhaps they are as small to insects as insects are to us, and thus invisible to our eyes. Also, you’ve now wasted twelve minutes in contemplation, which is decreasing your survival chances further. 

Poz shook his head. That was another problem of Manflesh. The difficulty in prioritizing focus. Objectively, his survival was more important than the exact mechanisms of decomposition, especially since the decomposition would only directly impact his existence if he failed to survive. Yet part of him was imagining these too-small-to be seen creatures, ones constructed of simple proteins that could be controlled through the same heating mechanism that would slowly turn his brain into a liquid over the next several hours if he failed to shift out of Manflesh before the heat became overwhelming.

Also, while he was thinking this, his hands had taken out the songstone and began to open it. Another subconscious action, trying to tinker with an Alohym device that was millennia more advanced than anything humanity, sylvani, or dragonkind had managed to produce. Or is it? The Sylvani have shown remarkable adaptability to Alohym technology, perhaps it isn’t as unfamiliar as you previously believed. They were the ones to create the first arcells after all, and Sylvani physiology isn’t quite like any native to Alith, sharing more in common with deep sea life than it does with anything of terrestrial origin. Given that, there’s a high probability the Sylvani are, like the Alohym, beings not native to this world. Therefore it would follow that…

That train of thought was derailed by two simultaneous occurrences. The first was that he’d managed to work the back off the Songstone. The second was that three Alohym soldiers burst into the cellar where he’d taken refuge.

Human reaction time allowed them to respond to external stimuli in about a quarter of a second. Underfolk reaction time allowed for a reaction within a similar window of time. When those were amplified by each other, Poz was able to react in a quarter of a quarter of that time. Therefore, while the impending attackers were still taking in the carnage they were witnessing, Poz had already identified their presence, the threat the likely posed, and how swiftly he would have to react to be able to survive before they could begin opening fire with their unlight arcwands. At the same time they were raising their arcwands, Poz was calculating trajectories and force applications. Because, in addition to being exceedingly clever, there was one other things that humans could do better than any other native-born species of this world.

They could throw.

Poz whipped the back of the songstone between two fingers and let the disc fly directly towards the throat of the leading Alohym soldier. It crushed his trachea with a sickening squash of flesh. The man’s hands were flying towards his neck, but Poz was already moving out of the most statistically likely path of the remaining two’s arcwand fire. Their bolts followed their predicted path, bisecting the air Poz had just vacated, and his hand lashed up to snatch the disc out of the air on the rebound. He dropped into a crouch to avoid the next two bolts and hurled the disc again, this time aiming for the bridge of the soldier’s nasal cavity. It cracked the delicate bones there upon impact, and Poz followed its path to jam the heel of his hand into the base of the soldier’s nose. Shattered bones were driven directly into the cranium. For this particular soldier, death would be instant.

The third soldier took a step back, as Poz had predicted, and his action followed Poz’s expected models – to whit, he tripped over the corpse of a man Poz had stepped over earlier, falling on his back. Poz was able to catch the disc from the songstone again and hurled it forwards. It struck the man in his crotch, forcing him to reflexively remove his hands from his arcwand and bring them to the injured member.

Which meant there was nothing to protect him when Poz brought his heel down on the man’s face.

Seventeen seconds. I probably could have reduced that by three seconds if I’d dipped to the left instead of the right to reduce the distance between myself and the third man. 

Poz mentally noted that last action and began to look at the exposed back of the Songstone. Metal cables, lenses, and an unlight arcell.

Perfect. I think I can survive what comes next. 

And then there was the egg. It had taken Poz exactly three minutes upon emerging from his cocoon to collate the available data and figure out exactly what the egg’s primary purpose was, what the Alohym wanted to do with it, and why it was both essentially it be kept out of the Alohym’s hands without being destroyed.

However, if it came down to it, the egg’s destruction was preferable to Alohym acquisition.

He’d just have to make sure it didn’t come to that.

Whistling a tune he was composing on the fly, Poz began to work on the back of the Songstone.

Dragon’s Scion Part 172

As a brief recap, last time we saw Poz, he had found Nicandros, learned Nicandros was working for the Alohym now in hopes of getting Tomah resurrected, and had to run and hide…eventually consuming manflesh to try and survive. I tried to write the part where this gets recapped in story – let me know how that works as I keep experimenting with the “longer in one POV” thing. Also, I had to fix something on mobile, and formatting is messed up. I’ll fix when I get back to a pc.

Edgeminster swarmed with the Alohym’s troops. Nicandros scowled at them. It had been almost a day since Poz had escaped him, and so far there was no sign of Underfolk. At this point, it was very likely he’d fled the town completely. You damn fool, Nicandros growled to himself. If Poz had just given him the egg, he could have let Poz walk away. The Alohym would have what they wanted, and wouldn’t have cared about the fate of a single Underfolk.
But no. Poz had felt the need to lead him on a wild chase throughout the town and vanish. Now, if he was still in Edgeminster, there was nothing he Nicandros could do to save him when the Alohym found him.
Don’t say nothing, Nicandros thought. There was still a hope that he could find Poz first. Get the egg, let Poz escape. He didn’t need to die for this.
“You seem concerned, Nicandros,” a buzzing voice said beside him. “Are you worried that one measely little Underfolk could escape us?”
Nicandros shot the speaker a look. He knew what to expect – a form that blended Alohym and human. She called herself Ashliel, and claimed to be the half-human daughter of an Alohym named Daemryon. Nicandros didn’t know what to make of that, but given that Tythel had thought of herself as the daughter of a dragon, it wasn’t the strangest notion. Is there a human under that somewhere? The Alohym were being maddeningly stingy with information. It was almost like they didn’t trust him.
Which shouldn’t be galling. He had every intention of betraying them the moment he had Thomah back. But they shouldn’t be aware of that.
“Girl, there’s nothing measely about Poz. You underestimate him at your own peril. Or did he not lead you on a chase halfway across the continent.”
Ashliel buzzed in displeasure. “Have a care, Nicandros. You serve us, but your leash is short. You’ve yet to prove that you can be useful.”
“I’ve been dodging you people since before you were born. You want me to think like a rebel, and that’s what I’m doing. Nothing in our deal said I had to put up with mealy mouthed girls making vague threats. I had enough of that from Tythel.”
“You…aren’t like most men I interact with. Most bow and scrape at my mere words.”
“Most of them think your father is a god. They liken you and your siblings to the godlings we had before.” Nicandros shrugged. “I’ve seen gods die. I’ve seen godlings die. I’ve seen Alohym die. I don’t think anything can’t be killed. Makes it hard to be overimpressed by anything. Flath me sideways, you couldn’t even catch Poz when he was in Grubflesh.”
Ashliel whirled and closed the gap between her and Nicandros, leaving only a fraction of an inch between her mandibles and his face. Black liquid dripped from her jaws. “You are bound not to speak of that, human.”
“That wasn’t part of our deal,” Nicandros said levelly. The truth was he felt a shiver of fear down his spine from her implied threat. Ashliel was nearly as tough as an Alohym, and could move like lightning. From this distance, she’d have no problem gutting him.
But that would make her ‘father’ unhappy, and gave him a measure of protection.
“I’m willing to deal for that,” he said.
“And what do you want in exchange for your silence?” Ashliel asked. Even with the buzzing in her voice, Nicandros knew the sullen tone of a teenager sulking. He’d heard it enough of his life to be able to place it even through alien tone.
Opprotunity rarely presented itself so well. “If he can be taken alive, I want Poz alive. I have a fondness for him from the old days, and I don’t want to see him die needlessly.”
Ashliel’s wings twitched. “I can only promise to take that to my father,” she admitted. “The Underfolk are…problematic.”
Nicandros’ eyebrows raised. “Oh? And why’s that?”
Before she could answer, an Alohym soldier ran up. “Sir! Ma’am! We’ve found something.”
“What is it?” Ashliel asked.
The soldier pointed up a nearby belltower. “Some kind of organic residue, ma’am. It looks like a cocoon.”
Nicandros swore. “Ashliel, you need to take me up there.”
“You don’t give orders-”
“Please, pride later. The sooner we see what’s in there, the sooner I can tell you what kind of flesh Poz has eaten, and what he can do with that. It could be vital for catching him.”
Ashliel clicked her mandibles in irritation, but turned her scythe-like arms back into hands and scooped them under Nicandros armpits. “Have a care how you speak with me in front of the men. It doesn’t do for them to see mortal speak back to gods,” she said as they took off. Ashliel was moving at a more sedate speed, something that wouldn’t blind Nicandros as they flew.
“Why does it matter, girl?” Nicandros said. “He knows you could gut him in an instant, or blast him with unlight, and the most he could do is give you an earache with his screams. So what if he sees me get mouthy?”
“There is a system to how we handle things. There is a way things work. You…wouldn’t understand. You’ve been on the other side for so long, I can’t imagine you’d possibly understand. But you will learn. After all, Tomah did.”
Nicandros went cold at the name. “How dare you speak of him?”
Ashliel scoffed. “Nicandros. You know so little. Let’s just not say it was an accident I was chosen for this mission.”
He twisted to glare at her, and Ashliel sighed. Her voice lowered a bit so she was whispering the words in his ear. “I was chosen because you’re not the only one with an interest in seeing Tomah returned to the land of the living. I knew your son, Nicandros.”
Light, what does that mean? Surely she couldn’t be implying that…not when she looked like…
His mind shying away from the image, Nicandros was relieved when they reached the top of the belltower. Relief that was quickly quashed when he saw the cocoon.
It was open. Poz had already emerged. That would be a relief normally, but not with what he saw. The Underfolks’ cocoons would have traces of what flesh they consumed. Dark black fur would cover it for ratflesh, thick grey for Wolfflesh, scales for lizardflesh…he’d seen a variety. But this…
“It looks like human skin,” Ashliel said.
“Because it is,” Nicandros said in a hoarse whisper. “Ashliel…Poz has eaten manflesh.”
Ashliel scoffed. “So he’ll get, what, superior throwing ability and the gift of sweating? He’s already intelligent, so it can’t be-’
“Damn it to Shadow, girl, that’s exactly the problem. He doesn’t just become as smart as a human. He adds human intelligence to his own.”
Ashliel cocked her head in frustration. It was so close to Tythel’s gesture of confusion, it was offputting. “What does that mean?”
“It means,” Nicandros said, “we’re all in terrible danger.”
“We’ve found him!” said a voice over the songstones in their ears. “We’ve got him cornered in a cellar. Moving in.”
“No, damn you!” Nicandros shouted. “Fall back. Fall back!”
“Belay that,” Ashliel said. “Move in and eliminate.” She glared at Nicandros. “You do not give orders here.”
Before Nicandros could even begin to explain, screams filled the songstones. Ashliel froze in shock. “Somtimes, it’s best to put your pride aside,” Nicandros said.
“Hello,” said a voice through the Songstone. It wasn’t the person who had been speaking earlier. This voice was Poz’s, but it was smooth and cold in a way Poz had almost never been. “Right now, I’m certain you’ve found my cocoon and Nicandros has told you what that means. You’re likely formulating a vareity of plans to try and detain me. I look forward to your efforts. Based on available variables, there is a eighty-seven point three percent chance that those efforts will fail.”
“I have an army here. You are one man,” Ashliel hissed.
“Correct. That is why it is not a one hundred percent chance of failure.”
“I am a god,” Ashliel responded.
“And I am the smartest being presently on this world. What is a god to a genius? I suppose we will learn. My hypothesis is that you will fail. I look forward to testing that hypothesis. It should yeild some interesting data.”
“You-” Ashliel started to say, but Poz cut off his end of the connection. Ashliel shot Nicandros a look. “Well? This is your area. What do we do?”
Nicandros shook his head. “Hope for the twelve point sevel percent, I think. Let’s get on the ground. We’re in for an ugly time.”
Suddenly, keeping Poz alive seemed much less important.
Nicandros was much more concerned with surviving to the next sunrise.

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.