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Small Worlds Part 246

“Thank you, so very much, for that mental image,” Ryan said, pinching the bridge of his nose. Arachne moved forward to speak again, and Dianmu intercepted her. Ryan couldn’t hear what was said in those hushed whispers, but it seemed like it at least got through to her. “Arthur, I’m sorry if I was rude initially. But I thought this matter was settled. I restored Uriel after what Moloch did to her.”

Uriel stepped forward smoothly. “And I said I was in your debt. That is a debt that will be repaid, but it remains between you and me. Your debt with Arthur is a different matter.”

“You said you’d convince him,” Ryan said, growling the words.

“Yes. I was in error.”

Ryan wanted to ground his teeth together and turned towards Arthur. “I don’t know what you heard, but we have a week left before the sun explodes. I can possibly extend that deadline some, but not by much.”

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Arachne sat back down in her chair and sighed. “Well…he’s a prick.”

“He’s not though,” Athena said with a sigh, settling into her chair. “He’s been as helpful as the constraints of his position allow. Being the King of Hell carries…limitations.”

“I’m surprised he didn’t honor the earlier favor,” Dianmu said, her forehead creased with thought.

“I’m not,” Anansi said. Ryan looked at him in confusion, and Anansi leaned forward. “Ryan. You have a fallen angel in your debt now. Arthur and Uriel just handed you a very powerful weapon and gave you almost free reign to point it however you want. Thus far, everything they’ve done – as obnoxious as it has been – has been for a reason. Do you honestly think they didn’t do that intentionally?”

Ryan chewed his cheek. “I see your point,” he said after he had considered for a few seconds. “I could just ask her to take out Kali and we’d be clear, right?”

“I wouldn’t do that,” Crystal interjected. “You, at best, are going to get a life for a life. Kali goes down that leaves the psycho princesses and their super soldier puppets running around without her influence. Kali is incredibly dangerous, but she’s sane and reasonable. We want influence to gather around her. And before you say it, I wouldn’t have her get the bloody staff of Ra back. As much as I would love to have that out of Kali’s hands, there’s a better use for Uriel – something that no other being could match.”

“I’m listening,” Ryan said.

“Wormhole transportation, love. We’ve been talking about sticking them in various gods’ staging areas and sending them all to take them to another world, but no one has a clear plan how to get enough gods to do that. Each staging area could handle maybe, what, five wormholes? We need hundreds to pull this off. Maybe thousands if we want to avoid people trampling each other trying to get to them. Uriel can just bloody tow all of them through space and distributed them across the world – and probably do it quicker than even a staging area travels.” Crystal’s eyes were alight with the possibilities. “The biggest flaw to this whole plan was getting them into place. With Uriel, that problem gets solved.”

Ryan sat there in silence. “Did he think of that?” he asked, mostly to himself.

“Probably not,” Dianmu said, “although he’ll likely pretend he did. He likely figured out that you could use her power for something. Or perhaps Uriel did, and deliberately made that deal knowing that something like this would happen.”

“Okay,” Ryan said, feeling a bit relieved. Then he really thought through what Crystal had said, and started to smile. “That’s great, then. We’ve got one huge hole plugged. But…tell me what I’m overlooking with giving Arthur’s followers their own wormholes. It sounds like there’s nothing wrong with it, especially since Uriel will mean we don’t have less portals for everyone else.”

“The moment it’s leaked that you’re giving preferential treatment to them, you’ll have riots on your hands,” Athena said promptly.

Arachne nodded, although the sour turn to her lip made it clear she was less than pleased about agreeing with her former mentor. “It will be pandemonium. You’ll have people thinking you’re leading them into a trap, or that you’re sending his followers somewhere else.”

“You already have been accused of being the Antichrist,” Crystal added. “It’s going to make trusting you hard enough, love. People will start claiming that going through the wormholes is basically the same as getting the mark of the bloody Beast. I mean, they’re probably going to do that anyway, but it’ll be even stronger.”

Ryan stood up and began to pace. “So, what do I do? What happens if I refuse the bargain?”

“If you refuse it,” Athena said, obviously picking her words with great care, “Arthur will undo the bargain. He’ll have to.”

“So Isabel loses her soulstone?”

“That’s not all,” Athena said. “He’ll be required to undo everything that happened because of the soulstone that he can. He can’t change the past, but when he takes away Isabel’s soulstone…she’ll suffer all the injuries that she already healed.”

Ryan froze on the spot. “Crystal…could she survive that?”

“I’m sorry,” Crystal said. It wasn’t a direct answer, but it wasn’t hard for Ryan to divine its meaning.

“Then I have to. I can’t…I’m not sacrificing my sister.”

“I don’t think you get to make that call for me,” said a voice from the doorway. Isabel had walked over and was leaning against the frame.

“Isabel…” Ryan started to say.

“Nope. I don’t know what we’re even talking about, but you don’t get to decide for me, jerk. Now, tell me why we might need to sacrifice me.”

Ryan pursed his lips and broke it down in simple, curt terms.

Isabel shook her head. “If it’s me or millions of people, that’s an easy call. I’m just one person.”

“You’re my sister,” Ryan said.

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean I should get to survive over all those-”

“Wait,” Arachne interjected, cutting in the argument. “Let’s not look at this as a simple ‘one or the other’ situation. Think for a moment. If you all say Arthur’s reasonable, then he might be willing to flex the terms of the bargain some.”

Everyone went silent to think. Finally, Anansi’s face broke into a grin. “I think I know exactly how we can do it.”

He explained. They debated.

And, after some discussion, Ryan walked out to where Arthur and Uriel were waiting. Arthur was leaning back, smoking a cigarette. Uriel was next to him, one wing extended behind him, wrapped around his shoulders and half his body. It was a surprisingly intimate stance – Ryan felt like he’d walked in on them curled up on a couch. At his approach, Arthur flicked out the cigarette and Uriel withdrew her wing. “So, decided?” Arthur asked.

“I did. I’ll do it – but there’s a condition.”

“Oh, this should be good,” Arthur said.

Ryan grimaced at his tone but forged ahead. “Amy Preston. She goes through one of the public portals. No preferential treatment.”

Arthur’s eyebrows furrowed. “You want me to put my first convert, most loyal church member, and Heresiarch of my faith in with the masses?”

“Yes,” Ryan said. “Publicly. On camera. If word gets out that we’re giving you your own portals, I’d like some defense against the claims this is some kind of weird Satanic trap.”

“I’m not putting her in danger,” Arthur said. Ryan was surprised at the heat in his voice. As far as he’d ever seen, Arthur only cared about two people – himself and Uriel. Only he was negotiating to save his followers. Is it something other than his ego?

“I’ll make sure she isn’t. I’ll personally see her safely through.”

Arthur glared at Ryan for a second, and finally gave him a curt nod. “I’ll hold you to that. We done here?”

“Not yet,” Ryan said, turning towards Uriel, “there’s the small matter of the unsettled debt between us.”

Uriel nodded and, after Ryan explained, agreed.

And with that, the nobility of Hell was gone.

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Dragon’s Scion Part 164

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What should we expect then?” Catheon said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small Worlds Part 245

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Ryan had heard the phrase “it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop” before, but he’d always thought it was hyperbole. And yet, right after Arthur’s statement, the room was so quiet that Ryan could have believed it. None of the immortals were even breathing right now. The other gods were looking at Ryan, waiting for a response. He tried to get his brain around what was happening – one week to the apocalypse, and Arthur was pulling this now? He felt his hands ball into fists under the table. It wasn’t a conscious decision. It was a reflex born of an overwhelming desire to punch the smug off of Arthur’s face.

Before Ryan could do something he’d probably regret, no matter how good it felt in the moment, the silence was shattered by someone biting into an apple. In the silence, the sound was so loud it was like trying to open one of those damn plastic cake containers at midnight at your parents’ house. Everyone, Arthur and Uriel included, turned to look at the source of the sound.

Arachne stood in the entranceway, taking a moment to finish chewing her bite. She raised an eyebrow and gestured at Arthur. “Okay, who the fuck is this?”

“I…thought everyone knew by now.” Arthur seemed nonplussed, and right then, Ryan wasn’t sure if he wanted to scream at Arachne or hug her. Either way, the tension being broken was appreciation. Arthur walked towards Arachne and extended his hand. “Hi, I’m Arthur. Current King of Hell, after Old Scratch resigned and then had to be executed. And you are?”

Arachne looked him up and down. “Unimpressed.” She regarded the hand with the same excitement she’d use to look at a dead fish.

Arthur’s eyes flashed, and his friendly smile began to turn brittle. “I don’t think I was clear. I’m the man who put Satan in the dirt.”

“Yes, so you could kill me if you wanted to.” Arachne shrugged. “So could half the people in this room. The other half would be difficult. I’m not particularly intimidated – the worst you could do is kill me.”

Arthur withdrew the hand and his expression went from brittle to outright glacial. “I promise you, I can do far worse than-”

“Arthur, I don’t know if – once you know the full details of what’s going on – that this meets the terms of your agreement with Ryan,” Athena interjected smoothly. “You specifically said that you ‘deal in good faith.’ You provided your oath that you will ask ‘nothing that betrays your deepest ideals.’”

Arthur turned towards Athena now, Arachne already forgotten. “Well done. Verbatim in fact. And I intend on upholding my end of the bargain – as I already did. How’s your sister, by the way?”

“She’s doing well,” Ryan said tightly.

“Ryan, I thought we were past this?” Arthur took a step towards the table and sat down in a chair. “I’ve dealt in good faith for you so far, as Athena so deftly pointed out. Do you really think I would come in one week before the apocalypse and bugger you cross-eyed?”

“Thank you, so very much, for that mental image,” Ryan said, pinching the bridge of his nose. Arachne moved forward to speak again, and Dianmu intercepted her. Ryan couldn’t hear what was said in those hushed whispers, but it seemed like it at least got through to her. “Arthur, I’m sorry if I was rude initially. But I thought this matter was settled. I restored Uriel after what Moloch did to her.”

Uriel stepped forward smoothly. “And I said I was in your debt. That is a debt that will be repaid, but it remains between you and me. Your debt with Arthur is a different matter.”

“You said you’d convince him,” Ryan said, growling the words.

“Yes. I was in error.”

Ryan wanted to ground his teeth together and turned towards Arthur. “I don’t know what you heard, but we have a week left before the sun explodes. I can possibly extend that deadline some, but not by much.”

Arthur blinked. It was barely there, and Ryan wouldn’t have noticed if he hadn’t been looking for it, but the facade cracked for an instant. I knew something you didn’t! Ryan thought. Then, sadly, he had to amend that statement. I knew exactly one thing you didn’t. Still, I’ll take it.

“And do you have a solution for the whole impending apocalypse thing?” Arthur asked. “I just came in with you saying you were going to announce your plan to the United Nations, which implies you have a plan, so…”

“We do,” Ryan said.

Arthur gave him a raised eyebrow. “You going to make me drag it out of you? Because you’re going to tell the world fairly soon, so there doesn’t seem to be a reason to keep it a secret.”

Ryan sighed and glanced over at Crystal and Nabu. They both gave him slight nods. If the woman who had dedicated a million years’ worth of living and the being that was as old as time didn’t object… “I’m creating dedicated wormholes. We’re taking the human race to another planet. No writing, no music, no art – nothing of the civilization we created – just the people. It should fill the criteria of preventing the end of the world.”

“Should?” Arthur asked.

“It’s a solid plan,” Nabu interjected. “It meets the letter of the law.”

“And worst case scenario,” Arthur said, stroking his chin, “humanity’s still safe. Sucks for Earth’s biosphere, but we’ve already screwed that up.”

Uriel was frowning, and before Ryan could respond, she’d fixed her eyes on the former Curator. “Nabu?” she said.

Nabu nodded. “Uriel. I haven’t seen you since that mess with the Egyptians.”

“I’m…shocked to see you. You abandoned your duties as a Curator?”

“Some might say that. I personally see it as discovering a new angle to my duties that I could not uphold while staying in my current role.” He smiled. “I imagine you can relate.”

Uriel’s face was completely enigmatic. “Quite,” she said.

“We’re pretty sure Earth will be fine,” Ryan said. “Almost positive, in fact. But…yes, this does have the upside that no matter what, Humanity is safe.”

“Then I don’t think you’ll find my favor disagreeable at all,” Arthur said.

“What is it?” Ryan asked, bracing himself for the worst.

“Well, now that I know the plan, I can make it even simpler. When you start opening these wormholes, you call Amy. You give her some locations that you’re not disclosing to the rest of the planet. Ones that are a bit remote.”

“You…want me to have some reserve portals?” Ryan asked.

“Oh, absolutely. I intend on ensuring my people, my followers, get off this rock safely. They are not going to risk ending up stranded here because there aren’t enough wormholes, or because of riots, or crowds. Make sure my people get some exclusive ones…and our deal is done.”

Ryan licked his lips. “I can’t guarantee safe passage to those wormholes,” he said, hedging.

“You won’t need to,” Arthur said. “I’m the King of Hell. I can make passage happen. You just need to give us some gates we can use.”

It could be worse, Ryan thought. The Church of Adversity had swelled to nearly a hundred million people, and its numbers were growing every day. That was a pretty nice chunk of humanity that wouldn’t be shoving for the main gates, millions of people that the gods didn’t need to worry about. “Can I consult with my peers?”

“Oh, absolutely.” Arthur stood up. “Just…don’t reject it, Ryan. I’d hate to have to get ugly and tell you the consequences for breaking a deal with Hell. Trust me, it’s better for everyone if you go with this.”

He motioned to Uriel, and they walked away far enough to give the gods time to talk.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 163

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

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

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

“How many?” Tellias asked anxiously.

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

“Skimmers?” Eupheme asked.

“Most likely,” Tythel said.

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

Tythel nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Small Worlds Part 244

Based on feedback I’ve received on the last Dragon’s Scion part, going forward I intend on sticking with a particular sequence until there is some resolution, unless I need to cut to another to provide context or if I just get stuck so need to hop threads to keep things moving. It’ll mean when POV changes, it’ll be longer before we get a new POV, so I’ll probably be spending a bit of time recapping whenever the POV changes, but based on what people have been saying you all are fine with it. Thank you so much for letting me know! 

And don’t forget that Strange Cosmology comes out on Tuesday! Which for many of you means it will be out when you read this! There might be a slight delay on the print copy. Pick it up at the link provided! There will be a post tomorrow covering what’s new.

Crystal groaned as she pulled herself out of bed. The injuries left by Kali and her trio of…minions, if that was the right term…had barely had time to heal, and every single muscle in her body felt stiff. Well, the world’s ending in a week, love. You kind of need to get the lead out, yeah? She forced herself to her feet, casting a longing look at the pillow. Her Hungers had been satiated. She didn’t need to sleep at this point. But by all that was and all that would come after the end of the world, she wanted to sleep until the aches had fully faded.

Instead, she got to her feet and stretched her back, hearing it pop. Satisfied that she was awake for the moment, she turned to look at the other bed in her staging area.

Isabel was still soundly asleep. The regenerative properties of her shapeshifting had spared her from death after the fight with Kali, but Isabel wasn’t a goddess. She was still mortal. Crystal could only imagine what being that close to death in that many forms had done to her. She took a moment to brush Isabel’s hair out of her mouth. “You awake?” she asked.

Isabel made a murmuring sound and pulled her blanket up to her chin before rolling over. She muttered something that sounded like “Five more minutes.” Well, that wasn’t entirely accurate. What it sounded like was “fvvv murrrr minuh,” but Crystal could understand the subtext to the groggy utterance. She smiled and let Isabel sleep, leaving her Nanoverse and walking into Cypher Nullity.

The obsidian sand crunched beneath her feet as she stepped onto the blasted plane that had once been an afterlife. The broken sky shone above her. All the times Crystal had taken her companions here, and no one had yet asked where the light came from. Planets crossed through the fractured web of cracks that crossed the air, but none of them were suns, and yet the entire plane was lite by perpetual daylight.

It was a side effect of Lemurian biology, oddly enough. Crystal’s people had been nocturnal when they still existed and considered light to be oppressive and harsh. Their Heaven had been comfortably dark, illuminated by a single light that was no brighter than Earth’s moon, so their hell was constantly as bright as the noon sun with no discernable source. After living among humans for thousands upon thousands of years, Crystal had come to see the daylight they way they did, but it was nice to be able to remember why hell was brightly lit.

Crystal took a deep breath. She could hear the others talking in the distance. Anansi, Dianmu, Athena, and Ryan. Presumably. Soon she’d go over and check on them, but for the moment, she simply stood there, grinding the soles of her feet into the sand.

How many cycles has it been? Not cycles of Earth, of course. There had only been one of those. Cycle of her nanoverse. A hundred? Two hundred? She’d stopped keeping count at some point long before humanity had risen from the humble apes that had spawned them. She remembered the last time she’d counted, she’d been on Earth. Out of a desperate need to talk to someone, she’d explained to a passing glyptodon what she was doing.

The creature had been unimpressed.

And now it’s almost over. 

She’d never set a timeline to things. Her entire existence, millions of years, had been devoted to stopping the Eschaton Cycle and saving whatever intelligence arose on Earth after her failure. Now it was only a week away, and Crystal knew it was almost over. The reason for being that had kept her going for longer than any other god that Crystal had ever heard of, the purpose that made her the longest-lived being in the universe that wasn’t born eternal…was almost fulfilled.

I think this is my last time around. The thought should have bothered her, but it was comforting to think. Her nanoverse, in this cycle, would endure for thousands of years. Perhaps even longer, with her creating gods within her own nanoverse that followed different rules than the power-stone gods that she’d relied upon in every other cycle. She’d just reset it only a little while ago. Right after the fight with Enki, which felt like a lifetime. Ten, maybe twenty thousand years this time. And when it reached the end, long after it had exhausted its ability to support life…she’d let it fall to heat death.

Then she’d finally get to rest.

Although…the moment she thought that, a competing thought rose up to counter it. Most gods would succumb to their age after a dozen millennia or so. She’d endured for at least ten times longer than that. The thought of dying had been comforting moment, but immediately afterwards it had become terrifying. Perhaps after so many times resetting her nanoverse, life had become a habit that she wasn’t ready to break. One she couldn’t break, even if she wanted to.

Crystal shook her head, shaking away the thoughts. You have thousands of years to figure that out. You have seven days to figure out the end of the world. Resolved to put aside the question for now, she walked towards where her companions were talking.

There was a member at the table she hadn’t expected. Nabu was sitting stiffly in his seat, observing the conversation with wary eyes. Unlike the others, Crystal hadn’t really gotten a chance to get used to the idea of a Curator that abandoned his purpose and was now working with them. Still, Ryan smiled when he saw her and motioned for her to join them. “Oh good, you’re awake. How are you feeling?”

“Like I spent the night in a blender,” Crystal said, sliding into the seat.

“Don’t you mean cement mixer?” Ryan asked. “That’s usually how the idiom goes.”

Crystal winced as a new ache rose from her shoulder. “Nope. Blender. Cement mixers aren’t pointy enough for how I’m feeling.”

Dianmu gave her a sympathetic smile, and Anansi chuckled and shook his head.

“You at least look better,” Athena said. “I was worried we’d need to wait for you to resurrect.”

“You wouldn’t have time to wait,” Crystal said, frowning at the thought. “In fact…none of us do at this point.”

That killed the mood like Crystal had driven a dagger into its heart, but it was true. Resurrection took a few days unless one was very lucky. Crystal had been back when Bast had killed her during the fight with Enki. A hole in the head was quick to repair. A more complete destruction, like what Resheph had needed to recover from…anyone who suffered a death like that would be out for the end of the party.

“Well, at least we have a plan,” Ryan said.

Crystal’s eyes shot wide. “You do?”

“Oh, right.” Ryan had the decency to look embarrassed, at least. “You were fairly out of it when Isabel and you got back. How’s she doing, by the way?”

“Sleeping. Should be fine. Now, what’s this about you having a solution?”

Ryan nodded. “So there’s a loophole in the rules for the end of the world. It has to be the end of civilization on that planet, including all written records. In short, I mean,” he said as Nabu started to open his mouth, cutting off the Curator’s clarification. “Which gives us an option. I use my one big twist to create stable exotic matter wormholes across the planet. We’ll need gods in their nanoverses to take the other end of these wormholes to a habitable world. Then it’s just a matter of evacuating the planet.”

“I feel like ‘evacuating a planet’ is a bit too large a process to put down as ‘just a matter,’” Anansi said, although his eyes sparkled.

Crystal didn’t listen to him. She was looking at Ryan, her mouth hanging open. “Bloody hell,” she finally said. “That just might work. Although…are we certain it does satisfy the requirements?”

Dianmu stepped in here. “That’s the best part of this plan, as far as I can see. Even if it fails…humanity won’t be here if the sun goes supernova. Earth might be lost, but humanity will endure.”

Crystal leaned back into her chair. Millions of years, and now here was the solution. Nice, simple, and clean. She thought it would give her a rush of excitement, a reason to stand up and celebrate…but mostly what she felt was relief. A tension she’d carried for countless eons, fading away.

“There’s still details to hammer out,” Crystal said, half expecting some horrible, overlooked detail to rise up and replace the tension she’d just let go of.

Ryan nodded. “And that’s what we’re doing here. Trying to get those details hammered out. I was going to wait for Isabel, but let’s start with the big one.” He took a deep breath. “The first day of the 74th United Nation’s general assembly happens tomorrow. I want us to go to it. I want us to announce our plan to the world and let them know what’s at stake. We need the leaders of the world on our side, or at least we need the world to know what we’re trying to do.”

“You absolutely can do that,” a voice said from the doorway. Everyone turned to look at the speaker. Arthur stood there, Uriel at his side. He was smiling broadly and walked up to the table and took a chair. “But first, Ryan, there’s a little matter of a debt you have to settle. And right now, I’m collecting.”

The Dragon’s Scion Part 162

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Synit took his offered hand gratefully.

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

“I’m sorry, what?” Haradeth said.

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

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

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

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

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

“What was he doing?” Haradeth asked.

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

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

“And me.”

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

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

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

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

“How?” Synit asked, her voice sharp.

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

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

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

“Were you a medical-”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also, I’m on BookBub now! Give me a follow to never miss a book, get book recommendations, and because it really helps me out. 

Small Worlds Part 243

Realized today I put the wrong dates on the last post – Small Worlds is Monday/Thursday, Dragon’s Scion is Tuesday/Friday. Apologies for the confusion!

Kali strode into the UN base. A group of soldiers opened fire at her. She flicked her hand and stopped their hearts. “Be at peace,” she said to their lifeless bodies. “I’m sparing you the end that awaits this world.”

A series of explosions told her Evans had accomplished his task. There were screams coming in that direction. People were suffering, hit by shrapnel or burned by the flames. Kali sighed. Damn you, Eschaton, for making me do this. She shouldn’t have to. There wasn’t a need for her. The world was going to end, the Eschaton would oversee it, and the sun would be restored.

However.

Ryan Smith had ideas above his station. Ryan believed he had the right to stop the cycle, to spare humanity from the destruction. He believed that, not only that he could save humanity, but that he would save humanity. It’s a problem with the Eschaton happening so soon after the last Nanoverse is found, Kali thought. He was still young enough to believe that he knew best.

Kali knew better. Age had taught her that destruction was an inevitable part of creation. Humanity had run its course. It had its chance. It was time to allow the cycle to continue and for humanity to go the way of the Dinosaurs and the Lemurians. A new species deserved a chance to arise…and then they would follow the same cycle. Kali shouldn’t have had to do anything with it.

But Ryan was trying to save humanity. He was risking the universe marching closer to the grave for one single species. If he had hope that the world could be saved, he would continue to fight for it, right up until the very end. The sun would consume the Earth, humanity would still die, and nothing would ever live on this rock again.

So, it falls to me to strip him of that hope. 

Another group of soldiers rushed her. It was beyond the power of the gods to directly influence the biology of both gods and monsters. But mortal beings? Humans?

Kali twisted and shut off the electrical activity in their brains. They collapsed to the floor like they were puppets with cut strings. I’ll remember you, she silently promised them. “You two,” she said, pointing to Munoz and Palmer. They’d infiltrated the base along with Evans and had been awaiting her command. “Grant peace to those who still suffer. No need to prolong their torment.”

They nodded. Munoz was the shortest of the three former Myrmidons and possessed a fiery temperament that she shared with her partner born out of Crystal’s nanoverse – Inedia. She was running the quickest towards the screaming of the dying. Palmer followed a bit behind, jogging at an easy pace. He was taller than Kali, and didn’t have the classic good looks of Evans, instead possessing a sullen countenance. He’d been a perfect pair with Liturga.

So many things I didn’t anticipate. When she’d been Doctor Pivarti, she’d been looking for a way for gods to share the power of their nanoverses. It would have been possible, if there had been more time, to grant the harnesses to most of humanity. Give them immortality in their last days, so humankind could have created wonders that would have endured for the next species to inhabit this world. Now? Her notes were safely in a capsule that would return to Earth the moment it detected radio waves from the planet again. She couldn’t give the gift of immortality to humanity, but she could ensure their successors had that kindness.

But now she questioned that decision. With the power she was granting…could humanity stop the cycle? Could the species that followed them? And there’s other problems, she acknowledged to herself. She hadn’t anticipated the three pseudo-nanoverse generated from Crystal destroying Enki’s corrupt nanoverse – yet they had come into existence, at the same time that one member of project Myrmidon had died. Giving the three remaining survivors three nanoverses to find.

Kali didn’t believe in coincidence. There was still, clearly, a great deal more research needed.

I’ll have plenty of time once the cycle is complete. She reminded herself that these things were important but weren’t immediate. They could be dealt with later.

For right now, she had to make sure humanity’s latest attempt to fight against them was destroyed.

“Evans, status report,” she said.

“Ma’am,” Roger Evans saluted. “The Harbinger program is destroyed. They’ll need at least a month to get the program back online. Two of the Harbingers were already deployed, however. We’ll need to hunt them down if we want to ensure complete destruction.”

Kali shook her head. “No need. Those drones can be dealt with in smaller numbers. They’ll probably end up being deployed against a dragon or another god and be annihilated. We have larger plans.”

“Ma’am,” Evans said, a note of reproach in his voice. “Leaving something that big out there…they could turn the tide of battle at the exact wrong moment. I’d recommend that we don’t leave them in the wind. The drones are harder to wipe out than mortal soldiers. Ma’am.”

Kali studied his face carefully. Was it Evans she was speaking to? Or was this Potentia, using his voice? Where did the line between one begin and the other end? “Once we have our army, I’ll dispatch some to hunt them down.”

Evans relaxed. “Thank you, ma’am.”

Kali nodded and turned to walk further into the base, when something caught her attention. A living mortal, under a shield Evans had created, covering the back of her head and shaking in fear. “Evans?” Kali asked, pointing at the woman.

“Ma’am. Gail Pittman, ANC. She’s a reporter of some renown.”

“I know that name…” Kali scratched her chin. “She’s the one that told the world about us, isn’t she?”

“Yes Ma’am.”

Kali bent down. “Remove the barrier.”

Evans obeyed. Gail immediately tried to rise to her feet, and Kali’s hands snapped out and grabbed her by the shoulders. “You,” Kali said.

Gail made a sound somewhere between a cry and a whimper.

“Do not be afraid,” Kali said, her voice calm. “I have no intention of hurting anyone who isn’t in my way.”

“That…that’s not very reassuring,” Gail stammered.

“I know.” Kali helped Gail to her feet. “And I am sorry.”

“For?” Gail asked.

“For doing the job of another. For ensuring the world ends.” She dusted Gail off. “Evans, take Ms. Pittman to the nearest city and drop her off. No interviews, no showboating. Take her somewhere safe though. I don’t want her harmed.” Kali noted the fire in Gail’s eyes and sighed. “Unless she does something idiotic.”

Evans nodded and stepped forward. “Ms. Pittman. This way, please.”

Gail, for once in her life, didn’t ask questions. She let herself be escorted from the base.

The last thing she saw as Kali, standing amid the flames.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 161

Don’t forget today is the day Patreons will receive their advance copy of Strange Cosmology. You can sign up for it here – must be done today to get it! And if you want to just pick it up, you can pre-order here.

Haradeth had seen Armin’s snap undo the cage around Bix. You couldn’t let me go, Armin? Haradeth wondered. Letting Bix go was the correct tactical decision, but how had Armin known it?

She was digging that saw into the side of an unlight cage when he walked up. Perhaps that was enough for Armin to draw the correct conclusion, or perhaps Lorathor had told him how dangerous Bix could be.

It didn’t matter. Armin had made his choice, and Bix was now digging her weaponry into Theognis’ gullet. “You…what are you?” Theognis choked out.

“Crazy,” Bix said, the moment before she headbutted Theognis. Haradeth could hear the crunch of bone. Theognis reeled back, out of the range of Bix’s weaponry. “Absolutely mad.”

She dashed forward and Theognis’s whole body began to darken the air around it like an unlight beam. The wounds in his stomach sealed and he leapt back from Bix’s attack. The movement sent his frail form into the air like a startled cat, and Theognis hit the ceiling above. His hands and feet stuck to the surface, and he snarled down at Bix.

“You are nothing!” He screamed, flecks of spittle spraying from his lips. Bix didn’t respond to the taunt, instead placing her tail against the floor and pushing herself upwards. One by one her extra arms retracted into her body and added their length to her tail, pushing her higher into the air. A pair of daggers sprung into her outstretched hands.

Theognis moved, skittering across the ceiling like some kind of spider, still surrounded by an aura of darkness. Bix whipped her hands and sent daggers flying towards Theognis. He took his hands off the ceiling and intercepted both of the blades, moving with inhuman speed.

He’s so fast! Haradeth thought, grinding his teeth together. He felt so helpless, completely trapped and unable to do anything to influence the battle.

“Psst. Haradeth.”

Haradeth turned his head towards the sound and saw Lorathor. He’d survived the unlight wave and had sidled up to Haradeth’s unlight prison.

Above them, Theognis was dropping towards the ground, and Bix was lunging after him, her tail retracting and forming the extra arms again. Theognis let out a blast of unlight, and Bix had to twist to avoid a direct hit. It still glanced off her chassis and sent her spinning to the side, cursing as she fell.

“Help them,” Haradeth said towards Lorathor. “Shoot him, do something!”

Lorathor held up his arcwand. “Arcell’s empty. Unless you can give me a weapon, there’s not much I can do.”

Haradeth cast his eyes around the room. The woman who’d come with Armin was watching the fight with a concussed intensity, trying to follow what was happening. Ossman had passed out from his injuries. Synit was still nowhere to be seen. “Get her arcblade,” Haradeth said, pointing towards the woman.

“Oh, yes. I’m sure I’ll fair much better in melee against a mad lumcaster coursing with dark energy than a skilled swordswoman. I might as well…” Lorathor trailed off and his strangely shaped pupils contracted at sudden realization. “Actually, hold on.”

“I’m sure not going anywhere,” Haradeth said as Lorathor began to creep forwards.

His attention pulled back to the battle, Haradeth could see Bix was starting to struggle. Theognis was sending beams of unlight her direction in a steady barrage, and Bix had to keep twisting and flipping backwards to avoid taking a serious hit. Her eyes were as narrow as Haradeth had ever seen them, and if not for the extra four arms providing her multiple points of balance, she would have been cut down long ago. How long can she keep this up? Haradeth wondered. Then he noticed how Theognis’s knees were shaking. How long can he? 

“No. No, no no. Whatever you are, you die here!” Theognis screamed. He began to pull in more unlight, plunging himself into pure darkness.

Beams of unlight streaked out of the shadow, moving in all directions. One scoured the ground just inches in front of Lorathor. One struck Haradeth’s cage, leaving it unfortunately unscarred.

Another caught Bix on the arm that had the needle. It shattered under the impact, throwing Bix off balance and sending her tumbling to the floor.

When the light returned to Theognis, his body had been warped by the unnatural energies coursing through him. He was covered with a patchy carapace that left huge swaths of his skin exposed, and that skin was raw and red, leaking a mixture of black and red fluids. One of his arms had become a massive claw like something found on some deep sea crustacean, and his left eye budged out of his head, huge and multisegmented.

In fact, the rational part of Haradeth’s mind thought while the rest of his brain screamed in silent terror, he looks a bit like one of the Alohym…

Theognis extended his claw and screamed, sending another beam of unlight towards Bix. She rolled along the floor, wrapping her three remaining arms and tail around her body to give her an almost spherical protection from the stone floor.

Lorathor reached his destination and gently plucked the woman’s arcblade from her hands. She gave him a confused look. “‘S my sword,” she slurred.

“I know. I’m only going to borrow it for a moment.”

“‘Kay,” she said, squinting at Lorathor. “You’re a Ssslyvani?”

“It’s the eyes. Always gives me away.”

The woman considered that statement and nodded. That appeared to be a mistake, and she pitched forward and clutched her head in her hands.

“Lorathor, stop bantering and do something!” Haradeth shouted in sheer frustration. Bix was still rolling from the continuous stream of unlight pouring from Theognis’ claws, and Theognis was continuing to mutate from extreme unlight exposure. Any moment now she was going to slow down too much or he was going to jerk his hand fast enough and that would be the end of it.

“Patience,” Lorathor said. He picked up the arcblade and flicked it on. He swung it experimentally, nodded, and turned it off. “This is a terrible idea,” Lorathor muttered.

Synit climbed on top of the gold pile she’d fallen behind, finally regaining her senses. Her antenna twitched in agitation as she saw the tableau in front of her – Bix spinning around the room but unable to advance on Theognis, Theognis chasing her with an unlight beam, and Lorathor pulling the arcell from the blade’s hilt. “How can I help?” she shouted.

“You!?” Theognis snarled, whipping his attention towards Synit. The unlight beam cut off and he surged towards her. His legs were different sizes and the left one split into two legs at the knee, making the movement an awkward shuffle. “You. Are. Coming. With. Me.”

“That helped,” Lorathor said, and he tossed the arcell towards Bix. “You know what to do!”

Bix caught the cell and nodded, shoving it against the open wires on her severed arm. The arcell began to glow brighter, going from dull red to yellow to blinding white. She smiled and waited for cracks to begin to form along the edge of its casing.

“Hey, ugly man, son of ugly!” Bix shouted.

Theognis whipped his head towards her.

Bix threw the arcell at Theognis, letting it clatter across the ground. Theognis eyes widened in horror, and he leapt towards the container, trying to get his protective hands around it. His movements were slow and uncoordinated. Lorathor threw the now powerless arcsword.

It tumbled through the air, and just before Theognis reached the arcell, the sword did. It struck the casing and broke off a chunk with a clink. 

For a moment, the world went silent. Theognis stared at the overcharged cell, his eyes widening in horror.

Then the cave erupted with light and deafening sound.

Small Worlds Part 242 [Beginning of Book 5!]

With the return of Small Worlds, we go back to a Monday/Wednesday update schedule for this story and Tuesday/Thursday for Dragon’s Scion. Don’t forget to pre-order your copy of Strange Cosmology, it comes out in just 8 days! Or sign up for patreon by 7pm CST tomorrow to get your advance ebook copy!

—-

Gail Pittman had always dreamed of covering some big event. It was an odd dream – she never wanted anything bad to happen, but most historic events were…bad. Wars. Plagues. Famines. Natural disasters. Death. All of those things were what made history books, and Gail didn’t want them to happen, but since they were going to happen anyway, she wanted to be there and reporting on it.

Never, even in those wildest dreams, had she expected that she’d be live broadcasting the apocalypse.

“I’m here at a classified location,” Gail said into the camera, doing her best to radiate calm confidence. She’d been the one to break the Enki story. She’d been the one to interview the Antichrist – if that’s what the unassuming man had truly been – and secured ANC the ability to break the story that had dominated ratings. She’d become, quite by accident, the face for supernatural news coverage. If the world didn’t end, she’d be set for life.

And if it did end, she’d make damn sure any survivors knew the truth of what happened. “The United Nations Extranormal Entity Taskforce has invited myself and others to come and showcase the preparations they’re making for what they call Quasi-Legendary Non-Human Threats – the beings that have been running loose on our planet for the last two months.” She hated the inexact timeframe there, but this was just a soundbite to drum up interest. The real report would be coming later. Or at least, the sanitized propaganda I’m being spoon-fed. Gail had almost turned down this job – there were plenty of reporters who could do this, and Odin’s agent was hinting he might be willing to do an interview finally – but the chance to actually get some real information under the bullshit was too good to pass up.

She’d gotten much more careful about weeding out bullshit after that mess with Enki. She’d fed his story to the public without really questioning it, and then she’d let Ryan use her to start a nuclear conflict in Canada. Since then, Gail had been much more circumspect about repeating what she was told without verification.

All that flashed through her mind without causing her smile to waiver in the slightest. “Tonight, at six, you’ll be getting a first look at what is being done by the international community to contain these threats, and how this unprecedented international cooperation is going to shape the future.”

“And cut,” her cameraman said, putting down the camera. His name as Everett Holt, and he was the latest cameraman assigned to Gail. “That was good, nice and clean. You want to look at it?”

Gail let the smile finally drop. “No, Everett. Get it over to the studio. They can clean up and get approval by the censors, but if something we weren’t supposed to show appeared in the background, they can just fuzz it. I’m not doing another goddamn take.” That rankled her. Gail believed in the freedom of press the way a devout Catholic believed in the Virgin Mary – not the highest authority, but something you should never disrespect. Yes, there was a high chance gods and monsters – sorry, Quasi-Legendary non-Human Threats Gail corrected herself with a sardonic grin – were watching the news. But right now, people needed to be reassured that everything possible was being done to stop them. And, beyond that, the Public had a Right to Know. Sighing, she turned to look out at the scene that had been her backdrop.

They were still limited in what they could show. Most of what the audience could see in the background were men and women in uniform bustling about, and vehicles carrying equipment carefully covered in tarps. She couldn’t talk about what was around the corner, but no one was stopping her from walking over and looking at it. Gail put her phone in her front jacket pocket, making sure the camera lined up to the discreet hole she had cut in the fabric, and stepped up to look at it.

The Harbinger class drone carriers. The work of a dozen nations sharing technology, the Harbingers were a midway point between helicopter and aircraft carrier. Almost as large as a 747 and full to the brim with the most advanced weaponry mankind could come up with, each one carried one thousand and twenty-four Reaper class attack drones – heavily armed quadrotor drones armed with a dozen micromissles and a mounted Gatling gun. The Swarm Intelligence program meant that human oversight was only needed for each set of twenty-four.

Gail made sure she had every specification memorized. The second the gag order was lifted, Gail wanted to be ready to give the public every possible detail of the Harbingers with exclusive footage. Not just for the ratings. One day this conflict would be over, the monsters would be dealt with…and the world’s governments would still have access to these machines.

That scared her more than Enki ever had.

“Excuse me,” Gail said to a passing Captain.

He turned to give her a curious look. He was a good-looking man, square-jawed and with sandy blond hair that immaculately combed. He looked like he should be doing movies, not risking his life. “Ms. Pittman?” he said, looking at her nametag.

“Yes,” Gail said, offering her hand. “You have me at a disadvantage.” The Captain’s name was nowhere to be seen on his uniform. If not for his shoulders, she wouldn’t have even known his rank.

“Indeed, I do,” he said, shaking her hand. “What can I do for you?”

Ah, so you’re that type. Won’t give me your name even. “Are you working with the Harbinger program?”

“You could say that,” he said, giving her an inscrutable grin. “Although I was under the impression, we weren’t supposed to talk about the Harbingers at all.”

“Really? That’s not the impression I got from General Calver. In fact, he specifically told me I could ask about it. He actually hoped I could find someone helpful.” That wasn’t technically a lie. General Calver’s exact words had been “get the hell out of my office and bother someone else. Good luck finding someone who’s dumb enough to break protocol.” Technically, you could translate that into Gail’s version of events.

“Oh really?” the Captain said, raising an eyebrow and crossing his arms over his chest. “Well, in that case, feel free to ask away.”

Yes, Gail thought. “Well, first of all – do you think the Harbingers are going to make a difference in containing the Quasi-Legendary Non-Human threats?”

“Monsters, Ms. Pittman.” He laughed, a pleasant, easy sound. “Call a spade a spade.”

“All right,” she said, giving him her best ‘trust me’ smile. “Do you think the Harbingers are going to make a difference in containing the monsters?”

“Off the record?” he asked, looking at her notebook.

“Of course,” Gail said, closing the pad of paper and glad her phone was still recording.

“Against the monsters they might. Depends on what kind. Revenants, Penanggalan, Gremlins, even up to things like Varcolaci and outright anthropophages. They can all die to mortal weapons easily enough. But against gods, and the monsters spawned directly from their death? Things like the Hecatoncheires that was in that fight outside the hotel, or a full blown Aswang, or a Skinwalker? The only advantage the Harbingers offer is that they mean there will just be a loss of taxpayer dollars instead of soldier’s lives. Which, granted, is an advantage.”

Gail recoiled in shock. “You…seem almost contemptuous of them.”

“Oh, I am. They’re, at best, a minor annoyance. Our government had an option to win with war, and they threw it away to the enemy.”

“You’re talking about Project Myrmidon.” Gail whispered the last two words. Someone who had inside information about the United States’ government aborted super-soldier program. Dreams did come true.

“Oh, yes. I am.” The Captain gave her a broad smile. “Tell you what, Ms. Pittman. You get to cover, right now, and I’ll give you an exclusive interview with my boss and my team. We can tell you all about Project Myrmidon. All the juicy details you could want. But you need to move right now.”

“What’s happening right now?” Gail asked, backing away. There was an intensity to his eyes that she was starting to dislike.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a remote. “I’m about to detonate the Harbingers.”

Gail turned white. “Who…who are you? You do you work for?”

“Captain Roger Evans, Ms. Pittman. Used to work for the United States government.” His face…shifted. Like the bones were moving underneath it. His voice changed when he spoke again, going up a register and sounding vaguely familiar. “Potentia, Ms. Pittman. I used to work against Crystal.” His face shifted again, and when he spoke it was with two voices. “And now, we work for-”

An explosion rocked the front of the base. Gail dove to the ground, convinced this psychopath had just pulled the trigger on destroying the Harbingers. That wasn’t it though. Some force had just vaporized the door. In the smoke and ruin, Gail could see a vaguely outlined figure – a woman with four arms, carrying some kind of staff and wearing a lab coat. Alarms starting going off throughout the base.

“Her,” Evans or Potentia or whoever he was said. He extended a hand and Gail felt the air pressing down around her body. “I’m keeping you safe, Ms. Pittman. You could be useful.”

Before she could speak, he pushed the button, and the Harbingers began to explode one by one.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 160

The arclight beams hit Theognis barriers. His hand moved impossibly fast, keeping up with each bolt. Armin could see strings of unlight around Theognis’s wrists – he wasn’t moving his hand with his muscles, but instead his mind. He could react at the speed of thought. There’s got to be a way we can use that. “Ossman, Aldredia, hit him from the sides. Lorathor, get behind him!” Armin shouted, keeping the pressure on Theognis. At least Armin’s limited lumcasting was keeping his arcell full – he didn’t need to worry about reloading.

 

Ossman and Aldredia charged in arcs, circling to hit Theognis from the left and right respectively. Theognis’s hands snapped to each side, catching Ossman’s unlight ax and Aldredia’s arcblade, then flicking forward to intercept the next two beams from Armin’s arcwand.

 

Sweat began to form on Theognis’s brow, and Armin felt hope surge again. They were getting through to him! As soon as Lorathor got into position and they had him surrounded, they could land a blow. Theognis was an old man – one solid hit should end the threat he posed.

 

Then why’s he smiling? Armin asked himself. It was true that even with the injury to his hand, even with the trap surrounding him, Theognis hadn’t waivered in his smug confidence since uncovering Armin’s ruse.

 

The moment Lorathor was parallel to Ossman, Theognis acted. He stepped forward, into Ossman’s axe range. The handle of the weapon clattered against his forearm and pushed Theognis to the side, taking him out of Aldredia’s strike and Armin’s blast. Theognis ducked down before Ossman could take advantage of the proximity and slapped his hand against the floor.

 

Unlight rolled out from the point of impact, a wave that sent the three of them tumbling backwards. Armin felt that strange pressure again and pushed. The attack parted before it struck him, but everyone else was thrown to the ground. Haradeth and Bix slammed into the back walls of their unlight cages, and Synit tumbled over and behind and pile of gold coins.

 

Armin fired as rapidly as the arcwand could stand. Its barrel began to glow with the heat. Yet with no one distracting him, Theognis could block Armin’s attacks easily. “How do you keep doing that?” Theognis snarled, his hands a blur. “How are you unweaving the unlight?”

 

We both wish I knew, Armin thought.

 

Theognis snarled at his nonanswer and sent a beam of unlight shooting out of his eyes. The pressure rose again, and Armin undid the beam as it streaked towards him.

 

It still almost killed him. There was a backlash that tore through his head, feeling like an icepick shoved into his tear duct. Armin screamed and dropped to one knee, the motion saving him from a follow-up blast from Theognis.

 

Theognis gave Armin a curious expression, raising his eyebrow. The look was so familiar. Where had Armin seen it before?

 

As the pain faded, clarity replaced it. He remembered a lesson, long ago, in Theognis’ class.

 

“Light comes from a lumwell in strands,” Theognis said. Armin fought to keep his head from nodding again. He’d get in trouble if he fell asleep in class. It was so hard though. The room was hot, the weather was beautiful outside, and Theognis spoke in a low drone that threatened to force him into sleep. “These are called Rays. A successful lumcaster is able to bind those rays to their soul, which serves as a prism. They can redirect that energy as they wish.”

 

Armin furrowed his forehead, and Theognis focused his gaze on him. “Ah, Armin. It appears that a thought has crossed your mind, as unlikely as that seems. Since that’s such a rare occurrence, perhaps you should share that with the class? I’d hate for everyone to miss such a beautiful moment.”

 

Armin flushed as the class tittered. “Uh. Yes. Sorry, Master Theognis. I was just wondering…if rays of Light come from the lumwells, what happens if something intercepted those rays?”

 

And that was when Theognis gave him the look. The sneer combined with a quirked eyebrow. “If fish can breathe water, why can’t you, Novice Armin? If you had the most basic grasp of what I was teaching, you’d know such questions were folly. I fear you’ve wasted the classes time-”

 

“Master Cordwein could do it!” Armin objected.

 

This got another round of laughter from the class, and a withering glare from Theognis. “Master Cordwein was a myth, Armin. Warriors cannot leap thirty leagues like Kornar the Mighty, Dragons cannot melt mountains like Sjarix, and Lumcasters cannot cut off light.”

 

Armin’s cheeks were so hot, they threatened to ignite. “I just…Master Cordwein is in the history books. Those other two are from children’s tales.”

 

“I’ll have to inform Master Olerian you aren’t paying attention in history either, Novice Armin. There was a Lumcaster in the Cardomethi Empire known as Master Cordwein, that is true. However, the tales attributed to him are greatly exaggerated. Unless,” and to make Armin’s humiliation complete, Theognis laughed along with the class at the last sentence, “you propose there is a way to drink a drop of the sun?”

 

Except there was, wasn’t there? Armin had done that. He was cutting Theognis’s Lumcasting off from the source of its power. Wherever unlight came from, Armin was blocking the rays before they could reach Theognis.

 

And now that he knew what he was doing, Armin was sure he could do it again. It had been a reflex before, but now…

 

…now it was too late. That last blow had almost knocked him out. Even though Theognis was tiring, he was readying to cut Armin down with the next unlight blast. As soon as he did, it wouldn’t matter that Theognis was too weak to create more unlight cages. Ossman was groaning on the floor, his arm bent at an awkward angle. Aldredia was rising to her feet, but her vision was unfocused, and she had to pause to throw up. He’d cut them down without even needing to manifest more unlight, and then Lorathor would be…

 

…would be…

 

Why had Theognis trapped Haradeth? Or Bix, for that matter? Light and Shadow, Armin had seen the carnage – he must have trapped Bix before even starting the fight. Why?

 

“I don’t suppose you’ll tell me how you’re doing that before you die, Armin?” Theognis asked, his teeth gritted in pain.

 

“Yeah,” Armin said. It was hard to focus enough to talk. Yet he made himself do it as he felt for that pressure again – felt for it and found it. “In fact…I’ll even show you, Theognis.”

 

Theognis quirked his eyebrow yet again. “Oh?”

 

“Absolutely.” Armin held out his hand towards Theognis. “Watched closely.”

 

Armin snapped his fingers. The pain was even worse this time. Armin couldn’t hear himself scream over the pain that lanced through his brain. He lost vision. He collapsed forward, shaking.

 

As his vision cleared Theognis stared at him and sighed. “You’re wasting my time. Goodbye, Armin. I hope that it helps to know you died as you lived – a failure.”

 

Right before the beams fired from his eyes, something impacted Theognis’s back and sent him flying forwards. Unlight beams flew from his gaze and scored the ceiling of the cavern. Theognis whirled at impossible speeds to face his attacker.

 

A three span tall automaton grinned at Theognis, her metallic eyes alight with something akin to rage. “Heya. I’m Bix. You put me in a box. Eye-boy over there opened it. Guess what that means?” She surged forward, the arms on her back extending in unison.

 

Theognis only had two hands. They couldn’t be in four places at once. His barriers caught the saw blade and the needle, but the electrified fork and razor-thin blade dug into his gut.

 

Theognis’s body locked up in pain and shock as Bix leaned in close. “It’s means I’m gonna stab you lots.”

 

Armin had just enough energy to raise his middle finger towards Theognis before he passed out.