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The Dragon’s Scion Part 198

The guards had stashed the Underfolk in a guardhouse, outside the walls of the Keep proper. Per Armin’s instructions, there were two dozen men surrounding the location, Arcwands pointed at every point of egress the man could conceivably use. In a way, it was almost comical to see this many soldiers, prepared to shoot a single rundown building at the slightest sign of danger. Not the kind of comedy that brought a smile to Armin’s lips, more the kind that made him grimace at the absurdity of the world. 

“At ease,” Armin said to the captain of this little force, a man who was maybe a decade Armin’s senior but had a young, soft face that made him look five years Armin’s junior. A few scars accumulated during his service to the Resistance didn’t counteract that look, but enhanced it, making him look like a child who’d had a rough life on the streets. “Captain Crewson. Any change?”

Crewson shook his head. “Not yet,” he said, his voice a deep baritone that clashed with his appearance. “He’s just reading from some papers he brought with him. About as threatening as a kitten with a ball of string, if I’m being honest.” 

Armin nodded. “Thank you for keeping the men at the ready in spite of that. Short of an actual Alohym, that might be the most dangerous being in the kingdom. Somehow.” Armin felt the urge to explain that, at least. It was a delicate balance to walk with the military members of the Resistance. Lumcasters technically outranked them, but the military was cognizant of the harm that had happened in the past from Lumcasters thinking rank and book knowledge made them more fit to lead than soldiers who had practical experience. Armin figured the least he could do was explain himself. 

“Lumcaster?” Crewson lowered his voice so only Armin could hear. “Begging your pardon, but it’s just a single man, and he has no way to leave without being cut down. I struggle to see how he could be a threat.”

“Honestly, Captain? I don’t see how either.” Armin pointed at the guardhouse. “That man outfought an entire Alohym garrison, including some new type of Alohym and the Traitor, escaping with his life. He also was present for the massacre. I don’t know what he’s capable of.”

“Understood,” he said, and from the way that smooth forehead creased, he absolutely did. “Shall I send some men in with you?”

Armin shook his head. “Keep your men at the ready. If I walk out of there and scratch my nose, that’s my signal I want you to shoot to kill the Underfolk. If you can do so without hitting me, I’d prefer it, but if you can’t…he’s a big enough threat to be worth the risk. Once you’ve taken him down, if I’m alive, lock me in there and send for an interrogator to make sure I can be trusted.”

“That seems a bit extreme, Lumcaster,” Crewson  said.

“And it very well may be overkill,” Armin said. “I’m not an expert in these things. No one is. But given what he’s done…I feel like there’s no such thing as too cautious. If I give the signal, I’ll trust your judgement.” Armin took a paper out of one of the sacs tied to his belt and quickly wrote a note confirming he’d given the order. He pressed his thumb to it afterwards, leaving an unforgeable Lumcaster’s mark on the document. 

“Understood,” Crewson took the note and folded it into his pack. “Good luck.”

“Thanks,” Armin said, standing up. “I pray I won’t need it, but if I do I’ll need every bit the Light can spare me.”

Armin had never seen an Underfolk in person before. They’d gone underground as soon as the Alohym had invaded, and illustrations of the reclusive people had always been rare. After the build up, the tension, and the careful walk to the door, it was almost a let down.

The Underfolk was short compared to a human, and the top of his head would have came up to Armin’s chest if he’d been standing. He was hunched over a table, looking at some papers, his eyes scanning the document with speed. He had a few long whiskers coming from his nose, and thick fingers that had retractable claws poking from the tips. 

“Greetings,” the Underfolk said, looking up to reveal slitted, cat-like eyes. “I am Poz. You are not the Dragon Princess.”

“I am not,” Armin said, taking the seat across from Poz. “Forgive me, but it would be poor security to just let anyone who demanded an audience with her get what they sought.”

Poz grimaced, revealing his teeth were more like fangs. “I see. That is understood, but problematic.” His eyes narrowed as he noticed something. “Although as one of her companions…Armin, yes?”

Armin blinked, a chill running down his spine. “How do you know who I am?” 

“The eyes are distinctive. Word of them has spread. I hear things.”

The mundane nature of the explanation made Armin bark out a laugh. Without knowing what the Underfolk was capable of, Armin had attributed all kinds of mysterious and unnatural powers to him. Apparently, the strange an uncanny ability he possessed was…the power of observation. Poz looked a bit put out by Armin’s amusement, although it was hard to tell. Time with Tythel had taught Armin that assuming non-humans had similar expressions to humans was an exercise in arrogance. “I forget about them half the time,” Armin lied. He really never could forget about his new, unnatural eyes. A product of Tythel using a rare Sunstone to save him from Unlight poisoning, Armin’s eyes permanently looked like the sky during an eclipse. 

He couldn’t forget about his eyes, but apparently he could forget how he got them. A rare treasure from Tythel’s father’s horde she’d used without hesitation. Light and Shadow, did I ever properly thank her for that? Armin pushed the thought aside, but made a mental note to return to it. Distraction now could be fatal.

“Ah.” Poz shook his head, as if clearing a thought of his own. “You’re frightened. I expected that. Unfortunately, I have not come up with a way to calm those fears.” He gestured to himself. “Catflesh is ideal for crossing terrain without detection, and one of the more intelligent fleshes, but can be a poor fit for navigating social situations.”

“Catflesh?” Armin asked, and a lesson from his Collegium days sprung to mind. “Right, of course. Metamorphic digestion. Your people take on the properties of anything you eat.”

Poz nodded slowly. “Any flesh.” Poz stressed the word.

“I thought the Underfolk were carnivorous,” Armin said, leaning forward on the table. This was hardly the most important topic of conversation, but Poz had said Catflesh wasn’t the best for social situations. If it was anything like how cats worked, idle chatter might help Poz feel more comfortable, give him time to get used to Armin’s presence. 

For an insane moment, Armin pictured himself offering Poz an open palm to sniff, then imagined the man rightly slapping Armin silly for the insult. Or, given those claws, worse. Conversation seemed like the best way to go.

“Of course we’re not,” Poz said, in a rather dismissive tone. Armin really wished Poz hadn’t told him about the Catflesh. Now, all Armin could picture was a cat turning up its nose at food that didn’t meet its palate. “If we were, we’d change flesh constantly. We eat plants when we do not want to change flesh. And, before you ask…the cat had expired from natural causes. I do not kill to change flesh when the animals are companions for sentient races.”

“That’s good,” Armin said. The question hadn’t occurred to him until just now, but he was glad for clarification before it had. “But…you have fangs. Seems like eating plants with those would be detrimental.”

Poz opened his mouth wide. Impressively wide. Far wider than a human ever could. It reminded Armin of a cat’s yawn, more than anything else. The back teeth were unexpected, however. In spite of the vicious fangs that composed the further forward teeth, the back four were molars. “Trueteeth,” Poz explained, once his jaw was closed. “They do not change with our flesh. Cut the plants small enough, and they can be chewed there.”

“I see,” Armin said. The scholar in him wanted to ask more questions, get more information, really study Poz. Underfolk had been resistant to letting humans or Sylvani examine them in any detail, and if Dragons had been given greater access, they hadn’t shared it with the other races. However, those questions would have to wait. “Poz – were you the underfolk that fought Nicandros?”

Poz stiffened. “The outcome of that battle wasn’t intended,” Poz said quietly, looking down. “Or…I suppose I should say I regret that it was. There are…dangers to other types of flesh. Some carry a lack of empathy. An extreme lack.”

“Like Catflesh?” Armin hazarded a guess.

Poz shook his head. “Humans misunderstand cats. They do care. They only wish to care on their terms. At least, that is how their flash works for us. It constantly baffles me that a species can live alongside a predator that routinely climbs onto their laps and screams for attention doesn’t care about what happens to them.”

Armin chuckled at that. “So, what flesh causes that lack of empathy?”

“Forbidden Fleshes,” Poz said, quietly. “Flesh I’d partaken in before, out of the most dire need. Nicandros knew of that shame, but I knew of Nicandros. No other flesh would have ensured  my survival, and I had to survive. I have…so many things I can share. But…the Dragon Princess. I have a gift for her. One I will only give to her. Others would try to use this gift against her, and in doing so would provoke a wrath so terrible it would undermine this resistance. Or so I thought, in the Forbidden Flesh, and the Forbidden Flesh is rarely wrong. I will give it to her with no traps on the gift, so she may know I am sincere in my desire to help. And so she does not set me aflame.”

Armin wanted to press him more on the Forbidden Flesh, but put that aside. Too much pressure could turn the Underfolk skittish. “Well…as you said, I am her sworn companion. Surely you can at least tell me what this gift is, so I can know you mean her no harm?”

Poz’s eyes narrowed, and Armin wondered what he missed. It took him a moment, but then Armin realized he hadn’t refuted the idea that Tythel would attack Poz or undermine the resistance. Hardly the stirring defense of a ‘sworn companion,’ whatever that meant.

“I do not have it with me,” Poz said. “I have it stashed away safely, and will not tell you where.”

Armin nodded. “When we go to retrieve it, Tythel will be there.” As well as every soldier Armin could grab, Eupheme, a couple of the Lumcasters, and hopefully Haradeth and his insane automaton friend. 

“Good.” Poz considered for a moment longer, than blinked slowly. In cats, that was a sign of trust. Armin hoped that translated here. “Very well,” Poz said .I have, safely, where no harm could come to it, the Heart-Egg of Karjon the Wise.”

“I don’t believe you,” Armin said immediately, half truthfully and half just to buy himself time to think.

“Your belief does not change the truth,” Poz said without flinching. There was an absolute certainty to his words that Armin found near impossible to doubt. “But for proof – I was at the battlefield where it was lost, scavenging for supplies. I found her pack. I was the one that took it at first, not knowing what I held. The moment I learned the truth of its import, I sought to return it to her as quickly as possible.”

Armin stared at him for a long moment, a thousand possibilities running through his mind. No one had ever been told where or when it had been lost, which meant Poz had to have it. For one brief, terrible, shameful moment, Armin considered adding it to the others. That, however, would be monstrous. Hiding the other eggs from Tythel…that was something Armin was still grappling with. But this was her father’s egg. There was only one right thing to do here. “Crewson, your presence is needed!” Armin shouted through the door, startling Poz so badly the poor man’s hair shot up. Of course. Cats. Armin apologized to Poz for the fright. When Crewson didn’t immediately appear, Armin stepped to the door and poked his head out, to show his nose didn’t itch. 

Crewson nodded and headed towards him. “What is it.”

Armin glanced over at his shoulder. “Fetch the Princess, her Umbrist, and every spare man you can gather. I’m not certain this is not a trap, so we’ll want everyone we can get – before you tell the princess, that is. Once you’ve gathered the needed force, inform the Princess I’ve spoken with this underfolk…and he has something of her father’s she thought lost, and he dearly wants to return to her.”

Apologies for the delay. Shouldn’t happen again for a while, but I had to prioritize the sequel to The Wastes of Keldora unexpectedly. The good news is, with Exercise the Demons coming out in December and Dragon’s Scion 1 in January, I can go easier on new book words for a bit. In the meantime…book 2 of Factory of the Gods , The Trains of Keldora is now available for pre-order! Pick it up if you liked the first book, and if you could leave the first book a review while you’re at it, I’d appreciate it! The first two chapters for The Wastes of Keldora are up for your reading pleasure here, and for The Trains of Keldora here.

Next week will have updates for all ongoing serials, with Dragon’s Scion Tuesday.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 197

Armin slammed open the door to the room he was sharing with Ossman. The larger man jumped at Armin’s sudden entrance. “I take it the council meeting didn’t go well?” Ossman asked.

“It was a Light-Blasted success,” Armin growled, going over to the chest of books at the end of his bed. “We have Marketta’s support, even if she was flathing smug about it, and we’re getting ready to make a run at the Vacuity Engine. Everything’s going flathing swimmingly. It’s like a Shadow damned party.”

“Okay,” Ossman said, carefully drawing out the word to make it abundantly clear the level of disbelief he was sitting on at the moment, “So…why are you acting like you want to set this entire keep on fire, preferably before you let anyone out.”

“Tythel,” Armin growled, slamming the book he’d brought to the meeting on top of the pile. The bag of golden dragon eggs was at the bottom of the crate, in a hollowed out copy of Herespon’s Accounts of Imports and Exports in the Late Cardomethi Empire, Volume III, a book so dry and dull that not even Tythel would want to open it out of curiosity. Four hundred pages of “Then the Empire traded to the Kingdom of Cohalt thirty silver talents for three thousand bronze swords, which the Cohalti accepted. Then the Empire traded to the Nations of the Breach eighteen silver talents for two thousand pounds of beef, which the Breachers accepted. Then the Empire traded the three thousand bronze swords and two thousand pounds of beef to the Lost Legion in exchange for Three Years Service, which the Legion accepted.” On and on. 

Of course the pages were safely preserved, and the hollowed out part was just blank pages. He was keeping an important secret from a friend, but Tythel could forgive him for that if he told her soon enough. Destroying a historical document? She’d probably set him on fire.

“Ah,” Ossman said, when Armin didn’t elaborate. “So you’re angry because she…what, exactly?”

“You know why,” Armin said, not looking up from the box.

“Actually, I don’t.” Ossman sat up. “You’ve been furious at her, but every time we’ve tried to talk about it you’ve sputtered into incoherent rage. Which, incidentally, tells me you’re probably not in the best frame of mind to talk with her. Which, need I remind you, I told you before you went to that meeting.”

Armin slammed the lid of the chest shut. “We went to that lair because she told us we’d find gold there. There was another route for her to get gold that wasn’t nearly as dangerous. Clarcia and Guiart died because of her lie.”

“Right,” Ossman said, leaning forward and resting his head on his thumbs. “Like I said. Incoherent rage.”

Armin turned to Ossman, feeling the anger welling up in his chest again. “I was perfectly coherent there,” he growled.

“Oh, you said coherent words. But you didn’t make a coherent case.” Ossman shook his head and sighed. “Armin. Think about it. She had no way of knowing what would happen.”

“It still is…I mean…” Armin snarled. “Damnit to Shadow, Ossman, if not for her lie Clarcia and Guiart would still be here.”

“And you wouldn’t know how to translate Theognis’ text. And we’d only have one dragon’s horde, not two.” Ossman held up a hand to forestall Armin’s objection. “Some of the servants were talking about the load of treasure Tythel and Eupheme arrived with. It was easy to put the pieces together.”

“But-” Armin started to say.

Ossman shook his head. “I don’t know what happened in there. And I’m not saying Tythel is blameless. You are right that lying to us was wrong, and she should have told us everything so we could have made an informed decision. But that doesn’t justify your anger. It doesn’t justify half of what you said in there.”

“You have no idea what I said in there.”

Ossman shrugged. “If you gave her half the vitriol you have shown me, what you said wasn’t justified.”

“You don’t get it,” Armin said. “You turned down all your chances to lead. You don’t want it. And that’s fine. But I was given command, and I can only be as good a leader as the information I have.”

“Mmm.” Ossman held up a hand. “Okay, indulge me for a second. Let’s say she had given you complete information. What would you have done differently?”

“I would have…” Armin’s objection died on his lips. He hadn’t really given it any thought. “I don’t know. But it could have made a difference. We might not have even been there in the first place.”

“Maybe. So you hate her now?”

Armin sighed. “No. I…I don’t know. I’m just so angry.

Ossman stood up and walked over, putting a heavy hand on Armin’s shoulder. “Look at me,” Ossman said. 

Armin looked up into Ossman’s eyes. Ossman had always towered over Armin, but something in his face now…it was the first time Armin had ever felt small next to his friend. “What?” Armin asked quietly.

“Are you angry at her? Or are you blaming someone else for the deaths that happened, because you don’t want to blame yourself.”

Ossman was a big man, and most of that size was in muscles. Armin was a scholar who was in good shape. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Ossman didn’t even flinch when Armin punched him in the chest with all of his might, but it did. Armin shoved off his hand. “Go flath a rusty sword.” 

Ossman pursed his lips, but didn’t say anything about the punch or the insult. “When you’re ready to admit that’s the real problem, I’ll be here. We have too much history together. But you and Tythel don’t have that history, and she’s been burned badly recently. Don’t expect her to wait for you to get your shit together.”

“It’s…” Armin turned towards the wall, trying to hide the furious tears that were blurring his vision. “She’s not perfect. She did lie to us.”

“Yes,” Ossman said, his voice holding that unique gentleness of the supremely strong. “She did. And that is a problem. But if she had told us the truth…Theognis still would have arrived behind us. Clarcia and Guiart would have still died. And do you know who’s falt that would have been then?”

Armin whirled back to Ossman, ready to defend himself, but Ossman didn’t hesitate before continuing. 

“Theognis. It would have been his fault. Same as it is now. Stop blaming Tythel when you were the one in charge, and when you do stop blaming her, don’t blame yourself for not seeing the future either.”

Armin’s anger died, and he turned back to the crate. Ossman went back to his bed and sat back down, grabbing a book to give Armin time to process his fury.

“I’m a jerk,” Armin said.

“Yes,” Ossman said, turning a page. 

“No, I mean…I said some really ugly things to Tythel.”

“Yes,” Ossman said, going to the next page.

“You don’t understand, I told her-”

Ossman didn’t look up from his book, just held up a finger. “You want to tell me because you want me to absolve you of what you said. I won’t, because I can’t. If you want absolution, you’re only going to get it from the person you wronged.”

Armin winced. “If I talk to her now, I might say something I regret.”

“Then grow up, figure out how to not, and talk to her when you have.” Ossman turned another page, not even looking at Armin. 

Armin wanted to vent further, but before he could, there was a knock on the door. “Lumcaster Armin?” said a voice from outside.  

Armin hopped off the bed and went to the door. “What is it?” he asked the messenger outside.

“Someone was caught trying to break into the Keep. Said he has to speak to the Princess. We couldn’t find her or the Duke, so you were next. Sir…it’s an Underfolk.”

“I thought they were all hiding underground,” Armin said, then his brain caught up with his  mouth. “Wait. Is this the same one from…”

“Isn’t saying, sir. Just says he needs to talk to the princess.”

Armin nodded to the man. “I’ll be there in a few minutes. For now, I want a dozen guards on him. No, make it two. If this is the same one who battled Nicandros to a standstill, we don’t know what he’s capable of.”

His issues with Tythel and his decision about the eggs would have to wait. War didn’t pause for any man’s fury. Least of all the fury of those who nominally lead.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 196

Hey everyone. I know it’s been a minute since we last visited Tythel and Co, so let me catch you up on what’s been going on in The Dragon’s Scion. Advance chapters will be going up on Patreon over the course of this week!

After a battle with Theognis at the end of book 2, Armin was able to decode the meaning behind the Vacuity Engine – it is a device that allows for Unlight to flow from the Alohym’s home to the world of The Dragon’s Scion. Tythel has mostly recovered from her injuries at the end of the last book as well, save for the deep stab wound that impacted her flight muscles – a gift from Eupheme’s sister, an Umbrist with a sinister agenda. A meeting of Resistance leadership was called, and a leader of a different faction, Marketta, agreed to aid the Resistance in attacking the Crawling Citadel, where a gateway to the Vacuity Engine can be found. Although Marketta’s motives are suspect, her desire to take down the Alohym seems sincere. During the meeting, however, Armin indicated his anger at Tythel. Tythel, for her part, is struggling with the Alohym’s decree that their science has proven she is not the true heir to the throne. We pick up with Tythel after the meeting has completed…

The hall was emptying. Plans were anything but solid at the moment, but the machinations of rebellion were well in place. It was for the tacticians to get into the details now, and that would take time. D’Monchy was one of the last to leave, giving Tythel an odd look before he departed. Tythel couldn’t blame him. The Alohym’s rumor, true or not, about her parentage, was a lingering cloud over the meeting that would have to be addressed at some point.

Not right now, though. Tythel had other things she wanted to deal with.

“Eupheme?” Tythel said. “Can you give Armin and I a moment?”

Eupheme’s gaze hardened, and she gave Armin a quick glance. “Are you certain that is your wish, your highness?”

The last two words carried more weight than they needed to. Tythel could read the underlying meaning there, at least. Eupheme was still Tythel’s sworn bodyguard, and at this moment, she was worried leaving her princess alone with Armin. Armin’s words had been harsh during the meeting, but…

Tythel looked up at Armin again, studying him carefully. His arms were tense with anger, but when Eupheme had asked if Tythel was certain, his eyes had widened and his mouth had hung open for just a moment. While Tythel would always be the first to admit the nuances of human facial expression eluded her, even she could recognize hurt shock. “Yes. Please.”

Eupheme nodded once, curtly, and then vanished, fading into the shadow under the table. Tythel listened carefully for the Umbrist’s heartbeat, but there was no sign of it. They were alone. She looked over at Armin, and for the first time since she left her father’s lair, found herself completely at a loss for word. “Hey, Armin,” she said, the only words she could muster.

“Your highness,” Armin said stiffly. He made no move to stand, and gave no indication he wanted to speak further.

“You’re angry,” Tythel said, deciding blunt was the right way to approach this. 

“You’re getting better at reading us,” Armin said. “Soon nothing will escape the omniscient notice of Tythel, the Dragon Princess.” 

In a way, Armin’s sarcasm was comforting. Armin being sarcastic was within Tythel’s established parameters for the Lumcaster. Her friend. The cold fury that radiated off him? That was something new, something ugly, and something she didn’t know how to handle. “I never claimed omniscience,” Tythel said. “But…Eupheme’s been helping me. Not that I needed it to tell you were angry. I think I would have been able to tell the moment I came off the mountain.”

Armin let out a huff of air. “Good to know. I need to learn to hide it better.”

“For meetings like this? Likely. But it’s just us, Armin. You don’t need to hide what you’re feeling from me. That’s what friends are for, right?” Tythel couldn’t help keep the hopeful note from that last question. 

Armin was quiet for a long moment, meeting her gaze with a level stare of his own. There was something about his eyes that were different. A hardness to them that Tythel hadn’t seen before. “Are we?”

“Are we what?” Tythel asked, her heart starting to pound as she feared where he was going with this question.

“Are we friends.”

The question was a slap to the face Tythel hadn’t anticipated. “Of course we are!” Tythel said. “After…everything, how can you even ask that?”

“I don’t know, your highness. Maybe it’s one of those dragon things I just don’t get.” Armin’s hand, resting on the table, started to curl into a fist. His nails caught on the wood, and the lacquer started to curl up as his fingers tore rivets in the material. “But as far as I understand it, friends don’t send friends to their deaths.”

Tythel reeled back. “You – I don’t understand. You’re alive. Ossman…oh, Light and Shadow, what happened to Ossman? Is he-”

“Fine,” Armin snapped the word like the crack of a whip. “Ossman is fine. Not that you had anything to do with it.” Armin took a deep breath, trying to steady his fury. “Aldredia survived too. The other members of our party didn’t make it.”

Aldredia. Who was Aldredia? Tythel’s mind worked furiously. She’d barely met the woman, and…that’s right. The swordswoman, a former Alohym guard that had betrayed her masters. “I’m glad Aldredia survived,” Tythel said. “I’m sorry for the others.”

“Say their names,” Armin growled.

Tythel tried to cast her mind back to when they departed. Had she been told? Yes, before d’Monchy had called a halt to using the songstones, lest the Alohym track them. She’d been told their names then. One of them…was one of the Lumcasters working with Armin. The powerful one, the girl. The other was a soldier who had…Tythel couldn’t remember anything about him. 

“Say. Their. Names.” Each word came out through clenched teeth, Armin staring at her with that cold fury, although right now it looked like it was going to turn hot. 

“I…Clara?” Tythel guessed.

“Clarcia. She died raiding the tomb of a dragon you pointed us to. She died alongside the other. Do you even know his name?”

Miserable, Tythel could only shake her head. She couldn’t meet Armin’s gaze anymore. 

“Of course not,” Armin spat the words. “His name was Guiart. He was a good man. And Claricia was a child. They died for you, Tythel, and you don’t even know their names. And worse – so much worse – they didn’t even need to die, did they?”

Tythel felt her jaw tighten. “Why would you say that?”

“Because your father’s lair exists!” Armin was on his feet now, his hands in fists so tight his knuckles were turning white. “You sent us to a death trap so your father’s tomb would go untouched.”

“Eupheme and I took from my father’s tomb,” Tythel said. Now it was her turn to be cold.

“Oh, that’s wonderful. I’m certain that will be a great comfort to Clarcia and Guiart’s souls.” Armin sneered. “Don’t try and pretend that was your plan all along. You sent us there because  you didn’t want to do that, didn’t you?”

“If you could aid the Resistance with a human skull, would you give them your mother’s grave?” Tythel was on her feet now, her own anger spilling over. 

“That’s different,” Armin countered. “No one’s died from digging up a grave.”

“I had no idea that old Wyrm’s lair had traps. Most dragon’s don’t do that! I couldn’t predict it.”

“It wasn’t traps,” Armin said. “The Alohym were investigating it too. Theognis was there.”

“And that’s my fault?” Tythel threw up her hands. “I had to battle some new kind of Alohym soldier at my father’s grave. Half Alohym, Half Human. Tellias nearly died. I can’t have predicted the danger that would be waiting you there!”

“It shouldn’t matter!” Armin was yelling now, and Tythel couldn’t remember if she’d yelled first or if he had. Not that it would make a difference either way. “We didn’t need to be there in the first place! If you had been honest about your father’s tomb-”

“You don’t understand,” Tythel said hoarsely. “It’s…a dragon’s horde is sacred. To pilfer from that, after their death…it’s monstrous. I only did it because my father would have gifted me some as an inheritance. Otherwise…I don’t know if I could have made myself.”

“Don’t you dare speak to me of monstrous,” Armin did spit now, literally, a disgusted fleck of spittle flying from his lips to land on the stone floor fo the meeting hall. “Monstrous is letting the living suffer in favor of the dead. Monstrous is letting others die for your own fears.”

“It’s different for humans-”

“You’re human!” Armin bellowed. “Light take you and Shadow blind you, Tythel, you’re a flathing human. I know you want to become a dragon, but even then, you won’t stop being human. So stop thinking like what you want to be and think about what you are.”

Tythel threw aside her cloak and cast her wings to the side. The muscle in the back strained at the motion, but as before, stretching them was fine. “Do not dare tell me what I am and am not.”

Armin was much less impressed with the display than Marketta had been. He just narrowed his eyes. “You don’t look like a dragon to me,” Armin said. “You look like a human with the wings and tail of a dragon, and with fire in her stomach. We have a term for beings that look like human dragon hybrids, and it’s not dragon. It’s demons.”

“Don’t-” Tythel started to say, but Armin wasn’t done.

“You don’t look draconic, your highness. You look demonic.” Armin waved away her next few words. “I don’t think you are a demon. But if you’re going to flash those wings to intimidate us into submission, you need to know what that looks like.”

“I didn’t mean to intimidate you. I just meant to…show you.” It sounded weak, even to Tythel’s ears. The truth was, she had been furious, and it had felt like the right thing to do. Or…not the right thing to do. The only thing to do.

“Whatever.” Armin’s own fury was dying down, but the pain that underlied it was not gone. “Haradeth was right about you. You don’t care about what happens to us. We’re just a weapon to you. A sword to thrust into the heart of your father’s killers.”

“That’s not true!” Tythel’s fury vanished in a flash, replaced with pain. “Armin…you’re my friend. I care about you.”

“No, you don’t.” Armin shook his head, and his body slumped back into the chair. “You didn’t even ask what was wrong. Just told me I was angry, then defended yourself. If you gave a damn, you’d have asked.”

“Only because you attacked me!” Tythel countered. “Flathing Shadow, Armin. I’m worried about you.”

“Too late.” Armin shook his head. “I’ll follow you Tythel. You’re still our best bet at being the Alohym. So I’ll follow you because you’re the best we have. But Tythel… you’re quick to remind people you’re the last dragon. The entire species ends with you. So you should probably think about what kind of legacy you’re going to leave behind for them.” He shrugged. “Or, if dragons are a species that wouldn’t touch their precious hordes to save lives, maybe you’re leaving exactly the legacy they deserve.”

The table splintered under Tythel’s claws, and her lips pulled back to show her fangs. “You’re in pain,” Tythel said, through gritted teeth. “So. I’m going to end this conversation before I say something I regret. And…if you decide you want to…flath it, Armin. I’m sorry for the deaths of Guiart and Clarcia. Truely, I am. So…if you decide you want to pretend that last bit didn’t happen, we can do so.”

“I doubt I will,” Armin said. “I’m not sure what’s worse, Tythel. That dragons will go extinct when you die…or that you’ll be the last memory of them.”

Tythel turned so quickly her tail slammed her chair, sending it skittering along the floor. She didn’t bother to look behind herself as she stormed out. Her nictating membranes flashed across her eyes, and for the first time since she’d lost the ducts, Tythel was glad she could not weep.

Hope you enjoyed. Dragon’s Scion will update Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday going forward, and it will be my primary serial. Book one is getting published soon too! If you want something else to read, check out The Wastes of Keldorathe sequel to that one comes out early November!

Dragon’s Scion Part 195

Tythel’s mind was reeling in the wake of Armin’s information. The Vacuity Engine was the source of the Alohym’s Unlight. Without it, they would be far weaker. It would make the war winnable. 

Silence reigned for a bit as everyone took some time to absorb the implications, and Tythel could practically see they were all having the same thoughts she was. The growing realization that this was possible. 

All save one. “Well,” the former Countess Marketta said, drawing out the word with a sour delight. “That certainly is an…interesting proclamation. I see one major difficulty that might impair your ability to do this, however.” She thought for a moment, and shook her head. “That’s a lie, I can see fifteen thousand reasons this won’t work. One in particular is the fact that the access point to this Vacuity Engine is within the Crawling Citadel. To be precise, that is two hundred of the reasons this is useless – one for each Alohym that resides within the Citadel.”

“How could you know that?” The leader of the Abyssals growled the words at her. 

“That’s why I’m here, isn’t it?” Marketta said, looking at Duke d’Monchy. The Duke gave her a curt nod. “My people have been focused on the citadel for some time. It’s one of the largest bastions of Alohym power, and given it has no set location, disabling it is required for victory.”

“So you have a plan?” Tythel asked, unable to stop herself. Marketta’s words had crushed the seed of hope Armin’s information had planted, and she was desperate for any information that would let that bloom again.

Marketta snorted. “To bring an army into the Crawling Citadel, access some devices that will take them to the Void above, let them take over and destroy a massive Alohym gate that is overhead, and escape alive? No. If I had that kind of tactical genius, I would have won this war on the very first day it had begun, because I would be so smart I could make the impossible happen.”

Tythel grimaced, and it was worse to see the same expression cross Duke d’Monchy’s face. He’d been hoping she would have an option to get into the Citadel, every bit as much as Tythel had hoped. 

“What about a small team?” d’Monchy asked. “We’ve had some success getting saboteurs in where traditional armies had failed.”

“I don’t want you to waste the lives, d’Monchy,” Marketta said, leaning forward. “Allow my own Lumcaster to demonstrate?” she said to Armin.

Armin bowed and moved back from the table. A woman with silver hair stepped forward and conjured a new image of the Crawling Citadel, one far more detailed than the earlier image.

“So you want to get a small team into the Crawling Citadel. Let’s talk about that. First of all, you have to get to the Crawling Citadel. No mean feat, that.” Five spires that jutted from the Citadel turned red. “Each of these contains an interwoven web of observational constructs the Alohym call Godseyes. We have not been able to locate a power source for them yet. If they spot movement…” Marketta trailed off, letting the image do its work. 

A glowing figure made of light, so tiny it did more than anything else to sell the immense scale of the Citadel had so far, appeared on the table. Even Tythel’s eyes could barely make out it was supposed to be a human. A soon as the figure manifested, a dozen tiny dots flew from the Spires of the Citadel towards him.

Marketta motioned, and one of those specs grew in size until it was clearly visible. It looked like a mechanical eye stuck at the end of a smooth tube with two wings affixed to the side. “Void Hawks,” Marketta said. “They have a single observational device and an unlight thruster. They move in, blaring messages the entire way that their target will need to hold up identification. If they arrive before the target has done so…”

The Void Hawks slammed into the human figure and detonated in small explosions. 

“Let’s say you manage to evade their notice. You move in underground, or somehow fool their detection with Lumcasting.” Marketta gestured again, and the image reset. This time the man was right next to the Citadel. “You could even use an Umbrist to get this close, although you’d need one who has this kind of range. That’s as far as an Umbrist can take you, however. Now, notice how the base of the citadel is almost a hundred spans above your head at this point?”

It was impossible not to notice, so no one responded to her question. Marketta nodded, correctly taking the silence as affirmation.

“They only lower transport tubes when they have someone authorized to enter. The only other means of ingress would be climbing up the legs of the Citadel. Or, that would be a way to access, if not for the fact that the legs have a powerful electrical current running through them.”

The little glowing light figure touched one of the legs, then convulsed and fell to the ground.

“But let us imagine further. Let us say you are able to insulate yourself from the current. You are able to do so and climb the leg while avoiding further notice by the Void Hawks. Then you are on the citadel’s walls.”

The glowing man moved up to be placed there. He turned red now, as the Lumcaster shifted his light so he’d stand out against the rest of the Citadel.

“Now you have to get in. Through a full foot of Alohym steel, without attracting attention. Don’t bother looking for windows – all the external views on the Citadel are done with their lens cameras, so there’s nothing you can do besides break them. There are access points that can be used to get inside, exhaust ports. Two problems there –  they’re right in the Godseye Spires, and if you manage to get into them, they lead straight to the Citadel’s heat sinks. You’ll fry before you hit the ground.”

The glowing man scratched his head, and a question mark appeared above it.

“But let us say you have accomplished this somehow. Or you got the fake credentials well enough to fool the Alohym. We’ve managed it seven times, which means we know more about the situation inside from the one that survived. Unfortunately, for a strike team you’ll need your most powerful individuals to ensure they can be effective, and they’re more likely to be detected. But suppose you solve that.” Marketta shrugged. “I won’t say you can’t. I won’t even say we won’t help you with it. But not without you knowing what you’re going into.”

The citadel changed now, walls and floors and ceilings peeling way to expose the full extent of the structure inside. A great deal was missing from the three dimensional image because of that.

“This is what we need to worry about,” Marketta said, pointing to the exposed rooms. “The good news is, once you’ve done that, your task goes from impossible to improbable. You just have to evade the Alohym who live in here.” One of the rooms turned red. This particular one had no details of the room, making it clear no one had been stupid enough to venture inside. “You then have to evade the Soldiers, garrisoned here. You’ll note it’s impossible to get deeper into the Citadel without passing by the garrison or the Alohym’s lair. That is by design. Then you have to deal with the training facility, where their soldier’s practice, here. Again, you’ll note you won’t get into the more sensitive areas of the Citadel without passing that. Finally, to get into the final area of the Citadel, you’ll need to pass through this room.” It turned red, and there was a hallway that stretched into the room, but no detail beyond that. “No one we’ve sent in has survived to know what’s past. But that’s where all the sensitive information is hidden, I’m certain of that. If for no other reason, than by process of elimination. If your Vacuity Engine is anywhere, it’s there.”

“There’s got to be something,” Armin said, breaking the silence that followed Marketta’s terrible news. “Some sort of vulnerable point in their machine. What if we were drop an explosive into one of the exhaust ports in the spires? Maybe the heat buildup would destroy their machines?”

Marketta snorted. “All you’ll accomplish there is blowing up some radiators that are in well shielded rooms. If you blow up all five, the Citadel will have to drop to half power, but it has enough tiny radiators to relieve the heat build up as long as it does that. Not even the Alohym are arrogant enough to let something as vital as thermal exhaust rely on a single point.”

“Why can’t the Umbrist get you into the Citadel itself?” Eupheme asked. Form the look d’Monchy made, he hadn’t expected Tythel’s bodyguard to speak, but at least Marketta’s rejections of the noble norms worked in their favor here. Marketta didn’t look any more dismissive of her than she had of Armin. 

“Your power has one major limitation it didn’t take the Alohym long to figure out how to exploit. There are no shadows large enough for you to utilize within the Citadel. Everything has enough light to protect against that. Even their soldiers sleep in light, wrapped in special suits so they can.”

Eupheme grimaced.

“I do not think we should give up hope yet,” d’Monchy said firmly. “Marketta, your information is invaluable. Can we count on you if we do develop a plan?”

Marketta shook her head. “You want to put her on the throne,” she said, pointing to Tythel. “I don’t want there to be a throne. I’ll share intelligence, but I’m not helping you reinstate like that. Nothing personal, girl,” she said to Tythel. “But there’s only one type of good monarch, and your parents meet the criteria.”

“Then why help at all?” Tythel asked, once she’d parsed Marketta’s meaning and decided not to show her offence.

“Because in exchange, I want one thing.” She looked at d’Monchy. “You’re going to tell me exactly when this is happening. So I can make sure my people are out of the line of fire.”

“So you can try to enact your own plans elsewhere while we distract them, more like,” d’Monchy said, some heat reaching his voice.

Marketta shrugged. “Frame it that way if you like. It matters little to me, and it should matter little to you. If you succeed in this attack, you’ll have a bargaining position at the table once I win. I can’t ignore you after you’ve taken down the Citadel and keep the will of the people. If you fail…well, you’ll be too dead for it to matter, won’t you?”

In spite of d’Monchy’s glower, Tythel noted he didn’t object.

I have a new book out! The Wastes of Keldora, which takes place inside the same universe as the Dragon’s Scion…and very well might cross over with it later. Give it a read here! Or if you want to get a sample, I have almost 7,000 words for it over here!

The Dragon’s Scion Part 194

Armin stood in front of the assembled nobility and leadership of the rebellion, and Tythel could hear his heart pounding from here. Whatever news he had, he was either excited or nervous or both. Knowing Armin probably both. There were other people in the room along with the leadership Tythel knew. People that Tythel didn’t recognize, even.

“Thank you all for meeting with us today,” Duke de’Monchy said. “I think you’ll be very interested in what we have to say.”

A thin woman with blue hair and snorted. “If it wasn’t for the gold you promised, de’Monchy, none of us would have come. I certainly am not interested to hear the words of someone who has their nose so far up a royal asshole they’re breathing shit.”

“Countess Marketta,” de’Monchy said, his lips a thin line. “Colorful as always, I see.”

“I renounced my title, de’Monchy, and my lands have been dived into farms for the people. Call me a countess again at your peril.” The – Wait, no, no title. Marketta pointed an accusatory finger at Tythel. “Meanwhile, you’re trying to put her on the throne. I told you last time we spoke, that counts as what the old courts would have considered ‘irreconcilable differences.’ As far as I caer, you can suck Light until you burst from it.” 

“Excuse me,” Tythel said, breaking the silence that followed. “But you did come to this meeting, which indicates the gold is more useful to your than your hatred.”

“Tythel,” Marketta said, stressing the word. “I’m sure de’Monchy has been too busy plying you with cakes and lies to keep you abreast of what’s going on in the world, but we are losing. If this fool wants to weaken his mad quest to put you on the throne by giving us his money, I’ll take it off his hands. Especially if he’s going to finally share the real secret of how he killed an Alohym.”

“I did,” Tythel said.

Marketta snorted. “I’m not some Alohym ass-kisser, to believe that line of shit. It was a clever bit of propaganda, I’ll grant that, but you don’t need to pretend this ‘dragon princess’ thing is anything other than-”

Tythel stood up and Marketta fell silent. Not from Tythel standing, but from her stretching her wings to their full span. Marketta’s mouth fell open as the cloak fell away revealing these were purely organic, no creation of Alohym artifice or trickery of a lumcaster. Tythel made sure to keep her face straight. It hurt to stretch her wings still, thanks to Eupheme’s sister’s dagger, but Tythel didn’t need the strength to fly. 

Just the to make a dramatic point.

“Sorry,” Tythel said, not actually meaning the word. “I thought it would be best to settle that particular matter in an inarguable manner.”

Marketta stared at her for a long moment, then burst out a single harsh laugh. “You’ve got a royal’s arrogance, as sure as you have a dragon’s wings. Well, if that’s the answer to how de’Monchy killed an Alohym, I’m done here.” She started to rise.

“Marketta,” Armin said, cutting through the tension before it could escalate. “I understand where you’re coming from. Believe me. In this room, no one wants to see Tythel on the throne less than me. But she’s a damn effective weapon, so let me ask you – which do you hate more? Her or the Alohym?”

After a moment’s consideration, Marketta sat back down, but Tythel barely registered it. She was looking at Armin with wide eyes, and a tightness was forming in her chest. He was lying to make a point. Of course he doesn’t mean that. Yet…he’d sounded so certain. And now he wasn’t looking at her. And he’d been strange earlier. 

Light and Shadow, had Armin turned on her? 

Eupheme placed a hand on Tythel’s under the table, steadying her and reminding her she had to keep ahold of herself. Tythel did her best to surreptitiously take a few deep breaths.

“Thank you,” Armin said. “May I explain our findings?”

Marketta nodded. Several others that Tythel didn’t recognize did as well, although Duke de’Monchy looked furious at Armin when he did. Apparently he didn’t like anyone undermining Tythel in front of the leaders of another resistance group. Or groups? One side was glaring daggers at both Marketta and de’Monchy. 

“Thank you.” Armin gestured, and behind him another lumcaster moved their hands, creating a light construct that Armin couldn’t make himself. It looked like a fortress, but it stood upon spindly legs. “I trust you all are familiar with the Crawling Citadel, the Alohym’s primary fortress on this world.”

Nods all around.

“In our attempts to gather information about them, we came across a term that drew our interest. The Vacuity Engine. We were under the impression it is crucial to our defeat of the Alohym, and it was located inside the Crawling Citadel. After the death of Theognis, I was able to decode his notes. We were half right. The Vacuity Engine is absolutely crucial to our defeat of the Alohym. However, it is not within the Crawling Citadel.”

Armin gestured again, and the image shifted. The crawling citadel shrunk, and a new structure appeared over it. It was immensely large, and looked like a gate without a wall. To give a sense of scale, one of the Alohym’s tentacled ships flew form the gate while they stared at it. It looked like an ant crawling alongside a human’s foot. One of the really small ants. 

“That,” Armin said. “Is the Vacuity Engine. It’s how the Alohym are able to bring their vessels to our world. More importantly, it’s where the unlight is coming from. And it can be accessed from within the Citadel. And…once we’re on board, we can destroy it. Without unlight, we don’t need dragons to kill the Alohym. Their healing fails.”

He slashed his hand through the image, and it shattered.

“Without the Vacuity Engine, the gods become mortals.”

If you haven’t heard, I’ve gone full time!  You can find details here! And if you want to get my brand new book, you can check out the preview here! Or just pick it up on Amazon here!

Small Worlds Part 275

Silence reigned on the battlefield as Kali assessed the scene. The people outside the combat area were still streaming through the wormhole as fast as they could, but they were also moving as silently as thousands upon thousands of people could move, as if they sensed that something was wrong and dangerous here. The only human sounds besides their movement came from further back down the line, as word began to spread of the danger ahead, and from the occasional wailing, frightened child.

“Kali…you don’t have to do this,” Ryan said. He knew he sounded like he was pleading, but he didn’t care. He was pleading.

“No. I don’t.” For a moment Ryan dared to relax, but Kali fixed eyes on him that burned like flame. Metaphorically, although given the fury in her gaze, it wouldn’t have surprised him if that was literal. “That was supposed to be your job.”

Ryan swallowed hard.

“The unbridled arrogance you have displayed, Eschaton, is beyond words to fully comprehend. There is a cycle to the universe. This cycle keeps entropy at bay. You want to save humanity now, but at what cost?” In spite of her apparent rage, Kali’s voice was the calm, measured tones of someone speaking to a child that didn’t understand the hot stove would burn. “No one knows how many cycles can be broken before entropy reigns supreme and the universe starts to die in truth. Is it a thousand? A hundred? A dozen? Do you see what you’re doing here? You’re securing the safety of billions, at the cost of the entire eternity. Countless trillions upon trillions. More, even.”

“Those people don’t exist yet!” Ryan said, his voice desperate. “I’m not sacrificing real people who are live and here right now in exchange for the potential people that might one day exist.”

Kali shook her head, and she looked so…sad. She wasn’t insane like Enki or a monster like Bast or Moloch. She seemed so reasonable. “You’re what they call a millennial, right?”

“Yes,” Ryan said, confused by the change of topic.

“One of the biggest things you millennials spoke out about was climate change. The scientific likelihood that humanities actions were slowly killing the planet. You likely would have died before that came to pass, but why?”

“Because it still would have harmed people that…crap, I walked right into that one,” Ryan said, grimacing as he saw the line she was starting to trace.

“Exactly. Your actions right now, Ryan, accelerate the time when the Universe will die. How many people do you believe that’s worth?”

“It’s different. I’m stopping humanity from going extinct?”

Kali shook her head. She was walking over towards him, and everyone tensed, but she made no threatening moves besides the sheer fact of her approach. “So human life is worth more than whatever life comes after it? So human life is worth more than the lives on other worlds? Is that what you’re saying?”

“No, of course not,” Ryan whispered, although he already knew what was coming next.

“That is exactly what you are saying, Eschaton. You have decided these lives are worth more than the lives of future generations. Of future species. You have decided these lives are worth more than the entire universe.”

“Ryan-” Crystal started to say, but Kali cut her off.

“Crystal,” she said, her voice soft. “I cannot imagine how hard things have been for you. An Eschaton from a bygone age, having to live millions of years with the grief of a billion souls. I…when I learned the truth of what you were, I wept for you.” She put a hand on Crystal’s shoulder, an affectionate gesture. “Truly. Enki told me, and I wept. The burden you carry has been immense. But you are the greatest proof that I am correct. These people only exist because you did the noble thing. The correct thing. You sacrificed the people of your world so that these might live, and now you want to save them. Can’t you see the people of the next world will be as worth saving? Can’t you see the people of the universe beyond that are as valuable as these lives. Human had their time. It was mostly good. At times it was terrible, but I imagine that’s true for every species that has ever existed. You, Crystal, are proof humanity is not special. Just another beautiful race that had its time, and needs to pass away to allow for the next.”

When Crystal went silent, Ryan spoke up. “We aren’t entirely starting from scratch, Kali. We cannot take any records with us, or the sun will still explode. But we can take the knowledge in our heads. We can recreate it there. And from there we can help other races. Maybe even find a way to reverse or undo entropy. Or extend our lives for countless eons using black holes as power sources. We could persist beyond what would happen if the cycle broke and slowly species succumbed to entropy – and we could save those other species, too!”

“Could you?” Kali asked. “It took millions, if not billions, of years for life to re-emerge after Crystal ended the last world. Do you really think that if humanity obtained the stars we would respect those species we found that emerged, when we had eons of advancement on them? What, in all of human history, has given you reason to believe we would do that?”

Ryan grimaced.

“Of course nothing,” she continued. “You’re American. You live in a country that was built after an apocalypse destroyed civilizations that you’ve never even heard of or barely remember from a few classes and monuments. You live in a country that was expanded by spreading that apocalypse with them. You should understand, better than here, what humans do when they reach a new civilization they are more advanced than them. If you need more context, ask Coyote or Crow. Ask them to tell you what happened.”

“That was wrong,” Ryan said. “What happened there was wrong and terrible. I’ll grant that.  But that’s something I can’t change. I can change what happens now, and I can try to do what I can to steer what we do in the future.”

Kali shook her head, and sighed deeply. “Ryan…I understand now. You aren’t willing to listen to reason. I thought you were driven by fear, and that you could be convinced your path was wrong. That fear shouldn’t rule you. But it’s not fear. It’s hope. A fool’s hope, but still hope. I…hate that you’re forcing me to do this, but I don’t hate you. Not anymore.” She raised the staff of Ra. “I hope you understand and won’t hate me either.”

Ryan closed his eyes then took a deep breath, dropping into a crouch. “Keep the fight to me,” Ryan said. “Not to these people. Spare them, and I won’t hate you.”

“Ah,” Kali said. “But that means letting them live when, for the sake of those to come, they must die. I understand, but no. I accept your hate as a small fraction of the price needed for the fate of the Universe. Your hate…and these lives.”

At the last word, countless bolts of lightning lept from the clear sky towards the crowd below.

If you haven’t heard, I’ve gone full time!  You can find details here! And if you want to get my brand new book, you can check out the preview here! Or just pick it up on Amazon here!

The Dragon’s Scion Part 193

Long ago, a Necromancer had nearly conquered the entire known world. His name had been Gix, and it had taken the Council Of Nine – five of the Little Gods and Four Dragons – working with the nations of Men, the Sylvani Diaspora, and the hidden realms of the Underfolk. It had been, for centuries, the greatest calamity the world had ever faced, on par with the collapse of the Cardomethi empire. Kingdoms burned. Entire towns were slaughtered to the last man, woman, and child, only to be raised again in Gix’s service. 

Tythel knew the stories well – Karjon had been one of the Council members, and she’d been fascinated to hear his tales of the war. He’d glossed over the horrors in her youth, focusing instead on the valor an the heroic sacrifices. As she’d aged enough to understand, he’d told her the rest. The Fall of Nehilom, where Gix had first deployed a spell that allowed his zombies to spread reanimation to corpses they had bitten, where fathers were devoured by their children and children by their parents. The rise of the Abyssals, and how that knightly order had been vital to winning the war as he had told her, but how they had committed countless atrocities in the name of victory. 

And, of course, the betrayal of the Last Prince. 

His name had been forbidden to be spoken or written for so longer, only members of the Nine still knew it. Lathariel was the last surviving member of the nine, even though she slumbered in a coma. Since Karjon had not passed the name to Tythel, unless Haradeth had been told the name by Lathariel, it was a name that was currently lost to the world. Only if Lathariel awoke was there any chance of it being preserved. 

The academic in Tythel hoped it would be remembered, so it could be added to genealogy trees. The warrior in Tythel wanted it to remain forgotten. 

The Last Prince had waited until a pivotal battle. A moment where it looked like the mortal races and the Council of Nine would emerge victorious. In that moment, he had revealed his true allegiance. He had taken his knights in on their charge, as he was supposed to – but when they struck, it was not Gix’s hoard that they slew, but their own allies. Because of his action, the war with Gix waged on a decade longer than was needed. Karjon personally oversaw his trial, and personally incinerated him when the guilty verdict came down. The Last Prince only had one defense – “I sought to preserve some life in the face of death.”

For that statement, his legions became remembered as the Death Knights, and the Cidatel that had housed them was Death’s Head Keep. The name was not just a reminder of what evil had been done here, but also descriptive – the gateway to the keep was a stylized skull.

“You know,” Tythel said to Eupheme as the road to the drawbridge beneath the looming stone skull, after boring her throughout the entire ride with the full tale of the war and the Last Prince’s betrayal, “In hindsight, the kind of person who designed a keep with a skull for a door being a traitor in a war against a necromancer probably shouldn’t have been a surprise.”

Eupheme snorted. “When you put it that way…’

“Thank you, by the way,” Tythel said. Eupheme raised her eyebrow. “When I get going on history like that, I know how boring it gets. I appreciate you humoring me.”

“Tythel, you’re my friend. Dolt. We’ve covered that before. Do I care about the intricacies of Cardomethi politics during the collapse, or the broken supply chains that made it so hard to fight Gix in the early days of the war? Normally, no. But when you’re talking about them, you get so excited that I care because you do. So you weren’t boring me.”

Tythel flushed, glad her scales didn’t betray that anymore, and smiled for Eupheme’s benefit. The expression was becoming more natural, although she felt herself habitually still squinting when she did it. “Well, thank you for seeing it that way.”

“Next time just do me a favor and stick to the battles more? That’s the best part.” Eupheme’s eyes sparkled with the gentle prod.

“I’ll do my best. But would they be as good if you didn’t have all the context so you knew exactly what was at stake?”

Eupheme considered for a moment and then nodded. “Yes, I would. Battles are inherently interesting, even without context.”

“I’ll test that theory at some point,” Tythel said. They’d reached the main door.

“Halt!” came a voice from above. “Who goes there!”

“The Princess Tythel!” Eupheme responded. “Who dares bar her passage?”

“No one!” This time the voice was just a shade higher. “Just need to confirm its her, that’s all.”

“The poor man’s just doing his job,” Tythel said in a quiet voice, then raised it. “The Horn is Raised at Midnight,” Tythel shouted.

“And the Rabbit Calls its Warren A Fortress,” Eupheme added. 

“Welcome, Princess Tythel!” the man atop said, and the door began to grind open. “Do you need someone to take your steeds?”

“Light and Shadow, yes!” Tythel said. It hadn’t been as bad as she’d feared, mainly because she and Eupheme had set a fairly sedate pace, but after so many days in the saddle Tythel was ready to never be in one again.

Their horses taken by the stableboys – Tythel did give hers another apple before he was taken, so he’d remember her fondly and hopefully tolerate her if she needed to awkwardly sit on his back again, Tythel and Eupheme headed into the main entrance way.

“Armin!” Tythel shouted when she saw the lumcaster, fighting a very undecorous urge to tackle him with a huge. “Deepest Shadow, man, it’s good to see you again!”

Armin’s eyes widened when he saw her, and there was a moment of hesitation. Then he smiled. Something about his smile seemed off to Tythel. There was a note to it she’d never seen before. Was that an excited smile? Or a relieved one? It didn’t quite fit either of those, but she couldn’t place it. “Likewise! I’m so glad you made it back all right. Although…I’m sorry to hear about Tellias.”

Ah. That explained the smile. He had heard the news, clearly, but had been hoping for there to have been some error. “I hold hope, still,” Tythel murmured. “He does not yet rest in the Shadow’s Embrace.”

“Of course,” Armin said. “Heartflame, I’m certain.”

There was a edge to his words Tythel couldn’t place, but she was able to easily deduce it was because he didn’t want to break her hope. “You would be correct. I cannot yet wield that power, however.”

“I’m sure you’ll figure it out at the exact right moment for your needs. You’ve got the Light on your side, there.”

“Thank you,” Tythel said, unsure why Eupheme was starting to look angry. Oh, of course. She was being rude and dominating the conversation. “I’m going to go find Ossman, let you and Eupheme catch up.”

“Actually, not yet.” The voice came from behind Tythel. She’d heard the footsteps coming, but hadn’t paid them much mind. Duke de’Monchy. “Your timing is fortuitous, Tythel. We have much to discuss. Armin finished his decryption just two days hence. We were about to give up on waiting for you to arrive.”

Tythel looked at Armin with wide eyes. “Did it…”

Armin nodded, and his smile lost some of the edge. “I know now. I know what the Vacuity Engine is, and I know where we can find it. And I know why we absolutely must destroy it.”

Small Worlds Part 274

Both sides of the fight had thrown up barriers to cut the other one off. Crystal was maintaining a complicated wall of water and air that was being backed by a field Ryan had created, an entire region of air where the equation for velocity had a negative sign slapped into it, so anything that got through Crystal’s field would head back in the other direction. He couldn’t see the equations the super soldiers were using.

“We can outlast them,” Horus said. “My and Crystal’s power can be used more efficiently, which will bring their Hungers into effect first.”

“I don’t think we can count on starving them out,” Ryan gasped. He wrapped a bandage around his hand. “I can barely concentrate with my hand like this.”

“That is why I said it would be up to crystal and I.” Horus shook his head. “You need to quit the field. Before you die.”

“Can’t,” Ryan said.

“This is no time for grandstanding, Eschaton.” Horus snapped the words, and his eyes narrowed into a firm glare. “You may be more competent than I thought, but you are badly injured and are still Nascent. If you die-”

“I don’t need the reminder!” Ryan didn’t mean to shout, but he was getting tired of people reminding him that at any moment he could die permanently. “But right now I’m the only thing keeping that nuke from going off, and if I let go of that twist it’ll be armed again.”

“Nuke?” Horus asked.

Crystal started to respond, but she was drowned out by a hail of gunfire from the other side. Equations were backing these bullets, and they came at Crystal’s barrier so fast that by the time they reached the water, they were blobs of superheated plasma. The particles detonated upon impact with Ryan’s impossible laws, sending force pouring away but still allowing heat in. Horus’ quick thinking and twist stopped them all from catching on fire.

“Nuke,” Ryan repeated. “Can you hit them back?”

Horus raised his guns into the air and let loose, the huge slugs flying away. He was already twisting himself. The bullets, now drawn to the super soldiers as their direct ‘down’, began to fall from the sky. “You didn’t mention a nuclear weapon.”

“If I’d known, I promise, that would have come up sooner.” The super soldiers had to take power from their front facing barrier to block Horus’ ballistic strike. “I’ve turned the firing mechanism into a block of carbon, but if I stop that twist…”

“I understand.” Horus thought for a second. “What about-”

“Not until Kali shows,” Ryan said, growling the word. “The whole point was to flush her-”

“Nice try!” Evans shouted from the other side of the park. “But you can’t hide there forever. In fact, I don’t think I’m going to allow that to happen.” Ryan could barely make him out through the twin barriers, but it was enough to see him turn towards the crowd and raise his weapon.

“No!” Ryan shouted, twisting. The barrier of negative velocity condensed into a sphere, and Ryan hurled it towards Evans. It warped the air like a heat ripple as it flew, air molecules suddenly finding themselves going the other direction when they impacted it. That negative direction meant the barrier the super soldiers had erected offered no resistance as it passed through. If it had hit Evans, it would have done the same to his torso.

If. Arnold had been watching the attack, and he shoved his commander out of the way. It flew past Evans and Ryan had to let it disperse before it hit the crowd.

Munoz opened fire with hyper-accelerated rounds. This time, without Ryan’s barrier, all they had was Crystal’s water to blunt the attack. Water that turned to plasma upon impact. Everything went white and Ryan howled in pain as the flames washed over him.

The world started to clear. Horus twisted reality again to put out the lingering flames. Crystal was still standing, defiant even as wisps of smoke curled from her clothes and her cheeks blistered. Horus shook himself free of ash, the back of his hands cracked and burned. Ryan could feel the burns were worst on his shins, and looking down he could see that the denim of his jeans was fused to burnt flesh.

“We can’t wait anymore!” Horus growled.

He was right. “We need backup!” Ryan shouted.

Evans sneered. “You already pulled in your support. You’re alone and-”

His were drowned out by a flash of light and clap of thunder. Spots danced in Ryan’s vision, and when they cleared he could see Evans standing stiff, his hair standing on end. Thin bands of smoke curled off his uniform.

Lakshmi on a rooftop, wearing a functional jeans and t-shirt combination, electricity dancing from her fingertips.

Munoz whirled to face the new threat, unloading a new barrage of gunfire that accelerated into plasma. Lakshmi whirled and ducked, a graceful motion that sent the plasma balls flying over her head as she dove from the roof and lowered herself to the ground on a twist that slowed her fall. The plasma balls streaked into the sky, and then curved as a new set of twists intercepted them. Munoz had to dive out of the way as they streaked back to the point of origin, the plasma detonating when it struck the solid earth she’d just been standing on.

Ryan’s eyes went to a different rooftop where a figure stood, clad in red and gold silk. He held a staff that ended in three rings with his nanoverse fixed firmly into the center. Even from this distance the elongated jaw and hairsuite nature made it clear this wasn’t a human. In spite of his upright posture, this was a member of Pan troglodytes, also known as the common chimpanzee. One of the few sentient non-humans to have ever found and claimed a nanoverse.

Son Wukong, the Monkey King.

He raised his staff in acknowledgement of Ryan’s gaze, and his eyes glinted with mischief. A cloud gathered above him, twist that he and Lakshmi had arranged together, a combined storm that sent hungry bolts of lightning towards the super soldiers.

Now it was their turn to be on the defensive. Horus unleashed a barrage of gunfire to add to the hungering storm gathering in the air, and Crystal pulled knives from her nanoverse and hurled them towards their opponents in rapid succession, adding a variant of Athena’s sword accelerating toss to each throw. The super soldiers threw up a three-pronged barrier of air, stone, and inverted equations to blunt the force of the attack, but now it was five on three in Ryan’s favor. Well, four on three. Much as he wanted to join the assault, Ryan was already feeling his stomach start to growl form the effort of keeping the nuclear device contained. He could cause the bomb to disassemble and turn the fissile materials into a gas so they’d dissipate, but as soon as that was over there would be radioactive materials spread across the park – possibly even into the panicked, densely packed crowd. Ironically the bomb was the only thing preventing the harmful radiation from spreading.

No. He had to maintain his hold on it for now.

And what if your power runs out? 

It was a terrible question to have to ask himself, but in the reflected glow of his allies’  attacks slamming into the super soldier’s barrier, he had to ask it. As terrible as it would be…given the option between letting them detonate a nuke and risking irradiating the crowd, Ryan would have to choose the latter.

He could only pray it wouldn’t come to that.

That terrible thought was what kept him from giving his full attention to the battle, so he was the only one who noticed it when the air was rent asunder. This was no normal doorway to a nanoverse, but an actual tear in reality, a sucking wormhole that blotted out all light. Air began to rush into the exposed vacuum, tugging on Ryan’s shirt.

A wave of impossible black fire leapt from the torn place. Ryan threw up a hasty barrier to stop the attack, but when it met his equations the fire burned them away, he howled as a burning sensation crept into his mind through the twists.

Kali stepped out of the wormhole, the Staff of Ra held forward.

“Well. I do believe this is finally everyone,” she said. “Cease fighting and surrender, Eschaton. Do not make this harder than it has to be.”

The Dragon’s Scion Part 192

It was worse than Tythel had feared.

The newsheets were products of Alohym technology, and Tythel had never paid them much mind. She hadn’t been in a town long enough to really bother perusing one. She now wished she had paid more attention.


In a statement released by the Crawling Citadel, it has been revealed that Tythel, the woman who claimed to be the last heir of the nobles that we were so kindly liberated from the Alohym, is not only attempted to resurrect an archaic institution that so long oppressed our people, is a fraud. Analysis of her blood conducted while she was the captive of the Alohym – before her escape and subsequent murder of over three dozen brave soldiers – has been compared to the bones of the former King and Queen. Through study of the blood-lexicon that makes up all life, the Alohym have determined that Tythel’s bloodline shares no markers in common with the royal family. 

It should come as no surprise about her lies. After her brutal murder of Great Rephylon, she…

Tythel stopped reading there, and handed over the sheet to Eupheme wordlessly. Eupheme’s eyes skimmed over. “What a pack of nonsense. There were a half dozen guards there, at most, and I hardly call what happened a murder. I’m pretty sure we didn’t kill all of them, anyway. It’s more Alohym propaganda, and… and why are you looking like that?”

Tythel had gone ashen, and her nictitating membranes were flashing. “‘Everything will collapse. Your people will call you a monster, a liar, a child, they will turn’…I’m guessing it was supposed to be against you, but I tore out his throat before he could finish.”

“What?” Eupeheme asked.

“Rephylon. The last thing ever said. I figured the monster was because I am a dragon, and child because of my age, but liar…I just assumed he was hurtling any insult he could think of at me. But now…he knew. He knew when we fought. The Alohym were just sitting on it until…”

“Tythel…are you believing this?” Eupheme asked.

“I…I don’t know. That medallion I showed Lathariel that proved to her I was the heir? Karjon said it was from my parents, but what if it wasn’t? He had dozens of treasures in his horde, it could have come from there. That was…that was the only proof I had.”

“Would you father lie to you like that?”

Tythel’s nictitating membranes tried to wipe away tears that still wouldn’t come. “I don’t…I don’t know. I don’t think so. But…maybe he was lied to? Or maybe he had a plan to…to use me to flush out the real heir? I don’t know.” Tythel shook her head, more to clear the dark thoughts than in any kind of negation. “But people are believing it,” she said. “That’s…that’s the real problem. Even if we don’t, it’s created a doubt to my legitimacy, and the only way to prove it one way or another requires the Alohym blood reading technology and the bones of the Royal family. Of…of my parents.”

Eupheme grimaced. “So it’s impossible to prove?”

Tythel nodded slowly, still staring at the paper. The words ran in her vision.

Eupheme placed a hand carefully on Tythel’s shoulder. “So…what are you going to do?”

“I’m going to take a deep breath,” Tythel said, doing exactly that. “You know my father taught me history, right?”

“I might have picked up subtle hints in that regard,” Eupheme said, her voice as dry as salt.

“Do you know what makes nobles nobility?”

Eupheme hesitated. “They are blessed by the Light, and guarded by Shadow?”

“Of course,” Tythel said. “At least, that’s what they say. Blessed by Light, Guarded by Shadow. By people like you. But I mean originally. How the first noble houses came to be, how they rose, how they secured their places. What made them different from everyone else?”

Eupheme shook her head.

“When the Cardomethi empire fell, there was almost no order on the continent. Various bands of warlords rose up from the ashes of the empire’s collapse. Some claimed to be headed by the lost heir of the Emperess. Some claimed to be blessed by the Light. Some claimed to be godlings. Some even were godlings. Some claimed to trace their lineage back to the ancient Alohym.” Tythel sniffed and wiped her eyes. It helped clear away the cloud that was growing on her vision. “At the end, when the dust had settled, everyone who was able to carve out territory had one thing in common. Do you know what it was?”

“They were all blessed by the Light?” Eupheme guessed.

“No. One could argue they were all favored by the Light – they certainly did – but only two of those warlords was able to claim they were descended from people who had made that claim at the start. One of them became the Royal family. That’s why they said they were favored by the Light. But before they unified the country under their rule through marriage and conquest, all those warlords called themselves nobility, even those that never claimed a blessing from the Light. No, the one thing they shared in common was they were all better at warfare then their opponents. That seems to be what distinguishes nobility from the common person.”

Eupheme looked hesitant. “I’m not sure…what are you saying?”

“I’m saying it doesn’t matter if my blood is royal.” Tythel felt her jaw clench in determination. “I’m saying if I win, everyone will say my blood was royal. That the counter claim was another Alohym lie. And if I lose, everyone will say the Alohym told the truth. That I was never royal. There are so many lies flowing from Alohym mandibles, it won’t matter what is said anymore – only what happens.”

“You’d start your reign off with a lie?” Eupheme said. “If you truly believe it’s not royal blood…”

“I’ve got plans for that. For the reign, I mean. I think it’s important that I have exactly much power once it’s time for me to reign as I do in the resistance – because I’d be about as good as leading a nation as I have been at fighting a war. Seeing as the two missions I’ve been involved in have resulted in the capture of the entire unit and then the permanent incapacitation of one member of a three person team, that tells you exactly how good I think I’d be at leading a nation. But my point is…my point is, there’s no way to prove the lie one way or another right now. So I’m going to keep acting like I have a claim, and history will decide if I did. Trace any royal family back long enough, and what you’ll find is some bastard who was very good at killing people. If what the world needs is for me to be that bastard, I’ll be that bastard. And if history damns me for it, then history damns me.” 

“Why do you want it?” Eupheme asked. “If you believe you might not be of royal blood, why on earth would you put yourself in that danger? You could renounce your claim and pursue your vengeance in peace. Well, relative peace. The Alohym wouldn’t need to kill you specifically anymore – if you renounce your claim, you’d just be another soldier.”

Tythel shrugged. “Someone has to stand up to the Alohym and take the arcfire. As long as I’m a target, the Alohym will focus on me and not the people actually leading the rebellion. I can do that. Better someone with dragonscale than a normal human. Besides, people have started rallying around the idea of me. Not me the person. I think the resistance would shatter at that. But the idea had power. I’ll let the Resistance use that idea. If it puts me in danger…well, a martyr can be a better thing to rally around than a person. Light knows it’ll stop me from doing something stupid and breaking that idea to peices.”

Eupheme was looking at her carefully.

“I know your oath is to the royal family. I know this puts that in question.”

“It does,” Eupheme said, her voice small. “But…in all the time I’ve known you, this might be the first time you’ve actually sounded like a royal. Like a royal should be. You’re my friend, and I don’t care what Alohym science proves. You are my princess. And that’s enough.” 

Tythel smiled at her, hoping it looked at least somewhat natural, and Eupheme returned the expression.

“So,” Eupheme said. “What now?”

“Now?” Tythel said, squaring her jaw. “Now I’m going to get on that Light-Forsaken horse. Come on and make sure the beast doesn’t kill me in the process.”

Small Worlds Part 273

The firing mechanism of the nuclear warhead turned to simple carbon under Ryan’s manipulation. He barely finished the twist to reality before Munoz levelled her rifle at Ryan. Where did that even come from? The thought was irrelevant and barely started before Ryan dove to the side, rolling away from the hail of bullets. He threw out another twist with the roll, and a barrier of solid air stopped the gunfire from punching into the now panicked crowd. He pulled the barrier with him as he moved, intercepting gunfire that was just barely missing him.

Crystal lunged at Munoz, her sword swinging towards the soldier’s neck. Munoz ducked under the blow, but had to stop shooting at Crystal pressed the attack. Ryan flicked his wrist, turning the wall of air into a blade and sending it streaking towards Munoz. She held out a hand and casually caught the air blade with a twist of her own, but couldn’t respond in kind. Not with Crystal’s blade always just inches from her body.

Ryan began to gather another twist, but was driven to the ground when something slammed into his back. He felt the air knocked out of his lungs and tasted dirt before he could properly register what had happened, and by then there was already a foot on his spine, pushing him into the ground.

“Nope,” the owner of the foot said. “You’re not pulling any crap right now.”

Ryan recognized the voice. Arnold. He stopped trying to push his face out of the dirt and instead grabbed threads of reality, desperately twisting. I really hope that shoe has a rubber sole, Ryan thought.

A deafening crack split the air, and the pressure on Ryan’s back lessened. He pushed himself up, the smell of dirt being replaced with ozone. Arnold was still standing, but smoke rose from his body and his hair was standing up wild, making him look like a mad scientist with a machine gun. He was blinking his eyes, trying to clear his head. Ryan didn’t give him the chance. He lashed out with a quick kick to Arnold’s stomach, sending the man stumbling back.

He would have followed up the attack, but once again his attention was diverted by the arrival of a new attacker. This one came in the form of a fireball streaking towards Ryan. Ryan twisted had, pulling water out of the air to form a barrier. Steam erupted from where water and fire met, and Ryan cried out as superheated steam worked its way up his arms.

A quick twist chilled the steam to mist, and Ryan dove into the protective covering it offered. Evans. That made all three of the surviving super soldiers, already here. He could hear the sound of steel on steel that indicated Crystal and Diane were still fighting, and after reactivating his divine sight he confirmed that with his own eyes. Arnold was still in the cloud with him, brushing off his shirt.

“Nice moves, kid,” he said, looking around blankly. He doesn’t know how to use his divine sight yet. Ryan dropped into a crouch and began to creep closer to Arnold. If he could get him while he was blind, he could even the odds. “You’ve gotten better since the last time we fought.”

Oh, you have no idea. Ryan reached into his nanoverse and pulled out a sword. This one was unnaturally heavy, with a core of some substance that weighed it down. For a human, it would be near impossible to swing. For a god, it was just about perfect. Ryan tensed his legs and then sprung forward silently, sword raised over his head.

Arnold whirled and stepped forward into the blow, so instead of the sword coming down on his head Ryan’s elbow landed on his shoulder. Before Ryan could react to this change of pace, Arnold’s hand closed in around his neck. “But you never did learn to stay down.” He picked Ryan up and, still holding him by the neck, slammed him into the Earth. “Or how to tell when someone’s bluffing.”

Ryan could feel the need for air building up in his lungs. So many twist in such a short time, he was already at the first hunger. He flipped his grip on the sword and, to Arnold’s surprise, rammed the blade into his opponent’s forearm. Arnold screamed at the pain and let loose his grip on Ryan’s neck, and Ryan stood back up, his back a mass of pain, gathering together threads of reality for a new twist. “You still talk too much,” Ryan said.

Or at least, he tried to. He got out “you” and “still,” but in the brief instant between that and “talk,” his hand exploded in pain. Ryan screamed dropped to the ground, not driven by any combat reflex. His knees just refused to let him still be standing, and for the third time in under a minute, Ryan was down. He looked at his hand, trying to figure out what had happened.

It took a moment for his brain to process what it was seeing. The ring finger on that hand was gone, completely obliterated by an attack Ryan hadn’t even seen coming. He gritted his teeth against the screams and twisted a surge of heat to cauterize the wound.

“About now would be really goddamn good!” Ryan shouted.

That seemed to puzzle his opponents, or at least make them stop short in their advance. Evans had come out of the crowd and switched to a sword of his own. Arnold was pulling Ryan’s sword out of his arm, a movement that made a horrible sound. They were both focused on him completely.

Which meant Evans was completely off guard when Horus descended from the sky, talons outstretched. Those talons raked red lines across Evans’ face. Horus didn’t quite manage to take out one of the super-soldier’s eyes, but blood still poured from the injuries, blocking Evans’ vision.

“Took you long enough,” Ryan growled, his vision still blurred by pain. That will grow back, right? My face grew back after Ross shot it off. The stump where his finger had been throbbed in response.

Horus shifted to human form and skidded to a stop, pulling some kind of high caliber automatic weapon from his nanoverse with one hand and twisting reality with the other. He didn’t target either of the distracted super soldiers, instead setting his sights on Munoz and opening fire. The guns roared like thunder. Munoz was able to dodge out of the way, forcing her apart from Crystal, and the bullets were caught on the web of air Horus had woven.

“Ryan!” Crystal said, taking the break to rush over to him. She was sporting a black eye but otherwise seemed unharmed. “Shit, love, your hand.”

“I’ll live,” Ryan managed to gasp. “Thanks for the save, Horus. It’s good to see you again”

Horus just gave him a curt nod. “I count three,” he said.

“Yeah,” Ryan muttered the word. Where is she? 

Three on three. Last time they’d fought the super soldiers, it had been six on four and Ryan and co had barely made it out alive. If Ryan didn’t have another ace up his sleeve, he’d be panicking right now.

Instead, what he felt was a growing terror that even that wouldn’t be enough.