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The Burning Epoch Part 5

When the helicopters had arrived, Candice and Diane hadn’t stuck around in the living room to see what happened. They’d ran into Diane’s room, the one furthest from the wall, and taken refuge. It seemed like such a pathetic hiding spot, but they couldn’t think of anything else to do. It was better than saying close to the wall and hoping for the best.

Plus, Diane had a television in her room. They could watch the news from here.

“We should go the stairwell,” Diane said. “We should go to the stairwell so we’re not near windows anymore.”

“No,” Candice wasn’t certain of a lot right now – there was very little to be sure of at the moment – but she was certain of that.

The news was still showing Kurt’s livestream. Some other people in other buildings had started streaming as well, and people in other areas, but Kurt was the first and was getting the most attention still.

“So, the helicopters are down,” he said through the television. “The…oh God, the helicopters are down.” He’d relocated to his bedroom and shoved the camera up to the window. “We still don’t know what…wait, I’m seeing movement.”

The camera shifted to put the hole back into focus. More of those scaled arms appeared over the lip. These were smaller, spindlier. The creatures that crawled out, one after another, were about the size of a human, but other than that looked like the bigger ones. They were ganglier, and their eyes wider.

“I think those are…baby Kaiju. They’re baby version of the big Kaiju.” Kurt said. Real insightful commentary there, Kurt, Candice thought. Knowing this was happening right outside her apartment gave the whole thing an air of unreality that was hard to process. Like she was watching from a dream, only the dream was alive and directly in front of her eyes.

“The babies – or juveniles, or whatever they are…they’re going towards the helicopters,” Kurt said, and there was an unmistakable dread in his voice as he turned the camera. “The big Kaiju is…shepherding them towards it.”

Candice hit mute and turned away from the television. Diane was pale and shaky. “They’re going to eat the soldiers alive,” she said, her voice hoarse.

Candice shook her head firmly. “The soldiers…I mean, no one could have survived those crashes.”

“Oh, that makes it so much better,” Diane said, her voice sharp.

“Yes, it does,” Candice said, snapping every word. “Dying in a crash is something I happen to think is better than being eaten alive.”

Diane stared at her for a moment, then looked away. “Fine. Whatever.”

Candice sighed. “Sorry. I’m tense.”

“Gee, can’t imagine why.” Diane gave her a weak grin. “I mean, it’s not like there’s anything going on right now that could be making either of us tense, right?”

Candice responded with a shaky laugh and risked a glance back at the screen. Kurt had turned his camera away from the helicopters, focusing on the Kaiju that was atop 215. It is staring at 213, cocking its head. From outside, Candice could hear it making chirping noises.

She reached out with a trembling hand and turned up the volume.

“- not sure what it’s going to do,” Kurt was saying. “It looks too big to jump down from that height, and I’m not sure how it would climb. It might-oh God, it’s tensing up, it’s getting ready to-”

Kurt’s voice was drowned out by the sound of the Kaiju leaping. It didn’t clear the distance between 215 and 213’s roof. It landed on the side of 213 and latched on with its talons. Candice could hear screaming from inside the building. Diane grabbed a stuffed bear from her bed and held it against her chest.

The Kaiju’s tongue lashed out, bursting through windows. It came out with a screaming woman desperately slapping against the appendage wrapped around her. Candice couldn’t look away as the Kaiju flicked its head and letting go.

The woman screamed the whole way down, landing amidst the young Kaiju on the ground.

Kurt pulled the camera from the window, focusing it on his face. “Okay. Okay. That was…that was horrifying,” he said. His eyes were wide and sweat beaded on his forehead. “I’m going to relocate. I’m going to…I have a friend in the complex. I’m going to go up to her apartment. Candice, if you’re watching, I’m going to be coming up to you. Get a better angle. Everyone else…stay tuned. I’ll be back soon.” He sniffed. “If I don’t sign back on…I didn’t make it. I’m sorry. Jessica, if you’re watching…I love you.”

For a moment Candice felt bile rise in her gullet. How dare he? Coming up here, drawing attention to her and Diane? It was so shitty of him.

But those tears were real. Candice could see that and reminded herself Kurt lived alone. Was he coming up because he wanted a better angle? Or was he coming up because he didn’t want to be alone?

That matched better with the man she knew.

Didn’t mean she wouldn’t kick him in the shin when she saw him.

Right before the feed cut out, there was a pounding on her door. Diane shrieked, which let Candice cover up her own surprised gasp. She ran to the door and poked her eye up to the peephole. For a second, she was convinced it would be one of those big Kaiju out there, or a younger one.

It was Kurt, shaking and pale.

Candice opened the door. “How the hell did you get up here so quick?”

Kurt blinked at her owlishly. “I guess the news has me on a delay,” he said after a moment. “So, they can…so they can cut if I bite the dust.” He chuckled, a sound that turned into a sob halfway through. “Can I…can I come in?”

“You can,” Candice said, holding up a finger. “But if you think I’m letting you record-”

Kurt cut her off. “Ten thousand dollars. I’ll give you ten grand if you let me stream from up here.”

Candice’s mouth clamped shut. That was what she’d make in a month of customer body work. Before the cost of car parts. “You can’t afford that,” she said, almost defensively.

“I couldn’t afford that,” Kurt said, almost sheepishly. “I…have gotten a lot of donations. A lot. I can definitely afford it.”

Candice frowned. “The money won’t do me any good if I get eaten,” she said, knowing how hesitant she sounded.

“Fifteen thousand. For both you and your roommate.”

“Let him in!” Diane said, shouting from her bedroom. Fifteen grand was half a year’s pay for her. Apparently, as frightened as she was, she wasn’t immune to avarice. Candice stepped aside and let him enter.

“Thanks,” Kurt said, letting out a sigh. “I like what you’ve done with the place.”

Candice raised her eyebrow at him. “Really? There’s monsters in the parking lot, but you like what I’ve done with the place.” The last time Kurt had been here had been when she’d moved in, invited a bunch of people she could find on social media up to a housewarming party. A house warming party that had really been about networking and getting clients for her shop, but a housewarming party nonetheless. They’d talked a couple times after then, when he’d been having car problems and brought his car in, and the one time she’d asked for his help with her computer.

Friend was a generous term for what they were. Outside of those interactions, they liked each other’s Facebook posts now and then and bitched about the rent a couple times.

“Okay, yeah, that was stupid,” Kurt said, moving over the window. Candice tensed up. She’d been ignoring the sounds coming from outside, trying her best to push aside whatever horror awaited them out there. “Sorry. I…well, I think that someone needs to show what’s going on here. And from up here it’ll be less…be less visceral.”

“And you realized those small ones are the right size to leap through your window,” Candice said, her voice flat.

“No, why would you think that?” Kurt said, his voice rising about three octaves with the lie. He coughed and flushed. “I mean…okay, yes.”

“We’re not safe up here,” Candice said, her voice low. Diane hadn’t come out of her room yet, and the last Candice had seen her, she’d been ready to go into a full-blown panic attack. Yet she let Kurt in for money…

Kurt shook his head. “I know. The moment they start climbing, I’m running. I’m running, I’m screaming, and I’m probably blubbering. I might even wet myself. I won’t pretend otherwise.” Kurt gave her a grin that shook. “By the way…do you know how to use a gun?”

Candice nodded, and Kurt reached into the back of his pants and pulled one out. “I, uh…”

“Jesus, point that thing somewhere else!” Candice said, stepping away from him. “In fact, give it to me!”

“What?” Kurt said, “I was trying to!”

“Okay, look,” Candice said, trying and failing not to snap. “Your finger is on the trigger. You’re hold a live, loaded gun, with your finger on the trigger. Point that damn thing at the ground and take your finger off the trigger.”

His hand still shaking, Kurt did. Candice stepped forward and, with the care she’d use to remove a live wire, took the gun from his hand. The safety was off. “You could have shot your ass off,” she said.

“Oh.” Kurt looked very small. “Uh…I’m sorry.”

“Me too,” Candice said, thumbing the safety into place and checking the chamber. There was a round in there, as she expected. It was a Desert Eagle .45, what Candice thought of as the Overcompensator. Mostly bought by people who had heard in books and movies it was the most powerful handgun in the world and wanted to make themselves feel big and strong because they were packing serious heat.

“This isn’t your gun,” Candice said flatly.

Kurt shook his head and looked down at the ground. Candice remembered him bending over and picking something up when he’d been in the parking lot.

She decided not to press further. “Fine. Go to the balcony. I’m coming with you. If you draw the Kaiju’s attention, I’m throwing you off.” Kurt started to laugh, and Candice cut it off with a sharp shake of her head. “I’m not sure I’m kidding. You shouldn’t be either. Come on.”

Kurt swallowed hard and followed Candice to see what new horrors awaited them.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 118

The lurching corpses didn’t walk like men, nor did they crawl like beasts. They shambled along the ground, crawling with unnatural motions that stretched their feet too far forwards, their hands too far back. Every motion was jerking and halting, and by all rights the undead should have been moving at a slow, faltering gait. Somehow, however, the motions gave the horrors a sense of fluidity when combined, and their progress was faster than Armin would have expected It was a mockery of human motion, a nightmare symphony composed by someone that wanted to deliberately twist and prevert the very nature of movement itself.

Armin finally got the arccell into place, the satisfying click letting him know it was finally connected. The lines along the side and butt of his arcwand began to glow a bright crimson as it drew power. He took a deep breath to steady his hands then, in a sing swift motion, raised the weapon and took aim.

He wasn’t the only one making preparations. Clarcia had raised her right hand into the air and clenched her left into a fist. Armin recognized the motion – it was meant to draw in light, inviting the energy to flow into the lumcasters open palm and travel through their body so it could condense within their clenched hand. The veins of the closed hand were already starting to glow with the energy trapped within them. Beside her, Guiart had drawn his own arcwand and was raising it towards the approaching monstrosities. His hands weren’t as steady as Armin’s – he was a driver, not a shooter, and it showed in the unease way the tip of his arcwand weaved back and forth.

Aildreda faded into the shadows of a nearby alcove, not yet powering up her weaponry. She would strike when the moment was right, and not an instant sooner. Knowing she was there was a comfort for Armin – it reminded him of fighting alongside Eupheme. Aildreda might not have the umbrist’s ability to walk through the Shadow, but she was more than capable of hiding in darkness and stabbing at the opportune moment.

And Ossman…

Ossman bellowed a wordless challenge and drew his axe, charging the abominations head on.

Armin cursed and fired a beam of unlight into the lead undead. It hit the necrotised flesh and sizzled. The creature was completely unphased by the injury and continued to advance. Of course, Armin thought, and then Ossman was in among them, his axe coming down on the lead undead. It split the creature’s skull in twain, the two halve flopping to the side as Ossman’s arcbladed axe was able to cut it all the way down to the neck.

Ossman stood there for a moment, looking both disgusted and pleased with what he’d accomplished.

Then the undead’s two eyes – now far wider apart than they had been – looked up at Ossman, and the former man reached for him was hands that grasped like claws.

Ossman stumbled back, batting away the grasping arms with the flat of his axe.

Armin opened fire again, this one catching one of the undead in the elbow. It separated the arm from the limb and set the corpse tumbling to the ground. Ossman’s axe flashed, and the creature lost a leg as well.

Somehow, it still managed to lurch towards Ossman. Armin knew his friend well. He could see fear was beginning to settle in, and Ossman took several quick steps back, sweat beginning to bead on his brow. The severed arm began to inch forward along the ground by its fingers, the rest of the limb growing flexible and slithering like a snake.

Armin cursed under his breath. The undead could only be destroyed permanently if they were reduced to ash. Only one person had that power, and Clarcia was still drawing power. Guiart was firing, although he didn’t have Armin’s aim. His shots were mostly those of a soldier – hitting the undead in their torsos. While it managed to cut out huge chunks of flesh, it did nothing to impede them.

They needed to buy more time. As much as he hated doing so, Armin took another deep breath and drew a bit of Light.

In front of him, lines began to emerge along the skin of the undead.

He hadn’t told anyone about this yet. Ever since he’d drawn light directly from the sunstone, ever since his eyes had been changed to glow like the corona of an eclipse, he could use light in one way that he’d never heard before – by holding onto it, he could see the lines of power that flowed with any lumcasting.

It was heretical to even attempt it. Man was not meant to see the flow of light, only its effects. He was playing in the realm of the Little Gods – and even they would surely think twice before such blasphemy.

But what he could see, he could target. Arcwands shot beams of concentrated light. It should be enough to disrupt the field containing the shadow. Free it, allow it to disperse.

He just had to commit blasphemy to allow it happen.

Forgive me, Armin begged as he took aim.

He focused on one of the uninjured undead. The node of light that contained the trapped shadow was located directly under the creature’s right armpit. Armin took aim at the node and let loose a blast.

His aim was off. He hit the undead just under the armpit. That arm now hung limply, strands of flesh barely connecting it to the larger body, but it still remained animate. Armin waivered. It gave the undead an opportunity to reach out and wrap brittle fingers around Ossman’s ankles. Another undead surged forward and drew lines of blood along Ossman’s chest with fingers that ended in wickedly curved claws.

Armin took a deep, steadying breath, and fired again.

This time, his aim was true. The beam of arcfire intersected the node perfectly. The undead paused for a moment.

Then darkness exploded outward from it, a long-trapped shadow freed from the creature’s corpse. It swirled in the air like a hungry cloud of smoke, searching for a vessel and finding none.

And it was broken. Webs of something akin to light crisscrossed its mass, spiderwebs binding and containing the darkness, trying to force it into action.

Unlight, Armin thought, his breathing stopping. Ossman cleaved the head from the undead that had attacked him, and stepped back over the broken corpse of the one that Armin had broken. “How did you manage that shot?” Clarcia asked.

“Luck!” Armin said, hoping he didn’t sound as disingenuous as he felt. “Was just trying to finish off the arm.”

The shadow should have dispersed. The shadow would have dispersed if it had been ordinary necromancy. But the unlight trapped the shadow, bound it, and forced it to action. It floated up to the ceiling, where it waited.

Waited for a new body to inhabit.

Guiart screamed in sudden pain. One of the undead had slipped past Ossman while Armin was woolgathering. A beam of arclight shot out, severing the hand that had gripped Guiart’s arm, fingers digging into his bicep.

Aildreda had emerged from the alcove she’d stepped into. She drew her sword and charged in, the blade singing through the air.

“I need just a few more seconds!” Clarcia said, her voice straining from the power she was holding. Armin could see it clearly now. She glowed to his eyes like the sun – warm and painful to look at for more than an instant.

Armin just hoped they could buy her the time she needed.

Small Worlds Part 221

Pale women with hair of green flame, swimming with black leathery wings better suited for the air, poured out of the portal to the Underworld. They were the Arae, Hades’ favored foot soldiers. As they entered the water, their wings shifted to resemble something closer to fins. Each wielded a spear of black steel. Charon came out after them, his boat maintaining a shell of air over itself. They met the Nereids, clashing with the aquatic children of Poseidon in a violent clash. Behind them were Persephone’s servants, the Erinyes, with coal black skin and hair the color of molten rock. Their wings also shifted to turn to fins in the waves.

The water distorted the sound of steel upon steel. Artemis kicked herself ahead, trying to spot where her arrows would have the greatest effect on the battle.

“You!” Bellowed a voice beneath her, and Artemis turned just in time to catch Poseidon’s trident between its prongs. She held against it as he swam like a torpedo, a funnel of water whipping them ahead and propelling them through the water. “You have ruined everything!

“It was your idea,” Artemis grunted. She glanced over her shoulder to see where he was leading her.

The caste, Poseidon’s fortress in the Aegean – the Coral Citadel. It was an immense structure, built of green stone. Spires off the top of it reached high into the air, far larger than could have been supported without divine intervention – they stretched from the seabed to where the very tips of it poked out of the water and into the open air above the sea. Artemis had no idea how mortals had never found it, but that hardly mattered right now.

He meant to skewer her against the wall. Artemis couldn’t even begin to push back against him as they travelled – not beneath the ocean like this. “You were supposed to fail!” Poseidon roared as the wall of the Coral Citadel loomed ever closer. “You are socially inept huntress. You never should have been able to out maneuver me!”

“Watch me,” Artemis said. The wall was only feet away. With all her strength, Artemis pushed up on the trident. It didn’t budge Poseidon in the slightest, but it did force her downwards. They came so close to the Citadel that her back scraped against the stone. It looked smooth, but like a shark’s skin, it was coarse and inflamed the injury from the harpoon earlier.

Poseidon struck the side of his own citadel, his trident burying itself in the soft stone. Before he could fully register where she had gone, Artemis had drawn two arrows from her quiver and shoved them upwards towards Poseidon’s stomach, weaving bands of fire and earth.

The arrows hit an impossibly compressed barrier of water and stuck there, inches from Poseidon’s chest.  Artemis kicked away, trying to get distance between herself and the enraged sea god. She held out her hand, calling bands of Water to bring her bow to her grasp.

She should have known better to try that in the ocean. With a flick of his wrist, Poseidon snapped her bow in half. Artemis whirled to find him flying at her. The arrows still stuck to the barrier of water.

Artemis let go the weaving she had put into the arrowheads when she’d tried to stab Poseidon. They exploded violently, and the shockwave sent her and Poseidon both tumbling. I’d been hoping to set those off inside of him, Artemis thought with dissatisfaction. She’d been further from the sea god and braced for the explosion. She frantically started kicking, trying to get distance between them.

In front of her, the Kraken’s tentacles emerged from the water. Artemis was second to none when it came from avoiding attacks on the land, but beneath the waves these tentacles could move far quicker than she could hope to. They wrapped around her wrists and legs.

Poseidon approached, keeping pace with her as the Kraken dragged her towards its waiting maw. “You should have just let me win, archer.” Poseidon growled. “You’re not a leader. You were never a leader. I would have let you keep up the pretense though. You would have been second to me as we ruled the seas.”

“Is that what this was about? Ruling the seas?” Artemis couldn’t believe her ears.

“Aye. When the Eschaton ends the world, why would he bother eradicating any life beneath the waves? We will be perfectly poised to shape the next wave of life for this world.”

“And you couldn’t just say that?” Artemis practically shrieked. “If you believe the end of the world is inevitable, then…oh, Stars of Olympus. Zeus shot you down. That’s why you manipulated Hera into killing him finally. And Moloch…”

“Moloch was a complication I had to adapt to,” Poseidon explained, almost apologetically. “I was still figuring out where he fit into my plans.”

Artemis had to laugh. “You’re an idiot, Poseidon.”

He glared at her and then looked ahead. “And you, Artemis, are a snack.” The Kraken’s beak clacked behind her.

She took a moment to look bat on the battlefield. The numbers were more equal, but it was clear the hastily modified underworld spirits were still outmatched by the aquatic servants of Poseidon. She saw an Ara torn apart by a pair of ichthyocentaurs, and a pair of Erinyes skewered on a single harpoon shot from a Nereid. There has to be something. There has to be a way out of this! 

Then she saw them. On the sea floor, right next to the Kraken’s head.

Three open doors.

“You made a mistake, Poseidon,” Artemis said. “You made a mistake, and it’s too late for you to fix it.”

The taunt worked. Poseidon held up a hand and stopped the Kraken just as it was about to devour Artemis. “And what mistake would that be?” he asked, his voice dangerously soft.

“You managed to alienate anyone who you could have made common cause with. Stars of Olympus, if you had gone to the Eschaton and offered to preserve some of humanity beneath the waves, he probably would have helped you. But no. You couldn’t do that. You had to be an ass.”

Poseidon’s eyes narrowed. “Chew her slowly” he commanded the Kraken.

In response, it wailed in sudden pain and let grow its grip on Artemis. Great clouds of blood billowed up from its eyes, which had been carefully detonated.

“What now!?” Poseidon bellowed, turning towards the new attack.

Athena was swimming out of the cloud of blood, and Artemis wanted to cheer to see her. She was followed by Anansi, which was a relief. And then, behind those two, came a third. A woman Artemis had never expected to see again. Arachne, she thought.

At that instant, for entirely different reasons, both her and Poseidon’s blood ran cold.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 117

The new Umbrist leapt back from the expanding circle of fire that surrounded Tythel. The woman considered the flame for a moment. “You are touched in the head,” she said after a moment’s consideration of Tythel’s predicament.

Tythel smiled, collapsed her hammer and shield, and stepped into the inferno that raged around her.

Everything she owned had been treated by Karjon to protect it from flame. A dragon did not keep possessions long without those protections. She was grateful for that – it protected her garments and even the fragile notebooks within her pack. Heat intense enough to sear a human to the bone was comfortable against her scaled hide. She could feel the metal of the hammer and shield growing hot against her back, and reminded herself that this slow, menacing walk had to have an end time.

“The princess just killed herself,” the Umbrist said into a songstone. “I think we’re flathing shadow she’s alive!” 

Tythel came roaring out of the fire, her talons outstretched. The Umbrist fell backwards, and Tythel’s claws only raked across her arms. The Umbrist turned the awkward stumble into a roll, taking herself into the safe shadows of a nearby tree and vanishing.

Tythel whirled, slashing behind herself and downward. The Umbrist was coming up from the shadow, and Tythel’s talons drew lines of blood across her face and torn off the ebon mask she was wearing.

Tythel recognized the woman. The Writ Hunter from the tavern, the one who had seemed to command the others – and the one that Eupheme had seemed so disturbed by. She looked exactly as Tythel remembered her, although with several more bloody lines in her face than she had before.

The Umbrist dove away. The flames had progressed enough that Tythel no longer cast a shadow behind herself, and the woman was caught out in the open. She was still quick as a snake, but Tythel did not need to fear the flames that were penning them in.

Above the treeline, Tythel heard a sudden curse, followed by hacking coughs. The wind had carried the smoke to the lumcaster, it seemed. “Eupheme! Meet at the rendezvous!”

She didn’t know if Eupheme heard her. She didn’t know if Eupheme would listen. Deepest shadow, she might be furious with me for trying to send her away. Tythel brushed the thought away. This was different. Eupheme had a choice this time. Sure, and she could have come out from behind the rocks last time, and she didn’t because it was too dangerous. But that didn’t stop her from being furious with you. Just like she will be for this trick. 

Tythel growled at her own internal monologue. The wind was spreading the flames, and she added to the torrent.

A thick cloud of smoke rose up, obscuring the ground. She could still hear Catheon buzzing up there in the smoke, but he didn’t come any lower – and his unlight beams had ceased for the time.

The Umbrist was gone. Tythel was certain of that, at least. A blazing forest would be a poor battlefield for a woman who relied on shadows for fighting. Just like Eupheme…are you certain you haven’t burned her too? 

It was too late to undo it. Tythel forced the thought down, as she had already, and hoped she’d be able to keep that away for a bit longer.

Tellias was coughing in his armor. The repeated blows from Catheon had cracked his breastplate and driven him to the forest floor. Smoke was gathering around him, and the armor was beginning to glow with heat. Tythel rushed forward and scooped him up in her arms, grunting at the exertion. This armor was heavy. Far heavier than Tythel remembered it – although when they’d been carrying it before, they’d expelled the arccell. And he was storing the weapons they’d purchased.

“Tythel…” Tellias said, coughing roughly before he couldn’t continue. “Get out of here…they’ll be waiting when the fire clears…”

Tellias descended into another round of hacking coughs, and Tythel chose to ignore his protest. He was absolutely right. They’d seen her survive fire, they’d expect her to take refuge in the flame.

Thankfully, that wasn’t her entire plan.

Many of the landmarks she’d been relying on had been burned away in the fire, but Tythel didn’t need to see what she was looking for. She could hear it, the wind whistling by.

Tellias still cradled in her arms, Tythel took a step towards salvation. Each footstep was like walking up a river, and the weight of Tellias in her arms was burning her shoulders. The slice in her side from the Umbrist’s spear was screaming in protest, and Tythel had to grit her teeth against the pain before she could take another step. Then a third. The effort was greater than she’d imagined, and her lungs started to burn – not from heat and smoke and flame, but from the sheer exertion of carrying this much weight.

Halfway there, Tythel told herself. You’re halfway to safety. 

A burning log fell in front of her path, missing her by a tiny distance. She crushed the half-burned wood under her foot, and felt splinters dig into her scales. She wasn’t sure if they broke the skin. Her ankles were in enough pain to make it impossible to tell.

He shouldn’t be this heavy, Tythel thought, but pushed the thought aside. It was extraneous, useless, and needless – and the answer was obvious. Tythel had spent a day draped over a shoulder. She’d been in a fight, she’d burned strength with dragonflame, and she hadn’t slept since yesterday morning. Tellias wasn’t abnormally heavy – she was just exhausted.

She could see her destination ahead, and took a step with renewed confidence.

Her foot landed in a hole belonging to some small, burrowing animal, and she collapsed to the ground. She could feel something in her ankle give, and involuntarily roared at the sudden pain radiating up from her leg. Her ankle was blazing with pain.

“Tythel!” Tellias said, fighting back a cough, his voice more insistent. “You have to go!”

Tythel looked down at him, staring directly into the helmets eye hole. He was right. He was absolutely right. The safest option would be to leave him and run to safety.

“No,” she growled, and she wrapped her hands under Tellias’ ankle. “I’m not losing anyone else.” Gingerly, she put weight on the injured leg. It protested, but it didn’t cave. Just a twist then.

Tythel heaved Tellias along the ground for the last few steps, tears springing to her eyes with each weight on her bad ankle, before they finally reached what Tythel desperately had hoped was safety.

Together, they tumbled into the hole in the earth Catheon had created.

Small Worlds part 220

The Adriatic Sea was one of the most beautiful oceans on the world. As a girl, long before finding her Nanoverse, Artemis had enjoyed spending hours along its banks, hunting – sometimes alongside Apollo, sometimes alone. In that time, almost no humans lived along vast stretches of its shores, and she could go out there and be completely alone. Even after she had found her nanoverse and then scoured the globe to find one for Apollo, she’d come out there sometimes to enjoy the solitude. What had impressed her most back then was how clear the water was – it had felt like she could have stared straight to the bottom if there was only a bit lighter.

Today, that water was growing murky with the spilled blood of the god and monster alike.

Artemis’ bowstring thrummed in rapid succession, letting loose a trio of arrows that buried themselves in the chests of approaching Nereids. Blood began to leak into the water around them, and some of the shark mounts began to frenzy, turning on their bleeding riders. Artemis turned away from the sight – they weren’t threats anymore. “Fall back!” she shouted. Water rushed into her mouth, but the words came out clearly. She still found herself choking on seawater.

It took only a tiny portion of her divine power to allow a bow and arrow to work under water, but as long as the battle had been raging, Artemis was beginning to feel the strain of even that. Her body Hungered for air, a hunger that normally never bothered her. She shifted her body slightly, spouting gills along her neck and the sides of her ribcage. It was not the first adaptation she’d made for underwater combat, and she kicked away from the approaching horde with webbed feet. “Fall back!” she repeated. “Fall back or we’ll be overrun!”

Harpoons flew through the water around her, and one grazed her back. She gritted her teeth against the pain. Triton had lent some of his own ichor to all of these projectiles, and they sliced through divine flesh without problem.

Aphrodite spread her fingers, and bands of water wove themselves into a solid net between the retreating Olympians and Poseidon’s army. Hera flung out her hand and threw a web of fire into the net, boiling the sea between the bands.

Artemis saw the frustration on Hera’s face and knew it was mirrored on her own. On the surface, out in open air, that much heat would have incinerated a sizeable chunk of this army. Beneath the waves, it helped create a field of hot water and not much else.

Artemis landed on the floor of the ocean and held out her hand, grabbing threads of Air and Aether. She created a bubble of dry air on the ocean floor, and the other Olympians joined her. “We can’t keep this up!” Demeter said as soon as she entered the bubble.

“I can only hold this bubble for so long, and the Kraken or Scylla will find us soon,” Artemis growled as others joined them. “I need useful suggestions, please.” Already, Harpoons were being shot through the makeshift barrier and into the bubble of air. The difference between air and water meant they missed, but it would only before a matter of time before the Nereids drew near enough to open fire through the air.

“Hestia is dead,” Hephaestus intoned sourly, something small clutched between his fingers. He held it up to reveal her nanoverse.

“And you sent Hermes away,” Aphrodite sniffed.

“Enough,” Hera snapped, drawing all eyes to her. “We are also missing others. Artemis was chosen to lead. Shouldn’t we follow her?”

Artemis gave the older woman a look of pure thanks. Ever since Poseidon had turned on them, Hera had become Artemis’ staunchest supporter. It’s only because she wants you to vote to reinstate her once Zeus resurrects, Artemis reminded herself. At least, that was her best theory.

Either way, it worked in her favor.

“Fine,” Demeter said, wringing sea-water from her hair. “Then what’s your plan?”

The truth was, Artemis didn’t have one. This wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near this hard. Fighting Poseidon in the ocean was going to be difficult, but eight on one were odds that should have made it less of a fight and more of an execution. Even with Thalassa supporting him, they still would have outnumbered them four to one.

“We need to hold out till Hermes returns with reinforcements,” Artemis said. “The plan isn’t changed.”

“Hermes left before the others showed up!” Aphrodite said, the snap in her voice vanishing after a glance from Hera. “It’s not just Triton and Thalassa out there!”

Artemis didn’t need the reminder. On top of those three, on top of the Scylla and the Kraken, two other sea gods had joined the fray on Poseidon’s side. Ceto, the goddess of sea monsters – who was bringing in more creatures by the minute to reinforce Poseidon’s side – and Eurybia. Five gods, two monsters, and the gods and monsters arrayed against them were all in their natural habitat.

“It gets worse than what you know,” Aphrodite said with a scowl. “I saw my ex out there. Nerites. Nerites is commanding the Nereids.”

Make that six gods and two monsters. 

“All we have to do is hold out,” Artemis repeated, her voice firm. “Hermes will bring us back reinforcements. He’s never failed before.”

“Even if he does,” Apollo said, his voice calm, “what good would it do? That little mishmash pantheon Athena has been working on would-”

“Would almost double our numbers with fresh troops, and bring us two war goddesses, a Trickster, and a storm goddess. Under the waves. We need them.”

“There’s still an army,” Apollo objected in the same reasonable tones as before.

“Which is why Athena was not Hermes’ first stop,” Artemis said, meeting his gaze with level eyes.

Everyone looked at her. “What aren’t you telling us?” Hera asked, suspicion now in her eyes.

As if on cue – Artemis wouldn’t be surprised to learn the god in question had been waiting and listening to make a dramatic entrance – a bolt of fire split the air in the center of the gathered Olympians. Tiny hands, the color of a moonless night, grabbed onto the edge of the tear and tore it apart until it was wide enough to allow traversal.

Hand in hand, Hades and Persephone stepped out onto the sea floor. Hades was wearing a black suit, his bident resting on his shoulder. Persephone at least had dressed for the occasion, wearing a black wetsuit and had her hair tightly bound behind her head. “Well,” Hades said with an overly friendly grin, “I do hope I’m in the right place.”

“You could have arrived a little later. Maybe after we were all dead?” Artemis extended her hand, and Hades shook it. “Thank you for coming.”

Hades opened his mouth to answer, but Persephone cut him off. “They’re closing in. Hades and I will supply the army. You need to hold them off.”

Artemis nodded and turned to ready her bow as the water rushed back in around them.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 116

Tythel threw herself to the side as the unlight beam approached and covered her head with her shield as the beam stopped tearing through the forest floor and struck the tree that had briefly been covering her.

That saved her. The unlight hit the tree and, for a moment, it sucked in all light that was hitting its branches, creating a massive circle of darkness around herself and its trunk.

Then it exploded, sending unlight-infused splinters spiraling through the air, a hail of deadly shrapnel that could have punched through her scaled hide. She could feel a couple pieces stick into her arms and tore them out with hisses of pain. The idea of having to endure unlight poisoning again was motivation enough to overcome the sharp stinging sensation.

“Move!” Tellias hissed, and Tythel realized she was exposed. She got up and ran, moments before a beam of unlight impacted the forest floor she’d just vacated. This time, it wasn’t a sweeping beam. It drilled into the ground, sending chunks of earth and stone flying away, and unlight corruption began to seep into the leaves and trees.

Tellias opened fire with one of the arcwands, beams of crimson light lancing up towards where the attacker was. The beam shifted in direction and angle as the flying Alohym twisted away from the incoming fire. “Die you monster!” the human inside the flying Alohym-suit screamed, still propelling unlight into the spot Tythel had vacated.

Tythel didn’t want to dissuade him of the notion that he’d managed to strike her. She began to scrabble up a nearby tree with her talons. Get above the tree line and burn him while he’s distracted, Tythel thought to herself. No time to focus on the energy needed for ghostflame. If she hit him hard enough, she might be able to ground him, and once that happened…then they’d at least be on a more even playing field.

She reached the top of the tree before the man inside was finished firing. He was every bit as imposing at Tythel remembered. Easily as tall as Tellias in the armor, but slender and graceful with an unnatural grace. The huge thorax that emerged from behind his legs was shrinking as he maintained the beam of unlight, and Tythel could hear his breathing, ragged with every second.

Ragged and…sniffling. He was crying. The man inside the Alohym skin was crying as he fired into the ground, thinking he was killing Tythel.

Pushing her confusion aside, Tythel took a deep breath and let out a torrent of dragonflame.

It was perfect. The flying Alohym didn’t see it coming. It streaked towards his back, completely unaware, and Tythel braced herself to leap as soon as he fell.

The fire struck a golden barrier before it could hit the flying man, flaring outwards from the impact a good span away from the Alohym’s back.

Oh, right, Tythel thought, looking around wildly. The lumcaster. He was there, in a nearby tree, and waved his fingers when he saw Tythel looking. “Careful, Catheon,” the lumcaster said. He was speaking quietly enough that he likely didn’t believe that Tythel could hear him.

At least she had a name for the man in the flying Alohym suit. Catheon.

Tythel leapt from the tree and latched onto another one. She began to run through the branches, using the skills she’d honed long ago in Karjon’s valley with her new strength and talons for better grip. The lumcaster’s eyes widened as Tythel drew near, brachiating like an ape to close the distance. He leapt out of the tree and began to channel a barrier of golden light.

Tythel landed and heard Eupheme appear behind her. Good, that means I don’t have to worry about my back. Tythel prepared herself to smash her unlight hammer against the lumcaster’s barrier – when it occurred to her that Eupheme’s footsteps sounded wrong. Too heavy, too quick.

She turned just in time to prevent the woman behind her from ramming a spear through her heart. It glanced off Tythel’s ribcage instead, drawing a line of blood. Tythel hit the ground and rolled away from her attack. It wasn’t Eupheme. She was too tall, wrapped head-to-toe in black fabric, and carried a spear that glowed with unlight.

Some other umbrist had joined the fight. An umbrist on the side of the Alohym.

Tythel took a deep breath, fighting aside the pain as best she could. The Umbrist was every bit as fast as Eupheme, and Tythel found herself leaping back repeatedly to avoid getting impaled.

The real Eupheme had appeared behind the Lumcaster. He’d managed to create a collar of light around himself to prevent Eupheme from slitting his throat from behind and had banished all shadows around him. He was now engaged in a swordfight with Eupheme, who was forced to only rely on her speed and skills. In that, at least, the Lumcaster seemed to equally match her.

A beam of unlight streaked from the sky again. This time it slammed into Tellias, driving him to one knee. Catheon – didn’t maintain the beam this time. Tythel prayed he couldn’t, or they were damned.

She caught the head of the new umbrist’s spear on her shield and reminded herself they might be damned either way.

They needed a plan, desperately. They were out maneuvered, out armed, and running short on time. Tythel couldn’t even use her greatest weapon here, not without…

A horrible, dangerous, and beautiful plan occurred to Tythel. She took a deep breath between the umbrist’s strike and let loose a stream of flame. The umbrist ducked into the shadow of a tree and vanished, reappearing on the other side of Tythel, but Tythel wasn’t aiming for her. Tythel spun around, maintaining the flame as she did.

The flame nearly caught the Umbrist mid-leap. She twisted her body in the air, the flames just barely missing her, and the daggers that had been aimed for Tythel’s back went wide. She landed with a curse and rolled to the side, and Tythel chased her with the flame. “You’re going to burn us all!” she shouted at Tythel.

No. I won’t, Tythel thought grimly as she maintained the stream of fire and pivoted in a full circle.

Around her, the forest burst into flame.

Small Worlds part 219


Ryan gestured, grabbing equations that governed gravity around the cat thing, and set himself as ‘down.’ The creature began to scrabble along the ground as it slid towards Ryan, but the street as far, as it was concerned, was a perfectly horizontal wall. It flew off the ground when it got close. Ryan grabbed it by the throat and let gravity return to normal. The creature yowled and shifted back into a human. “I didn’t know you were him!” the man screamed in Ryan’s grip. “I didn’t know!”

Ryan looked at the man critically. He was in his late teens, maybe a young looking early twenty.  Aside from the blood on his face and shirt, he looked like a perfectly normal human. “What’s your name?” Ryan asked, the withheld fury making his voice sound dangerously calm.

“Billy. My name’s Billy.”

Ryan took in the new information with a level glare. “Hi Billy. You seem to know who I am.”

Billy nodded frantically, so hard that it almost slipped him out of Ryan’s grip. Ryan could feel the immense strength this man possessed. Against a human, it wouldn’t even be a fair fight. Billy would tear them apart with almost no exertion. Ryan didn’t want to try to arm-wrestle Billy, but it seemed Billy was too cowed right now to even realize that he could pose a threat to a god. “You’re the Eschaton.”

“That’s a pretty big word there, Billy. You know what it means?”

Billy nodded again. “It means…she said you’re going to end the world.”

“She?” Ryan asked quizzically, sure he knew the answer. “Who is ‘she?’”

Billy swallowed hard, and Ryan could feel the motion travel down Billy’s throat. “She’ll…she’ll kill me.”

“Oh, will she?” Ryan lifted Billy off the ground and with a single, fluid motion, slammed him into the asphalt hard enough to crack the black stone. Billy grunted with pain and brought his hands up to clutch at Ryan’s arm. “She’s not here right now, Billy. I am. You tell me, you might have time to run.”

Billy’s eyes widened as Dianmu and Nabu stepped into view. “I…it was Cassandra, okay? Cassandra?”

Huh. Ryan thought with the part of his brain that was still running logic under the outrage. “Cassandra?” He glanced sideways at Dianmu. “Any chance it’s the Cassandra?”

Dianmu shook her head. “She was mortal.”

Ryan glanced back at Billy. “Who the hell is Cassandra?”

“The first of us,” Billy whispered. “She was the first of us.”

“And what are ‘you,’ Billy?” Ryan asked. He was kneeling down, and lowered his face even closer so Billy could clearly see the rage that burned inside Ryan’s chest right now.

“Cardiophage,” Billy whimpered. “She said we were…Cardiophages.”

“Heart-eater,” Nabu supplied helpfully. “From the Greek Kardia, meaning ‘heart,’ and phagein meaning-”

“To devour,” Ryan finished for him, focusing on Billy. “So you eat hearts.”

“Y-yes,” Billy stammered. “Oh God please don’t kill me!”

“I’m not sure yet,” Ryan said. “Tell me, Billy, why the hell shouldn’t I kill something that eats hearts!?” The last two words came out in a scream, and flecks of spittle flew out of Ryan’s mouth and onto Billy’s face.

“Easy, Enki,” Dianmu said quietly.

The last word was like a bucket of cold water on Ryan’s head. He’d used the exact same trick Enki had used to pull Billy into range, and then was holding him up to his face and screaming in it like a monster. For the first time Ryan took a good look at Billy. This guy was a kid, and the blood on his face was mixing with tears and snot. Ryan felt sick at himself.

“Because…because,” Billy said, hiccupping with fear. “Because I didn’t want this, man! I just wanted to ask a girl out and then I’m…I’m being fed my own heart and…” Billy sniffed loud and deep. “I didn’t want this!”

Ryan leaned back and took his hand off Billy’s neck, replacing the grip with a twist to gravity just strong enough to keep the young man – the cardiophage – pinned to the ground. He rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Damnit. Thank you Dianmu.”

Dianmu gave him a small smile. “Crystal told me all about your encounters with him, in great detail.” Her smile faded. “It’s your first time dealing with this kind of horror, isn’t it?”

Ryan nodded, suddenly feeling hollow and empty. “I miss the days when the monsters were mummies or goblin-vampire-werewolf things. Hell, for that matter, I miss the days when there were no monsters.”

“Anthropophagi,” Nabu said thoughtfully.

“Man-eater?” Ryan said, looking at Nabu. “Are you okay, Nabu? Billy here said Cardiophage.”

“If a god turns into an anthropophagi, it’s always a unique kind,” Dianmu said, picking up where Nabu had left off. Ryan appreciated it – it saved Nabu the trouble of re-explaining what an anthropophagi was. “And they are always able to create spawn like themselves. It’s part of why the vampire myth is so universal.”

Ryan felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach and turned back to Billy. “Who does Cassandra serve?” he asked.

Billy looked at Ryan with wild eyes and mouthed a word. It was too low a whisper for Ryan to make out. Ryan knelt back down and leaned his ear near Billy’s voice.

“Look behind you,” Billy said, then snapped his rapidly shifted jaws down on Ryan’s ear. Ryan roared with pain and pulled away, clenching one hand to the side of his head. Blood poured between his fingers, and Billy was laughing, the previous fear vanished in an instant. Ryan whirled and snapped his fingers. Billy’s laughter ended in a sudden wet, sticky sound as the gravity on his chest increased to the power of ten.

“You shouldn’t have hurt my child,” Bast said. She was standing on a rooftop, flanked by dozens of the cat-things that Ryan had seen earlier. “Although I would have killed him for harming you, Eschaton.” Bast gave him a cruel smile. “We should talk.”

Ryan cauterized the bleeding stump where his ear had been as Bast leapt off the roof in a graceful bound.


The Burning Epoch Part 4


The Emergency Room at Mercy Hospital was never a boring place to work. Even on slower nights, like tonight had been, there was always a tension in the air. It was the anticipation, the expectation, that at any moment someone could come through those doors on an ambulance, barely clinging to life, and it would be up to Brenda Newman and her team to keep them from shuffling off this mortal coil and heading into whatever came next.

At the moment, they didn’t have anyone like that. At the moment, the only people waiting for attention weren’t the true emergencies, but the people for whom emergency care was their only option. These were the people who only went to the hospital when they absolutely had to, and all of them knew that it would mean months of calls from bill collectors for bills they couldn’t pay.

There were a few repeat visitors Brenda – Dr. Newman to her colleagues – recognized out there. Robert Burnham was shifting uncomfortably, and Brenda sent a silent prayer to whatever Saint cared for overworked trauma doctors that Mr. Burtham did not need anything removed from his colon this time – or if he did, it was something easier than another damn action figure. Karen Gillman was holding her son Chuck on her lap, shushing tears he wasn’t actually shedding. He looked more annoyed than anything. Ms. Gillman was going to insist her son had a serious injury, and when they talked to him, he’d roll his eyes and say he bumped his shin on a coffee table, or pinched his finger in a book binder, or something equally absurd. Probably. You always had to assume it was serious but based on how Chunk looked more annoyed than anything else, Brenda assumed that was the case.

Those were the repeat visitors she could smile and shake her head about. They were frustrating, and they sucked up resources that could have been used for patients with actual emergencies, but on slow nights like tonight, they weren’t hurting anyone.

Then there were the other returns that made her want to tear her hair out. Shannon O’Dowell’s cough was back, a cough that wouldn’t respond to treatment for long, a cough that required tests that Ms. O’Dowell couldn’t afford. She’d managed to quit smoking, but even at forty, Brenda was afraid it was too late. Mike Gallant had a black eye again, and his speech was slurred. He wasn’t a belligerent drunk, and he didn’t need his stomach pump this time, but he was going to drink himself into an early grave if things didn’t change. Brenda wanted to do more to help them, but there were limits. Shannon especially – Brenda had seriously considered pushing her into an MRI and bribing the techs not write it down if it came back negative. If they could get a diagnosis, they could get coverage for the treatment – but it was a catch 22, because Shannon couldn’t afford an MRI that ended up coming back negative and didn’t believe that she was a sick as Brenda was sure she was.

She’d been about to approach Shannon about that when the EAS started. That had completely changed the demeanor of the hospital. Everyone went from the sleepy tension of a slow shift with minor problems to the high tension of waiting, expectation. Rooms filled with non-critical cases were emptied, their patients moved to other parts of the hospital if they still needed attention. If they didn’t, they were placed in waiting rooms and told not to try to leave yet. Alerts were sent to all on call personal, making sure they were awake and alert and prepared. They wouldn’t be called in yet, not until it was clear it was safe for them to travel in, but they were now ready. The helicopter was checked and made sure it was ready to support emergency services.

She’d been so busy preparing for the emergency, Brenda had actually missed what it was about. The first she realized it wasn’t a normal emergency, that it wasn’t a nascent tornado or impending flood or something worse was during the President’s speech. It took her a moment to understand what she was hearing when she walked in near the end. “-I have been informed another term is being preferred – Kaiju. A Japanese word that existed in popular culture for decades and means ‘strange beast.’ I think this term truly is the best, because while they are indeed strange and dangerous, they are also just that. Beasts. Animals.”

“What the hell?” she said to one of her nurses. Clint Oberman was one of the best damn nurses Brenda had ever worked with, which – given that his stated reason for choosing his career was the male to female ratio – was a source of constant amazement, but that was only if you didn’t know that he said that because he was covering. He didn’t think he could have cut it in med school, but actually wanted to help people. His disapproving father had torn into him for working a ‘sissy job,’ so Clint had built the act carefully to justify his job to his father and himself.

He was good in a crisis, and aside from the ratio jokes, was never inappropriate. He could do his job well, and right now, the skill Brenda most valued was his ability to summarize quickly, concisely, and without emotion. “Monsters came out of sinkholes. Saw footage of one. Here in town. Dinosaur looking things. Thousands. Maybe more.”

Brenda did not stare at him and demand to know if he needed to do a drug test. Clint would never joke about something like this, not when it matched so well with the President’s speech. “Clint, grab two of the EMTs. I want them to go over to the emergency veterinary clinic down the street. Tell them we’re going to need their help.” It was a risk, but it was a calculated one. Clint’s forehead furrowed, but he nodded and ran towards the door.

She could justify the costs to her boss afterwards. Veterinarians knew animal bites better than anyone, they knew how to treat them, and were used to saving lives on a tenth of the budget Brenda operated with. If anyone would come in handy for the surge they were about to face, it would be the veterinarians.

“We will endure, and we will triumph. And again, I assure you, if you are in an impacted area – do not panic. Help is coming. God bless.”

The President’s speech closed, and the TV station cut to the footage of the kaiju attack here in town. The analysts were talking about his speech, but Brenda couldn’t hear them. Not over the pounding in her ears. Not over the sudden weakness in her knees.

That was Sunny Grove apartments. Where her sister and nephew lived. Sunny Grove. The kaiju were in Sunny Grove.

Brenda took a deep breath, and then another one. The nurses were looking at her. The other doctors were looking at her. This was her team, her people. They needed her to hold it together. You can do this, she assured herself. “Alright everyone,” she said, her voice carrying a confidence she didn’t feel. “You heard the President. Help is coming. We have to hold the line until then. If this is happening across the city, we’re going to see-”

Screams echoed from the waiting room. Speech time was over. Brenda joined the rush to see what was happening.

Karen of the fragile son was staring out the window, her boy clutched tightly to her, backing away. One hand was outstretched, pointing, and she was still screaming, a long, unbroken wail. Brenda followed her arm to see what she was pointed at.

A reptilian eye the size of a grapefruit with glowing golden veins was staring through the window, attached to a creature that looked like it had stepped out of myths and legends. Its scales were white with gold accents, its body was long and serpentine, and its wings…it had wings. Large, leathery appendages like a bat’s currently hugged close to its body.

Dangling from its teeth were a pair of blue scrubs, and a human arm, an arm with a barbed-wire tattoo, a tattoo that Brenda had last seen on Clint as he rushed out of the room.

The dragon – there was no other word for it – arced its head back and tossed the rest of Clint’s remains into its mouth. Karen had stopped screaming, although she was still pointing, her mouth open, frozen in a silent shriek of terror.

You killed him, Brenda thought, frozen to the spot. She wasn’t sure if she was blaming Clint or the dragon.

Overhead, she heard the whirring sound of helicopters. The dragon did too, whipping its head to the side, and it hissed a challenge that Brenda could feel in her bones. It extended those immense wings, and Brenda could see her initial impression they were wrong. They weren’t quite like a bat wings. Large sacks hung under the wings, close to the body.

Then the helicopter opened fire. “Get down!” Brenda screamed, following her own advice and throwing herself to the floor. The sound of shattering glass and the roaring of the minigun drowned out the screams inside. Brenda could barely even hear herself over the torrent. Some of the bullets found their mark and struck the dragon. A strange, glowing gold liquid began to flow from the injuries.

The dragon roared, and those sacks under its wings contracted. A blue light filled the hospital and a burst of heat, as the dragon launched itself into the air like a rocket. The gust of wind they created sent shards of glass flying in a deadly hail.

In the aftermath, the dragon was gone. Shannon would never have to worry about her medical bills again, not with the foot-long shard of glass wedged into her throat. She kicked a couple times, her eyes wide with terror, and then the light in them went out. People were screaming, people were crying, and there was so much blood.

She pushed the earlier guilt aside. At least Brenda knew what to do here. She began to bark orders, taking command of the situation. She couldn’t save Clint. She couldn’t save Shannon. But she would be damned if another person died because she made the wrong call. She’d assign blame later. She’d hate herself later. Right now, she had to care for the living.

It was time to hold the line.


The Dragon’s Scion Part 115

The Writ Hunters didn’t approach like soldiers. They didn’t start with a single barrage of unlight fire designed to cut them down. Instead, uncoordinated beams lancing through the air and cutting swaths of darkness across the woods. Tythel dropped behind her shield and let the beams ricochet off it. Eupheme ducked into the shadow of one of the trees and vanished. And Tellias just stood there, letting the arcplate absorb the beams, an implacable force against the attack.

Just as Tythel was thinking this was going to be too easy, two of them broke out of cover, weapons raised and charging, a howling fury darkened by unlight weapons. They were the two with the ringwands, and when they fired, expanding circles of unlight sliced through branches and shrubs in their path.

Tythel could feel the impact all the way up her arm as one impacted her shield, grunting against the sudden force. She dug her talons into the forest floor before she went skidding away. Tellias took a ring to his chest and was sent tumbling backward. Tythel could hear him cursing in the armor as the dry leaves crunched under his bulk.

I can’t use flame in here, Tythel realized. She gritted her teeth and charged towards one of the shooters. The man fired a couple more rings, each one striking her shield and slowing her for a moment, but her advance was inexorable. He cursed and drew an unlight blade, just in time to block her hammer strike.

The shockwave of the hammers detonation against the shield drove the man to one knee and sent branches snapping nearby. The man’s eyes widened, and he slashed at her with the sword, a frantic, desperate motion. Tythel caught it with the edge of her shield, inches away from her stomach.

He was so focused on her, the writ hunter didn’t see Eupheme step out of his shadow. He didn’t know she was there until her dagger drew a thin line across his throat.

Eupheme was gone before the Writ-Hunter hit the ground.

The three who were still firing from range had been focusing their fire on Tellias, but when their compatriot collapsed, Tythel could hear angry curses. It gave her enough time to bring her shield back up before they could perforate her.

She dropped to one knee, making sure the shield completely covered her body and braced herself as the impacts struck her shield over and over again. The unlight crystal in the back of her shield was drawing in a higher amount of light as it strained to compensate for the repeated impacts.

She was pinned.

Tellias had engaged the ringwand wielder. He didn’t throw his weapon aside as the first one had, instead dropping to one knee under Tellias’ wide strike, shooting an upward blast into Tellias’s chest. That close, the ringwand had enough force to lift him armor up into the air from the impact.  He landed on his back, and the attacker stepped over him, ready to shoot him in the chest again.

Then Eupheme stepped out of the shadows and ran the shooter through with a dagger into his back.

The shooters in the brushes were beginning to panic, firing wildly at any movement they could see. “Run!” Tythel shouted. “Run and live!”

All she managed to do was focus their fire back on her. That…suited her purposes perfectly. With the pressure off them, Eupheme and Tellias were able to dispatch the remaining three with relative ease.

The forest was oddly silent in the wake of the short battle. No animal stirred in the wake.

“That was too easy,” Eupheme said, stepping out of a tree behind Tythel.

“Agreed,” Tellias said, walking back their way with the unlight weapons slung over his shoulder. “They might have been arrogant, but that arrogant? I find it hard to countenance.”

“Because they were betrayed,” Tythel said, blinking in thought.

The other two looked at her. Before she could elaborate, Eupheme reached up and smacked her forehead with the palm of her head. “Right, of course. There were five of them.”

“And the sixth never showed,” Tythel said, “which means they were probably counting on him to assist in taking us down – they were arrogant because they had a trump card they thought ensured victory.”

“Someone who could enable them to watch us from afar,” Tellias said, arriving at the same conclusion as Tythel. “You think they had a Lumcaster.”

Tythel nodded. “A powerful one, someone able to bend light to watch us.”

Eupheme vanished into a shadow of the tree without warning. Tythel looked at Tellias, and then stepped behind him, pressing her back to his, her shield raised. I should have thought there might be an attack coming, Tythel thought, cursing herself for the oversight.

Eupheme reappeared a moment later. “He’s gone,” she said. “At least, he’s not with their camp.”

“A single Lumcaster couldn’t fight the three of us alone,” Tellias said as the tension began to drain out of his posture. Tythel was amazed she could feel it through the armor, but he’d been wound tighter than a clock spring. “We’re safe.”

“So…why didn’t he strike?” Tythel asked, stepping away from Tellias so she could see both him and Eupheme. “If he had come with the others…” Tythel didn’t need to finish the thought. A lumcaster could have hampered her, banished the shadows Eupheme relied upon, even restrained Tellias’ armor. It would have completely changed the slaughter they’d just perpetrated against their attackers.

“Do you hear him, Tythel?” Eupheme asked.

Tythel held up a finger to pause the conversation and listen. She could hear in the distance animals that hadn’t been frightened by the fight. She could hear the rustle of leaves on the winds. She could hear heartbeats, but none that sounded human. And she could hear a buzzing on the air, like the wings of a great wasp.

Oh no, Tythel thought, her eyes widening. “They’re here!” Tythel shouted, scrambling for the cover of one of the trees. “The flying Alohym is here!”

Eupheme and Tellias leaped for cover as a great beam of unlight lanced out of the sky and carved a furrow in the earth directly towards where Tythel hid.

Small Worlds part 218

Ryan had expected a battlefield.

It was night in North America when he set foot in Grant, a town he’d never thought he’d returned to after the encounter with the mummies of lost Ys. It had been almost a blip on his radar, noteworthy to him mainly as the first time he and Athena had fought side by side. Mainly, it had been a reminder of how little regard Bast and Moloch held for human life.

Now that he was back here, he expected to walk into another war zone. Whatever horrific monsters Bast had conjured running through the streets, the civilians of Grant shooting from windows and stores. He hadn’t expected the silence.

It wasn’t the normal silence one associated with a sleepy small town in rural America. That silence was comfortable, like a warm blanket on a cold night. This silence? It had a harsh, metallic edge to it. The silence that came after a car crash or an explosion, like a ringing in your ears that’s hiding the screams. “Are we too late?” He said.

Dianmu shook her head next to him. She’d already drawn a glaive out of her nanoverse, and was giving the empty street a suspicious gaze. “There were still flashes on the Zoisphere. There are people still alive here.”

Nabu stood on the other side. He looked as calm and composed as Ryan remembered, and it was both comforting and deeply disturbing to have Nabu back again. If he pulls out a notebook, I might scream, Ryan thought, then pushed the thought aside. It wasn’t important. He had to manage. He could deal with his old trauma after he saved whatever was left of this town. “Come on,” he said and started to walk down the empty street.

There were signs something had happened here. The McDonald’s the passed had its windows shattered, and a strong smell of offal wafted from that building. Grant’s one Cafe also had a broken window, and through the window Ryan could see a hand stretched out from under a table, the rest of the body hidden by the booths. He turned on his divine sight to confirmed what he already suspected – whoever that hand belonged to was dead, and had been for some time, their body cooled down to the same temperature as the floor beneath them. Dried blood had pooled there, attracting flies.

The next store, the town’s lone bookstore, had a dead body propped up against the door. Ryan walked over to the corpse. This man, whoever he had been, looked like he was in his late thirties, early forties. He might have been handsome in life. It was hard to tell. Death had not been kind to him. His mouth and eyes were both opened wide, frozen in the terror of his final moments, and someone – or some thing – had torn open his chest and ripped out the heart.

Ryan stepped back, fighting a wave of nausea. He’d fought against gods and monsters, but he’d never been so close to a dead body when there wasn’t an immediate threat. It was something different entirely than seeing one in the moment of a fight. There was a silence, a stillness. Like a burnt out house, once full of life and joy and hope, now broken and shattered and charred. “What the hell could have done that?” Ryan asked.

Dianmu and Nabu stepped closer to see what he meant. “His heart’s been taken,” Nabu said, with the dispassion of someone who had seen countless dead bodies.

“An ammit?” Dianmu asked, leaning down to inspect. Ryan took both of their focus on the dead body as an excuse to look away and watch for any encroaching threats.

“Unlikely,” Nabu said after a moment’s consideration. “They usually only feast after the person’s already dead. This man’s heart was removed still beating. Perhaps a loup garou?”

Ryan heard a squelching sound from behind him and forced himself not to look. It was bad enough to imagine what they were doing in their investigation of the man’s body. Seeing it would have been even worse. After everything you’ve been through, you’re squeamish about this? Ryan wondered.

But it was different. There was something strange and unnatural about it, without adrenaline pumping through his veins and keeping his mind focused on the immediate threat. This was something different, something colder. It was frightening in a way he couldn’t quite put his finger on.

“No,” Dianmu said after a moment. Her voice wasn’t quite as collected as Nabu’s – there was a hint of underlying sorrow to it. She, at least, was aware of the tragedy that this man’s life was cut short. “There’s no other injuries on his body. Have you ever known one of them to just eat the heart if their victim was capable of running. Besides – Bast hates canines.”

Nabu made a thoughtful sound, but didn’t argue. “How about an aswang? I know they eat more than just the heart, but if they only had time to eat one organ…”

“It’s possible,” Dianmu conceded. “But I don’t think it’s likely. We’d smell it if an aswang had been in this town in the last month. You never forget a stench like that. I think we’re dealing with something new.”

“You might be right. But what could have arisen so quickly-”

Ryan lost track of their conversation. Someone was coming, running towards Ryan. Whoever he was, he was unmistakably human, wearing a t-shirt with some dark pattern on it and jeans. Ryan raised his hand and motioned the man over.

The man turned and dashed towards Ryan, passing under a street lamp as he approached. The harsh light threw the man into sharp relief. That dark pattern on his shirt was blood, and it ran up his neck to his chin. The man’s eyes were wild. Oh damn it’s a zombie it’s a goddamn zombie. Ryan raised his hands, reaching out for the equations that governed reality.

As if in response to Ryan’s threat, the approaching man dropped to all fours, taking the shape of a loping feiline.

You’re responsible for this, Ryan thought, and with a sudden shout of rage he didn’t realize he’d been holding back, Ryan threw out his hand and let a bolt of lightning arc from his fingers into the charging creature. It through the thing back and drew both Nabu and Dianmu’s attention to the threat.

“Any of you know what runs like a man and can turn into the ugliest panther you’ve ever seen?” Ryan asked as the cat-thing struggled to get back to its feet.

“I’ve never heard of such a thing,” Dianmu confirmed.

“Me either.” Ryan began to stalk forward. “Let’s ask it what it is.”

He was so focused on the threat in front of him, he didn’t notice the other eyes drawn by his attack.