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Small Worlds Part 206

Crystal felt a tug on her hair as one of the serpents managed to find purchase. She yanked her head forward and felt tearing in her scalp as a chunk tear loose in the snake’s maw. Crystal stumbled from the pain and the tug. The stumble turned into a fall, and Crystal saw the ground rushing up to meet her. The snakes surged forward in anticipation of her hitting the ground, fangs dripping with venom.

Crystal dropped the coefficient of friction in the tube into the negatives. She could feel reality push back hard at the violation of every law of thermodynamics, but she held the twist in place. Instead of skidding to a halt, she accelerated as she slid across the tube of air.

Her face pressed into the clear air gave her an excellent view of Isabel and the Typhon. Isabel had bitten into the Typhon’s neck stump and was now rolling with the body. Monstrous flesh shredded at the motion, and the Typhon shrieked at her in blind fury. New tendrils worked to reattach the parts Isabel shredded as quickly as she could tear them apart.

Isabel also bled from dozens of places where the fangs had managed to work their way past her scales, the anticoagulant venom making each pinprick as ticking clock towards her death. Crystal could still feel ichor running down her arm from the earlier bite, hot and sticky. It bounced oddly on the unnatural friction Crystal had created.

The effort of violating so fundamental a law was wearing on Crystal as she sped towards the end of the tunnel. Her mouth was painfully dry, and she could feel her lips cracking from the need for moisture. The pain in her stomach far exceeded the other injuries from the battle, and a heavy tiredness was settling in around her joints, so intense she almost feared she’d collapse before reaching the end of the tube.

On top of it all was a loneliness so crushing it brought tears to her eyes, a desperate need for some kind of contact. A tiny voice whispered in the back of her mind that she could get that contact – all she had to do was let the serpents catch up. She wouldn’t feel alone anymore then – and shortly afterwards she’d feel nothing at all.

She pushed the treasonous thought aside and focused on the platform growing closer in her vision.

Then her divine power winked out. Immediately, the normal friction of the air tube resumed. Her slide had increased to nearly forty miles per hour when the power vanished. It was falling out of a car at those speeds onto a fairly smooth road. Crystal was sent tumbling end over end, flopping along the tube in an undignified roll. Divine resilience left her as well, and she felt something snap in her arm. The pain was more than enough to draw a scream from her lips.

She’d left the snakes behind as she slid, and as she skidded to a halt, mere feet from the platform, they surged forward with ravenous anticipation. Crystal could barely move. So close, love, she thought, glancing at Isabel’s slowing form. Isabel would probably last another few minutes before the Typhon overcame her, then she’d die. Crystal would find herself the Typhon’s plaything, dying and reviving over and over, until her nanoverse collapsed from heat death.

We tried, she thought at the snake heads opened.

They halted mere inches from sinking their fangs into into her face.

Crystal stared at them, dumbfounded, as the serpents began to scream and were dragged out of the tunnel. Slowly, Crystal lowered her eyes to Isabel and the Typhon.

Isabel had turned back into the Tyrannosaurus Rex, and her massive jaws were wrapped around all of the Typhon’s serpents on one shoulder – the ones that had been chasing her. Instead of severing them, Isabel was dragging them back through her own immense weight and size.

It came at a cost. Virtually every other serpent on the Typhon’s back were now latched onto Isabel, pumping their venom into her. Isabel’s footsteps were growing weak, and she stumbled slightly with every footstep. She’d be dead soon.

Don’t waste this opportunity, Crystal thought fiercely, forcing herself to her feet. She was able to take two steps, just enough to get onto the platform where the control panel waited, before another lance of pain from her broken arm sent fracture lines of darkness across her vision, and she stumbled to her knees. Moments later, a massive crash signified that Isabel had collapsed. Don’t waste her sacrifice! Crystal screamed internally. She risked a glance back as she rose to her feet.

Isabel had managed to sever the serpents before her legs gave out, and now the Tyrannosaurus lay on the ground, barely breathing as blood pooled beneath it. The snakes were coming for Crystal again, moving at impossible speeds she couldn’t hope to match – but they had a ways to travel still. Crystal had to only move another four feet.

Crystal brought one leg up under herself, planting the foot firmly on the ground. Another wave of pain, this one accompanied by nausea, and Crystal fought down bile that rose in the back of her throat. Everything in her body was screaming at her to surrender, to lay down and accept it.

Instead, she forced her other leg forward and rose to her feet. The serpents were halfway to her now, hissing in excited fury. Crystal could see the emergency button, red and yellow.

She took a step, her uninjured arm outstretched. It shook with the effort, and Crystal felt like she was walking through molasses. She started to stumble again, and the button began to rise above her head.

With a lethargically frantic flair of her hand, Crystal managed to press the button and collapsed to the ground.

A dome sprung up over the platform, and the snakes broke their fangs against it. A few had been past the barrier, and they were cut in half as it rose. “Isabel!” Crystal shouted with the last of her strength as the walls of the chamber began to glow with sudden light.

“Cleansing initiated,” a robotic voice said.

Then the world went white as the energy of a star going supernova only quarter of a light year away flooded the chamber.


 

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The Dragon’s Scion Part 102

It was the first time Tythel had been able to walk in a city freely since Hillsdale. No great plan, no hidden agenda, no battle waiting at the end of it. At least, not that you know of, Tythel reminded herself. The veil was a thick, black affair that covered her head and hung back down over her neck. A circlet rested over her eyebrows, and the cloth attached to it in three places – between the nose, and on either side of her eye, leaving them free to see.

At least, it did in theory. Having only one eye remaining made Tythel more aware of the barrier around her eyes than she thought she would have been had she still had both.

It was said that the warrior maidens of Xhaod wore these masks so that when the sent their foes to the Shadow, it would not see their face and take offense at their violence. Others believed that they wore it so their faces were, in fact, covered in Shadow as a sign of respect for where they would send their foes. The Maidens, for their part, would never speak of the veil’s significance.

At least they don’t mind outsiders wearing it, Tythel thought. The last thing she needed was a cult of warrior assassins coming after her – and it allowed her to walk through the streets of Emerita unmolested. More than just that, in fact – people gave her a wide berth, as if she was walking with drawn steel.

Eupheme seemed less impressed. “It’s absurd, the way they announce themselves wherever they go. A truly dangerous person shouldn’t need to advertise their presence,” she groused, her voice low enough for only Tythel’s ears to hear it.

Tythel had to fight the urge to blink in amusement. It would give her away in an instant. “So where are we going?”

“We need to get a few more things for the road, and I thought it would be best to bring you along with us when we purchased them,” Eupeheme said. Her voice was full of careful innocence. Too much of it.

“You have heavy things you want me to carry,” Tythel said.

“I’m appalled you would suggest such a thing!” Eupheme said, her eyes sparkling with mock outrage. “I’ll have you know, I have extremely heavy things I want you to carry.”

“Flath a cactus,” Tythel said, getting a strangled, shocked laugh out of Eupheme.

“I’m impressed,” Eupheme said. “I didn’t think you knew what flath meant.”

“Um…well…I don’t. Not really, that is.” Tythel said, glad the veil hid her blush. “I just heard one of the soldiers say it, and then he turned red when he saw me, so I figured it was very offensive.”

Eupheme needed a few more blocks to get her laughter under control, her face quietly scrunched up to contain it. Every time she opened her mouth to say…whatever she wanted to say, the giggles would start up again and she’d have to clamp her mouth shut to contain it. Under the embarrassment, Tythel was overjoyed. It had been too long since Eupheme laughed at her being hopelessly naive, and Tythel welcomed the return to what passed for normalcy in her life these days.

It also gave her a chance to look around the city beyond the scope of that one window. At midday in the hottest month of summer, Tythel would have expected most people to have remained in the shade offered by their houses, with the rich even using arclight powered heat extractors to stay cool. Instead, Emerita bustled with activity. Merchants from the three nearby cities stood on street corners. “Fresh meat! Fresh meat! Untouched by Heat Extraction! Get your fresh meat!” one shouted. He was a portly man with a neatly trimmed beard that came down to his chest, with tiny mirrors woven into its braids. “All its humors still intact!” The man’s gaze passed over to Tythel and Eupheme, and’s grin widened. “You lovely ladies want some fresh meat? Freshest meat in the city.”

Tythel strode over to the man, feeling the coins clinking in her pocket. Eupheme hadn’t mentioned anything about eating yet, and Tythel’s stomach growled to remind her she’d only had cold porridge and leftovers brought up from the kitchen for the last two days. “What kind of meat?” she asked.

“Why, the freshest kind, of course!” the man said proudly, giving her a bow. “And not a trace of horse in it, I can assure you of that.”

Tythel opened her mouth to ask why the horse qualifier was so important, then caught Eupheme’s glance. It took her a moment to think before she remembered – the people of Xhaod thought horse was unclean and refused to eat it. “That is well, then. Yet I still do not know what kind of meat it contains.”

The merchant began to tense up. “As I’ve said, fresh meat.”

Tythel shrugged. It not like it matters much. “I’ll take one fresh meat, then,” she said, handing over a silver lock. The merchant obliged quickly, giving her a suitably unidentifiable hunk of meat on a stick.

As they left the merchant, Eupheme made a face. “I can’t believe you’re eating it when he wouldn’t even tell you what it was.”

Tythel rolled her eye. “I never knew my father to eat anything and get ill from it. As long as it’s meat, I can eat.” Tythel bit into the hunk of meat. It was hot and it was filling, with enough spices to disguise whatever the underlying meat was.

Eupheme made a gagging sound. “We’re out of danger right now. You have the establishments of an entire city to choose from. And you went with ‘fresh meat.’ I bet the vendor doesn’t even know what the meat is from.”

Tythel clenched her lips shut and filled her mouth with dragonflame, then swallowed the charred remains. She remembered eating food Karjon had over-flamed when a child, and how the taste had always bothered her. Now? It was sweeter than any spice. “You aren’t bothered when Lorathor eats insects,” Tythel said.

“Lorathor’s a Sylvani. They eat bugs. You, on the other hand? You are…” Eupheme trailed off and frowned. “Okay, didn’t think that one all the way through.”

Tythel blinked in amusement for a moment before catching herself and stopping the motion. “So where are these heavy things you need me to lift.”

Eupheme motioned to an alley ahead. “Right through here. And…let me do the talking? The people we’re meeting with frighten easily at anything new.”

Tythel nodded, although she couldn’t imagine what kind of people would be frightened by her voice.

After all, in all her books, weapons were simple swords and spears. She’d never even thought to consider how illegal weapons deals happened before.

 

Small Worlds Part 205

“Login successful,” the touchscreen read in a bright, cheerful font. “Please select your operation: Facilities Maintenance, Current Schedule, Contact Supervisor, Policies and Procedures, Union Messages, Contract.”

Crystal blinked at the screen as a sudden pang of familiarity struck her. She was certain she’d never been to this place, but clearly whatever she’d done before the end of the world, she’d worked for the same organization that had owned this place. Contact supervisor? What was I?

If time had permitted, Crystal would have spent hours exploring the menu. She wanted to, but Isabel’s life was in danger. Her hand flicked over to Facilities Maintenance and tapped that icon. Behind her, she heard a series of deep crashes and a bellowing roar that couldn’t have possibly come from the Glyptodon’s throat. Isabel had shifted again. Crystal fought the urge to glance over her shoulder to see what new form was tearing into the Typhon. Focus.

“Facilities Maintenance: Please select your operation: Life support. Fire control. Climate control. Incident Reports. Open Tickets. Pending Tickets. Closed Tickets.”

Crystal stared at the screen, her forehead furrowing. None of those seemed to cover what she needed. She could turn off Life support, but she’d only kill Isabel if she did. Fire control, perhaps? Crystal reached out and tapped that icon.

“Fire control: Please select your operation. Extinguisher Health Check. Sprinkler Health Check. Emergency Suppressant Health Check.”

Nothing that actually lets me control anything, Crystal thought, her frustration deepening. Behind her, the Typhon’s continued laughter took on a deeper, more resonant note. He’d managed to reattach his throat. It was cut off with a sickening crunch of bone and tearing of flesh, but Crystal didn’t need to look to know Isabel was lagging behind. If he reforms…Hurridly, Crystal tapped the back arrow and selected Life Support.

“Life Support: Please select your operation. Carbon Scrubber 1 Health Check. Carbon Scrubber 2 Health Check. Carbon Scrubber 3 Health Check. Carbon Scrubber 4 Health Check. Inorganic Waste Disposal Unit Health Check. Organic Waste Disposal Unit Health Check. Bodily Waste Disposal 1 Health Check. Bodily Waste Disposal 2 Health Check…”

It went on like that, listing health checks for various subsystems needed to maintain the life support. Desperate for some answers, Crystal tapped on Carbon Scrubber 1.

A list of readouts appeared. Filters. Power capacities. When the last manual check had been done – this one showing a date in a calendar format Crystal hadn’t seen in countless eons – and when the last automated replacement had occurred. That, at least, was last week. A red icon informed her that she was thirty million, two hundred and twenty three thousand, one hundred and seventeen years, three lunar cycles, one interval, six days, sixteen hours, three minutes, and nineteen seconds behind schedule, and accordingly, her pay would be drocked by a two hundred and seventeen million percent.

That last bit of information, that detail she’d be docked pay for being behind schedule, put the final piece of the puzzle into place, and memories started flooding back. She had worked for this company. She’d been working on their facility in the Blasted Desert when she’d found her bloody nanoverse in some new excavations. She’d left that day without even quitting.

She’d been working in maintenance, but not of the equipment. Not in a technical role.

She’d been a janitor.

Isabel roared behind her, and Crystal snapped back to the present. Celebrate knowing what you used to do later, she thought, backing out of the menus. She knew this system like the back of her hand, and with the memories back at the surface, it wasn’t hard to know exactly where to go. Policies and Procedures, then the big red icon she knew to expect: Emergency Procedure. A second tap brought up a holographic map of the room, with several points labeled. Fire alarms. Life support failure alarms. Ozone alarms. And one, clearly labeled: “Subject Containment Breach Response.”

It was on the other side of the room. Crystal didn’t bother with trying anything even remotely fancy. Instead, she wove a bridge of pure air between her platform and the switch’s location. Without even a glance back, she dashed across the bridge.

It gave her an excellent view of the fight. The Typhon had mostly reassembled, although Isabel was doing an admirable job of keeping its head from reattaching fully to its neck. She’d transformed herself into an immense crocodile, easily forty-five feet from nose to tail.  Sarcosuchus imperator, the largest crocodile to have ever existed. It’s scales were far too thick for the Typhon’s fangs to easily penetrate, and it offered the bite strength Isabel needed to keep the monster at bay.

The Typhon’s face had flipped over at some point, and his face was a mask of frustration and rage. Several of the snakes were trying to wind their way around Isabel. Whenever they got a secure grip, she’d start to trash and roll, and they would be ripped from their moorings on the Typhon’s back. It was a stalemate for now, but the Typhon showed no signs of tiring, while Isabel’s movements were increasingly sluggish.

Unfortunately, his face being turned upwards gave him a perfect view of Crystal running across the air. His frustration vanished to be replaced with cruel amusement, and dozens of snakes broke free to lunge for her.

With a quick flicking of equations, Crystal wove the bridge into a tunnel. Snakes battered against it and began wrapping around it, constricting tightly. Hunger rumbled in her stomach, and she didn’t dare try the electricity trick again.

Come on, come on…just a bit bloody further. Crystal’s feet pounded on the platform. Her heart pounded in her chest, and she could feel her breath hitch with every step. Behind her, she heard a hissing sound as the the snakes began to force their way through the ultra-dense air, and the tunnel filled with the sound of scales sliding against the smooth surface.

The sound of hissing grew louder with every step.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 101

“I’m back,” Eupheme said, stepping out of the shadow next to the dresser.

Tythel yelped and nearly tossed her book into the air. “Light and Shadow, Eupheme, have you ever heard of doors?”

“Yes,” Eupheme said with a grin. “They’re something that impedes other people. I am above such paltry concerns.” She casually tossed Tythel a satchel. “One Xhaodi warrior maiden veil, as you requested. It’ll cover your hair if you do it up in a bun, too.”

Tythel blinked at Eupheme slowly. “I…have no idea how to do a bun.”

“Oh.” Eupheme chewed her cheek in thought. “I guess being raised by someone with scales would make it hard to learn the finer art of hair care.”

Tythel flushed. She’d read about everything women did to their hair in her books. None of it had made any sense, except for brushing. Karjon had a brush inlaid with diamonds in his hoard, and Tythel had brushed her hair exactly one hundred times per day, at the suggestion of The Proper Care for Ladies, by Maxiona Balmod. She hadn’t understood why. “He did his best,” Tythel said defensively.

“Of course he did, I didn’t mean any insult,” Eupheme said soothingly, going over to her pack and pulling out a brush and several implements that Tythel couldn’t hope to name. “But, if half of what I’ve heard about dragon sizes is close to accurate, he couldn’t have held a brush except between the tips of his talons.”

“He tried,” Tythel muttered, looking at the devices in Eupheme’s hands with wary suspicion. “He also didn’t understand it. He taught me alot about grooming scales though.”

“And it’s a good thing, too,” Eupheme said. “I’ve heard if you don’t take care of them, it can get bad.”

Tythel strongly suspected that Eupheme was humoring her, but went along with it. “It can. Rotscale, if not properly treated, can cause even worse infections – even the loss of a limb or wing! A lot of young dragons think you can just spray fire all over yourself and call it hygine, but since our scales protect against heat infections and worse, drakemites, can linger under the skin.”

Eupheme sat down on the bed next to Tythel. “I…honestly never considered it. How do you clean it then?”

“Soak in hot water for a quarter hour, using your flames to keep it scalding, then scrubbing with a bristle soaked in mineral oil, never against the scales. Once you get out, then use your flame to turn the water to steam.” Tythel recited the instructions with the same precision she could list the emperors of Cardometh.

“And here I was, assuming you just used the fire to dry off faster.” Eupheme shook her head. “Turn around, let me get to your head. I’ll teach you how to do this later, but for now I know you’re dying to get out.”

Tythel followed Eupheme’s instructions. It was the first time in Tythel’s memory someone had ever touched her hair. She found it oddly comforting. “I saw a Lumrat outside,” Tythel said as Eupheme began to brush her hair with quick, efficient strokes. “Took everything I had not to use it as an excuse not to leap out and take it down.”

Eupheme chuckled. “I’m honestly surprised you didn’t just say “flath the consequences, I’m going to do it.”

At first Tythel blinked rapidly in amusement, but then realized there had been a bitter edge to Eupheme’s voice. Tythel was glad neither of them could see the other one’s face. She didn’t know what hers would give away, and wasn’t looking forward to trying to puzzle out Eupheme’s expression.

“I’m sorry,” Tythel said, quietly. “I don’t…I don’t remember if I’ve said that yet, but I’m sorry.”

Eupheme paused whatever she was doing with Tythel’s hair. Eupheme sat there for what felt like an eternity, then sighed and went back to work on Tythel’s hair. “I know,” she said, quietly.

“We didn’t really talk about it.” Tythel’s nictitating membranes slid closed in sorrow. Flath, I’m not going to cry. I don’t get to make her feel bad about being angry.

“No, we didn’t,” Eupheme said. “Tythel…do you get why I was angry?”

Tythel tilted her head to think. Eupheme pulled Tythel’s head back into place, firmly and gently. “I can see two reason, and I think it was probably a little bit of both?”

“Go on,” Eupheme said.

“Well…part of it is because you – I mean, from what you said – you were trained to protect a royal family that you didn’t think existed anymore. Then you finally do find one, but she’s stubborn and doesn’t care much about the royal thing and keeps sticking her head into a aeromane’s maw without your input. Shoving you down the tunnel and sealing you off was a bridge too far – it wasn’t just putting myself in danger, it was putting myself in danger and protecting you, when you feel like you’re supposed to protect me.”

Eupheme continued to work on Tythel’s hair. “Yes,” she said. That’s part of it.”

Tythel fought the urge to nod as her membranes opened, bringing the room back into focus. “And the other thing is…we’re friends, and I didn’t treat you like a friend. I treated you like someone I was supposed to protect, the same way I had anyone else. I didn’t tell you my plan, I didn’t give you a chance to agree with it or disagree. Light, you didn’t even need to be shoved, you could have just stepped past the barrier once it was up. I…I treated you like you were just someone else.”

“That’s the bigger one.” Eupheme stuck some things into Tythel’s hair, the long pins she’d pulled out of her bag. When she let go, Tythel’s head felt odd with the weight of her hair shifted. “I’m not anyone else, Tythel. I’m your friend. That means I’ll back you on whatever shadow-forsaken fool idea you have in your head to everyone else, and I’ll call you a fool for it in private.”

Tythel nodded. “I promise…” then she bit her lip and held up a hand as she thought through the wording. “I promise as long as it’s not something spur of the moment, I’ll tell you what’s I’m thinking, and give you a chance to tell me I’m being foolish, and I promise I’ll only act to protect you if there’s no doubt I’ll be safe doing it. I can’t promise more than that, not and still be honest.”

She turned around to face Eupheme. She considered Tythel for a long moment, then smiled. “I’ll take that. I’m still a bit raw about the whole thing, but I can live with those promises.”

Tythel didn’t bother to fight the tears now as relief flooded her, her nictitating membranes flashing to keep up with the surge. She hugged Eupheme, and the other woman returned the embrace.

After a bit, they broke the hug, and Eupheme helped Tythel secure the veil in place so she could join them in exploring the city.

Small Worlds Part 204

“Damnit!” Crystal shouted, fighting the urge to bring her hands down on the screen in frustration. “Damnit, damnit, and damn the whole sodding thing a third bloody time.”

The swearing didn’t help clear her head or make her feel better. Crystal usually couldn’t remember her password after a couple days, especially since she usually used a random collection of numbers and letters that she could just store in a notebook in her staging area. Trying to remember a password from a year ago was a lost cause – a password from a million relative years ago, and thirty million actual years, was beyond what any sentient being should be expected to do.

I have to try something. Crystal risked a glance back. Isabel was getting tangled in the tendrils slowly pulling the Typhon back together. She was thrashing about, stamping her talons, biting, and even slashing with those tiny arms, but the tendrils were just reforming faster than she could destroy them.

To make matters worse, Isabel’s movements were becoming lethargic. The stomps were increasingly uncoordinated, and her eyes had a wild look to them that Crystal couldn’t attribute just to ferocity.

“Vocal tone indicates swearing,” the screen said. “Do you need assistance resetting your password?”

“Isabel!” Crystal shouted, inspiration striking. “Woodrat!” She twisted reality with the shouts to carry her voice to Isabel’s ear. Then she whipped her head back to the keyboard. If Isabel understood, and had a woodrat in her bag of forms – I swear if Arthur included bloody dinosaurs but didn’t include a woodrat I’m going to beat him to death with his own arms – she could shift into it long enough to neutralize the venom, then shift into something better suited to combat the Typhon. If she didn’t die while shifted. If she doesn’t shift, she’s dead either way.

“Response not understood. Do you need assistance resetting your password?”

“Yes!” Crystal shouted. “Yes, I need bloody assistance.”

The screen winked out for a moment, processing, before the screen repeated, “Response not understood. Do you need assistance resetting your password?”

Oh bloody hell, I have to speak Lemurian. Divine translation allowed her to read the words on the screen and speak in a way any living creature could understand. This machine couldn’t understand her though. “Uh…ghrat!

Again the screen winked out to process. As it did, a foul stench reached Crystal’s nose, like rotten eggs and spoiled milk mixed with rotten meat and left in the sun for a week. The Typhon began to bellow in something other than anger or triumph. Oh no, love, you didn’t…Crystal risked a look back over her shoulder. The tendrils had momentarily halted, and the Typhon’s head was actually trying to worm away from its neck. In the center of the mess sat a white a back blob, only a couple feet long, with an upraised tail.

Crystal couldn’t help but laugh and look back at the screen. It had bought Isabel some time at least.

“Acknowledged. Please select your security question:

Name of the first to hatch from your clutch?

Name of the last to hatch from your clutch?

Sod off, I don’t have a third question?”

Crystal desperately wished divine power allowed her to travel back in time so she could slap her younger self hard enough to knock some sense into her. She’d been trying to remember the names of any of her siblings for millenia, how was she supposed to put it together now? And then the third one…Okay, think. You would have had to put in an answer. What would it be?

Behind her, the battle had resumed. The Typhon had decided that the scent of a skunk was something it could bear, and Isabel had shifted forms again. Whatever she had turned into didn’t roar like the Tyrannosaur, but it certainly was making an unholy racket. Crystal glanced back at the battle, unable to help herself. She tapped the third question as she looked.

The Typhon’s tendrils were rapidly reconnecting to its neck. Many of the serpent heads had reconnected, and were trying to bite into Isabel with frantic desperation. For her part, Isabel was much smaller compared to the Tyrannosaur, less than three meters – if you didn’t count the massive tail that ended in a spined club. The most heavily armored mammals to ever walk the Earth – the Glyptodon, an ancient armadillo. Far too thickly armored for the Typhon to bite into her, and much better suited to snapping the tendrils as the tail waved back and forth.

“Please input your answer.”

Crystal’s hands flew to the keyboard. At least divine translation made typing easier. “Sod you too,” she tried, hoping for the easy answer.

“Input incorrect. Two attempts remaining.”

Crystal felt her heart pounding in her chest. “I don’t bloody know!” she tried.

“Input incorrect. One attempt remaining.”

The Typhon had finally gotten enough tendrils attached to drag its head back towards its body. Isabel was repeatedly smacking the Typhon’s head with her armored tail, knocking off huge chunks of flesh and bone with each blow, but it didn’t seem to be doing more than annoying the monster. Isabel let out the glyptodon’s version of a roar, a deep bleating sound that was almost goat-like. It would have been funny if Crystal couldn’t hear the edge of desperation in it.

Serpent fangs kept striking against the glyptodon’s armor. By pressuring her with those, the Typhon was keeping her from being able to safely shift again. The moment she did, the instant that armor went away, Isabel would be right back to bleeding slowly to death. What would it be, what would it be…it doesn’t relate to the question. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I’m not under pressure? The first thing I think when I look at that?

As soon as the thought crossed her mind, the answer followed. Of course. Fingers flying over the touchpad, Crystal typed exactly what she knew that question wanted.

“Roll with it, love.”

The answer was immediate. “Input correct. Please set your new password.”

This time, Crystal picked something she was certain she’d remember for quite some time.


 

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The Dragon’s Scion Part 100

Tythel sat in the window of her room in The Witty Herald, overlooking the city of Emerita. It was the largest city in the kingdom that didn’t have its own Lumwell, instead drawing Light from Queensfall to the South, Havenswatch to the North, and the Capitol to the West. Emerita was almost perfectly equidistant between all three cities, and thrived as a trade hub that facilitated commerce between its larger neighbors. It was also close enough to all three that you could tell where in the town someone came from just by their appearance.

With just a glance, Tythel could see a man with dark skin and red hair that mirrored her own, meaning he must have been from the western part of the town. He was in an animated argument with a merchant with with the black hair and golden skin of Havenswatch, marking her as being born in the northern district. What the locals called a Southgater leaned against a post nearby, his hair the same blue as the sky and skin the color of the desert sands near the plateau. I should go out and stretch my legs, she thought, before continuing to sit there.

Emerita, without a Lumwell, didn’t have a strong Alohym presence. This close to the Capitol, however, there was a very real risk of a patrol passing through that could spot her. That meant Eupheme and Tellias were going out to collect the supplies they needed, and Tythel was holed up in this inn, watching from a window.

I really am a princess, Tythel thought with a bitter smile. I’m moping and sighing about sitting in comfortable accommodations. Most people would kill for this luxury. It wasn’t that it was unappreciated. Light and Shadow, she’d learned enough of hard living these past few weeks to last her the rest of her life.

However long that was.

The problem was, she hadn’t really gotten much of a chance to actually live since her father had passed. It had been an endless parade from one crisis to the next. And now that she was finally getting to the point where she could think about his death without being wracked with grief, now that she was finally finding the energy to want to do all the things she’d spent her entire childhood dreaming about…she was spending her time in an Inn she couldn’t leave because of a one hundred thousand key price on her head.

Frustrated, Tythel stalked away from the window and threw herself on the bed, reaching under it for her pack.

At least the Sunstone had been useful. They’d gotten enough money from the sale of it that they’d be able to buy everything they needed for the journey the rest of the way to her father’s lair and have enough left over for that journey to be fairly comfortable. They weren’t going to spend every night in luxury, of course. Every single key they could spare for the resistance would be beneficial. But, as both Tythel and Tellias had argued, the better rested they were, the better prepared they would be for the fight at the end of this journey.

Eupheme hadn’t seemed completely convinced, but she’d acquiesced, so Tythel was counting it as a victory.

Just a few more hours, Tythel reminded herself. A merchant had come into town earlier today, selling the veils that the lower castes of the Xhaod Empire were forced to wear in public. With that and some of the silks in her pack, Tythel could pass as a Xhaod warrior maiden. Well, she could do it well enough to walk around without fearing someone would call the nearest barracks and summon a swarm of soldiers down on their head.

She pulled out one of her father’s notebooks, the one that explained how different types of dragon flames worked. She’d figured out ghostflame in part from studying this, and that had been back when she’d barely able to touch it without starting to choke up. I will master heartflame, Tythel told herself.

Which might be a bit of an overstatement. She could barely manage ghostflame without searing her throat – even enough dragonflame would do it. Heartflame would be an entirely different category. She opened the page to her last marker.

Heartflame cannot be used by a dragon to heal itself. The flame transfers some of their own life essence into the heat. Other beings, even other dragons, can be restored with only some harm being done to the dragon that exhaled. It has the same limits as what light can heal – injuries will mend together, bones will knit, rot will be cleansed. Diseases will grow stronger along with their host, and tumors will grow rapidly. Unlike the light, however, there’s no risk of grotesque mutations. Instead, it only causes a specific mutation, one that grows gradually over time – the transformation into a dragon.

You’ll find the transformation is something you have some control over, my dear. As you push yourself, you’ll find it happens erratically, based in part on what you are feeling an overwhelming need to achieve.

And because I know you, Tythel, do not jump off a cliff trying to sprout wings. They will come in time.

Tythel smiled at that last line. If he hadn’t mentioned it, she wouldn’t have tried jumping off a cliff. Probably. It didn’t get her any closer to understanding Heartflame, but it was nice to feel like Karjon was there, lecturing her with the patient exasperation he always showed when she did something absurdly stupid.

Her eyes danced down to the next line, but were pulled away from the pages by a sudden scream from outside. Tythel rushed to the window, heart pounding. The Alohym? Here? Already? There’s barely been any time, we’re not ready!

It wasn’t an army. It wasn’t a monster, nor was it some alien creature of the Alohym’s making. Instead, it was a creature mutated by lumwell exposure. It took Tythel a moment to recognize the base creature – a rat – as it scurried along the street on eight legs, each as long as a man was tall. It’s body was the size of a man’s torso, and its tail was horribly elongated, covered in tiny, grasping hands. The poor thing’s face bore some resemblance to the rat it had once been, although it was flattened and fixed in an expression of confused terror.

Guards were yelling, calling for arcwands to put the thing out of its misery before it got into the sewers. Lumwell mutants that managed to breed with the local creatures could create entirely new species, and rats bred rapidly. Tythel didn’t want to think what kind of creature would be the result of this thing being allowed to breed with the local rats. I could save it further suffering, Tythel thought.

Instead, she turned away from the window. The rat would run free or be killed by the guards. It wasn’t worth risking exposing herself, no matter how much she wanted to. She chose to return the bed and resume flicking through her father’s notes.

As far as Tythel was concerned, Eupheme and Tellias couldn’t return soon enough.

Small Worlds Part 203

Everything froze as the roar of the Tyrannosaur echoed in the Typhon’s chamber. Even the serpents that were surrounding Crystal were paralyzed for a moment as something deep and primal told every living being in ear shot that death had arrived. Now that’s what I call a bloody distraction, Crystal thought as the snakes began to retreat from her to strike towards Isabel. The Typhon’s anguished bellows still filled the chamber as the tyrannosaurus rex bit down again on another mouthful of snakes, tearing them off like they were paper. Or I suppose it should be a tyrannosaurus regina in this case, Crystal thought.

The absurdity of the thought snapped her out of the paralyzed trance she’d fallen into, and she started to leap among the platforms to reach where the control panel should be. At least, depending on when this thing was built. And how well I remember it. Crystal couldn’t remember what she’d done before ascending to godhood, but she was pretty sure she hadn’t been an engineer of any sort. Probably. But there was an odd sense of familiarity to the arrangement. Only it was less open. There should be a catwalk here connecting this platform to that one…She was so certain of the catwalk’s presence, she almost took a step into empty air.

Get your brain in the game, love, Crystal thought savagely, trying to dispel the memories.

To ground herself in reality, she glanced back at where the Tyrannosaurus was battling the Typhon. Isabel had managed to reduce the number of snakes sprouting out of the Typhon’s back dramatically, but the remaining heads had bitten her hundreds of times. Blood was running freely and staining her feathers. Each individual wound was a mere pinprick to the massive bulk of the Tyrannosaurus, but their cumulative impact was wearing Isabel down. The Typhon, meanwhile, was slowly beginning to right itself. Inch by inch, the muscles in its back were straightening, and Crystal felt a sudden pang of fear. If that wanker gets upright, Isabel’s going to fall. If she has to shift, all that venom…

Crystal leapt to the next platform, lowering her personal gravity to make the distance easy to cross. Given how low Lunar gravity already was, it was an easy leap. And it’s why the Typhon is standing up so easily, Crystal realized. Fifteen tons of furious dinosaur probably would have snapped the Typhon in half on Earth.

Let’s fix that, yeah?

Crystal landed on the platform and rolled to stop her momentum, then reached out and grabbed threads of reality to twist Isabel’s gravity. The Typhon howled in surprise as Crystal coxed gravity into believing the Tyrannosaur was back on Earth.

Already doubled over as it was, the Typhon’s spine didn’t snap at the impact. Instead it was driven to the ground, flat on its face, and Isabel took advantage of its surprise by bringing jaws that could have crushed the femur of a brachiosaurus down on the Typhon’s head with a sickening crunch. The Typhon screamed in agony as Isabel’s jaw strained, but it didn’t snap under the pressure. Isabel began to worry her jaws back and forth, wrenching at the Typhon’s neck.

With a sickening squelch, the head pulled free from its moorings.

Crystal jumped up in the air and let out an excited whoop. “Bloody hell, love, that was beautiful!” she shouted. “Disgusting, but beautiful.”

Isabel dropped the Typhon’s head and bellowed out a roar in response. Crystal could only imagine the pain she was in from those bites. Okay, get to Isabel, neutralize the poison, and-

Tendrils were emerge from the ruined stump attached to the Typhon’s head, a spiderweb of red lines that connected the head back to the body. As soon as they reached the stump, they began to drag the head back towards the body. “Isabel!” Crystal shouted, pointing at the attachment point.

Isabel glanced downwards. Seeing an expression of surprise so similar to a dog’s cross the face of one of the deadliest predators to have ever lived would have been funny if it wasn’t so dire. Isabel began to stomp at the tendrils as the Typhon laughed. Without lungs the sound carried none of its power and instead was just sounded like slabs of meat the size of mattresses being slapped together.

Crystal threw out a twist, a solidified blade of air to slice through the tendrils. They reconnected as quickly as they were severed. More tendrils were forming along the Typhon’s back, reaching out for the detached serpents and closing the Typhon’s wounds.

Isabel started to stomp on the red lines, trying to sever as many as she could. The legs of the Tyrannosaurus, so good for slashing into the Typhon’s back, were pathetically geared for this task. I should have known better, Crystal thought bitterly, casting her eyes about the chamber. If it was that easy to kill, my people would have done it millennia ago. She saw where she thought the kill switch would be, and leapt again, propelling herself towards the spot.

There was a console there, one that somehow still functioned after all this time. Letters in a language Crystal hadn’t seen since her Nascent period flashed across her eyes, and she reached for the touchpad that controlled it. Crystal shifted her hands back to her Lemurian fingers to better manipulate the screen.

“Hello, Crystal,” the screen read in Lemurian the moment her fingers made contact. “It has been thirty million, two hundred and twenty-three thousand, one hundred and sixteen years, four lunar cycles, two intervals, four days, seven hours, twenty five minutes, and twelve seconds since your last login. You will need to update your password. Please enter your old password to proceed.”

Crystal stared at the screen in growing horror. The realization of how long she’d spent around that black hole as time itself was bent was nearly enough to make her scream. The fact that she was somehow still in this computer’s database was terrifying.

But on top of that, the idea that Isabel’s life, and the fate of the world, required her to remember a password was more than she could bear.


 

Weird theology got a video review! Check it out!

 

The Dragon’s Scion Part 99

Poz’s hearts pounded as he dove behind a bookshelf, shards of glass still raining throughout the library. Baron Rainer was screaming, and the coppery scent of blood filled Poz’s nostrils. So this is how the Alohym treat their allies, Poz thought, crawling along the ground. No warning, no time to get clear. The only entrance to the Library was in clear view of the window. If he went for it, he’d be cut down before he could even go two steps.

He’d have to find a different way.

The sound of feet crunching on glass reached his ears, heavy footsteps that were weighted down. He didn’t hear any of the mechanical whirring that accompanied imperiplate, and he didn’t hear the rapid skitter of standard Alohym footfalls. It was the one from earlier, the one that flew and was shaped like a man.

The Baron must have signaled him that the ruse was up, Poz thought with a curse. The footsteps were headed towards the doorway to block his exit. Deepest shadows! I missed it. It was possible that Baron Rainer hadn’t sent a signal, but if not, the timing was too coincidental for Poz’s liking. If the Shadow has set itself against me like that, I am already damned.

“You should just come out and save me the time,” said the creature. Its voice reverberated in the strange way of the Alohym, but it did not speak in the Alohym’s tongue. That was Cardomethi, which told Poz a few things. First, that this creature was not from the region, or it would have likely spoken Zhomi. It was the same one that pursued him from that cave all those weeks ago. Second, this creature – whatever it was – was no Alohym. He’d never heard tell of any of those beings speaking anything other than their own tongue unless forced to. And Alohym don’t travel alone, he reminded himself.

Of course, he didn’t answer the being’s taunt. Instead, he crawled along the ground, keeping himself hidden behind bookcases. A small object, formerly belonging to the Baron, caught Poz’s eye. He didn’t hesitate as he reached out and scooped it up. It would do nothing to save him from his current plight, but later…

Sop that thought, he told himself. Focus on survival. Make sure there is a later to worry about.

“I’m going to find you,” the creature said, “and then I’m going to ask you a few questions. If you come out, I’ll just ask. If you don’t…I’ll have to assume you plan on being uncooperative, and treat you accordingly.” There was an undeniable air of menace in the voice. “You don’t want to find out how I ask uncooperative people questions.”

Poz ignored the threat. If this creature truly was willing to speak with him as equals and simply ask questions, they would not have begun the fight with a barrage of high impact weapons. In fact, Poz doubted if the being really wanted to ask him questions at all. It’s foolish, Poz thought, facts beginning to connect in his mind. A shard of glass could have stuck in my throat and killed me or rendered me incapable of speech. Yet they must be after the egg, and I never told Baron Rainer where I hid it. If I had died…

The only conclusion Poz could draw was that this creature was foolish. He felt his hearts speed up as he began to climb up one of the bookshelves.

“Come on,” the creature said, frustration dripping from every word. It sounded almost petulant to Poz’s ears. “I want to be about my business. I didn’t come to the frozen edge of the world to play hiders and peekers with you.”

Poz settled onto the top of the bookshelves. He could see it clearly now, for the first time since he had abandoned grubflesh. It was smaller than Poz remembered, although give how tall he now stood that was likely a matter of perspective. The creature’s build was overall humanoid, with a distended Thorax extending from where its spine met its hips. Poz couldn’t deny the creature was intimidating, covered in black carapace and spines. “I’m not interested in games either, monster,” Poz said.

He leapt to another bookshelf the moment the words left his lips, and the Alohym shot a beam of unlight in the general direction of Poz’s voice. It didn’t seem to think to aim upwards, instead firing at the bottom of the shelf. Where the beam impacted, a bubble spread outwards to about five feet before violently contracting. Books were condensed into a tight space, but didn’t seem to be crushed. I don’t want to find out what would have happened to me there, Poz thought. Perhaps it would just immobilize him. Perhaps it wouldn’t account for the hollow bones of crowflesh and turn him into a paste. “Yet here you are playing them,” the creature muttered before speaking louder. “Why do you fear to come out, Underfolk? My father told me tales of your people. Your cowardice was something he overlooked.”

Human, Poz thought, tensing. This creature was human. “And what did he tell you?” he asked before leaping again.

He needn’t have bothered. The person in that carapace armor did not fire blindly again, instead looking towards the source of the voice. So far they still hadn’t thought to look upwards, for which Poz was grateful. “That you were greedy, selfish beings that preyed on the generosity of mankind. That you sealed yourself away when the Alohym returned to us so you could cavort with the fiends of the Shadow, and would one day return to be wage war on and then be crushed by the rightful gods of this world.”

“Your father lied to you, then,” Poz said.

Poz had to leap again as the human in Alohym skin opened fire. He barely reached the next bookshelf, and the room filled with the sound of books and shelves clattering to the ground. “You will not speak of my father!” the human screamed. “My brother is out hunting his killer, and I’m stuck here hunting you. I will endure no insult towards his name from the likes of you!”

That’s it. Poz took a deep breath. This particularly trick was one of the benefits of crowflesh, and it was hard to get right. If he pulled it off though… “Your flathing father is a goat-brained liar and you are a coward. I wouldn’t wish his flesh on the worms that are feasting on him.”

The human screamed in rage and rushed to the window to look out – because that’s where they’d heard Poz’s voice come from. There wasn’t time to admire how well throwing his voice had worked. Instead, Poz leapt down and scrambled for the heavy oak doors of the room.

At the last moment, the human heard him and whirled, firing a beam of Unlight in a wild arc. It passed over Poz’s head and encased one of the Baron’s guards – Poz wondered with irritation where they had been earlier. The unlight formed a sphere that imploded again, and the guard was forced into the fetal position. He howled with the agony of the desperate and damned, and Poz regretted he didn’t have time to help the man – or put him out of his misery.

Behind him, his pursuer howled, and the sound of footsteps on stone pursued Poz out of the Baron’s manor.

 

 

Small Worlds Part 202

This section is the first time a minor retcon becomes apparent – I’ve dropped the idea of the gods being able to telepathically communicate. Just FYI to avoid confusion. If you want to see what else changed in book 1, you can pick it up here!

More snake heads, Isabel thought, tucking in her wings and diving through a gap in the tangled web of necks that was being woven around her. She lashed out with her talons as she passed, and spurts of blood welled from the scaled skin.

“Isabel,” Crystal’s voice said, a whisper in her ear carried by the wind. Or… whatever Harpy eagles have in place of ears. Isabell pushed aside of the distraction for the rest of Crystal’s whisper. “This is Lemurian technology. There has to be a bloody kill switch. I can find it, love, but I need you to distract the Typhon.”

Isabel dove for an isolated snake neck, a furious shriek rising from the Harpy Eagle’s throat. She sunk her talons into the scales beneath her, ripping into the neck as hard as she could. The momentary perch let her whip her head towards Crystal. The goddess was fighting her way through an even greater mass of serpentine heads. As one drew close to her, a bolt of electricity leapt off of the air around Crystal and sizzled against the snake. I hope she realizes that means I heard her, Isabel thought, folding her wings and diving off the neck.

She was starting to get dangerously close to the floor of the chamber. Writhing tentacles pulled themselves from the floor with sickening pops and began to reach for Isabel. She splayed her wings and banked her dive. The tentacles rose into the air and began to undulate blindly. Isabel banked and began to weave between their mass.

The hissing of Typhon’s snake heads grew more distant. I’ve got some space to work with now, Isabel realized. The tentacles were far too thick for her to even risk sinking her talons into, but they didn’t have eyes. Their flailing could strike her, but for right now, she could dodge them easily.

It was a good thing. Time to think was important right now. If Crystal needed the Typhon distracted, Isabel would provide a way. But how? Every animal she could think of that could possibly harm the Typhon would have to land in the tentacle field, where the Typhon would have no problem tearing them apart. I could go for a tiger, sink my claws in, but as big as it is…I need to think bigger.

Isabel’s eyes widened, and she began to flap for altitude. Much, much bigger. As soon as she was out of range of the tentacles, the hissing began to draw closer. Her path had taken her behind the Typhon, not that it provided much protection. She could at least see where the snake heads were attached here, sprouting out of the Typhon’s shoulder blades. How big is this bastard? She wondered as she pushed for more altitude. Forty feet tall? Fifty?

Ryan was never going to forgive her for this, Isabel thought, straining the muscles in her wings. The serpent heads were catching up to her, snapping and thrashing. Isabel tucked her wings and dove past the initial assault, the rush of the jaws ruffling her feathers as they passed. No more time, Isabel thought, folding her wings in and aiming at the spot on Typhon’s back.

Ryan’s never going to forgive me for this, Isabel thought as the Typhon’s back grew in her vision. She flared her wings at the last second, feeling the soft flesh of the Typhon give under her talons. She’d landed right at the base of the Typhon’s neck. He roared, and at first Isabel dared hope that she’d managed to hurt it.

Then the roar turned into a laugh, and Isabel’s heart sank.

“Little bird,” he bellowed. This close to the Typhon, Isabel could hear his words vibrating his skin. “You have fought well. But you surely know you are too tiny to hurt me.”

Yeah, I do, Isabel thought, and then her form began to shift.

The Typhon’s laughter cut off abruptly as the sudden weight forced him to bend forward. Isabel could feel his spine straining to stay upright as her weight shot up past the rhino, past the elephant, and kept growing. Suddenly the Typhon didn’t seem so large. Suddenly the Typhon didn’t scare her, it infuriated her. This was a strange place for the mind of the creature Isabel had turned into.

It didn’t care. Its intellect was limited, because it hadn’t needed intellect. It hadn’t needed anything but to hunt and feed and defend its territory. This place, wherever it is, must be this creature’s territory because it was here, and for this beast its territory was wherever it roamed. There was no predator that could challenge it, and even the mightiest of prey animals could fall victim to it. The Typhon was still larger than her, but no larger than some of the beasts this animal had once fought.

Isabel was so wrapped up in the sudden, overwhelming sensation of this creature’s mind that she didn’t think to sink her new, far larger talons into the Typhon’s flesh. Fortunately, this creature had hunted at times by clamoring onto the back of its prey. It knew exactly what to do, and this time when her talons sunk in, the Typhon’s bellow contained no mirth. The great brute was completely doubled over Isabel’s weight that those talons were enough to keep her steady, and following the creature’s instincts, Isabel lowered her stomach to the Typhon’s back.

It brought the otherworldly flesh in reach of Isabel’s claws. Claws that seemed absurdly tiny whenever Isabel saw them depicted, almost comical in how small they were compared the animal’s bulk. When they got in range of the Typhon’s back, however, Isabel found they were perfect for shredding through flesh, packing the musculature that would have been wasted on a larger body into a smaller, more compact cutting and shredding surface. Those claws weren’t weak; those claws had the ferocity of a tiger.

The Typhon’s wits began to gather, and with that the snake heads were able to focus their attention. Isabel felt them biting onto her, annoying pinpricks against her new, thick hide and the protective feathers that gave her black and gold stripes. Part of Isabel wondered if they were still sinking deep enough to inject their venom, but for the most part she just felt furious. In response, she sunk her teeth into the Typhon’s shoulder, grabbing a mouthful of the bases for the serpents in jaws that could bite hard enough to shatter the bones of giants. She tugged, ripping dozens of them free from the Typhon’s back, and this time its bellow held real pain.

Isabel answered with the ear shattering roar of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

 

The Dragon’s Scion Part 98

-PART 2-

The library of Axburg’s Baron was not the grandest that Poz had ever seen – that had been the Library of the Enlightened Sands in Hadorim to the southeast, a massive structure that could have housed a small town and boasted meticulous organization. What set the Library of Baron Rainer apart from the others Poz had encountered in his travels was the level of comfort put into it. Immense couches, long enough where two fully grown men could have laid with feet touching and their heads would not reach the armrests. Chairs that seemed to be stuffed with down feathers and covered in the softest velvet. Tables that boasted clever mechanisms allowing them to be adjusted perfectly to suit the reader’s height. All of it was lit by immense windows to allow in natural sunlight.

It was clearly built by and for someone who loved the simple pleasures of reading. That man existed, and Poz found him in one of the overstuffed chairs, his feet up on a stool. The spine of the book was visible. The Adventures of Stellaria Bustil, Volume 2. “Good morning, milord,” Poz said, bowing low. He’d long ago learned it was entire possible to not greet the Baron and remain completely unnoticed,  but Baron Rainer would always be tremendously embarrassed when he came out of is book coma – usually when some servant reminded the Baron he did need to eat.

“Poz! Please, I’ve told you at least five times now, there’s no need for such bowing among scholars.” The Baron carefully selected a bookmark and slid it between the pages of his tome.

Poz nodded and rose. “Apologies, milord.” It was difficult to explain to Baron Rainer the limitations of crowflesh. It was highly intelligent – some of the most intelligent forms Underfolk could take relied on members of the corvid family – and it was also highly social. Poz would find himself getting stressed if alone too long, which made him grateful for the Baron being a fellow lover of books. However, it was not the best at social niceties. When in crowflesh, Poz relied heavily on the trappings of society to interact with humans.

That meant one bowed for a Baron, no matter how much said Baron insisted otherwise.

“I see you’re choosing a less scholarly pursuit today?” Poz’s question was also half a statement. Poz could not see much scholarly use for a series of books about a young woman getting into increasingly unlikely situations that required she either rescue or be rescued by a series of increasingly attractive young men, followed by detailed descriptions of the human mating process. Poz knew humans found such things exciting, although the reasoning eluded him.

It likely has to do with their mating habits, Poz reasoned. Human mating seemed to be a messy process. Underfolk were much more refined. The females waited until breeding season to lay their eggs in a cool cavern pool, and the males would come by to fertilize the eggs later. Only one in a hundred of the larvae would make it to adulthood while the rest cannibalized each other.

One of the maids here had a human larva. It was a weak, squealing thing that the humans doted on. It seemed to Poz that such coddling would allow weak spawn to survive to adulthood and drain resources…but then again, given how few larva humans produced, perhaps that was best for their species. Weak humans were not the drain on resources Poz had feared them to be, and some of them could still contribute to gaining resources.

The Baron had said something, and Poz snapped his mind to attention. One of the drawbacks of Crowflesh was its attention span was limited. No other form was so easily obtained and offered as much intelligence, but it had its drawback. Poz had heard Squidflesh was better focused and every bit as intelligent, but without access to the sea he’d never had a chance to sample it. Perhaps when this is over… “I apologize, milord. I did not catch what you said there.”

The Baron was flushed, which was an unsurprising response. Humans often became embarrassed when confronted with their interest in their own mating habits. “Actually, this is of scholarly interest. While many aspects of these stories are sensationalized, they are based on historical documents from a scholar of Third Era, Estelia Ubistil. This book contained a reference to the Golden Egg you’re so interested in.”

Poz felt two of his three hearts skip at the mention. Finding actual evidence of the Golden Egg had been difficult so far, and most of the accounts in the Baron’s library contained information Poz already knew. It would only ‘hatch,’ whatever that resulted in, when exposed to Heartflame. Dragon’s viewed them as sacred and were lethally protective of them, even more than their normal eggs. “And?” Poz saw the Baron stiffen, and realized how the word had sounded and reminded himself of the social failings of this flesh. At least that, from what I’ve heard, is even worse in Squidflesh. “Apologies, milord. I am…overeager for information, and forgot myself.”

Baron Rainer relaxed at the apology. “In the story, Stellaria uses the Golden Egg to barter with a Dragon. Absolute nonsense, of course – the dragon would have simply incinerated her – but some facts are interesting. These are put in the footnotes of the story, and such footnotes are known to be accurate. Outside of being hatched by Heartflame, the eggs are indestructible to any force known at the time. At the time this tome was written, no Dragon had hatched a Heartflame egg in over two thousand years – which is why information about what they are.”

Poz resisted the urge to grind his teeth. This was new information, but it wasn’t useful information. However, Baron Rainer had a flair for the dramatic, and loved saying the most important information for last. Poz would have to endure the wait.

This flesh just made that endurance painfully difficult.

“Of course, the last footnote was the most intriguing. It contained a reference to a vast hoard of these Golden Eggs, which had the ring of a legendary cache that likely no longer exists, if it ever did. What truly intrigued me about it was a reference to Draconic metempsychosis.” He said the last with a flourish, as if I had expected Poz to leap with joy.

“Apologies, milord. I don’t know what that means.”

The Baron looked a bit put off with his grand reveal going over so flatly. “Of course, of course,” the man said, railing admirably. “Dragons believed that, when a Heartflame egg is hatched, the being that emerges is the spiritual child of the original dragon.”

Poz began to nod in understanding. If dragons did believe that…if the dragon princess did, he could return the egg to immense gratitude. So much so she probably would not investigate his claim that he had killed the original thief. That lie, at least, Poz had settled on a couple days ago. “Thank you, Baron Rainer. This has given me what I needed to know.” He forced himself to smile. “Now that I have what I need, I must be going. I have a great distance to travel.”

The blood drained out of the Baron’s face. “Oh, but you can’t go!” He exclaimed. Poz raised a single eyebrow, and the Baron began to rally again. “Surely you see that there’s still more to learn – after all, we only just found this reference, and-”

Poz tuned out the Baron’s lies. He focused instead on the man’s face, the way his skin turned pale, the way sweat began to form on his forehead and upper lip. Realization struck him. I was a fool. “How long?” Poz asked, cutting off the Baron mid-ramble.

“You could stay for a couple more-”

Poz cut him off with a sharp hand gesture. “No, Baron Rainer. How long ago did the Alohym get to you? How long have you been promising to keep me here, giving me only tidbits to keep me interested?”

“I…I don’t know what you’re…” Baron Rainer studied Poz’s face and saw no mercy in there, no yielding. He sighed. “Two days. For the last two days. I’m sorry. You really were a fascinating conversationalist.”

Before Poz could question further, the window exploded in a flash of Unlight.