The Dragon’s Scion Part 159

Sorry for the delay with this! Double update time! Read this part then click over to get part 160 right away. Patreons, part 160 and 161 are up over there. Thank you for the patience!

Armin kept the arcwand trained on Theognis as the Lumcaster clenched his fist. Tendrils of unlight were stretching across the wound. “Don’t move or the next bolt goes through your skull,” Armin said, spitting the words.

Theognis looked up at him, and although his face was twisted into a mask of pure hatred, he didn’t budge from where he was. Every line of his body was tight with tension, and the dark web didn’t stop its progress, but he didn’t move.

“Good. Glad we have an understanding.”

Haradeth was looking at him in disbelief. Synit’s mandibles were hanging open. Even the strange automaton had ceased her attempts to break free of the unlight cage to peer at him with narrowed lenses that Armin assumed must be her eyes, or at least function as them. He couldn’t see Ossman and Aldredia and Lorathor, but he could imagine they were giving him similar expressions. A single question hung over the room, one that no one was saying aloud. “How did you do that?”

Armin really hoped no one would ask it, because the truth was, he had absolutely no idea.

He played back the last few in his head, trying to figure out what had happened.

***

Lorathor didn’t need keys to the other cells. Now that he was more open about how far his shapeshifting prowess could be pushed, it was easy to watch him shove his fingers into the keyholes and let them run like wax before the door unlocked.

“I should go first,” Armin said quietly as the first door clicked open. “Ossman knows you, but Aldredia might respond poorly to an unknown person coming in.”

“I can’t imagine why,” Lorathor said, his voice thick with sarcasm, and he pulled the door open, stepping back to remain hidden behind the wood.

Aldredia screamed and lunged from the room, her fists raised. They hadn’t chained her to a wall. Armin leapt back, holding up his hands. “It’s me! It’s me!”

“Armin?” Aldredia asked, coming to a halt. “How’d you get out?”

“My friend behind the door. We have to move. We need to get Ossman free.”

“Just Ossman?” Aldredia’s eyes narrowed. “What about Guiart? And Clarcia.” Armin tried to find the words, but they were thick on his tongue. He settled for just shaking his head. Aldredia’s face collapsed inwards, like she’d been punched in the gut. “I see. You’re sure?”

“I saw Clarcia’s body,” Armin said. Lorathor stepped out from behind the door and moved to the next cell. He knew the urgency of the situation but let them have their moment in silence.

“Where?” Aldredia asked.

“I’ll…I’ll explain later.” Armin said. Aldredia gave him a sharp look, one that softened when she met his eyes. The horror he felt must have shown through, and Armin tried to suppress it. Don’t burden her with it. Not right now. After we’re done. 

Assuming he didn’t get anyone else killed.

Ossman and Lorathor were having a quiet conversation. Armin didn’t hear any rattling chains. It appeared Theognis had spared the only cell with a chain for Armin. Of course he did, Armin thought bitterly. He was probably going to kill them if he ever opened their cells again. 

“Any idea where our weapons are?” Aldredia asked.

Armin shook his head. “I’m an absolute failure, it seems. Maybe Lorathor-”

What he had been about to say was cut off. Aldredia stepped forward and raised her hand. For a moment Armin thought she was going to slap him. For an instant, it looked like she thought the same thing. Then she took another step forward and grabbed him by the shoulder. “You develop the ability to see the future when your eyes went weird?” she asked.

Armin blinked at the question and shook his head.

“Then you can’t blame yourself for not predicting the unpredictable. No one I’ve served under would have seen that coming.”

“Thank you,” Armin said. Ossman and Lorathor exited the other cell. Armin met Ossman’s eyes, and saw they glistened in the faint light provided by arcglobes. Lorathor must have given him the details. Everyone keeps telling you it’s not your fault. If you freeze right now, though…that would be your fault. “Alright. Lorathor, do you know where our weapons are?”

“I saw a few thrown in an unlocked cell on my way in. If they’re not yours, they’re still weapons.”

“Good enough. Let’s move. We’ve got a Lumcaster to send straight to the Shadow.”

They were their weapons; a stroke of luck Armin hadn’t expected to get. Re-armed, they followed Lorathor down the hallway towards where Theognis waited.

As they ran, Armin opened his eyes.

It was wrong. He knew that. Mortals were not meant to see the flow of Light. Such things were forbidden, in the same sense that attempting to fly by flapping your arms or breathing underwater or swimming through the ground were forbidden – no actual law was needed to forbid them, because natural laws made them impossible. It was blasphemous, something that perhaps the little gods could do, but not a mortal. Yet Armin could now, and he certainly was not a god. He knew he should keep this power locked away and never utilize it.

Yet if he had kept his eyes open, he might have seen the unnatural strands of unlight that signaled Theognis’s presence. He might have known sooner that they were coming.

That was the failure. That was what he could have done differently. He could have watched with his new sight, and if he had, Clarcia and Guiart might still be alive.

Never again would he shut himself off from their flow, and if he was damned to the darkest parts of the Shadow for his blasphemy, he’d accept that torment as a price for saving even a single life.

So, when they’d rounded the bend and seen Theognis closing in on Synit, unlight prisons trapping Bix and Haradeth, Armin had known what to expect. Theognis’s hands were wrapped in a cocoon of unlight, strands of it so densely packed the man’s hands were merely an outline. It was invisible to the naked eye, a pre-cast weaving that would activate if it was triggered. It was how he was absorbing the unlight, and any true light that was sent his way would be twisted into unlight before it reached his barrier and only strengthen it.

Even knowing it wouldn’t work, Armin had pulled the trigger. Pure instinct had driven the reaction. He had to do something, anything. And then he’d felt something. A sensation not unlight the buildup of light when he was charging an arcell, but somehow different. He’d pushed out with that sensation, and Theognis’s barrier had flickered out of existence.

It had lasted only a moment. It had given Armin’s blast all the time it needed. But now Theognis was protected again, and Armin had no idea how to replicate the feat.

He doesn’t know that. Light and Shadow, don’t let him figure it out. “Bring down the unlight cages, Theognis. Now.”

“I have to move if that’s what you want,” Theognis said, growling through the pain. The hole in his hand was now full of unlight.

“I know that’s a lie. You don’t need to use your hand to undo your own lumcasting.”

Theognis gave him a thin smile. “So, you did pay attention sometimes. I’ll admit to being surprised. Yet unlight is different.”

“You’re lying,” Armin said, pushing his finger against the trigger.

Theognis shrugged slightly. “You don’t know. You never studied it, Armin. Unlight requires the motion to undo, as it does to put in place.”

Armin hesitated.

That was a mistake. It gave Theognis a chance to think. “Hmmm…a question, before you kill me?”

“I don’t care-” Armin started to say, but Theognis wasn’t interested in his opinion on the matter.

“If you believe they work the same, then you would believe killing me would end the traps. Yet you chose not to. And now I’m forced to wonder…why?”

Armin pulled the trigger. Theognis’s hand intercepted the blast, and Armin didn’t feel that pressure this time. The arclight was corrupted into unlight and merged with the barrier. Theognis smiled cruelly.

Screaming in desperation, Armin started to fire again.

In this moment, he was certain this would be the last act of his life.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 145

Glass shattered over the streets of Edgeminster as Poz went hurtling through a window. The sheet he’d wrapped around his hands was torn to ribbons by the impact, but his skin was untouched. Poz tossed it aside and rolled as he hit the ground.

Nicandros followed, his black coat fluttering behind him like the wings of a falcon descending upon a hare.

Or, more appropriately, a rat.

Poz sprung to his feet, his hands trembling with terror. The tail ratflesh provided lashed behind him, slicing through the air like a whip. Poz heard the sound of Nicandros hitting the ground behind him, and the rustle of cloth that had accompanied his descent was joined by the pounding of feet on the cobblestones of the street.

This ratflesh knew well. The hunter pursued, and the flesh ran. Poz gave himself over to the instincts of this form, instincts honed over countless generations of survival against predators more fearsome to it than Nicandros was to Pox. Rats knew how to escape cats and foxes and even the lesser cousins of dragons, the lesser drakes.

Nicandros had no fangs or claws. He had knives and swords. He had no fire breath. Instead, he had an arcwand.

Move! It wasn’t really a word. It was an impulse. Poz leapt to the side, and a bolt of unlight arcfire cut through the air, mere fingers from where he had been. The skin on his arms raised in gooseflesh, and his breathing came in ragged, harried gasps.

“Poz, wait!” Nicandros shouted.

Poz did not. He bolted out of the alley and skittered into the street.

People started to scream and shout as Poz emerged onto the street. A woman and man clutched to each other, and a food vendor overturned one of his carts in surprise. Cabbages spilled out in front of him, and Poz had to scramble to avoid slipping on the wet leaves. Poz’s tail lashed out as he passed and wrapped around the remaining cart, deliberately dragging it over as he passed. More cabbages fell onto the street, creating a carpet of slick vegetables.

The merchant bellowed in a combination of dismay and outrage as Nicandros rounded the corner, sighting his arcwand on Poz as his feet pounded the pavements.

Nicandros hit the cabbages, and his feet went sliding out from under him. Poz felt a thrill of relief. Poz had the advantage of the claws granted by ratflesh to keep himself balanced. Nicandros had nice leather boots. There was no comparison – at these speeds, he could not have hoped to maintain balance.

Poz’s relief was short lived. He couldn’t fight the compulsion to look over his shoulder and see that Nicandros was rising to his feet, already taking aim. Did I misjudge you so badly, old friend? Poz wondered, desperately hoping he had not been incorrect.

Nicandros swore and lowered his arcwand, forcing himself to his feet. Poz stumbled forwards as his legs went weak with sudden relaxation, and he had to force himself to keep moving. He’d been certain that Nicandros wouldn’t fire into a crowd of humans, but for a moment he’d honestly wondered if he’d been wrong.

Poz ducked into the next alley, out of Nicandros’ sight. Still weak from the realization that he’d managed to escape, Poz had to struggle to keep climbing as he made himself climb up the wall.

Nicandros entered the alley just moments after Poz pulled his tail over the roof. Heart still pounding, Poz curled himself around the chimney and waited for his body to stop shaking as Nicandros shouted his name below.

One thing Poz had learned in his time interacting with Nicandros was that humans were fiercely devoted to their offspring. Nicandros was worse than most in that regard. The boy’s mother had died not long after giving birth, and that grief had driven Nicandros to an almost slavishly loyal to his child.

Once, in an effort to get information out of Nicandros, a group of Alohym soldiers had abducted Tomah. The boy had been little more than four, and given the slow aging of humans, Poz thought it was very likely he had completely forgotten about it.

Poz had been bound to a wall while Nicandros had been chained to a chair when they’d interrogated him. He’d watched, helpless to say anything, as Nicandros had been subject to their torture. They’d sliced away strips of flesh. They’d shoved hot pins under his fingernails. They’d beaten him with blunt instruments. He’d endured it all.

Oh, sure, he had screamed in pain and writhed in agony. He’d cursed them with every vulgarity he knew, from the new oaths of the Alohym to the old oaths of the faith of the Light, and even a few Underfolk curses. Nicandros had even given them false locations, sending them down rabbit holes and chasing shadows.

They’d tried interrogating Poz too, but Poz had been deep in grubflesh at that point. He’d barely known the answers to the questions they’d be asking.

But Nicandros…he’d held it together. Almost perfectly. Poz had wondered if anything they’d done to him would have broken his resolve.

But in a moment of weakness, Nicandros had slipped out. He’d cried out for his son.

They’d brought Tomah the next day and tied the young boy to a chair across from his father. Nicandros was given a simple choice – begin talking, or his son would endure what he had endured.

Nicandros had told them everything. Locations, deployments, plans. Everything. Poz still shuddered to remember the desperate, wild fear in Nicandros eyes, the way he’d wept as he’d begged them to spare his son’s life. Even in grubflesh, it had broken Poz’s heart to see.

The Alohym soldiers had left them. Nicandros had sat there, in the chair, shuddering. Tomah had been frightened and confused, but they’d left them alone, and they hadn’t tied the boy’s bonds tightly enough to keep him from wriggling free. With some coaxing and urging from Nicandros, Tomah had brought his father the knife he needed to cut free. Nicandros had freed Poz.

They’d escaped and gotten back to the resistance. Nicandros had warned de’Monchy of his failing before the Alohym could wipe them out.

Then he’d left his son in the care of the resistance and left. Poz had followed.

Together, they’d hunted down every single human that had held Nicandros captive, every single human that had been involved in taking Tomah hostage. Nicandros had slaughtered them all, one by one. In their homes, in their places of work, at one point even raiding a barracks.

The last one had, while having hot pins jammed under his fingernails, gave up the name of their commander, the man who had ordered they use Tomah as a hostage.

It had been terrifying to watch what Nicandros did to the man. He’d spent days dying, begging for mercy, pleading for Nicandros to free him – pleas that eventually turned to begging for death.

Yet under that torment, he’d maintained the actual Alohym that commanded him had not known of the ploy. Finally, Nicandros had been convinced that the man was telling the truth, that the decision had ultimately come from this broken down husk that had once been human, and granted him his final wish.

Before Nicandros had killed the man, he’d told the commander that he’d be killing his wife and daughter as well. The man had gone to the Shadow believing his family would die like he would. Screaming.

It had been a lie. Nicandros had explained later. “I just wanted the flathing bastard to go to the Shadow thinking his family would be joining him.” And yet…perhaps it had been grubflesh, but Poz had – at the moment the threat was made – believe Nicandros meant it.

That was the most terrifying Nicandros had ever been, up until the day he’d learned the family Tomah had gone to stay with had allowed him to join the Alohym’s ranks.

That was the man Poz was up against, and Poz was standing between that man and his son’s resurrection.

Below Poz, Nicandros shouted his name in a voice that was born with the rage and sorrow of a grieving parent.

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.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 114

Dawn was cresting over the horizon as they broke off the road and prepared to make camp. The rest of the trip out of the town had been conducted in silence. Every muscle in Tythel’s body ached from being carried over Tellias’ shoulder for hours, and she’d had to fight the urge throughout to try and shift and make herself comfortable. You’re pretending to be a corpse; she reminded herself, a mantra that was repeated over and over again.

Leaving the Inn had been easier than Tythel had expected. Far too easy. There were bound to be Writ Hunters trailing them, looking to claim the ‘prize.’ Eupheme has whispered that, so low that only Tythel could hear her, and the entire time they’d traveled from town, Tythel had been able to confirm that with the distant sound of footsteps dogging their heels. No more than five of them, as far as Tythel could tell.

A far more manageable number than what they’d had in the inn, but still too many for Tythel’s liking.

Tellias dumped her unceremoniously onto the ground, muttering an apology as she hit the forest floor. There was no reason for him to treat her as anything other than a dead body, after all. She was valuable, but it wouldn’t make sense for him to keep her in pristine condition.

Knowing that didn’t help her desire to kick Tellias in the back for tossing her.

Tellias and Eupheme dragged some downed branches to cover Tythel, then they got to work setting up camp. Tythel took advantage of the time and cover to surreptitiously work out the kinks in her arms and legs. She couldn’t resist anything that might cause rustling, but flexing her toes and fingers wouldn’t show from above. Once feeling had returned to her hands and feet, she started rhythmically tensing and untensing her arms and legs, as well as her stomach and neck.

I’d kill for the chance to stretch properly, Tythel thought. The little bit of flexing was helping with some of the tension from being carried like a sack of potatoes over an armored shoulder for four or five leagues, but she desperately wanted a chance to get up and move about properly.

Also, her bad eye itched. Her eye had itched for the last hour. Tythel swore that as soon as she could move, she’d rub the thing out of its shadow-damned socket, so it would never bother her again. It was maddening to have an itch like that, one where her very survival depended on refusing to scratch.

Patience, Tythel, she reminded herself. Their pursuers had stopped as soon as they’d diverged from the path, making their own camp further down the forest. They were far enough away that without Tythel’s ears, they could have remained completely unheard. She didn’t know how they were remaining unseen – or, more concerning, how they were doing their observation.

“You think we’re being followed?” Tellias asked Eupheme. His voice was still echoing in the helmet, but underneath it, Tythel could hear a measure of strain.

“I think we’d know if we weren’t,” Eupheme said. “I think someone would make it very clear if that was the case.”

Tythel didn’t need to think too hard to read the subtext there. Fortunately, it seemed that was true for Tellias as well, who grunted in acknowledgment of the point. If Eupheme hadn’t been right, Tythel would have seized the opportunity to inform them. If just to get the chance to move.

“We can’t sleep,” Tellias said, his voice low. “Or at least, one of us can’t.”

Again, a veiled meaning, one Tythel didn’t have too much trouble following. She was capable of remaining motionless and breathing shallowly so long as she was awake. Asleep-

“Yes. One of us snores quite loudly.” There was a joking edge to Eupheme’s voice, and Tellias snorted in amusement.

Tythel had to frown. This was a veiled meaning, but she was absolutely lost. Tellias and Eupheme both didn’t snore in their sleep, so it couldn’t be they were talking about either of them. Was snore perhaps a coded phrase of some kind? Tythel turned it over in her mind. It could refer to a roar, although that didn’t quite add up. That could be about the difficulty of getting Tellias out of his armor without her aid…although Tythel had no idea how that would be a snore. Perhaps they meant…

Or, just perhaps, they mean you snore, Tythel thought, suddenly flushing with indignation. Which is absolute rubbish. They’re just taking advantage of the fact that you can’t retort, light forsake them! 

If they knew Tythel was fuming under the pile of leaves and branches, they gave no indication.

The fact was, Tythel realized, they were at an impasse. Right now Tythel had no way to alert them to how many possible foes waited nearby, nor did she have a way to strategize with them. They could strategize all they wanted, but they lacked any information as to what the nature of the threat was, and any strategy would give away that Tythel was alive. For all they knew, an Alohym was trailing them with a small army, just out of their earshot. The moment their aggressors realized that she was alive, they would…

…either flee in fright or charge and attack. Either of which would be better than this interminable waiting.

Tythel sat up so suddenly Tellias let out a startled, strangled sound, and even Eupheme jumped. “Yes, yes, I have arisen from the grave,” Tythel said, adopting the same annoyed tone Karjon had used whenever startling her. “We’ve got five of them, about a mile away. Don’t know how they’re watching us, but they have been since we left town. They’re going to know I’m awake any minute now, I’m sure of it.”

Tythel held up a finger to forestall any response. As she had expected, the moment she sat up, the sounds of footsteps started pounding on the ground – headed towards them. Tythel sat up and held out her hand for her hammer and shield. “They’re coming,” she said.

Five foes of unknown strength, charging the three of them. Eupheme vanished into the shadows, and Tellias and Tythel readied their weapons.

Then, pausing for a moment, Tythel placed her hammer on the ground and rubbed at her eye. She might die here, but she’d be forsaken by Light and Shadow both if she’d die with that flathing itch in her eye.

Satisfied, she grabbed her hammer just as the Writ Hunters burst into view.

The Burning Epoch Part 3

There were good reasons to get drunk. If Darnell Henderson had known the world was ending, he would have considered that a very good reason to get drunk. However, he wasn’t aware of that when he started drinking.

There were bad reasons to get drunk. The fact that today was yet another day where he was stuck using his biology degree to sell pharmaceuticals was probably a bad reason to get drunk, but it was the reason that motivated Darnell at the moment. He’d wanted to be a scientist. When he’d gone to college and majored in biology, he’d had dreams of working in some kind of laboratory, maybe being the one to figure out how to clone dinosaur DNA.

Then he’d gotten his fancy diploma, and a week later he’d his car had careened out of control, and he’d been just over the legal limit. No one had been hurt, except for his post-grad prospects. And if all you have is a degree in biology, there weren’t many jobs that involved actual lab work that would hire you. He could have gone back to school and gotten a teaching certificate, but schools also weren’t too keen on hiring someone with a DUI.

Pharmacy companies, however? They didn’t care what skeletons you had in your closet. Or at least, not if it was a little thing like a DUI. If you could sell, you were golden.

So Darnell had learned how to sell. He’d actually turned out to be very good at it. All you had to to was exude confidence and phrase things the right way. Don’t ask someone if they wanted to buy the product, ask them when they wanted it delivered. Don’t ask someone what need you could fill for them, convince them they had a need that only you could fill. It went well, it made him money, and he hated it with a passion that burned like the whiskey going down his throat.

Goddamn you’re getting maudlin, he chided himself. It was depressing, or it was depression. He wasn’t sure which. Maybe a little bit of both.

His phone started to beep with notifications. Darnell ignored it. He didn’t want to see the latest Twitter trend, he didn’t want to know what the assholes he worked with were tagging it in, he didn’t want to see another invitation to go out and go drinking with his co-workers. One thing Darnell had learned from DUI – drinking was something best done at home, alone, where you wouldn’t have to go anywhere afterward. As far as everyone who wasn’t willing to come over to his place was concerned, he was totally dry.

Today had actually been a good day. He’d secured the SigmaDyne account, which had netted his company ten million dollars and him a hundred thousand dollars worth of commission. The problem had been who he was selling too.

Grant Whitman, the head of Research and Development at SigmaDyne, who’d been Darnell’s lab partner Junior year.

He and Grant had parted on good terms. Grant had left the bar the same night as Darnell, every bit as drunk. Grant knew that it was only an accident of fate that it had been Darnell that crashed, Darnell that got caught, Darnell that was stuck working as what amounted to a corporate approved drug-pusher. Grant was living the dream. He’d been in the research lab at SigmaDyne after he finished his Masters in Molecular Biology. He’d managed to find a way to get E. Coli to produce bacteriophages for other, deadlier bacteria without killing themselves. His research was going to solve the growing problem of antibiotic resilience.

Darnell had sold him and his company an exclusive contract to distribute boner pills for old white guys that couldn’t get it up anymore. Greg had been kind about it, and Darnell probably wouldn’t have gotten the contract without that connection, but…goddamn did it burn. Burned like…burned like a bad, overwrought metaphor.

He didn’t know anything was wrong until he heard the roar coming from the parking lot. Even then, he didn’t leap out of his chair to go take a look at it. He figured the people in the apartment below him just had some movie on too loud.

It wasn’t until the screaming started he realized something was wrong. It hit the window like a sonic tidal wave, crashing over his ears and triggering a surge of adrenaline that cleared his head for a moment. He got up and wandered over the balcony, his heart pounding, wondering what the hell he was about to walk into.

“Run!” someone was screaming from the balcony above him. He recognized Candice’s voice and looked down to see who she was screaming at. At this height, Darnell couldn’t make him out.

Then he noticed the monster. The goddamn giant monster – no, monsters – that dominated the parking lot like a pair of scaled Tyrannosauridae. No, not quite. Their arms were too long and strong. Longer and stronger than any described Therapod. Their heads were wrong too. A bit too flat, a bit too wedged shaped, looking like the belonged on a member of the anole family, not the ancient claude that had given rise to the largest predators that had walked the Earth.

The other reason Darnell knew they weren’t dinosaurs. Because they were in the goddamn apartment of his fucking apartment building. That was a dead giveaway that they weren’t dinosaurs, because dinosaurs were extinct. 

One of the monsters was scraping its way into 213 across the way, and Darnell could only watch in horror. From above him, from Candice’s apartment, he heard the newscaster. “Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States of America.”

Darnell pulled out his phone as Candice’s glass door slid shut above him. The president was on the white house lawn. He’d been sworn in just three months ago, after a volatile election in 2020. He’d looked young and full of energy then.

Right now, he just looked tired. “My fellow Americans,” he said, his voice far calmer and firmer than his eyes looked. “Today, we face an event unlike any other in the history of this great nation – indeed, in the history of mankind. At seven-thirty this evening, Eastern Standard Time, seismic events began disturbing the lives of men and women across the globe. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and seismic events have caused untold damage across the globe. I can deliver some good news there – while we do not yet know the cause of these seismic events, early reports that this disturbance was enough to cause a ‘nuclear winter’ that covered our globe with ash are overblown. We may experience some cooling, but long term damage to our crops and life will be minimal.”

On the bottom of the screen, the scrolling ticker was informing Darnell of exactly what areas were impacted by these seismic events. It was a horrifyingly long list. He stared at it, but his attention was pulled away by the sound of helicopters in the distance.

The monsters heard it too. They turned away from the building they were tearing into and chirped at each other, their heads turning skywards towards the source of the sound. Darnell felt his heart begin to pound in his chest. These creatures were, somehow, recognizing the approach of the helicopters as something that warranted their attention.

“We also have seen things of indescribable horror. To call them monsters would be accurate, although 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.”

The helicopters came into view, their searchlights illuminating the two Kaiju in the parking lot. The larger of the two let out a bellowing roar as if challenging the strange flying creatures that dared to have invaded its territory.

“Two of these creatures have been sighted on American soil, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I have dispatched air force helicopters to contain the threat they pose. I have mobilized our military in its full might to provide relief to stricken areas, and to contain the threat these kaiju pose. Please remain calm. Help is coming. If you are in a major metropolitan area, please remain indoors. Help is coming. We are urging anyone not inside a city head towards the safety of urban centers not impacted by the seismic events. Our first priority is to drive these creatures from our cities.”

The rest of the President’s words were drowned out as one of the helicopters opened fire, a long, ripping sound that sounded like the world was being torn apart. Reflex drove Darnell back against his glass door.

One of the Kaiju screamed in a sound of fury and pain. The smaller of the two. It was now bleeding from a dozen wounds, the glowing red blood flowing freely from what looked like comically small holes. It was hurt, but it certainly wasn’t down. Darnell stepped forward.

The larger of the two bent its head, and a low buzzing sound began to emerge from its mouth. It opened its mouth to roar, and Darnell though it was another challenge, another act of defiance.

Then the roar turned into a stream of golden energy that flowed like fire and impacted the firing helicopter. It detonated, and shards of flaming metal rained from the sky around it.

The other two helicopters opened fire then, but the Kaiju were moving. The smaller one began to climb up 214, moving with surprising swiftness as it scaled the balconies of the apartment. The helicopter firing at it tried to rotate around the building to get a better shot, but the Kaiju took its climb horizontal, keeping the building between itself and its attacker.

The larger kaiju held its ground, and the buzzing sound around it began to intensify. It was building up another one of those discharges. The helicopter began to take evasive action, and Darnell found himself stepping forward against his balcony, leaning over, wanting to scream and shout encouragement to those brave souls shooting up his parking lot.

He heard a crash of stone and creaking mortar as the smaller Kaiju reached leaped onto the roof of 214 like it like it was pouncing on prey. The helicopter that had been following it now had a clear line of fire. Before it could fully swing its minigun around to fire, however, the kaiju opened its mouth. Darnell braced himself for another line of golden fire, but that wasn’t what his kaiju could do.

Instead, a tongue lashed out like a chameleon’s, ending in a five-pronged grasping appendage. It latched onto the helicopter, on the airframe between the fuselage and the tail rotor. The kaiju’s tongue began to retract, throwing the helicopter off course, until finally, the tail gave way under the strain. Darnell screamed wordlessly as the helicopter careened out of control and crashed into 215 before plummeting to the ground.

Then the big kaiju released its stream of golden energy again, and the final helicopter detonated in the air.

The two kaiju roared their triumph. After the sudden chaos, the silence that followed was overwhelming.

“I have no doubt that we will overcome this threat, as we have overcome so many others,” the President said, finishing his speech. “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 feed went back to the talking heads, preparing to analyze the President’s speech and awaiting results of the helicopters dispatched to Minnesota.

In the parking lot of Darnell’s apartment, hope was burning.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 112

“There’s six of them in the main room,” Eupheme said, stepping out of the shadow behind the dresser for what Tythel hoped would be the last time. “And three on both exits. Armed with unlight weapons.”

Tythel swore, although she managed to avoid jumping this time. It helped to expect Eupheme’s return. It helped even more to be busy helping Tellias strap himself into the arcplate. Armin had outdone himself with the device, and even Tythel could follow the relatively simple labelling to install the new power source – one that was designed for skitters, no less. Whenever I see him next, I must tell him he made it as foolproof as possible. 

Of course, finding him was contingent on surviving the next five minutes.

“Unlight weapons – see any arcwands?” Tythel asked.

Eupheme nodded. “At least three different people with arcwands, and two with ringwands.”

Tythel grimaced. If they all had melee weapons, it would have been possible to charge through, or utilize their own newly acquired arcwands to keep them at bay. None of them could stand direct unlight beams, although Tellias’ arcplate would be able to absorb a few blasts. She strapped on Tellias’ greaves, making sure the sturdy hide was well secured.

“We can’t sneak out then,” Tellias said, his voice muffled by the helmet as Tythel placed it on his head. It normally took three people working for ten minutes to get arcplate in place. Tythel and Tellias had managed it in just under five. He was now the tallest of the three of them, nearly seven spans tall, and the red and orange lines of arcplate cut a striking figure. The arcplate, due to the somewhat roughshod nature of Armin’s modifications, was bulkier than the sleek black and unlight design of the Alohym’s imperiplate, with glowing canisters sticking out of the shoulder plates and down the spine. In some ways, it was more imposing than imperiplate – it made Tellias look like one of the holy warriors of old.

“Main room isn’t an option either,” Tythel said, grabbing her own hammer and shield. She regretted not finding the time for Armin to retrofit them to work with arclight, but she’d hated the idea of leaving them aside for too long. They’d been added to her meager list of possessions. Plus, they belonged to Thomah, and therefore represented her only remaining link to Nicandros. Do not think about him right now, Tythel chided herself. “If we go through the main room, this Inn will be destroyed the moment I use my flame. That would be a poor way to repay the innkeeper for his hospitality.”

“What about ghostflame?” Eupheme asked. “It can pass through barriers without harming them, right? The Innkeeper’s room is above us, the Writ Hunters are below. No other patrons downstairs either.”

Tythel considered for an instant. It was very tempting. Just let Eupheme point where she should breath and let loose the wispy blue flame to empty the common room without exposing any of them to danger. It was a nice thought, and if she had mastered ghostflame properly, she’d be able to do it in a heartbeat. Regretfully, she shook her head. “I still have to start with dragonflame and transition through. By the time I got to ghostflame, I’ll have set the building on fire.”

“Flath,” Eupheme said. “Can you at least still hear them?” She walked over to the window and glanced out, as if half expecting to see snipers waiting for them across the window. Tythel didn’t think that was likely, but her hand still twitched with a desire to tackle Eupheme to the ground just in case.

Instead, she took a deep breath and focused on what she was hearing. After a moment, she nodded. “They’re arguing right now about how to handle who gets the spoils of the kill. Someone, a woman, is suggesting that they stop fighting over it now and make it a race – whoever gets proof to the Alohym first gets the prize. There’s some contention over it. We still have a bit of time.”

“Maybe we’ll get lucky,” Tellias said, although he didn’t sound like he believed his own words, “and they’ll turn on each other before even coming up here.”

Tythel snorted at the thought. Writ hunters were a fiercely competitive lot, if half the stories she’d read were true, but they’d rarely fight each other. There wasn’t any profit in it. “Do we ever get that lucky?” she asked.

She could hear Tellias shaking his head inside the helm, although it didn’t move with the motion. Tythel pulled over a chair to see why it wasn’t and found a loose connector strap near the shoulder. If we had missed that…Tythel pushed the thought aside as she secured the strap, then began to check over Tellias another time.

“We could go through the window,” Tellias said. “It’ll mean less damage to the Inn than a fight in here would, and all of us can survive the drop. At least, assuming the arcplate’s charge hold.”

“It’s a brand new arccell. If it doesn’t hold, I’m tracking down Eliert and skinning him, starting with his flathing ears,” Eupheme said in a low growl. “Window is a gamble, and one I’m not keen to take. If we get hurt in the landing, or draw too much attention, we’ll have the Alohym down on us.”

Tellias turned to glare at Eupheme, and Tythel was relieved the helm moved with the motion. “We’re running low on options!” Tellias said, his voice full of frustration. “If you have a better idea-”

At that moment, an idea crystalized in Tythel’s mind. She took a moment to turn it over, although with Eupheme already giving an angry retort, it was hard to focus. “Quiet, both of you! I think I do,” Tythel said before the argument could get really heated. She hadn’t intended for her voice to come out in that harsh a snap, but light their argument was grating on her nerves. “It’s a crazy plan, but it could work.”

“Well, spit it out then,” Eupheme said.

Tythel nodded. “First of all, Eupheme, you’re going to need to wear my eyepatch, and I’m going to need your dagger…