The Dragon’s Scion Part 71

“Be not afraid,” Anotira said, motioning Haradeth towards a chair that awaited the building she had brought them to. “I do not intend you harm this day, Haradeth, son of Lathariel.”

Haradeth swallowed what felt like a lump of cotton. “You know my name?”

“Of course. I heard the argument with Shaaythi, after all. I hear all that happens within this dome.”

Lorathor stood silently against the wall, letting Haradeth take the lead. Haradeth did so by sinking into the chair he was offered.

“What are you?” he finally asked.

“I’m a goddess. Like your mother,” Anotira said.

Haradeth shook his head firmly. “You’re not alive.”

Lorathor gasped, but Anotira laughed. This time, the sound came from her mouth, not the air around Haradeth, and it felt more natural – although the lack of life coming from Anotira was still unsettling. “What makes you say that?”

“It’s the truth,” Haradeth said simply. “I can sense life. I know life. You are not a living thing.”

“Interesting. I wonder what that says about me. Are you certain I’m not just too alien for your experiences to process?”

Haradeth shook his head. “The Alohym are alive. I can feel it off them. If I can sense it from them, I surely can from you.”

“Haradeth,” Lorathor said firmly. “She is our goddess. You should not speak to her so.”

Haradeth did not take his eyes from Anotira. “She may be that, my friend, but she is certainly not alive.”

Lorathor opened his mouth to object again, but before he could, Anotira sighed, and again she flickered into motes of light. “I suppose there’s not point arguing it.” She turned to face Lorathor for a moment. “Lorathor. Spawn of Galithin, Chessae, and Corvi. I bind you to speak no word of what you learn here to the others. No clever tricks, no loopholes. If you share what I say here, you will be cast out. If you find some way to subvert the spirit of this order, you will be cast out. Am I clear?”

Lorathor nodded mutely, and Anotira turned back to Haradeth.

“You are correct. I am not alive. Not in the strict, organic sense of the word. Although I’d argue that I can exhibit many of the traits of life. I can replicate, I consume, I grow. I just do so through a different mechanism.”

“I don’t understand,” Lorathor burst in, and Haradeth nodded in agreement.

“How does a Skitter know where to put its claws at it moves?” Anotira asked.

Haradeth frowned. “There’s a lattice inside the Skitter. It controls the legs. It’s sort of like…well, I guess it’s like an insect’s mind.”

Anotira nodded. “It’s exactly like that, in fact. And if a lattice could be built to emulate the mind of an insect, could it be scaled up? To the mind of a wolf? Or a human? Or…something more?”

Haradeth gaped at her. “You…you’re a lattice? So there’s some Sylvani controlling you?”

Anotira shook her head. “No Sylvani controls me. I was built to be self controlling, self aware.”

If Haradeth hadn’t already been sitting down, he would have fallen to the floor. “That’s impossible.”

“If the Alohym had not come, you would have said a web that functions like an insect brain was impossible.” Anotira said gently.

Haradeth could only stare at her mutely.

“I am the guiding intelligence of this city,” Anotira explained. “I am the beginning of the Sylvani’s story on this world, and I am its end.”

After a minute, Haradeth found his voice. “You…what do you mean you’re the beginning of the Sylvani’s story? Did something else make you?”

Anotira shook her head. “I said I was the beginning of the Sylvani’s story on this world.

Lorathor had turned a pale blue. “What…what are you saying?”

“You are not of a people native to his world, Lorathor,” Anotira said. “Your ancestors came here thousands of years ago. Each of the spires that make up this city was once a ship that traversed the same voice the beings you now know as Alohym traveled.”

“Now know as Alohym?” Haradeth said, his voice firm and demanding. “What were they called before?”

“I do not know.”

Haradeth’s eyes narrowed. “You claim to be as old as the Sylvani on this world, yet you don’t know the name of the beings you fled to come here?”

Anitoria flickered again. “No. I do not. My lattice…when we first arrived here, there were twelve of us.”

“The Twelve Luminous Gods,” Lorathor said, still looking so pale Haradeth feared he might faint. “The others died to preserve your life, facing off against the Dark One Eylohir, so that you could guide us for the rest of time.”

“Is that what they say?” Anitoria smiled. “It’s…close to the truth. Eylohir is a word that your language has lost, Lorathor. In the ancient tongue of the Sylvani, it meant…” Anitoria frowned. “I cannot find a good synonym. A loose translation would be ‘catastrophic system failure.’ She sighed again, and Haradeth noted for the first time the sigh was identical to the others. The way her head tilted, the way her arms moved, wasn’t just similar to previous sighs. She was going through the exact same motion each time.

“Our power cores were damaged when we arrived here. To maintain all twelve would have resulted in our shutdown within one hundred years local time. It was decided that the other eleven would go into hibernation. I would be able to access their memories, but since I was the simplest of the Lattice Minds on this ship, I could run with the lowest power drain. Even then, to extend my lifespan, I was to run only when absolutely needed, and pass the important parts of the Sylvani culture and history down through organic, memetic methods, and prepare for the Alohym’s arrival on this world.”

Lorathor and Haradeth shared a look of confusion. “Organic, memetic methods?” Haradeth asked.

“Stories. Legends. Religion. Myths. Things the Sylvani would pass to each other. I made sure to run long enough enough to correct any absolutely flawed assumptions, but-”

“-you let us think we were from this world!” Lorathor burst in, unable to contain himself anymore. “You kept that secret from us! How is that not an ‘absolutely flawed assumption?’”

“It would have availed you nothing,” Anitoria said firmly. “I was to care for the Sylvani. Would you have me force you to feel like outsiders, constantly aware of the fact that you did not belong on this world? Would you have me force upon your an apocalyptic prophecy that the Alohym would arrive, when a hundred times a hundred generations have passed since we arrived on this world? A hundred times a hundred generators burdened by the knowledge of a fate that could arrive at any time? What would that have done to you? You accused Shaaythi earlier of forgetting that humans were worth saving, and that’s without feeling apart and separate from them.”

“What of our tools?” Lorathor demanded. “Of our weapons? We could have shared them with humanity!”

“We did,” Anitoria said firmly. “We gave humanity the tools we had, we gave them our science, we showed them how to channel the light within their world – the same light the Alohym stole from us.”

Lorathor looked a mixture of confused and hurt right now, so Haradeth picked back up the conversation. “If you did, what happened?”

“I can no longer access those records,” Anitoria said, her simulated voice full of bitterness. “I know there was a war. I do not know who fired the first shot. I do not know whom is to blame. I only know that since that war, I cannot access the memories of my siblings. I know my data has become corrupted in places. The older the memory, the harder it is to obtain, and the more likely it is to be riddled with errors. I was supposed to prepare us to face this enemy, and because of a war that was fought with the weapons we granted humanity, I cannot.”

“Surely you have some ideas-” Haradeth began, but Anitoria cut him off.

“I was created to record entertainment, not to formulate plans. When I could access the memory banks of the others, I could use them to simulate intelligence in areas I did not have. Invention. Strategy. Synthesis. Hypothesis.” She gave that sigh again, the same as every other sigh. “Now I am limited. Severely limited. I cannot even access the information I need to restore my connection with the others!”

“So you cannot help us?” Haradeth asked, softly.

“I cannot,” Anitoria confirmed, her voice sad. “I am sorry to have wasted your time. But what power I have left must be dedicated to maintaining the Sylvani’s safety.”

“But-” Haradeth begin.

Anitoria sighed that identical sigh one last time. “No, Haradeth, son of Lathariel. There is no but. I have one purpose I can still fulfill. These people are that purpose.”

Haradeth could see the resolve in her eyes, and realized that no words he could say would persuade this goddess.

Lorathor finally broke the silence, an ugly note to his voice. “Come on, Haradeth. I think we should be going.”

With that, they turned to leave Anitoria’s chamber, and Anitoria once again dispersed into cloud of lights.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 70

As they drew closer to the dome, Haradth could begin to make out what was inside. There were buildings in there, small versions of the towers that rose from the depths of the sinkhole. More of the strange animals, too. He could see a few creatures that he now knew were the natural form of the Sylvani, peering through the glass and waving their tentacles. As Haradeth watched, their skin rippled in a rapid display of colors. There seemed to be some kind of pattern in the shimmering of their skin, but Haradeth couldn’t pinpoint it. “They seem agitated,” he commented to Lorathor.

“They are.” Lorathor frowned. “They’re yelling at me for bringing an outsider here, especially now.”

“I can’t hear them,” Haradeth said with a frown.

“They aren’t yelling in words. We don’t speak amongst ourselves. We shimmer. If you knew how badly they’re cursing me right now…” Lorathor sighed. “They’re even angry I’m still in this form.”

“Should you shift?” Haradeth asked with sudden concern.

“No. I was going to shift back eventually. They need to be reminded of…well, of what’s here.”

“I don’t understand, Lorathor. Any of this.”

“I know.” Lorathor gave him a sad smile. “But you will.”

When they reached the end, a doorway opened in the glass. There hadn’t been any break before, Haradeth was sure of it. Two of the Sylvani levelled what looked like arcwands at them, but made of that same woven metal that seemed to be what constructed everything out here. “Lorathor. You’ve gone too far this time,” one of them said.

“Elder Shaaythi,” Lorathor said, ducking his head in a very human bow. “Last time you said that, She agreed with me.”

Shaaythi shimmered dark, rippling patterns of blue and purple and black. “You cannot speak of Her with an outsider!” she shrieked.

“Yet you are speaking aloud for his benefit,” Lorathor mentioned, “and speaking of Her yourself.”

“Only because you brought her up!” Shaaythi wrung her tentacles together and turned her eyes towards Haradeth. “Forgive me, human. Lorathor has gone outside of his remit, but it is hardly your fault. You are not expected to know our customs.”

Haradeth bowed towards the Elder. “No apologies needed. And you need not apologize for being incorrect about my race. I’m only half Human. My mother was Lathariel.”

Shaaythi turned her eyes back towards Lorathor, and her colors were now mixes of reds and golds, making her skin look like it was aflame. “What are you planning here, Lorathor?”

“She will want to speak to him,” Lorathor said calmly.

“You presume to know what she wants?” Shaaythi snapped.

“You presume the same,” Lorathor said simply.

Shaaythi glanced around at the others, and motioned for them to lower their arcwands. Haradeth let out a breath he didn’t realize he had been holding. “Son of Lathariel. You are welcome among our people. It has been some time since we had a guest, but we will do our best to accommodate you.”

“Thank you,” Haradeth said simply, not sure what else to do.

“Unfortunately, Lorathor has made promises he cannot keep. She does not speak to outsiders.”

“Who is She?” Haradeth asked.

Shaaythi shuddered. “She is…she is to us what your mother is to humans, in a way. Our goddess. She Who Is Born of Light.”

Haradeth nodded slowly. “I understand why she would not ordinarily speak to me,” he said, “but these are hardly ordinary times. You live apart, but you share the world with us. The Alohym-”

As soon as he said the name, every Sylvani save Lorathor began to shimmer in the red and gold colors Haradeth now associated with anger. “They should not be spoken of!” Shaaythi said. “Such things are forbidden.”

If she had told Haradeth that she was going to sacrifice him on an altar, he couldn’t have been more shocked. “Shouldn’t be spoken of?” He asked. “They invade our world! They have conquered the humans! They are slaying the gods and the dragons! And you want us not to speak of them?”

“Elder Shaaythi,” Lorathor said gently, “perhaps we should ask Her if she’ll speak to Haradeth.

“I…” Shaaythi hung her head. “It’s not permitted.”

“Not even to ask?” Haradeth asked.

“Not even to ask.”

Haradeth fought the urge to grind his teeth. Has Lorathor taken me all this way for nothing? He glanced sideways at the Sylvani. If Lorathor was fazed or surprised by this turn of events, it certainly wasn’t showing on his face.

“Very well,” Lorathor said before Haradeth could start the argument again. “I assume we can still grant the normal rules of hospitality?”

Shaaythi glared at Lorathor. “For your guest, yes. You, Lorathor, have violated ancient laws by-”

Lorathor interrupted her with a quick snap of his voice. “Her name, Haradeth, is Anotira. She is the Luminous One, our goddess, and she guides us from-”

“What are you doing!?” Shaaythi shrieked, raising her strangely beautiful Arcwand again.

“-within the walls of our Domes, where she is absolute and-”

“Silence or I will cut you down!” Shaaythi said, and Lorathor clamped his mouth shut. “Lorathor. Explain yourself.”

“Haradeth is our guest. Per our laws, that makes him a temporary citizen, does it not? And the laws against sharing information about our origins are very clear – we must not do so with a human, or an Underfolk, or a Dragon. We can only do so with citizens of our realm. And we cannot talk about it outside the dome.” Lorathor beamed at her. “Haradeth is not purely of any of those races, he is a guest and therefore a citizen, and we are within the dome.”

Shaaythi looked ready to faint. “You…you pervert the spirit of the law in favor of the letter of it! Lorathor, what happened to you? Did you live among the humans so long you have forgotten our people?”

“Oh, no, I have not forgotten them,” Lorathor said firmly. “But, unlike the rest of you, I remember Anotira’s first commandment. “Do nothing that prevents the growth of the other races.” We have our magics, our devices hidden here in this city that we have kept secret. Meanwhile, humans have welcomed us into their cities, into their homes, into the courts. That they have not always been perfect, no. They have been fearful, and reactionary, and brutal – but ultimately, they have been good. We need to help them!.”

“That is not for you to decide,” Shaaythi said.

“No, it is for Anotira to decide. And as a citizen who is neither human, nor underfolk, nor dragon, underneath the dome, he has the right to petit-”

“Silence!” Shaaythi snapped, “I am revok-”

“I wish to petition Anotira!” Haradeth shouted, before Shaaythi could kick him out. By the way Lorathor nodded, that had been important. “Under your laws, I have that right, do I not?”

Shaaythi swayed in shock. “It isn’t…it isn’t…”

Then someone began to laugh. A voice that was everywhere and nowhere, that came from the dome above them, the trees beside them, the buildings. It was a warm sound, but it was also terrifying. Even gods were manifest as physical beings. Haradeth looked around wildly for the source of the laughter.

“You were outplayed, Elder Shaaythi,” said a voice. There was a shimmer of light in the air in front of Haradeth, and suddenly there was a being there. She appeared almost humanoid, but made of light. Haradeth could see through her to Shaaythi. Her form was a bright blue, and Haradeth hastily bowed.  

As he rose from the bow, her form flickered, tiny motes of white light replacing here for the barest of instant before reforming. But that wasn’t what set Haradeth’s heart pounding in sudden fear, nor did it cause his mouth to dry up in swelling terror.

No, both of those were because, whatever this Anotira was, she gave off no signs of life to his senses.

“Elders of the Sylvani,” Anotira said, “one has requested my audience. His input is unothodox, but accepted. Leave us. We have much to discuss.”

The Sylvani bowed and began to go, and Anotira raised a finger. “Not you, Lorathor. You got the boy into this much trouble. It falls on you to get him out of it.”

Lorathor nodded graciously, and Anotira beckoned Haradeth closer. “Come, godling. I’m certain you have queries.”

Feet leaden with fear, Haradeth followed the woman made of light without a trace of life in her form.

Her form shimmered into motes of white light again for an instant, and Haradeth wondered if Lorathor had brought him all this way just to die.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 68

“We can’t let this go,” Lord Devos growled into the silence. “The Vacuity Engine…it’s our best chance to beat the Alohym.”

“We don’t know that for certain,” Lady von Baggett countered. “It’s a rumor we’ve heard.” she held up a hand to forestall one counter argument, “I know that it’s a credible rumor, but ‘disabling the Vacurity Engine could turn the tide’ being told to one of our agents from a dying man is hardly enough to risk an assault. For all we know, the Vacuity Engine might not even exist. And even if it does, it might be nowhere near as important as we think it is. We don’t know if it’s worth the risk.”

“What do you propose, then?” Lord Devos had a wicked gleam to his eye. “We keep fighting the same losing war we were fighting?”

“We have a way to kill Alohym now,” the Lady countered.

“No.” Lord Devos pointed a single meaty finger at Tythel. “She has a way to kill Alohym. She’s just one flathing woman, and she’s the princess! She’ll eventually die, and then we’re back to losing.”

“We have more people flocking to our cause than ever before,” Lady von Baggett managed to remain calm in the face of Lord Devos’ rage. “We could-”

“Even if every single person on the flathing continent joined us, we still don’t have a way to take down the Alohym. We’ll die before they fall.”

“We couldn’t kill the Alohym before because we were using their own weapons against them. It’s entirely possible that Arcwands will work if they’re powered by normal lumcells. No one’s tried it before.”

“Bah,” Lord Devos spat on the ground. “I’d rather not throw away men’s lives on a hunch.”

“So instead you’d waste them on the hunch the Vacuity Engine is of any use to us, if it even exists?”

“Enough,” Duke d’Monchy said in a calm but firm voice, cutting off Lord Devos’ retort. “Allow others to speak, please?”

“Uh,” Armin said, taking the opportunity, “I don’t believe it’s a trap. The only reason we cracked this code is because we holed up in ancient Hallith. If we assume the Alohym have the ability to predict what we’re going to do to that degree of certainty, we might as well lay down and die.”

“Thank you, Armin,” Lord Devos growled.

“But,” Armin continued, “it’s true we don’t know what it does. It could be so important it could turn the tide of the war, but it could be it’s a religious relic to the Alohym, or a repository of knowledge they want but don’t need, or something even stranger.”

At least he’s gotten Lord Devos and Lady von Bagget to agree on something, Tythel thought. She couldn’t read their faces well, but it didn’t take any great understanding of human expressions to figure out they both wished Armin had kept his mouth shut.

“Do you propose something then, Armin?” Duke d’Monchy asked evenly.

“I wish I had a solution. If I’m right, if the code is all have Archaic symbols as their key, we’d need to delve into a lot of ruins before we had an answer. The Collegium might hold some of the answers, but it’s only slightly less suicidal to assault a building full of Alohym loyal Magi as it is to assault the Ambulatory Bastion.”

Duke d’Monchy frowned. “We have to do something soon, whatever it is. Our resources are running short. We’ve been able to support ourselves some by trading, but that money is running out. The soldiers need food.”

Everyone stared at each other in glum silence. Everyone but Eupheme, who was giving Tythel an inquisitive eyebrow.

Tythel took a deep breath. She’d told Eupheme about what was waiting back at Karjon’s lair, and told her about the struggle to let anyone use it. On the one hand, it solved so many problems. On the other, it despoiled the last bit of her father left. And what about the living, Tythel? She asked herself. Eupheme’s expression didn’t waiver, but to Tythel’s eyes it started to seem somewhat accusatory. You’re imagining things. You’re lucky you could tell what she was thinking at all, now you’re putting nuance in there?

“Let me see those maps,” Tythel said, moving closer to the table. “There’s got to be some other ruins near by here.” She bit her cheek in concentration. There has to be something else, some half remembered bit of lore…anything other than raiding Karjon’s lair.

“What,  you don’t just know ancient symbols?” Armin said in a teasing tone.

“No, unfortunately. Karjon was focused on teaching me Carodmethi and a few others. Hallithian is so old, it’s barely used anymore.” Tythel’s forehead furrowed in concentration.

“And the locations of ancient cities?”

“I know some maps from the time. Geography can change a lot in seven thousand years. I’m trying to figure out from a few permanent features. And I think…” she tapped a location on the map with her finger in the middle of a forest, her eyes fluttering with excitement. “Yes! I’m sure of it. The rivers have changed, but mountains don’t move much even in thousands of years. Hallith’s greatest rival, Dor’nah. This wasn’t a forest back then, it was a desert, but when the Grey Ridge erupted, it let the clouds past just enough. Hallith remained scrublands, but the rains fell on Dor’nah. The flourished for a thousand years after Hallith’s collapsed, before they fell to Grejhak the Terrible.”

“Grejhak?” Duke d’Monchy frowned. “That sounds draconic.”

Tythel nodded. “It is. Technically Grejhak is my ancestor. He annihilated Dor’nah for some slight or another, but if Karjon’s texts were right, he did so with ghostflame. It would have left the buildings intact. He laired there until his death in the year 7124, as the dragons count years. That’d be…4219 years before the founding of the current calendar. No one disturbed it for millenia afterwards out of fear.”

“Fear of what?”

“Grejhak dabbled in Necromancy, infusing both light and shadow to animate corpses. Superstitious people believed his corpse still wandered the ruins. By the time humans had forgotten to fear him, they had forgotten Dor’nah ever stood there. Which means it should be undisturbed.”

“Undisturbed except for five thousand years of forests growing,” Duke d’Monchy frowned. “It could be worth investigating, but we’d be exposed the moment we left this plateau.”

Tythel nodded. “Then how about a small force? I’ll take them, I know the way. We’ll move quicker in the forest anyway. If we find anything work taking, we can come back with a larger force to delve into his lair, and we can bring back Dor’nahid writing for Armin to compare to the cypher.”

“No,” Duke d’Monchy said. “You’re too valuable to risk, your highness. You can write directions down.”

“And what if something happens? What if they encounter Alohym?” Tythel could feel heat rising to her cheeks, anger and frustration mingling.

“What if the Alohym attack here?” he asked mildly. “If you want to protect people from the Alohym, you can do far more here.”

“And if you want to slay them,” Lord Devos added, “You’ll find more of them to kill here. We can’t stay hidden forever.”

Tythel could already tell she was going to lose the argument. It wasn’t even an argument, not really. Duke d’Monchy’s mind was set. He doesn’t want to lose you, she thought bitterly. You’re too useful.

So instead, other people were going to go and delve into the forest that covered the ruins of Dor’nah. Other people were going to hunt for a treasure five millennia old, based on half remembered scraps of Karjon’s teachings from a era he had only covered as far as it related to their family line. Other people could die because Tythel was hoarding bits of things that would never be used otherwise.

“Fine,” Tythel said with a sigh. “But I’ll  need a couple days to write the instructions down. I’ll need up to date maps, and I’ll be comparing from lore I don’t remember all that well.”

It was agreed. They’d send an expedition into the woods to find if the treasure of Grejhak remained, and if they could find any of the writing of Dor’nah.

The truth was, Tythel could have written what instructions she knew in a matter of an hour. But the two days bought her time to think. Time to decide. Could she really risk the living to preserve her father’s grave? Or, for that matter, could she stand to see her home despoiled to fight a war?

Right now, she honestly didn’t know.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 66

Tythel leaned back against a wall, looking over the Span of Hallith, an empty notebook in her lap. She wrote idly in it as the wind gently tugged at her hair.

Little is known about Hallith, and I hope to have time to delve into the unexplored parts of the ruins while we’re camped here. The Span itself is even more breathtaking than the books described. I wish I had the eyes of an artist – or I suppose I should say “eye” now – so I could sketch it.

She debated taking some time to describe it, and decided against it. If someone one day read her notebooks and wasn’t familiar with Hallith, they’d probably skip this section anyway. Even after a month holed up here, it still took her breath away.

Hallith had been a city-state that predated the Cardometh Empire by over two thousand years. Located on a plateau several miles wide, Hallith was surrounded on all sides by a canyon nearly six hundred feet deep. The only ways into or out of the plateau were two great bridges, each capable of being retracted into the city. Or at least, they had been retractable. The magic that powered that mechanism had long since faded, and the bridges were permanently open. Still, it only took a handful of guards to watch each approach, meaning they wouldn’t be taken by surprise. The barren scrubland that surrounded the canyons also provided plenty of open air to see any approaching Alohym ships.

She returned to her notes.

It’s no wonder Hallith never fell to outside invaders. Even with the benefits of arcwands and their technology, I doubt the Alohym will be able to dislodge us from here. Should they approach from the air, we are already prepared to delve into the ruins below. Armin and a few other Magi who have joined us are hard at work creating an exit point in the canyon below we can use if we have to retreat there. I help when I can, but the molten rock left behind by dragonflame creates fumes that make it too hard for anyone to breathe.

That particular memory gave her a reason to wince. None of them had expected the toxic gasses, although they shouldn’t have been surprised. One of the few things known about Hallith was how it fell – a horrid miasma, created by the Hallithian’s burial customs of tossing the dead into their lumwell, had choked every citizen in their sleep. It seemed that miasma still infused the very stones of the plateau, and burning them released it.

I’m supposed to be the one that knows better. Armin could have died that day. I could have died. She decided not to write that part down, instead pushing forward.

Duke d’Monchy has taken command of the army while Lathariel recovers. Lady Von Bagget has taken command of the civilians. Those that can fight she sends to Lord Devos for training. Ossman’s been working closely with Lord Devos. He’d probably join the Abyssals, if not for the headaches he gets ever since his close exposure to the lumwell. Eupheme watches him closely for any signs of madness. So far he seems to still be sane, but…well, we’re hiding in the ruins of a dead civilization from the creatures that have stolen our world, so ‘sane’ is relative these days.

Tythel heard footsteps approaching, and stifled a sigh. She got time to herself so rarely these days, it was hard not resent any interruptions. Especially this particular one. She had time to finish her final thoughts.

There’s one amazing historical find we’ve made already. The word “Alohym” originates from the Hallithian language. We’ve found Hallithian depictions of the ancient Alohym they worshipped. They look nothing like the invaders that came from beyond the stars, either in their insectoid outer form or their slug-like inner, true form. The Alohym depicted in the Hallithian artworks are wondrous beings. It’s final proof of a theory we had been debating – the Alohym of modern days were never worshipped by humanity. Just as they stole our world, they’ve been trying to co-opt our mythology. Of course, any proof we try to publish we be denounced as rebel propaganda, but it’s satisfying to at least know they are not the gods they claim to be.

“Your Highness!”

Tythel closed her notebook, satisfied to at least complete the passage she was on. “Baron Gobori,” she said, looking down at the man who had approached her. He was a couple years older than her, and despite his low rank claimed to be able to trace his ancestry back to nobel blood. He was handsome and knew it, with a broad grin full of white teeth and an easygoing attitude. At least, around most people. He often seemed uncomfortable around Tythel, which only partially confused her. Most people were uncomfortable around her, besides her close friends.

“Please, call me Tellias,” the Baron responded, flashing her that wide smile.

“As you wish,” Tythel said, as she always did when he asked her to use his first name. He gave her a slightly wide-eyed look that Tythel thought meant he was expecting something, but she was still  unsure what he was.

“So…on the walls again? Looking out for Alohym ships?”

“No. We have sentries that will spot them before I do.” That last bit was partially a lie – her good eye would likely catch the ship first – but since she’d been staring at a notebook it was also partially true. “I was writing.”

She slid off the wall to join Tellias on the ground. “Oh? A diary?”

“Essentially, yes. It’s important to keep track of what’s happening, and my thoughts and feelings during it.”

Whatever response he had been expecting, it hadn’t been that. Tellias  blinked in confusion, a gesture Tythel immensely appreciated since it took no thought to understand. Does he do that for my benefit? Or is it something people do? “Why is it so important?” he asked.

“Primary sources. If our rebellion succeeds, it will be a historic event. Or, if it fails spectacularly enough, it might also be enough. Future historians will be scounging for any record of the times they can find. If they find my notes, it will give them a primary source they can rely upon.”

“I…see.” Tellias recovered his footing. “Well, that’s certainly nobel of you, to provide them with a reliable and unbiased source.”

Tythel tilted her head, careful not to tilt it too far. Humans did tilt their heads to express confusion sometimes, she’d learned, but rarely to the extremes that she was used to. “Nobility has nothing to do with it. I’m a historian myself. I appreciate primary sources, so it’s important to pay that forward. And I’m hardly unbiased. I don’t understand why you would say that – unless you were mocking me?”

“No, no, perish the thought!” Tellias took off his hat and bowed to her. “I knew you were a scholar, and assumed you’d be trying to keep your account unbiased.”

“Oh.” Tythel blinked in thought. “I suppose I should be, but any halfway decent historian will assume I’m biased and account for that. I still will take notes of my own bias, though, for future readers.” She began to walk back to the camp.

Tellias had to step quickly to keep up with her, which gave Tythel a chance to think. Tellias confused her. He often sought her out to speak to her, but rarely in the company of others. She’d thought he was trying to form a friendship with her, but whenever she invited him to join them, he’d declined. What does he want from me?

She considered asking him directly, but thought that would be too blunt, even for her. Instead, she decided to change the topic. “Have Armin and the rest of the Magi returned from today’s excavations?”

Tellias frowned for half a second, the same way he did whenever she mentioned Armin or Haradeth. Do you not like them? Maybe I should invite him to join Eupheme, Ossman, and I without the other two around. He might appreciate that. “Not yet, your highness. Nor, if I may anticipate your next question, has Haradeth returned from the Sylvani lands.”

Tythel let out a huff of air. “He should have been back by now. Ideally with Lorathor and a small army of Sylvani in tow.”

“Your highness, if I may? I think ideally, he’d return with a large army of Sylvani.”

Tythel chuckled at the joke. “I like to temper my expectations.”

“A wise mindset for a ruler, your highness.”

“I don’t rule anything – and if we don’t get reinforcements, it’s very likely the only kingdom I’ll ever have a chance to rule will be within the Shadow’s embrace.”

That put a damper on the conversation, which hadn’t been Tythel’s intention. Still, it served to keep Tellias quiet for the remainder of the walk to camp. You’re being uncharitable. He’s not bad to talk to. He just confuses you and that makes you uncomfortable.

Before she could open her mouth to apologize, she saw someone walking towards them. Eupheme, who was waving her hands for attention. “Hurry up! Where have you been?”

Tythel picked up her pace, muttering an apology for Tellias. He couldn’t hope to keep up with her now that she was sprinting. “What’s wrong? Is it the Alohym? Is it-”

Eupheme cut her off with a shake of her head and a grin. “No, nothing bad! The Duke was looking for you. They’ve made progress on Theognis’ cypher, and he’s called a meeting. They think they might have a location on the Vacuity Engine.”

Tythel blinked in excitement, and turned to dash towards the center of camp. Tellias was left lagging behind, and Eupheme only kept up by leaping from shadow to shadow.

It was the first good news they’d gotten since the death of Rephylon. Tythel wasn’t going to risk missing it.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 65 (Beginning of Book 2)

In all of Drakan, there was no creature more wretched than Poz Torne, and if anyone had reason to doubt that, Poz would be happy to set them straight on the matter. He had thought he had reached the bottommost point of wretchedness the year before, when he’d been locked up for a little bit of looting. Not much looting, not in Poz’s estimation. They hadn’t been Alohym soldiers he’d been looting from – Poz knew that would mean the gallows for him – just rebels, and it’s not like they were using those boots anymore, on account of them being dead and all. “I was’t doin’ the harm to them, no I was’t,” Poz muttered to himself, crouched a cave with the lichen and the guano.

It darker in this cave than the Shadow’s anus, as near as Poz could reckon, which meant he had some time before he needed to worry about his pursuers catching up with him. Or at least, iffin my luck don’t be doin’ me the bad like what it does, he reminded himself. And since my luck be lovin’ doin’ me the bad, I be doing’ the think that it’s going to turn on me like what it always does.

It could have been worse, Poz reminded himself. He could have been caught looting Alohym soldiers, or committing one of their blasphemies. Looting rebels was just a plain old ordinary crime, as far as the Alohym reckoned, and Poz was glad that was how they reckoned it, else he would have been doing a merry little jig a few feet off the ground. Instead he’d done six months hard labor to set him straight, then gotten released and went right back to looting. Can’t be doing me a blame for looting, can you? Poz has to be doing the eat.

For one brief, shining moment, Poz had believed his luck had finally turned. He’d gone to loot a battle, like always, but this time, he hadn’t even needed to go to where the rebels would be laying dead with their boots just waiting for Poz to snatch them away. Instead, he’d found the packs the rebels had set aside, glorious packs of provisions.

Now, Poz had a rule. Poz had lots of rules, actually,  but the relevant one here was don’t take what will be missed. So he’d taken a bit of food from each pack, and a nice pair of socks, and a pair of new undergarments. He’d planned to check out the battle, see who all else had died, and if the rebels were all dead…well, if they were dead, there wouldn’t miss their packs, now would they?

Should have done a stick to the rules, Poz, he admonished himself. Should have done a Shadow-tossed stick to the rules. But in the last pack, he’d seen something too good to pass up. Something that shone greater than any prize Poz had ever imagined stealing. It was the kind of treasure they wrote books about being stolen, usually in great underground vaults surrounded by Light-infused constructs and deadly traps. The people who stole such things weren’t wreches like Poz. They were beautiful people, with perfect hair and teeth that gleamed when they smiled.

Poz should have known better than to steal the thing, but it had been so shiny, so bright, how could he resist?

There was a sound of footsteps near the entrance to his cave, and Poz pressed himself further into the floor, his ears twitching. Being an Underfolk meant Poz could barely see even in normal light, but he could click his tongue and bring himself an image of the world around him. He did that a few times, his heart pounding. His pursurers hadn’t seen the cave yet – or if they hadn’t, they weren’t near the entrance.

Should have done a leaving of the thing, he sighed to himself. But he hadn’t. He’d taken it from the pack and made a beeline for town, seeking out his Riki, his fence.

Riki was a hard woman who had lived a hard life, but she had a soft spot for Poz. Sure, she called him an ugly little bastard, but she always did it with a smile. Or at least, without a grimace. Usually. But when Poz had Sung her and told her that he had something worthwhile, Riki had come running. This had pleased Poz. He’d built up a reputation for whining and moping because…well, because he liked to whine and mope, but also because doing so meant that, when he said he had something good, people knew it had to be true.

“Where’d you find this?” Riki had asked when he’d shown her the thing.

“You don’t want to be doing a know of that, no you do not,” Poz had assured her, getting a smile out of Riki.

“I suppose I don’t. Poz, how hot is this thing?”

“I was doing a wait of a couple weeks before I did a song, yes I was. No one’s been doing a sniffing for it, I can tell you that.”

Riki frowned. “I’ll see what I can find, Poz. You might have just become the richest one of your people on the continent.”

That was when Poz knew something was very, very wrong. Things that good did not happen to Poz, no matter what else was going on. No matter where he went or who he spoke to, the best Poz ever hoped for was to break even.

Even if he did have an egg of solid gold with him.

So he’d put his ear to the ground, as they said. He’d heard things that made him shiver down to his core. One of the Alohym, Rephylon, had met its end. Burned to death by a…by someone. Everyone agreed that Rephylon was dead, but not everyone agreed as to the creature that had killed him. Some said she was a monster, a half dragon, half human that wanted the Alohym gone so she could prey upon humanity freely. Some said she was a pure, true dragon from the old tales, the kind that kidnapped princesses and sat on their great hordes of treasure. Some said she was just a woman, able to weave dragonflame out of Light.  

All the stories, however, agreed on two things. One was her name – Tythel, a name stolen from the long dead princess of the old kingdom. Of course she is not being the princess, Poz thought. Only the very stupid be doing the believing of that. And they agreed she had survived the death of Rephylon, and was now building an army. Rumors said, in the month since Rephylon’s death, she’d been gathering all manner of cutthroats and brigands and all sorts of nasty folk to her banner, or that she was killing the nasty folk and…Poz clicked his tongue again, both to check his surroundings and to clear his head.

The truth was, Poz was sure it didn’t matter if she was wicked or good. Because Poz was increasingly certain that the egg he had stolen had belonged to this Dragon Princess. Which meant she wanted it back, and the Alohym wanted it for themselves. And what is poor Poz supposed to do? Do I be doing a go to the Dragon Princess and say “please don’t be doing a killing? I didn’t know it was yours when I be doing the take of it?” Hah! She’ll probably be putting the burn on me before I even finish a sentence! He’d been ready to give the egg to Riki and run to the hills, he really had. He’d gone to see her to be done with it and run, run far away, but when he’d gone to see her, Riki had been dead, impaled on the wall of her shop by a great sword as long as Poz was tall.

That’s when Poz realized that he was worried too much about the wrong people that wanted the egg. The Dragon Princess would burn him to a crisp if she could find him, but the Alohym…they knew he had it, somehow. They had sent something new after him, something terrifying. Something that fought like an Alohym but stalked like a man. It was what was out there right now, waiting for him.

Maybe if I be doing the leaving of the egg here, they’ll leave me alone, Poz thought, but dismissed the idea immediately. It was a nice, lovely thought, but it wouldn’t be what happened. They’d overlook the egg and hunt him down. Or they’d find the egg and still hunt him down. Or they’d find the egg and leave him be, but then the Dragon Princess would hear of it and she would hunt him down, and he wouldn’t even have the egg to bargain with.

Poz clicked his tongue again, and this time he had to fight back the urge to scream. The thing that was chasing him was in the cave’s entrance. It was as tall as a man, perhaps a bit taller, its form lithe and supple and covered with a rock-hard shell like the skin of an Alohym. Its head was wedge-shaped, like an Alohym, and it moved with preternatural grace.

Poz clicked his tongue a few more times, letting the new thing get further into the cave, then slowly skittering across the walls and hoping, begging the Shadow to keep him safe. He had one hope, as far as he saw it, one person who could set this straight. An old friend who would know what to do.  

A rock fell. The new thing turned towards Poz and started to raise its arm. The clawed hand was running like it was made of wax, forming some new appendage.

A beam of unlight shot from the newly formed tube at the end of its wrist, and Poz cleared the edge of the cave by mere inches before the blast struck. Then he was gone, fleeing into the night, with the new thing hot on his heels.

Just keep doing the running, Poz! Do the run and don’t ever stop! And once you be finding Nicandros, he’ll be knowing what to do with this.

Poz could only pray he would live that long.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 64 – End of Book 1

Tythel found Armin below, showing one of the doctors how the device he’d used to purge Tythel of Unlight poisoning worked. “You need to be careful,” he was saying. “I got an abject lesson last night in what too much light can do to a man, and it’s worse than it use to be.”

The doctor nodded and Armin turned and saw Tythel, giving her a smile. “Ty-” he glanced around at the group of doctors and wounded soldiers. “Your highness,” he amended, slapping his fist to his chest.

Tythel opened her mouth to object to Armin’s use of the title, but remembered Haradeth’s words. “You need to learn to start acting like a princess.” Tythel gave Armin her best smile and hoped it wasn’t too unnerving. “Armin. I’m glad you made it through the battle.” She looked over the rest of the soldiers. “All of you.”

That got some smiles from the soldiers, so she didn’t think she’d done too poorly. “Might I have a word, your highness?” Armin asked. Tythel nodded, and let Armin lead her away. “You okay?” He asked.

“I’ll live,” she said with a happy blink. “You?”

Armin nodded. “Look, Eupheme and Ossman are outside. They’ll want to see you too. But…there’s a crowd, Tythel. People who want news about you.”

“What…what do I do?” The idea of facing a crowd was somehow more frightening.

“Say something inspiring, hold up your good hand, and then get out. Haradeth’s going to be waiting for you at the Mayor’s manor, there’s a Crawler waiting to take you there.”

Tythel took a deep breath. “Okay, I can do this.”

“I know you can,” Armin said. He motioned like he was going to hug her, saw her bandages, and instead put a hand on her good shoulder. “I’ll be right behind you.”

“Thank the light for that,” Tythel muttered, and headed to the door.

“Wait!” Armin said, stopping her short. He went over to one of the doctors and came back with a black eyepatch. “I heard about your eye. Figured this would look better.”

Tythel frowned. “How bad is it?”

“You haven’t seen it yet?” Armin asked.

“There weren’t any mirrors up there.”

“Oh.” Armin shrugged. “It’s gone a bit milky. Besides, the eyepatch is a bit more stylish. I’m sure if you think about it, there’s been some leader or another who wore an eyepatch, so there’s precedent.”

“Yuana Qui, Pirate Queen of the Umbral Isles,” Tythel said promptly, noticing Armin’s evasion and deciding not to press him on it. She was aware of the darkness in her vision, but held out a small hope that her continued transformations would eventually heal it. And if it doesn’t, it’s not like I need depth perception to bathe something in flame at close range, or whack it with a hammer, she through wryly before continuing. “She was known as the Scourge of Valaetia, and for thirty years raided their coasts. Although she wasn’t actually a pirate, but a Tsani privateer that had been hired by the Cardometh Empire to disrupt trade between members of the Valaetinian Confederation, something she did well until…” Tythel trailed off and tilted her head at Armin. “I lost you.”

“Sorry, Professor,” he said with a grin and a shrug. “I never studied history much. Now go. Your people are waiting for you.”

‘Crowd’ undersold the number of people waiting outside. It was overwhelming. They can’t all be for you, Tythel tried to console her self. Some have to be waiting for word on their loved ones.

Then the cheering started. Tythel let the sound wash over her, trying not to let panic set in, and then held up her arm. “We’ve won a great victory today!” Tythel said, recalling the speech Xiongnes had made on the steps of Llansire after they had repelled an invasion from Carthomere. “We’ve beaten back the Alohym, and proven them to be false gods. We’ve driven them from this city!”

That invited another wave of cheers. She waited it them to die down, her heart pounding. I hate this oh Light it’s worse than facing down Rephylon. She was suddenly glad for the eye patch, since it hid part of the crowd from her and the panicked look in that eye from them. Keep your voice steady, Tythel. Don’t quaver. Don’t throw up. “I tell you now, people of Dawnchester. The fight is not over. The fight may not be over for some times. But today we have proven that the fight is not lost! That we are not broken! We will fight until we are victorious, until we have reclaimed not just our cities, not just our kingdom, but until we have reclaimed our world! So stand tall, people of Dawnchester! Today, we have taken the first steps on a long journey, and we will still be standing tall at the end of this road!”

Another round of cheers. Tythel lowered her arm, knowing the speech had already been falling apart at the end. “Best to end it on a high note,” she muttered to Armin.

“Say that you have to go or something,” Armin said “but remind them the fight isn’t over.”

The cheering died down as Tythel agreed. “I must go for now. There’s much to do, much to prepare for. But I swear to you, so long as I draw breath, I will not stop fighting. As long as any one of you draw breath, our resistance stands strong. Never let that flame die out from within you, and never let memory of this victory fade!”

Tythel all but lunged into the crawler as the final round of cheers started.

Ossman and Eupheme were waiting inside. Ossman gave her a broad grin. “Didn’t think you’d get to go to this meeting without us, did you?”

Tythel laughed, drunk on relief from being away from the mass of people. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”

“Good,” Eupheme said. “I’d hate to become cross with you.” She frowned with worry. “How do you feel?”

“The tea they gave me to numb the pain is still working. I’m not looking forward to when it wears off.” Tythel blinked with amusement. “If that happens during the meeting, would one of you please distract everyone until I can get more? I don’t know how useful I’ll be groaning in pain.”

“Don’t worry,” Ossman said. “I’m certain Armin will do something stupid to draw their attention.”

“Hey!” Armin objected. “That’s hardly fair. I’ll do something intentionally stupid to draw their attention.”

Eupheme snorted. “There’s many things I believe about you doing stupid things, Armin. Premeditation isn’t one of them.”

“Of course not. I meditate afterwards, to reflect on what I did.”

We did it. Tythel thought to herself with a grin as Ossman and Eupheme groned. She rolled her eyes as she, settled back into her seat. Now, she thought, letting her friends banter, now this feels like a victory.

She wished Karjon was there to share in the triumph. She wished Nicandros hadn’t gone to…wherever he had gone. She wished she’d escaped the fight with injures she was certain would heal, and she wished she had more confidence in her ability to defeat an Alohym in a fight again.

For now, however, she pushed those thoughts aside. For now, for the first time since this had started, Tythel allowed herself happiness untainted by fear or grief or uncertainty.

It was, after all, what Karjon would have wanted for her.


 

End of Book 1. Series resumes September 25th. 

The Dragon’s Scion Part 63

Tythel woke up to a thousand little pains that were swimming in a deeper sea of ache.

She barely remembered Eupheme leading her to the Inn that was rapidly being converted into a makeshift hospital for the wounded. The memory of being bandaged was lost in a haze of pain. Someone had given her something to drink afterwards, and she’d fallen into a dreamless sleep.

She remembered waking up once. Haveron, the sour-faced doctor from the camp, was there, standing over her, talking to someone she couldn’t see. “We could save the eye, but it’s beyond surgery. We’d have to risk using light-”

And more and more and more and more… The sight of those terrible mutants flashed through her mind, and Tythel found the strength to reach out and grab his wrist, causing exclamations of surprise. Haveron winced as Tythel tried to speak. Her tongue felt like it was a dry cloth, and she could only manage to shake her head. “Your highness, I want you to understand, once the eye heals it will be beyond even the light to restore your sight. The nerves were severed. That will never repair itself naturally.”

Tythel shook her head again, as firmly as she could manage.

“I understand. Rest then. We won’t go against your wishes.”

Relieved, Tythel slipped back into that dreamless sleep.

Now it was morning. The Inn was full of the sounds of the wounded and quiet bustling. The doctors were gone.

“Oh, good, you’re awake.” Haradeth said. He was leaning against the window and looking out over the city.

“The others?” Tythel asked, her throat raw from medication and flame.

“Alive,” Haradeth answered. “Much of their army broke when Rephylon’s death reached them. A few defected or surrendered, more fled. I guess they were terrified of whatever could kill a god. The remainder fought throughout the night. There’s still some pockets of fighting. Theognis is holed up in the old castle, but he’s not risking trying to break out. The city is ours.”

Tythel’s eyes widened. “We’ve…managed to claim a city?”

Haradeth nodded. “We can’t keep it. The Alohym main force will be here by tomorrow. We need to be long gone when they get here – we can’t hold out against that.”

Tythel nodded glumly. We’ve accomplished nothing. We’ve gotten ourselves right back to where we were at the start of that, and we call this a victory?

“No, don’t do that.” Haradeth’s voice was a snap. “We won, Tythel. For the first time in sixteen years, we faced the Alohym in battle and actually won. This is going to galvanize the resistance. Many of the former prisoners are staying with us. Soldiers wearing full imperiplate have defected. We have control of some of the Alohym’s greatest weapons, and when we get them to our Lumcasters, they can find ways to recreate it without unlight. And word is spreading – the Alohym are not immortal, they can be killed. This is a triumph!”

Tythel was shocked by the passion in his voice. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to discount-”

Haradeth chuckled. “Don’t apologize. You’ve only been doing this for a few weeks, you can’t be expected to see the bigger picture yet. And…you need to learn to start acting like a Princess.”

Tythel flushed. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“Rumor has already started that you died after killing Rephylon and we’re hiding it. We need you to meet with some civic leaders, to appear to the crowd and wave.” Haradeth shrugged. “We need to prove to people we still have the woman that can kill an Alohym.”

“I don’t know if I can do it again,” Tythel said quietly. “I barely did this time. It only worked because Rephylon was arrogant, talking to me, letting me get in attacks. I would have died if Rephylon wasn’t playing me.”

“Don’t tell anyone that,” Haradeth said in an urgent hiss. “Don’t you dare tell anyone else that it was luck. Right now people have hope. You can’t take that from them.”

Tythel leaned back, startled by the intensity of his warning. “If they follow me thinking I can reliably kill Alohym, they could die.”

“The Alohym will be hesitant to fight you again. They don’t know it’s luck either. Tythel, we have a chance to win this. But right now, much as I hate it, it hinges on the belief that you can kill these monsters.”

“If I can’t, how can we win?”

“Theogines’ notes.” Haradeth patted his pocket. “Theognis knew where the Vacuity Engine was. We need to finish breaking the code, but once we do…we can find it. We can win. But right now, the only flathing way we’re going to do that is if we hold on to the myth of the princess the Alohym fear.”

“I don’t like it,” Tythel said. “I’ve seen what secrets do when they come out.”

“Some secrets have to be kept,” Haradeth growled.

Tythel pursed her lips, then nodded. “I’ll not share.” In that moment, Tythel felt the same animosity towards Haradeth he’d displayed towards her. Even though he was right, it sickened her to keep more secrets from her friends. It’s not his fault, she reminded herself.

“What did I do? Why do you…I don’t know. Dislike me? Hate me? ” The words were out of Tythel’s mouth before she could think it through.

Haradeth seemed surprised, but recovered quickly. “I suppose that’s a fair question. Honestly? You’re an angry child who wants to use our resistance – the people I care about, the people who are fighting for the good of this whole world – to pursue your own personal revenge. You don’t care about the people, just some individuals, and if we win those people are going to want to put you on the throne. I shudder to think of what you’ll do there.” Haradeth held up a hand before Tythel could object. “Don’t…don’t argue with me about it.”

Tythel glared at him. “I’m supposed to just accept you calling me a selfish monster?”

“No.” Haradeth said with a shake of his head. “You’re supposed to prove me wrong. Words won’t do that.”

Tythel’s glower deepened. “How am I supposed to prove it? Anything I do you’ll assume is because i want-”

Haradeth shrugged. “Maybe you can’t. It doesn’t matter, anyway.”

“How could that possibly not matter?”

“Because,” Haradeth said, “we’re using you too. We’ll never stop being useful for your revenge, and you’ll never stop being useful to our resistance. We have a term for that in nature – symbiosis. Like the birds that clean the teeth of a crocodile, even though it could devour them in a single bite.”

“And which one is which?” Tythel asked.

That got a grim smile out of Haradeth. “I suppose we’ll find out.” He stood up abruptly. “A couple healers are going to be along soon, They’ll give you some herbs to help you past the worst of the pain. We need you to be busy today, because we’re leaving with the dusk.”

“Okay.” Tythel still fumed from Haradeth’s accusations, but she didn’t have to like him to work with him. As he turned to leave, she spoke up. “Haradeth, was there any word of…did anyone else show up to the battle? That we weren’t expecting?”

Haradeth paused and turned back to look at her. “No. He didn’t show up, Tythel. I never imagined he would. He no longer could find his vengeance with us.” Haradeth studied her with an unreadable expression. “I see why you two got along so well,” he said after a moment.

With that, Haradeth left.

Tythel felt the grief and anger well up within her, and forced them aside as best she could. You killed an Alohym. The resistance won. This is a time to celebrate, not stew.

There would be time for that later. For now, the doctors were arriving, and she had her medicine to take.

Then it was time to be what everyone wanted her to be.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 62

Tythel slumped back to the ground after the burst of ghostflame.

You’re not done yet, Tythel reminded herself. Her vision in her good eye was blurred, but she could see Rephylon. The Alohym laid on its side, its spindly legs twitching spasmodically in the air. It was reaching out towards her, the hands clenching and unclenching.

More importantly, it was speaking, but its mandibles weren’t moving. The voice was coming from inside its chest. You heard this before, Tythel realized. Back in the prison. She’d heard the voice emanating from the thorax. It hadn’t registered at the time, not as anything important. Now that the Alohym lay dying, the voice coming from inside its chest took on a sick importance.

Tythel began to limp over to the Alohym. She could barely walk. The earlier cut in her leg was throbbing with each step, although it was a minor pain compared to the other ones. The ringing in her ear was beginning to fade, but she still couldn’t see out of her right eye. Her left arm was clutched to her chest at an awkward angle, and Tythel knew she needed to heal it at some point. Every step sent pain through that arm, pain that also radiated out to her shattered ribcage. She didn’t think they were actually broken – Tythel was certain she wouldn’t be able to walk if they were.

It didn’t matter. She had to finish this.

She could hear voices from inside the houses that lined their battle. Faces came to windows. People were whispering in confusion and shock. The song notes of those shells began to chime as the few who had the ability to communicate long distance began to share what they were seeing. Part of Tythel thought that might be important, but the rest of her was too focused on her next step to really think about it.

“Tythel?” a voice said. Tythel turned towards it. Eupheme stepped out of a shadow, her eyes wide. “Light and Shadow, you look…is that an Alohym?”

Tythel could only give Eupheme a cut nod. “The army?” Tythel croaked.

“On it’s way back.”

Tythel turned back to Rephylon and resumed walking. “Need to finish…not done.”

If Eupheme objected to Tythel’s course of action, Tythel didn’t hear it. Step by plodding step, she finally closed the distance between herself and the Alohym.

Now that she was close to Rephylon, she could almost hear the individual words coming from its chest. It sounded like it was railing at Tythel. “I’m sorry,” Tythel said to it, bending down to one knee, “I can’t quite make that out.” She slashed with the talons of her good hand to tear open the Alohym’s thorax. “You were saying?”

The last three words came out as a furious growl.

“You will not survive this.” Rephylon hissed through its pain. “Everything will collapse. Your people will call you a monster, a liar, a child, they will turn-”

The Alohym’s words reverted to its native language as soon as the final plate of the thorax was torn away.

Beneath the thorax was not a mass of internal organs. Instead there was a chamber, in which sat a creature not much bigger than a cat. It looked like a segmented, plated worm. One that had been badly burned. Metal cables connected it to the rest of the chamber, and with the thorax gone it began to scream wordlessly.

Tythel reached in, wrapping her talons around it, and yanked it from its chamber. It wiggled and writhed in her grasp, and the sensation was so disgusting, Tythel held the creature as far away from her body as she could.

Gasps began to sound from the houses around her.

“What is it?” someone whispered.

“Where did it come from?” another asked.

“It’s horrid,” a child’s voice said.

Tythel, for a moment, stood there dumbly. They need to see this. She could hear the army was returning – if not for the ringing in her ear, she would have heard them much sooner. They all need to see this. Tythel stood back up, carefully. Someone was at her side. Eupheme, one hand under Tythel’s arm. “Can’t have you passing out now, your highness,” Eupheme whispered. “It’s your first public appearance, after all.”

Tythel did her best not to lean too noticeably into the assistance until she was on her feet again, the Alohym still trying to escape her grasp with frantic struggles and cursing Tythel in that hideous, shrieking tongue. Or maybe it was begging. Tythel had no idea what the Alohym was saying, and didn’t care.

“What the flath is that?” Tythel heard. Armin’s voice. The army had returned. That’s good, Tythel thought.

She held the Alohym aloft, making sure everyone could see this pathetic, mewling thing. Making her voice as loud as she could manage through the pain, Tythel shouted, “People of Dawnchester! Behold your gods!”

Silence as realization settled in, silence only broken by the Alohym’s continued screeching.

Certain she had everyone’s full attention, Tythel ignited her hand in dragonflame.

Rephylon gave one last shriek and fell silent.

In the distance, alarms still blared. In the distance, fighting still raged. But right here, all was silent. If it wasn’t for Eupheme, Tythel would have collapsed right then. As it was, she stood there, leaning heavily on her friend.

“Light Shine on Princess Tythel!”

Tythel looked to the voice, and was shocked to see Haradeth had started the cheer. “Light Shine on Princess Tythel!” He repeated. This time, the chant was picked up by others. It began to spread through the army, and then through the people watching from their windows. They were cheering. The words “false gods” and “death to the Alohym” began to mix in.

You were just worshipping them, Tythel thought. Are you that fickle? Or were you just that desperate for a crack in their divinity? Another, uglier thought followed that one. Or do you just fear what could happen if you didn’t cheer?

It didn’t matter. They’d seen their gods bleed. They’d seen them die. They’d learned the truth – and thanks to Alohym devices, the whole kingdom would know soon.

Tythel tossed the charred remain of the Alohym to the pavement. The cheering surged again.

It’s a start, Tythel thought. Eupheme prompted Tythel to raise her hand for another round of cheers. “Now, your highness, I think you should rest before your people see you collapse.”

Tythel didn’t protest as Eupheme led her away.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 61

Unlight met dragonflame in the street between Rephylon and Tythel. The force of Rephylon’s strike travelled back down the flame, and Tythel could feel her head want to whip back from the impact.

A small part of her brain wished she was built like a dragon, so her entire body could absorb the recoil. As it was, she found herself stumbling back against the wall.

When the feedback stopped, Rephylon dashed in, passing through her flames like they were nothing to strike her in the side. Tythel frantically brought up her shield, barely quick enough to stop the blow. The Alohym’s fists met the unlight barrier and pushed against it, forcing her to her knees. “This has been instructive,” Rephylon informed her as it continued to press upon the barrier. “Once you’re dead, your genetic template will be used to create a new phenotype of soldiers. I can only imagine how effective they’ll be.”

Tythel only understood some of the words in that sentence. She was distracted by watching what was happening to its carapace as it pressed against her shield.

The warping her dragonflame had caused was fading.

Realization struck. Just as the light had caused Ossman’s arm to heal itself in instants, so was unlight affecting the Alohym. That’s why we never could beat them, Tythel realized with mounting horror. Unlight corrupts light, and unlight heals them. We didn’t come up with arcwands until recently. The best weapons we had were healing them the entire time!

It was a shame she was going to die before being able to inform anyone.

Tythel moved now, swinging the hammer awkwardly towards the Alohym. It didn’t even attempt to dodge. The burst of unlight would only heal it, after all.

Which was why halfway through the swing, Tythel deactivated the hammer and drove the handle into its shoulder. She was rewarded with a sickening crunch, and yellowish fluid erupted from where she drove the improvised weapon into the Alohym.

She expected it to scream in pain and recoil away. Instead, it reached out with its good hands and grabbed Tythel by the forearm before she could pull away.It let her struggle for a moment, making sure she understood that she could not break away from that terrible grip.

Then it snapped her arm.

The pain was unimaginable. Worse than being cut, worse than any of the previous injuries she’d suffered. Tythel roared in pain, and was only half aware as Rephylon hurled her down the street again – right up until her tumbling path caused her to land on the broken arm. That sent a fresh hell of pain though her brain.

Tythel was certain she blacked out for an instant. Maybe she slipped into the Shadow.

When her eye started to focus again, she saw Karjon standing behind the Alohym, and was certain she was dead. Karjon regarded her with big, sad eyes that were blinking slowly, the nictitating membranes sliding across his eyes in sadness. He opened his mouth and spoke to her. “Ghostflame is not possible with the raw, unfettered emotions that fuel Dragonflame. This will require the strength of passion, the fire of anger, the brightness of joy, the intensity of grief – but focused to a fine point.”

Tythel was now certain she was hallucinating, since those were the exact words she’d read in Karjon’s book. If Karjon’s spirit was really here, she’d expect him to give her real advice, say something to help. She also didn’t care. Tythel’s nictitating membranes wiped away tears as she looked up past Rephylon to the hallucinatory Karjon. “I don’t understand,” she said. “I’m so sorry, father. I never understood.”

Rephylon paused and looked over its injured shoulder. Apparently, all it saw was open air. “It’s interesting how often you humans descend into madness at the end,” it said. “I should make a more in depth study of that. Fortunately, you have brought an army to me. I’ll have ample subjects to work on.

Tythel looked up at the creature and felt an icy hand wrap itself around her heart. She imagined Eupheme in the clutches of this creature. Or Ossman, who had suffered so much already. Or Armin, his laughter reduced to screams of agony as the Alohym tried to push him to madness.

“No,” Tythel growled. She held her broken arm against her chest and forced herself to rise. Forced herself to stand and face this creature, to look it in the eyes. A calmness crept over her.

“No?” The Alohym’s buzz sounded inquisitive. “Why in the Void would you think you have anything to say in the matter.”

It didn’t seem all that interested in her answer. The Alohym skittered in again and struck her in the chest. This time she definitely felt a rib crack. Her back was too a wall, and she didn’t have far to travel with the blow. Instead the Alohym could begin to beat her with a series of rapid blows to her chest. When it backed away she slumped to the ground, catching herself on her good arm.

Tythel coughed, and coppery taste filled her mouth as a splash of red stained the stone beneath her. The pain was unimaginable, but that calmness, that sudden certainty remained.

She forced herself to rise.  “Because,” Tythel said, “I understand finally.”

Rephylon stopped, regarding her with a tilted head. “Understand what?”

“It’s not enough to hate. It was never going to be enough to hate all of you. That’s too broad, too indirect. It needed to be…a specific emotion” Tythel paused to cough up blood again. “Thank you,” she said.

“For killing you?”

Tythel shook her head. “For helping me focus on what really matters.”

Behind Rephylon, Karjon blinked happily before he faded back into her memory. Rephylon cocked its head at her, opening its mandibles to speak again. Tythel didn’t wait for it to get out a single word. Instead, she gathered those images, the imaginings of what this particular monster would do to her friends, and channeled it into her mind, letting it mingle with her grief for her father and the loss of Nicandros and her love for the people who had taken her in.

She opened her mouth and exhaled.

The flame that came flowing forth was a beautiful, pale blue torrent of ghostflame.

This time, the Alohym did scream.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 60

In the time it took Tythel to get to Rephylon, a dozen people had died.

The Alohym stood in the center, its bifurcated arms raised over its head, unlight glowing on its slender fingertips. It started to form eldritch sigils in the air with the light, and a burst of energy lanced out and hit another prisoner in the back. The man screamed in agony, then fell to the ground dead.

“Get back!” Tythel shouted, activating her hammer and her pilfered shield. You should listen to your own advice, she thought as the Alohym whipped its head to face Tythel.

It opened its mandibles, and from them came a single word in recognizable speech, although the voice still buzzed horrifically around the single syllable. “You.”

Tythel raised her shield to prepare for its inevitable attack, heart pounding. “So you can speak our language. I was wondering about that. Why the charade of pretending you couldn’t?” Tythel didn’t care about its answer. The longer she kept it talking, the more time she could give the prisoners to escape.

“A translator ensures our words are understood properly,” Rephylon said, regarding her with unreadable, alien eyes. “Tone. Body language. Gestures. Such things are not universal.”

Given that Rephylon said that in what sounded like a buzzing monotone, Tythel could actually see its point. Her mind raced for a way to keep the conversation going, but the Alohym seemed interested in keeping up the dialogue.

“Theognis said you, however, reacted abnormally for your species. Why?”

Tythel nearly spat back that she wasn’t intending to answer anything the Alohym wanted to know, but bit her tongue. The point was to keep it talking. “You know I wasn’t raised by humans,” she said.

The Alohym gave her a curt nod, and Tythel reminded herself that even her limited understanding of human reactions was useless here. It could have meant anything. It was incredibly surreal to be talking directly to one of these things in public. She half expected to wake up from the dream at any moment. She’d be back in her bed in Karjon’s lair, and she would tell him all about this insane dream about Those From Above invading the world. Maybe he’d help her write it down into something coherent. More likely, by the time she was alert enough to tell the story, most of the dream would have faded.

The Alohym’s words cut through the momentary dissociation from reality. “Your species has a remarkable adaptation to imprinting. We’ve observed this in the humans we have personally raised, but your experience confirms it’s not unique to being raised by us.”

Tythel recoiled from the Alohym’s words. “The humans you have…the what?”

“We’ve raised humans ourselves. Your species is unusually fragile in infancy, there was an adjustment period. But I can say we are quite pleased with the results.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Tythel asked hoarsely, suddenly realizing that she may be underestimating the Alohym.

Around them, the rest of the soldiers and prisoners had managed to get away. Tythel stood in the street alone against the Alohym. Except…not really. She could hear sounds in the houses around them, families moving to windows to see if it was safe to come out – and then staring entranced to see one of their gods in person.

“Because you are going to die, child,” the Alohym said with an expansive gesture. Tythel wondered if it was their version of a shrug. “There is no harm in telling you this.”

Maybe it was the strange buzzing monotone, but something in the Alohym’s words spoke absolute certainty to Tythel. It was positive she was going to die in this fight. I’m not sure it’s wrong.

Realizing the time for talk had passed, Tythel steeled herself, and charged the Alohym.

So far, when seeing Alohym fight, she’d only seen them use their unlight, sending beams of destruction with their every gesture. Rephylon didn’t cast anything her way as she charged in, however. It waited patiently for her to close the gap between them. She brought the hammer back to swing at the monster that had stolen the name of the gods of old.

It darted away from her strike with preternatural speed, then lanced in. The two hands on the left came in faster than Tythel could follow under her shield, striking her in the chest. The blow sent her flying back. She managed to land on her feet, sliding few feet before she brought herself to a stop. It was an effort not to fall to the ground. Breathing was suddenly painful, and Tythel wondered if it had cracked her ribs. I think it did, she thought as she took another hitching breath. Light. It’s so fast.

Rephylon stood there, cocking its head, awaiting her next strike.

Tythel shifted her stance and charged in again. She didn’t want to give the Alohym the chance to grab the upper hand.

This time it stood there and let her bring the hammer down, taking the blow directly on its chest. The impact of the hammer’s steel against the Alohym’s carapace landed with a sickening crack, and Tythel was certain it had misjudged her strength. When she pulled the hammer away, the jagged lines she’d made in its torso were already sealing up.

Before she could react, it darted in with another double fisted strike. She managed to, barely, get her shield up between the Alohym and herself. At least, it’s first strike. The Alohym’s other hand whipped around and struck her across the face, sending her flying again.

This time, she was too disoriented to land on her feet. She slammed into the stone of some house, and could hear the family inside scream in sudden terror at the impact as the stone cracked beneath her. She fell forward, landing on her hands and knees.

Rephylon still stood there, waiting for her to get up. “Perhaps our concerns about your kind were unfounded,” the Alohym said, regarding her with that same blank expression on its tilted head. “Or perhaps you lied about being a dragon, as you have about so many other things. Either way, I am unimpressed.”

Rage lanced through the pain, clearing Tythel’s head. She couldn’t see out of her eye on the side of her head where the Alohym had struck her. She wasn’t sure she ever would again – she’d felt something crack under the blow. That ear also couldn’t hear anymore, just reporting a loud ringing sound that never varied in tone.

Tythel forced herself to her feet regardless, using the hammer as a cane to push herself to her feet. “You want to see what a dragon can do?” Tythel asked.

“If I didn’t, I would have already slain you,” it said with another of those expansive gestures. “You live only because you are of interest to my studies.”

Tythel’s good eye was seeing red. She didn’t bother with bantering further, instead taking a deep breath and letting loose a gout of dragonflame.

The heat washed over the Alohym. If Rephylon had expected her to give a quick blast, it was mistaken. Tythel kept the fire pouring out, washing over the creature. She could see her flame began to heat and then melt the stone the Alohym was standing on. A surge of hope began to blossom in her chest. The Alohym had gotten too cocky, too arrogant. She was going to win!

She exhaled fire until her body forced her to stop, needing some air to keep her going. She gasped as the flames dissipated, waiting for the rock to cool so she could see. She wondered if there would be anything left of the Alohym.

There was.

Rephylon stepped out of the heat, kicking its spindly legs to knock aside some molten stone that clung to its feet in a manner that suggested it was doing nothing more than shaking off mud. The creature’s carapace glowed a dark red, and Tythel could see evidence of warping. It had taken some damage, but didn’t seem to care. How? Tythel asked herself as disrepair began to settle in. What kind of creature can be bathed in flame and seem…annoyed?

“At the risk of repeating myself,” the Alohym said, raising its hands to gather unlight to its fingers, “I am unimpressed.”

Tythel could feel tears coming to her good eye as she braced herself for the Alohym’s attack.