The Dragon’s Scion Part 81

“Jump!” Eupheme shouted as her arcwand blazed.

Tythel leapt to the side without a moment’s hesitation, grabbing onto a rock that jutted out a bit further from the cliff face. A beam of unlight scored the stone she had just vacated, sending chunks flying free from the wall to crash into the valley below. Her remaining talons bit into the rock. A lance of pain threatened to black out the vision in Tythel’s good eye as her bloodied finger slammed into the rock, but she forced it aside. The rock was beginning to crack under their combined weight, and Tythel had to scramble with her feet and remaining hand to find purchase. “Flath, that was close,” Eupheme hissed. “They’re getting ready for another pass.”

Tythel nodded and took a moment to make sure her grip was firm. Then, taking a deep breath to calm her nerves, Tythel shifted away her talons.

For a terrifying moment, all that was holding her in place was the strength of her grip on the rocks and the tiny footholds barely under her toes. Even her enhanced strength could barely support the two of them. Tythel waiting there for a moment, then tentatively lowered her injured finger onto the rock.

The pressure wasn’t painful. Although the digit was still streaked with blood from the earlier injury, without a talon Tythel didn’t have any injury to cause her pain.

“They’re coming back around,” Eupheme said in a warning tone. “Whatever you’re doing, mind hurrying it up just a bit?”

Nodding again, Tythel shifted her talons back into place. She let out a sigh of relief at having them grip into the stone again, and almost wept for joy when her damaged talons grew back with the uninjured ones. It wasn’t much – she could only heal injuries to the parts of her body she grew – but it was something. “Tythel! Move!” Eupheme shouted.

Tythel kicked to the side again. There weren’t any safe outcroppings on the side of her head she could see out of, so she leapt blindly into the spot hidden by her bad eye, turning her head and praying to both light and shadow she’d find something to grab into. Unlight again sheared away the rock from the plateau. Beams erupted from the ground as Tellias opened fire, streaking past the Skimmers.

There wasn’t anything to grab onto this time. Tythel was forced to again dig her talons into the stone cliff, scoring the stone with lines as they fell. They hadn’t gone as far this time – her talons held, although it sent lances of pain along her arms and legs as she slowed their impact. Eupheme opened fire again. “They’re so fast…” Eupheme said, ejecting a spent light cell and slamming another one into place. “Tythel, I don’t know if I can hit them.”

Tythel nodded, and swallowed hard as she began to climb. She needed every bit of moisture she could get in her ruined throat. A plan was beginning to form, but it required being able to ask Eupheme a question. “How…” Tythel started to say, but the rest of the sentence died in a series of coughs that tasted of copper.

“Don’t try to speak,” Eupheme said in growing alarm. “Just keep climbing!”

Tythel did, waiting for Eupheme’s warning to jump again, looking out of her good eye with a frantic fear. Have to find another outcropping, she thought. Have to get to safety or-

“Now!” Eupheme shouted.

Tythel leapt again, Eupheme firing wildly. Eupheme let out a whoop of excitement as Tythel managed to sink her talons into a soft spot of dirt that was packed into the side of the plateau. A wave of heat hit Tythel a moment latter, followed by a soft “whump” of an explosion. “Got one!” Eupheme said fiercely.

If Tythel could have spoken, she would have congratulated her friend. Instead she kept climbing, her mind racing. The smell when they are near is like burning gas. They only have one heartbeat. Somehow, these aren’t ships, or some new kind of Alohym skin. They’re creatures in their own right!

Suddenly, her crazy plan seemed even more needed. “Close,” Tythel managed to spit out before another round of coughs sent her vision spinning.

“Close? Ground is another hundred feet,” Eupheme said.

Tythel shook her head.

“The Skimmers? They’re coming around for another pass.”

Tythel shook her head again, still climbing.

“Then what do you…oh. Oh no. You can’t be serious.”

Tythel nodded.

“Light and flathing shadow,” Eupheme swore. “About three heights. You’re sure?”

Tythel didn’t even bother to nod this time, continuing her climb and awaiting Eupheme’s signal.

“Damnit,” Eupheme muttered. “Alright, get ready.”

Tythel stopped her climb.

“And…now!” Eupheme shouted.

Tythel leapt, twisting again in the air to face away from the wall. She found herself face to face with the eyestalks on the underbelly of the Skimmer. Although the eyes were markedly inhuman, they widened in a comically familiar expression of shock.

Then Tythel sunk her talons directly into the creature’s underbelly. The Skimmer let out a sound that Tythel assumed was pain, a sound like someone blowing into a broken flute. The creature staggered in the air, and Tythel’s heart stopped. Oh no. I killed it. I killed it and we’re both going to fall to our deaths.

Then the flames emerging from under the Skimmer’s wings reignited, and they began to accelerate. The Skimmer tried to swing its tail around to take aim at them, but Eupheme shot it off with a quick blast of her Arcwand. “You’re crazy!” Eupheme shouted. “You’re madder than the moon!”

Tythel blinked in amusement at the compliment. The Skimmer began to streak away from the plateau, its eyes wild with pain. She could feel it trying to pull up and gain altitude, but the Skimmer wasn’t meant to support the weight of two humans, especially not while losing blood from its abdomen. With every second, the ground grew closer. Tythel could see Tellias racing to follow them, the remaining Skimmer right behind him.

All that was left for Tythel to do was grit her teeth, and get ready to leap off the bottom of the Skimmer before it scraped her and Eupheme to past on the canyon floor below.

 

Small Worlds Part 184

Rear Admiral Dale Bridges was dead. The creature that inhabited his body now vaguely remembered who he had been before, a distant dream of a life spent serving an idea higher than himself. That was still true from the wretch Dale, but that ideal had changed. Now he served Bast, and he loved her with as much passion as he loathed her.

Dale couldn’t remember what the Rear Admiral had served. It was something…something big.

Someone screamed on the street below, drawing Dale’s attention. It was a male, somewhere in that awkward stage between boy and man. He must have been in bed when the assault had started, as he wore only a tank top and flannel pants. The pants were already ripped in places, and the tank top stained with flecks of blood.

The boy was running from some of Bast’s new children. Dale watched as they loped after the boy, swiping at him with claws that could tear flesh and bone with disgusting ease. The boy tripped, and the Children swarmed around him, snarling and biting. He whimpered and swung his hands wildly at them, trying to bat them away.

The Children backed off, letting their prey think it was having some effect. “Please,” the boy said, tears streaming down his face. “Guys, please. It’s me.”

“Guys, please, it’s me,” one of the Children repeated in a high pitched mockery. “That’s how you sound, Jimmy.”

Another one of the Children let out a gagging sound. “Fuck’s sake, Jimmy, did you piss yourself? You smell like piss.”

 

Jimmy’s face scrunched up, and tears began to stream down his face. “Greg, Sammy…c’mon. Don’t…please?”

The third of the Children laughed, a low, growling sound. “You know, Jimmy, we were going to turn you, but…I mean, you pissed yourself. Are we supposed to show you to Bast covered in piss?”

The first, the one Jimmy had called Greg, snorted. “Bryce, you haven’t gotten to eat yet, have you?”

Jimmy turned towards the third Child, the one called Bryce. “No…is that you?”

Bryce shifted, turning into a human. He was well muscled and wore only a pair of boxers, and looked to be four or five years Jimmy’s senior. His skin was wet with blood. “Yup. You were so busy running while these two were eating mom and dad, you forgot to shout a warning to me, Jimmy.”

“Bryce…” the boy sobbed, “Bryce, I didn’t…I was scared, and…”

“I was scared,” the remaining Child, Sammy, repeated in another mockery. “Oh no I was scared. I’m so scared I’m going to piss my pants like a baby.

“Shut up,” Bryce growled, his voice a sharp snap. “I’m talking to my brother.”

Sammy and Greg backed off so Bryce could walk closer to Jimmy. The child looked up at his brother, eyes wet with tears and wide with hope. No, you fool, Dale thought. “Bryce?” Jimmy asked in a voice that waivered.

“You’re my brother Jimmy. I’m gonna give you a choice. You can join us, or you can keep running.”

Jimmy’s eyes widened. “You’ll…you’ll let me run?”

Bryce nodded. “Absolutely, little brother. You can run. It’s night. No one’s on the highway. Other Children might find you. But you can try.”

“Uh…Bryce?” Greg asked, his voice full of confusion. “This isn’t what She want-”

Bryce snarled at Greg, and the feline creature backed down. Even though Bryce was the youngest of the group, it seemed that social bonds from their previous life still held. “It’s my brother. He gets to choose.”

Jimmy stood up to shaky feet. “I’m gonna…thank you.”

Bryce pursed his lips. “You sure about this man? You have no idea how good it feels.”

Jimmy nodded again, tears streaking down his face.

Dale stared at Bryce, shaking with rage. How dare he? It wasn’t just the defiance of Bast. It wasn’t just the gall to believe he knew better than a goddess. This was not supposed to happen. If the boy got to the highway, he might be picked up. He might get to a phone. These days, someone would absolutely believe the boy’s wild claims about monsters in Grant.

Jimmy started to run. Sammy and Greg looked up at Bryce with feral, furious eyes. “She won’t be happy,” Sammy growled.

“I don’t care. I’m not going to eat my own brother.”

Dale didn’t listen to the rest. He pushed his legs against the roof, propelling himself into the air, hurtling like a cannonball. The three Children gaped at him as he flew, but they took no action. Jimmy didn’t even know Dale was coming, not until Dale landed on the pavement in front of him.

Jimmy screamed as Dale reached out and clutched him with fingers far longer than they had once been. Inhuman hands that Dale didn’t recognize anymore.

“I said to let him go!” Bryce shouted.

“Yes,” Dale hissed, holding Jimmy close. “Damn you. Damn you. I didn’t want to this. I didn’t have to do this!”

“Do what?”

With a quick twist of his hands, Dale snapped Jimmy’s neck. The boy fell to the ground, and the three Children looked at him with eyes wide with shock. “What the hell!?” Bryce snarled, stepping forward and shifting into his animalistic form. “He was my brother.

“Yes,” Dale said, his voice quiet. He reached down to brush Jimmy’s hair. “You can still hear his heartbeat, Bryce. I know you can. He’ll live for a few hours before fluid build up kills him…unless you save him. Or feed.”

“Who the hell do you think you are?” Bryce snarled.

“I am our mistress’s favorite chew toy,” Dale spat out, not trying to hide his bitterness. “She’ll never forgive you for killing me.”

“He speaks truth,” said another voice, a voice Dale knew, a voice Dale loathed and loved as much as he did his goddess. Cassandra. “This one is off limits.”

The three cowered before her. She did not look half feral as they did. Cassandra had been a Child so long, and in many ways was something else. Something greater. Her bestial form was as beautiful and terrible as Bast’s. They knew where they stood relative to her.

As Cassandra passed Dale, she patted him on the head like a favored dog.

“Chose, Bryce. Does your brother recieve Her gift, or is he your first meal?”

Dale didn’t wait to see what Bryce chose. Dale didn’t care. He loped off on all fours, horrified at what he had done, horrified at what he had become.

As he ran through the streets, he saw something blowing in the wind. A piece of cloth, red and white stripes with a blue field of stars, attached to a pole. It tugged at some memory, a memory of the Rear Admiral’s, a memory that Dale forced to back to the back of his mind.

Bast had ordered this town be turned or dead, and had ordered that it not be allowed to happen to quickly. Dale would see it done. He would serve. He would obey.

And maybe, if he was very good, Bast would finally grant him the release of death.  

The Dragon’s Scion Part 80

The climb down started off easily enough. Eupheme had rigged up several clamps to the ropes, so she wasn’t reliant on her muscle power to take them down the side of the plateau, instead able to squeeze them for a slow descent. Tythel had grown up on a mountain and ridden Karjon’s back since she was a child. The heights didn’t bother her. The jerking, halting way they were descending was doing a number on her stomach, however, and she had to fight to keep herself from being sick. At one point it got to be too much, and bile rose up in her throat. The stomach acid hitting the sores on her throat was a whole new agony, and Tythel almost blacked up as she let out a pained rattle that passed for a scream.

Eupheme did glance over her shoulder when that happened. “What’s wrong?” she asked, a worried note in her voice.

Tythel shook her head.

“Right, you can’t speak. Is there anything that I can do?”

Tythel again shook her head.

“Okay. Is it injuries from the battle?”

Tythel nodded firmly at that.

Eupheme paused for a moment to consider. “Okay. If you need me to stop, reach over and pat me on the head. Don’t touch anything else, I don’t want to risk slipping. Can you reach?”

Tythel nodded again. I hate communicating like this, she thought bitterly. She’d already had enough time to figure out what she’d tell Eupheme – the truth. She wasn’t sure it was going to be enough, but it would at least be honest.

An ugly, nasty voice rose up in the back of her mind. Honest? Like you were with Nicandros? It sneered. She’s going to leave, you know. She’s going to abandon you. Same as he did. Or she’ll die, like Karjon. Maybe it’s better  you keep her angry. At least she’ll leave now, before it hurts more.

Tellias drifted a bit further down beneath them. The arc emitters built into his boots were not strong enough to propel him into flight, but they were enough to slow his fall. He’d tested it by jumping off one of the few still standing buildings. The only question they had was if he had enough power to get all the way to the ground, but they’d decided to take the risk. He was definitely dead if they stayed up top and waited for the Alohym to show back up.

Tythel turned her head to the side and spit out a red globule. They were coming a bit less frequently now, which Tythel hoped meant she was starting to heal. And not that my stomach is filling up with…no, stop it Tythel, don’t think about it.

Eupheme grunted behind her, and some of the rocks began to clatter down the side of the cliff. Tythel sucked in an involuntary breath. Relax, she told herself, trying to unclench her fists from the sudden surge of panic. Eupheme was not supporting them with her arms and legs. The rope was doing most of the work. Thick, sturdy, rope, that wasn’t at all likely to snap and send them plummeting to their deaths hundreds of feet below.

Tythel took her mind off the valley below by focusing her eyes outward, down the canyon. While the land surrounding Hallith might be a desert, the flow of water in canyon had transformed the canyon into a forest. Tythel marveled at seeing how far away from the river proper the trees had grown, their roots stretching like fingers towards the water. A few birds flew among the trees, fat, ungainly creatures that could only fly a short distance. Tythel had read about them, but couldn’t recall their name. They only existed in the isolated ecosystem of the canyon, unable to fly up over the brim.

Tythel caught a shape crawling up one of the walls and focused on it. It was a lizard, easily the size of the man, another of the unique life forms to this valley. This one Tythel remembered. The drayko were six limbed reptiles, making them part of the ancient order of reptiles that had culminated in dragons. Unlike the majestic being that had raised Tythel, the drayko had no wings. Instead, where a dragon’s limbs would be were two claws folded tightly to their backs. As Tythel watched, one of the fat birds flew close to the Drayko. It’s claws shot out, easily fifteen feet long, and speared the bird mid flight.

The drayko brought the creature to its jaws, and Tythel swallowed hard, then risked a glance down. If their path took them past one sunning itself, looking for the birds, it could easily decide Tythel and Eupheme made acceptible pray instead.

No drayko awaited them on the climb down. What was waiting was another two hundred feet of falling and an intense sense of vertigo.

Tythel took her eyes off the drop. You’ve ridden your father’s back amongst the clouds, why does this bother you? Don’t you trust Eupheme? As soon as the thought was in her mind, she was able to answer it to herself. It wasn’t Eupheme she didn’t trust, it was the ropes. If they failed, Eupheme would never have the strength to hold them both to the wall. They would plummet, and all the truth in the would wouldn’t adhere them to the wall.

Flath, why am I letting her climb? I should have insisted on being the one to carry the burden! Guilt welled up in Tythel, and she tried to fight it down again, focusing on the canyon again.

Something was moving through the winding passages of the canyon, something moving with far more grace and agility than the flightless birds. Tythel had never seen these creatures in any of her books. They were flat and wide, shaped like crescent moon. They reminded Tythel of the manta’s she’d seen swimming outside their under sea base. Spots of flame emerged from under their wings, constant jets of fire that seemed to propel them as they used their wings to maneuver.

The drayko spotted them, and its claws lunged out at one of these new creatures. It swerved in the air to involve claws fast enough to catch birds in the air, and then swung its tail towards the lizard.

A beam of unlight went streaming into the confused drayko, cutting it in half.

Light and shadow, Tythel thought with growing horror. Eupheme had mentioned the Alohym were sending something. Skimmers, that had been the word. Apparently, these were them. They flew faster than anything Tythel had ever imagined, faster even that Karjon when he was flapping his wings with full force.

She reached up and frantically tapped Eupheme on the head. The other woman looked over her shoulder. “What is it, Tythel?”

Tythel pointed, and after a few seconds, Eupheme swore. “Get ready. Going to have to speed things up.”

The lead Skimmer banked upwards. The eyes were on the bottom of the creature’s stomach, and they peered at the wall on stalks. Tythel readied dragonflame as soon as the Skimmer came in range.

She spat forth flame, going for a wide gout that would incinerate the creature before it could aim that tail.

Instead, she only managed to spray forth flecks of dark blood. The pain was worse even than having her eye socket broken, and Tythel clutched her neck in sudden agony. Eupheme swore and dropped them a few feet right as the Skimmer shot a beam of unlight, searing the rock where they had been. It missed the two of them.

It didn’t miss the rope.

For a moment, Tythel felt weightless, like she had when Karjon started to dive.

Then gravity began to assert itself, and the ground came rushing towards them. Tythel didn’t hesitate. She swing her shoulders, getting a startled shout from Eupheme as the turned around. Tythel ignored it, instead popping her talons and shoving them into the rock and dirt that crusted the cliff face.

She felt a couple of her talons tear out of her fingers at the first impact. If her throat had not been so ruined, she would have screamed at the sudden agony. Instead she let out a raspy sound that burbled wetly in her throat. The remaining talons held fast, and after digging deep furrows in the rock, they brought Tythel and Eupheme to a halt. Tythel could feel Eupheme struggling to bring out her arclight rifle, could hear Tellias shouting something from the ground below.

The Skimmer crested its body over the canyon, and turned in a wide arc, coming around for another pass. The two below banked upwards towards them.

Tythel made herself begin to climb, ignoring the agony in her fingers, ignoring the way her throat burned like it held a trapped flame. If she didn’t get them to the ground, they were dead.

At least she didn’t have to worry about the rope breaking anymore.

 

Small Worlds part 183

“Are they still out there?” Ron asked, crouched down beside the window. “Are they still out there?” he repeated, his voice more frantic, not even giving anyone time to answer the first question. The shotgun he held between his legs shook with fear.

Nelly pulled herself up to peer out the window. “Yeah,” she said through gritted teeth.

Ron just moaned in fear. The interior of the Grant, Texas, police station looked like a war zone. Filing cabinets had been pushed up against windows, desks had been moved to bar doors, chairs shoved to the sides. The people inside had hollow, sunken eyes. Reverend Jeremy Howard couldn’t blame them. They’d endured an unimaginable horror earlier this year, the dead rising and razing the town in a war between gods. Just when things were starting to get back to normal, just when people were starting to heal, the horror had come back.

And I don’t even know what it is this time, he thought through gritted teeth. The first time he hadn’t known, not really, but it had been something that he had seen in movies and on tv before. The dead rising and attacking the living. That was a thing that you could think about, something you could understand. This? Whatever it was, it was something worse. He crept closer to the window and peered out.

Two shadows stood under a street lamp, regarding the building. “Come out, come out, wherever you are…” one of them said in a singsong voice.

A voice that the Reverend knew, a voice the Reverend had heard singing Hymns every Sunday. It was Sally. He could almost make her out from here, although it was hard to be sure with the front of her shirt stained with blood, hard to be sure with the massive wound in her chest where something had been torn out of her.

“We should just go in,” the other figure said, a lower, gruffer voice. It had taken a bit longer for the Reverend to identify the voice. Billy, he thought sadly. He’d baptised both these children, and having them standing out there in the night, taunting the figures inside…

The sound of gunfire sent everyone to the ground. Everyone except Ron, who had been the one to shoot. The panicked shot had gone horrendously wild – the Reverend couldn’t even see what he’d managed to hit, but it certainly wasn’t Billy or Sally. “Get down, you idiot!” Nelly said, pulling on the back of Ron’s shirt.

“It’s not right,” Ron said through tears. “It’s not right!”

The reverend tuned him out. Ron was barely holding it together. His wife was still at home, and as far as anyone in town knew, everyone outside this little police station was already did. God, please, if you grant me nothing else ever again as long as you live, please grant that it’s not so, he prayed quietly.

“They’re trying to shoot us,” Billy said to Sally. “We need to,”

“No,” Sally snapped, a harsh note to her voice that the Reverend had never heard before. Sally was a kind girl, a gentle soul. She didn’t snap, and she certainly didn’t sound like that when she was angry. “We wait for her.”

“But I’m hungry,” Billy whined. “You already got to eat, Sally. I still haven’t.”

“And I promised you food, did I not?” said a new voice, prompting the Reverend to peer up over the window again. A woman had joined the two. The Reverend couldn’t make out much about her. Her hair was up in a bun, and she wore some sort of coat, but that was about all he could clearly make out. Her voice, though – it didn’t have an accent the Reverend associated with anyone he knew. It was more Midwestern, with a bit of a clip to it. Somewhere up north, then.

“Who the hell is that?” Nelly asked, peering through the window.

“How the hell are we supposed to know?” Ron snapped. “Some psycho bitch, what else matters?”

“Calm down, Ron,” The Reverend said, motioning for him to lower the gun. “We don’t know what’s going on out there.”

“Calm down?” Ron shouted. “Calm down!? They ate Chaz’s heart, Reverend, and you’re telling me to calm the fuck down!?”

If the figures outside heard or cared about Ron’s outburst, they gave no indication. “Yes, Ron. We can’t do anything for him.” Or for the others. The Reverend had seen the corpses, seen the way their chests had been torn open. He wondered what made Billy and Sally special, why they were still up and walking around. There were others like them, he was sure of it. There were also many more dead.

“You can have one,” the woman outside was saying, causing the Reverend to tense up. “The rest, let them run.”

“We have a whole town to eat, Cassandra,” Sally said. “I don’t know why we have to be careful.”

“Because She commands it.” The Reverend could hear the emphasis on the pronoun. That was why he kept everyone holed up, why he was encouraging them to wait. There was someone else out there, someone behind all this. Just like the Mummies. Why did they have to come back?

“Of course,” Billy said reluctantly. “But…I can get one?”

The woman – Cassandra – nodded. “Only one.”

“Get ready!” The Reverend said firmly. “Billy’s coming.”

The idea that those two words could cause a ripple of fear through the people inside would have caused the Reverend to laugh once upon a time. Billy was about as intimidating as a wet kitten. Or at least, he had been.

When the Reverend glanced up to the street, Billy was gone. “Where is he?” Ron asked. He turned the gun inwards, pointing it around. “He could be anywhere.”

“Jesus, Ron, don’t point that shit at us,” Nelly hissed, ducking when the barrel swung her way. “You want to kill one of-”

A thump came from the roof above them. Ron jerked the shotgun up and fired into the ceiling. Everyone inside screamed and ducked. Ron’s hand shook as he began to reload. “Did I get it? I think I got it! I think-”

Two hands burst out of the ceiling above Ron’s head. They barely looked human – the fingers were too long, and the tips of them ended in hooked claws like a cats. The skin was tight and gaunt. Half of the figure they were attached to came with them, and although the face was grotesquely distorted, like someone had stretched a human face over a cat’s skull, the Reverend recognized Billy’s green eyes.

The hands latched into Ron’s chin, and Ron screamed, a high pitched sound. Several people inside opened fire now that they had a target. Bits of the creature that had once been Billy blew away, and Billy hissed in pain, but he didn’t let go of his prey. Instead, he flew back into the ceiling, dragging Ron by his face.

A few more gunshots were fired, but there was no more target. No one knew where Billy was. Ron’s screams cut off.

In the silence, they could all hear terribly suggestive sounds of something being chewed. “Oh God in heaven,” Nelly said, crossing herself.

Another series of thumps, and more gunfire erupted from the panicked people of the town. They needn’t have wasted the ammo.

It was just Ron’s body, being thrown back into the room. He stared up at the ceiling, his face a wordless scream of pain, a gaping hole torn into his chest.

Billy was back in the street, shifting back into something recognizably human. “They shot me,” he growled at Cassandra.

“And you were able to feed. Don’t worry. We’re not going anywhere anytime soon.” Cassandra reached over and gave Billy an affectionate pat on the shoulder. “She has a plan.”

“It still hurt.”

“Let them hurt,” Cassandra said. “Let them thrash, let them howl, let them scream. They can’t do anything to us, not permanently. Not as long as She protects us. And when this is done…we can finish off the lot of them.”

“What do you want us to do for now?” Sally asked.

“Keep them in there for now. Wait for your new siblings.”

“And if we get hungry?” Sally asked.

“They’ll eventually try to run. You can eat some then.” That last sentence Cassandra said a bit louder. She wanted the people inside to stay right where they were, to know they were safe so long as they didn’t try to run.

Yeah, the Reverend thought grimly, as safe as a lamb in the slaughterhouse.

Backing away from the window, the Reverend started to pray again. It was not right for a man to ask the Almighty for a miracle, but he still did.

Right now, it was their only hope.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 79

“Tythel! That’s enough!” Tellias shouted, putting a hand on her shoulder.

He was right, although not for the reason he thought. He thought that it was enough because there were flecks of her blood spraying out with the dragonflame, tiny red motes that burst into steam. That might have been a good enough reason to stop, but the actual reason Tythel was stopping was the only sounds she could hear in the tunnels were the mechanical shuffling of imperiplate in motion.

Tythel tapped her stolen helmet. Tellias reached down and pulled it off her belt, holding it over her head. “I’m ready,” he said.

Tythel nodded, and closed her mouth. Immediately the miasma rushed back towards her, tendrils of vapor hungrily reaching towards her mouth, trying to invade her lungs. Tellias slammed the helmet on her shoulders before they could, flicking a clasp on the side. A soft, rubbery material stretched in to seal around her neck. She had to fight back another round of coughing, not wanting to get blood in the helmet.

She could have sworn the tendrils of miasma slowed when the helmet was clamped into place, almost as if it realized it was thwarted. “You alright in there?” Tellias asked.

Tythel raised her hand and extended the pinky and thumb, a gesture she’d seen soldiers make to indicate affirmation. Tellias grunted from within his imperiplate. “You can’t talk, can you?”

She shook her head. She could feel her throat bleeding. It will heal. I’m sure it will. Or I’m going to choke to death on my own blood. The thought made her want to vomit. The idea of that filling her helmet, and being forced between breathing that and choking to death on miasma, gave her the will to keep it down.

“Their imeriplate troops will still be coming,” Tellias said.

Tythel nodded, and pointed down one of the tunnels. No sounds were coming from it. Tellias nodded and moved to take the lead back to the surface. Tythel didn’t object. She felt the weariness in her bones, and right now wasn’t sure she’d be able to fend off an aggressive sparrow without passing out.

The corpses of the men who had died to the miasma littered the tunnel. They were all completely mummified, and had died trying to flee, scrambling at walls, or clutching at their throats. Tythel shuddered at the sight, of realizing these deaths were all on her head.

It felt different than killing them in battle. That was life or death, kill or be killed. This was the same thing, but…it was also different. It didn’t feel like battle, it felt like murder. They were going to kill you, she reminded herself, but it was a cold comfort. The resistance lives on because of this. That was a bit better, but it didn’t do anything for the empty eye sockets that stared at her in mute horror. “Do you have a songstone?” Tellias asked.

Tythel nodded.

“Just link it to your helmet, then. You’ll be able to contact the resistance. It should be able to read your lip movements, even if you don’t speak.”

Tythel stopped and looked at him, hands splayed out.

“You…don’t know how to do that, do you?”

Tythel shook her head.

“Well, I’ll show you once we’re clear of all this. For now…” Tellias went silent for a moment. “Everyone’s fine,” he said afterwards. “Although they’re worried about running out of air before the lumcasters can cut through. Apparently the base was wider than they expected where they were. They don’t know how long it will take.

If Tythel could speak, she would have sworn. She turned to start heading back down the tunnel. We can wait until the miasma clears, then go in and-

Tellias put a hand on her arm. He didn’t grab her, just a simple gesture to pause her movement. “Your highness. The imperiplate.”

Tythel cocked her head, then pointed down the tunnel urgently. “You still want to go?” Tythel nodded firmly. “You’re worried the imperiplate will get through the rock?” Tythel repeated the nod.

“I wouldn’t be. It will take them hours to dig through the mess you made. As far as they know, the resistance is buried in there and probably dead. I think they’re more a danger to us than to the others.”

Tythel crossed her arms. She didn’t have the words to argue with him, not with her throat like this. But…

“Your highness, please,” he said. “We can’t help them. But we can survive. They’ll be alright. Even if the imperiplate troops cut through…it’s hundreds against a dozen. They’ll win.”

Tythel cocked her head again, this time in thought, and then nodded, turning to head back up the tunnel. She couldn’t hear the imperiplate troops in the other tunnels, not with this much rock between them.

When they broke onto the surface, the sun had risen fully. Harsh sunlight illuminated the battlefield. The corpses of men lay strewn about, and vultures were beginning to circle. The miasma was rising into the air, forming a cloud that tried to reach out towards the scavengers, as if intent on taking as much life as it could.

“The others beat you out of the tunnel,” a voice said, causing both Tellias and Tythel to whirl. Eupheme stepped out from behind a rock, her face a mask of fury. “They got back on the transports and left. I listened to them. They think they’ve won, although they’re sending something called Skimmers to hunt for survivors. We’ll want to be gone by the time they get here.”

Tythel reached out to her, and Eupheme slapped her hand away. “No. After that stunt you pulled, I’m sure you can’t talk. Besides, we’ve got to get out of here.”

“I was going to attach her songstone to her helm-” Tellias started.

“No time.”

Tellias opened his mask, his face hard. “I am still Baron of the Highplains,” he said in a warning tone.

Eupheme stiffened. “And right now, I’m High Queen of not Giving a Damn, your lordship. I’m going to keep the princess alive. It’s what I’m supposed to do.” She shot a venomous glance as Tythel with that word, and Tythel shrunk away from her glare. “And right now, I think it’s very good for the princesses safety that she keeps her mouth shut.”

Without the ability to speak, Tythel could only hang her head. Eupheme nodded curtly. “Come on.”

“Any idea how we’re going to get off this plateau?” Tellias asked.

“We climb,” Eupheme said simply. “At least, the princess and I do. You can use that suit’s arclight to slow yourself down if you jump, right?”

“I’ve never tried it before,” Tellias said.

“No time like the present.” Eupheme said, walking towards the edge. “I scouted the best path down a little while ago.”

“I’m not sure I like-”

“Then find your own way down, your lordship. I’m climbing down with the princess if I have to carry her myself.”

Tellias scowled at Eupheme, but just closed his helmet and continued stalking towards the edge.

“Euph-” Tythel started to croak. The word was cut off, both by the pain of speaking, and from the look Eupheme gave her.

“I said we’ll talk later. Right now, you’re going to listen.” Even as bad as she was at reading human expression, Tythel could not mistake the fury on her friend’s face. “You do not get to decide what is dangerous for me and what isn’t. You do not get to shove me aside. I’ll protect you, your highness. But friends don’t do that to each other.”

Tythel could only nod mutely as they headed towards the edge of the cliff. Eupheme pulled two ropes out of the dirt. They were well buried, and Tythel realized Eupheme had set this up some time ago. “Are you able to climb?” Eupheme asked her, not looking at Tythel.

Tythel held up her hand to show how badly it was shaking. Eupheme nodded. “Then I’m strapping you to my back and we’re going down like that. Any objections?”

Tythel shook her head.

“Good. Oh, and take that flathing helmet off before you run out of air. Miasma’s gone.”

Tythel reached up to do exactly that. The rest of the arrangements were done in silence, Tythel feeling unable to even meet Eupheme’s eyes right now. Eupheme secured Tythel to her back, letting her face out, and handed her an arcwand. “If those skimmers show up, you’ll keep us alive. I’ll get us down. Okay?”

Tythel nodded, feeling tears well up in her eyes as Eupheme’s tone. The tension she could feel in Eupheme’s back lessened some. “Tythel,” she said, her voice still harsh, but not as acerbic as it had been. Eupheme paused as if considering something, then sighed. “I’m not going to say it’s going to be okay. But I got your pack. It’s secure in the bag we’ll be taking down. So…take from that what you will.”

The tears flowed freely now, guilt mixing with relief. Tythel was glad Eupheme couldn’t see them.

It was a long climb to the bottom.

Small Worlds Part 182

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There are stretches of highway across America with relatively few rest stops. Places where you can drive for miles upon miles and, if you missed your opportunity to stop, you’d have to wait for quite some time before your next chance arrived.

Grant, Texas, had been home to one such stop. A gas station at the side of the road, one with pumps so old they didn’t even have credit card machines. You had to go in and pre-pay, or you could pump before you paid. A large, red and white sign warned that failing to pay would be met with prosecution.

That sign was now hanging drunkenly off one of the pumps. It hadn’t been fixed, not since it was torn off by one of the Mummies of Ys rampaging through the town. The pumps were dead, and wouldn’t be fixed for months most likely, the hoses torn to shreds by the same mummies and then the wires fried by the Eschaton throwing around balls of lightning that should have, by all rights, burnt the town to the ground.

The military had been through here, some fancy pants Admiral promising to pay to make sure things got rebuilt. Billy remembered that promise well, and had remembered at the time thinking that it was a bunch bullshit. The military didn’t pay for small towns like Grant, and the Government sure as hell didn’t. The town was going to be fine – there’d been enough tourists playing lookee-loo and reporters chasing that Gail woman’s coattails for  a scoop on the gods to bring in hundreds of times the tourism money the town had ever seen – but it was going to be a long time before anyone did any rebuilding here.

At least they’ve gone away, Billy thought. News about these ‘gods’ was the biggest thing to hit the country in his eighteen years of life, and everyone wanted a piece of the action, but most people weren’t willing to drive way out to the Texas sticks to look at the aftermath of the destruction they could wreak when they went all out.

It suited Billy just fine. Damn tourists had trashed the town almost as bad as the damn ‘gods’ and mummies had. And while the gas station wasn’t making any money these days, Billy was still working there, and still making honest money helping get the place cleaned up. “Evenin’ Carl,” he said as he came in. “Any business today?”

Carl shook his head, his face fixed in his perpetually mournful frown. It did seem a bit longer these days. When the tourists had started showing up, Carl had done a brisk business with getting the generator hooked up to keep the fridges running, and selling a bunch of random scraps of cloth as being “genuine” fabrics worn by the Mummies of Ys. Billy hadn’t told anyone that any actual artifacts of the mummies had turned to dust alongside the creatures they’d been attached to, and Carl had given him a dollar an hour raise for his silence. “Looks like the boom’s done, Billy,” Carl said with a sigh.

“Yeah, but between that and the insurance, it wasn’t all bad, right?” Billy’s heart began to skip with sudden fear. “You’re…you’re still gonna be rebuilding, right?”

“Don’t worry, Billy, we’ll be back up and running soon. In fact-” Carl cut out as the bell over the door – an actual brass bell – rang. Sally walked in, and suddenly to Billy, it wouldn’t have mattered if Carl was telling him that the gas station was literally on fire at that exact instant.

Sally Newman, the prettiest thing to happen to Grant Texas – at least as far as Billy was concerned, but he believed it with a fervent passion fueled by teenage hormones.  “Hey Sally,” he said, swallowing a lump in his throat. The door swung open behind her on a gust of wind, and Billy stepped in and caught it before it could catch Sally in the back of the head.

“Thank you, Billy,” she said, giving him a smile that was pure friendship. Some dust blew into the gas station, and a small part of Billy noticed it and knew he’d have to sweep it up later, but for the most part he was fixated on that smile. It was so…dispassionate. Sally, as always, thought of him as nothing other than another nice boy in town. “Daddy, did we get in any of the new magazines?”

That was the other reason things with Sally were difficult, besides Billy being the redundancy that is a socially inept teenage boy around teenage girl. Her dad was Carl, and Carl did not like the idea of any boy from town sniffing around his baby girl. As far as Carl was concerned, Sally was going to be the first Newman to leave Grant and never come back.

Billy might only be eighteen, but he didn’t think that was likely. No one left Grant. Oh, sure, there were exceptions, but they were few and far between.

“Not yet, sweetheart,” Carl said, his face lighting up in warm grin. He only ever seemed to light up around his daughter.

Sally gave an over dramatic sigh. “The cell’s down again. I need something to read.

Somehow, to Billy, she managed to complain prettily. He pulled out his phone to see what she was talking about, and fought back a swear. The attack on Grant had left only one cell tower fully functional, and it wasn’t supporting the load of even a small town particularly well. It went down at least twice a day, sometimes for hours. NetWall was still providing internet to individual homes, although their fiber lines had been badly fried by the electrical storm summoned during the fight, so it was spotty all around.

“Have you tried the bookstore?” Carl asked.

Sally rolled her eyes, and Billy agreed in his soul. Grant’s only bookstore had fallen on hard times with the rise of online books, and Kathy, its owner, was a bitter old woman who did not much care for people who came to browse and not buy. “I’d rather not,” Sally said.

“My truck’s working,” Billy interjected with unexpected boldness. “The Walmart is still open, we could go there.”

“Oh really?” Sally asked with sudden excitement. Billy tried to ignore the daggers Carl was glaring his way as Sally stepped forward. “That’d be amazing.”

“Hang on now,” Carl said in a firm voice. “I think I might have something in the back.”

Billy fought back a sigh as Carl went into the back of the store. He wouldn’t have anything, Billy was sure of that, at least not for Sally to read. He would absolutely have something to keep Billy busy late into the night.

“Well, maybe another time?” Billy said hopefully.

Sally smiled. “Oh, that’s sweet of you. I’d still like to – it’d be nice to get out there anyway.”

Billy felt his heart start to pound with excitement. Was it his imagination, or was her smile a bit less ‘just friendly’ than before? “You think so?”

Sally laughed. “I mean, what else is there to do around here?”

Billy couldn’t argue with that logic. Grant was a boring town. It had gotten pretty exciting for a little bit, but now it was back to normal. At least, as normal as it could after an invasion of mummies swarmed the town.

The silence stretched between them, and in that silence wormed something dark. It happened quite a bit these days. Sally had lost her mother when the mummies had swarmed across the town. Billy had lost his brother and his best friend. No one in town was really processing it, really grieving. In a town of twelve hundred people, a hundred of them dying was too much to process. “So, uh…” Billy started to saying, trying to push back that yawning blackness.

Carl came to the rescue. “Hey, Billy, I…”

His voice trailed off. Billy turned around to look over his shoulder at Carl, and Sally gave her father a curious look.

Carl was standing in the doorway to the back of the station, holding a box. He’d stopped mid speaking, and his mouth hung slightly open, his skin looking ashen and pale. The box was trembling in his hands. “Daddy?” Sally asked, a note of fear in her voice.

Carl’s mouth was moving, like he was trying to form words. A tear formed in his eye, and began to make its way down his cheek, where it joined a thin droplet of blood that was flowing from the corner of his mouth.

The box went tumbling out of his grasp. In the center of his chest, previously hidden by the box, was Carl’s heart, held in the grasp of a blood soaked hand. Billy stared helplessly as the owner of the hand stepped forward, pushing Carl’s body with her, and brought the hand up to her lips. In growing horror, Billy watched as the woman behind Carl took a huge bite out of his heart, her arm still shoved through Carl’s chest cavity. “Oh my,” she whispered as she swallowed the fight bite. “So sweet.”

Sally started to scream.

Weird Theology is now available as an audiobook! Click here to check it out! Or here for Amazon! And if you could leave it an honest rating or review, I’d really appreciate it.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 78

The tunnel was a winding maze burrowed into the rock of Hallith, twisting downwards to make sure the slope was not too steep. The walls were almost perfectly circular, although they still needed great wooden struts to support them. Armin had been grousing that if they’d carved them as arches, they’d have been able to forgo the supports, but had conceded the extra time needed for that was probably not worth the effort. As it was, the thick beams of wood would prevent the tunnel from collapsing.

There were five entrances upon the main plateau, all of them leading to a junction about a hundred feet down that allowed access to the single tunnel deeper in the earth. That junction, where five tunnels converged into one, was the biggest weak point in the whole structure. The lumcasters hadn’t been able to spare time to worry about structural integrity, and whenever Tythel walked past the entrances she could hear the beams groaning under the pressure. The sound of them was growing louder now as they grew closer. Over that creaking sound, Tythel could hear the voices of soldiers ahead of them, coming from the main tunnel. Ossman’s voice reached her ears, and she smiled to know at least one of her friends was safe.

“We’re the last ones in,” Eupheme said as they continued along, the footsteps of Alohym soldiers pounding behind them.

Tythel nodded. It would make things easier, knowing there was no one behind her that she had to worry about. She had enough concerns as it was.

They rounded a bend and the junction was ahead. It was empty – the soldiers were already proceeding down to the lower levels, where Armin and the other lumcasters had hopefully broken through to the outside. If they hadn’t…but no, Tythel couldn’t think about that, not right now. They would break though, one way or another. Right now, all she needed to do was give them time to get everyone else out.

She tried not to think about the fact that she hadn’t yet figured out how to survive what came next. She was certain she’d figure something out. The Imperiplate helm at her side, banging against her hip with every step, was a good reminder that she at least had some options. I’ll have to risk a songstone afterwards, let them know I’m all right. Assuming she was, of course. That, Tythel had to admit as she finished the last of her water, her throat still raw from the flame she’d poured through it, was seeming much less likely with every moment.

Don’t think about it, she told herself, and recalled something Karjon had once told her. It had been when she was learning to leap among the trees of the valley, wanting to get as close as possible to the awesome flight capable her father was capable of. She’d fallen again, and expressed concern to him that she’d break her leg. “If you think it’s too dangerous, you shouldn’t do it,” Karjon had said gently.

Tythel, at the time only twelve, had protested loudly. “But I want to do it! I love it.”

Karjon had nodded. “Then you accept the risk. Everything you do, Tythel, will carry risks. You could get hurt, physically or emotionally. You have to decide if the risk is worth the reward. And you may, one day, find something that is worth any risk, any danger. When you do, go into it with full knowledge that you accept those risks.”

Leave it to him to turn even a child’s whining into a chance for a lesson, Tythel thought with a rueful grin. They were in the junction now, and Tellias and Eupheme were looking at her expectantly. “Can you tell me the plan now?” Tellias asked, although the question came out as more of a demand.

Tythel winced and rubbed her throat. This was it, the moment of acceptance. I do this with full knowledge of the risks, father, I promise. She took a deep breath. “No,” she whispered, her voice still barely able to raise. She motioned towards the tunnel, trying to indicate she’d tell more when they were deeper in.

Tellias and Eupheme turned and began to head that way. Tythel followed behind, waiting for them to cross the junction, to get under the wooden beams.

As soon as they were, Tythel reached out, shoving them both with all her strength. Eupheme went tumbling, end over end. Her umbrist’s grace let her turn it into a roll to prevent injury. Tellias was wearing arcplate. If he’d been expecting it, there was no chance she would have been able to push him so easily. She’d caught him with one foot in the air for that very reason, and off balance, Tellias toppled over and began to slide down the tunnel. “What the shadow?” he shouted in surprise.

Tythel didn’t respond. She needed her voice, and she didn’t have the time. Her unlight hammer sprung to her fingers as she extended it, and with two quick blows hit the beams supporting the tunnel. They shattered under the impact, and Tythel had to leap back as the tunnel began to collapse. “Tythel!” Tellias shouted, reaching out towards her. Eupheme shot her a glare full of daggers. Tythel mouthed sorry to her as rocks began to fill in the gap between them. The tunnels were well lit, with few shadows large enough for Eupheme to jump through. Her range was fairly short – Tythel could only hope that it was too short for her to reach back to the junction.

The collapsing rocks didn’t completely fill the tunnel, and Tythel swore. This needed to be airtight or it wouldn’t work. Before she could raise the hammer to collapse it further, Tellias did her job for her, scrambling over the rocks. The arcplate brushed against the ceiling, collapsing the tunnel the rest of the way.“What the flath do you think you’re doing?!” Tellias bellowed at her.

It was Tythel’s turn to glare daggers. “Saving,” she hissed through her ruined throat.

“And what about you?” he demanded.

Tythel ignore the questions. The Alohym soldiers further down had heard the sound of the collapsing tunnels, and were whooping with excitement at being close to their quarry. Instead, she reached up and put her hand on the side of Tellias’ helm. “Airtight?” she croaked.

“Of course,” he answered with a scoff. “I don’t see how that matter…oh. Oh no.”

Tythel gave him a nod and turned to get to work. She took a deep breath and pushed the frustration at Tellias, the fear of how she would survive, the shame for Eupheme’s glare – all of it – into her throat.

Then she let loose dragonflame the moment the first of the soldiers entered the junction. He raised his hand in a reflexive gesture of defense, but Tythel hadn’t been aiming at him.

Her flame was weak, pathetically so. Tythel could immediately feel her throat scream in protest at being forced to burn again so soon after the last blast. She didn’t need to push herself too hard – not so long as she could keep it constant. Still, the pain brought tears to her eyes.

The dragonflame hit the floor of the cavern, and as soon as the rocks began to heat, they released the long ago locked away miasma that infused these stones.

A cloud of purple and green gasses erupted from the point of impact. The hot air coming from the flames pushed the noxious poison away from Tythel and Tellias, and sent it streaking towards the soldiers that were standing in the way of the cloud of death and the air.

When this had happened last time, Tythel had barely released enough gas to do more than frighten everyone and make one man sick. This time, she kept pouring on the flame. The onrushing wall of miasma met the first soldier, who had just started to raise his unlight wand to take aim at her.

He gasped in surprise, and that sealed his fate. The gasses pushed their way into his mouth and nose far quicker than a mere gasp could account for, likt it was something alive and hungry, and his skin began to turn grey. Black veins erupted along his arms and neck and face, spreading downwards towards his chest and lungs. His eyes withered and turned to ash that blew out of empty sockets.

The sight was terrible. Tythel fought back an entirely different set of tears, instead taking her terror and using it to fuel the dragonflame. Soldiers began to scream higher up the tunnel, and she could hear panic set in as they scrambled away.

Tythel fell to her knees as she poured dragonflame into the now molten pool in front of her, a pool that was spreading outwards, releasing more and more gas as it heated the rocks beneath it. She pushed herself away from the fumes, and silently prayed she would be able to survive before the poison crept into her own lungs.

I do this with the full knowledge of the risks, Tythel had told herself, but she’d never imagined the death would be so horrible. This time, the thought was entirely different, fear worming its way into her heart. She threw it into the dragonflame, but it didn’t go away, instead sitting there with one solid thought that betrayed her earlier confidence.

I don’t want to die.

She could only pray those wouldn’t be her last words.

Small Worlds Part 181

“Shouldn’t being a god means my wrist doesn’t cramp up from writing?” Ryan said, breaking the silence after what felt like hours. He was getting to the bottom of his form, currently working on the “Urgent Request to Petition Specific Curator 834-G” which was different through forms A-F because of some arcane reason Ryan couldn’t divine. He’d still had to fill out forms A-F even though they didn’t apply to Nabu.

Dianmu grimaced. “If only. Repetitive motions are one thing we aren’t protect against, since it’s about our own strength. At least you’ll never develop a permanent injury from it.”

“Small favors,” Ryan grumbled, signing his name on the bottom of the form. “I think I’m done with my stack.”

“Same,” Dianmu said. She got up and walked over to Ryan’s desk, grabbing his papers off it and adding them to her own. “Now we just have to wait to be processed,” she said, sliding them in the “Insert Paperwork Here When Completed” doorway.

“At least it should be quicker since we’re not standing in line, right?” Ryan asked hopefully.

Dianmu gave him a flat look.

“At least it…won’t add any time since we’re not standing in line?” Ryan tried.

Dianmu’s expression didn’t waiver.

“Goddamnit,” Ryan muttered. “Why have us do extra paperwork if it doesn’t speed anything up in the long term?”

“Paperwork does not exist to make things quicker, Ryan, and certainly doesn’t exist to make it more efficient for the end user. Paperwork exists to do two things – to make things easier for the people at the top, and to make more paperwork. Haven’t you ever had an office job?”

Ryan sighed. “I did, but…I kinda hoped the Curators would be better?”

Dianmu shrugged. “So we’ve got some time to kill. Any Hungers bothering you?”

Ryan shook his head. “You?”

“Not at the moment. Which is probably for the best. You do not want to try to order food on Officium Mundi.”

“Sounds like you speak from experience.”

Dianmu sat back dwn, and wheeled her chair over so they didn’t have to talk across the room. “I do. I was here one time, not long ago, after a fight. I needed information, but I was Hungry. I decided to go to the food court.”

“They have a food court?”

Dianmu nodded. “A few levels down. I decided to get something simple, or so I thought. A hamburger. It required filling out Requisition forms. For the Hamburger as a collective unit. And the cheese. And the bun. And the ketchup. And the mustard. And the oil the burger was cooked in. And for the heat that was being put into the burger. Then I had to fill out a form to authorize assembling the ingredients into the burger.”

Ryan gaped at her. “You’re joking.”

“I wish I was.”

“But…if you already filled out the collective unit form, why the bloody hell was there a form to assemble the ingredients?”

“So they could make sure that what constituted a hamburger also was the same thing I was assembling. So that I couldn’t do anything unsavory with the ingredients and cause mischief. I ended up getting a lukewarm hamburger that I was too Hungry to heat up myself, and there was no way I was even trying to do paperwork for the microwave.”

Ryan shuddered at the thought. “I thought you admired their efficiency?” he asked.

“Oh, no. I just understand the purpose. But I’m still a human, deep under the divinity. You honestly thought I didn’t find it maddening?”

Ryan chuckled in agreement. “So what do you think? An hour? Or two?”

“If we’re luc-” Dianmu started to say, but was cut off by a knock on the door. Ryan and Dianmu shared a glance. “Who is it?” she asked.

“Nabu,” came the voice from the other side. “Mind if I come in?”

Ryan tried not to think too hard about how they were talking through the door when the same door lead to two hundred instances of the same room. “Please, if I don’t have to fill out a form giving you permission,” Ryan said.

Nabu chuckled and opened the door. “I wouldn’t make you do that, Ryan. I think I’ve put you through enough.”

Ryan’s returning laughter wasn’t nearly as warm as Nabu’s. “Thank you for seeing us,” he said, forcing himself to untense. You came here to see him, Ryan, he reminded himself. Why would you flip out the moment he arrived?

Of course, that question had a very obvious answer, at least to Ryan. He’d finally gotten used to Nabu not being there all the time. Not just gotten used to it, he’d started to love it. Some part of his brain was convinced now that, since Ryan was seeing Nabu again, he’d end up stuck with him. That Nabu would never, ever leave, and resume following Ryan silently for the rest of his life – only since Ryan was immortal now, it would be for hundreds or thousands or millions of years. He saw himself in the distant future, the last survivor, as old as Crystal, trying to explain to some new creature what being the Eschaton meant…and Nabu standing there, taking notes in one of those damn notebooks.

Dianmu must have noted his distress, and she took the lead. “Thank you for expediting our forms, Nabu.”

“Like I said, it’s the least I can do. What can we help you with?”

“We’re lost, Nabu,” Ryan said, finally finding his voice. “We don’t…we don’t know how we could possibly end the world without killing everyone on it. I was hoping you could tell us.”

Nabu went stiff. “Ryan,” he said gently. “You know we are expressly forbidden from interfering with that.”

“Yeah, I do. I just think it’s bullshit,” Ryan said, more bluntly than he intended to.

“What Ryan means,” Dianmu said, stepping in diplomatically, “is that while it may be against your regulations, you already did act by sending messages for Enki and Crystal at the beginning of Ryan’s tenure. It’s hard to believe you couldn’t make another exception.”

“Like I said,” Ryan repeated, settling back into his chair, “I think it’s bullshit.”

Dianmu shot him a glare before turning back to Nabu.

“I know it seems that way, Ryan, but that was to discharge a debt. One that you gave to Crystal.”

“She gave it back to me,” Ryan said smoothly. He actually couldn’t remember if she had, but he figured she’d be fine with the lie if she hadn’t. Crystal might have had more time to get used to the Curators than Ryan, but she didn’t seem to tolerate their particular brand of bureaucracy much better.

Nabu pursed his lips in thought. “Nonetheless, there are still limits. Even for that debt.”

“Bullshit,” Dianmu said, drawing startled looks from Ryan and Nabu. “You set precedent, Nabu. Not only that, but you started observing him far earlier than most of us ever had to deal with your kind, and it took him longer to find his nanoverse. That’s different.”

“Not always for the Eschaton. We usually identify candidates for that right at birth. It’s easier since there’s only one nanoverse left to find.”

“You were a lot more helpful last time I was here,” Ryan groused. Nabu regarded him impassively. Ryan frowned in thought. “I…somethings different from last time. What is it?”

Nabu smiled. “And that, Ryan, is the right question. I want to help you. I’m willing to stretch, maybe even break the regulations to help you. But…but I don’t have the answers you need. I don’t know how it’s possible. No sentient species has accomplished it in my sector.”

Ryan sighed. “Great. So we’ve come all this way for nothing.”

Nabu shook his head. “No, not for nothing. You have twelve hours.”

“Twelve hours for what?” Ryan asked, cocking his head in confusion.

Nabu reached into his jacket pocket. “I pulled every string I have left. Here’s all the relevant regulations. All of them. You two need to study them, try to find a loophole.”

“And then?” Dianmu asked, cocking her head in confusion.

“Then you get to argue your place with the High Council. If anyone can assist you, they can. But they won’t listen to pleas from the heart. Before you go and speak with them…we need to find a loophole.”

The stack of papers Nabu pulled of his jacket was impossibly large. Thousand upon thousands of pages. Ryan took a deep breath, and nodded. “It’s a good thing we don’t need to sleep. Let’s get to work.”

The three of them settled in to do exactly that.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 77

Tellias and Tythel fled the airborne Alohym, beams of unlight searing the ground behind them and to the sides. An unsettling realization settled into Tythel like a maggot worming into meat. He’s toying with us. The creature was too fast, too lethal. It should have been able to strike one of them by now. Instead it was baiting them, leading them on, herding them. As long as they kept running, he could keep playing with them.

Terror and fury mixed in Tythel’s mind, each one fueling the other. Tythel focused on those emotions, feeding them and hardening them until they held an almost diamond clarity in her mind. “Get ready,” she said to Tellias.

“For what?” he asked, but Tythel didn’t bother to explain. If she could see the Alohym, it could hear here. She could only hope that Tellias would pick up on her plan. Still running, she waited until the Alohym aimed to fire again, then whirled and let loose a gout of pure dragonflame the moment the Alohym let loose its next attack.

Unlight and dragonflame met in the sky, and Tythel could hear him let out a startled shout. The impact of the two forces raced back to their respective wielders. The Alohym was pushed higher into the air, and Tythel was knocked back onto the ground.

It was painfully similar to how Karjon’s flame had caught the warship’s unlight in mid air. Tythel took hold of that pain and funneled it into the flame, using the still dull pain of loss to put more force behind the fire. The point of impact caused Tythel’s flame to expand further, a wide swath of flame filling the sky, obscuring vision of the Alohym. She knew he was still there, however, the pressure pushing back against her dragonflame an unrelenting wall of force. She felt herself start to get pushed into the soil of the ground beneath her, but the flames that were fanning out from the impact with the unlight began to grow more distant.

For a moment, the flame provided more light to the battlefield below than the still-rising sun, throwing everything into sharp relief. Yet Tythel could still see the fire was darker near the point of impact, the unlight eating the natural light being put off the flame.

“You mongrel fahik,” the Alohym hissed in that too human voice. Tythel didn’t know the word, but it was clear from the way the Alohym spat it that it was anything other than a compliment. Still, her heart leapt to note the strain she heard in that voice, mirroring the one she was feeling in her throat and neck.

Tythel grabbed onto that hope and funneled it with the other emotions into her flame, using the hope like a lense to focus the anger and fear and pain to the point where they shone white hot within her. She watched as the dragonflame shifted colors to the wispy blue of ghostflame.

Ghostflame was insubstantial, passing through all solid objects to sear at the very souls of its target. Tythel had hoped that meant it wouldn’t be blocked by impacting with unlight, but it seemed that had been a false hope. The light the ghostflame put out was unearthly in ways entirely different from the unlight, but it was still light, and it seemed that was what mattered. Tythel risked a glance around without moving her head, hoping to see Tellias. Unfortunately, the man had been on the side of her bad eye when the fight started, and therefore out of her vision. She did notice something odd, however.

In the blue light of the ghostflame, she could see her bones through her skin, with the skin a translucent blue superimposed over the skeleton beneath. It was so unsettling it almost broke her concentration. However, The Alohym wasn’t letting up its beam, any more than Tythel was letting up on the dragonflame. In this, at least, Tythel held an advantage, and the ghostflame continued to push its way against the unlight towards the Alohym. Her heart was still pounding with fear. She knew she couldn’t keep this up for much longer, and that was confirmed when a warm, coppery taste began to well up from her throat, Tellias, where in the shadow are you?

As if on cue, the Alohym screamed in pain. Abruptly the pressure against Tythel’s head stopped, and the ghostflame was able to streak on unimpeded. The Alohym managed to dodge a direct hit, but it did sear one of his wings. He started to tumble to the ground. Tellias was standing against a broken pillar, an arcwand pointed at the Alohym. He took a few more shots at the falling Alohym, but his target shifted his arms again, turning them into a pair of barriers to absorb the blows.

“We’ve got it on the ground! It’s hurt!” Tellias shouted. “We need to-”

Tythel cut him off with a hoarse whisper. “No.” She had to spit blood onto the ground.

“Then I’ll go-” Telias started to say, but Tythel was shaking her hand. It burned to speak, more painful than any other time she’d used her fire.

Tythel took a moment to gather her wits, and find the least amount of words needed to explain her objection. “Flame. Sky. Target,” she managed after a couple seconds.

Tellias nodded to show he understood, although he swore under his breath as he did. They’d lit up the entire plateau with that display. Every Alohym and Alohym soldier would know where they were, and with most of the resistance already fled into the tunnels, they’d have little to keep them busy.

Eupheme appeared besides them. “Light and shadow,” she whispered, stepping up to Tythel and helping her to her feet. “What happened?”

“Later,” Tythel croaked. Her voice failed her halfway through the word, and the ‘er’ at the end came out as a gasping wheeze. Eupheme paled at her voice. Tythel put a hand on Eupheme’s shoulder in thanks, then began to head towards the tunnel.

It seemed between the arcwand blasts, Tythel’s flames, and falling close to two hundred feet, the Alohym was no longer interested in pursuing them. Tythel hoped he was dead, but didn’t think that too likely. He had stood against an entire army to cut his way to them. Surely a little fall wouldn’t kill him.

Tythel pulled out her waterskin and began to drink from it as they ran, hoping to alleviate the pain in her throat. The entire plan hinged on her being able to breath flame again. If she couldn’t, she’d just gotten the resistance slaughtered.

Light, please, don’t let that be the case, she thought as they reached the tunnel’s mouth.

And not a moment too soon. Behind her, Tythel could hear the pounding feet of the Alohym’s soldiers charging their way.

“This plan of yours…I hope it works,” Tellias said gently beside her.

If Tythel could risk speaking, she would have assured him she felt the same.

 

Small Worlds part 180

Weird Theology is now available as an audiobook! Click here to check it out! Or here for Amazon! (It just got approved for whisper sync) And if you could leave it an honest rating or review, I’d really appreciate it.

Officium Mundi was exactly the sort of organized chaos Ryan remembered from his last visit. As he and Dianmu left his nanoverse, they had to step quickly to avoid being struck by a filing cabinet that ambled along on its own, chased by a curator in the brown suit they seemed to favor. Another curator, almost the mirror twin of the one that had just dashed by, stepped up to them. “Paperwork?”

Ryan and Dianmu shared a glance. Last time Ryan had been here, they had not asked for paperwork as soon as he arrived. From Dianmu’s expression, this was an entirely new concept to her as well. “We don’t have any?” Ryan said, his voice rising up on the last word, turning it into a question.

The curator nodded briskly and pulled a stack of papers out of the air. “Temporary regulations. Initial paperwork must be filled out before any mortal, immortal, demon, non-Euclidean entity, post-mortal being, or quasi-divine being can petition for questions, knowledge, or investigation. Do you need a pen?”

Ryan patted his pockets and realized, to his chagrin, he had forgotten it. Just as he was about to ask for one of those damn Temporary Pen Allocation forms, Dianmu reached into her pocket and pulled out two black pens with a small smile. The Curator nodded in approval. “You can use room 235x, instance 67 to fill out the requisite forms.” He pointed to indicate a bank of rooms. Ryan peered at them, and on instinct, activated his divine sight.

It hurt his brain to look at. The rooms were a hallway that stretched on for seventeen miles, stacked three deep, like a bank of motel rooms. However, each room was also, at the same time, two hundred rooms. Each one was slightly out of phase with the others, allowing them to occupy the same physical space while also permitting multiple people to enter without ever seeing each other.

Ryan felt warm liquid on his upper lip, and the tangy, coppery taste of blood on his lips. He turned off his divine sight and brought two fingers up to his nose. Blood. He’d given himself a damn bloody nose looking at that. The Curator gave him a sympathetic look and pulled out a tissue from his pocket. “Should have warned you. You’re still Nascent, right? Divine sight and things like that don’t mix well until after Apotheosis.”

Ryan reached for the tissue and dabbed at his lip, then twisted the tissue into a small sphere he could put in his nostril to stem the flow. As a child, Ryan had dealt with almost daily nosebleeds until getting a humidifier. They’d last for hours at times, and this trick had been his favorite to allow him to do school work or play with friend. It made him look absurd, a tail of white tissue sticking out from one nostril, but it at least would leave his hands free to fill out the damn forms. Like the one the Curator was now adding to the top of the stack. “Acceptance of Celluloid Based Self-Cleaning Product used to clean Blood, Mucus, or Other Bodily Fluid, 20-G (For Nasal Bleeding if Product Offered Prior to Form.)”

Dreading the answer, Ryan asked, “Can I borrow a few more in case I need them?”

The Curator smiled and pulled a few more out of his pocket in a clear plastic wrapper. He offered them to Ryan, along with a new form, “Acceptance of Celluloid Based Self-Cleaning Product used to clean Blood, Mucus, or Other Bodily Fluid, 20-B (For Nasal Bleeding after Initial Blood Flow Staunched.)”

Ryan did his best to accept the aid and paperwork graciously, the he and Dianmu were off to their room. They had to weave in and out of ambulatory cabinets and rushing Curators. “Can’t they do anything without a form?”

Dianmu laughed as they stopped to let a filing cabinet zip past their heads. “Not here. They have a bit more freedom to act outside of their home plane, but here everything is done with forms. Can you imagine the chaos if they didn’t have paperwork?”

“We do it just fine without that much paperwork,” Ryan protested.

“We don’t have an office the size of a planet,” Dianmu countered. “Ryan. Look at them. Really look at them.”

Ryan stopped and watched, trying to see what Dianmu was pointing out. Two curators crossed each others paths, one handing a file to the other without even looking. Another walked directly under one of the floating cabinets without ducking as it passed millimeters over his hair. Ryan compared that to Dianmu and his own path, stopping for curators that bustled by, stepping quickly to avoid being struck by a filing cabinet… “They know where everything is going to be. At all times,” he whispered in awe.

“Exactly,” Dianmu said, resuming her walk with a satisfied smile. “The forms make sure that’s possible. It’s almost beautiful in its efficiency, isn’t it?”

“I was going to say creepy,” Ryan said as he followed.

“If humans were doing it, I’d agree with you,” Dianmu said. “Or gods, for that matter. But Curators don’t operate on the same logic that we do. Free will…it’s a concept they understand, and it’s a thing that they have, but they view it the way most humans view having an anus. Something that they’d rather not think about.”

Ryan let out a shocked laugh at the analogy. They reached their room, and Dianmu pushed a button labeled I-67.

The room itself was what Ryan should have expected from a private office in Officium Mundi. Two desks, facing each other, each adorned with a single lamp and no other decorations. The desks were made of some kind of metal – Ryan considered looking at it with his divine sight to figure out what kind, but decided that opening it up inside one of the impossibly ‘stacked’ rooms would be even worse than looking at them from a distance – and the lamps were utilitarian shades of white canvas. At the back of the room was a small metal door that looked like it belonged to a dumbwaiter with a simple sign proclaiming “Insert Paperwork Here When Completed.”

Dianmu headed over to one of the desks, taking a stack of paperwork from Ryan. “Hey, question for you,” Ryan asked as he sat down. “Crystal said, back when this all started, that she couldn’t explain some things to be because it would fry my brain unless I’d undergone Apotheosis. Later on, Athena said that Crystal was probably just deflecting questions with that. But now…I mean, just looking at this gave me a bloody nose. Do you have any idea which one it is?”

The small smile that spread across Dianmu’s lips told Ryan he’d just revealed his ignorance. It had been awhile since a goddess had to explain something to him that she found to be a basic concept, however, so it didn’t sting the way it used to. “There’s nothing that can’t be explained to you that would hurt your brain, Ryan. However, until you undergo Apotheosis, some concepts – like how this room is made – are difficult to understand, let alone perceive. So in a way, they were both telling part of the truth.”

Ryan thought about it and nodded in acceptance. “Why couldn’t Crystal have just said that, then?” he groused.

“Because she was probably just deflecting questions,” Dianmu said.

Ryan chuckled in agreement and sat down at the other desk. Paperwork, Ryan thought as he looked at form “Request to Petition Curator for Information 119-C.” Why did it have to be paperwork?

With a sigh, he began to write.

Weird Theology is now available as an audiobook! Click here to check it out! Or here for Amazon! (It just got approved for whisper sync) And if you could leave it an honest rating or review, I’d really appreciate it.