The Dragon’s Scion Part 85

Tythel found Eupheme tangled in a bush nearly a mile back. She still had no idea how far they’d flown with the Skimmers. The twisting path of the canyon had long ago hidden the plateau from view. Eupheme grimaced at Tythel a she approached. “You’re alright?”

Tythel nodded. “You?” she said. The walk back to Eupheme, with repeated stops to drink, had given her throat some time to heal. Talking still hurt, but she could get through more than a single word without falling prey to a violent coughing fit.

Eupheme shook her head. “Think I broke my wrist. The Skimmers?”

“Gone,” Tythel assured her, walking the rest of the way over. Eupheme’s wrist was already swollen to twice its normal size. Tythel didn’t know medicine but was sure that was a bad sign. “I can start tearing?” she asked, motioning to the branches.

“Don’t bother,” Eupheme said. She was white with pain. “Just get the blanket out of my pack?”

Tythel looked around. The pack was caught in a tree branch a little way back, just too high for her to reach without climbing. One of the fluttering birds was pecking at it curiously. It flapped away with a startled squawk as Tythel drew near. Tythel looked at the pack more closely. Her hammer was attached to it, dangling from a thin strap.

She kicked the tree as hard as she could. The branches shook, and the hammer fell free. Tythel picked it up off the ground, activated it, and swung for the tree as hard as she could. The combined force of her swing and the force that activated when she struck cracked the truck in half, and with a groan the tree collapsed to a chorus of splintering branches.

From there, it was easy to pick the pack off the branches.

“Did you really need to break the tree?” Eupheme asked, a strained smile breaking through the pain. That’s a smile I’m getting all too good at recognizing, Tythel thought as her nictitating membranes slid closed in a moment of sadness. Spending as much time as she had around soldiers, the sickly grins of the injured trying to put on a brave face were seared into her mind.

“No,” Tythel admitted. “When all you have is a hammer…” She didn’t finish the idiom. It was enough to get a laugh out of Eupheme as Tythel rummaged through pack for the blanket. “What now?” Tythel asked, holding it up for Eupheme to see.

“Throw it over me.”

Tythel blinked in confusion. “Cold?” she asked.

Eupheme shook her head. “Please,” she asked.

Tythel’s eyes widened as she grasped it and tossed the blanket over Eupheme. It collapsed onto an empty bush, and Eupheme stepped out from behind a nearby tree. “Oh yeah,” she hissed. “That’s…that’s broken. Flath that hurts. Do you know how to do a splint?”

Tythel shook her head. “Talk me through it?” she asked. The idea of helping set a bone was uncomfortable, but the idea of letting Eupheme’s pain get worse was intolerable.

Eupheme nodded and sat down with Tythel’s help. “We’re going to need some sticks. Ones about as thick as my finger, and as straight as you can find. Ones that will run the entire length of my arm.” Eupheme managed another one of those pained smiled. “The good news is, someone just created a whole mess of sticks for us.”

Tythel looked over to the tree she had just felled and flushed. “Right.”

As many options as she had, Tythel felt it should have been easy to find some that met their requirements. However, most of the sticks Tythel was finding were too thin, or too thick, or too bent and twisted. She tossed another pair aside in irritation. “These?” she asked, holding a couple up for Eupheme.

Eupheme regarded then critically. “The one on the left will work,” she finally said.

Having a template of what to look for speed things up a bit. By the end of it, Tythel had gathered one stick that was perfect for their needs, and three that would work when bundled together. From there, the rest was relatively simple. The blanket that provided a way for Eupheme to get out from the bush was shredded, strips wrapped around the sticks to prevent splinters and around Eupheme’s arm to keep the pressure from being too great. “It’s still going to hurt,” Eupheme explained, “but it will hurt less, and heal better in the long term. The whole goal is to immobilize everything.

The final step was the worst, tightening the cloth around both wrist and stick to hold them in place. Even with everything they had done to reduce pressure, there was no way for it to not send lances of pain through Eupheme’s wrist whenever Tythel tried to tighten it.

“I’m sorry,” Tythel whispered as she let go of the cloth when Eupheme cried out in pain.

Eupheme grunted and blinked away tears of pain. “It’s going to hurt me, your highness,” she said softly. “The only way it’ll get better is if you set it properly. Temporary pain now means health in the future.”

Tythel nodded, gritted her teeth, and handed Eupheme a leather strip to bite down on. This time, she forced herself to not let go when Eupheme grunted in pain around the strip, forced herself to keep going until it was securely in place.

When they were done, Eupheme let out a low groan and held up the splint. She couldn’t move her wrist now, even if she’d wanted to. “I’m just…I’m just going to lay here for a bit.” Her eyes were half lidded. Tythel couldn’t even imagine how bad the pain must have been to wear Eupheme out to this degree and wish she could let the woman rest. Right now, that wasn’t an option.

“No,” Tythel said, forcing herself to stand up. “Night’s coming. Predators.”

Eupheme glanced in the direction of the sun and blinked. The sun was almost below the edge of the canyon. They’d have some hours before night once that passed, but they’d be plunged into darkness soon. “Okay. And we need to find Tellias.” Eupheme grimaced. “Once true night hits, I can push myself to reinforce this bond. It’ll give me some mobility back. Until then, I’ll only slow you down.”

“Not leaving you behind.” Tythel said firmly. “You’ll get on my back again. Won’t slow me down at all.” That proved to be a bit too many words at once, and the last word came out in a harsh wheeze. Tythel found herself coughing again, turning away to cough into her hand. No blood came up this time, which she decided to take a good sign.

Eupheme grimaced but nodded in agreement.

It had been some time since Tythel had last heard the clang of arcplate approaching. Tellias wasn’t coming for them. Tythel had to hope they hadn’t taken too long caring for Eupheme.

Once Eupheme was secure on Tythel’s back, she took off as quick as she dared move back up the river.

 

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 52

Tythel dropped into the top level of the tower before the others, on the theory that she had the best chance to survive if it was full of soldiers. Eupheme followed immediately after.

It was not full of soldiers. The room was dimly lit – Tythel got the impression that this tower had for some time relied on its natural light to provide illumination. There were a few cots here, thankfully empty, and some unlocked lockers. As the others came to join them Tythel began to rifle through them while Eupheme watched the door.

They mostly contained personal effects. At the sight of the first letter from home Tythel tossed them aside. There was a very good chance that whomever they were addressed to lay dead on top of the tower right now, and Tythel could not afford the distraction of thinking about that.

You can’t handle the sight of letters to men you killed minutes ago, but you’re willing to condemn prisoners to their deaths to achieve your goals?

That thought, like the letters, was tossed aside. This was not the time for distraction.

She wasn’t the one that found what she was looking for. Ossman did, triumphantly holding the object over his head. A songshell, already attuned to whatever song they used to communicate within the tower. Ossman fitted it over his ear and gave an “okay” gesture to confirm it was working.

Now they’d know if they were discovered.

The control room was, according to Lorathor’s sources, the third level from the top. That meant only one more level between them and their goal.

Tythel bent down, pressing her ear to the floor. She could hear footsteps below, and held up three fingers for the group.

Given the need to remain as undetected as possible, they were avoiding speaking as long as they could. Fortunately, they had another option. Lorathor pulled back his sleeve, revealing his arm, and changed the colors on his skin to spell out a word.

Theognis?

Tythel shrugged. She hadn’t gotten enough time around the Unlight Magus to learn his footstep pattern. If he was here…killing a Magus could be done. Unless they got extraordinarily lucky, it couldn’t be done quietly. Magus’ office was in the room directly below them. If he was there, the mission was blown.

The letters on Lorathor’s arm shifted again. Alohym?

This time Tythel could at least shake her head, same as when he shifted the letters to Imperiplate? Whoever was beneath them, they didn’t fall into either of those categories.

Haradeth motioned for the group to head down the spiral staircase at the edge of the room to the next level. Lorathor took point, shifting to blend into the stone as best he could. Tythel strained her ears for any sign the Sylvani had been noticed as Haradeth and Eupheme followed.

A series of quiet thuds followed their departure. Tythel tensed until she heard a knock on the wall – two raps, a pause, and another three. She nodded to Armin and Ossman and they headed to join.

The door to Theognis’ office was open and the room beyond was empty. The waiting area outside now contained three guards’ corpses, their blood staining the thick carpet. Haradeth slipped into the office and began gathering papers and carefully folding them and placing them in a pack. He’d been staying up here and stealing every bit of paperwork he could find unless they were discovered.

Tythel pressed her ear to the carpet away from the dead bodies. The carpet made it harder to hear, but she was reasonably certain she couldn’t pick out any footsteps beneath them. What she could hear was the gentle hum she associated with Unlight devices as well as some repeated sounds she couldn’t place. They sounded a bit like someone drumming fingers on wood, but harsher and quicker. She held up two fingers, with a shrug to indicate she wasn’t certain.

Lorathor repeated the questions on his arm, and Tythel shrugged for Theognis, and shook her head for Alohym and Imperiplate. Neither of the later two made sense. Tythel couldn’t imagine an Alohym doing something as human as tapping a desk, and it didn’t have the metallic sound the Imperiplate would have made.

Lorathor and Eupheme went ahead, and again Tythel waited for the signal that all was clear before signaling Ossman and Armin to follow.

She had to put a hand over her mouth to avoid gasping at the sight below. There were circular windows that glowed with their own light. Instead of being attached to the walls, they hovered in the middle of the room, and they didn’t show the outside world, they showed the interior of the prison. As she watched, one of the windows changes to show her another prison hallway. And then another window flickers. Soon they were looking at an entirely different section of the prison.

The two people she’d heard down here had been sitting at a single long desk, along which was a wide array of buttons. Tythel reached out to touch one, curious to see if they made the clicking sounds she had been hearing, but Armin reached out and grabbed her wrist before she could, shaking his head.

Lorathor pointed at Armin and shifted the lettering of his skin. Can you work this?

Armin nodded, then looked at the sheer number of buttons. Frowning, he raised his hand and moved it back and forth in a seesaw motion, then sat at one of the chairs not occupied by a rapidly cooling body. Licking his lips, he reached out to touch a key.

Before his finger could even depress the button, Ossman tilted his head and growled, “they know we’re here.”

“I’m going to need some time!” Armin hissed, now that silence had been broken. Tythel could hear footsteps approaching.

“How long?” Lorathor asked.

“I don’t know.” Armin said. “I’ve never worked with a Lumephalon this complex before.”

“Work as fast as you can. If we wait too much longer, we’ll-”

Then the alarms started to blare.

Armin turned to the buttons and began to click away as the remaining four scrambled to brace the door as Unlight beams began to punch through the wood.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 48

After Tythel’s proclamation, it was decided it was best if everyone slept before committing. “If I’m going to agree to a suicidal plan,” Armin had said, “I’m going to do it on a full night’s sleep.”

Tythel barely slept. She had Karjon’s notes back. Being able to read them was a welcome relief – especially since she strongly suspected she’d need to figure out the secret to Ghostflame to have even a hope of pulling this off. Unfortunately, as before, no hidden trick leapt off the page to provide her a solution. I’ll figure it out. I have to.

That point was driven home by an Alohym ship passing nearby in the night. Tythel couldn’t see the vessel, but she heard it, that sound of groaning metal piercing the night air. She shuddered at its passing.

“You hear it too?” Haradeth asked, rolling over.

Tythel started at the sound. I thought he was asleep. “Yes. Like someone’s tearing apart the sky.”

Haradeth nodded in agreement. “They’re abominable things, those vessels. The sky should belong to beasts, not men or Alohym.”

“I don’t know if I’d go that far,” Tythel said after a pause. “We have created arcwands that don’t use unlight. Once the Alohym are defeated, I don’t see any reason we shouldn’t create our own vessels using Lum.”

Haradeth pursed his lips. “If we were meant to fly, we would have wings.”

“If we were meant to cross the oceans, we’d have fins,” Tythel countered. “I don’t see any reason that ships that sail the sky should be different than those that sail the sea. One’s just more complicated than the others.”

“There’s a natural order to things.” Haradeth protested.

“Yes, but we defy that natural order all the time. Doctors prevent those who would die from perishing. We create fields to harvest grain to feed vast cities, and we reshape the land to fit our needs. I don’t think ‘it’s unnatural’ should be a reason not to do something.”

“The Alohym aren’t of this world. Seems to me that is a fairly good argument against the unnatural.”

Tythel turned her head to peer back at where the Alohym vessel was heading. It seemed to be going to the city. Wonderful, she thought sarcastically. “They’re not monsters because they’re unnatural. They’re monsters because of what they do.”

In response, Haradeth rolled his eyes and turned back over in his bedroll. Tythel glowered at his back, but didn’t press the argument. Instead she laid down to try and get a few hours of sleep.

Sleep didn’t come easily. She couldn’t escape the haunted look in Nicandros’s eyes.

When dawn finally broke, it was greeted by a bleary-eyed Tythel. She did her best to be quiet as she got ready for the day, not wanting to disturb the others. In spite of her best efforts, the rest began to stir into wakefulness as the sun’s rays brightened.

Ossman was the first to approach her. “You’re serious about this, aren’t you?” he asked.

“Yes. I don’t know if we’ll be able to do anything. We might just end up right next to them come Luxday. But I have to try.”

Ossman scratched his chin. “Ah, flath it. We can’t leave them to die.”

“Light, were you actually considering that?” Armin asked as he strode up, still rubbing his eyes. “We both know you wouldn’t have slept for months if you’d abandoned them.”

“I don’t want to throw my life away, Armin,” Ossman protested.

“Yes, you do. So long as it’s in the most noble way possible, and this qualifies.” Armin sighed dramatically and looked at Tythel, “I guess I’ll have to go alone. Light knows what Ossman would end up doing without me to keep him straight.”

Tythel chuckled. Their joking was helping with the pain of Nicandros’s departure, and for that she could have hugged them both. “Glad you’re feeling better, Armin. Are you use you want to go near the…corrupted Lumwell?”

Armin nodded. “I think, whatever the Sun Tear did, it helped me process the worst of it. As long as I don’t draw too deep – and I don’t plan to – I should be fine.

Tythel peered at him closely, and saw his eyes still looked like the sun during an eclipse. “You know better than I do, so I can’t argue. How are you feeling?”

“Like this is a terrible flathing idea, but it’s better than nothing.” Armin winked at her. “Otherwise, I feel perfectly fine, especially considering I was half dead yesterday.”

“Don’t suppose you have any more miracle cures to spare, your highness?” Eupheme asked. She was limping up to them, supporting herself on a branch. “Because I could use some for what comes next.”

Tythel shook her head. “Eupheme, you’re injured. You can’t attack a city.”

“Give it thirty seconds into the fight, your highness, and I’ll be the least injured of all of you. No offense, but even with an injured leg I can keep pace. Besides, I’ll be mostly healed by the time we get there. It just grazed me.”

Tythel blinked a few times to think. Armin is right about how stupid this is. Do you really have a right to stop her? “If you’re sure.”

Eupheme gave Tythel a grin. “I’m not dead yet, your highness. Yes, I’m sure.”

“So that just leaves Haradeth and Lorathor?” Ossman asked, peering around.

He nearly jumped out of his skin when Lorathor spoke from behind him. “Yes, it does.”

Ossman whirled around. “Light and Shadow, Lorathor, are you trying to give me a heart attack?”

“Of course not, Ossman. You’re far too young for that to be a risk.” Lorathor turned to Tythel. “I think this idea is far too risky. It’s almost certainly going to result in one or all of you dead. I’d like to strongly suggest we consider casting our lot with another group resisting the Alohym.”

“And leave those people to die, Lorathor?”

Lorathor just shrugged. “Call me callous, but there is a bigger picture here. Your value as a figurehead is not to be underestimated.”

“I appreciate that,” Thythel said, then frowned as she really thought about what he had said, “I think. But no, I’m going to do this.”

“Then I suppose I must aid you. I’d feel terrible if you all got yourselves killed without me to remind you I was right.”

Armin grunted. “I should have thought of that line,” he muttered.

“Lorathor has centuries on you, Armin. Don’t blame yourself for not being able to outthink him,” Haradeth said, finally joining the group. He gave Armin a grin that was more than a little forced. Peace offering? Tythel wondered.

Thinking of how bad she was at reading facial expressions reminded her of training with Nicandros. They had been making real progress. Tythel felt the anger and guilt and grief well back up within her. She pushed them down best she could as Haradeth continued. “I suppose I should come too. As your-”

“No.” Tythel said, cutting him off.

“What do you mean, no?” Haradeth’s eyes narrowed. He does that a lot around me, Tythel noted.

“Your mother is alive, Haradeth,” Tythel said, her voice firm. “I’m not going to cost anyone else their children.”

“Do you intend to free the soldiers bloodlessly, then?” Haradeth asked. “No matter what we do Tythel, people are going to die. Everyone has parents.”

Tythel opened her mouth to object, but couldn’t find any good counter arguments. “I still say no.”

Haradeth shrugged. “I still say I’m coming. We let you sit at the table, Tythel. That doesn’t change that I still am running what’s left with this resistance.”

Eupheme put a hand on Tythel’s arm. “We need all the help we can get, your highness. Don’t throw this away.”

“Fine,” Tythel said with a growl.

Haradeth gave her a mock bow. “Your magnaminty knows no bounds, your highness. Then I suggest we get the horses ready and head back to the city. If we leave now, we’ll be able to join the midday merchants and get in with minimal fuss.”

Tythel nodded, and they all headed off to gather their packs and break camp.

Light, please tell me I just didn’t get us all killed. Tythel prayed.

As usual, the Light left her with no answers.

 


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The Dragon’s Scion Part 43

Haradeth was waiting on horseback outside the walls, looking ready to leap out of his saddle. “Come on!” he shouted to Tythel and Eupheme. The rest were already mounted.

Tythel’s heart skipped a beat. “Haradeth! Me and horses!”

Haradeth frowned, “Flath,” he whispered to himself, then shook his head, coming to a decision. “Behind me! Astray won’t buck you with me here!”

You named your horse Astray? Tythel bit her tongue at the thought and took Haradeth’s proffered hand to vault onto the horse’s back. He had to hold her steady to prevent her from immediately falling off the other side of Astray. True to his word, Astray didn’t do much more than whinny at her presence, although the other horses shied away as she drew closer. Give me a nice, safe Crawler over these beasts, Tythel thought, then frowned as she realized what had just gone through her head. You prefer the inventions of the Alohym to the creatures of your world?

Then there was no time to think. Haradeth flicked the reigns, and they were off. Tythel immediately wrapped her arms around Haradeth’s waist, holding on with everything she had.

“Tythel, I can’t…breathe,” Haradeth gasped.

Blushing furiously, Tythel loosened her grip until Haradeth could gasp out a breath. She risked a peek over her shoulder, trying to confirm what her ears were telling her.

Her ears were correct. They were being pursued. The devices the soldiers behind them were riding were some kind of two seated Crawler, scurrying along on six legs. They looked like ants to the normal Crawler’s spiders. Tythel shouted a warning to the others.

“Light and Shadow,” Ossman growled as he saw them. Armin was on the seat behind him, and went even paler than he already was.

Tythel could guess why. Crawlers don’t tire. Horses do. The Crawler riders apparently knew this, too. They were taking shots at the horses, but they were lazy, unfocused. They weren’t trying to actually land a hit. They were trying to get them to run their horses to death.

Armin turned around in his seat to start returning fire, and Nicandros added to it with his arcwand tucked under his arm. Nicandros’ shots just helped keep the soldiers’ heads down. Armin had more opportunity to actually aim, but his normally excellent aim was off. Probably just from being jostled on horseback. Please, Light, let it just be that, Tythel thought.

Eupheme let out a pained shriek as bolt of unlight managed to catch Eupheme with a glancing blow to the leg, and she started to slide out of her saddle. No! Tythel thought. If she fell now…

Eupheme’s hands found her reins again, and she righted herself, although Tythel could see the way she grimaces with every hoofbeat. Eupheme might not fall, but she certainly wouldn’t fight again today. Come on, Tythel, think. You have to do something!

She risked peering around Haradeth to see what was coming. They were running through the farmland that surrounded the city, along a road that wove through the various farmsteads. No farmers were peeking out their windows to see what the commotion was about. Apparently the blared warning from the city had reached this far out. The Crawlers were long legged enough to traverse the fields of wheat, but horses had to stick to the roads.

More arcwand fire. Unlight sizzled on the road around them, spooking the horses. A bolt tugged on Nicandros’ cloak. Another one zipped so close to Tythel’s head that it temporarily blinded her as it passed her vision. We’re going to die if you don’t do something!

The greater mobility of the Crawlers meant they could easily be hemmed in, as long as their drivers stuck to the fields. Unfortunately, it seemed their drivers had figured this out too, and were too deep in the fields for Tythel to do anything dramatic, like jump on top of one or…

Tythel, it’s wrong. The farmers depended on this fields for their livelihood! Tythel frowned. And these people are depending on you for their lives.

In the end, it was no contest. “Haradeth! Will fire spook the horses?”

Haradeth shook his head and shouted over his shoulder. “I’ve seen how far you can flame! They’re out of your range.”

“No,” Tythel muttered, “They’re not.” Light forgive me for this. “Drop us to the back!”

That earned her a scowl. After so long with just the others for company, Tythel had forgotten how much Haradeth scowled. He also, for a blessing, didn’t argue. They slowed down just enough for everyone to get ahead of them. Everyone except the riders in the fields of grain.

The riders in the flammable fields of grain.

Tythel turned her head, not daring to let go of Haradeth, and let loose a surge of flame. She didn’t focus the flame this time, instead going for as wide an angle as possible. Turning her head, she repeated it on the other side.

It must not have rained lately, or perhaps Tythel simply underestimated how flammable wheat was. The fire spread through the fields like…well, like wildfire. A few of the Crawlers came to a halt. A couple didn’t stop in time.

Try as she might, Tythel couldn’t help but hear their screams.

“Light,” Haradeth whispered to himself, and Tythel couldn’t tell if he was impressed or horrified.

A few more Crawlers, the outermost ones, were able to go around the flames before they spread too far. They lost precious time in doing so,  and more importantly precious distance. The second wave of dragonflame Tythel sent into the crops gave them a barrier the driver’s couldn’t maneuver around.

Except, that wasn’t why they stopped. Tythel could still hear them. Shouting for buckets, screaming roughly into Songshells for something called “Fire Services.” They didn’t stop because they couldn’t pursue. They stopped because they were prioritizing extinguishing the fires over chasing down escaping prisoners.

I had to save the others, Tythel thought, but it felt like a hollow objection. There were innocent farmers with homes in those fields. With families! Maybe even children. It now fell on the soldiers to save them from Tythel’s flames. Servants of the Alohym, saving them from their supposed princess. The farmers had committed no crimes, save wanting to make food for people the Alohym ruled. That didn’t justify putting their lives in danger, that justify ruining their lives. Or does it?

As much as the books liked to speak of the honor of war, Tythel couldn’t think of a single one that had been won without innocent people dying.

The others were looking at her, but Tythel couldn’t meet their gaze. They all followed me into the trap that lead us here. I have a duty to get them safely out. I did that.

Then why did she feel so dirty?

They were safe now. That was what mattered.

Tythel buried her face into Haradeth’s back, hoping he wouldn’t notice her tears staining his shirt.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 42

The tentacle thrashed under Tythel, trying to throw her off. In this case, its size worked against it. If it had been smaller, thinner, more whip-like, she would have been tossed easily. As it was, she could see each movement the tentacle made and adjust her feet accordingly to stay onto the limb. It wasn’t easy, by any stretch of the imagination. She’d pictured herself leaping atop the tentacle and dashing across it to the central pod as easily as she’d leapt from rooftop to rooftop, but a few steps into it and she’d almost fallen off twice. Slow and steady, Tythel.

It helped that she’d sprouted talons when she’d landed on the tentacle. She didn’t risk glancing down to her feet again, but she knew what she’d see if she did. Her toes were longer and ended in curved claws. Those claws were her saving grace right now, able to find purchase in the tiny segments that gave the tentacle mobility. She advanced along the appendage with a slow deliberation. You are not going to kill them. We’re getting out of this flathing city.

At least, if nothing else, they are.

Soldiers began to pop their heads out of the top of the pod, unlight arcwands in hands. She pulled out her shield as they opened fire. The hiss of unlight beams on the barrier was just more white noise in the mix, and many of them missed. It’s almost funny. The tentacle thrashing is making me a harder target. She continued to plod onwards towards the central base, as the limb began to readjust. Someone inside had finally figured out that she couldn’t cling on if they got the tentacle completely vertical, and were moving the mass of the central pod over her to drop her off.

T ythel push forward as fast as she dared, the shield her only protection. As soon as she was close enough to risk it, and her footing was sure enough, Tythel pushed herself into a leap to land on top of the central pod.

The men who had poked out to start shooting at her were coming out, unlight blades drawn. Tythel swung down on one as he was coming out, and breathed a quick burst of fire at another.

Then she brought the hammer down on the central disk.

It rang out like a gong, cutting over the sounds of battle and that damned repeated announcement. The hammer, even with its own energy burst and Tythel behind it, was not strong enough to send the pod flying, and the impact reverberated up her arm. She could feel it in her bones, and tasted coppery blood from the force of her teeth being driven together.

She brought the hammer down again.

Again the clash of unlight hammer on Alohym metal. Again an impact that rose up her arm and travelled through her entire body. She could feel herself become nauseous for a moment, as if the reverberations were interfering with her balance. And again, when she pulled it away, the metal it had impacted showed no scratching, no dent.

It has to be more lightly armored, it has to be, Tythel told herself as she raised the hammer again. She brought the hammer down a third time with even more force behind it, putting her entire body into the swing to get every ounce of force she could. This time the sound had even more texture to it than a gong, as if the individual components of the pod were rattling. A soldier that had been trying to climb out past his fallen comrade stumbled back as the entire pod shook from the impact.

And yet, when she pulled the hammer away, the metal was unscathed.

Despair began to set in as she raised the hammer again. A tiny doubt rose up, a gnat buzzing around her thoughts. It didn’t have to be weaker. Perhaps these had been constructed when the Alohym warred against each other, armored for attacks from above. Perhaps it had weaker armor, but it was not weak enough. Or, more accurately, she was too weak.

No.

She pushed that fear aside. She would break this pod or it would break her. And I don’t break, she thought, bringing the hammer down again. I don’t break, she thought again, the hammer ringing against the steel hide of this unnatural creation of the Alohym. I. Don’t. Break. She brought the hammer down with everything she had. The soldiers inside the pods were staring at her in shock and confusion, but they were adjusting to the sound. They were grabbing their weapons to come out and meet her. Still she swung the hammer. Nothing else mattered. Not the soldiers that were taking aim, not the sounds of the pods footsteps as it tried to continue its assault . Nothing mattered besides swinging that hammer, over and over, faster and faster, to the point where instead of the phrase punctuating her swings individual words did.

I

CLANG

Don’t

CLANG

BREAK!

And with that last swing, she did not hear a clang. She heard the wrenching sound of metal tearing. A hissing sound, like lightning in a bottle, began to emerge from the point of impact.

She glanced back to the soldiers in time to see one of them fall. Eupheme was there with her. Tythel didn’t know how she’d got there, perhaps jumping out of one of the soldiers shadows, or perhaps-

“Your highness! Quit staring and finish this flathing thing! I’ve got this here.”

Tythel nodded, and turned back to where she had been hitting. A small tear had appeared in the armor, as long as her finger and about as wide. Tythel brought the hammer down on the tear again. You will break. It was wider this time. You will break. It was now almost as long as her hand. One more blow, and it was as wide as it was long, the hammer’s head punching through so firmly that Tythel lost her balance wrenching it out.

Her claws scrabbled on the surface for purchase. Vertigo set in, and she began to slide down the side of the pod. The ground was four stories away. She could see it, could see herself falling. She didn’t think she’d survive the fall.

Just before she passed the point of no return, her claw caught the lip of the hole she had created. She had her grip back, and whirled back towards the hole. Eupheme was locking down the soldiers, but was doing so with normal shoes. She’d lose her footing eventually, and the soldiers – still half inside the pod – didn’t have that concern.

Tythel took a deep breath, and shot her dragonflame directly into the gap she had created.

The change was almost immediate. Explosions began to rock the pod, flame exiting though the gaps where the legs met the sides. It also flooded back through the pod into the central chamber were the soldiers were.

The pod began to list to one side. Tythel reached out to grab Eupheme’s foot as Eupheme began to lose balance, and then they were falling with the pod, the ground rushing up to meet them.

Had they fallen straight the full distance, the impact still would have killed them. But the joints of the tentacles failed bit by bit as the pod collapsed, slowing their descent enough where the impact was jarring, but non-fatal.

Eupheme let out a single laugh as she started righting herself. “Wait till we tell Armin about this one. He’ll never believe us.”

Tythel couldn’t help but let out a laugh of her own. “They’re..”

“Safely out of the city. Come on, your highness, or we won’t join them.”

The dash through the gate was unimpeded, and together they dashed into freedom.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 28

When Eupheme woke her, Tythel’s head was full of cotton and spiderwebs. “Bwah?” she asked, blinking to try and clear her head.

“It’s time,” Eupheme said, holding a finger to her lips as she did.

Tythel had to blink a few more times before the thought clicked into place and she nodded. They had all gotten rooms on the lower story of the Inn, so once she’d hastily gathered her pack it was a simple matter to slip out the window with Eupheme and make their way to meet up with the others.

“Everyone rested?” Nicandros grunted when they got to the meeting spot at the edge of town. He didn’t wait for nods to continue, “Haradeth sent a signal. There’s a token force on guard, about seven men. We go in quiet, we take them out before they know we’re there. Then we plant the charges and get out. Tythel, Urdin, and Ossman, stay behind with the riders, keep watch until we send the signal.” He didn’t even glance at Tythel before interjecting, “no arguments. Tythel, we need your ears out there, and none of you are particularly easy to hide.”

Tythel closed her mouth, wondering how he’d known she was going to say something. Ossman made sense, he was built like what a bull wanted to be when it grew up. The riders also had heavy armor, so of course they couldn’t go. But until the point about her hearing had been made, Tythel wanted to say she’d be perfectly capable of staying quiet.

No one else had any objections, and Nicandros nodded, leading his small group into the factory.

Tythel sat on a nearby rock, focusing on what she was hearing to try and pick any threat out of the air that she could. She took the hammer and shield out to make sure she was ready for combat.

“You’re truly the heir of the royal family?” Urdin asked around the same time that Tythel heard a man gasp his last near the footsteps she associated with Nicandros. If she was right, if those were his footsteps, then his heartbeat barely got quicker when he drove whatever blade home. She could hear them all save Eupheme, who must have been using a touch of Umbrist magic to hide herself even from draconic ears.

“Yes,” Tythel responded with a smile. Urdin frowned at her, although Tythel couldn’t tell if it was because of the smile attempt or because he disliked the answer.

“Tell me, princess, what do you know of your parents?” The words, in another tone, should have put her on edge. Instead, the way he asked sounded more like he was asking her if she expected it to rain again tomorrow, or if she thought they’d survive the night, or if she’d realized that everyone eventually succumbs to Shadow no matter what they may accomplish in their lives.

His voice matched his face perfectly, since every word he uttered was so depressingly down. 

“Not much” Tythel answered as a man slumped to the ground near Armin’s footsteps. His heart was pounding like a drum as he did.

“Ah. So you can’t say whether you’d try to follow their example should you reclaim the throne?”

Tythel wanted to shush the man. There had to be a better time for this conversation. “No, I really can’t. If they were good, and kind, and just, I would. If they were cruel and greedy and selfish, I’d try to avoid it. I know the one I called my Father was all of the first three, so I hope I’d be those as well.”

“I see. Let me ask you a question, your highness, if you’ll permit it?” Tythel thought about saying no, but Urdin continued to before she could, “two men bring to you a problem. A poor man is saying a rich man is infringing on his property. The rich man claims the property has been in his family for generations. Which one is correct?”

“What a stupid question right now,” Tythel hissed, unable to help herself. “We’re in the middle of something rather important, and it doesn’t even have an answer. Without knowing who had the land first, how could I decide who is correct?”

“You could not,” Urdin said, and finally Tythel caught the silken undertone to his questions. Something significant was going on here, and she was missing it. Urdin continued, “but you still must give an answer, so what is the right one?”

Tythel thought for a moment, buying herself time to listen a bit longer, “The property should go to the poor man, since he has less and therefore needs more. The rich man should get a small sum from the crown to compensate for the loss of records that would have proven or disproven his case. There, satisfied?” The last words came out harsher than she intended.

Urdin thought for a moment, and then looked over Tythel and shook his head. “It will do.” Behind Tythel, she heard a couple Abyssals shift, as if they were turning around, but when she glanced back at them, they were facing away to watch what could come from outside. Ossman was a bit further away, staring at somethin in one of the Abyssals’ hands. I wonder what that was all about? she wondered, but pushed the thought aside. It seemed like something she could worry about later.

It was good that she did, because before she would have had time to wonder about it further, her ears finally caught something. The sound nearly stopped her heart. It was not the low hum of unlight engines, which was a small blessing. It sounded iike the deep thud of the footsteps of imperiplate, but much louder and larger. And there were three of them. “Something’s coming!” she hissed.

Urdin’s face didn’t register a change, but his body went tense, like a wire had been pulled. “The others?” he asked.

Tythel heard another guard drop at the same time Urdin asked the question. Three down. That meant four were still standing. There was no time – the approaching threats were moving too fast. “We don’t have time, and they’re not ready,” she responded.

Urdin nodded, and drew his arcwand. “Go warn them. Ossman, go with her. We’ll hold the line here. Go!”

Tythel didn’t wait, taking off at a run towards the factory with Ossman right on her heels. She didn’t bother trying to be silent or stealthy as she ran.

A guard saw her coming and cried out. Before Ossman could unsling his arcwand to aim at the man, Tythel had a ball of dragonflame in her hand and hurled it at the guard in a smooth motion. If nothing else, training had improved her accuracy, and the man fell before he could make another sound.

He’d already raised an alarm with that cry, however. She heard sounds of fighting break out within the factory. Nicandros greeted her when she got to the door, his face contorted with anger. “What the flath, girl? You could have gotten us killed!”

“Something’s coming!” Tythel gasped. “Something big, I don’t know what it is. Urdin said-”

Tythel paused as she realized how close the footsteps had gotten. She whirled around.

They came out of the forest surrounding the factory, each one looking like headless imperiplate designed for a giant. The torso was large enough to fully fit a man within, and each of the arms was a long as Tythel was tall. On top, where the head would be, two mail-clad soldiers stood, armed with unlight arcwands and swords.

The tentacles on the giant walkers’ arms came together, and they dove for cover as they opened fire with great rays of eldritch power, heedless of the damage they might do to the factory behind them.

As she crouched behind the wall, a small part of Tythel wondered why she did not hear them fight against Urdin as they approached.