The Dragon’s Scion Part 188

Small villages like Delna, once home to just under five hundred people, had gone down one of two paths in the wake of the Alohym’s arrival. In some cases, they’d began to boom as Alohym machines meant less labor was needed to maintain farms. New tasks began to arise in Alohym factories, and people had migrated inwards. Delna had gone down the other path. Being close to a large city, it had withered like fruit on a vine that severed from its root as the people had migrated away. The last human had left Delna three years prior. Nature had begun to creep in, gardens turning to dense clumps of weeds and roads into fields. Vines crept up walls and were cracking stone. A tree was growing under a collapsed roof, and in a few more years it would emerge through the rotting thatch, birthing new fruit. It was quiet and still, for most of the time. Just a week ago, Delna had seen a brief flurry of activity when a pack of wolves had cornered a deer against one of the walls. Although the wolves had captured their prey, one of their number had been mortally wounded by the deer’s antlers. 

Two days later, that wolf had found itself fed upon in turn. 

In the basement of what had been Delna’s town hall, a cocoon ruptured, and Poz crawled out with shaking hands that ended in curved claws, stepping forward on back bent legs. HIs jaw was distended forward, and fur covered his skin. Wolfflesh was something he rarely partook in, since it was rare to come across and dangerous to hunt for itself. But it was smart flesh, clever flesh, and the senses it provided were second to none. 

It also was flesh that belonged to an animal that could mourn the dead. And right now, Poz desperately needed to mourn. Something welled up in his throat, and driven by the instincts of this flesh, Poz threw back his head and howled. The sound was long and mournful, and was picked up by other wolves until it echoed across the valley.

Poz let the sound fade away into the distance. The grief didn’t vanish with it. I did that. How could I do that? The worst part of manflesh wasn’t the way it ate away at his body, and it wasn’t the way it tore away his ability to empathize. It was the way he couldn’t understand his own thoughts afterwards. Everything was hazy and twisted from his thoughts moving so quickly. He could remember what happened, but not why. 

He could smell oil nearby. While in manflesh, he’d had the sense to leave himself a torch for just this moment. Of course I did. I think of everything except for people. 

He groped along the floor. The torch was easy to find by scent in the darkness of the basement, but the flint and steel he’d set aside were not so easily located. His fingers closed in around something that struggled on six wriggling legs. 

Grubflesh. Shadow, but it tempted him. The ancient punishment for manflesh was, in a way, a kindness. Grubflesh could barely feel anything except fear and base needs. It wasn’t the borderline sociopathy of manflesh, emotions were still there, just…muted. Last time he’d taken Manflesh, with Nicandros all those years ago, he’d freed himself from it with Grubflesh before turning himself in to be exiled and bound by law to eat nothing but grubs. It had spared him the pain of facing what he’d done in Manflesh.

Poz felt his fingers tense, and forced himself to open his hand. The insect, confused, skittered away from the lumbering creature that had grabbed it. They called the Grubflesh after one feasted upon forbidden forms the Coward’s Exile. Poz had always thought that it was because it was punishment for taking the cowardly way out of a problem. Now, he had to wonder if perhaps the cowardly part was eating Grubflesh to hide from the pain of what you’d done. 

Not this time. Poz ran his fingers along the stone floor of the basement carefully, inch by inch. Something had scratched the floor in regular patterns, and the cuts were too fresh to have been worn away by the rain. Poz could feel jagged bits of stone scratch at his fingers.

In Manflesh, Poz must have decided that was the true meaning of the Coward’s Exile. That was why he’d changed his mind to eat Wolfflesh. Flesh that could feel the full weight of what he…no, that didn’t make sense. Manflesh didn’t care for that kind of thing. Then why? 

Why any of it? Why had he chosen to eat from the dead wolf? Why had he engaged Nicandros so directly? And for the love of the Light, why had he thought it was acceptable to sacrifice all those people for his escape? He remembered doing it, but the chain of thought that led to doing so wasn’t something this flesh could follow.

Something clattered under his fingers. The flint. His movements sent it skittering away, and Poz swore under his breath as he groped after the sound. 

The egg was a factor. He was certain of that. He’d known he had to protect it, and even even vaguely remembered having some kind of realization about what it was and how it worked. There was some reason it was vital that it didn’t fall into Alohym hands, and it had involved that half-Alohym woman who had been fighting alongside Nicandros. It was…damn it to shadow. He couldn’t make the connection anymore. It didn’t fit. 

The flint finally in his grasp, Poz struck it against the stone floor a couple times. The brief flashes of illumination created by the the sparks let him find the steel he’d left behind, and threw the scratches on the floor into sharp relief. They weren’t just random markings caused by some animals. They had patterns, regularity. 

Barely daring to breathe, Poz lit the torch.

He was blind for a moment, and had to blink rapidly as his eyes adjusted. Wolfflesh had better night vision than other fleshes, but took longer to adjust to light because of that. It wasn’t quite the same as Catflesh, but if he’d had access to that, he wouldn’t have needed to bother with the torch in the first place. 

The flickering light of the flame gave everything an unstable appearance as Poz’s vision cleared, but it was still clear enough. The floors of this basement had been scored with a knife, over and over, the scratches forming words and equations. Characters written in Poz’s own handwriting.

He didn’t even remember writing this. He’d been so deep in the fever of Manflesh, even memory of his actions escaped him. In that fevered state, he’d sent a message to himself. A message that detailed everything he’d put together about the Alohym, about the dragon egg, and why it was so vital the egg not fall into their hands and instead reached Tythel. Some of it, even now, Poz couldn’t fully understand. 

It ended in a single phrase. You can buy your way into her good graces with these words – ‘they might yet live again.’

Poz took a deep, ragged breath, and reached for his pack, pushing down his grief. He’d copy down what he’d written. He’d puzzle over it all later. For now, at least, he knew his path lead him to the Dragon Princess.

At least he’d been kind enough to write down where he could find her. 

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.