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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poz could only pray he would live that long.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tythel frowned. “How bad is it?”

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

“There weren’t any mirrors up there.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

End of Book 1. Series resumes September 25th. 

The Dragon’s Scion Part 63

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relieved, Tythel slipped back into that dreamless sleep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“If I can’t, how can we win?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How could that possibly not matter?”

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

“And which one is which?” Tythel asked.

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

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

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

With that, Haradeth left.

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

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

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

The Dragon’s Scion Part 60

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was.

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

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

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

The Dragon’s Scion Part 59

Tythel had exactly two advantages over the imperiplate soldiers. One she was aware of as she charged in: she wasn’t weighed down with a hundred pounds of steel. She immediately she put that advantage to use to start ducking and weaving among them. She didn’t even waste time trying to press an attack. It was seven on one, she couldn’t afford to expend the effort for an assault.

As she ducked ducking an unlight sword that cleaved through a lamppost behind her, Tythel realized her other advantage. If the imperiplate soldiers hit her, death would be instant as opposed to painful and drawn out.

Speed and relatively fragility were not great advantages to rely on. She managed to find enough of a gap in the frantic melee to let out a burst of dragonflame. As before, the armor held against it. She’d need more time to hit them long enough to start doing serious damage to their armor. In the open air, one on one, she might be able to manage it. Seven on one, however, was a whole different problem.

I don’t think I thought this through, Tythel thought, blocking an overhead sword strike with her shield. If the imperiplate allowed the soldiers to move any faster, she would already be dead. As it was, she didn’t quite manage to avoid the axe that came down from behind.

Tythel fought back a scream as the unlight that was aimed for her shoulder caught her on the side of the arm. The axe didn’t sever the limb, but lances of agony raced from from where it broke through dragon scale and into the soft flesh beneath. Before Tythel could recover from the blow, another imperiplate soldier thrust with an unlight sword. The blade cut through the back of her calf. It was shallow – given a few minutes to recover, she’d be fine.

She didn’t have a few minutes.

Tythel found herself falling to the ground. She managed to roll and bring up her shield as an imperiplate soldier with a hammer brought the massive weapon down. The energy of the shield shattered into a thousand specks of unlight, and the soldier raised the hammer again.

Tythel took a deep breath and hit him full in the face with a burst of dragonflame. It sent the man stumbling backwards, giving Tythel a chance roll over and catch herself on one knee. The soldiers started to advance, and she pulled the shield off her arm. With a quick flick, she hurled it like a discus into the face of another soldier. The unlight crystals within the shield detonated upon impact, and that soldier went down.

His armor was smoking, and he wasn’t moving.

“So…” Tythel panted, doing her best to seem confident through the pain and terror. “Is that the best you can do?”

The soldiers seemed unimpressed as they resumed their advance.

I’m not done yet. I’m not going to die like this!

Then, before Tythel’s eyes, one of the soldier’s imperiplate abruptly stopped glowing. It came to a halt and began to slump over. Eupheme stood behind him, holding the unlight crystals that had been in the back of his armor in a heavily gloved hand.

The soldiers were turning to face the new threat when arcwand fire began to lance down from a nearby building. It hit the back of another soldier, and this one’s suit didn’t shut down. It detonated, an explosion beyond what Tythel’s shield managed, and the two soldiers next to him stumbled to the side from the blast. Eupheme vanished into the shadows again. Tythel glanced up to see Armin on a roof. He expelled the spent crystal from the arcwand and slapped a fresh one into the slot.

The imperiplate soldiers were adapting, starting to pick targets. Weapons came back to operation as they switched back to their unlight rifles.

Whatever they were using to target, however, was not built to pick foes out of a high variety of targets. Bats began to fly in and among the imperiplate soldiers, a massive cloud of squeaking, fluttering fur.

Then Haradeth, Ossman, and Duke d’Monchy lead the charge into the imperiplate.

Imperiplate was a terrifying weapon, armor that made a man nigh invulnerable. But nigh invulnerable did not mean perfectly invulnerable, and the prison had held thousands of soldiers. Even with the crude weapons they could drum up and the relatively simple arcwands of the guards, the imperiplate soldiers were going to get overwhelmed.

Tythel felt someone’s hand under her arm, helping her to her feet. She didn’t recognize the man. Some prisoner that had joined in the melee. He looked only a bit older than her. She thanked him, but it was drowned out by a sudden roar.

Of the seven imperiplate soldiers who attacked initially, three were down. The other four were using the unlight in their greaves to take off into the sky. “Run away, you cowards!” someone shouted. Tythel cheered along with the man.

The armory was only another block away. They were going to make it. Tythel bent down to scoop up a shield dropped by one of those shoulds and, limping slightly, began to head with the army.

“That was too easy.”

Tythel turned to the speaker to find out Haradeth had snuck up beside her. “What do you mean, too easy? I almost lost my arm!” Tythel held up the injured appendage for emphasis.

“They retreated too easily,” Haradeth amended. “Four of them could have slaughtered hundreds of us. Why would they run?”

As if in answer, they both saw something streaking through the sky. It landed in the center of the disorganized mob. Men started screaming.

Tythel turned to push back through the crowd, trying to make her way to the source of the danger. “Keep everyone moving!” she shouted at Haradeth. “Everyone!” she pointed to Armin with the last word, the only one of her friends. “We need the armory!”

Haradeth scowled but gave her a curt nod. “Light heal you and Shadow protect,” he said, then whirled to help ride herd on the army.

Tythel began to push against the panicked mass. She hadn’t ordered everyone back because she thought she could handle whatever was sowing chaos in their back ranks. She didn’t think anyone could handle it. After all, in sixteen years of war, no one hand managed to kill one of the creatures she expected to find as soon as she pushed past the last soldier.

There she saw it, standing in the middle of a rapidly expanding ring of corpses. Tythel’s mouth went dry at the sight.

Rephylon had arrived.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 58

 

When she landed on the wall, Tythel paused for a moment to look through the prison’s windows. The yard beneath her was still empty, but beyond it she could see the battle raging within the prison.

It was utter chaos.

Arcwands were being fired, providing intermittent bursts of light or unlight, but the prison had relied on thick walls and impregnable cells to hold its population in check. Without those, and the city being in a state of general chaos, what was left was a prisoner population that outnumbered the remaining guards nearly a hundred to one. Thank the light we pulled the guards away.

Of course, once the battle inside came to a conclusion, the prisoners would have to come out. Once they did, it would be a slaughter – the guards still held the external walls and towers. The prisoners could get into the yard – and from what Tythel could see, they would soon – but they’d be cut down as soon as they did.

Tythel took off towards the nearest tower. No one was watching for her. If I was sitting guard on a prison where chaos reigns, Tythel though, I wouldn’t be watching the external walls either. After all, who could possibly want to break into a prison?

A single massive leap took Tythel flying up towards the top of the tower. She brought one hand over her eyes to protect them from shards of glass when she burst through the window.

The guards didn’t react immediately. They noticed her, that much was certain, but even with the general panic none of them were prepared to come bursting through a side window that the prisoners couldn’t have accessed.

Their loss. Tythel dropped some of the presents that had been ‘donated’ by the soldiers in the street. Then, just as the guards gathered their wits enough to open fire, Tythel leapt back out the window and into the prison yard behind the tower.

She glanced up just in time to see the tower explode. Another followed moments later, then a third and a fourth. She could see Lorathor skittering down the side of the last tower. The other two packages had been carried by Eupheme Stepping directly into the tower and Haradeth coaxing some bats to carry his bundle.

Tythel could hear a cheer rising up from within the prison. The remaining guards were forgotten or slain, and the prisoners began to pour out the door.

“To me!” someone shouted over the din. “Form up on me!” It was a voice used to command, a voice that expected people to obey the orders it was giving.

It belong to the Duke d’Monchy. Tythel could see him holding an arcwand over his head for attention. While some of the prisoners were running out into the yard and bolting for the doors, many more were converging around the Duke. “Get back from the gates!” Tythel shouted, adding her own voice to the din.

d’Monchy looked over at the sound of her voice and his eyes widened before he gave Tythel a fierce grin. “Get back! Get back, you Light-blinded fools!”

The prisoners did, and the Duke approached her. “Tythel! Cast me into Shadow, but it’s good to see you again.”

“You too,” Tythel said, blinking in joy. “Is your wife alright? The others?”

The Duke pursed his lips. “My wife lives. I’m not sure about everyone. I know others weren’t so lucky. How fares Nicandros and Haradeth?”

“Haradeth is still with us,” Tythel said curtly. “Eupheme, Armin, Ossman, and Lorathor as well.”

The Duke quirked an eyebrow but didn’t push her further. Before he could open his mouth, the last of the prisoners moved away from the gate – just in time for Armin and Ossman to use the last of the explosive spheres to detonate the hinges. The gate fell.

“I take it there’s a plan?” the Duke asked.

“Armory. I can’t imagine you have enough arcwands for everyone.” Prisoners were still streaming out of the building.

“Fill me in on the way,” he said, then turned back to the prisoners. “Come on, then! Our young friend here knows where to find arcwands! Let’s shoot some flathing Alohym lackeys.”

The prisoners cheered again, and Tythel moved with the Duke to lead them out.

“We’re going to lose some,” he explained as they ran. “Most of these people just want to get free, and are going to take advantage of the chaos. We’re going to gain more than we lost.” The Duke grimaced. “Assuming we get out of the city alive.”

“We shouldn’t have too much opposition on our way to the Armory, at least,” Tythel said, and then quickly explained the plan – and everything that had gone wrong so far. “Getting out of the city will be harder because of that, but at least we’ll be armed,” she finished.

“Sounds like a solid plan,” the Duke said. “I’d like to see what-”

The Duke didn’t get to finish what he wanted to see. A volley of unlight streaked towards the rag-tag army. Tythel dove to the ground, taking the Duke with her before the fire cut them to ribbons.

They had been running at the head of a mob. Tythel and the Duke were safe, but their front lines were cut to ribbons. Tythel snarled and activated her shield, taking to her feet and putting the barrier up to absorb some of the incoming fire.

These weren’t the single shot rifles of the guards or normal soldiers. These came at her too rapidly for that. Behind the cloud of unlight, she could see the Imperiplate soldiers who were responsible for the fire.

Behind her, the army was dispersing into alleys and taking cover behind Crawlers. Tythel’s stubborn refusal to drop drew more fire. The unlight shield began to show splinters in its structure. It couldn’t hold indefinitely, and if she didn’t take cover soon, she’d join the dead and dying behind her.

Or there’s always a second option.

Tythel tapped the Duke and motioned to a nearby alley. She covered him, running along with her shield to keep him out of the line of fire, then turned and began to charge the soldiers.

Arcwands and unlight relied on energy to kill their targets. They didn’t have any force behind them.

Nothing existed to impede her charge into the line of Imperiplate.

There were seven of them. A single imperiplate soldier was more than Tythel could defeat. She activated the hammer, remembering how bent and twisted the soldiers armor had become earlier under her relentless assault. It could do something, at least, but it wasn’t what she was hoping would allow her to survive this.

That was on top of the factory to her left.

When she got close to their line, they stopped the fire, activating their own unlight weapons. Swords, hammers, and axes began to absorb the light around the imperiplate soldiers. The collection of unlight was enough to cast the area into a shadow, like a cloud had passed overhead.

Then Tythel was in that unnatural shadow, among soldiers that could rend her limb from limb.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 57

Haradeth landed shortly after Tythel did, tossing Armin down into the grass to whirl and face the window he’d just vacated. Tythel followed his gaze. One of the mutants peered up and over through the window, but before Tythel’s eyes it began to slump until it collapsed back into the tower. ”I think they took all the light they could,” Armin said, forcing himself off the ground.

“Is everyone alright?” Haradeth asked.

Ossman held up his hand. The deep gashes Tythel had left in his arm were now scabbed over and pink around the edges. “I think so,” he said slowly. Ossman ran the hand over his now smooth scalp. “I’m going to miss hair until it grows back.”

“It probably won’t,” Armin said, finishing the process of standing up. He began to rub his temples. “I’ve got a headache that won’t quit, but other than that I’m fine. I can fight. We should be moving.”

Eupheme just nodded in agreement.

With alarms going off across the city, the streets were relatively clear, and most of the garrison had been pulled to the walls. Tythel sprinted ahead to catch up with Haradeth. “We’re going to have a problem with the gates, now that every guard has been pulled to them.”

Haradeth grunted. “This entire mission has been flathed up one side and down the other already. The plan has officially turned to a fecal sandwich. The gates are just the crust. Let’s work our way through the other ten problems before we worry about the flathing gates.”

Tythel frowned at his tone, but couldn’t find an argument with his points.

“You didn’t have to leap for Ossman,” Haradeth said after a bit more silence.

Tythel almost stumbled in affront. “Of course I did! Did you think I’d let him fall?”

“You could have died,” Haradeth said.

Tythel picked back up the pace. “And that worries you? I get the impression you think it was better if I was dead.”

Haradeth just grunted at the accusation, which Tythel took as affirmation. “I’d think you’d worry about if you would die or not,” Haradeth said.

“Better to risk that than do nothing.” Tythel didn’t know where he was going with this, and it looked like her confusion was going to go unanswered.

A group of soldiers, unlight swords in hands, turned the corner directly in front of them.

For half a second, the two groups stopped, comically amused expressions on their faces. “It’s them!” one of the soldiers shouted, starting to reach for something on his shoulder.

An unlight bolt from Armin took him in the forehead, and the battle was on.

Tythel picked her target and started to charge, a torrent of dragonflame preceeding her rush. The soldier dove out of the way of the dragonflame and came up with a slash directly towards Tythel’s neck. She caught it with her shield, and the clash of unlight sent a shower of dark sparks flying from where the two met. Have to get this done quick, or they’ll alert the rest, Tythel thought.

Out of the corner of her eye, Tythel saw another soldiers reach for his shoulder. Eupheme appeared behind him and her daggers flashed. His fingers went flying from his hand.

Tythel didn’t see the rest of the man’s fate, as her attacker had stopped trying to overcome her shield with brute force and removed his blade for another strike.

Tythel drew back her hammer and swung. The soldier tried to parry the blow, but didn’t expect the strength Tythel could put behind the swing.

The hammer came down on his face, and Tythel winced at the crunching sound it made. The soldier didn’t get up.

Ossman was finishing off his attacker, and the last of the soldier tried to flee. Lorathor caught him and dragged him to the ground, and with a flash of his knife ended the last of the soldier’s lives.

Attackers? Tythel realized she’d thought that about the soldiers that way twice now. But they weren’t the attackers, were they? They were the defenders, not the aggressors.

They have hundreds of people in a prison awaiting execution, Tythel. Stop weeping for them. Weep for their victims.

“Hey, everyone?” Ossman said, holding up something he’d pulled off the belt of one of the dead soldiers. “I think I know a way we can get into the prison.

Tythel had seen similar devices before, and couldn’t help but blink with satisfaction.

“You know, Ossman,” Haradeth said with a fierce grin, “I think those just might work.”

The prison loomed ahead in the night sky, squat and foreboding. This was not a building built for comfort or beauty. It was exactly what its name implied – a place meant to hold men and women under lock and key. A place where people were taken and left to rot or await the headman’s axe.

It was clearly of a different, more recent make than the buildings around it. Tythel marvelled at the walls, which were smooth and showed no sign of being built out of individual stones. Instead, they looked like they had been hewn somehow out of one single, solitary block, with pillars for towers set in the stone – also formed where it appeared to be a single, unbroken stone.

“How is it possible?” Tythel murmured to Armin.

“The Alohym have this stone mush they use for building. They put up these big molds, with iron bars running in the center, and pour the mush in. After a while it hardens, and you’ve got…well, you’ve got something like that. No weak points, no gaps, no handholds.”

“We don’t need handholds, at least.” Lorathor added, glancing around. “Everyone clear on the plan?”

Nods went around. Haradeth, Armin, and Ossman were staying behind – they had no way to clear the stone wall of the prison.

Tythel headed in with Lorathor and Eupheme.

On top of the prison were great arclights, ones that shone with actual light and not the false radiance unlight provided. They were constantly sweeping, but they were sweeping inwards, not outwards.

You’d have to be crazy to try and break into a prison.

Then I guess I am, Tythel thought, and she lowered her head and charged the last distance between herself and the wall. The wall was tall, about three times as tall as a man, and Tythel was certain she could clear it in a single jump.

She wished she was as confident about what happened when she reached the top.


Small Worlds returns 08/13. If you haven’t yet, check out Weird Theology, the first book of Small Worlds, here

The Dragon’s Scion Part 56

Tythel clamped her mouth shut and pushed herself off the wall in a wide leap towards Ossman. They impacted mid air, slamming into each other.

I’ve just killed us both Tythel had time to think. Ossman was too big. The impact had arrested much of their momentum, and they were falling towards the lumwell.

Inspiration struck, almost too late. Tythel reached out and activated her shield. At the sudden surge of unlight, the mutants whipped back towards them, those unnatural limbs lashing out to grab them from every angle they could manage. A pair of them, on either side of the pit, managed to get their fingers around Tythel and began to pull.

Tythel and Ossman stopped a mere foot from the lumwell. Tythel could faintly hear Armin screaming in pain above. This close to the light, she could actually see the effects of Armin’s manipulations. The light was rippling away from them in a single wave, coming up on either side.

The mutants were able to her and Ossman away from the Lumwell, digging fingernails into Tythel’s skin in their fury. “Wrong and lies and leave and twist and rend and kill and-” Tythel did her best to tune out their muttering.

“Do they ever shut up?” Ossman said. His voice was shaky, Tythel could feel him trembling.

“I don’t think so,” she responded.

Ossman grunted. “Well…they should.” He looked over at Tythel and gave her a weak grin. “Thanks for the catch.”

“If I let you die, I don’t Armin would have ever let me hear the end of it,” Tythel said with a grin.

“If you had died trying to save me, I think Armin would have found a way to rant at our ghosts.”

Tythel chuckled and then felt one of the hands holding her tighten. She gasped in pain and looked around, trying to find the window.

It was still behind her. One of the mutants holding them up was on the ledge, directly under it. Armin was being held up by Haradeth, who at least was no longer being forced to ward away the monsters. For his part, Armin looked pale and was sweating profusely.   

The mutant had an expression of furious confusion on its face that would have been comical if the situation was less dire. Neither mutant wanted to let go of Tythel, probably for fear the other would do the same, but without letting go they couldn’t pull her towards one ledge or the other. She was being held directly over the lumwell. That’s probably saving my life, she realized. If the mutants wanted her dead, they could have torn her apart, or even just let go.

If they did, however, she’d drop the shield directly into the lumwell, which was the very thing they were trying to prevent.

“We need one to let go,” Ossman said.

Tythel nodded and twisted in the mutant’s grasp, trying to bring the shield around to get near the hands of the mutant on the far side. It seemed to have understood Ossman, or just learned from experience, and snapped its hands down to clutch at her arm as tightly as they could to prevent her from moving. “It’s going to get hot,” Tythel warned Ossman, and shot a quick gout of dragonflame along her arms to push the hands away.

That turned out to be a mistake. The hands holding her arm had been supporting her more than she realized, and she and Ossman lurched downwards. The mutant brought its hands back down to catch Tythel by the ankle, but Ossman slipped out of her grasp and started to fall again towards the lumwell.

Tythel lashed out with her hand, grabbing him by the back of the shirt. He let out a pained gargle as the neck snapped shut, and then the shirt started to rip. “Ossman, give me your hand!” she shouted.

Ossman raised one up shakily. With one hand holding the shield, Tythel had to let go and then lance out to catch him before he fell to the pit below. His arm was sweaty as were her palms, and he was sliding, falling, she could feel herself losing her grip…

Ossman started screaming, and Tythel winced at the sound. Her talons had dug deep slices into his arm, but it had stopped his fall. “I’m sorry!” she shouted.

If Ossman heard her, he was in too much pain to respond. Already the cuts she had caused were healing up.

That was when she noticed Ossman’s hair beginning to fall out. A quick glance to her Armin was being supported on the windowsill by both Haradeth and Eupheme.

The mutant holding her was probably strong enough to reel Tythel in. Not both of them, however. There was only one option left. You have to get this right or Ossman will die, she told herself, ignoring the fact that if she did nothing Ossman was going to turn into a terrible mutant.

Tythel began to swing Ossman back and forth, building up momentum with each swing. The mutants watched her with growing alarm right up until she snapped one final swing, hurling Ossman towards the platform under the window.

Haradeth let go of Armin to reach out with Lorathor to catch Ossman. Tythel then swung her shield frantically towards the mutant, getting the one on the far side to finally let go. Its companion, no longer trying to lift two people, had no problem pulling her towards the window. As soon as she was over the platform, she let loose a gout of dragonfire directly into the things face, letting the spindly arms of the creature trail behind it as it fell into the lumwell.

“C’mon, Ossman, stay with me,” she said once Haradeth helped her join the unconscious form of Ossman in the window. “Don’t turn into…still be Ossman, please.”

Ossman grunted and Tythel held her breath. “…tear..” Ossman whispered.

“No, not you too,” Tythel said, tears coming to her eyes.

“Not me what?” Ossman growled, “You tore my flathing arm apart.”

Tythel let out a choked laugh, “Next time I’ll let you drop.”

“Talk later,” Haradeth interrupted. “Go! Get out!” Now that they were all in one place, the mutants were converging on them. A number of them had died from overexposure to the light, but three of them were still advancing, and Haradeth could only keep them at bay so long.

Tythel scooped Ossman up and jumped out the window.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 55

On the wall across from them, Lorathor was now clutching Haradeth more firmly by shifting his feet into something closer to hands. Tythel wasn’t certain how long Lorathor could hold there, but he didn’t seem to be straining. Ossman’s grip was still firm, but tenuous. Have to get to him first.

Before Tythel could even formulate a plan, one of the soldiers on a ledge close to the pool of light began to scream. Tythel couldn’t help but look, and was shocked to see he wasn’t falling. The man was starting to glow. As Tythel watched, extra arms began to sprout from beneath his shoulders. His hair fell out, and he started to grow. “They’re tumors,” Armin whispered, following her gaze, “but they’re also muscles.” The man was growing taller as well, his legs bending backwards till they resembled something closer to goat legs, and his jaw began to distend forwards.

“He’s going to start ranting soon,” Armin said, and Tythel was too entranced to tell him to be quiet, “they usually are talking about peace and hope and redemption. The good news is lumwell mutants are harmless. Mostly just charge people and rant like that until they startle someone into shooting them.”

The man’s transformation finished. The end result was horrible, but also strangely beautiful. The creature’s skin was now pearlescent and shone with a glow of its own. It was still recognizable as being once human, but also was clearly something it. It moved with a preternatural grace as it began to scale the walls. He was speaking as he did, like Armin had promised. “Pain and leave no warp death infect and tear and leave and banish the lies the wrong do you see the wrong in the core find the wrong rend the wrong…”

Tythel glanced at Armin as the words reached his ears and he frowned. “Well, that’s noticeably worse than usual.”

The lumwell mutant reached another soldier. With an enraged howl of “Pain!” the once human creature leapt on his former comrade and wrapped its hands around his throat. It didn’t settle for strangling the man, however. It leapt back down until the soldier, struggling to break free.

The soldier’s screams took on a different note as he began to glow. The mutant held him there, still screaming. “Leave the wrong warp more find and tear and banish and rip and hunt and more and more and more and more,

And more and more and more,” the soldier started to agree. He didn’t sprout new limbs as the first one did. Instead, his arms and legs began to grow extra joints until they were longer than he was tall. The first mutant let go, and his new companion  began to use those long limbs to work his way up the side of the tower.

“That’s going to go really poorly for us,” Armin said, almost conversationally. “I’ve never heard of a lumwell mutant acting with anything close to strategy.”

“Any suggestions?” Tythel asked. A few soldiers had recovered enough to began training unlight arcwands on the mutants. When they opened fire, the creatures screamed in rage even as the shots missed and began to target those soldiers.

“Shoot them with fire before they kill us?” Armin asked hopefully.

Tythel shook her head. “Maybe we should just run away.”

Armin nodded. “Good plan. Any idea how to do that?”

Tythel looked around the chamber. “Lorathor? You have Haradeth?”

“He needs to eat less from here on out, I think,” Lorathor said. “But yes, I do.”

“Can you move with him?”

Lorathor let out grim laugh. “It’s taking both my hands to hold myself to the wall. The moment I lift one, we’re both going plummeting. If we’re lucky, we end up falling into the lumwell and dying.”

“Why is that lucky?”

Haradeth picked up Lorathor’s meaning and pointed to one of the lumwell mutants. “Better death than that.”

“Oh.” Tythel felt her mind working furiously. “Armin, we’re bathing in light right now. Don’t suppose you can do a bit of something to make our situation less aweful?”

“Oh, sure, I’ll just waggle my fingers and we’ll all sprout wings.”

“Really?” Tythel asked.

“No.” Tythel glared at him, and Armin elaborated. “I’m already doing what I can. I’m diverting the light away from us. Which is why Ossman’s arm has stopped healing, incidentally. I’m just buying us more time before we turn into insane mutants. It’s the limit of what I can do, but it’s something.”

“I have an idea,” Haradeth said. “Tythel, your hammer. Do you think you can toss it to me?”

Tythel had almost forgotten it was still dangling, inactive, from her wrist. “Armin, can you hold on?”

In response, Armin shifted carefully to wrap his arms around behind her neck, and his legs around her waist. “Your highness, this is quite improper,” Armin said in the arch tones of a highborn noble. “People are going to talk.”

Tythel flushed and ignore the comment. Now that she didn’t have to hold Armin, he had a free hand and could shimmy along the wall until she reached a platform. She tentatively put her weight on it. It groaned under the strain. “Once I throw this,” Tythel said to all of them, “the platform under us might collapse. I think I can stop us before we die.”

Armin took a deep breath. “You sure about that?”

Tythel gave a curt nod. “Haradeth, are you ready?”

Haradeth pursed his lips, and gave her a firm nod.

Tythel collapsed the hammer, and tossed it. She whirled as soon as it left her fingers to dig her talons into the wall behind them as the platform they stood on collapsed.

The started to fall towards the lumwell, Tythel’s talons raising deep furrows in the stone. Horrible visions of falling into the pool of unlight below, or stopping them so low Armin couldn’t protect them anymore, began to flash across her mind.

They came to a halt down near Ossman and Eupheme. “What in the Shadow was that about?” Eupheme asked.

Tythel cast her eyes upwards. Haradeth had caught the hammer. Below them, the sound of the soldiers unlight rifles had stopped. The first mutant had slumped over, dead from repeated exposure to the lumwell’s radiance, but there were about ten of them now.

“Haradeth has a plan,” Armin said in answer to Eupheme.

“Oh good,” Ossman said. “Any idea what his plan is?”

“He didn’t share it,” Tythel said. “All he said was that he needed my hammer.”

As they looked up, Haradeth reached out and activated the hammer. It began to glow with unlight, and the lumwell mutants began to howl in rage.

Then Lorathor pushed and let go of the wall. They both began to plummet towards the lumwell. “No!” Tythel shouted as she watched them fall.

The lumwell mutants surged forward in a mass, trying to catch Haradeth and Lorathor halfway down the pit. Several missed their lunge, falling into the lumwell and disintegrating. The one with overly extended arms managed to wrap those limbs around Haradeth’s legs as they fell. It snatched Haradeth back towards the ledge, lunging towards his neck.

Haradeth brought up the hammer between himself and the mutant, and it recoiled away like he was holding something toxic and vile. The ranting of all the mutants increased, echoing in the empty tower. “They can’t touch it,” Haradeth shouted over their voices. “And they can’t let it drop into the lumwell!”

“Good!” Tythel shouted. “What now?”

Lorathor began to scale the wall as the other mutants approached Haradeth. Haradeth had to wave the hammer about like a torch to keep the creatures at bay. Once Lorathor reached the window, he was able to hang down and grab Haradeth, hauling him the rest of the way up. “Climb to me!” Haradeth said. “Then you and Lorathor can get the others! He can carry Eupheme!”

Tythel relayed the order over the jabbering lumwell mutants, who were increasingly trying to get to Haradeth. He was beginning to swing the hammer with increasing urgency to hold them at bay. “Hurry!” he shouted. Lorathor was already making his way to Eupheme.

Without waiting to see what would happen, Tythel began to climb as quickly as she dared, shuffling along the wall. A few times she felt Armin clench in pain as she was forced to drag him across some rough outcropping or bumped him against the wall, but he held on until they reached the window.

“We can’t get past the mutants,” Tythel said to Armin.

“I can clear a path, I think.” Armin closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Just be ready to move.” When he opened his eyes, the cornal imprint left by the sunstone was glowing. Armin slapped his hand to the wall.

The section he touched began to glow with unlight. One of the creatures let go of its handholds in terror and fell into the lumwell below.

Tythel didn’t hesitate and scurried over the patch of wall to the window, propping Armin on the ledge. “Be ready for me to come back,” she said. “I think we’ll need that again.”

Armin smiled and opened his mouth to respond, but was cut off by Eupheme’s screaming Tythel’s name. Tythel whirled around just in time to catch Ossman’s grip slip fully.

Tythel screamed as he started to fall towards the swirling lumwell.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 54

The first imperiplate soldier burst through the door in a shower of splinters. Tythel let loose a burst of dragonflame the instant the barrier dropped, catching the soldier straight in the chest. Reflexes drove the man to raise his hands, but her flames did nothing except heating his armor.

“Tythel! The heat!” Eupheme shouted. The air in this room was rapidly reaching oven temperatures, and Tythel dropped the flames. The soldier would be protected from the extreme heat. Her friends would not.

The imperiplate soldier charged her, and Tythel barely got her shield up in time to meet his gauntleted fist. She swung awkwardly with the hammer, and dealt the soldier a glancing blow. The burst of energy that was released on impact sent him staggering to the side.

“Armin!” Tythel shouted.

“Almost there!” he responded.

The other two imperiplate soldiers were in the room now. Haradeth and Lorathor faced off against one, Ossman and Eupheme against the other. Their arcwands couldn’t penetrate the thick armor the soldiers wore. Their blades were almost useless.

It was a fight they couldn’t win.

Tythel brought her hammer down on the soldier in front of her as he started to regain his footing. He caught the blow on his arms, and the impact sent out a shockwave that rattled the devices and cracked the floor beneath his feet.

That’s it, Tythel realized with a sudden surge of hope. She brought the hammer down again, the same motion she’d used when beating on the top of the walker at the city gates. Each time the soldier blocked the blow, but Tythel didn’t give him time to recover. Hammer fell over and over.

Armin shouted something. Tythel could hear the words but they were lost in the sudden chaos as her last hammer blow landed. “Jump!” she shouted over Armin.

The imperiplate was too strong for Tythel to crack. Tythel’s hammer was too relentless for him to escape. Something had to give.

The floor, even being enhanced by a centuring of bathing in Light, ended up being the thing that couldn’t withstand the assault. It gave out under the soldier and set off a domino effect. The floor they all stood on collapsed in a ring around where the soldier had punched through, sending all of them tumbling to the room below them in a shower of stone and equipment and flesh.

There were sickening crunches from the floor beneath them as the soldiers that had been waiting there were crushed by falling debris. Tythel felt her hammer slip from her fingers as she jumped. The jump didn’t save her or the others from the impact, or from some of the outermost equipment caving in and bashing them, but unlike the imperiplate soldiers they weren’t half buried in the rubble. Tythel’s warning had come in time. The imperiplate was heavy – the soldiers wearing it had been drug down with the rocks, and were struggling against the equipment.

She heard the stones beneath them groan from the weight. It’s holding. Thank the Light, it’s hold-

Something caught the corner of her eye. Her hammer, carelessly dropped while still active, hit the ground and let out another one of its bursts of force.

The impact drove the hammer back up into the air, and the floor beneath them buckled. Tythel dove for the hammer, catching it before it hit again and sent them all tumbling. Hastily, she slipped her wrist through the thong on the end to prevent it from falling free if it collapsed again.

One of the imperiplate soldiers shifted, and the floor beneath them began to crack again. “Stop!” Tythel hissed at him, and for a wonder he did. Beneath them, Tythel could hear the rest of the tower being evacuated. “If you move we all die.”

The imperiplate soldier she had been battering, whose arm armor was twisted and cracked glanced around. “No,” he said after a moment. “I think we’ll survive. You, however, won’t.”

He raised his fist and slammed it into the floor.

It all happened in an instant. Tythel couldn’t follow what was going on. She could only lunge to the side and grab Armin before the collapse began. She made it to one of the walls and sunk her talons into the stone, Armin clutched to her chest.

She couldn’t hear the others over the sound of the floors beneath them collapsing. Someone was screaming, and Tythel realized it was her.

By some miracle or trick of the light, the tower around them did not collapse. Instead, the crashing continued for what felt like an eternity, each subsequent floor giving way to the weight of the floors above it until it became an ongoing cascade of collapsing masonry, changing from a series of distinct crashes to a single, ongoing roar.

Then, the chamber was flooded with light.

Tythel clamped her mouth shut as the sound stopped and dared a look down. There hadn’t been a complete collapse. At each floor, Tythel could see bits of stone and stairs sticking to the side of the walls. Shapes clung to those outcroppings, and Tythel could only hope some of them were the others. It was hard to make out, however, because they were silhouetted by the light coming from the lumwell far beneath them. Tythel had never seen one before, and it entranced her. She’d assumed lumwells would just be golden, but it wasn’t. It looked like a pool of gold swirled with other colors, red and blue and green and purple. A veritable rainbow spiraling out from the center on a sea of light.

And running counter clockwise to the beauty of the light was a second pattern, discordant splinters of unlight that cut through the beautiful pattern.

“If we fall,” Tythel asked Armin shakily, “would we die?”

“That’s an interesting question,” Armin answered. “Not in the traditional sense, no. We’d be turned into luminescent beings and dragged into a higher plane of existence from which no man has ever returned. Which, I suppose, would look a lot like death to the outside observer, but we wouldn’t join the Shadow. At least, that’s what scholars theorize. Any living thing that falls into a lumwell explodes into a shower of light. Which, really, isn’t all that different from dying.”

“You ramble when your scared,” Tythel muttered.

“Well, right now you’re holding me one handed over a lumwell, I think I have a right to be scared.

Tythel’s eyes were adjusting to the sudden brightness. Lorathor was clinging to the wall like she was, holding Haradeth by the back of his shirt. Several floors beneath them had soldiers desperately holding on to various outcroppings. As Tythel watched, one of those soldier’s fingers slipped. He fell, screaming, into the lumwell.

Armin had undersold what happened. The man didn’t explode. He more…dissolved, skin flying away into the light until all that was left was a rapidly disintegrating skeleton that vanished beneath the glow. As he was dissolved, the unlight splinters grew stronger.

“Oh,” Tythel said. She wanted to say more, but couldn’t find the words.

One of the clinging figures pulled themselves up onto a lone stair that was still attached to its mooring. Although Tythel couldn’t see clearly from here, the outline of Eupheme’s cloak was unmistakable. Which left only…

Ossman had managed to get an arm through a window before falling too far. It was twisted at an unnatural angle, but he was holding on for now. As Tythel watched, the arm began to untwist. “This much concentrated light is healing him,” Armin explained, following her gaze. “It’ll heal all of us. Of course, if we wait here too much longer it’ll keep healing past that. We’ll start developing tumors, new bones, third eyes in uncomfortable places-”

Tythel hissed, “Armin, stop,”

“Okay.” Armin closed his mouth, but couldn’t help adding one more thing, “that’s why no one uses the light to heal. I wouldn’t have even risked it on you if the device wasn’t designed to filter unlight. It heals your mind as it does with your body. If you don’t die, you end up going insane, becoming a terrible mutant – and that happens far more often than people actually getting healed. I don’t know what the addition of unlight will do, but-”

“Armin!” Tythel growled.

“Right, right, shutting up.” Armin clacked his teeth shut, but then started talking again. “Thank you,” he said.

“What?”

“For changing your mind. I know we’re fighting something horrible, Tythel, and we’re going to have to do horrible things. But sending out a wave of arcfodder to die before our soldiers was wrong. It’s an Alohym strategy. If we’re no better than they are, we’re just going to replace one kind of monster with another. I think I would have forgiven you in time, but…I don’t know how.”

Tythel turned to face him and made herself smile. “I’m naming you my first royal advisor,” she said. “You’re now Minister of ‘Reminding Tythel to Not Become Terrible.’”

Armin let out a strangled laugh. “I don’t think I’ll serve very long.”

Below them, another scream as a soldier fell into the light below. Tythel looked back to the others.

Haradeth’s shirt was starting to fray. Ossman’s arm was healing, but as it twisted back to its correct location, it was forcing his grip to slip.

Tythel took a deep breath. “No, Armin. I don’t know how, but your position will be a long and prosperous one. We’re going to get out this. I swear it.”

It was an easy promise to make. After all, if she was wrong, no one would be able to call her on it.

Weird Theology is on sale, other regions here. Already read it? Please consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads.