The Dragon’s Scion Part 98

-PART 2-

The library of Axburg’s Baron was not the grandest that Poz had ever seen – that had been the Library of the Enlightened Sands in Hadorim to the southeast, a massive structure that could have housed a small town and boasted meticulous organization. What set the Library of Baron Rainer apart from the others Poz had encountered in his travels was the level of comfort put into it. Immense couches, long enough where two fully grown men could have laid with feet touching and their heads would not reach the armrests. Chairs that seemed to be stuffed with down feathers and covered in the softest velvet. Tables that boasted clever mechanisms allowing them to be adjusted perfectly to suit the reader’s height. All of it was lit by immense windows to allow in natural sunlight.

It was clearly built by and for someone who loved the simple pleasures of reading. That man existed, and Poz found him in one of the overstuffed chairs, his feet up on a stool. The spine of the book was visible. The Adventures of Stellaria Bustil, Volume 2. “Good morning, milord,” Poz said, bowing low. He’d long ago learned it was entire possible to not greet the Baron and remain completely unnoticed,  but Baron Rainer would always be tremendously embarrassed when he came out of is book coma – usually when some servant reminded the Baron he did need to eat.

“Poz! Please, I’ve told you at least five times now, there’s no need for such bowing among scholars.” The Baron carefully selected a bookmark and slid it between the pages of his tome.

Poz nodded and rose. “Apologies, milord.” It was difficult to explain to Baron Rainer the limitations of crowflesh. It was highly intelligent – some of the most intelligent forms Underfolk could take relied on members of the corvid family – and it was also highly social. Poz would find himself getting stressed if alone too long, which made him grateful for the Baron being a fellow lover of books. However, it was not the best at social niceties. When in crowflesh, Poz relied heavily on the trappings of society to interact with humans.

That meant one bowed for a Baron, no matter how much said Baron insisted otherwise.

“I see you’re choosing a less scholarly pursuit today?” Poz’s question was also half a statement. Poz could not see much scholarly use for a series of books about a young woman getting into increasingly unlikely situations that required she either rescue or be rescued by a series of increasingly attractive young men, followed by detailed descriptions of the human mating process. Poz knew humans found such things exciting, although the reasoning eluded him.

It likely has to do with their mating habits, Poz reasoned. Human mating seemed to be a messy process. Underfolk were much more refined. The females waited until breeding season to lay their eggs in a cool cavern pool, and the males would come by to fertilize the eggs later. Only one in a hundred of the larvae would make it to adulthood while the rest cannibalized each other.

One of the maids here had a human larva. It was a weak, squealing thing that the humans doted on. It seemed to Poz that such coddling would allow weak spawn to survive to adulthood and drain resources…but then again, given how few larva humans produced, perhaps that was best for their species. Weak humans were not the drain on resources Poz had feared them to be, and some of them could still contribute to gaining resources.

The Baron had said something, and Poz snapped his mind to attention. One of the drawbacks of Crowflesh was its attention span was limited. No other form was so easily obtained and offered as much intelligence, but it had its drawback. Poz had heard Squidflesh was better focused and every bit as intelligent, but without access to the sea he’d never had a chance to sample it. Perhaps when this is over… “I apologize, milord. I did not catch what you said there.”

The Baron was flushed, which was an unsurprising response. Humans often became embarrassed when confronted with their interest in their own mating habits. “Actually, this is of scholarly interest. While many aspects of these stories are sensationalized, they are based on historical documents from a scholar of Third Era, Estelia Ubistil. This book contained a reference to the Golden Egg you’re so interested in.”

Poz felt two of his three hearts skip at the mention. Finding actual evidence of the Golden Egg had been difficult so far, and most of the accounts in the Baron’s library contained information Poz already knew. It would only ‘hatch,’ whatever that resulted in, when exposed to Heartflame. Dragon’s viewed them as sacred and were lethally protective of them, even more than their normal eggs. “And?” Poz saw the Baron stiffen, and realized how the word had sounded and reminded himself of the social failings of this flesh. At least that, from what I’ve heard, is even worse in Squidflesh. “Apologies, milord. I am…overeager for information, and forgot myself.”

Baron Rainer relaxed at the apology. “In the story, Stellaria uses the Golden Egg to barter with a Dragon. Absolute nonsense, of course – the dragon would have simply incinerated her – but some facts are interesting. These are put in the footnotes of the story, and such footnotes are known to be accurate. Outside of being hatched by Heartflame, the eggs are indestructible to any force known at the time. At the time this tome was written, no Dragon had hatched a Heartflame egg in over two thousand years – which is why information about what they are.”

Poz resisted the urge to grind his teeth. This was new information, but it wasn’t useful information. However, Baron Rainer had a flair for the dramatic, and loved saying the most important information for last. Poz would have to endure the wait.

This flesh just made that endurance painfully difficult.

“Of course, the last footnote was the most intriguing. It contained a reference to a vast hoard of these Golden Eggs, which had the ring of a legendary cache that likely no longer exists, if it ever did. What truly intrigued me about it was a reference to Draconic metempsychosis.” He said the last with a flourish, as if I had expected Poz to leap with joy.

“Apologies, milord. I don’t know what that means.”

The Baron looked a bit put off with his grand reveal going over so flatly. “Of course, of course,” the man said, railing admirably. “Dragons believed that, when a Heartflame egg is hatched, the being that emerges is the spiritual child of the original dragon.”

Poz began to nod in understanding. If dragons did believe that…if the dragon princess did, he could return the egg to immense gratitude. So much so she probably would not investigate his claim that he had killed the original thief. That lie, at least, Poz had settled on a couple days ago. “Thank you, Baron Rainer. This has given me what I needed to know.” He forced himself to smile. “Now that I have what I need, I must be going. I have a great distance to travel.”

The blood drained out of the Baron’s face. “Oh, but you can’t go!” He exclaimed. Poz raised a single eyebrow, and the Baron began to rally again. “Surely you see that there’s still more to learn – after all, we only just found this reference, and-”

Poz tuned out the Baron’s lies. He focused instead on the man’s face, the way his skin turned pale, the way sweat began to form on his forehead and upper lip. Realization struck him. I was a fool. “How long?” Poz asked, cutting off the Baron mid-ramble.

“You could stay for a couple more-”

Poz cut him off with a sharp hand gesture. “No, Baron Rainer. How long ago did the Alohym get to you? How long have you been promising to keep me here, giving me only tidbits to keep me interested?”

“I…I don’t know what you’re…” Baron Rainer studied Poz’s face and saw no mercy in there, no yielding. He sighed. “Two days. For the last two days. I’m sorry. You really were a fascinating conversationalist.”

Before Poz could question further, the window exploded in a flash of Unlight.

 

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 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.

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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 51

Tythel stared up at the old Magus tower of Dawnchester as it loomed over the city’s skyline. In times past, the Magus tower would have glowed from the light of the lumwell beneath it, as bright as a full moon. In these days, however, the light was dim and seemed to curve back on itself in places, the gradual unlight corruption slowly claiming it. Before too much longer, Tythel reckoned, it would instead be constantly dimming the air around it in the day and only visible as a pillar of darkness in the night.

The tower stood almost fifty feet tall, and near the top, four smaller towers were held out from the main body on walkways that left them suspended in the air. Karjon had not taught Tythel the finer, or even the broader, points of structural engineering, but even without that background the candelabra design of the tower seemed to defy what could be accomplished with just stone and wood.

“We should burn it on our way out,” Armin muttered beside her. He’d barely said two words since the meeting, just grunts to acknowledge he was in for the plan. It was a relief to hear him speak, although Tythel was surprised the words were so vicious.

“Wouldn’t that risk catching the city on fire?” Tythel asked.

Armin shook his head. “The tower should contain the flames. I don’t mean raze it to the ground, just torch the inside. Maybe it’ll take them a while to use it again.”

“If we can do it on our way out, we will,” Tythel promised.

“Good.” Armin said, lapsing back into silence.

Haradeth approached. “We can’t go in the front door if we want to avoid detection,” he said. “Two imperiplate soldiers guarding it. I don’t like the idea of going up against them without Nicandros’ tools, and even if we did have them, it wouldn’t be quiet.”

“There’s no back door,” Ossman whispered, glancing to Eupheme for confirmation. She nodded. “How are we supposed to get in if not through the front door?”

Everyone glanced at Eupheme, who shook her head. “I can’t Step near that much light, even corrupted like that. Part of why Magus towers leak power from the Lumwell the way they do – it keeps people like me out.”

Haradeth frowned, then looked at Lorathor.

“I can do it, but I’m not sure I can carry that much weight as I do,” Lorathor said, then glanced at Tythel. “Can you grow those talons on command?”

Tythel nodded.

“Then Tythel and I will scale the tower,” he explained, “with ropes for the rest of you to climb. In the dark, we should be barely noticeable.”

“Should,” Ossman said. “It’s still glowing in the dark.”

“Barely,” Lorathor countered. “Besides, people rarely look for climbers. It’s not in human nature to assume that someone’s going to scale fifty feet of stone without a rope to catch them. There will be guards at the top ready for grappling hooks, but they won’t be heavily armed.”

Ossman just grunted as Haradeth began to hand Lorathor and Tythel rope. “Get up there fast and quiet,” The demigod said, “We’ll be ready.”

“Then we’ll see you at the top,” Tythel said, and her and Lorathor slunk off.

If the tower had glowed as brightly as it did in ages past, this would have been impossible. Tythel and Lorathor would have been spotted by the guards above before they got even close to the side. In this modern, unlight-tainted glow, they were just a pair of shadows on the grass.

When they got to the tower, Lorathor kicked off his shoes, revealing feet that bore more in common with hands than they did with the usual appendages. When he pressed his fingers and toes to the wall, the tips flattened out like a gecko’s. “I’ll wait for you at the top,” Lorathor whispered, putting the the coils of rope over his shoulders and beginning to climb.

Tythel followed, her talons sliding between cracks in the mortar. She couldn’t match his speed, even though the ropes weighed her down less than they did the slim Sylvani.

Halfway up, Tythel found herself needing to rest all her weight on just one hand for a moment so she could cross under a lip as the tower flared out. Lorathor had dealt with this lip by just clinging to the bottom of it, but Tythel had needed to free herself so she could swing her arm around to reach across the distance. When she did, the stone under her hand cracked, and a shard of it broke free. For a sickening instant, Tythel was not supported by anything, and she was certain she would fall. Her free hand found purchase in the stone right before gravity could reassert itself, and Tythel scrambled onto the side of the tower. She sat there a minute, her heart pounding, and heard the guards come around to investigate the disturbance.

“Looks like a bit more of the tower fell off,” one of them said.

“Damn thing,” the other responded. “It’s going to collapse, I’m telling you. One day we’ll be standing watch and one of the side towers is going to come collapsing down.”

“It’s stood for a hundred years,” the first protested. “I doubt a few shards are going to lead to a collapse.”

“You say that now,” the other warned, “but I’m telling you, the tower was built for the old light, not the Holy Luminescence.”

There was a pause. “Sounds like you’re saying our gods don’t know what they’re doing,” the first one said in a dangerous tone.

The concerned guard sputtered. “Of course I’m not saying that! I’m just commenting on how inferior the old ways were, that they can’t adapt to the Holy Luminescence.”

One of the stones under Tythel’s talons began to crack. If she moved now, it was certain to fall. If the guards didn’t move soon, it would definitely fall as well, and take Tythel with it. Go away, she silently implored them.

“Good,” the first one said. “I know you keep the Faith. I just worry your mouth is going to give the wrong impression.”

“Thanks for the reminder,” the concerned one grumbled.

“Look, Reghan, I promised mom that I’d look out for you. If that means scaring the piss down your leg sometimes, I’m going to do it.”

“You’re all heart,” the other sighed. “Let’s get back to our post before we get accused of lollygagging. You know how the commander hates lollygagging.”

They turned and stomped away. Tythel moved as they did, counting on the sound of the imperiplate’s footsteps to cover the sound of the latest shard of stone hitting the ground.

It worked.

The rest of the climb went without incident. Lorathor was waiting for her near the top, a finger pressed to his lips to keep her quiet.

Tythel nodded, listening carefully as she did. Four sets of footsteps were moving on top of the tower, and none of them were heavy enough to indicate imperiplate. Of course, Tythel thought, why would they need heavily armored soldiers on top of a tower? She freed one hand to hold up four fingers to Lorathor, and then pointed roughly to where she thought they would be.

Lorathor scurried around the tower to place himself directly in line to come up behind one of the soldiers, and Tythel nodded to him. Lorathor held up three fingers, and began a countdown.

As soon as he hit one, Tythel pushed herself up to the top of the tower with a single surge of her arms. The guard she’d been directly under was facing towards her, and she closed her hands around his neck before he could make a sound. She didn’t bother trying anything fancy, just squeezed tightly to crush his throat shut under her grip. Lorathor’s guard took a knife to the neck, and he died clutching at the wound.

The other two guards were starting to turn around. Lorathor and Tythel rushed them. Lorathor reached into his pocket and pulled out a knife, sending it spinning into one of the guard’s throats. Tythel’s target had time to let out a surprised yelp before she slammed into him and knocked him to the roof beneath them. She clamped a hand over his mouth and rapped his head against the concrete. It didn’t kill him, he was just unconscious, but it worked well enough for Tythel’s purposes.

Lorathor disagreed. As Tythel went to begin to secure the ropes, the Sylvani wandered over to the unconscious guard and slit his throat with a quick flash of the knife. Tythel shuddered at how cooly he had done it, but now was not the time or place to protest another dead body.

The initial threat dealt with, they lowered the ropes and began to listen for other dangers as their friends started to climb.


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The Dragon’s Scion Part 49

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


The signs of the battle were still evident as they headed back into town. Their path took them around to the south entrance. It seemed best to avoid trying to re-enter past the downed pod. On the horizon Tythel could still see smoke rising from the fields she had burned. It was worth it, she told herself, hoping that if she repeated it enough she might begin to believe it.

Thankfully, the Alohym had not increased security after their flight. It seemed even their adversaries thought it would be idiotic to try to sneak back into a town they’d just broken out of. It was Tythel’s first time seeing Dawnchester when it was daylight and she wasn’t suffering from Unlight poisoning. Prior to this, the largest group of people she had seen had been the three-hundred rebels. That, to her, had been huge but manageable.

There were at least twice that number waiting in queue just to get into that city, if not more. Light and Shadow. So many people. The sound of hundreds of people was almost overwhelming. The crying of children, the arguing of merchants, the grinding of armor, She could hear everything, but could understand none of it. And that was just the sound! Everywhere she looked, there were people. A surging mass surrounding them.

Tythel started taking deep breaths, trying to steady herself. It’ll be better in the city, she told herself. You were in there, it wasn’t like this.

A traitorous part of her mind reminded her she had been moving at night then. It could easily be this crowded during the day.

“You’re scaring Astray,” Haradeth muttered as they approached the gates.

“What?”

“You smell like scared dragon. Astray is picking up on it. I’m not a miracle worker. Keep this up and he’ll bolt. Probably draw guards in the process.”

“Oh,” Tythel snapped back in a whisper, “that helps soothe my nerves. ‘Calm down or we’re in terrible danger.’ How could anyone possibly feel uncomfortable with that advice? While we’re at it, tell me how being anxious is something the Alohym can sense, so I’m broadcasting where we are just by feeling. Or perhaps that Unlight will curve to strike the nervous! Anything to calm me down.”

Haradeth was quiet as he reached down and patted the side of Astray’s neck. “Smelling like angry dragon isn’t any better.”

Tythel fought the urge to make an obscene gesture at his back. Any attempt to retort was cut off as they got close to the gate.

The guard manning the entrance was a portly man that had to have been squeezed into his armor, with an expression like he was slowly dying of boredom. “Nature of your business in Dawnchester?” Every word was laced with an absolute lack of concern for the answer.

“Ah, my good man!” Armin rode at the head of the group, and he bent in a seated bow. “We are, of course, here to witness the execution of the damn rebels our Saviors have recently captured.”

If Armin’s friendly demeanor had any impact on the guard, it certainly wasn’t visible on his face. “Execution isn’t for another three days,” the guard intoned.

“Three days?” Armin asked in well-feigned surprise before glancing at Eupheme. “Three days! You told me the execution was Noxday.”

“I’m terribly sorry, dear.” Eupheme shrugged. “I should have known better than trusting Ethil’s word on these things.”

“Ethil’s word?!” Armin practically roared at her. “The only difference between Ethil and a rotfly is that one is a buzzing insect that causes constant irritation, and the other is a rotfly. You listened to her?”

Tythel watched as the guard reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Sir-” he started to say.

“Now one minute!” Armin said, waving to the guard, “I need to know why my wife thought it would be good to recommend a trip into the city based on the word of Ethil.”

“Oh,” Eupheme snapped back, “then who should I have asked? Your brother? That idiot couldn’t find his arse with both hands, a map, and a three day head start.”

The guard let out a sigh. “Sir? Ma’am?”

His words had no effect. Armin was beginning to gesticulate wildly as he defended his brother and simultaneously denigrated Ethil. Ossman sidled up to the guard. “I once saw them argue for three solid hours,” he muttered.

This time, the guard let out an audible groan. “Can you make them stop?”

Ossman nodded. “We just need to offer Caldor some beer. He’ll rush straight towards it.”

“Then go, get them out of my damn sight.”

Ossman raised his hands to his lips. “Caldor. The inns should be open.”

Armin brightened up. “The inns? Why did you say so?” Eupheme shot Ossman a look that could have melted steel. The guard was so happy to be rid of them, he didn’t bother asking Haradeth and Tythel to raise their cloaks.

In her bag, Eupheme had a wide variety of makeups. With just a bit of work, she’d made herself, Armin, and Ossman almost unrecognizable. Haradeth and Tythel were too distinctive up close.

“I can’t believe that worked,” Tythel said to Eupheme once they were through the gates.

Eupheme gave her an impish grin. “Most people will do almost anything to get out of an uncomfortable situation.”

Tythel glanced back towards the walls of Dawnchester, wishing she was out of the press of humanity in here. “I can believe that,” she said.

It was less cluttered as they got further into the city and traffic started splitting up, Crawlers taking the main roads as horses were diverted into back alleyways. Tythel let out a relieved breath once the things enclosing her were walls instead of people. “How do people live like this?” she asked.

“It’s not so bad,” Armin said, “There’s endless things to do in a city, endless people to meet. Why would you want to live anywhere else?”

“Peace. Quiet. Privacy. I could go on.”

Armin shook his head.

“Come on,” Ossman said. “Lorathor should have already gotten us somewhere to stay by now.”

Lorathor had spent time in Dawnchester before. It took some trying for the group to get directions to the Gilded Piglet, but the faded gold pig on the sign made it easy enough to find once they had directions. The Sylvani was waiting inside at a table, holding an ale with both hands.

“Any problems getting into the city?” Lorathor asked them as they joined him.

“Only that my flathing wife thought that we should take advice from Ethil,” Armin said with a grin.

Eupheme rolled her eyes as Ossman answered Lorathor’s question with a shake of his head.

“Excellent. We have rooms upstairs.” Lorathor slid them keys. “The owner is an old friend of mine. He won’t report us.”

“You told him who we were?” Tythel asked in a low hiss.

“Of course not,” Lorathor scoffed at the idea. “But if he puts it together, we’re still safe.”

“Sorry,” Tythel muttered, feeling her cheeks flush. “This place has me on edge.”

“You’ll adapt.” Lorathor said soothingly.

“Or you’ll get yourself killed,” Haradeth muttered, and she felt her embarrassment turn to anger. Tythel turned to Haradeth, baring her teeth, but was interrupted by Eupheme putting a hand on her arm.

“Could you help me to my room?” Eupheme asked in a firm voice that bore little resemblance to a question. “My leg is still healing, and I think should lie down for a bit.”

Tythel gave a curt nod.

“Good,” Haradeth said. “We need you healed. Armin, Ossman, I want you two out there. Mingle. Try to find something we can use against the prison. Lorathor, I want you to try and make contact with the underground. Tythel, take care of Eupheme and stay out of sight.”

Tythel pursed her lips. “And what will you be doing?”

“Seeing what the rats know.”

After a pause, Tythel decided she didn’t want to give Haradeth the satisfaction of admitting she didn’t know if he was being literal or not. Instead she stood up, offering a hand for Eupheme to use as support. “Let us know if you need anything,” she said. Tythel didn’t wait for Haradeth’s response as she lead Eupheme upstairs.

“You shouldn’t let him bait you like that,” Eupheme said when they were out of earshot.

Tythel sighed. “I know. It’s just…he knows exactly what to say to be as annoying as possible.”

“Everyone deals with fear differently. Armin jokes more. Ossman goes quiet. You get angry at everyone and everything. Haradeth acts like a prick.” Eupheme shrugged. “Your way of dealing with fear just clashes with his.”

Tythel tilted her head. “I’m not…” the protest died as Eupheme gave her a flat look. “Fine,” Tythel muttered, “but it doesn’t excuse him.”

“I never said it did,” Eupheme said with a smile. “Light, I would love to smack the smug off his face. But you can’t control Haradeth. You can only control how you react to him.”

Tythel grunted. “And what about you?” Tythel asked.

“What about me?”

“How do you deal with fear?”

Eupheme’s smile widened as they entered the room. “I strangle it.”

“Any chance you could teach me that?” Tythel asked with a snort.

Eupheme shook her head. “It’s something you can only learn with experience. As long as you don’t let your fear master you, you needn’t worry.” They reached the door to Eupheme’s room, and Tythel let them both in.

Tythel helped Eupheme change her bandage and helped her into bed. As Eupheme drifted off to sleep, Tythel sat in the center of the room and began to focus on what she could hear.

The sound of the city washed over her like the tide, and Tythel started trying to do her best to pick useful information out of the clamor.

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 47

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It was a while before Tythel had collected herself and returned. They’d helped Eupheme out of her bedroll and she was now sitting on a log nearby. Her skin was getting color back from the ashen look it had before. Armin turned as she approached, “So glad you’re back! I need you to help me settle a finer point of contention between our dear Ossman and a ill tempered bear. You see…” The rest of the joke died on his lips as he saw her face. “Tythel? What’s wrong?”

“Nicandros is gone,” Tythel said, her voice barely a whisper.

Haradeth’s eyes narrowed. “Gone? What do you mean, gone?”

“I mean he left,” Tythel said, unable to stop the bitterness creeping into her voice. “I mean he’s quit, he’s done, he’s no longer going to be working with us. Or at least, with me.”

Silence reigned. “What happened?” Ossman asked softly, breaking the spell.

“I…” If you tell them, will they leave too? The fear choked the words in Tythel’s throat. I can’t lose anyone else. “I confessed something to him. Something that’s between me and him. It doesn’t impact any of the rest of you. I swear that. Can we…please, just leave it at that?”

“No,” Haradeth said, “we cannot. A personal disagreement with Nicandros caused him to abandon us? I’m sorry, but I don’t believe it. Nicandros hates the Alohym, more than anyone I’ve ever met.”

Tythel clenched her fists, then forced them apart. “He quit once before, didn’t he? Is it that hard to believe he’d do it again?”

“Frankly, yes,” Haradeth responded. “He came back because they killed his son. Now you’re telling me because he didn’t get along with you – which doesn’t make sense based on what I’ve seen of the two of you – he’s gone?”

“Leave it alone, Haradeth,” Armin said, crossing his arms.

Haradeth raised an eyebrow, “I’m sorry?”

“I’m serious, Haradeth. Leave it be. If we needed to know, Tythel would tell us. Look at her – you’re really going to push her on this right now?” Armin stepped up to Haradeth’s face.

Haradeth sneered at Armin, “I’m the ranking member on the field, especially with Nicandros gone. Stand down, Armin. I need to know how she cost us one of our best operatives!”

“No, you don’t! She already gave us the important details.” Armin’s eyes flashed with visible light.

“Armin’s right,” Ossman said from behind Haradeth. “Nicandros is gone. That’s what matters. Why do we need to know more?”

“Because this isn’t a gathering of friends, Ossman. This is a military organization! We don’t get to hold information back because ‘it’s personal.’ All of you need to realize that we can’t let personal feelings dictate our actions at this point. We are fighting against a foe that vastly outnumbers us with resources we can barely comprehend. We don’t get the luxury of personal lives if it could possibly impact-”

“I killed his son!” Tythel shouted. “That’s what it was, Haradeth. His son was part of the Alohym and helped attack my father and when I found him after the fight I burned him in his armor. Nicandros can’t forgive me for that, so he left.”

Silence resumed its reign. Haradeth thought in the silence, then nodded. “Good.”

Tythel cocked her head, confusion erasing anger. “Good? It’s good that I killed his son?”

“Yes. His son signed up to fight on behalf of the Alohym, Tythel. He saw what they were doing, and said to himself, ‘yes, this is an organization I should be a member of.’ As far as I’m concerned, you did this whole world a favor.” Haradeth stepped away from Armin, who was looking at Tythel with wide eyes. “And,” Haradeth continued, “if you hadn’t told us, the Alohym would have figured it out. Used it against us somehow. I’m glad you came around to seeing reason.”

“You didn’t know,” Eupheme said, before Armin or Ossman could speak. “You didn’t meet Nicandros until later. And, as far as I’m concerned?” She shot Haradeth a dirty look, “Haradeth has a point. Not about telling us. But that Nicandros’ son joined the Alohym. He became our enemy. We’re at war. That’s that.”

Tythel took a deep breath. At least I’m not going to lose her, Tythel thought. Ossman was nodding along with Eupheme. Armin was still staring at Tythel with wide eyes.

“Armin?” she asked hesitantly.

Armin shook his head. “I’m not as rabid as that, Tythel. Light forsake me, but I’m not.” He saw Tythel’s face fall and held up a finger, “I’m not saying I agree with Nicandros. I Ijust don’t believe that every Alohym soldier should die. Some of them are just people who believe they’re doing the right thing. We might not understand how they can, but they do believe it. However, you’d just lost your father. I don’t think it’s right to hold what you did in the aftermath of that against you. I still don’t know what I’d do if I ever got my hands on…” Armin shook his head again. “Nevermind. Just…I understand.”

Tythel could see there was more there, but didn’t want to push Armin on it. Not right now. “Thank you,” she managed.

“You all are very loud,” a voice said from the bushes, making them all jump. As Tythel’s heart started to slow down, Lorathor slipped out of the underbrush, his skin resuming its normal texture as he did.

Haradeth nodded towards the Sylvani. “How much of that did you overhear?”

“All of it,” Lorathor said with a shrug. “I honestly find the importance you all put on blood relations perplexing. What matters is that Nicandros left. Again. Not that it would change anything.”

“What do you mean?” Tythel asked.

Lorathor closed his eyes before continuing. “There’s no good way to say this. It was as you feared, Haradeth – Urdin’s betrayal went beyond the mission. He lead the Alohym back to the ruins. There wasn’t even a fight. Almost everyone’s been captured – they’re being taken to the city, where they’ll be executed.”

Everyone stared at him.

“My…my mother?” Haradeth asked, his voice shaking.

Haveron managed to hide himself and her,” Lorathor said. “They’re both fine. A few others, too. Everyone else, however…”

“That’s it, then,” Haradeth said. “It’s over.” There was a finality to his voice.

Lorathor nodded. “I’m afraid so. I’ll be returning to my people – there’s other causes to fight for, but before I join in one of them I’d like to…”

Lorathor’s voice faded into the background as Tythel looked at the others. Ossman’s fists were clenched in rage. He’d never once spoken as to what pain had driven him to fight against the Alohym, but whatever it was seemed to be burning very near the surface right now. Armin had sunk to the ground and put his hands over his face. If he’d been moving more, Tythel would be worried he was weeping. Instead, it just looked like he couldn’t make sense of what was going on. And Eupheme…

…Eupheme was looking at Tythel, as if waiting to see what she’d do next.

Tythel had run out of tears to shed. Nicandros was gone. Her last hope of getting revenge for her father was gone. The people she’d met – virtually everyone she knew that wasn’t here – were slated for execution. There’s nothing I can do.

“No.”

The word shocked Tythel even though it came from her lips, and everyone looked at her. “No,” Tythel repeated, trying it on for size.

“No?” Lorathor asked, “No what?”

“No, they’re not going to be executed.”

Lorathor frowned. “I suppose it’s possible Haveron misinformed me, but I assure you I confirmed before I returned. The execution takes place this coming Luxday, your highness.”

“Luxday,” Tythel muttered. “That’s…that’s not for another four days. Why so long?”

“They want to make a bit of a spectacle of it,” Lorathor said. “They’re pulling people in from the outlying farms and villages to witness. They’re going to execute an entire rebel army – or what was left of one. They want everyone to see it.”

“Four days,” Tythel bared her teeth. “Four days, then, to save an entire army from under the Alohym’s noses.” Tythel turned to look at everyone. “I can’t speak for all of you, but I’m tired of losing. This is something we still can save. We already broke out of prison once, and this time we’re on the outside. It’ll be easy this time!”

“Uh,” Armin said with a frown, “not to be indelicate, but you almost died. So did I. As did Ossman.”

Tythel nodded. “So, let’s try not to do that this time.”

“Oh good,” Ossman muttered, “a solid plan.”

“We have four days, Ossman. We can come up with a plan. But I’m just done losing. There are hundreds of people awaiting execution right now, and if you’re with me…” She took a deep breath again. “If you’re with me, we’re going to save them all.”

Somehow, she added to herself.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 44

They came to a stop once they’d pushed the horses to the limit. The beast that had carried Ossman and Armin seemed the closest to dropping from exhaustion. Astray was breathing heavily, but of their mounts was the most alert.

Tythel had enough time to push through the horror of what she had done, or at least push it down into a corner of her mind where she could face it later. There was too much danger, and they needed to rest the horses. Eupheme was injured, Armin was fading. I can fall to pieces on my own time.

Haradeth slid off the the horse, offering Tythel a hand to help her off. She took it, which was all that spared her from landing flat on her face as she indelicately flopped off the horse.

“Thank you,” she said, and then turned back to Astray, “and you as well.”

The horse chuffed and turned away. Without Haradeth’s constant touch to calm it, it was no longer comfortable with the smell of dragon that lingered on her.

Nicandros and Haradeth led the horses away as Ossman and Tythel tended to Eupheme. The injury on her leg was not showing any signs of rot, but it would not support her weight right now. “I’m fine,” Eupheme  muttered to Ossman, “Her highness got sliced to ribbons, you broke a dozen bones, and Armin attuned himself to a shadow-forsaken lumwell tainted with unlight. Both of you can stop fussing over me.”

Ossman just looked at Tythel helplessly. Tythel crouched down next to her injured friend. “Eupheme. You seem to be the only person here who really cares that I’m a princess. So, as your princess, I order you to accept some mothering.”

Eupheme frowned at Tythel. “I’m pretty sure that’s not how that works,” she muttered, adding a belated, “your highness.”

Tythel cocked her head. “You might be right. So, lets try yourself. As a dragon, if you don’t accept some mothering, I’ll sit on you until you do.”

That at least got a grin out of Eupheme. “As the Dragon Princess wishes, then.”

Tythel nodded. Ossman motioned towards her. “I’ll take care of Eupheme,” he muttered. “You need to go check on Armin. He stopped talking about halfway, and I couldn’t get him to respond. Go. I’ll take care of her.”

Tythel looked around for Armin, finding him sitting where they had placed him, staring blankly down the path they had just run though. She strode towards him as Ossman helped Eupheme onto a bedroll to check her bandage.

Tythel moved to sit next to Armin. “You look terrible,” she said.

No witty retort, no barb. Armin just grunted.

Tythel bared her teeth, the way Karjon always had when he was frustrated, though she fought back the hiss that usually accompanied the expression. “Did we get far enough to a lumwell for you to attune to another one?”

The silence stretched so long, Tythel began to worry he had drifted too far away to even understand the question. Just as fear was really settling in, Armin shook his head.

Don’t give into fear, Tythel. He needs you right now. “Well, are we at least far enough away from the tainted one where it’ll get better for you?”

Again, Armin did no respond right away, but his forehead furrowed. She saw his lips moving slowly, as if he was repeating the question to himself. Finally, he managed a faint shrug. “Light,” he murmured. “Need light.”

Tythel patted his shoulder. “I know, Armin. We’re headed back towards base. There’s a lumwell there. You’ll…you’ll be able to last that long.” Tythel studied his face. Right? The question died on her lips as Armin’s lips began to move again.

“Need. Light.” Armin lifted one hand. Tythel watched the motion happen at a glacial pace until finally, he was pointing to their packs.

Tythel looked at the packs, then back to Armin. His arm was shaking as he muttered again. “Need. Light.”

What does he mean? Tythel tilted her head at Armin as he began to repeat the two words again, his arm falling back to his side. Every other response he’d made been at least coherent. Not a lumwell. Light. He keeps saying he needs Light.

Tythel stared at their equipment, baring her teeth again. This time she did let herself hiss. Letting herself expression frustration helped clear her head, although it didn’t give her an answer.

“Are you hissing?”

Haradeth moved so quietly, Tythel hadn’t even heard him approach. She jumped where she sat and glowed back at the demigod. “Yes. I hiss. Dragons hiss. Light and Shadow, Haradeth. Are you starting this up again?”

Haradeth flushed, although Tythel couldn’t tell if it was shame or frustration. “No, I didn’t…flath. Not what I meant, Tythel. Shadow, it’s not even why I came over here.”

Tythel took a deep breath. “And I shouldn’t have snapped. I’m worried about Armin.”

“What’s wrong with him? Eupheme mentioned he was in a bad way, but not what was wrong.”

Tythel considered his words. He did sound genuinely concerned. “The lumwell he was attuned to. It was corrupted by Unlight. The corruption seeped through to him.”

“I…” Haradeth frowned. “I don’t think there’s anything I can do to help with that. I can ease the pain from physical injuries, but this…”

“We can’t risk it,” Tythel said, shaking her head. “If Unlight can corrupt a Lumwell, what could it do to a godling?”

Haradeth sighed. “I don’t know. What’s he saying?”

“You can’t hear it?” Tythel tilted her head.

“We don’t all have dragon ears.” Haradeth said mildly. “Although…do dragons even have ears?”

“They’re internal, under a membrane,” Tythel said absently. “And he’s saying ‘Need Light.’ Was pointing at our equipment.”

“Oh! Right, the equipment!” Haradeth snapped his fingers and got up.

Tythel felt hope soar. “You know how to help him?” she asked.

Hope came crashing back down as Haradeth winced. “No. Light and Shadow, I should have realized how that sounded. But I do have something. I found it when I was looking for Lorathor, and I remembered how important it seemed to you, so…” Haradeth lifted something out of the pile of packs that he and Nicandros had unloaded from the horses.

Tythel let out an audible gasp that turned into a delighted squeal. In Haradeth’s hand was her missing packed. She practically tackled him with the hug. “You found my pack. Oh Light, thank you, thank you so much!”

Haradeth stiffened a the contact, then awkwardly patted her back. “I’m…er, glad I could help.”

The embrace ended, and Tythel tore open the top of her pack. She began to dig into it. Where is it? Where is it?

The joy of the pack being returned started to fade. She looked up at Haradeth, her eyes wide. “Haradeth…did you – I’m sorry, I know you got this for me, but did you…open my pack? Take anything out?”

Haradeth frowned. “No. I closed it when I found it, but I didn’t even peek in. I swear.” He looked at Tythel’s face and bent down. “Tythel. I swear on my mother’s name, everything that was in the pack when I found it is still inside, and that I didn’t see anything near it when I found it.”

Tythel nodded, fighting back despair.

The egg was gone.

“Thank you, Haradeth,” she managed again, forcing herself to smile. “It’s still…it’s still wonderful.” You have your father’s notes back. You have your childhood book back. You have the dagger, you have the Sun Tears, you have your clothes. Let that be enough. You can fall apart on your own time. Armin still needs you.

Tythel frowned, not even aware the expression was coming naturally. Well, no, he needs Light.

Light. Tythel looked at the content of the package, which had been emptied in the frantic search for the egg.

The notes, the book, the dagger, the clothes…and peaking out from under a blouse, one of the three remaining Sun Tears.

“He needs Light. Of course!” Tythel snatched the Sun Tear and tore away from Haradeth.

“What…Tythel?” Haradeth chased after her, but Tythel ignored him. Ossman was rushing over as well, drawn by her exclamation.

Armin had stopped muttering. His head was drooping. “No, no, no.” Tythel whispered, grabbing his hands and forcing them around the Sun Tear. “I’m not losing anyone else, Armin. Don’t you dare go anywhere. I figured it out. Light. There’s a crystal made of pure Light in your hand, Armin. Take it!”

It seemed she’d been too late. Armin was slumping to the ground. His breathing was coming quick and shallow now, his heartbeats a slow rhythm Tythel could barely hear. His murmurs had grown wordless. I spent so long on my own sorrows, Tythel thought. I could have saved him, but I was too self-absorbed to…to…

Haradeth grabbed her shoulder and pulled her back as the Sun Tear flared to life. Light poured out between Armin’s fingers. He jerked up like he’d been struck by lightning. His mouth opened in a soundless scream and Light poured from his eyes and mouth into the the heavens.

Everyone had to look away as, for a moment, Armin glowed as bright as the sun, casting their hiding spot into pure daylight.

When her vision cleared and Tythel looked back, Armin was sitting there, still clutching the Sun Tear. His eyes still glowed, looking like the sun during an eclipse. He no longer looked withered or frayed. If anything, he looked even healthier than before.

“Armin?” Tythel asked, hesitantly.

He looked over at her and smiled. “Took you long enough to figure it out, your highness. Should I always plan on nearly dying to get a point across?”

Tythel tackled him with a hug, and Ossman clapped with excitement. From her spot near the bedroll, Eupheme let out an excited woop. Even Haradeth chuckled in appreciation.

Nicandros burst back into the clearing, looking around, and glancing at Armin. “Was that flathing light your doing?”

Armin laughed. “Terribly sorry for giving away our position, sir. Was trying not to die.”

Nicandros stared at Armin, and Tythel could see realization of how much better Armin looked settle in. “Well, if you do it again, boy, try to get into a cave before coming back from the dead,” he said gruffly.

“Yes sir, Nicandros the Mighty, Sir!” Armin snapped a sloppy salute as Tythel finally let go of him. “Permission to sleep off my near death, sir? Reviving tires you like you wouldn’t believe.”

Nicandros didn’t bother fighting the grin. “Granted, soldier. Haradeth, Tythel. You two go scouting – Haradeth take North, Tythel take South. We need to figure out if that little display alerted the Alohym. Ossman, you’re with me standing guard.

They all nodded and headed out, Tythel making sure her pack was securely on her back before she did. It hadn’t contained the Egg, but it had given her Armin back.

She could live with that trade.