The Dragon’s Scion Part 43

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The riders in the flammable fields of grain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then why did she feel so dirty?

They were safe now. That was what mattered.

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

The Dragon’s Scion Part 40

Tythel dragged herself out of the Shadow, still clutching that ball of light. When her senses returned, she could feel her mind returning with them. Thoughts were clearer and linear. Her head was still pounding, but it wasn’t making it impossible to think.

Before trying to move, she took stock of the room around her. Nicandros was sitting nearest, all but looming over her. Eupheme was on top of the stairs, sharpening a dagger. Ossman was asleep on a bed in the corner, looking less like a mummy than he had when Tythel could remember last.

Armin was nowhere to be seen.

Besides them were a few new objects. The first Tythel noticed were more weapons, smuggled into the basement while she slept. Arcwands, enough for each of them. Then there was a pile of rags in the corner, clothes of all shapes and sizes haphazardly strewn together. The strange device Armin had been using on her rested on top of them, and a few more devices Tythel couldn’t place.

She started to get up, but Nicandros put a hand on her shoulder. “Easy, girl. You with us?”

Tythel let herself be pressed back into the bedroll. “I think so. How long?”

“Four days. A shard of the unlight blade broke off, got stuck in your ribs.” Nicandros gave her a smile, and in that smile Tythel could see the echo of the fear that must have plagued him for days. “How are you feeling?”

“Better than last time I got up.” Tythel rose to a sitting position, having to stop and wince once she was fully up. Her head was throbbing in protest, and she reached up to rub her temples to try and quell the pain. It’s like the morning after I snuck a sip of Sylvani wine from Karjon. Seeing as Sylvani wine was one of the few alcohols that could manage to intoxicate a dragon, it had been extremely potent for twelve year old Tythel. He acted so mad. I can’t believe he let me do that just to teach me a lesson. She pushed back the memories to focus on the present “How bad was it?”

“Tythel,” Nicandros said in a warning tone, but Tythel shook her head.

“Nicandros. I need to know, please. How bad?” It was hard for her to say why she felt like she needed to know. Something about it struck her as important. Maybe it’s just because they risked everything to save you? Or just good to know how close you came to dying.

Nicandros sighed. “We almost lost you, girl. If not for Armin, we would have. Your blood was tainted with unlight. If we hadn’t managed to purge it…” Nicandros sighed. “Unlight poison does terrible things to a person.”

Part of Tythel wanted to ask what it would have done to her. She noticed that Nicandros hadn’t said “die” once in his entire explanation. I wonder if that’s because he doesn’t want to say the word…or because something worse would have happened. There wasn’t time to ask about that right now. There were more important questions. “Where’s Armin? How is he?”

In response to the name, pile of rags in the corner shifted. Tythel started at it until Armin’s head poked out of them. “Oh, praise the light. You’re alright.”

Tythel couldn’t stifle as gasp at his face, although she tried. It was nearly all grey, worn and gaunt, looking like something more skeletal than the handsome young man she remembered. The white streak she’d seen forming in his hair had become a series of streaks, tiger stripes of pale hair. His eyes were dull, almost lifeless. “Armin! What did you do to yourself?”

“It’s nothing,” Armin said, extracting himself from the rags. His clothes hung loosely on his frame, and as soon as he was free from the improvised bed he started shivering. That’s why the rags. He’s freezing. “The local lumwell…it’s been tainted with unlight. So…” Armin shrugged.

“You look half dead.” Tythel said, blinking with concern.

“You were three quarters dead. Now you’re one fourth dead and I’m half dead. Fair trade, right?” Armin managed a grin, and although it was a bit ghoulish Tythel felt some of her tension fading. If Armin was grinning, he was still Armin.

“Thank you,” Tythel said, sincerely.

“Psh,” Armin rolled his eyes. “I just did it so the big softy there wouldn’t cry.” He pointed to Nicandros, and although the words came out harsh and rasping, Tythel found a laugh for his attempt at humor.

“Well, thank you for making sure Nicandros didn’t cry.” She glanced over at Nicandros, who was surreptitiously wiping his eyes. Armin wasn’t kidding, Tythel realized, her eyes widening. Or accidentally was right. Either way… Tythel sucked in a breath. Nicandros still didn’t know she’d killed Thomah. Would you still worry for me if you did?

“I’m glad you’re back on your feet, your highness,” Eupheme said, sheathing the dagger and walking down the stairs. “We were just getting ready to try moving you without you waking up.”

Tythel frowned. “What’s going on?”

“They’re closing in on us,” Eupheme said with a shrug. “The Alohym want us recaptured, bad. I can barely step out of the shadows without being spotted, and I think they figured how far I can travel – which isn’t very far.”

“They’re coming to search this block tonight,” Nicandros growled, and Eupheme nodded to confirm his words. “We can’t stay any longer.”

“But what about Armin? Ossman?”

“The big lump,” Eupheme said indicating Ossman with a quick flick of her hand, “is fine. Just sleeping off the last bit of healing. He can move, he can fight.”

Tythel looked at Armin, who shrugged. “Honestly, your highness? I’m not getting any better until I can attune to a healthy lumwell.”

Tythel let her tongue flit out of her mouth for a moment, a gesture Karjon always made when she presented him with a problem he couldn’t answer. Much as she wished it wasn’t the case, one of Karjon’s knowledge gaps had been in the realm of human magic. He’d explained to her the basics – human mages attuned themselves to a nearby lumwell, which were connected by invisible rivers of power. They could draw power from there…somehow. He’d been vague about it. There had been a lumwell in the valley below the mountain, and he’d taken her to it, but she’d felt no resonance. Whatever that meant. He’d said that meant she wasn’t a mage, and from the way Karjon had phrased it, he’d taken immense relief in that fact.

Probably because he would have had to find a teacher for me. Would have put him in danger. “Why can’t you heal until then?” she asked Armin.

“The lumwell is tainted. Same as your body was.” Armin’s joking manner had completely evaporated now, and his tone was somber. “It happens in the cities a lot these days. Some mages have learned how to tap into the…the taint, the unlight pollution. I’m not one of them. It’s too dangerous. But that means drawing power when I’m attuned to one…” Armin shrugged. “A burning man won’t stop burning until you pull him out of the flame.”

“Can you just…” Tythel groped for the word, trying to figure out what she was saying. I do not want you to die to save me. “Unattune? Something like that?”

“That’s the nasty catch, your highness.” Armin gave her a wan smile. “If I do, there will be backlash. Unpredictable magical effects. I could warp, I could shatter, I could kill you all in an controlled power surge.” Armin shrugged again, and Tythel hated how loose his clothing looked every time he did. “Archmages can swap lumwells with the slightest twitch of a finger. I’m a glorified power source.”

“Well, I met an archmage in the dungeons,” Tythel said, forcing a smile, trying to get him to return the expression. It felt unnatural on her face, but Armin did respond with his smile brightening slightly. I feel like I’m threatening him. “I’d rather take a glorified power source over a dozen of him.”

“As touching as this is,” Eupheme interrupted, “we have to get moving. Before they sweep the block tonight and catch us?”

Nicandros nodded in agreement. “Wake up, Ossman,” he said, kicking the leg of the bed Ossman was sleeping on. “We leave within the hour.”

“Mmmwah?” Ossman said, blinking himself awake. “Tythel? Are you with us or are we in for more egg talk.”

Tythel gave the most dignified sniff she could manage. “I don’t have the faintest idea what you’re talking about.”

That got a chuckle out of Ossman, and together they began to pack their things.

They were leaving the city tonight. Only time would tell if they left it for the open plains or to join the Shadow’s embrace.

 

The Dragon’s Scion Part 39

Tythel remembered little of the flight through the city. Just glimpses, snatches that flitted in and out of memory like butterflies punctuated by a spinning sensation and darkness. Nicandros pulling her into an ally and her trying to object until he clamped a hand over her mouth and they crouched behind a barrel as an imperipods stalked past. In the daylight, when she wasn’t fighting them, Tythel expected them to look less menacing. The reality was they seemed worth, giants of metal and unlight that stalked down streets barely wide enough to accommodate them, small tendrils on the sides with sensors sweeping back and forth.

“Stay down, girl,” Nicandros had muttered, and Tythel realized she was trying to rise. Part of her saw these things and wanted to fight them, wanted to overpower them for what they’d done to her and her friends. She was snarling, a deep sound in her throat that put Tythel in mind of the noise Karjon had used to spook lions when they wandered too close to his lair. Something primal in her was responding to these things as her foes, and she was struggling against Nicandros.

He held her, and it was a measure of how weak Tythel was that her struggles were about as effective as a kitten. The world started to spin again, and went dark.

Her vision spun back up. She was in an alley, but it was a different one. Tythel was certain this one was different because they could not see the street, and the bricks above her head were a darker shade of brown, and enough time had passed for Eupheme to get her hands coated in a layer of blood. Eupheme was trying to stop someone from bleeding, although Tythel couldn’t process who it was.

“I can’t cauterize her, Nicandros!” Eupheme was hissing. “How many flathing times do I have to tell you that? She doesn’t burn.

“Then sew her up,” Nicandros growled.

“Ossman is the one who’s been studying how to do that, not me. I’m an assassin, not a surgeon. And before you ask – no, we’re not waking Ossman up. That’s just a good way to lose them both!”

They’re talking about me. They think I’m dying. That thought struck Tythel as hilarious, and to show her appreciation for the humor she coughed up blood.

Armin responded before either of them could, rushing over to kneel by her head. His hair was messy and had some blood in it as well, and Tythel reached up to touch his face.

“You fell off a building.” She said.

“That was yesterday, your highness,” Armin said with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. It was a sad smile. “I got better. Now it’s your turn.”

“But I can’t,” she murmured, the world starting to spin again, “I lost my egg.”

Armin shared a concerned look with Eupheme, but the world began to grow dark again, and she was falling, falling back down into the darkness. “Tythel!” Nicandros said. Or at least, she thought it was Nicandros. It came from so very far away. Or maybe it wasn’t his voice, maybe it was Karjon. Maybe he was waiting for at the bottom of this fall and was calling her name. Was he beckon her or warning her away?

She rose out of the darkness again. She was not in an alley. At least, it wasn’t like any alley Tythel had ever seen, but the ones she’d seen in between snippets of darkness were the only alleys she’d ever really seen, so maybe it was normal for alleys to have shelves and tables.

“I don’t care about the Lum. I’m a mage, I can provide the flathing Lum. But will it work?” Armin was shouting, and Tythel wanted to admonish him because there were imperipods nearby only seconds ago, but then Ossman lumbered into view and seemed fine so maybe it had been longer. How long had she been down in the darkness?

Ossman fell onto the table next to Tythel, and she realized he wasn’t lumbering, but being carried by Nicandros and Eupheme. If Ossman is still hurt, stop shouting, Armin. There are imperipods nearby! She tried to shout all that, but what came out was wordless mumble.

“You don’t understand, mage,” said another voice, one Tythel didn’t recognize. It was old and hoarse, like sandpaper being rubbed along a beach. “Her blood is poisoned. She should be dead – I don’t understand why she is not. I can give you the curative, and you’ll have to power it, but I can promise nothing.

“I’ll take it,” Armin said.

But at what cost? Tythel thought. From what she was hearing, it sounded like Armin would be paying in gold the resistance could ill afford, and she saw Karjon’s horde again, large and glittering. How many problems could my father’s tomb solve? But that wasn’t right, it wasn’t his tomb. He’d died below and she’d given him the best grave she could. She reached out with one hand, blinding groping for someone. She found Nicandros’ sleeve and tugged it.

“Don’t exert yourself,” he growled, leaning down to hear what she was trying to say. “You need to rest. Get better.”

I killed your son. You should be pushing me into the Shadow. The words didn’t come out of her lips, although she wanted to say them. Instead, what she managed to get out was a simple request, “Bury me in the valley.”

Nicandros tried to shake her hand away, glowering at her with a fury so great she wondered if she had told him the truth about Thomah. “Don’t you talk like that. You’re not going to flathing die, you hear me?”

“NIc. Please. Promise. Bury me,” and she felt tears spring to her eyes. She was so weak her nictitating membranes could only sluggishly clear the tears, but her grip on Nicandros’ sleeve was as hard as iron. “in the valley. Under the mountain. With my father.”

“Alright.” Nicandros finally managed to free his sleeve with a yank. “Alright. But you’re going to be fine. Now stop with this flathing ‘bury me’ nonsense.”

Satisfied, Tythel slipped back into the light touch of the Shadow, the gentle caress of darkness that seemed to beckon her deeper, to fully accept the Shadow’s embrace.

When she finally rolled out of that comfort, they were in a building. From the dirt walls, Tythel though it might be a basement. Armin was sitting in a chair next to her, clutching something in his hands that glowed like a small sun. There was a cord connecting that device to thinner cables, and those thinner cables were inside of Tythel’s wounds. Light travelled along the cords, not the gross unlight of the Alohym, but the warm pale glow of the rising sun. Or setting. It’s always prettiest just before it goes out. That seemed profound to Tythel, although part of her suspected she’d feel otherwise if she survived.

“Where’s Eupheme?” growled a voice, and it wasn’t Nicandros. It was Ossman. Ossman was up and walking, and he looked better, although still not good. He was covered in bandages, and reminded Tythel of the mummified Princes of Phaenidia. Except he isn’t the one that’s cursed. I have a curse in my blood.

“She’ll be back,” Nicandros said, glancing at a hearth in the side of the wall. It’s like he expects Eupheme to burst out of there at any moment, Tythel thought, and then recalled the way Eupheme had rolled under a table and come out behind a man. Oh. He probably does.

“I don’t like it,” Ossman objected, and Tythel was glad he was feeling well enough to be stubborn. “The entire city is looking for us, Nicandros! If they find her-“

“-she’ll escape, especially if she doesn’t have to worry about saving us,” Nicandros responded. “She’s twice as capable of any of you lot.”

“And what about you?” Ossman asked, his chin jutting out defiantly.

“Doing this? Still better that I would be.”

“Both of you shut up,” Armin said from beside her, his voice flat. Tythel looked at him and saw his skin was turning gray around the edges, a streak of white forming in his hair. “I need to concentrate, and I’m not interested in listening you two repeat the same flathing argument.”

No, Armin, don’t waste away for my sake! Tythel tried to say, but she couldn’t form the words.

Eupheme chose that moment to step out of the hearth. One of her arms was bleeding. Tythel could smell it was a fresh wound. “They’re about a league out of the city,” she said, brushing away Nicandros’ concern with a wave of her hand. “If we can get out, if we can get to them, they’ll be able to take us the rest of the way.”

Nicandros nodded. “So Haradeth and Lorathor survived? Both of them?” He asked Eupheme.

“I don’t know about Lorathor. Haradeth and him got separated.” Ossman got up and lumbered over to Eupheme, who offered him her arm for bandaging. “But Haradeth is fine, and he-“

“They.” Ossman interrupted. “you said they.”

“He made some new friends. They’re going to help us.” Eupheme glanced at Tythel and sighed. “At least, they’re going to help her. Some old oath.”

No one owes me any oaths. Tythel thought, and she tried to shift, but found Armin’s hand on her chest, right under her neck. Either he was far stronger than he looked or she was even weaker than she felt. “I swear to the light, your Highness,” Armin growled, “If you undo all my hard work, I’ll personally follow you to the Shadow.”

Tythel blinked at him. “You look like you’re going to anyway,” she croaked.

“What, me? I’m fine. Just pulling power from an unfamiliar lumwell. Nothing to worry about at all.”

You’re lying, Tythel thought, but that was enough, that was more than enough. The effort of moving that much had her spinning back down into the shadows embrace. Maybe I should just go all the way down.

But this time there was a light in the darkness. She clung to it as tightly as she could, hoping against hope it would be enough.

She didn’t come fully to her senses for another three days.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 38

At least one of the soldiers was smart enough to fire below the shield that Tythel held up as she charged, an arcwand blast slicing along her upper thigh as she charged. She stumbled with the blast, and in the stumble almost dropped the shield. It slipped down, and several beams cut over her head by mere finger-lengths.

Then she was in the middle of them, slamming into one of the soldiers with the shield with every iota of force her dragonic muscles could manage. He went flying back and up from the blow as Tythel struck him, and she saw his head impact one of the beams on the roof. He hit the ground like a marionette with its strings cut, the boneless slump of the dead.

Then Tythel activated her unlight hammer, as soldiers around her switched from arcwands to swords. The air dimmed from the concentration of unlight like dusk had fallen around them, and the pain in Tythel’s leg increased as if responding to the presence of unlight somehow. She did her best to push it aside. It was time to find out how well Nicandros’ lessons had paid off.

If she’d learned poorly, she would die here.

The first soldier to move in came at her with a careful thrust, one that Tythel was able to easily bat aside with her shield, but another took advantage of the shift of her defenses to come in with a slash aimed at her back. She tried to whirl away from it, but it still dealt her a glancing blow. The pain was as intense as she remembered from being shot that first day  with Karjon, so long ago. She stumbled forward as the wound shrieked at her, grunting in pain as she did.

She had been paying attention to Nicandros’ lessons, though. She turned the stumble into a roll, passing through the soldiers immediately around her. Next time, don’t charge into the center of the enemies, Tythel, she chided herself, again pushing the pain aside as she sprung to her feet and swung the hammer in a wide arc as she pivoted to face her attackers. She managed to brush it against one of them, triggering the flash of unlight that this hammer had given off when Thomah had struck her with it.

That glancing blow was enough to launch her assailant backwards. Tythel was vaguely aware of an arcwand beam coming from the stairwell to puncture his sternum, turning his flight into a limp death-roll. Armin. Tythel should have known he wouldn’t stand there and do nothing.

She could feel blood running down her back from that first slash. Time was now even more against her than it had been.

Two soldiers charged at her from the left, two more from the right. Tythel blindly thrust the shield towards the two at her left to drive the back, meeting their charge with her own slam. Instead of following that push up to try to finish them off, she whirled back towards the two on the right, bringing her hammer around in a wild swing. It hit one of the soldiers squarely in the side, sending her careening into a wall. The direct hit combined with the unlight hammer’s flare of power and Tythel’s own considerable strength meant he punched through the wall when he hit it. Sunlight began to flood in, as people on the street started to scream and run. Oh, flath, Tythel thought with a bitter anger.

That meant there would be more coming. Once again, Time turned on them.

To make matters worse, the other soldier on that side had parried her hammer swing. The unlight of their weapons met, and sparks of darkness erupted from where they pressed against each other. In theory, Tythel should be able to press the attack down. She was far stronger than any normal man. In reality, he waited for her to apply the pressure and then angled the blade, causing her hammer to go up and wide, leaving her open to an attack.

This soldier, the one with a scar over his left eye, following up his deflection with a quick cut in towards her side. His blow was strong enough to cut through her dragon scale skin and score itself along her ribs. Had it not been for how tough her skin was, Tythel was certain she would have died there. As it was, she roared in pain from the injury.

The two on her left were not giving time for her to recover from that blow, coming in as one. In a desperate fit, Tythel hurled her shield at them, a blow she followed up with a left handed lob of dragonflame. She heard them shriek in pain and terror, and for a moment was distracted remembering the first time she’d killed a soldier with dragonflame, roasting Thomah alive in his armor. How can you look Nicandros in the face?

Part of her knew that it was blood loss making her distractible, and that she should be more concerned about that than anything else. Scar-eye was back, and was her only remaining assailant. He cut down against her arm, and his sword bit into Tythel’s flesh. Dragon scales again saved her from amputation, but not from her hammer slipping out of suddenly numb digits to clatter to the floor.

Tythel joined the hammer on the floor as pain drove her down. Scar eye let out a triumphant howl and lunged down at her, trying to drive the blade through her neck.

Time seemed to slow down, and once again Tythel was convinced she was going to die. Only one hope remained. Tythel took a deep breath and forced out a gout of flame. It came with a scream she only half-realized she was making, the sensation of dragonflame pushing past her still healing throat being an agony to add onto her three new unlight-sword wounds.

The dragonflame met the point of the sword halfway towards her throat, much like Karjon’s flame had met the great unlight beams of the Alohym ship. And like then, the flame and unlight didn’t interact like they should have. Fire had no force, no mass. Even dragonflame was just light and heat.

But when it met scar-eye’s blade mid air, his sword stopped, like he was pushing against a physical thing. His good eye widened in shock as the two forces met. In truth, Tythel knew she should have won nothing. The blade should have cut down to push its way into her face.

However, when dragonflame met unlight blade and stopped, the dragonflame had to go somewhere. It did by spilling to the sides in a cone, engulfing scar-eye’s arm, chest, and head.

By the time Tythel’s eyes cleared from the flash, he was a half-charred remain of his former self.

That gave Tythel a chance to look around. Several spots in the room were on fire, and not all of them were because of her. Eupheme was bleeding from dozens of cuts, all of them smaller than the ones on Tythel, but their cumulative effect was slowing her down. She was rolling away from a soldier, under one of the tables in the room.

Tythel began to move to help her, but the moment Eupheme vanished under the table, she appeared from the soldier’s shadow, spinning a slice to cut both of his hamstrings. He barely had time to scream as he hit the ground before Eupheme’s dagger was buried in his throat. Her remaining attacker was finished off from an arcwand blast from Armin, who had come further up the stairs to lean against the wall.

The corner of Tythel’s eye caught Nicandros, who had been disarmed by his attackers, three of whom remained. Tythel could see his unlight sword laying uselessly on the floor, kicked too far away to be of any use. Without a moment’s hesitation, he punched one of his assailants in the elbow, causing the soldier to drop his own sword. As it fell, Nicandros reached down, plucking it out of the air. He gave it a quick spin before ramming it into the soldier’s chest. Armin took aim at one of his other attackers, and Tythel used what felt like the last of her strength to hurl dragonfire at the remaining one.

She used the injured hand to throw the dragonfire out of instinct. The pain was intense, enough to cause her vision to flicker with shadow for a moment and drive her back to her knee.

It did the job, however. Nicandros’ remaining two attackers were down.

“See,” Eupheme panted as she rose from the floor, “seven each.”

“Hardly,” Armin said with a pained jeer. “I took down four myself.”

“You assisted,” Eupheme countered with a shrug, already heading over to Tythel. “Your highness, you’re badly injured.”

“You don’t look too well either, Eupheme.” Tythel glanced towards the hole in the wall. Crowds were still trying to run away from the battle. Their chaos was delaying the soldiers from arriving, and Tythel made a mental note to remember panic could be used that way. For now, however, she took Eupheme’s proffered hand. “We should go.”

Armin took Ossman’s arm over his shoulder again. Tythel did her best to use her shirt to staunch the blood flow form the worst of her injures on her arm, knowing she’d need to treat it soon before she passed out.

With Nicandros and Eupheme flanking for her, as ready for her to keel over from her injuries as she was, they pushed out through the hole Tythel had created to try and lose themselves in the city beyond.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 37

With both sets of keys from the two dead guards, it did not take long to open the cells. Nicandros opened the door to Eupheme’s cell, who was sitting the in middle of it with her legs cross in a lotus. “Oh, thank you for saving me the trouble,” she said, rising in a fluid motion. “I hadn’t worked out how to escape quite yet.”

Nicandros let out a sound somewhat like a chuckle. “Eupheme, drop the bravado. We’re getting out of here. That’s what matters.”

As Tythel fumbled with the keys, she could hear Eupheme sigh as she rose to her feet, brushing off her clothes that Tythel knew would be nowhere near as dirty as Tythel had gotten digging a tunnel between two cells. “Still. It should have been my job to escape.”

“Doesn’t matter who did,” Nicandros responded, “Just that we’re out.”

“True.” Then under her breath, so quietly Tythel wondered if Nicandros could even hear her at all Eupheme muttered, “of course, I would have been just a bit quieter about it.

Tythel heard all this, but was distracted by opening Armin’s cell. He was lying in the hay. One of his eye was covered by a massive bruise, and similar contusions and lacerations covered his arms. “Light! Armin, are you alright?”

He looked up at her and gave her a lopsided frown, “Tythel. This is all wrong. It’s all so wrong.” He sounded so deadly serious that Tythel stopped dead in her tracks, looking at him with growing concern.

“What’s wrong, Armin?”

“The hero is supposed to save the princess. The princess doesn’t save the hero! No, leave the keys, go back to your cell, and I’ll come save you. It’s my duty as a hero.” The frown turned into a grin he couldn’t hide.

At least anyone can read Armin’s grins. He always grins because he’s being too damn clever for his own good, Tythel thought with no small amount of amusement as she snorted and rolled her eyes. “I was worried about you, moron. Come on. They’ll be down here with reinforcements soon. Or did you not hear the great flathing crash when we escaped.”

“Absolutely,” Armin said, rising as he did. “Escape should be our number one priority. Especially seeing as you are simply encased in filth, your highness. Completely unbecoming of a lady of your status.”

Suppressing a grin of her own, she headed to Ossman’s cell, saying a silent prayer to the Light that he had been healed.

The Light, fickle as always, chose not to answer her prayer. Ossman was still battered and badly injured. His breathing seemed more steady – he no longer looked like he was lurking on the Shadow’s Threshold – but he was in no state to run or fight. “Your highness,” he wheezed, slowly rising to his feet. “I fear I am not yet fit for duty.”

Tythel’s nictitating membranes flashed back tears at seeing his pain. Yet another reason I need to master Heartfire. At least then I could have healed him. “Ossman. Can you even walk?”

“Slowly” he said, his word beling the pain even speech put him though.

Armin slid past Tythel to offer Ossman a shoulder for support. “Your highness, I’m useless without an arcwand. Let me worry about Ossman, you three worry about me. Sound good?”

Tythel gave him a quick nod and turned. Nicandros was unlocking the safe behind the guard’s desk. “Get over here, everyone, grab your stuff. Move as fast as you can.”

It wasn’t a great surprise that her pack wasn’t in there, although it tore Tythel’s heart to realize her last great hope for the pack’s return was now dashed. Her hammer and shield, however, were in there, and she pulled them out greedily, moving her wrists to activate both. Nicandros’ sword and his special little devices were in there, as was Eupheme’s daggers and the cloak she’d worn to the fight. Tythel couldn’t figure out why that last piece had been put in with the weapons, but it didn’t matter. Ossman’s Axe was present, although not his armor, nor was Armin’s arcwand.

Still, it was something, which was good. Tythel heard footsteps approaching. “Behind me, everyone!” she shouted, running to the door and extending her shield to meet the first wave of attackers. Crouched down like this, the shield could perfectly cover their forms from any array of arcwand fire.

Which was needed. As soon as the three guards that burst in saw them, they opened fire, bolts of red arcfire and light-draining unlight splashing against the shield. The sound was filling the hallway with echos of weapons. They don’t need to kill us, Tythel realized. We’re pinned down. They just need to hold us until help arrives.

Just as she was getting ready to risk throwing dragonfire over the shield to try and give them an opening, Eupheme – who Tythel was certain had been behind her only a moment ago – stepped out of the doorway behind the guards. She shoved a dagger into the necks of the two on either side, and the third whirled to face this new threat – exposing his back to Nicandros’ hurled sword.

Tythel thought about Eupheme. She’d barely seen her in the fight against the Imperipods, and the way she had just stepped out of one of their shadows was suddenly cast in a new light. Had Eupheme slipped past them when she wasn’t looking somehow? Or was it possible that she had somehow moved the distance without crossing it? 

“Your highness, plenty of time to be impressed by me later,” Eupheme said with a quick grin.

“Right.” Tythel took point again, charging forward with the shield held high. They needed to push fast before the entire garrison could descend upon them – and from the sound of it, they were getting ready to do exactly that. Imperiplate would take a long time to put on, and Imperipods couldn’t come in here. We’re just going to be dealing with normal soldiers. “Armin! Stay with Ossman on the stairs until we are ready for you!” she shouted as she burst through the door at the top of the stairs in a single lunge, sending splinters into the room behind.

There were twenty one guards on the other side of the door, raising their arcwands and getting ready to fire. “Seven each,” Eupheme said, her tone matter-of-fact, as if the idea of each of them taking on seven guards was a simple task.

There wasn’t any time to worry. There wasn’t any time to fear. The other thing ahead of Tythel was to bow her head, raise her shield, and continue to charge the nearest group as arcwand blasts streaked towards her.

And all the while she knew that if they didn’t escape before the Alohym arrived, it wouldn’t matter how many guards they defeated.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 36

Dragonflame made digging a far easier task than it would have been without it. It still wasn’t quick going – after an hour, she’d just gotten down far enough to where she could start turning sideways without the floor collapsing on top of her. She left enough of a lip around the edge so, when she slid the stone back into place above her, it looked like any other stone. Even if someone came into her cell, they wouldn’t be able to see how she had escaped. It should buy her some time. The dirt from the initial dig was packed into the cracks between the other stones and hidden under the pile of hay that would have been her bed.

As she dug, Tythel had to remind herself that once she got to the others they couldn’t endure the heat of the flames in this confined space. As it was, she was grateful that the silk she wore was as flame proof as her skin, else she would have been making her escape in a rather indecent fashion. Then again, you would have had that problem when the factory collapsed on you.

A plan began to form as she dug. Armin and Ossman were injured. Even if Ossman didn’t get healed, he’d be too big to burrow through this pathway. She’d have to get Nicandros and Eupheme first. Once she had them, they’d need to go through the doors to get Armin and Ossman, and form there, make their escape. With what weapons? They’d have to make do with what they could steal off the guards.

Thinking about weapons got her to stop digging as a horrible realizing washed over her. Her pack. The one that had Karjon’s notes in it, the few belongings she’d salvaged from his lair. She’d stashed it in the woods near the fight to recover after they’d left. Urdin had seen her stash it. He’d turned it over to the Alohym, surely. And if he hadn’t, she didn’t know if she could find it again. Karjon had other notes back at the hoard, and other mementos she could recover.

But not the egg.

The thought made her shove her face into the dirt to try not to scream. She hadn’t even thought about it, not since her capture, but now that she was aware of it, it was an all consuming thought. It was gone. The last piece of her father she had, something she secretly hoped would give him life again, was gone. You could still have him back, her thoughts whispered.

She could. She could turn around and crawl out of the hole, seal it up behind her. Maybe even give the others a way to escape first. And then she could crawl back. The Alohym needed her, she could probably demand Lucien’s head as part of her deal. And even if they wouldn’t grant it, what did it matter? Her father would be alive again. She wouldn’t need to mourn the loss of the pack, the notes, the mementos, the egg. It wouldn’t matter because she’d have him back. What was she doing, crawling in the dirt?

And what would he say if he found out what you betrayed to bring him back. Am I now truly gone because of mere things? Tythe wasn’t sure that’s what he would say. She knew she would never truly know, never truly be able to ask him. The idea that he could somehow be reborn from an egg had been a stupid one, and the idea that he would ever want her to sacrifice everything to restore him to life was an insult to his memory.

Tythel took a few deep, ragged breaths. Clenched and unclenched her fists. Mourn objects later, Tythel. Your friends need you.

She forced herself to resume digging. The excitement and fear of earlier had been washed away by the grief, and now she was acutely aware of tired she was. Her arms were aching with every stroke, her breathing labored. Very labored. It was getting hard to breath in here. The cave began to seem to spin, as if the world was turning, and she felt her concentration waiver.

The flames on her hands went out. She gasped for breath, and although it came rushing into her lungs, she still felt weak and dizzy, like she was breathing dead air. She started to relight her hands, then stopped and cursed herself. Stupid, stupid stupid. Much like a candle placed under a glass, she was burning up all the air in the tunnel, before it could be refreshed from outside.

Turning around in the tunnel was difficult, especially without the light from her hands to guide her. With every second she could feel the dizziness intensify, and spots of color began to dot the darkness in front of her vision, motes of light that shouldn’t be there. I think I’m hallucinating. Delirum made that thought funnier than it actually was, and she had to fight back a giggle as she began scooting towards the entrance.

The tunnel was spinning now, she was sure of it. Rotating over and over again, but when she flopped to stay on the new ‘bottom,’ gravity made that impossible. You’re going to die in here. That thought brought another spout of giggles mixed with adrenaline-soaked terror as she pushed herself harder to move. She wondered if she would have survived this far without Karjon’s adoption.

She wondered if she’d be seeing him again soon.

Even though it was pitch black down here, she could tell her vision was darkening. Darker darkness, she thought with another fit of laughter. She had come all this way, and now she was going to die deep under the earth of the cell in a failed escape attempt because she’d forgotten how fire uses up air. The spinning was so intense it threatened to make her vomit, but she fought back the urge, pushing herself until finally her fingers scraped the back of the tunnel, where it bent upwards.

Finally, just as she thought it was too late, the moment Tythel felt she was going to collapse despite her best effort, she brushed the underside of the stone and with frantic clawing, opened a gap for air to flow in. It dispelled the dizziness almost immediately, and she spent a full minute just sitting there, her mouth as close to the thin gap as she could manage, breathing deeply.

Okay. Back to work, Tythel. She spent some time clearing out two opposite sides of the stone. It was less stable now – if someone stepped on it hard, it would collapse into the tunnel – but at least she wouldn’t suffocate herself.

She didn’t know how long she’d been digging, but she’d gotten a sense of how far. When she got back to the end of the tunnel, she angled upwards towards Nicandros’ floor until her fingers brushed stone. She placed both of her hands on it and pushed until Nicandros could slide it out. “Hey there,” she said, grinning up at him, her face streaked with sweat and dirt.

“Nicely done, girl,” Nicandros said with a nod. “Time to tunnel over to Eupheme?”

Tythel shook her head. “There’s not enough time.” She crawled out of the hole, and with Nicandros’ help slid the stone back into place. “Someone’s coming. It’s now or never.” She glanced at him and frowned. “They didn’t even chain you, did they?”

Nicandros shook his head, and Tythel sighed, moving over to the door, listening to the other side as carefully as she could for the approaching footsteps. They were getting closer. Taking a deep breath, she braced herself, laying down on her back on the ground, hooking her fingers into the gaps between the stones. Nicandros gave her look, one of furrowed eyebrows, and Light was it good to see his expressions again even if she couldn’t read them.

The moment the footsteps were directly opposite the door, she reared back with both feet and kicked the door with every ounce of strength she could muster. The impact would have sent her flying if she hadn’t grabbed the stone. Since she had, something had to give. She was too strong, and the stones were too solid. All that was left was for the door to go exploding outwards in a shower of splinters and wood.

The person on the other side had been a guard bringing a tray of gruel for them. When the wood hit him, he rocked back in surprise. Before he could shout a warning, Nicandros leapt over Tythel and twisted the guard’s neck, causing him to look abruptly and fatally to the left. Before the other guard could scream, Nicandros had reached and grabbed the corpse’s arcwand and put two bolts of Unlight into his target’s chest.

Tythel gaped at seeing that. It had been one fluid motion, one swift kill. It was a good reminder of how dangerous Nicandros really was.

“Come on, girl. They surely heard that crash upstairs. We’ll have company soon.”

Nodding, Tythel got up and joined him to free the others.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 35

“T-tomah?” Tythel sputtered, trying to figure out if she’d misheard that name.

“Yeah,” Nicandros missed the stuttered, and seemed to take the question for confusion. “Still don’t know what happened to him. Probably never will.”

“I’m…I’m so sorry,” Tythel managed, taking deep breaths to try and calm herself. Tell him, Tythel, she chided herself. But tell him what? That his beloved son had been involved in the raid that killed her father? That he’d become a murderer in imperiplate? That she’d found him and, even though his armor had been broken and he’d been injured, she’d fought him and burned him alive?

“Thank you.” Nicandros chuckled darkly. “It’s funny. Even though he was working for him, I blame the Alohym for his death. I don’t know what they did, but…”

“But they must have something to do with it.” Tythel finished for him, wanting as she did to burrow into the floor of her cell and die. She’d killed Thomah. Not in the heat of battle, but as an execution. Revenge. And Nicandro’s son had…

Wait.

“I want to burrow into the floor,” Tythel muttered to herself, looking at the ground.

“What was that?” Nicandros asked, and Tythel was glad he didn’t have her hearing.

“The floor, Nicandros. Look at the floor!” She had to fight the urge to shout.

There was silence on the other side, and she could picture him studying it “Have you lost your mind, girl? It’s a floor. Stone and…” and she could practically hear it click into place for him, like her hearing had gotten so good she could pick up on thoughts falling into place. “And nothing else.”

Tythel, as much relieved for the distraction as she was for the possible escaped, worked her fingers into the gaps between the stones. She could see why they didn’t bother with putting mortar between them. They were far too heavy to be lifted by someone that was working with normal strength. Even Ossman would find these impossible without being able to get his hands down beneath the stone.

Ossman didn’t have the strength of a dragon.

The stone was slick and smooth, worn by ages of prisoners held within the cells. Her first time, her fingers couldn’t get purchase on the edge of the stone. It slipped out of her grasp before she had it more than a couple inches off the dirt, thudding back to the ground with a dull sound that set her heart racing.

“Careful, girl,” Nicandros hissed. “What about the chain, anyway? Don’t rush it.”

Tythel scoffed. “My hands are free. I can deal with the chain now.”

“Still, don’t rush it.”

Tythel took a deep breath. “You’re right. We don’t even know where the others are.”

“Good news on that front at least.” Nicandros sounded like he was recovering from talking about his son, which was fine by Tythel. If they never mentioned Thomah again, it would be too soon. What are you going to do? How could you keep that from him? How could you not? No answer presented itself as Nicandros continued, “Eupheme and Armin’s cells are across the hall from me. Haven’t seen Ossman, but there’s only two other cells down here, he has to be in one of them. Looks like Haradeth and Lorathor made it out. But still don’t try to get out yet.”

Tythel blinked, tilting her head at the wall. “Why not?”

“If we wait until tonight, the guards will be less attentive, and that’ll give the Alohym time to patch up Ossman and Armin the way they did me. Eupheme’s fine, but they both took a beating.”

Tythel sighed. “Good point. I’ll dig over to you, shouldn’t take too long. Then when I do-” She cut herself off. “Quiet, something’s coming.”

In hindsight, she probably could have finished that sentence. Her hearing gave her plenty of advanced notice, but why risk it? A guard walking down, keys jangling with every step. “How are the prisoners?” he asked, and Tythel recognized that voice. Lucien Ori, she thought, the name seared into her mind. She needed to get him talking, need to find out which Alohym he served.

“The two are whispering, like Rephylon hoped.” Knew it, Tythel thought triumphantly, but the guard was still speaking. “The heiress punched the wall, I think. The big one’s been taken for healing. The others…silence.”

“Good,” Lucien said, although his voice was sour. “That girl…they’re really going to spare her.”

“I heard the conversation. Yeah, they are. She’s too flathing useful to let die, apparently.” From the guard’s tone, he was about as enthused by it as Lucien was.

“That little bitch cost me Thomah.” Tythel’s heart started pounding, but their voices were low. Nicandros hadn’t heard, right?

“I heard.” The guard sighed. “Who are we to defy the will of the Alohym?”

“No one,” Lucien said without hesitation. “But have they given any orders regarding her friends?”

The guard was silent for a moment. “Just the one next to her. They need to be able to talk. The others…”

Lucien chuckled. “They’re healing the big one. It’s not for us to undo Their work. But the other two?”

“No reason they can’t have an accident,” the guard growled in agreement. “The boy. The other girl, she’s…disturbing.”

“I’ll see you tonight, then,” Lucien said, and she heard his footsteps recede.

“Okay, he’s gone,” Tythel said, “although they can hear us whispering. Can’t make out what we’re saying, though.”

“I can’t make them out either,” Nicandros responded, and Tythel had to fight back a sigh of relief. “What’s the word?”

Tythel bent down and began sliding her fingers between the cracks in the stone, “They Alohym are going to heal Ossman. Not Armin, though – and some of the guards are coming back tonight to kill him.” She began to drag the stone up as carefully as she could. “We can’t…” she grunted, “afford to wait. If they…” and hear the stone started to slip again, and she pressed her fingers tighter against it. Sweat began to form on her finger tips. It was nearly three inches out of the stone now, ready to slide back in, and if it did the sound would be too loud to mistake for a frustrated slap on the wall this time. “…if they don’t heal Ossman, we’ll have to care for him…” another inch, and her arms were starting to tremble with the effort. The stone was starting to tilt. It was almost free, she was almost there, “ourselves.”

With that last word, and final surge of effort, the stone slid away from the others. She didn’t need to worry about letting it fall – it took all she had to slide it across the floor.

Beneath the stone was dirt. Beautiful, brown, packed dirt.

“Damnit,” Nicandros growled. “Alright. Did you get the stone out?”

Tythel was panting with the effort. “Yes. It’s just dirt underneath.”

“Think you can dig fast enough?”

Tythel raised her hand to the chain attaching the collar to her neck, and wreathed it in dragonflame, like she had in the sickbed in Hillsdale, but without the fear of burning too hot. It snapped in seconds. She turned to the hole in the floor, letting the dragonflame dance on her fingertips. “Oh, yes. Get ready, Nicandros, I’m coming.”

“Great. Keep your ears open, let me know if you need a distraction.”

Tythel didn’t respond with words, instead plunging her hands into the earth, shoveling out great scoops of semi-molten dirt as she combined digging her way through the ground with melting it away. Light, give me strength to do this and Shadow, shelter me as I do, she thought as she worked, and maybe, some day, grant me both so I might confess to Nicandros what I’ve done.

There wasn’t any time to worry about that, though. Armin’s life was hanging in the balance.

She dug.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 34

As soon as the door closed, the chains holding her in place opened as if they had received some command. Through her grief and tears, Tythel barely had the presence of mind to notice, let alone to move away from them. Instinct alone drove her, some small part of her brain raising a horrible image of those chains snaking up to lock themselves back in place. The one around her neck was still locked tight, keeping her from making it too far, but it gave her enough room to crawl over to the pile of hay and curl up into a ball to grieve her father all over again.

It was a terrible thing they were asking her to do, and it took what felt like an eternity before Tythel had managed to get the tears back under control, although she hadn’t still hadn’t reached a decision. As terrible as the price was, the idea of seeing her father again, having him whole and living…Light forgive me and Shadow take me, but it might be worth the price. She knew one thing for certain: she hated Rephylon for making the offer, for dangling her father in front of her like a carrot for a horse.

Those thoughts were driven away by the sound of Nicandros being shoved back into the cell adjacent to her, and Tythel scurried over to the opposite wall. “Nicandros! Are you alright?”

There was a long pause before Nicandros spoke, and for a moment Tythel imagined him sitting there, his tongue sliced out of his mouth, trying to speak but unable to conjure the words. Finally he did, his voice its usual gruff growl. “Yeah. I’m better than alright, it seems.”

Tythel tilted her head at that, for the moment glad Haradeth wasn’t there to frown at the motion. “What do you mean, better than alright?”

Nicandros sighed. “I lied earlier, girl. I was half dead, and was wondering if I’d finally be facing the Shadow’s embrace. They stuck me in some kind of tube. Sowed my guts back up, patched up every little injury, even knit my ribs back together. Probably so they can torture me better later, would be my guess.”

Tythel punched the wall in frustration, hard enough that it hurt her hand and put a miniscule fissure in the stone.

“What was that?” Nicandros asked, his voice sharp with worry.

“Damn you to Shadow, Nicandros. You don’t get to do that. Don’t you dare tell me you’ll be fine if you’re not. What if you hadn’t come back? What if you had died in the cell next to me?” She was nearly shrieking by the last word.

“Tythel…” he said, his voice soft, but she was having none of it.

“No, Nicandros. You promised you weren’t going anywhere. That includes to the Shadow. If I have to drag you out of its embrace, I will, even if you’re kicking and screaming the whole way! But I can’t do that unless I know how close you are, do you understand? I’m not losing anyone else!”

“Alright,” Nicandros said in that same soft tone, “Alright, I promise.”

“Good,” Tythel growled, her nictitating membranes still flashing to hold back the tears that had almost spilled forth. “I know why they healed you, though. And why our cells have such thin walls we can speak. I know exactly what they’re doing.”

“What is it, then?” Nicandros’ words were rushed, excited. She couldn’t blame him. The more they knew, the better the chance they might find a way out of this.

“To prove to me they could.” Tythel reached up to press her fingertips against the wall, wishing instead of flimsy nails she had a dragons claws, so she might score the stone the way Karjon had in times of extreme frustration.

There was silence before Nicandros spoke, and Tythel could practically see him giving her that deep frown and tapping his chin. “I don’t follow,” he said after he’d turned over her words enough.

“They promised to bring Karjon back from the Shadow, to return my father to me.” Tythel had to fight back the urge to sob out the words, wondering when she’d become so prone to tears at the slightest provocation. “They healed you like that to prove that they could. Make their offer more tempting.”

This time, Tythel couldn’t picture Nicandros’ face during the silence that followed. When he spoke, his voice was rougher than she’d ever heard before. “After what they patched me up from, I’d believe it,” he growled, “Light forsake them, but it seems possible. Bastards. Absolute bastards.”

Tythel nodded, even though he couldn’t see her, and then realized she might have misunderstood him. “For which part?” she asked.

“For making the offer!” Nicandros’ voice was louder than she’d heard it in casual conversation before, and his throat was raw with emotion. “For making the offer and for not-“ he himself off.

“And for not making the offer to you.” Tythel finished for him.

“Yeah, that.” Nicandros’ footsteps began to sound from the room next to her, that unique pattern she finally thought she had pinned, where the left step always landed just a bit heavier than the right, and the right foot would brush the ground for an instant before it actually settled onto to the ground. “If they could…well, if they offered, it’d be flathing hard to turn down.”

Tythel settled into a sitting position next to the wall. “Yeah, it would be.”

Nicandros’ footsteps abruptly stopped. “You’re thinking about it, aren’t you, girl?”

“I’m sorry.” Tythel buried her forehead against her knees. “Light damn me, but…can you understand at least?”

Nicandros paced back to the wall, and slid down to sit right behind her. If not for the wall, their backs would be touching. “I had a son,” he said, the soft tones returning to his voice.

Tythel didn’t say anything. It felt like a spell had been cast over the room, and any word might shatter the delicate spellwork like glass.

“He was a little older than you, by a couple years. Headstrong little brat sometimes. You would have liked him.” Tythel felt a smile form on her lips in spite of her despair. “I didn’t tell him about what I was doing when I was away from him and his mother, and his mother…well, she didn’t much like that I was still out fighting when there was a child who wanted his father. I tried explaining to her that I wanted to make sure our son had a better life, but she…” Nicandros chuckled, a sound filled with far more pain than mirth, “It doesn’t matter now, I guess. She died a couple years back. Crawler accident. I was all set to return home, but my son, he wanted to be a hero, and in keeping what I was doing from him, I accidentally sheltered him from the truth of what the Alohym were.”

She heard a meaty thump behind her, the sound of Nicandros driving his fist into his palm in frustration. “By the time I got back, he had enlisted. I gave up the fight as soon as I heard that. I couldn’t…could you imagine meeting your own kin on the field of battle? And with those damn helmets they wore, what if I…” Nicandros sighed. “I couldn’t risk it.”

“Of course not,” Tythel said, quietly.

“I was going to tell him when he got on leave. Was going to risk everything. Maybe he’d have seen the truth by then, or maybe…” To her mounting surprise, Tythel realized she could hear tears being wiped away from Nicandros’ face. “I never got the chance. He died serving the Light forsaken Alohym. They wouldn’t even give me his body for a proper burial! Wouldn’t even tell me what he had died fighting for! It was enough to get me back into the fight. Wasn’t more than a few days later that Freda called me about you.”

“I’m so sorry, Nicandros.” Tythel wasn’t sure what else to say.

“Thanks. But the point of all this, girl? I’d be tempted too. But think about this; you father, he hid you from the Alohym. He spent your entire life protecting you from them. Do you think he’d want to be alive, if it meant you were serving those damn things?”

Tythel sniffed and wiped her nose “No, I suppose not.”

“Then there’s your answer.” Nicandros said, and Tythel could hear him nod, the rustle of the cloth as he did. “Karjon wouldn’t want that for you, or for him.”

“It’s…” Tythel sighed. “You’re right. You’re absolutely right. And I kind of hate you for it.” Realizing he couldn’t see her face, she quickly clarified, “Not really. I don’t actually hate you or anything. But…”

Nicandros chuckled. “I know exactly what you mean.” And then his next words came, and with them Tythel’s breathing stopped, her heart started pounding, and a she had to fight back a wave of nausea as terrible realization swept over her.

“I’d kind of hate you too if you talked me out of getting my Thomah back.”

 

The Dragon’s Scion Part 33

Rephylon gazed at Tythel for a bit, just long enough where Tythel began to wonder if she was supposed to speak first. Before she could break the silence – she still had no idea what she’d break it with – it let out a lone drone mixed with clicks and wet sounds like meat sliding across sandpaper.

She was reminded of Thomah shouting before he died. O’malh’ti! O’malh’ti! Hoth’tivath!” If Tythel let herself try to make out distinct sounds in the horrible noise Rephylon was emitting, she could hear how those worlds – and flath, for that matter – would be the closest a human mouth could come to copying that grotesque speech.

“You do seem to be the daughter of the old Royals in this region, yet your flesh also seems different. You are more than they were. Explain,” Theognis intoned. It took Tythel a second to realize he was literally translating what Rephylon was saying. Rephylon tilted its head to the side in obvious confusion.

Tythel’s heart was pounding. If she lied to to the Alohym, it might know otherwise,  and might take poorly to the lie. She got the feeling she wouldn’t like its displeasure. On the other hand, it didn’t know. It couldn’t tell what she was. Given that the Alohym had made a mission out of eradicating dragonkind, if she told it the truth it likely would also take poorly to that. “I was born a human. How could I be anything else?” she tried. At least it wasn’t technically a lie.

Rephylon reared back a fraction of an inch, and Tythel wondered what that signified. It wasn’t like any gesture human or dragon had ever made, and she found herself doubting her earlier conclusion that the head-tilt was confusion. It spoke again, with Theognis translating, “That question is one we will have answers for.” Theognis gave her an grin as he relayed that  line, and Tythel shuddered at the thought of what finding those answers would entail. “Yet you are the daughter of the Royals of this region. Why do you fight against us?”

The question startled Tythel so much, she forgot her fear and let out a sharp laugh. “Why? You kill people for standing against you. You took away this world from humanity. You oppress us at every turn. And, most importantly,” and here for the first time Tythel found the strength to meet its gaze as her owned narrowed, “you killed my father you monster. How could I not fight against you?”

The Alohym reared back another fraction, and brought one of those bisected forearms up to tap both its head and shoulder simultaneously. Is that like a man scratching their chin? Or a dragon flicking its tail in thought? At least Tythel could take comfort it was unlikely anyone was particularly adept at reading the emotions of these invaders. “I arrived ten cycles ago,” Theognis said for Rephylon, “and your parents died long before that. You were an infant, you did not know them. Why would you care?”

Tythel snarled. “Not them. My father was Karjon,” she said.

Rephylon looked over at Theognis and made some sound Theognis didn’t deign to translate. He spoke in that strange tongue himself, although they sounded more like words coming from Theognis’ lips. Come to think of it, no part of the Alohym moves when it speaks. How does it even make sounds? The questioned seemed trivial and Tythel tried to push it aside, but some part of her brain kept circling back to that. The sounds were coming from its head, yes, but they were also coming from deep inside its chest – what Tythel supposed she should be calling its thorax. How did this monster speak?

She heard Karjon’s name in Theognis’ answer, and it struck her that it was clear what they were talking about. Rephylon had no idea who or what Karjon was. The idea that one of them didn’t even know who he was filled her belly with fire all over again, and she considered attempting to flame even with the ache in her throat.

“Karjon. Who is this Karjon?” Theognis translated, and the fire in her belly began to settle into into a thick stew of molten lead.

“Karjon was – “ Tythel almost started to scream his praises at them, but bit her tongue before she could go any further. If she told them too much, she’d likely earn her own death. By the time you’re done, every one of them will know his name. Don’t tell them now. “- was the one that raised me. He died in – “

“Do not dissemble,” Theognis snapped without any input from Rephylon. “You told Lucien that he died in the raid on the dragon, that he was the dragon. But he was a dragon. Who was he, that he matters so much to you that you fight against the Gods in his name?”

“He was my father!” Tythel shouted, and tears of frustration began to creep into her eyes. Before she could stop herself, her nictitating membranes flashed across her eyes.

Theognis took a step back at the motion, as if she was somehow as horrible a monster as the creature standing besides him. If Rephylon found it odd, it did not show it in any word or gesture. When Theognis began to translate again, his voice was halting and uncertain. “You hold a bond to this Karjon the same as humans hold to those they share flesh with?”

“Yes,” Tythel hissed through clench teeth. “What part of that is so hard to understand?”

“We are constantly surprised by humans ability to hive-bond. I have seen humans become suicidally angry over the death of lower life forms they keep as hunting partners. I have seen humans weep for the destruction of their nests, even if we offer to rebuild them. A dragon? They are the monsters we are saving you from, and yet you claim one as a parent?”

Tythel gaped at Rephylon. “Saving us from? No, no, that doesn’t make sense.” She bit her lip in thought, then felt her eyes widen in realization. “Of course. Just like the Nahdi, when they conquered the Brerica. They told them it was for their own safety, that they were protecting them against the Cardometh, when Cardometh had no ambitions on that peninsula. You’re claiming dragons are the threat because you want to appear better. Every Light needs its Shadow.”

Karjon had once said that she could be distracted by a history lesson in the middle of a battle. This wasn’t a battle, it was an interrogation, but he was certainly being proven right at the moment. Rephylon leaned forward, till their faces were mere inches apart. It let out the droning hiss directly in her face, and Tythel leaned as far away as possible when it did. “Dragons eat humans,” he intoned for Rephylon, as if saying it would have the same weight as the truth, “and now they are gone. We have saved you.”

“Not me,” Tythel said, with as much defiance as she could muster pressed against the wall. “I lost the greatest being I’d never known because of you. You didn’t help  me, you ripped me apart.”

The Alohym reached up with it’s bisected arms, and she couldn’t move away enough to prevent it from touching her. She wondered if she’d gone too far, if it was going to kill her right here and now for daring to talk about to it. No, I can’t die yet. I still have work to do! She almost risked a flame, but instead of a strike or a throttle like she expected, it touched her cheek and arm delicately. The touch was cold and smooth, like the carapice it resembled, but there was something about the motion that reminded her of how people comforted each other. “Yes,” Theognis translated, “we did. And we will fix that, if you will serve.”

Tythel jerked away from the touch. “How can you possibly fix it? He’s dead. There’s no bringing him back.”

“We are gods, child. We will do exactly that, if you will serve.”

Tythel felt her heart, already pounding as fast as it ever had before, accelerate. “I will not subject my father to a necromancer’s touch!” she hissed.

“Necromancy is children playing in our domain. No, we would not bring him back as some undead thing. We would rebuild his body with our devices, and then we would call his soul back to it. He would live again, as he was before his death.”

“That’s impossible. You’re not gods, not really.”

Theognis chuckled for a moment, and Tythel for once could read a reaction perfectly. Theognis new, as well as she did, that the Alohym were not gods. They were something else, but he did not believe in their divinity. Was it you, Theognis, who suggested they steal the Old Tongue word for god? Or was that their own idea?

Rephylon was droning again, and Tythel waited for Theognis to translate its words. “You may disbelieve if you wish. Yet we have ships that sail beyond the sky. We have marvels your species never imagined. We channel power you had not dreamt of. I assure you, such a feat is not beyond us.”

Tythel had to remember to breath. If the Alohym could bring Karjon back… “Why should I trust you?” she asked.

“Because we have need of you, Daughter of the Royals. The humans of this kingdom, they are…rebellious. If we had you, it would help quell those that feel the Royals should rule again. And if we failed to deliver, you would have no reason to serve.”

Much as she wished otherwise, there was a logic to Rephylon’s words. I could have my father back! The idea that he might not be lost to her forever was a fresh agony, ripping open the wounds she had thought were beginning to heal. She could hear his voice again, rest against his flank, shelter under his wings. She could play with him again, sit on the ground listening to his wisdom, learn more about what it meant to be a dragon now that she was one. Isn’t that what you really want?

The Alohym’s gaze was unreadable, but Tythel felt an expectation beneath that stare. She couldn’t find the words to answer it’s offer, and fresh grief began to wrack her body to the point where she was finding it difficult to stand.

Rephylon again reached out with that two-handed arm and wiped away the tear that began to roll down her cheek before she could jerk away, droning as it did. “Think on it, child,” Theognis translated. “In three days, you will be taken from here. Then you will either be executed or you will have you father returned to you. Your companions, likewise, may be spared if you choose to serve.”

With that, the two turned to leave, leaving Tythel with her doubts and her tears.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 32

Tythel was taken to her cell with a black bag over her head, roughly shoved along as she was dragged down hallways by the chains on her wrists. Several times, it was all she could do to keep from falling over, but she knew if she had she’d earn herself another kick to the side. That motivated her to find her footing, as difficult as the chains on her ankles made that. I wonder if they could fit more chains on me if they tried.

Her blind journey ended at the bottom of a staircase, tossed into a cell and shackled to the wall by chains that ran through the wall, so when she reached out with her right hand her left was pulled back and away, and visa versa. Until her throat healed, she wouldn’t be able to melt the steel, and even then the angle would make that a dicey proposition.

It also meant she had to eat the food that was sitting in the cell, a bowl of cold grits, one handed. A part of her was tempted to refuse any food they gave her on principal, but she knew she needed her strength, so she forced it down her raw throat. The guards chuckled as she spilled some of it. “Flath you both,” Tythel muttered, but not too loudly – she didn’t want to get another beating.

Once she had eaten and the guards had taken away both bowl and spoon, she slumped against the wall. I have to get out. She started to wrack her brain for any examples of prisoners who had made escapes for some inspiration. Gulon of Brathi had done so by sharpening his spoon to a point and picking the lock, but she didn’t know how to pick locks. Devarah the Kind had used her magic to enlist the aid of passing birds to send messages and organized her rescue that way, but Tythel didn’t think she could entice them with dragonfire and was underground anyway. Phenelo, the Thief Saint, had – in spite of the what the legends claimed – bribed his guards.

Again Tythel thought of Karjon’s hoard. The idea of giving the guards directions to it if they set her free was galling, their grubby hands raking through his treasures, with some of it sure to end up in Alohym coffers…but she added it to the mental list of escape options. It was at least something for the list, which right now consisted of that and “Fake sick so the guards rush in and then do…something clever.”

She had to acknowledge it was a very poor list right now.

“Tythel? That you over there, girl?”

Tythel gasped in surprise. “Oh Light, Nicandros?”

“No, this is The Winter Father,” he growled, and Tythel choked out a much needed laugh. “How are you over there?”

Tythel opened her mouth to reflexively say fine, then shut it and shook her head. He needs the truth. “In pain, but I can manage. Throat hurts so can’t flame, and my hands can’t…I’m stuck right now. How about you?”

“I’m better, but I think – flath.” He didn’t say any more, and Tythel heard why the moment he cut off, footsteps coming down the stairs. You need to focus, Tythel. You shouldn’t be waiting to let him hear them. The conversation Nicandros had with whoever’s footsteps those were was short, and to the point. The man was offering him a chance to give up the rest of the resistance in exchange for Nicandros’ life being spared. Nicandros’ response was colorful, full of invectives, and anatomically impossible – if Tythel understood male anatomy properly.

For his trouble, he was dragged out of the cell, leaving Tythel alone with her thoughts. Oh all the little gods, are they executing him now? No, they want the rest of the resistance, they wouldn’t…but any of us knows where they are, so they might be and… Tythel couldn’t stop her mind from racing in circles for a few minutes.

She crossed her legs as much as the chains would allow and began to go through the breathing exercises Karjon had taught her. A slow breath in, over the space of a count to five, and then an exhalation over the count of seven, followed by another breath in to the count of five and repeating the cycle. It was a good precursor to meditation, but in this instance it served to help calm her nerves and focus herself on the task at hand – escaping.

She took stock of her cell. It was a solid room, built of large blocks of rock with mortar between them, completely lacking in windows within the cell. The door was wooden and stout, with bars set to make a small portal people could peek through before entering. Two of the glowing orbs the Alohym used for light were in the corners of the cell, their illumination casting everything into sharp relief.

If she could get her fire back, she could burn through the door. It wouldn’t do anything about the shackles on her wrists and ankles, though. Glancing at them out of the corner of her eye, she thought she might be able to melt her way through them with enough time, but wasn’t sure how long it would take the Alohym’s servants to notice her attempt to escape. The chains were thick, each link over a finger long, and they were set too far into the stone for her to break out with brute strength. It would take several minutes, if not longer, to burn through them.

She tried to step forward, only to find that the chains on her ankles were set up the same as those on her wrists – she could pull one leg forward, but doing so tugged the other leg back. Standing was possible, but laying down would be beyond her ability. If I’m here for more than a day, I’ll have serious problems with sleep. The morbid realization struck her that if she was here for too much longer than a day, the Alohym would be happy to accommodate her with sleep unending in the Shadow’s embrace, and she wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry.

Either way, she was hoping they’d let her off the chains eventually. Not only would it make escape easier, but there was a hole in the far corner of the room that would serve as a latrine, and there was a pile of straw that could function for a bed, but neither were within reach of her current predicament.

Then all thoughts of escape were driven from her mind as she heard approaching footsteps. They were larger and heavier than the one that had taken Nicandros, but they weren’t alone, and the steps of a heavier human were far less worrying than the other ones. Along with them came a series of skittering steps, a staccato tk-tk-tk-tk across the stone.

Tythel braced herself as the door swung open. She first saw the man, a tall individual with a scarred face, his eyes wide and going cloudy with cataracts. He entered the room and sniffed at her. “Rise, you blessed fool. I am Theognis Aigner, Wizard of the tenth order, and I command you to rise. Rise for Rephylon, Long may Her light Illuminate your Life, short though it may be.” He pointed his staff at her as she did, and the tip glowed with the power of a true mage.

Only it wasn’t normal light. To Tythel’s growing horror, somehow this man, this mage, was calling upon Unlight like he was one of the Alohym. She scrambled to her feet before he could call upon some horrid spell, and earned an approving nod as she did so.

He stood aside from the doorway, and into the room scuttled Rephylon, the first Alohym to whom she could give a name. Its wedge shaped head was tilted to give all three eyes the best view of Tythel, and as it peered at her she felt like it was seeing into her soul.

“Now, then, you blessed fool,” Theognis continued in that dull drone he had used before. “You have the honor of being interrogated by Rephylon herself. I will interpret her holy words. Answer her questions, or face torment unending.”

Her heart pounding, Tythel did her best to meet the monstrous gaze of a god.