Dragon’s Scion Part 164

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Tythel climbed a tree to prepare herself for Catheon’s assault, burrowing as close to the trunk as she could go. It was easier to climb than she remembered, aided by her thick talons biting into the bark and giving her purchase her fingers never could have managed before. She smiled at the thought.

When she’d been younger, she’d used these trees as her own personal highway, leaping from branch to branch and giving Karjon daily heart attacks. She’d always known that being gifted with Heartflame would give her the ability to climb like she’d had back then. Well, she’d always hoped. It was wonderful to have that childish hope confirmed.

Everything had been so…terrible since Karjon’s death. War and death and fear and loss. Nicandros had abandoned her. She’d seen more death than she’d ever imagined seeing. She’d lost her eye. It hadn’t all been bad – she’d made friends – but she’d rarely taken the chance to just revel in being a dragon. The thing she’d wanted most her entire life, and she’d barely taken a second to enjoy it.

When I’m done here, I will. The first moment I get. 

Exactly what form that would take had to be considered later, however. Catheon’s wings were growing so loud that they had to be almost here. Tythel strained her ears to listen.

“I’m telling you, there’s an illusion over this valley,” a male voice said in a frustrated growl. It didn’t have the buzzing quality that Tythel had come to associate with Catheon. That must be their Lumcaster. 

“Then what’s beneath it?” Catheon hissed. His voice was distinct – the blend of Alohym buzzing and human speech that made it both alien and familiar. It was somehow worse than the Alohym’s voice, as if the fact that it was recognizable as something that a human throat could produce but also not made it more alien than the Alohym’s native speech.

Of course, it probably didn’t help that his voice was thick was something between arrogance and pure hatred.

“I can’t see through it,” the Lumcaster said, his voice harsh. “That’s veilflame. I’m a lumcaster.”

“You speak pretty boldly to a Scion, Daetor,” a woman’s voice said. That must be the Umbrist. Leora Dimici. The Thirteenth Forsworn, one of the Umbrists that had betrayed their calling. The only one, if Eupheme was correct. Tythel wondered, not for the first time, who Leora was to Eupheme, and why her betrayal had hurt her so much. “Perhaps you could tell us what you can do with the illusion?”

“Well, if you drop me into it, I can fall through it. If you press my face against it, I can see sparkly lights. If you kill me, I could probably haunt it. I can do about as much to Draconic magic as I could to your Umbra, Leora. But trust me, it’s there.”

“I didn’t doubt that it was,” Catheon said in a low purr. “But I’d like more details. Can you tell me at least how close to the ground it is?”

“Fifteen spans,” the Lumcaster – Daetor, Tythel now knew – said promptly.

Whatever was said next was partially cut off by the sound of the Skimmers roaring past. “-be sure?” Catheon said.

“Because that’s the height Karjon stood in life,” Daetor said in the careful tones one would speak to a particularly dense child that’s prone to dangerous tantrums. “I’d be a waste of his power to make it higher, and it’d be pointless to make it lower.”

“You’re certain Karjon made this?” Leora said, “and not that half-dragon bitch?”

“Of course I am.” Daetor scoffed at the question. “If she had access to the deeper draconic mysteries, we’d have died in that fight. She had Dragonflame and Ghostflame. At best, she might have Heartflame. But Veilflame? Warpflame? Strangefire? If she knew how to use those, the only one of us who might have survived would have been Catheon, and only if he flew away very fast.

Tythel heard the wood begin to crack as she tightened her hands into fists and forced them to relax before she tore apart her perch. Karjon had barely mentioned the deeper mysteries, and Tythel had barely even considered them. Especially not now. It was impossible to learn the deeper mysteries without another dragon to assist you. Another part of her heritage that was lost forever thanks to the Alohym. It galled her to hear Daetor talk about them, but more importantly…how did Daetor know this much about how dragon’s magic worked?

Her anger caused her to miss part of the conversation. Leora was speaking. “-overstated. If you were so skilled-”

“I was chosen for this because I fought in the Conquest for the Alohym,” Daetor said harshly. “I’ve faced dragons before. That’s more than some murderer hiding in the shadows can ever claim.”

“You face dragons as part of our army,” Catheon said coolly.

“As part of the Alohym’s army, yes,” Daetor conceded, and Tythel noted that he refused to acknowledge Catheon’s use of the possessive there. She filed it away but didn’t think it would be useful. They were long past the point of clever words saving them. “But I still have seen them.”

The sound of Catheon’s wings was growing louder. He was descending. Tythel tensed up for a reason besides anger. It was almost time.

“What should we expect then?” Catheon said.

“Given the terrain? She can’t fly and thank Your Father for that. She knows the area, though, and will probably try to hit us with flame the moment she can. Dragons almost always open with a burst of fire to try and pick a few targets off. She’s saved her Ghostflame for you.”

“Leave the Umbrist for me,” Leora said. “I can handle her.”

“And I can take care of that bastardization of Imperiplate,” Daetor said. “The war proved Alohym could defeat dragons, Catheon. By the same logic, I’m certain that a half-Alohym can beat a half-Dragon.”

Then they were in view. Catheon’s…whatever it was he war. Alohym skin refit for a human. It was bulkier than before, covered in gleaming black carapace as opposed to the brown he’d had before. Leora was dressed in a bodysuit of dark greens and greys, tight enough to avoid catching but loose enough to avoid restricting her movement. Daetor wore a Lumcaster’s robe that had been divided between the legs and re-woven into loosely flowing pants. “Call me that again,” Catheon said harshly, “and I’ll ensure you regret it.”

“Apologies. I meant no offense,” Daetor said, sounded not even slightly apologetic. “I thought you’d take pride in both parts of your heritage.”

Catheon stiffened, and Tythel realized this was it. This was her moment. She’d never get a better shot on all three of them.

Taking a deep breath and focusing her hatred on Catheon, Tythel took a deep breath and fed that loathing into the fire in her stomach. When she let loose, it was with a beautiful wave of blue ghostflame.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 156

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“Lorathor, behind you!” Armin shouted.

Thankfully, Lorathor didn’t wait to turn to look at what had Armin shouting. He dove forward, and Clarcia’s outstretched hand passed through the open air. Clarcia let out a low hiss and began to shamble forward.

“Light and Shadow!” Lorathor said, bringing up his arcrifle and sighting Clarcia with it. Before Armin could even speak, he fired three short bursts. Arclight flew and struck Clarcia in the shoulder, chest, and forehead. She staggered backwards and fell over. “Thanks for the warning,” Lorathor said, raising the rifle. “I thought she was dead.”

“She is,” Armin said.

“Right, now. But I mean when I came in she looked…” Lorathor trailed off. “Necromancy?”

They both turned back to Clarcia. Her limbs were jerking unnaturally as she started to rise. She reached a crab position and her head turned unnaturally until it was facing them. “Necromancy,” Armin confirmed.

Lorathor shot her again. Beams of light streaked across the small cell. Clarcia barely rocked at the impacts, hissing and scurrying across the floor with preternatural speed. “Flath!” Lorathor shouted, throwing himself to the side as Clarcia’s jaw snapped shut inches from his knees.

Armin backed up, staring at her with wide eyes. It was Clarcia. It was Clarcia. She still looked like herself, even unnaturally twisted like this. “Armin!” Lorathor shouted. “Move!”

Clarcia was closing the gap between them. When she got close, her legs folded up over her body. For a moment she was walking on her hands, then her feet finished their arc and touched the floor, pulling her body and head upright in a swift motion. Armin threw up his hands and caught her on the shoulders. She bowled him over as her head twisted back into place. They hit the floor hard, and Armin wheezed as the wind was driven from his lungs.

Clarcia wasn’t impeded. She was snapping her jaw at him, only inches from his face. There was breath coming with the snaps, each one unnatural hot and reeking of the grave. The smell was enough to turn Armin’s stomach. If not for his hands on her shoulders, she would have torn out his jugular in an instant. Even with his hands in placed, her strength was immense. Armin pushed her upwards, and her fingers dug into his arm. Armin screamed as her fingers began to tear deep furrows on his skin.

An arclight beam struck Clarcia in the back of the skull. It blew straight through, and flesh, bone, and brain matter tore from her face. Clarcia didn’t even flinch at the sensation. The jerking motion tore one of her eyes loose, and it dangled from an optic nerve on the side of the head. “Get her off me!” Armin screamed.

A tentacle wrapped around Clarcia’s neck and began to tear her backwards. Armin stared at it in wide eyed horror as more tentacles join the first, grasping and tugging at Clarcia. Scrambling back and rising to his feet, Armin looked at the tableau, trying to process what he was seeing.

Lorathor was gone. Where he had been was some kind of…thing. Tentacles from an octopus attached to a humanoid torso. The tentacles wrapped around Clarcia as she struggled against the bonds. The creature wrapped a tentacle around her throat and wound it up to her forehead, pulling her head back so her jaw wasn’t able to reach the other parts of the thing. “Armin, get out of here!”

That was Lorathor’s voice. Coming from this monstrosity. Lorathor’s voice, and now that Armin looked, he could see the eyes. Yellow and with oddly-shaped pupil.

Sylvani eyes.

Armin sat down hard, his knees no longer able to support his weight. It was too much by far. He couldn’t process it. This horror, something out of the depths of both the ocean and nightmare, was entangling the undead being that had once been his friend. Clarcia growled and hissed, snapping at the creature, but unable to find purchase. There were dull plates covering the tentacles, flexing with them, and her fingers could not find purchase on their bulk.

“Armin, move!”

Barely able to think, Armin just kicked his leg, letting the thing that had once been Lorathor hear the clatter of the chain. Lorathor snarled and began to tug hard on the Clarcia zombie.

Armin began to hear the cracking of bones. Clarcia’s struggles became more frantic, and flesh began to tear under the force.

Someone was screaming. Dimly, Armin realized it was him.

As he watched, helpless to do more than scream, Clarcia’s arm came out of its socket. Freed from her shoulder, it started to try and wrap around the thing that had been Lorathor. He – some part of Armin was willing to accept that this thing was, in fact Lorathor, although he could not hope to process how that had happened – brought two free tentacles around to grab onto the flailing arm. Bones crunched under the stress, and then the cracking sound turning into a grinding noise.

When Lorathor tossed that arm free, it was still twitching, trying to move and rejoin the attack. However, he’d shattered every bone in the limb, and it couldn’t do anything but flop uselessly on the floor. Bit by bit, Lorathor started to dismantle Clarcia.

She wasn’t helpless though. Lorathor’s grip would slip at time, and her jaws would find purchase. She bit through the strange armor that shifted with Lorathor’s form, cracking both teeth and plate with the force. Lorathor howled in pain, although Armin couldn’t see anywhere for him to be howling from. 

It took nearly a minute. Lorathor tore Clarcia bit to bit. At the end of it, Clarcia had been reduced to a collection of twitching flesh, and Lorathor was bleeding from a dozen wounds. The mass of tentacles retracted and reformed into the Sylvani Armin knew.

“Armin, I can get that chain off you,” he said. Lorathor’s skin was paler than its usual vibrant colors, and he took a step towards Armin.

Armin recoiled from the motion, bringing up his hands. “What…what the flath are you?” he shrieked.

“I’m a Sylvani. We’re shapeshifters, Armin. Remember? You saw me slip through that crack in the tower, even though it was barely an inch wide.”

Armin nodded at the memory.

“I usually don’t go that far out of the form you know,” Lorathor continued. “But I needed to. I’m sorry.”

The words were so normal, Lorathor’s tone so calm, Armin was able to start thinking again. “I…I didn’t know you could do that.”

Lorathor grinned. The expression was strained, and Armin could see pain behind his eyes. “I don’t show it off often. An arcwand or blade is usually a better weapon anyway.” He glanced over at the twitching mess on the floor. “Usually. Who was that?”

“Clarcia” Armin whispered.

Lorathor flinched. “I’m sorry you had to watch that. Come on. Let’s get out of here.” He held his finger up towards the lock on Armin’s shackle. The digit protruded into the lock, and it unclasped like he’d turned a key. “Come on, Armin” he said, offering a hand.

Armin took the hand. “Ossman. Aldredia. They-”

“We’ll get them. But first…pull yourself together. You’ve been through the deepest Shadow. But I know we can pull yourself together. We can’t let Bix and Haradeth fight Theognis alone.”

Armin nodded and took a deep breath. I’m not losing anyone else. The thought was firm and he held it in his head like a drowning man clutching driftwood. “Alright. Let’s go. And while we do…I have two questions.”

“Ask away,” Lorathor said, peering out into the hallway.

“How did you get here, and who the flath is Bix?”

Lorathor smiled. “Would you believe me if I told you those answers went together?” And, without waiting for a response, he started to explain.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 153

The Portal Stones – Haradeth refused to think of them as boogers, even if he’d say the word aloud to placate Bix – were objects spread across the world. Myths from various cultures held different significance to them. The Cardomethi had claimed they could access the realm that the ancient Alohym had used when they left. The Dor’nahi had maintained they were gates to the true ancestral home of humanity, and would one day lead them back. The Kingdom, before it’s fall, had believed them to be pagan iconography from a pre-Light religion. The warriors of Xhoa held they were gateways to the Shadow, where their Holy and Eternal War would one day spill out of that realm and into the mortal world. The Underfolk had held the belief that they would lead to a world where there was only darkness above and light below, a sacred land where humanity would be forced to live beneath the Earth.

In hindsight, Haradeth realized it should have been telling that the Sylvani were the only peoples who didn’t ascribe any significance to them. Sylvani travelers, when asked about the stones, would only repeat one of the other culture’s legends. Usually with song and drink, because the Sylvani bought their way into acceptance through entertainment when they could, and getting the locals too drunk to organize a mob when they could not.

To the best of his knowledge, no one had asked the Alohym what they believed the stones would lead o. They might not even be aware of the portal stones’ existence.

He voiced that possibility to Bix as they were gearing up, and she shrugged – an expressive gesture with metallic limbs. “Who knows? But I’m guessing not. If those things could have accessed an interplanetary method of rapid transit, I think they would have lept on it with all four hands.”

“You mean they could have activated it?” Haradeth asked. That thought had never occurred to him, and its implications were disturbing. Were they just handing the Alohym another weapon to use in their domination of the world?

“Not without me stabbing them lots. Even Anoirita would have acted then, I think. The only way to fully control the boogers is from here, and the Alohym would have come here if they knew. Also, if they knew what the boogers were, they probably would have figured out that we hadn’t all died out. They would have come and murdered everyone in the face. Except me. Because I’d be stabbing them, you see.”

Haradeth nodded, a small part of him surprised at how easily he’d come to take the little automaton’s violent nature in stride. “But once we activate them, can they trace it back here?”

“Probably not.” Bix looked uninterested as she worked on the console.

“Probably?” Haradeth asked.

Bix sighed. “Haradeth. We last fought the Alohym like, back when your people were deciding that eating cooked meat was a better long term plan than waging wars with flung feces. Excremental artillery. Shit showers. I think that’s all of them.”

“Okay, I just don’t-”

“Wait, no, I have one more. Crap catapults. Okay, now I’m good. What was your most likely stupid question?”

Haradeth waited for a second to make sure Bix was, in fact, done with her jokes. She motioned for him to continue. “I don’t see what that has to do with them being able to hijack the portal stones.”

“Because we’re talking about thousands of years, no matter what world you’re on. I wasn’t just making fun of you for being a bunch of monkeys who developed culture and decided it made you rightful masters of this world. Back then, you had…flath, I used all the good terms. Insert a scatalogical weaponry reference for me okay? Okay. But by the time the Alohym arrived, you’d gone from that to castles and catapults and stabby death, which is a much more refined way of waging war compared to the poop. Even if the Alohym hadn’t shown up, given thousands of years, even you idiots would have figured out arcwands. Technology grows and changes. The Alohym couldn’t crack the Transmatter Warp Platforms back when they invaded us, so they might not be able to crack it now. Or perhaps they’ve figured it out in the millennia in between.”

“Wait, what did you call the portal stones?” Haradeth asked.

Bix pressed a knife against his throat. “Boogers?” Bix asked.

“Boogers,” Haradeth agreed.

The knife vanished, as fast as it had appeared. “It’s a Transmatter Warp Platform. It bends spacetime curviture so the distance between here and there is shorter. It’s their proper name, but I long ago gave up trying to get you people to call them by that. Since you insist on calling them portal stones, I decided to give them an equally stupid name. Thus, boogers. Now, I’m almost ready. What’s the plan?”

“Plan?” Lorathor asked, walking around the corner. The Sylvani was wearing some kind of blue armor that reflected light in a dull manner. It was unlike any metal Haradeth had seen before. He’d told Haradetha bout it. It was a cultural artifact of the Sylvani, but they could be used with special approval. Bix had a suit she could authorize someone to use. The…what was it Bix had called them? The polycarbons in the suit would shift to match the wearer’s natural shapeshifting, allowing Lorathor complete access to his natural talents.

“Yes. Plan.” Bix gave them both a level look. “You don’t have a plan?”

“I didn’t think you’d be in favor of one,” Haradeth said.

“Of course I’m not. It’s no fun messing up someone’s plans if they don’t have one.” Bix crossed her arms and glared at Haradeth.

“Well, that’s part of why I didn’t have one. You can focus on the fact that we’re disrupting the Alohym’s plots?”

“Patronize me again and I’ll…flath, these are complicated equations, even for me. Do me a favor and assume I threatened you and you were truly terrified of it.”

Haradeth thought for a moment and discovered coming up with possible torments Bix could unleash was more frightening than any of the threats she’d actually make. “Done,” Haradeth said.

Bix nodded in approval. “We’ll only have a few seconds. This is some slipshod math. But it will get us there, and there is a ninety-six percent chance we’ll arrive with every body part we left with.”

Bix pushed a button on the console, and the air over the Portal Stone distorted. As Haradeth watched, it folded in on itself, almost like someone pulling a sock inside out, if the sock was the fabric of reality. It hurt his head to watch. “Wait, what was that last thing you said?”

“No time!” Bix said cheerfully and dove through the portal. Haradeth gaped at Lorathor, who laughed and followed. Swearing under his breath, Haradeth jumped through after them.

The portal snapped shut after them. They were in a treasure room lit by dozens of Alohym arcglobes. There were three soldiers in here, staring at them in mute astonishment. “Get Theog-” one of them started to shout.

For his quick thinking, he died first. A dagger sprouted from his throat, moving so quickly Haradeth could barely track it. Bix stood there, grinning at her handwork. The two soldiers remaining began to raise their arcwands.

Haradeth dove for cover as one of them opened fire, unlight ricochetting off a pile of gold. Lorathor closed the distance between them in two great strides, unlight glancing off his armor. The third stepped around and took aim at Lorathor’s back, and Haradeth hurled a gold plate like a discus.

It hit the side of the man’s head and lodged in there.

Bix chuckled. “I knew I kept you alive for a reason.”

“Lorathor.” Haradeth pointed down the cororidor. “Wear one of these faces, and tell Theognis the portal stone activated. Then find Armin and the others.”

Lorathor started to run, his skin and armor already running as he did. Bix gave him a sideways look. “I’m no strategy expert, but why did we just give up the element of surprise?”

“Because we didn’t,” Haradeth said, taking cover. “He’ll be expecting resistance fighters. He definitely will not be expecting a godling, and he can’t possibly be prepared for you.”

Bix nodded at that and headed over to climb into a cauldron. “I’ll pop up when he least expects it. Then I’ll stab him.” She clambered up the side and looked in. “Hey, Haradeth, if someone’s in here, should I stab them? She looks…weird.”

Haradeth ran over to the cauldron and looked in inside.

A half alohym woman was huddled in the bottom, staring at them both with wide eyes.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 148

The crystal bottle that had once held the Phoenix Flame lay still lay in the grass where Tythel had dropped it as she left this valley. It was now home to a small mouse and her pups, who apparently didn’t mind that predators could see them. Not when they were safely in a bottle that had contained liquid hot enough to burn a dragon’s lifeless body to ash. Tythel hopped out the Skitterer and began to walk towards where that ash had been left – her father’s last resting place.

In her grief, she hadn’t thought about Phoenix Flame and what that would mean. The phoenix were a race of dragonkin that had gone extinct during the era of her great grandsire, the necromantic dragon Grejhak that had created the lair Armin was now delving into. The timing was no coincidence – Grejhak had waged a genocidal campaign against these creatures that could defy death. Their name, in the old Draconic tongue, meant “Second-Born,” a reference to their phenomenal regenerative prowess. Aside from that, Karjon had spoken only little of them, save that their flames had been opposite those of normal dragons – a Phoenix could breathe Heartflame from birth, and only later would learn Ghostflame. Their third flame was similar to Dragonflame, but for two key differences.

Phoenix Flame lacked the sheer destructive potential of Dragonflame. It was hotter than any flame mankind could produce, and hot enough to burn a dragon’s scales, but it was still dwarfed by the heat their scaled cousins could produce.  However, unlike Dragonflame, it did not just leave behind ash. It helped decompose that which it burned, accelerating years of natural breakdown into a handful of seconds.

And dragon bodies fueled plant life unlike anything else in the world.

In the year since she’d been gone, the spot where her father had been cremated had transformed. It was awash with Drakebloom. The flowers grew taller than even the Sunflowers that sometimes lined the roads, their stalks twisted and arched to look like a dragon rearing up to let loose its breath weapon. Their petals were red and orange and gold and glistened with morning dew. Bees, stripped green and black, flitted among them. When the Drakebloom was ready to reproduce, the flower would rise up until it was facing the sky, then spray its seeds. It was said to look like a dragon flaming as the red and gold seeds caught the air to be carried away.

Tythel had to swallow to process the implications. Drakebloom could breed true with other flowers though some process Karjon had not been able to explain. It was still rare because dragons normally incinerated their dead, and much of the nutrients gained through normal breakdown were lost. Where they weren’t incinerated, they would decompose only slowly.

But Tythel had incinerated Karjon with Phoenix Flame. Everything in his body had been returned to the earth in an instant.

The Drakebloom would spread throughout the valley. Eventually, enough seeds would crest over the wall to spread into the rest of the world. The normal yellow honey bees outside would take over from the green bees of Karjon’s valley, and they would spread the Drakebloom further.

Dragons may be gone, but Drakebloom would one day be as common as lilies.

Tears threatened to well in Tythel’s eyes. She hadn’t meant to, but she’d given Karjon a legacy even better than the cold stone she’d carved for him. It was still there, although she had to brush away some vines that had begun to creep their way up the mass of rock. She traced her fingers along the letters of the message she’d written, so long ago.

Here lies Karjon the Magnificent

Who battled the Wizards of the 9th Circle

Dueled the dread necromancer Gix

Sat upon the Council of Twelve

And was the greatest Father to have lived.

Behind her, she could hear Eupheme and Tellias dismount from the Skitter. They spoke briefly amongst themselves – “Is that her father-” Tellias started to say, but before he could finish, Eupheme interrupted.

“I think so. Help me unpack this? I think she needs a moment.”

“I imagine she needs more than that,” Tellias said, but not in an argumentative tone. He sounded somber, and at that moment, Tythel could have hugged them both.

She didn’t. Instead, she savored the moment here, pressing her hand against the cold stone as she once had against her father’s warm scales. I’m sorry I didn’t come back sooner, Father, she thought, and in the twilight shadow she could almost imagine the Drakebloom formed his profile perfectly. It’s been a long year. I’ll tell you all about it once we’re done. But…right now, I need your protection again.

Tythel knew her father well. He would have hunkered down, bringing himself eye-level with her, and cocked his head just slightly. He would have said “What trouble you, my child?” Or something along those lines. Immediate concern for her, the rest to be considered later.

The Alohym – Those From Above – have a new thing. A thing that is half human and half of them. It hunts me and my friends. I don’t…I don’t know if I’m strong enough to beat it. The feeling of tears continued to build, and her nictitating membranes began to flash in reflex.

This time, she could practically hear him. “Of course you are. You are my daughter, after all.”

I’m still human. I’m still too weak. I think I lead us all to our deaths. 

“Oh, really? Then tell me, my beautiful human daughter – why don’t you weep?”

Tythel knew the voice wasn’t real. Knew it was her filling in what he would be saying – but also realized he was right. She brought her hand up to her cheek and found it dry. Her nictitating membranes were still flashing – the way dragons relieved sadness, their version of a human’s tears – but tear ducts were human things. Dragons shed no tears.

Tythel shed no tears.

Finding one more thing in common with her father made her smile even through the flashes of her membranes. She slid her hand down the stone and stepped back.

Even if they died here, she’d do so with the knowledge she’d taken on one more draconic trait before she passed.

Tythel turned to help Eupheme and Tellias unload the Skitter. She could sense their desire to comfort but their uncertainty about doing so. When she met Eupheme’s eyes, she shook her head, but made herself smile.

Knowing they cared was enough.

In the distance, Tythel heard the buzzing of Catheon’s wings, and knew that soon this valley would be a battleground once again.

She glanced at her father’s grave one last time as they moved to pick the point where they would engage the enemy, and silently made a vow.

No matter what happened here, the Drakebloom would be unharmed.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 147

I never thought I’d be coming back here, Tythel thought as the Skitter broke free of the forest and the entrance to Karjon’s valley loomed above them. Once upon a time, this had been her entire world. Those stone walls that rose up from the floor of the valley had been the edge of reality, the furthest she’d even gone. They were as she remembered them, large and spiked and imposing. The morning sun had started to rise behind them, changing them from black shapes rising in the darkness to dark gray. Tythel’s memory of these stones only had them a few shades lighter than what she was seeing now. Once they passed through the gap she’d exited through all those months ago, they’d be back in twilight for another thirty minutes, until the sun managed to crest over their peaks.

As imposing as they were, they also seemed smaller than she remembered. Her memory held them as these huge, imposing, structures. Completely impassible and as implacable as if they’d been wrought of iron. Now, however? They were formidable, but Tythel had seen Alohym Warmongers annihilate forests in a single shot. She’d seen their Chrysopods shatter walls twice the height of this with beams of Unlight. She’d seen things she never could have imagined. The walls that had once been the border of her world now lacked…something. Like the walls had shrunk in the year she had been gone.

What made you? She wondered, bringing her eyes up to look at the grey stone. It was a question she’d meant to ask her father, when time had permitted. The valley was a crater, the stones that surrounded it where primordial stone had splashed up like water from some immense impact and then frozen in place. It was beyond the power of dragons, men, Sylvani, Alohym, and even the Small Gods to make such a thing.

If Karjon had known, he’d taken that secret to the grave with him. Their secret had not been recorded in any of his notebooks that she’d been able to recover.

“Share your thoughts?” Eupheme asked quietly. She’d wrapped herself fully in her cloak and looked like a blob of shadow that had taken residence in the pilot seat of the Skitter.

“I’m being morose,” Tythel admitted, forcing herself to smile. She’d gotten better at that since she’d left the valley, but this one felt faker than usual to her. “Thinking about what made this valley. The mountain used to be volcanic. Dad formed his lair in the old caldera. But the valley itself was the result of something before even his records.”

“Any idea what made it?” Tellias asked. It was a relief to have him join the conversation unprompted. The tension between them had been fading over the course of the ride, although there was still a gap between them that Tythel could still feel. It was, oddly enough, something on his face. Some expression she couldn’t quite place, but an expression she could still read on some level below the conscious.

“Logically, the easiest explanation was some huge stone falling from the sky, out of the void the Alohym came from. If there can be other worlds up there, it stands to reason that the myths of flaming stones that fall from the heavens are based on reality.” Tythel shook her head.

“But you don’t believe that,” Tellias said, shifting forward slightly. To conserve power, his arcplate wasn’t active, meaning he had nothing but his own muscles to move the dozens of stones worth of steel encasing his body.

“No, I don’t.” Tythel said. They were at the gap now, the one break in the wall that surrounded the valley. The space between the stones was not as mysterious as the stones themselves. Karjon had deliberately shattered the barrier there, to allow animals to travel in and out on their own. At least, that was the reason that Karjon had given her back then. But if that had been why, wouldn’t he have shattered it in the hundreds of years before her life?

No, it seemed most likely he’d done it in case anything were to happen to him, to make sure Tythel wouldn’t be trapped within the crater.

“I think it was the ancient Alohym. If it was a skystone, there would be more like this valley, but I’ve never seen anything like it. This…the stone cooled in an instant to form like this. That’s not how anything else works, other than the Light, but we have no lumwell here.”

“Light and shadow, that’s quite the thought,” Tellias muttered.

“It’s also good for us,” Eupheme said, pulling down the hood of her cloak. “The nearest Lumwell is back in Hillsdale, and it’s a small one. Their lumcaster won’t be able to pull much power from it. He’ll be limited.”

Tythel nodded. “We’ll also have shadows all day long around the edge, at least on this side.”

“We’ll need to get out of them,” Eupheme said, her shoulders stiffening. “If Leora shows up with them…she’s better in the shadows than I am. I think I can match her if we stay in the sunlight, but in a shadow that large, she’ll tear me apart. All of us, really.”

“You’re a bright little lumwell, aren’t you?” Tellias muttered.

“I’m a realist,” Eupheme snapped, with far more vitriol than Tellias teasing had called for.

“The important thing,” Tythel interjected, trying to get the words in before the argument between the two could ignite, “is that the illusion my father had woven over the valley will mean we can negate the biggest advantage Catheon has over us.”

The Skitter went silent at the mention of Catheon. Having a name for the human that wore an Alohym skin like a suit of arcplate should have made him less intimidating, less mysterious. He wasn’t some strange figure; he was a person with a name.

But instead, his name just raised more question. It wasn’t a human name. It sounded akin to Rephylon or Metymon or other named Alohym. Yet the voice inside was human.

“Even on the ground, can we really beat him?” Tellias asked.

Tythel shrugged. “I don’t know. But we can try. I’m sure of that much. And if we can manage to pull it off…we’ll have taken down a real threat.”

“And if we die, the drop I set up in Hillsdale will make sure d’Monchy learns of our fate.” Eupheme said. The tension was fading from her shoulder some. “At least he’ll be warned of what’s coming – and that we won’t be.”

Tythel nodded. She opened her mouth to say something, but then they were past the wall and in the valley.

Ahead, she could see her father’s tomb, and the sight tore the words from her.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 146

Edgeminster had become a prison with a thousand guards and a single prisoner. Poz pressed his back against the bell tower he had escaped too. Those strange flying monsters of the Alohym screamed through the air, their stalk-eyes scanning the ground for any sign of Poz’s huddled form. Alohym troops patrolled the street, relaying their orders through song stones built into their helmets. The worst was the omnipresent buzzing sound that flitted about the sky on gossamer wings.

Poz’s pursuer, the human that wore the skin of an Alohym, had arrived in Edgeminster.

Ratflesh was not the kind of flesh that was given over to hatred. Ratflesh was fear and cunning and curiosity, not love and hate. Those were the emotions of the High Flesh, of Crowflesh and Squidflesh and Apeflesh. Ratflesh was the cleverest of the Low Flesh, and still the most useful for right now.

This bell tower was well hidden from the ground. If Poz had crow, he could go for Crowflesh. Right now a Middle Flesh might fit better – cat or fox or hound – but the difference wouldn’t make enough of an impact to be worth the risk of trying to acquire the meat.

Also, those fleshes could know hatred. Right now, if Poz could know hatred, he would be distracted by feeling it for that flying bastard. He’d followed Poz across the continent twice, from the battlefield where he’d found the deathegg to the Barony of Axburg in the north and then again to the south at Edgeminster.

This thing had hounded Poz, and Poz strongly suspected that it was ultimately responsible for Nicandros turning against them.

If I could kill him…

Poz pushed the thought down. Ratflesh made it easy. Rats did not think of harming their predators to scare them away. Rats hid and only bit if cornered. It was the correct call to make here. That man could fly in the sky and fire beams of unlight from his hand. He was as dangerous as a true Alohym, and with the cunning of a human. Poz had no hope of defeating him.

Unless…

Poz reached into his pouch. The egg was still there, but he pushed that aside. There was something else there, a leather tube, tightly wound. He’d been carrying it since Axeburg.

No. Poz thought firmly, pulling his hand out of the pouch. It would be the height of folly to take that risk. There was no guarantee it would even give him what he needed to defeat the flying Alohym.

It would be enough to escape, though. 

That though stopped him cold. The temptation…Poz leaned over to peer out of the bell tower. There were Alohym soldiers along the walls, and imperipods watching each of the gates. There was no escape for him, not right now.

He leaned back before a flight of Skimmers could pass by again.

It couldn’t be all about the egg, Poz realized with growing horror. The egg couldn’t possibly be that valuable. Even if it was, the Alohym had sent an entire battalion down to Edgeminster to claim it. There had to be something else they wanted, and Poz was gradually becoming certain he knew what it was.

The last remaining deathegg would be an appealing target, especially if the Alohym knew better than Poz what it could do. Even if they didn’t, it would be a useful lever to have over the Dragon Princess that sought to reclaim her throne, the one that had killed one of their own. Yet…that couldn’t be everything. Not for this much.

Why did they pull the rest of my people back? Poz asked, for what had to be the hundredth time. Like the previous ninety-nine times he’d wondered that, he had no answer. As far as Poz knew, he was the only one of the Underfolk to remain on the surface. He’d thought it was because the Underfolk had feared the Alohym, but now…now he had to wonder if the Alohym might want some other prize.

The only sample of the Underfolk they could reach.

Poz shuddered and curled up into a ball around himself. Tears began to well in his eyes. It was too much. Too much. An entire army was waiting to keep him from breaking free of the city, and the only thing he could provide were more questions. Questions he couldn’t answer because he was not smart enough.

Not right now…

Poz reached into the pouch again, drying his eyes with his free hand. His fingers brushed against the leather pouch and, delicately, he removed it. He nearly dropped it from how badly his hands were shaking, terrified at the thought of what he was contemplating. Breathing slowly and steadily, Poz focused to forcing his hands to obey his commands as he unwound the twine that held the leather pouch shut.

Back when the flying Alohym had attacked him in Axeburg, Poz had been forced to crawl along the ground, searching for an exit. The Baron had already been hit by shards of glass and sliced to death. He’d been bleeding a few feet away.

Poz hadn’t been able to ask before taking one the Baron’s discarded fingers.

For weeks now it had been in his pouch, wrapped in leather and covered with salt so it wouldn’t turn or spoil. The finger was a brown and shriveled thing by now, the color of a mummified corpse. There wasn’t much flesh on it, but large quantities of flesh weren’t needed to trigger a transformation.

Manflesh. He was contemplating committing the great sin and eating on Manflesh. Again.

There were three Forbidden Fleshes. Man, Sylvani, and Dragon. Poz suspected that if they had not fled underground, the elders would have declared Alohym flesh forbidden as well. The flesh of other beings that were on part with the Underfolk in intellect.

He’d tasted it once before. It had been the most incredible experience he’d even encountered. It had also been terrifying. He’d understood why it was forbidden, understood so much he’d fed on Ratflash to stop the terrible, unstoppable understanding.

And now he was considering tasting it again. Of turning into…that again.

Poz wanted to scream. He wanted to be sick. The idea of that was…monstrous. If it was just his own survival at stake, he’d never even been contemplating this before. Yet there was something that the Alohym wanted. Something they wanted so badly they’d dispatched an entire army to retrieve it, turned Nicandros against his former friends with the promise of a resurrection, and sent the man who wore an Alohym to retrieve it.

Maybe it was the egg. Maybe it was his flesh. Maybe it was both.

It did not matter. The Alohym could not be allowed to have whatever they were after.

Even if it meant committing this sin.

The finger tasted of salt as it passed his lips.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 145

Glass shattered over the streets of Edgeminster as Poz went hurtling through a window. The sheet he’d wrapped around his hands was torn to ribbons by the impact, but his skin was untouched. Poz tossed it aside and rolled as he hit the ground.

Nicandros followed, his black coat fluttering behind him like the wings of a falcon descending upon a hare.

Or, more appropriately, a rat.

Poz sprung to his feet, his hands trembling with terror. The tail ratflesh provided lashed behind him, slicing through the air like a whip. Poz heard the sound of Nicandros hitting the ground behind him, and the rustle of cloth that had accompanied his descent was joined by the pounding of feet on the cobblestones of the street.

This ratflesh knew well. The hunter pursued, and the flesh ran. Poz gave himself over to the instincts of this form, instincts honed over countless generations of survival against predators more fearsome to it than Nicandros was to Pox. Rats knew how to escape cats and foxes and even the lesser cousins of dragons, the lesser drakes.

Nicandros had no fangs or claws. He had knives and swords. He had no fire breath. Instead, he had an arcwand.

Move! It wasn’t really a word. It was an impulse. Poz leapt to the side, and a bolt of unlight arcfire cut through the air, mere fingers from where he had been. The skin on his arms raised in gooseflesh, and his breathing came in ragged, harried gasps.

“Poz, wait!” Nicandros shouted.

Poz did not. He bolted out of the alley and skittered into the street.

People started to scream and shout as Poz emerged onto the street. A woman and man clutched to each other, and a food vendor overturned one of his carts in surprise. Cabbages spilled out in front of him, and Poz had to scramble to avoid slipping on the wet leaves. Poz’s tail lashed out as he passed and wrapped around the remaining cart, deliberately dragging it over as he passed. More cabbages fell onto the street, creating a carpet of slick vegetables.

The merchant bellowed in a combination of dismay and outrage as Nicandros rounded the corner, sighting his arcwand on Poz as his feet pounded the pavements.

Nicandros hit the cabbages, and his feet went sliding out from under him. Poz felt a thrill of relief. Poz had the advantage of the claws granted by ratflesh to keep himself balanced. Nicandros had nice leather boots. There was no comparison – at these speeds, he could not have hoped to maintain balance.

Poz’s relief was short lived. He couldn’t fight the compulsion to look over his shoulder and see that Nicandros was rising to his feet, already taking aim. Did I misjudge you so badly, old friend? Poz wondered, desperately hoping he had not been incorrect.

Nicandros swore and lowered his arcwand, forcing himself to his feet. Poz stumbled forwards as his legs went weak with sudden relaxation, and he had to force himself to keep moving. He’d been certain that Nicandros wouldn’t fire into a crowd of humans, but for a moment he’d honestly wondered if he’d been wrong.

Poz ducked into the next alley, out of Nicandros’ sight. Still weak from the realization that he’d managed to escape, Poz had to struggle to keep climbing as he made himself climb up the wall.

Nicandros entered the alley just moments after Poz pulled his tail over the roof. Heart still pounding, Poz curled himself around the chimney and waited for his body to stop shaking as Nicandros shouted his name below.

One thing Poz had learned in his time interacting with Nicandros was that humans were fiercely devoted to their offspring. Nicandros was worse than most in that regard. The boy’s mother had died not long after giving birth, and that grief had driven Nicandros to an almost slavishly loyal to his child.

Once, in an effort to get information out of Nicandros, a group of Alohym soldiers had abducted Tomah. The boy had been little more than four, and given the slow aging of humans, Poz thought it was very likely he had completely forgotten about it.

Poz had been bound to a wall while Nicandros had been chained to a chair when they’d interrogated him. He’d watched, helpless to say anything, as Nicandros had been subject to their torture. They’d sliced away strips of flesh. They’d shoved hot pins under his fingernails. They’d beaten him with blunt instruments. He’d endured it all.

Oh, sure, he had screamed in pain and writhed in agony. He’d cursed them with every vulgarity he knew, from the new oaths of the Alohym to the old oaths of the faith of the Light, and even a few Underfolk curses. Nicandros had even given them false locations, sending them down rabbit holes and chasing shadows.

They’d tried interrogating Poz too, but Poz had been deep in grubflesh at that point. He’d barely known the answers to the questions they’d be asking.

But Nicandros…he’d held it together. Almost perfectly. Poz had wondered if anything they’d done to him would have broken his resolve.

But in a moment of weakness, Nicandros had slipped out. He’d cried out for his son.

They’d brought Tomah the next day and tied the young boy to a chair across from his father. Nicandros was given a simple choice – begin talking, or his son would endure what he had endured.

Nicandros had told them everything. Locations, deployments, plans. Everything. Poz still shuddered to remember the desperate, wild fear in Nicandros eyes, the way he’d wept as he’d begged them to spare his son’s life. Even in grubflesh, it had broken Poz’s heart to see.

The Alohym soldiers had left them. Nicandros had sat there, in the chair, shuddering. Tomah had been frightened and confused, but they’d left them alone, and they hadn’t tied the boy’s bonds tightly enough to keep him from wriggling free. With some coaxing and urging from Nicandros, Tomah had brought his father the knife he needed to cut free. Nicandros had freed Poz.

They’d escaped and gotten back to the resistance. Nicandros had warned de’Monchy of his failing before the Alohym could wipe them out.

Then he’d left his son in the care of the resistance and left. Poz had followed.

Together, they’d hunted down every single human that had held Nicandros captive, every single human that had been involved in taking Tomah hostage. Nicandros had slaughtered them all, one by one. In their homes, in their places of work, at one point even raiding a barracks.

The last one had, while having hot pins jammed under his fingernails, gave up the name of their commander, the man who had ordered they use Tomah as a hostage.

It had been terrifying to watch what Nicandros did to the man. He’d spent days dying, begging for mercy, pleading for Nicandros to free him – pleas that eventually turned to begging for death.

Yet under that torment, he’d maintained the actual Alohym that commanded him had not known of the ploy. Finally, Nicandros had been convinced that the man was telling the truth, that the decision had ultimately come from this broken down husk that had once been human, and granted him his final wish.

Before Nicandros had killed the man, he’d told the commander that he’d be killing his wife and daughter as well. The man had gone to the Shadow believing his family would die like he would. Screaming.

It had been a lie. Nicandros had explained later. “I just wanted the flathing bastard to go to the Shadow thinking his family would be joining him.” And yet…perhaps it had been grubflesh, but Poz had – at the moment the threat was made – believe Nicandros meant it.

That was the most terrifying Nicandros had ever been, up until the day he’d learned the family Tomah had gone to stay with had allowed him to join the Alohym’s ranks.

That was the man Poz was up against, and Poz was standing between that man and his son’s resurrection.

Below Poz, Nicandros shouted his name in a voice that was born with the rage and sorrow of a grieving parent.

Small Worlds part 220

The Adriatic Sea was one of the most beautiful oceans on the world. As a girl, long before finding her Nanoverse, Artemis had enjoyed spending hours along its banks, hunting – sometimes alongside Apollo, sometimes alone. In that time, almost no humans lived along vast stretches of its shores, and she could go out there and be completely alone. Even after she had found her nanoverse and then scoured the globe to find one for Apollo, she’d come out there sometimes to enjoy the solitude. What had impressed her most back then was how clear the water was – it had felt like she could have stared straight to the bottom if there was only a bit lighter.

Today, that water was growing murky with the spilled blood of the god and monster alike.

Artemis’ bowstring thrummed in rapid succession, letting loose a trio of arrows that buried themselves in the chests of approaching Nereids. Blood began to leak into the water around them, and some of the shark mounts began to frenzy, turning on their bleeding riders. Artemis turned away from the sight – they weren’t threats anymore. “Fall back!” she shouted. Water rushed into her mouth, but the words came out clearly. She still found herself choking on seawater.

It took only a tiny portion of her divine power to allow a bow and arrow to work under water, but as long as the battle had been raging, Artemis was beginning to feel the strain of even that. Her body Hungered for air, a hunger that normally never bothered her. She shifted her body slightly, spouting gills along her neck and the sides of her ribcage. It was not the first adaptation she’d made for underwater combat, and she kicked away from the approaching horde with webbed feet. “Fall back!” she repeated. “Fall back or we’ll be overrun!”

Harpoons flew through the water around her, and one grazed her back. She gritted her teeth against the pain. Triton had lent some of his own ichor to all of these projectiles, and they sliced through divine flesh without problem.

Aphrodite spread her fingers, and bands of water wove themselves into a solid net between the retreating Olympians and Poseidon’s army. Hera flung out her hand and threw a web of fire into the net, boiling the sea between the bands.

Artemis saw the frustration on Hera’s face and knew it was mirrored on her own. On the surface, out in open air, that much heat would have incinerated a sizeable chunk of this army. Beneath the waves, it helped create a field of hot water and not much else.

Artemis landed on the floor of the ocean and held out her hand, grabbing threads of Air and Aether. She created a bubble of dry air on the ocean floor, and the other Olympians joined her. “We can’t keep this up!” Demeter said as soon as she entered the bubble.

“I can only hold this bubble for so long, and the Kraken or Scylla will find us soon,” Artemis growled as others joined them. “I need useful suggestions, please.” Already, Harpoons were being shot through the makeshift barrier and into the bubble of air. The difference between air and water meant they missed, but it would only before a matter of time before the Nereids drew near enough to open fire through the air.

“Hestia is dead,” Hephaestus intoned sourly, something small clutched between his fingers. He held it up to reveal her nanoverse.

“And you sent Hermes away,” Aphrodite sniffed.

“Enough,” Hera snapped, drawing all eyes to her. “We are also missing others. Artemis was chosen to lead. Shouldn’t we follow her?”

Artemis gave the older woman a look of pure thanks. Ever since Poseidon had turned on them, Hera had become Artemis’ staunchest supporter. It’s only because she wants you to vote to reinstate her once Zeus resurrects, Artemis reminded herself. At least, that was her best theory.

Either way, it worked in her favor.

“Fine,” Demeter said, wringing sea-water from her hair. “Then what’s your plan?”

The truth was, Artemis didn’t have one. This wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near this hard. Fighting Poseidon in the ocean was going to be difficult, but eight on one were odds that should have made it less of a fight and more of an execution. Even with Thalassa supporting him, they still would have outnumbered them four to one.

“We need to hold out till Hermes returns with reinforcements,” Artemis said. “The plan isn’t changed.”

“Hermes left before the others showed up!” Aphrodite said, the snap in her voice vanishing after a glance from Hera. “It’s not just Triton and Thalassa out there!”

Artemis didn’t need the reminder. On top of those three, on top of the Scylla and the Kraken, two other sea gods had joined the fray on Poseidon’s side. Ceto, the goddess of sea monsters – who was bringing in more creatures by the minute to reinforce Poseidon’s side – and Eurybia. Five gods, two monsters, and the gods and monsters arrayed against them were all in their natural habitat.

“It gets worse than what you know,” Aphrodite said with a scowl. “I saw my ex out there. Nerites. Nerites is commanding the Nereids.”

Make that six gods and two monsters. 

“All we have to do is hold out,” Artemis repeated, her voice firm. “Hermes will bring us back reinforcements. He’s never failed before.”

“Even if he does,” Apollo said, his voice calm, “what good would it do? That little mishmash pantheon Athena has been working on would-”

“Would almost double our numbers with fresh troops, and bring us two war goddesses, a Trickster, and a storm goddess. Under the waves. We need them.”

“There’s still an army,” Apollo objected in the same reasonable tones as before.

“Which is why Athena was not Hermes’ first stop,” Artemis said, meeting his gaze with level eyes.

Everyone looked at her. “What aren’t you telling us?” Hera asked, suspicion now in her eyes.

As if on cue – Artemis wouldn’t be surprised to learn the god in question had been waiting and listening to make a dramatic entrance – a bolt of fire split the air in the center of the gathered Olympians. Tiny hands, the color of a moonless night, grabbed onto the edge of the tear and tore it apart until it was wide enough to allow traversal.

Hand in hand, Hades and Persephone stepped out onto the sea floor. Hades was wearing a black suit, his bident resting on his shoulder. Persephone at least had dressed for the occasion, wearing a black wetsuit and had her hair tightly bound behind her head. “Well,” Hades said with an overly friendly grin, “I do hope I’m in the right place.”

“You could have arrived a little later. Maybe after we were all dead?” Artemis extended her hand, and Hades shook it. “Thank you for coming.”

Hades opened his mouth to answer, but Persephone cut him off. “They’re closing in. Hades and I will supply the army. You need to hold them off.”

Artemis nodded and turned to ready her bow as the water rushed back in around them.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 116

Tythel threw herself to the side as the unlight beam approached and covered her head with her shield as the beam stopped tearing through the forest floor and struck the tree that had briefly been covering her.

That saved her. The unlight hit the tree and, for a moment, it sucked in all light that was hitting its branches, creating a massive circle of darkness around herself and its trunk.

Then it exploded, sending unlight-infused splinters spiraling through the air, a hail of deadly shrapnel that could have punched through her scaled hide. She could feel a couple pieces stick into her arms and tore them out with hisses of pain. The idea of having to endure unlight poisoning again was motivation enough to overcome the sharp stinging sensation.

“Move!” Tellias hissed, and Tythel realized she was exposed. She got up and ran, moments before a beam of unlight impacted the forest floor she’d just vacated. This time, it wasn’t a sweeping beam. It drilled into the ground, sending chunks of earth and stone flying away, and unlight corruption began to seep into the leaves and trees.

Tellias opened fire with one of the arcwands, beams of crimson light lancing up towards where the attacker was. The beam shifted in direction and angle as the flying Alohym twisted away from the incoming fire. “Die you monster!” the human inside the flying Alohym-suit screamed, still propelling unlight into the spot Tythel had vacated.

Tythel didn’t want to dissuade him of the notion that he’d managed to strike her. She began to scrabble up a nearby tree with her talons. Get above the tree line and burn him while he’s distracted, Tythel thought to herself. No time to focus on the energy needed for ghostflame. If she hit him hard enough, she might be able to ground him, and once that happened…then they’d at least be on a more even playing field.

She reached the top of the tree before the man inside was finished firing. He was every bit as imposing at Tythel remembered. Easily as tall as Tellias in the armor, but slender and graceful with an unnatural grace. The huge thorax that emerged from behind his legs was shrinking as he maintained the beam of unlight, and Tythel could hear his breathing, ragged with every second.

Ragged and…sniffling. He was crying. The man inside the Alohym skin was crying as he fired into the ground, thinking he was killing Tythel.

Pushing her confusion aside, Tythel took a deep breath and let out a torrent of dragonflame.

It was perfect. The flying Alohym didn’t see it coming. It streaked towards his back, completely unaware, and Tythel braced herself to leap as soon as he fell.

The fire struck a golden barrier before it could hit the flying man, flaring outwards from the impact a good span away from the Alohym’s back.

Oh, right, Tythel thought, looking around wildly. The lumcaster. He was there, in a nearby tree, and waved his fingers when he saw Tythel looking. “Careful, Catheon,” the lumcaster said. He was speaking quietly enough that he likely didn’t believe that Tythel could hear him.

At least she had a name for the man in the flying Alohym suit. Catheon.

Tythel leapt from the tree and latched onto another one. She began to run through the branches, using the skills she’d honed long ago in Karjon’s valley with her new strength and talons for better grip. The lumcaster’s eyes widened as Tythel drew near, brachiating like an ape to close the distance. He leapt out of the tree and began to channel a barrier of golden light.

Tythel landed and heard Eupheme appear behind her. Good, that means I don’t have to worry about my back. Tythel prepared herself to smash her unlight hammer against the lumcaster’s barrier – when it occurred to her that Eupheme’s footsteps sounded wrong. Too heavy, too quick.

She turned just in time to prevent the woman behind her from ramming a spear through her heart. It glanced off Tythel’s ribcage instead, drawing a line of blood. Tythel hit the ground and rolled away from her attack. It wasn’t Eupheme. She was too tall, wrapped head-to-toe in black fabric, and carried a spear that glowed with unlight.

Some other umbrist had joined the fight. An umbrist on the side of the Alohym.

Tythel took a deep breath, fighting aside the pain as best she could. The Umbrist was every bit as fast as Eupheme, and Tythel found herself leaping back repeatedly to avoid getting impaled.

The real Eupheme had appeared behind the Lumcaster. He’d managed to create a collar of light around himself to prevent Eupheme from slitting his throat from behind and had banished all shadows around him. He was now engaged in a swordfight with Eupheme, who was forced to only rely on her speed and skills. In that, at least, the Lumcaster seemed to equally match her.

A beam of unlight streaked from the sky again. This time it slammed into Tellias, driving him to one knee. Catheon – didn’t maintain the beam this time. Tythel prayed he couldn’t, or they were damned.

She caught the head of the new umbrist’s spear on her shield and reminded herself they might be damned either way.

They needed a plan, desperately. They were out maneuvered, out armed, and running short on time. Tythel couldn’t even use her greatest weapon here, not without…

A horrible, dangerous, and beautiful plan occurred to Tythel. She took a deep breath between the umbrist’s strike and let loose a stream of flame. The umbrist ducked into the shadow of a tree and vanished, reappearing on the other side of Tythel, but Tythel wasn’t aiming for her. Tythel spun around, maintaining the flame as she did.

The flame nearly caught the Umbrist mid-leap. She twisted her body in the air, the flames just barely missing her, and the daggers that had been aimed for Tythel’s back went wide. She landed with a curse and rolled to the side, and Tythel chased her with the flame. “You’re going to burn us all!” she shouted at Tythel.

No. I won’t, Tythel thought grimly as she maintained the stream of fire and pivoted in a full circle.

Around her, the forest burst into flame.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 115

The Writ Hunters didn’t approach like soldiers. They didn’t start with a single barrage of unlight fire designed to cut them down. Instead, uncoordinated beams lancing through the air and cutting swaths of darkness across the woods. Tythel dropped behind her shield and let the beams ricochet off it. Eupheme ducked into the shadow of one of the trees and vanished. And Tellias just stood there, letting the arcplate absorb the beams, an implacable force against the attack.

Just as Tythel was thinking this was going to be too easy, two of them broke out of cover, weapons raised and charging, a howling fury darkened by unlight weapons. They were the two with the ringwands, and when they fired, expanding circles of unlight sliced through branches and shrubs in their path.

Tythel could feel the impact all the way up her arm as one impacted her shield, grunting against the sudden force. She dug her talons into the forest floor before she went skidding away. Tellias took a ring to his chest and was sent tumbling backward. Tythel could hear him cursing in the armor as the dry leaves crunched under his bulk.

I can’t use flame in here, Tythel realized. She gritted her teeth and charged towards one of the shooters. The man fired a couple more rings, each one striking her shield and slowing her for a moment, but her advance was inexorable. He cursed and drew an unlight blade, just in time to block her hammer strike.

The shockwave of the hammers detonation against the shield drove the man to one knee and sent branches snapping nearby. The man’s eyes widened, and he slashed at her with the sword, a frantic, desperate motion. Tythel caught it with the edge of her shield, inches away from her stomach.

He was so focused on her, the writ hunter didn’t see Eupheme step out of his shadow. He didn’t know she was there until her dagger drew a thin line across his throat.

Eupheme was gone before the Writ-Hunter hit the ground.

The three who were still firing from range had been focusing their fire on Tellias, but when their compatriot collapsed, Tythel could hear angry curses. It gave her enough time to bring her shield back up before they could perforate her.

She dropped to one knee, making sure the shield completely covered her body and braced herself as the impacts struck her shield over and over again. The unlight crystal in the back of her shield was drawing in a higher amount of light as it strained to compensate for the repeated impacts.

She was pinned.

Tellias had engaged the ringwand wielder. He didn’t throw his weapon aside as the first one had, instead dropping to one knee under Tellias’ wide strike, shooting an upward blast into Tellias’s chest. That close, the ringwand had enough force to lift him armor up into the air from the impact.  He landed on his back, and the attacker stepped over him, ready to shoot him in the chest again.

Then Eupheme stepped out of the shadows and ran the shooter through with a dagger into his back.

The shooters in the brushes were beginning to panic, firing wildly at any movement they could see. “Run!” Tythel shouted. “Run and live!”

All she managed to do was focus their fire back on her. That…suited her purposes perfectly. With the pressure off them, Eupheme and Tellias were able to dispatch the remaining three with relative ease.

The forest was oddly silent in the wake of the short battle. No animal stirred in the wake.

“That was too easy,” Eupheme said, stepping out of a tree behind Tythel.

“Agreed,” Tellias said, walking back their way with the unlight weapons slung over his shoulder. “They might have been arrogant, but that arrogant? I find it hard to countenance.”

“Because they were betrayed,” Tythel said, blinking in thought.

The other two looked at her. Before she could elaborate, Eupheme reached up and smacked her forehead with the palm of her head. “Right, of course. There were five of them.”

“And the sixth never showed,” Tythel said, “which means they were probably counting on him to assist in taking us down – they were arrogant because they had a trump card they thought ensured victory.”

“Someone who could enable them to watch us from afar,” Tellias said, arriving at the same conclusion as Tythel. “You think they had a Lumcaster.”

Tythel nodded. “A powerful one, someone able to bend light to watch us.”

Eupheme vanished into a shadow of the tree without warning. Tythel looked at Tellias, and then stepped behind him, pressing her back to his, her shield raised. I should have thought there might be an attack coming, Tythel thought, cursing herself for the oversight.

Eupheme reappeared a moment later. “He’s gone,” she said. “At least, he’s not with their camp.”

“A single Lumcaster couldn’t fight the three of us alone,” Tellias said as the tension began to drain out of his posture. Tythel was amazed she could feel it through the armor, but he’d been wound tighter than a clock spring. “We’re safe.”

“So…why didn’t he strike?” Tythel asked, stepping away from Tellias so she could see both him and Eupheme. “If he had come with the others…” Tythel didn’t need to finish the thought. A lumcaster could have hampered her, banished the shadows Eupheme relied upon, even restrained Tellias’ armor. It would have completely changed the slaughter they’d just perpetrated against their attackers.

“Do you hear him, Tythel?” Eupheme asked.

Tythel held up a finger to pause the conversation and listen. She could hear in the distance animals that hadn’t been frightened by the fight. She could hear the rustle of leaves on the winds. She could hear heartbeats, but none that sounded human. And she could hear a buzzing on the air, like the wings of a great wasp.

Oh no, Tythel thought, her eyes widening. “They’re here!” Tythel shouted, scrambling for the cover of one of the trees. “The flying Alohym is here!”

Eupheme and Tellias leaped for cover as a great beam of unlight lanced out of the sky and carved a furrow in the earth directly towards where Tythel hid.