Strange Cosmology part 98

Small Worlds Book 1: Weird Theology is now available for preorder. More information here.


 

I really should have expected this, Moloch thought with a snarl as he reached out to grip reality and twist it to his whims.

Angels were able to manipulate the fabric of reality with an ease no god could match. That lead lesser gods to believe that angels were unbeatable. The problem was, they were thinking in terms of raw power.

Moloch had plenty of raw power, but never ascribed to the believe it was the most important part of things. Not even back in the old days.

The world stopped besides Uriel and Moloch.

The problem with angels was that they were billions of years old. And that meant that if you studied them long enough, they became predictable. Uriel always opened by accelerating her temporal reference frame. If you weren’t prepared for it, you’d be diced to ribbons before you could react. It was how she had killed the first born of Egypt in a single night.  If you did the same thing at the same time, it just meant you had an uninterrupted fight.

Moloch grinned as Uriel’s eyes widened, their swords meeting mid air. “Impossible,” the angel whispered.

“Obviously not.” Moloch whirled under Uriel’s blade and thrust his sword towards her chest. With a flap of her immense wings, Uriel  launched herself away from him. The angel was glancing around. Moloch decided to take advantage of that uncertainty. Three bolts of dark green lightning raced from his fingers. Uriel’s sword sung through the air. She moved so fast she was able to catch two of the bolts, but the third struck home.

Moloch applied pressure onto those surges of power now racing from his fingertip to Uriel. “You angels think you’re so much better than us,” he hissed. “So holy, so righteous. You’re a bunch of hypocrites. Where were you when they burned, Uriel? Where were you?

Uriel screamed in pain.

Around them, the battle was still mostly frozen, everything moving like it was swimming through amber. A lightning bolt was starting to form above Moloch at a glacial pace, a twist of reality from that upstart Eschaton. Beside him, his sister’s form started to blur again. An Eschaton and a Protean. What are the odds? He could see Dianmu, raising a glaive to meet a lunging draconic head. Anansi and Athena were hidden by the chaos of the melee.

Worst of all, Crystal was nowhere to be seen.

“You speak of your creator,” Moloch spat at Uriel. “You speak of his plan. You preach his Glory. Your creator is gone, Uriel. Your creator has abandoned us! The only gods that matter are us. The only truth that matters is ours. The only world that matters is the one I’m going to see burn in the sun.”

Then Uriel flapped her wings, breaking herself free of the green lightning.

“Electricity made of mortal souls,” she gasped, her form smouldering. “You play in forces beyond you, godling.”

Moloch lashed out again. “Nothing is beyond me!” he screamed.

This time, Uriel was prepared for the bolts of lighting. She dodged all three with a deft sweep of her wings that carried her above the battlefield.  With a quick flick, her ascent turned into a dive straight for Moloch, her sword elongating to a hooked halberd. She swung the weapon below herself as she passed over Moloch.

Moloch parried the blow, but Uriel was now a whirlwind, rising and diving too quickly for Moloch to do anything but defend himself. No. Not after everything I lost. Not after everything that’s happened. I will not be beaten by an angel!

Uriel’s blade slipped past Moloch’s defenses, biting into his shoulder. His sword arm fell limp by his side. “Little god!” she said, her eyes burning with divine wrath, “you twist the powers of creation, the fabric of reality. “ She swooped down again, and Moloch had to duck this attack. He was already moving as fast as time would allow, he couldn’t heal. “Your powers are limited but your Hungers. I have no Hungers.” Uriel’s next strike sliced a line in Moloch’s thigh. “You manipulate laws, but those laws were put in place by my Creator.” Another dive, and Moloch screamed in pain as the fingers on his left hand were severed. “You forget that I. Am. Those. Laws.” Uriel landed and ran Moloch through.

Moloch slumped forward on the halberd. Oh. You are, aren’t you? Uriel was panting from the effort.

She dropped the halberd as Moloch started laughing, sliding forward on the weapon that was impaled through his chest. “You…you’re laughing. You’re going to die, Moloch. You’ve lost. What on Earth is possibly fun-uphg.”

Moloch’s hand shot up to cover her face. “Because, Uriel. You are made of the Laws.” Uriel started to struggle against the grasp, but Moloch was already twisting reality as he did. “You are woven into the fabric of reality as firmly as gravity. As firmly as light. And as I am their master…so I am able to master you.”

Moloch removed his hand.Time’s normal flow resumed. Ryan’s lightning bolt struck the ground where Moloch had been standing, and Isabel melted into the form of a wolf. A quick twist to reality allowed Moloch’s wounds to heal.

Uriel stood there, staring at her hands, backing away from him and gasping. Repeatly. “What did…you do to me.”

Moloch smiled. “Welcome to mortality, Uriel. You’re a living, breathing creature now. And do you know that means you can do?” Moloch gestured, forming the air into spikes of titanium he shot to punch holes in Uriel’s thighs, arms, and wings. “Bleed.”

Uriel went down. Moloch wondered if she’d ever experienced pain before, or if this was an entirely new sensation. I should finish her off now. End this all for good. 

Moloch shook his head. Crystal wasn’t here. He’d waited for so very, very long for this moment. Don’t rush it. Savor every moment. Let Uriel witness. 

It’s almost over. 

Moloch turned towards Isabel and Ryan. “I do love killing siblings,” he said, grinning on the pair. “The way you scream when one dies gives me chill. So…who do I get to hear scream today?”

The Dragon’s Scion Part 44

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No witty retort, no barb. Armin just grunted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you hissing?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tythel nodded, fighting back despair.

The egg was gone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Armin?” Tythel asked, hesitantly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She could live with that trade.

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 42

The tentacle thrashed under Tythel, trying to throw her off. In this case, its size worked against it. If it had been smaller, thinner, more whip-like, she would have been tossed easily. As it was, she could see each movement the tentacle made and adjust her feet accordingly to stay onto the limb. It wasn’t easy, by any stretch of the imagination. She’d pictured herself leaping atop the tentacle and dashing across it to the central pod as easily as she’d leapt from rooftop to rooftop, but a few steps into it and she’d almost fallen off twice. Slow and steady, Tythel.

It helped that she’d sprouted talons when she’d landed on the tentacle. She didn’t risk glancing down to her feet again, but she knew what she’d see if she did. Her toes were longer and ended in curved claws. Those claws were her saving grace right now, able to find purchase in the tiny segments that gave the tentacle mobility. She advanced along the appendage with a slow deliberation. You are not going to kill them. We’re getting out of this flathing city.

At least, if nothing else, they are.

Soldiers began to pop their heads out of the top of the pod, unlight arcwands in hands. She pulled out her shield as they opened fire. The hiss of unlight beams on the barrier was just more white noise in the mix, and many of them missed. It’s almost funny. The tentacle thrashing is making me a harder target. She continued to plod onwards towards the central base, as the limb began to readjust. Someone inside had finally figured out that she couldn’t cling on if they got the tentacle completely vertical, and were moving the mass of the central pod over her to drop her off.

T ythel push forward as fast as she dared, the shield her only protection. As soon as she was close enough to risk it, and her footing was sure enough, Tythel pushed herself into a leap to land on top of the central pod.

The men who had poked out to start shooting at her were coming out, unlight blades drawn. Tythel swung down on one as he was coming out, and breathed a quick burst of fire at another.

Then she brought the hammer down on the central disk.

It rang out like a gong, cutting over the sounds of battle and that damned repeated announcement. The hammer, even with its own energy burst and Tythel behind it, was not strong enough to send the pod flying, and the impact reverberated up her arm. She could feel it in her bones, and tasted coppery blood from the force of her teeth being driven together.

She brought the hammer down again.

Again the clash of unlight hammer on Alohym metal. Again an impact that rose up her arm and travelled through her entire body. She could feel herself become nauseous for a moment, as if the reverberations were interfering with her balance. And again, when she pulled it away, the metal it had impacted showed no scratching, no dent.

It has to be more lightly armored, it has to be, Tythel told herself as she raised the hammer again. She brought the hammer down a third time with even more force behind it, putting her entire body into the swing to get every ounce of force she could. This time the sound had even more texture to it than a gong, as if the individual components of the pod were rattling. A soldier that had been trying to climb out past his fallen comrade stumbled back as the entire pod shook from the impact.

And yet, when she pulled the hammer away, the metal was unscathed.

Despair began to set in as she raised the hammer again. A tiny doubt rose up, a gnat buzzing around her thoughts. It didn’t have to be weaker. Perhaps these had been constructed when the Alohym warred against each other, armored for attacks from above. Perhaps it had weaker armor, but it was not weak enough. Or, more accurately, she was too weak.

No.

She pushed that fear aside. She would break this pod or it would break her. And I don’t break, she thought, bringing the hammer down again. I don’t break, she thought again, the hammer ringing against the steel hide of this unnatural creation of the Alohym. I. Don’t. Break. She brought the hammer down with everything she had. The soldiers inside the pods were staring at her in shock and confusion, but they were adjusting to the sound. They were grabbing their weapons to come out and meet her. Still she swung the hammer. Nothing else mattered. Not the soldiers that were taking aim, not the sounds of the pods footsteps as it tried to continue its assault . Nothing mattered besides swinging that hammer, over and over, faster and faster, to the point where instead of the phrase punctuating her swings individual words did.

I

CLANG

Don’t

CLANG

BREAK!

And with that last swing, she did not hear a clang. She heard the wrenching sound of metal tearing. A hissing sound, like lightning in a bottle, began to emerge from the point of impact.

She glanced back to the soldiers in time to see one of them fall. Eupheme was there with her. Tythel didn’t know how she’d got there, perhaps jumping out of one of the soldiers shadows, or perhaps-

“Your highness! Quit staring and finish this flathing thing! I’ve got this here.”

Tythel nodded, and turned back to where she had been hitting. A small tear had appeared in the armor, as long as her finger and about as wide. Tythel brought the hammer down on the tear again. You will break. It was wider this time. You will break. It was now almost as long as her hand. One more blow, and it was as wide as it was long, the hammer’s head punching through so firmly that Tythel lost her balance wrenching it out.

Her claws scrabbled on the surface for purchase. Vertigo set in, and she began to slide down the side of the pod. The ground was four stories away. She could see it, could see herself falling. She didn’t think she’d survive the fall.

Just before she passed the point of no return, her claw caught the lip of the hole she had created. She had her grip back, and whirled back towards the hole. Eupheme was locking down the soldiers, but was doing so with normal shoes. She’d lose her footing eventually, and the soldiers – still half inside the pod – didn’t have that concern.

Tythel took a deep breath, and shot her dragonflame directly into the gap she had created.

The change was almost immediate. Explosions began to rock the pod, flame exiting though the gaps where the legs met the sides. It also flooded back through the pod into the central chamber were the soldiers were.

The pod began to list to one side. Tythel reached out to grab Eupheme’s foot as Eupheme began to lose balance, and then they were falling with the pod, the ground rushing up to meet them.

Had they fallen straight the full distance, the impact still would have killed them. But the joints of the tentacles failed bit by bit as the pod collapsed, slowing their descent enough where the impact was jarring, but non-fatal.

Eupheme let out a single laugh as she started righting herself. “Wait till we tell Armin about this one. He’ll never believe us.”

Tythel couldn’t help but let out a laugh of her own. “They’re..”

“Safely out of the city. Come on, your highness, or we won’t join them.”

The dash through the gate was unimpeded, and together they dashed into freedom.

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.

 

Strange Cosmology Part 94

Ryan had already been awake, and as such the first to get to Athena, although the others weren’t far behind. The alarm still rung in his ears, a low bell she’d made by slamming two masses of air together in the exact right way. “What’s wrong, what is it?” Ryan asked, wiping his eyes as he did.

She just pointed by way of answer. She’d moved the lenses while keeping her watch, and they now magnified part of the base of the Elysian Rest. Two men lay dead near the foundation, their bodies twisted and broken by the fall. Ryan couldn’t make out too many more details, except that it seemed that one of them had been decapitated. Ryan felt his stomach churn. “Are those…”

Athena nodded as the others approached. “Ares and Eros.” Ryan thought better of asking how she could tell from the corpses laying at the base of a tower from this distance. She sounded certain, and pressing her wouldn’t get them anywhere. “I didn’t see what happened, I’m not sure how long they’ve been dead.” Her fingers tightened into fists, and Ryan considered reaching over to comfort her. He glanced at Crystal, who shook her head, and Ryan agreed. “Moloch breached their defenses,” Athena said.

“Hold on now,” Ryan said, his tone gentle as possible. “We don’t know what happened. It could have been some kind of internal conflict or…” Ryan blinked a couple times, and Athena gave him a hard look. “Actually, that’s the only other thing I can think of.”

“If you’re trying to calm me,” Athena growled through clenched teeth, “I think you could have done worse. Somehow.”

“Athena, love, we don’t know what’s going on,” Crystal said, stepping in. “Maybe it’s already over. Maybe there’s nothing to worry about.”

“Look at this and tell me there’s nothing to worry about,” Athena said, stepping aside to give the other gods access.
Everyone took a moment to look through the lense while Athena’s knuckles grew whiter and whiter. “I do not think Moloch has breached their walls,” Dianmu finally said, looking squarely at Athena. “There would be more chaos if he had gotten even a single monster in.”

Athena sighed and seemed to relax some, although her shoulders were still rigid with tension. “Then the Olympians are tearing themselves apart from inside. We can’t wait any longer, we have to help them. Otherwise this was all for nothing!” she gestured expansively back at the labyrinth with the last sentence, as if to draw attention to how much they had gone through and were squandering.

The other gods looked at each other for a moment before Anansi spoke up. “Athena is correct. Our primary objective here was to see if the Olympians needed aid. Even if they need aid from each other, we should try to proffer it.” He smiled broadly, “Besides, I see no reason to make things easier for Moloch.”
“I hope some brilliant plan has formed for how we can do that, then,” Dianmu said with a scowl. At least it’s not a refusal, Ryan thought with relief. “The five of us barely took down some outriders and a single dragon. He has four dragons, a goat monster, and dozens more outriders. It doesn’t exactly inspire hope to know the odds have gotten work.”

Athena glowered at her, but Crystal stepped in. “She’s right, love. We go in half-cocked, we’re likely to do nothing to help the Olympians besides give Moloch some fresh corpses.”

“I have been thinking on this,” Anansi said, his voice slow and careful. “Although it assumes some things. Something Ryan said – what was it about the Lindworm and forms?”

Ryan had to frown for a minute to remember the line he’d said to Anansi as they were making camp. “Oh, yeah. I didn’t know Lindworms could pull a ‘this isn’t even my final form’ and go all one-winged angel on us.”

Anansi nodded, and Crystal grinned. Athena and Dianmu stared at them with perfectly mirrored expressions of confusion.

“It’s a reference to…you know what, it doesn’t matter,” Ryan said, not wanting to delve into the intricacies of video game and anime plots. “The point is, the Lindworm turned into something straight out of Dark Souls…” he saw even Crystal and Anansi’s forehead furrow and sighed. “Seriously, you all need to stay at least semi-up to date with pop culture. Something out of Lovecraft?” Confusion faded. “Great. My point is, if that’s not something Lindworms can normally do, how did that one manage it?”

“And you have an answer now, Ryan?” Dianmu asked, tilting her head.

“No, but I’m guessing he does,” Ryan said, pointing at Anansi.

“I do. Moloch has found a way to send his power into these monsters, give them a portion of divine power. Likely from human sacrifice, given how much he favors it.”

Crystal nodded. “I’ve never known Moloch to touch his nanoverse for power when dead humans could do the trick.”

“I feel the need to point out you were okay with us allying with him,” Ryan muttered.

Crystal rolled her eyes. “Well, love, we didn’t exactly have a dearth of applicants. We needed help.”

“Yes you did,” Anansi said, “but the point, if I may?”

No one objected, and Anansi continued, “It all comes back to Moloch. He is empowering the monsters. He is commanded them. He commands the Helhests. If he’s sufficiently distracted…well, he’s still only one person. We just need to get through to him. If we sneak-“

Dianmu interrupted him. “And if we’re caught, Anansi, what then? We need some way to sneak past an entire army! What on Earth could give us the chance to do that. We’d need one hell of a distraction. No, spider, we need an army”

Ryan was looking back into the fortress, frowning. “An army…” he muttered.

Athena followed his gaze, then glanced over at Ryan. “What are you thinking?”

“Hey,” Ryan said, loud enough to interrupt the growing argument. “What allows Moloch to command monsters? I mean, every one we’ve fought seems pretty intractable to me.”

“You have to be the one that created them, love, otherwise they’re going to run rampant.” Crystal joined Ryan in frowning.

“So…without a god to control them, monsters will just attack the nearest god?”

“Hah!” Dianmu barked a humorless laugh. “No, they’ll attack the nearest thing. God, mortal, machine – lacking one of those, they’ll even turn on each other.”

“So we give them a target,” Ryan said, his voice growing in excitement. “We give them something to chase, lead them into Moloch’s army, and let them run rampant! Hey Resheph, how good are you with drones now?”
Resheph’s response took a couple moments. “I can fly them pretty well. These voice controls are a bugger and a half, though.”

Which explained why he’s been so silent, Ryan thought, his frown turning into a smile.

“Lead who, Ryan?” Dianmu asked, her voice finally softening. “What are you thinking? We don’t have monsters, or an army.”

Ryan shook his head. “No, we don’t.” He raised one hand to point down the great broken doors than lead back into the Labyrinth. “But we know where to find a whole hell of a ton of them, don’t we?”

The other gods stared at him, then at each other. The silence was broken by Anansi, who started to chuckle. “Yes, we do.”

“You do know ‘just crazy enough to work’ isn’t meant as advice, right?” Dianmu asked, but she was tapping her chin as she did. Less denial, more concern.

“Well, my last plan involved a nuclear bomb, so really, this is a step up in sanity for me.” Ryan looked around. “Anyone have a better plan?”

No one spoke up. Athena looked positively eager. “From the outside…the walls should be vulnerable from the outside,” she said, nodding her head excitedly. “We never imagined someone would try to break in, only through or out.”
“Great,” Ryan said. “Let’s crack this thing wide open. If it works, we’ll finally get to talk with Moloch. If it doesn’t, well, it’s not like things were going well before.”

Crystal shook her head. “We really need to work on your inspirational speeches, love.”

They were past the point where speeches mattered. The die was cast. They set out to unleash the monsters of the Labyrinth.

And let’s hope this isn’t as crazy an idea as it seems, Ryan thought as he began to walk the wall, looking for where he’d begin his part in the destruction.

 

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.