The Dragon’s Scion Part 66

Tythel leaned back against a wall, looking over the Span of Hallith, an empty notebook in her lap. She wrote idly in it as the wind gently tugged at her hair.

Little is known about Hallith, and I hope to have time to delve into the unexplored parts of the ruins while we’re camped here. The Span itself is even more breathtaking than the books described. I wish I had the eyes of an artist – or I suppose I should say “eye” now – so I could sketch it.

She debated taking some time to describe it, and decided against it. If someone one day read her notebooks and wasn’t familiar with Hallith, they’d probably skip this section anyway. Even after a month holed up here, it still took her breath away.

Hallith had been a city-state that predated the Cardometh Empire by over two thousand years. Located on a plateau several miles wide, Hallith was surrounded on all sides by a canyon nearly six hundred feet deep. The only ways into or out of the plateau were two great bridges, each capable of being retracted into the city. Or at least, they had been retractable. The magic that powered that mechanism had long since faded, and the bridges were permanently open. Still, it only took a handful of guards to watch each approach, meaning they wouldn’t be taken by surprise. The barren scrubland that surrounded the canyons also provided plenty of open air to see any approaching Alohym ships.

She returned to her notes.

It’s no wonder Hallith never fell to outside invaders. Even with the benefits of arcwands and their technology, I doubt the Alohym will be able to dislodge us from here. Should they approach from the air, we are already prepared to delve into the ruins below. Armin and a few other Magi who have joined us are hard at work creating an exit point in the canyon below we can use if we have to retreat there. I help when I can, but the molten rock left behind by dragonflame creates fumes that make it too hard for anyone to breathe.

That particular memory gave her a reason to wince. None of them had expected the toxic gasses, although they shouldn’t have been surprised. One of the few things known about Hallith was how it fell – a horrid miasma, created by the Hallithian’s burial customs of tossing the dead into their lumwell, had choked every citizen in their sleep. It seemed that miasma still infused the very stones of the plateau, and burning them released it.

I’m supposed to be the one that knows better. Armin could have died that day. I could have died. She decided not to write that part down, instead pushing forward.

Duke d’Monchy has taken command of the army while Lathariel recovers. Lady Von Bagget has taken command of the civilians. Those that can fight she sends to Lord Devos for training. Ossman’s been working closely with Lord Devos. He’d probably join the Abyssals, if not for the headaches he gets ever since his close exposure to the lumwell. Eupheme watches him closely for any signs of madness. So far he seems to still be sane, but…well, we’re hiding in the ruins of a dead civilization from the creatures that have stolen our world, so ‘sane’ is relative these days.

Tythel heard footsteps approaching, and stifled a sigh. She got time to herself so rarely these days, it was hard not resent any interruptions. Especially this particular one. She had time to finish her final thoughts.

There’s one amazing historical find we’ve made already. The word “Alohym” originates from the Hallithian language. We’ve found Hallithian depictions of the ancient Alohym they worshipped. They look nothing like the invaders that came from beyond the stars, either in their insectoid outer form or their slug-like inner, true form. The Alohym depicted in the Hallithian artworks are wondrous beings. It’s final proof of a theory we had been debating – the Alohym of modern days were never worshipped by humanity. Just as they stole our world, they’ve been trying to co-opt our mythology. Of course, any proof we try to publish we be denounced as rebel propaganda, but it’s satisfying to at least know they are not the gods they claim to be.

“Your Highness!”

Tythel closed her notebook, satisfied to at least complete the passage she was on. “Baron Gobori,” she said, looking down at the man who had approached her. He was a couple years older than her, and despite his low rank claimed to be able to trace his ancestry back to nobel blood. He was handsome and knew it, with a broad grin full of white teeth and an easygoing attitude. At least, around most people. He often seemed uncomfortable around Tythel, which only partially confused her. Most people were uncomfortable around her, besides her close friends.

“Please, call me Tellias,” the Baron responded, flashing her that wide smile.

“As you wish,” Tythel said, as she always did when he asked her to use his first name. He gave her a slightly wide-eyed look that Tythel thought meant he was expecting something, but she was still  unsure what he was.

“So…on the walls again? Looking out for Alohym ships?”

“No. We have sentries that will spot them before I do.” That last bit was partially a lie – her good eye would likely catch the ship first – but since she’d been staring at a notebook it was also partially true. “I was writing.”

She slid off the wall to join Tellias on the ground. “Oh? A diary?”

“Essentially, yes. It’s important to keep track of what’s happening, and my thoughts and feelings during it.”

Whatever response he had been expecting, it hadn’t been that. Tellias  blinked in confusion, a gesture Tythel immensely appreciated since it took no thought to understand. Does he do that for my benefit? Or is it something people do? “Why is it so important?” he asked.

“Primary sources. If our rebellion succeeds, it will be a historic event. Or, if it fails spectacularly enough, it might also be enough. Future historians will be scounging for any record of the times they can find. If they find my notes, it will give them a primary source they can rely upon.”

“I…see.” Tellias recovered his footing. “Well, that’s certainly nobel of you, to provide them with a reliable and unbiased source.”

Tythel tilted her head, careful not to tilt it too far. Humans did tilt their heads to express confusion sometimes, she’d learned, but rarely to the extremes that she was used to. “Nobility has nothing to do with it. I’m a historian myself. I appreciate primary sources, so it’s important to pay that forward. And I’m hardly unbiased. I don’t understand why you would say that – unless you were mocking me?”

“No, no, perish the thought!” Tellias took off his hat and bowed to her. “I knew you were a scholar, and assumed you’d be trying to keep your account unbiased.”

“Oh.” Tythel blinked in thought. “I suppose I should be, but any halfway decent historian will assume I’m biased and account for that. I still will take notes of my own bias, though, for future readers.” She began to walk back to the camp.

Tellias had to step quickly to keep up with her, which gave Tythel a chance to think. Tellias confused her. He often sought her out to speak to her, but rarely in the company of others. She’d thought he was trying to form a friendship with her, but whenever she invited him to join them, he’d declined. What does he want from me?

She considered asking him directly, but thought that would be too blunt, even for her. Instead, she decided to change the topic. “Have Armin and the rest of the Magi returned from today’s excavations?”

Tellias frowned for half a second, the same way he did whenever she mentioned Armin or Haradeth. Do you not like them? Maybe I should invite him to join Eupheme, Ossman, and I without the other two around. He might appreciate that. “Not yet, your highness. Nor, if I may anticipate your next question, has Haradeth returned from the Sylvani lands.”

Tythel let out a huff of air. “He should have been back by now. Ideally with Lorathor and a small army of Sylvani in tow.”

“Your highness, if I may? I think ideally, he’d return with a large army of Sylvani.”

Tythel chuckled at the joke. “I like to temper my expectations.”

“A wise mindset for a ruler, your highness.”

“I don’t rule anything – and if we don’t get reinforcements, it’s very likely the only kingdom I’ll ever have a chance to rule will be within the Shadow’s embrace.”

That put a damper on the conversation, which hadn’t been Tythel’s intention. Still, it served to keep Tellias quiet for the remainder of the walk to camp. You’re being uncharitable. He’s not bad to talk to. He just confuses you and that makes you uncomfortable.

Before she could open her mouth to apologize, she saw someone walking towards them. Eupheme, who was waving her hands for attention. “Hurry up! Where have you been?”

Tythel picked up her pace, muttering an apology for Tellias. He couldn’t hope to keep up with her now that she was sprinting. “What’s wrong? Is it the Alohym? Is it-”

Eupheme cut her off with a shake of her head and a grin. “No, nothing bad! The Duke was looking for you. They’ve made progress on Theognis’ cypher, and he’s called a meeting. They think they might have a location on the Vacuity Engine.”

Tythel blinked in excitement, and turned to dash towards the center of camp. Tellias was left lagging behind, and Eupheme only kept up by leaping from shadow to shadow.

It was the first good news they’d gotten since the death of Rephylon. Tythel wasn’t going to risk missing it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poz could only pray he would live that long.

Small Worlds Part 166

“After Anansi had made sure Ra would be comfortable as he fell into twilight, his nanoverse undergoing final heat death, Anansi headed to Egypt. It pained Anansi to leave Ra alone in his final hours, but the threat of the Staff of Ra being found was too great to wait however long it would take for Ra to die.” Anansi pursed his lips and shook his before continuing. “To be honest, Anansi had also not yet seen an abosom die, and also left because he was frightened to watch such a thing.”

“Upon arriving in Egypt, Anansi headed to the court of Amun, who would later be known as Amun-Ra. Anansi did not intend on seeking the aid of Amun in locating the Staff, for Anansi did not want to risk the Staff finding in anyone’s hands. There a celebration was thrown for Anansi’s arrival, for he was the first abosom to come to Egypt since the terrors of Sekhmet, and the pantheon there desperately wanted to show the world they were safe to visit again. There was a week of celebration for Anansi’s arrival, and he celebrated with the gods and Pharaoh of Egypt and learned more of their stories.

“The abosom of Egypt had found a great treasure of nanoverses, which they gave to the greatest of their mortal Pharaohs before their death, allowing them to become Nascent. A new Pharaoh was approaching the end of his life, one who’s name history has forgotten and is now known only as Scorpion the First. Since this Pharaoh had acknowledged Amun’s supremacy over Ra, it was doubtless Scorpion would be given a nanoverse, which meant another week of celebration. He died before finishing his Nascency, so even Anansi has forgotten his name, and it is of little importance to this story.

“Anansi excused himself from the second celebration, saying it was because he did not wish to intrude upon such a momentous day. In truth, Anansi excused himself because he knew the week of celebration would give him time to find the Staff of Ra without discovery.”

Anansi smiled.

“Anansi’s attempt to remain undetected was uncovered in just three days by Neith, goddess of the forge and – more relevantly – of the hunt. She suspected Anansi was up to his trickery, for tales of Anansi’s trickery had spread even to Egypt. Neith found Anansi preparing to break into a Pyramid and demanded that Anansi tell her what he was doing. Anansi tried every trick he knew to persuade Neith to leave it be, but Hunter Goddesses rarely fall for such ploys. Under pain of being taken before Amun – which would have resulted in a great deal of pain – Anansi told her what he was here for and begged her to keep silent.

“Fortune smiled on Anansi that day. Neith had been seeking the same artifact, for she hoped to find it before her quarry did. She was hunting Apophis, the enemy of Ra, who had long sought Ra’s staff. Apophis was a monstrous being said to be far older than Ra and far madder than any other being alive. He was an abosom, and he sought the staff, so he might restore a long-lost world.”

“Moloch,” Ryan hissed.

Anansi shook his head. “By the end of my story, you’ll see why I’m certain it was not. But I now believe that Apophis also hailed from that same ancient era that birthed Moloch, and our dear Crystal, and perhaps other beings. Ones that acted like monsters but had the power of gods.”

“The Titans.” Athena said.

Anansi nodded. “Among others.” He glanced at Crystal. “Is such a thing possible?”

Crystal shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “I thought I was the only one to survive, and the only monster I dealt with that meets that description is Lamashtu. Knowing what we know now…” Crystal shrugged helplessly. “I figured they had all died permanently. They could have been from a race that came between my people and humanity. Bloody hell, they could have been gods from another world that had undergone its own Eschaton.”

“All of these make sense,” Anansi said thoughtfully. “I suppose we may never know. Apophis was certainly not one for speaking. He had taken a great serpent and was worming deep beneath the Earth to try and find the pyramid that Ra had hidden the Staff within. Neith and Anansi had both searched different pyramids, and that left them only one to search.”

“They arrived as Apophis burst through the Earth to claim his prize.”

“The battle was a fierce one. Neith moved like lightning and struck like the hammer upon the anvil. Anansi used all his greatest tricks, trying to ty the great serpent in knots of its own coils. Apophis was screaming and rambling the entire time – so close to its prize, it had gone even madder than it had been for most of existence. The serpent managed to bite Anansi, and he was dying of its poison. It reared up for one last strike – and that was when Neith stepped between the serpent and Anansi. She drew a great kopesh from her nanoverse and drove it into the serpent’s mouth and brain.

“Apophis fell dead, but it had bitten Neith as well. She and Anansi both perished from its poison deep beneath the sands of Egypt, side by side.

“Of course, they were abosom. They were resurrected once their bodies had healed and purged Apophis’ venom. Apophis had not resurrected yet, since Neith’s kopesh was still lodged in his brain. Anansi took the Staff, and they both agreed it was best that Neith did not know where he hid it. Neith burned Apophis’ body and then took his nanoverse into her own. As terrible as the crime of destroying a nanoverse can be, it would have been far worse to allow Apophis to return to life.

“Anansi returned to Ra, only to find that the old god’s death was coming far swifter than Anansi expected. They had only minutes left. Anansi worked with Ra to use the power of the staff once and only once.

“When Ra died, he arose as a monster, but one with a noble heart and pure intentions. He would sit as the guardian of the Staff for the rest of time. That monster was the first of the Sphinx, and Anansi took both Sphinx and staff to a place where no one would think to search for it – to that hidden cave of metal hidden upon the moon.”

“It’s on the moon?” Ryan asked, feeling his eye widened out. “How are we ever going to get to the…moon.” He trailed off and started to flush. “No, no need to point out how dumb that was.”

“The moon part isn’t why I’m giving you the bug-eyed look, Anansi,” Crystal said. “A Sphinx? A sphinx that used to be Ra?”

Anansi nodded. Isabel raised a hand. “Someone fill me in, so I can join you in freaking out?”

“Sphinx are one of the few monsters that retain the full intelligence they had in life, and retain some of their divine powers,” Athena said with a grimace. “They’re not as powerful as a dragon, but much harder to outwit.”

“They can be reasoned with,” Dianmu added, turning to Anansi. “Do you think you could talk him into letting you have the artifact back?”

“No. As a precaution against shapeshifters, we agreed if he ever sees me again, he’ll kill me on the spot. If anyone claiming to be me shows up, he’ll likewise kill them, regardless of who they appear to be. My presence would destroy any chance of negotiations.”

Athena tapped her fingers on the table. “It can’t be Ryan either.” Ryan shot her a confused look, and she elaborated. “Nabu owes you a debt. You need to go speak to the Curators. Find out what happened to Horus, and if they can offer any other aid.”

Ryan sighed. “Okay, that makes sense. So, you all go deal with the Sphinx-formerly-known-as-Ra, and I’ll go to the Curators.”

“No offensive, love, but there’s no way I’m sending you alone to the Curators,” Crystal said. “Anyone besides Anansi and myself done any Lunar fighting?” No one raised their hand, and Crystal sighed. “That’s what I thought. I’ll go up to the moon base and talk to the bloody Sphinx.”

“Is there air in this moon base?” Isabel asked?

“Yes,” Anansi said.

“Then I’m going with Crystal.”

“Didn’t you just get done saying you were interested in being the tech girl behind the desk?” Ryan asked.

“Yeah, but that was before we were talking about going to the goddamn moon.” Isabel flashed him a fierce grin. “Besides, the Sphinx is smart, it’s probably spent its time preparing for a god to come along. No way it prepared for me.”

“Isabel-” Ryan said, but she cut him off with a quick shake of her head.

“Ryan, if you were about to point out how dangerous this is and I can die because I’m a mortal blah blah blah, I’ll remind you that you’re still able to permanently die and are more important for what we’re doing than I am, so I’ll only be missing out on the Moon if you agree to be stuck in a nice safe spot until it’s time to end the world.”

Ryan snapped his mouth shut and glared at her. “Fine. Then who’s coming with me to Officium Mundi?”

“I will,” Dianmu said. “I learned a great deal about the Curators when I was in the Jade Emperor’s palace, and nothing prepares you for dealing with them quite like the divine bureaucracy.”

Ryan nodded. “Okay, so Dianmu, Anansi and I to the Curators, Athena, Crystal, and Isabel to the…oh what now?” Both Athena and Anansi were shaking their heads.

“I stole a file of tales from the Curators three thousand years ago,” Anansi said with a bit of pride, “they would not welcome me.”

Crystal gave an affectionate sigh. “Of course you did. Athena, love? You’ve got something else to do than go to the moon?”

“Yes.” Athena looked down at the table, like she didn’t want to meet their eyes. Is she embarrassed?” Ryan wondered, not sure how to square that emotion with the woman he’d come to know over these past few weeks. Athena continued, “The fight with Moloch…was the closest I’ve come to true death. Ever. I realized…if I had died, I would have left behind unfinished business. I’ve done something I regret, and I must set it right before throwing myself headlong into danger again.”

Everyone looked at her, stunned. Ryan finally found his voice. “What do you need to do?” he asked, softly.

“I need to confess a lie to you all. A lie I’ve been telling for over four thousand years. And then…” she looked up, and Ryan realized it wasn’t shame that had driven her to look away, but it’s close cousin, guilt. “And then I need to free Arachne from the prison I made for her.”

For a full minute, the only sound was the winds of Cypher Nullity.

“Maybe you should start from the beginning,” Ryan said slowly.

 

Small Worlds Part 157

Ryan had always wondered who decided to put a graveyard across the street from a local pool. Or to put a pool across the street from a graveyard, since he wasn’t actually sure which came first. In the distance, he could hear children playing, screaming, splashing. Living. Isabel had worked there as a lifeguard. As a teenager, she had practically lived there, but now she didn’t even glance across the street. Instead, her attention was fixed on the small pile of leaves that had accumulated on the grave.

“Does no one ever keep this place clean?” she growled, clearing a space for the flowers.

Ryan put a hand on her shoulder. He didn’t think it looked that bad, but Isabel was displeased about something every time they visited.

“I miss them,” Isabel said. “More now than ever. Could you imagine if they were around for all this?”

Despite the sadness he always felt at the gravesite, Ryan grinned. “Assuming they believed it was real?”

Isabel wiped her eyes. “Yeah, assuming that. What would they say?”

“Mom would tell me that I shouldn’t let it go to my head. Dad would tell me I should pray for guidance. Assuming they didn’t think I actually was the Antichrist.”

“They wouldn’t,” Isabel said firmly. “You know better than that.”

“I don’t, though.” Ryan sighed. “I don’t think they ever really forgave me for ‘making up’ Nabu.”

They lapsed into silence as they stared at the grave. A long, low whistle blast floated over from the pool, followed by a splash. A number of other whistles joined in the chorus – a lifeguard had jumped into the pool to rescue someone.

Isabel’s hand went up to her neck, and then chuckled as she realized she had automatically reached for a whistle.

“Old habits die hard?” Ryan asked.

“It’s that damn pool. A foot deeper in the middle than the edges. I swear, jumping in to save someone became routine.”

“I remember all too well,” Ryan said. “You never stopped texting me about it on your breaks. ‘I just saved someone’s life, what did you do today?’ was my personal favorite.”

Isabel chuckled. “I used that one on mom when she caught me sneaking in after midnight one night.”

“What’d she say?”

“‘Good for you. I grounded my daughter today. For a week.’”

That got a long, hearty laugh from Ryan. “They never caught me sneaking in after midnight.”

Isabel rolled her eyes. “You had to leave the house to get caught sneaking in, Ryan. You were a boring teenager.”

“I’m not boring anymore?”

“Nope, still boring. Just not a teenager.” Isabel smiled at him, and turned back to the grave. “You know, there was another time I got caught sneaking in. I think it was like three or four a.m, senior year. I was pretty blitzed.”

Ryan smiled. “I’m sure mom was thrilled about that.”

“Worse. Dad caught me.”

Ryan winced in sympathy. “What happened?”

“He started laying into me about respect and truth and all that. Said if I couldn’t act like a responsible adult, maybe I should live at home my freshman year, and you know how much I was looking forward to living on campus. I…like I said, I was drunk. I shouted at him something along the lines of ‘Ryan lied to you for years about an imaginary friend, but I’m in trouble for having a life?’” This time, Ryan’s wince had nothing to do with sympathy. Isabel held up a hand. “There’s a point, I swear.”

Ryan motioned for her to continue.

“I’d never seen Dad get that red before. Not when he caught me with weed, not even when I told him Shelly had cheated on me. You know how you’d always know he was really mad because he stopped yelling?”

“Oh yeah, I remember that one all too well.”

“He told me we’d talk in the morning. That he wasn’t having this discussion when I was drunk. The next thing, first thing in the morning he woke me up, soon as Mom had gone to work.”

“And?” Ryan asked.

“He told me that I was never to bring that up again. Not with you, not with him, not with Mom, not with anyone. He was worried about you, Ryan. But he wasn’t angry with you, not anymore. He thought you were having problems, bigger problems than you’d ever talked about, and it scared him shitless. Scared me, too. Remember the time I randomly called you to tell you I loved you, and wouldn’t say why?”

Ryan nodded. It had disturbed him, and he’d called his dad immediately afterwards. “I thought you were in trouble. Or high.”

Isabel chuckled. “Neither. We’d just had that conversation. We talked about it again after I finished college. Dad told me he didn’t know what was going on, but he wasn’t worried anymore. That you were doing fine, so whatever was wrong – if it had been in your head or just something else – had to be dealt with.”

Ryan felt tears coming to his eyes, and gave Isabel a hug. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“That I used the biggest fight you ever had with Mom and Dad to deflect that I was drunk, and then Dad scared me with how worried he was about you?” Isabel broke the hug. “Why the hell do you think I didn’t?”

Ryan sniffed and then laughed. “Fair enough. Thank you. I…I needed to hear that.”

Isabel smiled, and there were tears in her eyes too. “You know, this might have been our last chance to come here and not cry.”

Ryan nodded. “I’m not sad that we blew it. Are you?”

“Nope.”

They took a moment to say goodbye to their parents one last time, and then turned to leave.

It was time to look after the living.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 56

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t think so,” she responded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We need one to let go,” Ossman said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tythel scooped Ossman up and jumped out the window.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 51

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Haradeth frowned, then looked at Lorathor.

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

Tythel nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It worked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Strange Cosmology Part 105

Note: Today’s part contains an important retcon for an earlier scene. The earlier scene will be changed later. For more details about the retcon and why, Click Here

“Hey Ryan. We won.” Isabel frowned in thought. “Or I think we’re winning?”

From the ground, Ryan raised his hand and gave Isabel a thumbs up. “You turned into animals,” he said, not wanting to risk pushing himself into a sitting position.

“Yeah, Arthur made me a stone full of animal souls. I can channel them to shapeshift, which is great. I can also burn a soul to prolong my life.” She leaned over Ryan. “Apparently this fulfills a deal you made with him on my behalf without asking me about it?”

“Yup,” Ryan said, ignoring the accusation in her tone. “How about the others?”

Isabel sighed. “Crystal’s alive and making her way over, Artemis – oh, Artemis showed up at the last second, by the way – is over with Athena, and Anansi and Dianmu are getting back to their feet. Everyone’s as beat to hell as you are.” Isabel put her hands on her hips and glowered at Ryan. “Although none of them can be killed as easily as you. Why the hell do you go into these fights? Why would anyone?”

Ryan shook his head. “I can’t ask them to fight for me.”

“Bullshit, Ryan. You totally could. Even ignoring worry about your own life, you still should worry what happens to the world if you died.”

Ryan smiled. “I was worried about you too, Izzy.” Isabel let out a huff of air, wincing as soon as she did. Ryan sat up. “What’s wrong?”

“Asshole cracked my sternum with that strong arm. And before you say something, yes, I apparently know exactly what bone he broke. Side effect or something.” Isabel offered a hand to help him up as Crystal strode into view.

“Hey,” Ryan said to Crystal, “you doing alright?”

“Love, I found out that my old mentor was a monster that had been powering himself on human sacrifice for years. I’m beat to hell, my sodding Hungers are in full force, and we’re still in the middle of a battlefield surrounded by angry Olympians and monsters, and I’m not sure which group wants me dead more. I’m not even on the same planet as alright.” She gave Ryan and Isabel a small smile. “Though I’ll admit getting all that out there does help with it, yeah?”

“Fair,” Ryan said.

“If you need anything,” Isabel started, and Crystal shook her head.

“Thanks, love, but right now we need to finish this battle.”

“Like hell we do,” Dianmu snapped, approaching with Anansi.

Anansi nodded in agreement with Dianmu, “the Olympians can take it from here. Moloch is dealt with, they’ll be able to handle his armies.”

“And there’s no point to any of us risking even a temporary death at this point,” Dianmu continued. She pointed at Ryan and Isabel. “Especially those two, since it wouldn’t be temporary. Besides, we have something else to take care of.” Dianmu glanced behind her. “Uriel survived.”

Ryan pushed past the others to walk over to the twice fallen angel. Uriel was struggling to her feet, her eyes wide with pain.

“God Almighty,” she gasped to Ryan as he approached, “He…he made me mortal.”

Ryan’s eyes narrowed. “Glad you survived it. Besides – you kidnapped my sister. You could have gotten her killed.”

“She wasn’t in any danger, Ryan,” Uriel said. “I was there, and the deal with Moloch let me get involved directly in the fight. If not for that, I couldn’t have-”

“So what was your plan for protecting her if you got turned mortal?”

Uriel sighed. “There was no way to foresee-”

“Yeah, of course not.”

“Quit being an asswipe, Ryan,” Isabel said from behind him. “She’s hurt, you’re hurt, and she was trying to help. She knew Moloch was King, knew you’d need backup. I’m mortal so she could tell me. Why do you think I agreed to go along with it?”

Ryan frowned. “Agreed?”

“Yeah,” Isabel said, “you think she just whisked me away?”

Ryan looked at Uriel, who nodded.

“Why didn’t you tell us, then?” he demanded of the angel.

“Me again,” Isabel interrupted. “Ryan, you have a terrible poker face. No way could we risk Moloch figuring out what we were up to.”

Ryan glowered at Isabel, then at Uriel, and then at the world in general. “Fine. I’m going to fulfill my debt to your boss, then.”

“You didn’t agree to choose the method of filling it,” Uriel said, carefully.

“Nope. But I saw what Moloch did to you. I can’t just undo it – I’m not him – but I definitely know a way to help. Think he’ll accept that?”

“I’ll persuade him if needs be,” Uriel said quickly.

“Great. I have you word on that?” Uriel nodded, and Ryan offered her a hand. “Come on, then. Athena is waving for us to follow, and it looks like we have a couple Olympians to escort us back to the Rest.”

Uriel took the hand, and Ryan helped her to her feet.

“Ryan, Isabel” Athena said as they approached, “I’d like you to meet Nike,” Athena gestured to a woman lounging with a massive shield and a spear nearly three times as long as Ryan was tall, “and Kratos,” she indicated the other god, a thin but muscular man leaning against a sword that was longer than he was tall.

Ryan’s eyes bulged at the two of them. “Nike and Kratos? You both are famous!”

“Come again?” Nike asked, frowning.

“You got chosen to represent a line of shoes. And Kratos, you’re in video games as the god of war.”

Kratos’ forehead furrowed. “That’s stupid. Ares is God of War. And what is a video game?”

“It’s…” Ryan stared at him, and at Nike, who looked equally perplexed. “Nevermind, it’d be hard to explain.”

“We’re famous,” Nike said, grinning at Kratos. “It may be for strange things, but we’re famous.”

“Never been famous before. Think I’ll get to replace Ares if he doesn’t resurrect?”

Athena frowned. “Why wouldn’t he resurrect?”

“Don’t know.” Kratos shrugged. “It’s been an odd few days.”

Isabel started tugging on Ryan’s sleeve. “Ryan, what is going on? Can you understand them?”

“Of course I can. Why…” Ryan replayed the last few minutes in his head and realized what he’d heard didn’t jive with what his brain had interpreted. “Holy crap, I understood Greek.”

Athena smiled. “Glossolalia. One step closer to Apotheosis.”

“But not there yet?” Ryan asked.

“Not yet.”

“Damn.”

“Enough chatter,” Kratos growled. “We have to get you all to safety, and I don’t want to miss the entire battle.”

“Neither do I,” Nike added.

Athena nodded, and they headed to the Elysian Rest.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 49

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Armin shook his head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’ll adapt.” Lorathor said soothingly.

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

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

Tythel gave a curt nod.

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

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

“Seeing what the rats know.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What about me?”

“How do you deal with fear?”

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

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

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

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

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

Strange Cosmology Part 103

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Crystal opened her divine sight as she ran, equations whirling around herself and Moloch. King. Crystal still couldn’t process that it was really him.

She slid under Moloch’s first blow, her sword flying out to cut him across the calves. Moloch hissed in pain, bringing his talon up to kick Crystal away. She rolled away from the blow, bringing her sword around in another frantic slash. He leapt over it, and she redirected her cut upwards. She felt it bite into Moloch’s skin, but he whirled away before it could get purchase. He’s still just a god, Crystal reminded herself. This wasn’t like Enki. Moloch’s reserves of power may be vast, but if she could just get in a fatal hit she could-

Moloch managed to hit her in the chest, hard enough to send her flying back. “So you figured out how to watch the equations too,” he said, walking over to her.

“King…” Crystal gasped. It felt like he’d broken one of her ribs. “You don’t have to…I didn’t have a choice.”

Moloch shook his head. “There’s always a choice, Crystal. You chose to end the world. You chose to kill my family, my friends.”

“The sun…”

“There was still time!” Moloch roared, and he reached out to strike Crystal with bands of lightning. “There was still a chance! You couldn’t wait. You were so damn eager. I think you were looking forward to it.”

“I hated it.” Crystal spat as the lightning dissipated. “I never wanted to do it.”

“And yet, you did, and here we are.” Moloch sighed. “You did it, Crystal.”

“There was no other-“

Moloch kicked her . “It’s just a rock, Crystal. You saved a damn rock. Maybe you’re right. Maybe there was no hope left! Who gives a shit?”

Crystal looked up at him, her eyes wide with more than pain. “What?”

“If everyone dies anyway, what’s the point of saving the damn rock everyone lived on? What does it matter? All you accomplished was killing everyone slightly earlier than scheduled!”

Moloch’s next kick sent Crystal flying. She felt something else break when she hit the ground. Get up, get up…”Humanity still-“

That was the wrong thing to say. Moloch leapt the distance between them, landing on her back, his talons digging in. “You don’t get credit for that, Crystal. You killed an entire world to allow another to possibly exist, and got lucky.” Moloch leaned down and grabbed Crystal’s head, forcing her to look at the others. “Look at them, Crystal. Look at these apes you sacrificed our people for. You love them so damn much?”

“Yes!” Crystal shouted, “Bloody hell, yes.”

“Then you get to watch them die. The same gift you gave me.” Moloch opened his mouth to say something else, but his words were cut off by a gargle. An arrow erupted from his open mouth, having punched through the back of his skull to shoot out between his teeth.

Moloch whirled around. “You talk too much,” Artemis said.  She fired three arrows in rapid succession, hitting Moloch in the chest, right where the heart would be. “And I’ve spent centuries locked up with the gods of Olympus.” Another two arrows, one to each knee. “I’m somewhat of an expert in talking too much.”

Moloch began to slump over. Artemis strode forward.

Crystal’s felt hope fade. “Artemis!” Crystal shouted. “His heart is on the other side!”

The warning came too late. Moloch stood up in a swift motion, pulling the arrow out of his mouth and ramming it into Artemis’ chest. The goddess managed to twist so it only hit her in the shoulder instead of puncturing a lung.

Frantically, Crystal scanned the Elysian Rest for some sign, any sign, that Artemis was part of a vanguard of Greek gods, that the rest were coming.

The halls of the Elysian Rest sat silent. The defenses Artemis must have lowered were back in place.

No more help was coming, and Artemis couldn’t shoot anymore.

Without her bow, Artemis posed as much threat to Moloch as any of the other gods had so far. She had drawn a gladius, but Moloch just reached out and twisted, hitting her with several walls of force, each stronger than an onrushing train.

Artemis was bowled over and sent rolling back across the landscape with each blow. “Poseidon was supposed to keep you all occupied,” Moloch muttered as his mouth healed, then looked around. “Anyone else?” he shouted at the raging war of monsters around them. “Does anyone else think they can fight me!”

Crystal caught a glance of something in the melee, between the legs of a Cyclops and a twisted monstrosity made of teeth and claws and little else. She kept her eyes on Moloch and hoped she was right about what she dare not look at.

“There’s one other,” Crystal gasped, managing to raise herself to a seating position.

Moloch frowned at her. “Why would you tell me that?”

“I’ll show them to you, Moloch, if you promise me something.”

Moloch scoffed. “What do you think I’ll give you?”

Crystal glanced at Ryan. Isabel had managed to reappear and had taken the form of a saber toothed tiger, standing over Ryan protectively. Crystal turned back to Moloch. “I know you want me to suffer. I deserve that. He didn’t do anything to you. Don’t kill him.”

Moloch sighed. “The sun is going to destroy the world, Crystal. You have to fail. It’s only just.”

Crystal nodded. “Fine. Then…promise me you won’t make him suffer.” C’mon, you arrogant bastard, let me do this…

Moloch paused to think, then nodded. “Agreed,” Moloch said. “Now. Who else is going to get in my way?”

“I’ll show you,” Crystal reached out and began to twist, moving slow so Moloch could see what she was doing, know it wasn’t a trap. She was just making a series of lenses. Moloch stared into them, his forehead furrowing.

“Her name,” Crystal said in triumph as the lenses fell into place, “is Medusa.”

Moloch brought a hand up to cover his eyes as he found himself staring directly into the gorgon’s face.

As Crystal watched, Moloch’s hand started to turn grey.

“No!” Moloch shouted, “No!” He looked around the battlefield wildly. He locked eyes with Crystal, and in that instant, he looked exactly like he had so many years ago, right before he dashed out to save his children.

The grey crept up his arms, reaching his face, and that expression became the one Moloch would make for eternity.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 47

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Armin?” she asked hesitantly.

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?” Tythel asked.

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

Everyone stared at him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No.”

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

“No?” Lorathor asked, “No what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Somehow, she added to herself.