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 41

The building they were staying in turned out to be a home belonging to a couple that had been executed for aiding one of the resistance groups. “Once they do,” Nicandros explained to Tythel as they were packing, “the people and everything they owned are declared Anathema.”

“Like in Cardometh?” Tythel said, frowning. Anathema as a religious practice had died out when the Cardomethi empire fell, to be replaced with Exile to the Shadow. It meant the Shadow would rule your life as well as your death, but was far gentler than –

“Girl, you know I don’t know anything about Carodmeth.” Nicandros snorted. “It means that if you touch anything that belonged to them before it’s been cleansed, you’re marked and the Alohym will keep you from the Shadow’s embrace. And if you get caught, you’re probably a rebel and get treated as such.”

-That. “Yeah, that’s about the same,” Tythel said in a small voice.

Nicandros turned away to rummage through a pack, pulling out Tythel’s hammer and shield. “The Alohym don’t seem to have figured out we uses Anathema houses when we’re in cities. Safer than exposing someone who is still alive to the flathing Alohym. Although I think this is the last time we’ll get to use that trick.”

Tythel blinked in confusion. “How could they not have figured it out? They’re not stupid.

“Because we’ve only done it once or twice before, as a last resort. Like this was.” Nicandros shrugged as he handed over the armaments. “It’s a trick we knew could only sit in a cryobox for so long. Saving you and Ossman was worth burning it.”

The guilt began to rise in Tythel again, and she fought it down. If you tell him now, he’ll be thinking about it during the escape. He might even not trust you during it. At least wait until you’re out of the city and safe. At least wait until…Tythel resisted a sigh. At least wait until you can stomach the look in his eyes.

She knew that wasn’t fair to herself, that there were solid reasons not to tell him now. That didn’t change the fact that it felt like cowardice.

“Thank you, then.” She tried to force a smile for Nicandros. He raised an eyebrow in confusion, and Tythel blinked again. “Did I get it wrong?”

“If your lips don’t go up, it’s just a grimace. You’re getting better, girl, don’t worry.” Nicandros did give her a smile, one she hadn’t been able to place before but was now realizing was an indulgent smile.

Tythel turned away.

“Hey, Tythel, don’t worry.” Nicandros said. “We’re going to get out of this. Remember, I promised. Not going anywhere.”

Instead of answering, Tythel shouldered her pack. “Don’t make promises you can’t be sure you’ll keep,” she said, brushing past Nicandros before her nictitating membranes started flashing away the tears. She knew it looked like she was angry, and she was. It’s not his fault.

She just wished he’d stop saying that.

“Eupheme,” Tythel approached the woman, “The routes still clear?”

Eupheme gave her a tilted head of confusion that Tythel appreciated. “They were five minutes ago, your highness. Do you want me to check again?”

Tythel bit her lip. “No. It’s only been five minutes?” Eupheme nodded. “I just…” Tythel glanced out of the corner of her eye at Armin.

The young mage was moving around getting ready, but it was a listless series of gestures. He seemed present, mentally, but without his usual cheer and jokes he was…Tythel couldn’t put a word to it. He’s just going through the motions. Eupheme followed her gaze and then motioned to draw Tythel’s attention back. “He’s stronger than he looks, your highness.”

Tythel didn’t know if Eupheme meant that, or was saying it for Tythel’s benefit, but it was appreciated all the same.

“Alright, everyone, listen up,” Nicandros growled. “Once we go out that door, we’re not going to have long to go before we run into a patrol trying to close the net. Take them down hard, fast, and silent. If we pull that off and break out of the web, we’ll be clear. If we don’t, we’re going to have to fight our way out through the entire flathing city. We’re about half a mile from the wall, and Eupheme’s already made sure we’ll have an open gate. If  you get separated, head towards the Northwest gate. Push hard, but we’re not trying to take down the whole flathing garrison here. If your opponent can’t chase, it’s time to move, not fight. Understood?”

Everyone nodded and headed towards the door. Tythel took a deep breath to steel her nerves and, with one last glance to make sure Armin was still on his feet, opened the door.

The night air was still and cool. It should have been refreshing, but there was something off about it. A foul stillness that reminded Tythel of when Karjon had exposed some new tunnels for the lair. The stale air from in there had been exactly like this.

By contrast, to Tythel’s ears, the city was very much alive. There was a woman arguing with her husband about her sister. Here was a young boy trying to comfort a younger child, promising papa would be home soon. The gentle sounds of a couple kissing. Some less gentle sounds from a different couple that confused Tythel. What on earth are they doing? And so on and so forth.  An absolute cacophony of life that had been hidden from her in the basement.

And when we were on the first floor, Tythel reflected as she fell in behind Eupheme and Nicandros, who were taking up scouting positions in the front. There had been no sound from the city at large when they had been there. Did Anathema actually do something? Or was it some other factor? Tythel shook her head to dismiss the thought and try to tune out the sound. She needed to stay focused. Even with Eupheme and Nicandros taking point, Tythel might spot something they missed.

Tythel heard the clang of the Alohym soldiers enhanced mail at the same time Eupheme held up a fist to bring the group to a stop and gestured at Nicandros. He nodded, raising his arcwand, and Eupheme vanished into the shadows.

Everyone tensed. Tythel was holding her breath, Ossman was hunching his shoulders to look as small as possible, even Armin was…well, the best one could say for Armin right now was that he looked alive, which was an improvement.

They were so focused, they all missed the soldier coming up behind them before it was too late.

“Targets spotted!” he shouted into his shoulder, and Tythel whirled around. In a single smooth motion she activated and let her hammer fly as she did. The soldier was a good distance away, having shouted the warning before the sound of his mail alerted Tythel. The hammer still struck him in the chest, and he went stumbling back as Tythel ran to pick up the weapon. Stupid, stupid, Tythel chided herself.

“Come on!” Nicandros shouted as Tythel’s fingers closed around the hammer’s handle. The time for stealth was over.

It was time for flight.

Tythel was able to catch up to Ossman and Armin. When she reached them she slowed down to match Ossman’s speed and grabbed Armin by the back of his clock and tossed him over her shoulder. “Tythel, what are you doing?” he shouted, practically in her ear.

“Shoot behind us!” she responded. It wasn’t the reason she’d picked him up, but Tythel took pride in herself for the improvisional answer.

Armin grumbled but unslung his arcwand as soldiers began to close in behind them. He opened fire.

Alarms started sounding across the city. A deep, booming voice sounded over the city, coming from a dozen different origins. “U’doh’can. U’doh’can.”

“What are they saying?” Tythel asked Ossman as their feet pounded on the pavement.

“Stay in your homes,” Ossman grunted. “It means they’re not going to be holding back.”

Tythel nodded and pushed her head down. They’d caught up to Eupheme and Nicandros. Eupheme was running oddly, her form trailing a shadowy impression of herself with every step. Nicandros just ran as fast as he could.

The gate loomed ahead. Freedom was almost there! Tythel pushed herself a bit harder, determined to get Armin to freedom.

Then a metal tree trunk slammed into the road in front of them. It took Tythel a moment to realize it belonged to one of the tentacles of the pod-walkers from the forest. It was thicker than the one they had fought back then, and Tythel didn’t think they’d be lucky enough to open a small hole she could exploit this time.

Tythel’s mind was racing. If I was building a colossus like that, where would I short the armor? The answer was obvious. No one in the world had flying machines besides the Alohym, so why would you waste armor on the top.

Because of me.

Tythel shoved Armin at Ossman. “Get him out of the city!” She shouted at Ossman.

“What?”

“Go! I have a plan!” Tythel didn’t wait for Ossman to answer.

Instead, she leapt.

The leap took her high enough to hit the roof of a two story house beside her. The walker turned towards her, and lashed out with one of its tentacles. Not there yet. Without even pausing on the balcony, she took two more steps and launched herself into the air again, this time landing on the roof a third story building. The people inside the house screamed in panic, but that was swiftly drowned out as the tentacle slammed into the balcony she had just vacated.

The screams from inside the building were frightened, not pained. Tythel hoped she hadn’t gotten anyone killed as the walker swung towards her again. Tythel had to drop to her knees to slide under this blow, bending backwards till she could feel her hair press the tiles.

Then she pushed up to resume charging. A four story building was nearby, and was her target. It seemed – thank the Light – the Alohym soldiers inside were unwilling to fire Unlight inside a city and were trying to swat her like a bug instead. Perfect.

She leapt up to the four story building. The pilot of the pod had figured out her destination and a tentacle was swinging to meet her. Instead of trying to dodge this one, Tythel landed on it.

For a moment she almost lost her balance. The metal was smooth and polished to a sheen, it offered very little in the way of foothold. Then she heard and felt something catch in her foot, and her momentum stopped. Worry about that later. Tythel pivoted towards the pod and began to charge up the length of the tentacle.

If I survive this, Nicandros can never complain about my technique again.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 40

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

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

Armin was nowhere to be seen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you,” Tythel said, sincerely.

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

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

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

Tythel frowned. “What’s going on?”

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

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

“But what about Armin? Ossman?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Dragon’s Scion Part 39

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

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

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

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

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

“Then sew her up,” Nicandros growled.

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

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

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

“You fell off a building.” She said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll take it,” Armin said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dragon’s Scion Part 38

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dragon’s Scion Part 36

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

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

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

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

But not the egg.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dragon’s Scion Part 35

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

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

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

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

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

Wait.

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

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

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

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

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

Ossman didn’t have the strength of a dragon.

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

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

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

“Still, don’t rush it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Think you can dig fast enough?”

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

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

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

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

She dug.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 34

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course not,” Tythel said, quietly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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