The Dragon’s Scion Part 80

The climb down started off easily enough. Eupheme had rigged up several clamps to the ropes, so she wasn’t reliant on her muscle power to take them down the side of the plateau, instead able to squeeze them for a slow descent. Tythel had grown up on a mountain and ridden Karjon’s back since she was a child. The heights didn’t bother her. The jerking, halting way they were descending was doing a number on her stomach, however, and she had to fight to keep herself from being sick. At one point it got to be too much, and bile rose up in her throat. The stomach acid hitting the sores on her throat was a whole new agony, and Tythel almost blacked up as she let out a pained rattle that passed for a scream.

Eupheme did glance over her shoulder when that happened. “What’s wrong?” she asked, a worried note in her voice.

Tythel shook her head.

“Right, you can’t speak. Is there anything that I can do?”

Tythel again shook her head.

“Okay. Is it injuries from the battle?”

Tythel nodded firmly at that.

Eupheme paused for a moment to consider. “Okay. If you need me to stop, reach over and pat me on the head. Don’t touch anything else, I don’t want to risk slipping. Can you reach?”

Tythel nodded again. I hate communicating like this, she thought bitterly. She’d already had enough time to figure out what she’d tell Eupheme – the truth. She wasn’t sure it was going to be enough, but it would at least be honest.

An ugly, nasty voice rose up in the back of her mind. Honest? Like you were with Nicandros? It sneered. She’s going to leave, you know. She’s going to abandon you. Same as he did. Or she’ll die, like Karjon. Maybe it’s better  you keep her angry. At least she’ll leave now, before it hurts more.

Tellias drifted a bit further down beneath them. The arc emitters built into his boots were not strong enough to propel him into flight, but they were enough to slow his fall. He’d tested it by jumping off one of the few still standing buildings. The only question they had was if he had enough power to get all the way to the ground, but they’d decided to take the risk. He was definitely dead if they stayed up top and waited for the Alohym to show back up.

Tythel turned her head to the side and spit out a red globule. They were coming a bit less frequently now, which Tythel hoped meant she was starting to heal. And not that my stomach is filling up with…no, stop it Tythel, don’t think about it.

Eupheme grunted behind her, and some of the rocks began to clatter down the side of the cliff. Tythel sucked in an involuntary breath. Relax, she told herself, trying to unclench her fists from the sudden surge of panic. Eupheme was not supporting them with her arms and legs. The rope was doing most of the work. Thick, sturdy, rope, that wasn’t at all likely to snap and send them plummeting to their deaths hundreds of feet below.

Tythel took her mind off the valley below by focusing her eyes outward, down the canyon. While the land surrounding Hallith might be a desert, the flow of water in canyon had transformed the canyon into a forest. Tythel marveled at seeing how far away from the river proper the trees had grown, their roots stretching like fingers towards the water. A few birds flew among the trees, fat, ungainly creatures that could only fly a short distance. Tythel had read about them, but couldn’t recall their name. They only existed in the isolated ecosystem of the canyon, unable to fly up over the brim.

Tythel caught a shape crawling up one of the walls and focused on it. It was a lizard, easily the size of the man, another of the unique life forms to this valley. This one Tythel remembered. The drayko were six limbed reptiles, making them part of the ancient order of reptiles that had culminated in dragons. Unlike the majestic being that had raised Tythel, the drayko had no wings. Instead, where a dragon’s limbs would be were two claws folded tightly to their backs. As Tythel watched, one of the fat birds flew close to the Drayko. It’s claws shot out, easily fifteen feet long, and speared the bird mid flight.

The drayko brought the creature to its jaws, and Tythel swallowed hard, then risked a glance down. If their path took them past one sunning itself, looking for the birds, it could easily decide Tythel and Eupheme made acceptible pray instead.

No drayko awaited them on the climb down. What was waiting was another two hundred feet of falling and an intense sense of vertigo.

Tythel took her eyes off the drop. You’ve ridden your father’s back amongst the clouds, why does this bother you? Don’t you trust Eupheme? As soon as the thought was in her mind, she was able to answer it to herself. It wasn’t Eupheme she didn’t trust, it was the ropes. If they failed, Eupheme would never have the strength to hold them both to the wall. They would plummet, and all the truth in the would wouldn’t adhere them to the wall.

Flath, why am I letting her climb? I should have insisted on being the one to carry the burden! Guilt welled up in Tythel, and she tried to fight it down again, focusing on the canyon again.

Something was moving through the winding passages of the canyon, something moving with far more grace and agility than the flightless birds. Tythel had never seen these creatures in any of her books. They were flat and wide, shaped like crescent moon. They reminded Tythel of the manta’s she’d seen swimming outside their under sea base. Spots of flame emerged from under their wings, constant jets of fire that seemed to propel them as they used their wings to maneuver.

The drayko spotted them, and its claws lunged out at one of these new creatures. It swerved in the air to involve claws fast enough to catch birds in the air, and then swung its tail towards the lizard.

A beam of unlight went streaming into the confused drayko, cutting it in half.

Light and shadow, Tythel thought with growing horror. Eupheme had mentioned the Alohym were sending something. Skimmers, that had been the word. Apparently, these were them. They flew faster than anything Tythel had ever imagined, faster even that Karjon when he was flapping his wings with full force.

She reached up and frantically tapped Eupheme on the head. The other woman looked over her shoulder. “What is it, Tythel?”

Tythel pointed, and after a few seconds, Eupheme swore. “Get ready. Going to have to speed things up.”

The lead Skimmer banked upwards. The eyes were on the bottom of the creature’s stomach, and they peered at the wall on stalks. Tythel readied dragonflame as soon as the Skimmer came in range.

She spat forth flame, going for a wide gout that would incinerate the creature before it could aim that tail.

Instead, she only managed to spray forth flecks of dark blood. The pain was worse even than having her eye socket broken, and Tythel clutched her neck in sudden agony. Eupheme swore and dropped them a few feet right as the Skimmer shot a beam of unlight, searing the rock where they had been. It missed the two of them.

It didn’t miss the rope.

For a moment, Tythel felt weightless, like she had when Karjon started to dive.

Then gravity began to assert itself, and the ground came rushing towards them. Tythel didn’t hesitate. She swing her shoulders, getting a startled shout from Eupheme as the turned around. Tythel ignored it, instead popping her talons and shoving them into the rock and dirt that crusted the cliff face.

She felt a couple of her talons tear out of her fingers at the first impact. If her throat had not been so ruined, she would have screamed at the sudden agony. Instead she let out a raspy sound that burbled wetly in her throat. The remaining talons held fast, and after digging deep furrows in the rock, they brought Tythel and Eupheme to a halt. Tythel could feel Eupheme struggling to bring out her arclight rifle, could hear Tellias shouting something from the ground below.

The Skimmer crested its body over the canyon, and turned in a wide arc, coming around for another pass. The two below banked upwards towards them.

Tythel made herself begin to climb, ignoring the agony in her fingers, ignoring the way her throat burned like it held a trapped flame. If she didn’t get them to the ground, they were dead.

At least she didn’t have to worry about the rope breaking anymore.

 

The Dragon’s Scion Part 79

“Tythel! That’s enough!” Tellias shouted, putting a hand on her shoulder.

He was right, although not for the reason he thought. He thought that it was enough because there were flecks of her blood spraying out with the dragonflame, tiny red motes that burst into steam. That might have been a good enough reason to stop, but the actual reason Tythel was stopping was the only sounds she could hear in the tunnels were the mechanical shuffling of imperiplate in motion.

Tythel tapped her stolen helmet. Tellias reached down and pulled it off her belt, holding it over her head. “I’m ready,” he said.

Tythel nodded, and closed her mouth. Immediately the miasma rushed back towards her, tendrils of vapor hungrily reaching towards her mouth, trying to invade her lungs. Tellias slammed the helmet on her shoulders before they could, flicking a clasp on the side. A soft, rubbery material stretched in to seal around her neck. She had to fight back another round of coughing, not wanting to get blood in the helmet.

She could have sworn the tendrils of miasma slowed when the helmet was clamped into place, almost as if it realized it was thwarted. “You alright in there?” Tellias asked.

Tythel raised her hand and extended the pinky and thumb, a gesture she’d seen soldiers make to indicate affirmation. Tellias grunted from within his imperiplate. “You can’t talk, can you?”

She shook her head. She could feel her throat bleeding. It will heal. I’m sure it will. Or I’m going to choke to death on my own blood. The thought made her want to vomit. The idea of that filling her helmet, and being forced between breathing that and choking to death on miasma, gave her the will to keep it down.

“Their imeriplate troops will still be coming,” Tellias said.

Tythel nodded, and pointed down one of the tunnels. No sounds were coming from it. Tellias nodded and moved to take the lead back to the surface. Tythel didn’t object. She felt the weariness in her bones, and right now wasn’t sure she’d be able to fend off an aggressive sparrow without passing out.

The corpses of the men who had died to the miasma littered the tunnel. They were all completely mummified, and had died trying to flee, scrambling at walls, or clutching at their throats. Tythel shuddered at the sight, of realizing these deaths were all on her head.

It felt different than killing them in battle. That was life or death, kill or be killed. This was the same thing, but…it was also different. It didn’t feel like battle, it felt like murder. They were going to kill you, she reminded herself, but it was a cold comfort. The resistance lives on because of this. That was a bit better, but it didn’t do anything for the empty eye sockets that stared at her in mute horror. “Do you have a songstone?” Tellias asked.

Tythel nodded.

“Just link it to your helmet, then. You’ll be able to contact the resistance. It should be able to read your lip movements, even if you don’t speak.”

Tythel stopped and looked at him, hands splayed out.

“You…don’t know how to do that, do you?”

Tythel shook her head.

“Well, I’ll show you once we’re clear of all this. For now…” Tellias went silent for a moment. “Everyone’s fine,” he said afterwards. “Although they’re worried about running out of air before the lumcasters can cut through. Apparently the base was wider than they expected where they were. They don’t know how long it will take.

If Tythel could speak, she would have sworn. She turned to start heading back down the tunnel. We can wait until the miasma clears, then go in and-

Tellias put a hand on her arm. He didn’t grab her, just a simple gesture to pause her movement. “Your highness. The imperiplate.”

Tythel cocked her head, then pointed down the tunnel urgently. “You still want to go?” Tythel nodded firmly. “You’re worried the imperiplate will get through the rock?” Tythel repeated the nod.

“I wouldn’t be. It will take them hours to dig through the mess you made. As far as they know, the resistance is buried in there and probably dead. I think they’re more a danger to us than to the others.”

Tythel crossed her arms. She didn’t have the words to argue with him, not with her throat like this. But…

“Your highness, please,” he said. “We can’t help them. But we can survive. They’ll be alright. Even if the imperiplate troops cut through…it’s hundreds against a dozen. They’ll win.”

Tythel cocked her head again, this time in thought, and then nodded, turning to head back up the tunnel. She couldn’t hear the imperiplate troops in the other tunnels, not with this much rock between them.

When they broke onto the surface, the sun had risen fully. Harsh sunlight illuminated the battlefield. The corpses of men lay strewn about, and vultures were beginning to circle. The miasma was rising into the air, forming a cloud that tried to reach out towards the scavengers, as if intent on taking as much life as it could.

“The others beat you out of the tunnel,” a voice said, causing both Tellias and Tythel to whirl. Eupheme stepped out from behind a rock, her face a mask of fury. “They got back on the transports and left. I listened to them. They think they’ve won, although they’re sending something called Skimmers to hunt for survivors. We’ll want to be gone by the time they get here.”

Tythel reached out to her, and Eupheme slapped her hand away. “No. After that stunt you pulled, I’m sure you can’t talk. Besides, we’ve got to get out of here.”

“I was going to attach her songstone to her helm-” Tellias started.

“No time.”

Tellias opened his mask, his face hard. “I am still Baron of the Highplains,” he said in a warning tone.

Eupheme stiffened. “And right now, I’m High Queen of not Giving a Damn, your lordship. I’m going to keep the princess alive. It’s what I’m supposed to do.” She shot a venomous glance as Tythel with that word, and Tythel shrunk away from her glare. “And right now, I think it’s very good for the princesses safety that she keeps her mouth shut.”

Without the ability to speak, Tythel could only hang her head. Eupheme nodded curtly. “Come on.”

“Any idea how we’re going to get off this plateau?” Tellias asked.

“We climb,” Eupheme said simply. “At least, the princess and I do. You can use that suit’s arclight to slow yourself down if you jump, right?”

“I’ve never tried it before,” Tellias said.

“No time like the present.” Eupheme said, walking towards the edge. “I scouted the best path down a little while ago.”

“I’m not sure I like-”

“Then find your own way down, your lordship. I’m climbing down with the princess if I have to carry her myself.”

Tellias scowled at Eupheme, but just closed his helmet and continued stalking towards the edge.

“Euph-” Tythel started to croak. The word was cut off, both by the pain of speaking, and from the look Eupheme gave her.

“I said we’ll talk later. Right now, you’re going to listen.” Even as bad as she was at reading human expression, Tythel could not mistake the fury on her friend’s face. “You do not get to decide what is dangerous for me and what isn’t. You do not get to shove me aside. I’ll protect you, your highness. But friends don’t do that to each other.”

Tythel could only nod mutely as they headed towards the edge of the cliff. Eupheme pulled two ropes out of the dirt. They were well buried, and Tythel realized Eupheme had set this up some time ago. “Are you able to climb?” Eupheme asked her, not looking at Tythel.

Tythel held up her hand to show how badly it was shaking. Eupheme nodded. “Then I’m strapping you to my back and we’re going down like that. Any objections?”

Tythel shook her head.

“Good. Oh, and take that flathing helmet off before you run out of air. Miasma’s gone.”

Tythel reached up to do exactly that. The rest of the arrangements were done in silence, Tythel feeling unable to even meet Eupheme’s eyes right now. Eupheme secured Tythel to her back, letting her face out, and handed her an arcwand. “If those skimmers show up, you’ll keep us alive. I’ll get us down. Okay?”

Tythel nodded, feeling tears well up in her eyes as Eupheme’s tone. The tension she could feel in Eupheme’s back lessened some. “Tythel,” she said, her voice still harsh, but not as acerbic as it had been. Eupheme paused as if considering something, then sighed. “I’m not going to say it’s going to be okay. But I got your pack. It’s secure in the bag we’ll be taking down. So…take from that what you will.”

The tears flowed freely now, guilt mixing with relief. Tythel was glad Eupheme couldn’t see them.

It was a long climb to the bottom.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 78

The tunnel was a winding maze burrowed into the rock of Hallith, twisting downwards to make sure the slope was not too steep. The walls were almost perfectly circular, although they still needed great wooden struts to support them. Armin had been grousing that if they’d carved them as arches, they’d have been able to forgo the supports, but had conceded the extra time needed for that was probably not worth the effort. As it was, the thick beams of wood would prevent the tunnel from collapsing.

There were five entrances upon the main plateau, all of them leading to a junction about a hundred feet down that allowed access to the single tunnel deeper in the earth. That junction, where five tunnels converged into one, was the biggest weak point in the whole structure. The lumcasters hadn’t been able to spare time to worry about structural integrity, and whenever Tythel walked past the entrances she could hear the beams groaning under the pressure. The sound of them was growing louder now as they grew closer. Over that creaking sound, Tythel could hear the voices of soldiers ahead of them, coming from the main tunnel. Ossman’s voice reached her ears, and she smiled to know at least one of her friends was safe.

“We’re the last ones in,” Eupheme said as they continued along, the footsteps of Alohym soldiers pounding behind them.

Tythel nodded. It would make things easier, knowing there was no one behind her that she had to worry about. She had enough concerns as it was.

They rounded a bend and the junction was ahead. It was empty – the soldiers were already proceeding down to the lower levels, where Armin and the other lumcasters had hopefully broken through to the outside. If they hadn’t…but no, Tythel couldn’t think about that, not right now. They would break though, one way or another. Right now, all she needed to do was give them time to get everyone else out.

She tried not to think about the fact that she hadn’t yet figured out how to survive what came next. She was certain she’d figure something out. The Imperiplate helm at her side, banging against her hip with every step, was a good reminder that she at least had some options. I’ll have to risk a songstone afterwards, let them know I’m all right. Assuming she was, of course. That, Tythel had to admit as she finished the last of her water, her throat still raw from the flame she’d poured through it, was seeming much less likely with every moment.

Don’t think about it, she told herself, and recalled something Karjon had once told her. It had been when she was learning to leap among the trees of the valley, wanting to get as close as possible to the awesome flight capable her father was capable of. She’d fallen again, and expressed concern to him that she’d break her leg. “If you think it’s too dangerous, you shouldn’t do it,” Karjon had said gently.

Tythel, at the time only twelve, had protested loudly. “But I want to do it! I love it.”

Karjon had nodded. “Then you accept the risk. Everything you do, Tythel, will carry risks. You could get hurt, physically or emotionally. You have to decide if the risk is worth the reward. And you may, one day, find something that is worth any risk, any danger. When you do, go into it with full knowledge that you accept those risks.”

Leave it to him to turn even a child’s whining into a chance for a lesson, Tythel thought with a rueful grin. They were in the junction now, and Tellias and Eupheme were looking at her expectantly. “Can you tell me the plan now?” Tellias asked, although the question came out as more of a demand.

Tythel winced and rubbed her throat. This was it, the moment of acceptance. I do this with full knowledge of the risks, father, I promise. She took a deep breath. “No,” she whispered, her voice still barely able to raise. She motioned towards the tunnel, trying to indicate she’d tell more when they were deeper in.

Tellias and Eupheme turned and began to head that way. Tythel followed behind, waiting for them to cross the junction, to get under the wooden beams.

As soon as they were, Tythel reached out, shoving them both with all her strength. Eupheme went tumbling, end over end. Her umbrist’s grace let her turn it into a roll to prevent injury. Tellias was wearing arcplate. If he’d been expecting it, there was no chance she would have been able to push him so easily. She’d caught him with one foot in the air for that very reason, and off balance, Tellias toppled over and began to slide down the tunnel. “What the shadow?” he shouted in surprise.

Tythel didn’t respond. She needed her voice, and she didn’t have the time. Her unlight hammer sprung to her fingers as she extended it, and with two quick blows hit the beams supporting the tunnel. They shattered under the impact, and Tythel had to leap back as the tunnel began to collapse. “Tythel!” Tellias shouted, reaching out towards her. Eupheme shot her a glare full of daggers. Tythel mouthed sorry to her as rocks began to fill in the gap between them. The tunnels were well lit, with few shadows large enough for Eupheme to jump through. Her range was fairly short – Tythel could only hope that it was too short for her to reach back to the junction.

The collapsing rocks didn’t completely fill the tunnel, and Tythel swore. This needed to be airtight or it wouldn’t work. Before she could raise the hammer to collapse it further, Tellias did her job for her, scrambling over the rocks. The arcplate brushed against the ceiling, collapsing the tunnel the rest of the way.“What the flath do you think you’re doing?!” Tellias bellowed at her.

It was Tythel’s turn to glare daggers. “Saving,” she hissed through her ruined throat.

“And what about you?” he demanded.

Tythel ignore the questions. The Alohym soldiers further down had heard the sound of the collapsing tunnels, and were whooping with excitement at being close to their quarry. Instead, she reached up and put her hand on the side of Tellias’ helm. “Airtight?” she croaked.

“Of course,” he answered with a scoff. “I don’t see how that matter…oh. Oh no.”

Tythel gave him a nod and turned to get to work. She took a deep breath and pushed the frustration at Tellias, the fear of how she would survive, the shame for Eupheme’s glare – all of it – into her throat.

Then she let loose dragonflame the moment the first of the soldiers entered the junction. He raised his hand in a reflexive gesture of defense, but Tythel hadn’t been aiming at him.

Her flame was weak, pathetically so. Tythel could immediately feel her throat scream in protest at being forced to burn again so soon after the last blast. She didn’t need to push herself too hard – not so long as she could keep it constant. Still, the pain brought tears to her eyes.

The dragonflame hit the floor of the cavern, and as soon as the rocks began to heat, they released the long ago locked away miasma that infused these stones.

A cloud of purple and green gasses erupted from the point of impact. The hot air coming from the flames pushed the noxious poison away from Tythel and Tellias, and sent it streaking towards the soldiers that were standing in the way of the cloud of death and the air.

When this had happened last time, Tythel had barely released enough gas to do more than frighten everyone and make one man sick. This time, she kept pouring on the flame. The onrushing wall of miasma met the first soldier, who had just started to raise his unlight wand to take aim at her.

He gasped in surprise, and that sealed his fate. The gasses pushed their way into his mouth and nose far quicker than a mere gasp could account for, likt it was something alive and hungry, and his skin began to turn grey. Black veins erupted along his arms and neck and face, spreading downwards towards his chest and lungs. His eyes withered and turned to ash that blew out of empty sockets.

The sight was terrible. Tythel fought back an entirely different set of tears, instead taking her terror and using it to fuel the dragonflame. Soldiers began to scream higher up the tunnel, and she could hear panic set in as they scrambled away.

Tythel fell to her knees as she poured dragonflame into the now molten pool in front of her, a pool that was spreading outwards, releasing more and more gas as it heated the rocks beneath it. She pushed herself away from the fumes, and silently prayed she would be able to survive before the poison crept into her own lungs.

I do this with the full knowledge of the risks, Tythel had told herself, but she’d never imagined the death would be so horrible. This time, the thought was entirely different, fear worming its way into her heart. She threw it into the dragonflame, but it didn’t go away, instead sitting there with one solid thought that betrayed her earlier confidence.

I don’t want to die.

She could only pray those wouldn’t be her last words.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 76

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The books had always described retreat like it was a neat, sterile thing. “The armies of Cesus were forced to retreat.” One army defeated another, and the other ran away. Nice, clean, and over. Clearly, that was where the killing ended. That was where the horror stopped. It was the end of the story.

Tythel was learning that it was anything but that.

She leapt over another wall, a soldier slung over her shoulder. Tythel hadn’t bothered to get his name, had just scooped him up and leapt. Unlight lanced through the air to strike at the spot they had just vacated, digging a furrow in the canyon floor. Too close. She landed, her feet shifting to talons as she slid across the ground. “It’s okay, I got you,” she said to the man, pulling him off her shoulder to set him on the ground.

He collapsed bonelessly, a neat hole carved into his head. Tythel fought back bile as it rose in her throat and turned away.

Before she could let the death sink in, before the fact that she had just carried a corpse to safety could really get its hooks into her, Tellias came slamming through the wall she had just leapt over, locked in a grapple with a Imperiplate trooper. Tythel ran towards the two struggling shapes, her hammer at the ready.

Before she could reach them, Tellias sunk his arcblade into a gap in the man’s neck armor. The imperiplate trooper fell, his head and helmet rolling away from his body. They separated as the roll, the man’s head coming to rest staring up at the sky with unseeing eyes.

Tythel couldn’t fight the bile this time. She turned and was messily sick against the wall. “Tythel, what’s wrong?” Tellias asked.

“What’s wrong? How can you- did you see what just happened?” Tythel snapped. “How can you ask what’s wrong?”

Tellias didn’t seem to know what to say to that. Tythel didn’t know what to say either, instead striding over to scoop up the vacant helm. “We’ve lost a quarter of our forces, your highness.”

“Then we need to keep fighting.” She turned and took a deep breath to steady herself, attaching the helm to her belt. It would hang there awkwardly, but it was worth it.

It would make what happened next slightly less suicidal.

Eupheme chose that moment to reappear in a rush of air, stepping out of the shadow of the wall. “Orders are going out. We’re falling back to the tunnels,” she said simply.

“Okay,” Tythel said, taking another deep breath. The taste in her mouth was terrible, and her enhanced senses were filled with the sounds and smells of the dying and the dead. “Tellias, take your men back to the tunnel. We’ll be right behind you.”

“Right behind me? Your highness, no. Absolutely not. You’re coming with us.”

“Damn it to shadow and sear it in light, Tellias, I have a plan. You and your men go into the tunnel first. Trust me.”

“Trust you?” Tellias’ voice was firm. “You just lost your stomach in the middle of the battle. I’m not letting you out of my flathing sight.”

Tythel looked at Eupheme, who shook her head. “If you did…” Eupheme said, trailing off without finishing the thought.

“Fine.” Tythel snapped the word more firmly than was needed. “You can stay, but get your men into the tunnel. Or do you want to keep arguing while they die?”

Even though the arcplate helm covering his face, Tythel could feel the intensity of anger in his gaze. He gave the orders, though, which was all Tythel cared about. “Eupheme, make sure his men get in.” Eupheme shot her a glare, but Tythel shook her head. “You can be back in an instant if something goes wrong. Please.”

Eupheme held the glare a moment longer, then gave a curt nod and vanished back into the shadow.

“Care to tell me what this plan is?” Tellias asked.

Before Tythel could respond, shouts began to rise up from further down the line. “Alohym on the field! Alohym on the field!”

One of those shouts ended abruptly in a gurgling scream.

Tythel felt her blood run cold. “Come on,” she shouted to Tellias.

He didn’t argue, which Tythel took as small blessing. She extended her hammer and they burst back through the hole in the wall.

This was only the third Alohym Tythel had seen close and in person. She’d expected it to be virtually indistinguishable from Rephylon, the way telling apart two tigers was difficult when you’d only been mauled by one. To her surprise, that wasn’t the case – in part because this Alohym looked nothing like any other she’d even heard described. Its skin was still a black carapace, its head still the wedge shape she’d gotten used to, but this one walked on two legs and its arms didn’t split at the elbow. If it hadn’t been from the massive thorax extending back from where the legs met the torso, she almost could have taken it for a human wearing armor modeled after the Alohym like some new, sleek imperiplate.

It whirled as they entered. A soldier tried to take advantage of its distraction, standing up to point his arcwand at the creature. Without even looking, this strange new Alohym extended its arm sideways towards the man. The carapace began to run like wax, and that arm was coated with a large growth, the forearm bulging outwards and consuming the hand so all that was left was a vacant hole. Unlight streaked from the new appendage, cleaving the man in twain.

It had done all that in the time it took the man to raise his weapon and take aim. Light, I’ve never seen anything move that fast. It even exceeded Rephylon’s speed – Although, Tythel reminded herself, Rephylon was toying with you.

This newcomer didn’t seem interested in playing game. It sprouted thin, gossamer wings from its back and flew towards Tythel and Tellias, the arm shaping into a wicked blade that glowed with an unlight edge.

“Great, it can flathing fly,” Tellias had time to mutter, and then it was upon them.

It struck for Tellias first, a fury of blows that happened far too quickly for Tellias to even think about parrying individual strikes. He swung his arcwand, forcing the creature to dart back, and Tythel could see the exposed cords of his wire from a dozen cuts the Alohym had broken in the steel. The Alohym flew around, coming back in for another strike, this time focused on Tythel.

Tythel wasn’t going to let it get into melee with her. She turned to follow it, heart pounding. Come at me, you monster, she thought with a savage fury, stroking the fans of ghostflame with her anger and fear. Come on, I’m right here.

As if it heard her, the Alohym dropped its erratic pattern and charged directly for her. She let loose a gout of blue and white ghostflame to meet it.

It dodged like the fire was standing still, flittering away from the flame with preternatural speed. Tythel turned her head to follow its path, the flame swinging towards the Alohym like it was on the end of a massive whip connected to her throat, but it kept ahead of the soul-searing fire with a contemptuous ease. “I won’t be as easy as that, you monster!” it screamed.

The voice surprised Tythel so much she stumbled as her ghostflame cut out. That stumble saved her life – the Alohym’s blade passed through the space where her head had been, and Tythel turned it into a roll to come up behind the Alohym. It was as surprised at the motion as Tythel, which gave her and Tellias a chance to strike. Their attacks missed as the Alohym rocketed back into the air. “No,” Tythel said quietly as it flew upwards. “That’s not possible.”

“What isn’t?” Tellias growled. “This flathing thing being that fast?”

His voice helped snap her out of her surprise. “Later. Won’t impact the fight.”

Tellias just grunted in acknowledgement. “We need to get to the tunnels. It’s too mobile out here. Down there it’ll only have one avenue of attack, only one path.”

“There’s still soldiers out he could kill!” Tythel hissed, watching closely at their opponent circled in the air, getting ready for another strike. Tythel’s voice was raw from the ghostflame, and she could feel her knees begin to shake. Light give me strength. I can’t collapse now.

“I don’t think it is interested in the soldiers. It called you a monsters, your highness. I think it’s going to follow- Get down!”

Tythel had seen it at the same moment as Tellias, and they both leaped aside. Their opponent had brought his hands together and they had shifted again, forming a single, massive unlight cannon. A small part of Tythel’s brain noticed how the thorax shrunk when it formed that weapon, but there wasn’t any time to think about that. The creature was firing on them with the force of an Alohym Warship, and Tellias and Tythel were both forced to run for the tunnels, it’s fire dogging their heels.

“Don’t think you can escape me,” he growled, and again Tythel heard his voice. She’d been expecting it this time, but that only made it slightly less shocking.

Somehow, this Alohym spoke with the voice of a man.

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The Dragon’s Scion Part 75

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When you work on a major project, you have to manage your duties. It’s like the triage physikers practice. Pick what’s most important, and make that your highest priority. Secondary priorities can follow as you pursue the primary. Armin heard the words of his old teacher, Master Lukanis, as if the old Master was standing next to him. For the most part, it was good advice, although Armin wished they had spent more time on learning to identify primary and secondary priorities. Digging the tunnel, for example. Armin had set expansion of the tunnel and reinforcement so it wouldn’t collapse on anyone’s head as a primary priority, and focused all their efforts in those two fields. Those were good priorities.

However, It meant making sure that the alarms reached them down here was a secondary priority.

So it was that Armin and the other three Llumcasters they’d acquired after their last major confrontation with the Alohym were completely unaware, at first, of an entire battle being fought above. They were deep beneath the ground, checking charts and second guessing their math. If their math was right – and Armin hoped that four Lumcasters working in tandem could manage even complex trigonometry – the tunnel through the plateau had now reached the ground level after winding in a gentle spiral downwards.

Clarcia stood next to him.  “The math looks good to me!” she said brightly, earning a chuckle from Armin and the others. Of the Llumcasters, she had the most raw power. She was also fifteen, and had never set foot in the Collegium or any other school of formal study. She’d figured out how to manipulate light by accident. It made her into a potent force, but when the time came for math and careful planning, she sat at the side of Armin and the others, taking notes with a fervor. The math always looked good to her, and Armin wondered if the joke would ever wear old, or if she’d be making it when she was in her seventies and had finally mastered it.

Light, you’re a fool, Armin thought with no small amount of bitter mirth. You actually believe anyone here is going to make it to seventy? His sour reflection was interrupted by the oldest of the Llumcasters, Genevia. Genevia had been a Llumcaster before the Alohym arrived, one of the few to survive that initial assault. She only had middling talent, but could apply it with the surgical precision of a physikers blade. She was also showing some of the slight mutations that aged Llumcasters developed – in her case, a third eye in the center of the forehead that she swore was nonfunctional, and an extra thumb on each hand. Those did work, Armin knew, though they provided her little benefit. Genevia had joked about developing a new instrument only she could play properly, but admitted she had no ideas for how that would work. “I think Clarcia is right. However, Clarcia, can you tell us why it is ‘good’?”

Armin tuned out as Clarcia began to explain the formulae and how they proved it was safe to burst through the plateau. He knew he should be paying attention, but Genevia and Adenot – the last of their little quartet – were better at math than him. Adenot was, like Genevia, older than Armin, although he’d only been an apprentice when the Alohym invaded. He also wasn’t particularly strong, although he could hold a casting far longer than any of the others, which made it his job to shore up the tunnel until the builders could use some of the stones from the ruins above to keep it supported. Adenot had not begun to mutate at all, although he swore every day it was coming ‘soon.’

Light and shadow, listen to me, judging others for their strength as Llumcasters. I’m a glorified charging cell! That wasn’t entirely fair – since absorbing the Sunstone’s power, Armin had been able to do some minor casting that went beyond mere ‘charging cell charging,’ but since his talent had been so weak, he’d never learned how to manipulate light for anything other than powering Arc devices. In mathematics, logic, and the scholarly arts, he could help teach Clarcia. When it came to Llumcasting, Genevia and Adenot often taught Clarcia by giving her basic lessons to teach Armin. It rankled sometimes. At the collegium, being a glorified charging cell had made him perfect in the eyes of his instructors, who were now of course serving the Alohym. It was only now Armin understood that was because being able to charge Arc devices was all they wanted Llumcasters to do.

Why did they even allow that? Armin wondered, not the first time. Ever since Tythel’s discovery that the Alohym’s vaunted immunity to harm was a function of every assault against them in the past using Unlight weapons against them,  it had never made sense to Armin that the Alohym allowed the creation of arcwands. He hadn’t come up with an answer, not yet. His best theory was that the Alohym knew humans would figure out the trick, and thought it would be best if they controlled the production of the arcwands.

He didn’t like that theory. It was too clean, too neat, and too easy. Armin didn’t trust anything that made the Alohym seem easy. In his experience, nothing about the Alohym seemed easy.

“Very good Clarcia. Master Armin,” Genevia asked, breaking into his reverie again. “Do you agree we’re ready to breach?”

Armin fought the urge to protest the title. He was nominally ‘leading’ the Llumcasters, but that was only by virtue of of having been with the Resistance far longer and having earned the Duke’s trust. He had never earned the rank of Master, unlike Genevia and Adenot, and having them call him a title he was still years away from being worthy of rankled him. Armin liked people singing his praises, but only when it was deserved. “I do, so long as Master Adenot agrees.”

Adenot nodded in firm agreement. Armin would rarely do anything if the two true Masters didn’t agree, and when they did not, he deferred to Genevia. At least he didn’t need to do that this time. “Excellent,” Armin said. “Then I suppose we should start the breach. Anyone know what time it is up top?”

“Well,” Clarcia said brightly, “judging by the circles under all three of Master Genevia’s eyes, I’d say we were up all night. Again.”

Armin ignored the note of reproach in Clarcia’s voice. Bringing timepeices into the tunnel had also seemed a secondary priority. It was easy to lose track of time away from the sun and stars, especially with work to distract them. And especially because you don’t need to sleep anymore. Or, to be more accurate, he couldn’t sleep anymore. Not since the Sunstone.

It was starting to wear on him.

“Then we’ll call it for now, and break through after we’ve all rest-”

Armin was cut off by the sudden slap of boots on the tunnel, coming towards them rapidly. “Master Armin!” the runner shouted. She was young, no more than eleven or twelve. Children like her were used to run messages within the camp to free up the adults for other work. No one trusted the songstones, not for anything short of dire urgency.

“What is it?” Armin asked, masking his irritation. He was hoping to lay down and at least close his eyes for a few hours.

The girl was panting, and had to rest her hands on her knees. Light. Did she run the entire len “We…you don’t know. Alohym, sir. They’re attacking the upper level. The Duke sent me…oh flath. Sorry, shouldn’t swear.” The girl took a deep breath. “They’re falling back into the tunnels. The Duke says if you can get an opening, we’re going to need it.”

Armin scowled. “Sleep is postponed,” he announced. “We need to break through.”

There was no argument. Clarcia went to the front and began to glow as she sucked in light from the nearby Llumwell. It caused her skin to glow with a golden radiance, and her red and blue hair began to float of its own accord. “Steady now,” Genevia cautioned, her own skin starting to glow as she wove a focus from light.

They’d gotten very good at this. Clarcia would channel raw power from the lumwell, with Genevia focusing her beam. Adenot would shore up the tunnel, and Armin would pull additional light to funnel into whoever needed it.

“How long,” the girl asked. “Begging your pardon, sir, but the Duke will want to know.”

Now Armin wished he’d paid attention to the mathematical discussion earlier. “Genevia?” Armin asked, busying himself with some objects on the table to appear busy, hoping to hide his ignorance.

“Two hours safely. An hour if we rush and take risks.”

The girl nodded. “There’s a warship up there.”

Genevia looked at Armin, who nodded grimly. “We’ll rush, then.”

Light, please let us have enough time, Armin thought, already starting to funnel additional light into Clarcia. Don’t let us all die down here because we were too slow.

If the Light was willing to aid them, it gave no reply.

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The Dragon’s Scion Part 74

Tythel popped over the wall, raising her arcwand and squeezing off three quick shots in the general direction of the Alohym’s approaching troops. Between their armor and her terrible aim, she was relatively certain it did nothing except make them keep their heads down, but that meant they weren’t shooting back. At least, I hope it’s doing some good.

The warship had taken out their heavy Arcwands, and it was now charging for another shot. The Alohym were keeping it far in the back, so it couldn’t focus on individual soldiers. A small blessing. It was still plenty close to target any building the rebels built up a strong presence inside, cracking centuries old stone like it was rotten wood.

Tythel slid along the wall so she wouldn’t be poking her head over the same spot, and then jumped up to fire again. Another three shots, and she ducked back down.

“Incoming!” one of the soldiers shouted, diving to the ground. A sphere fell out of the sky and exploded in a burst of unlight, sending shards of rock and steel flying among the men. Tythel felt some of the shrapnel bite into her arm and hissed in pain.

“They’re closing in!” Another shouted from a watchtower. “On the lef-”

His warning was cut off with a sudden gurgle, and Tythel watched the man’s body fall limply out of the tower. Cold rage washed over Tythel. She hadn’t even known the man’s name, and he was dead now. Go peacefully to the shadow. Your warning won’t be in vain.

Tythel crawled along the ground towards the left of their position. There was an archway over there, and three Alohym soldiers were running towards it, their unlight weapons raised. They saw Tythel and pointed, starting to charge directly at her.

They clearly didn’t know what she could do. She took a deep breath and let loose a gout of dragonflame, moving her head in an arc to catch as many of them in fire as she could.

Their screams joined the general cacophony of the battlefield, and Tythel turned away, just in time to see the part of the wall she had just vacated explode. A soldier in full imperiplate had hit the wall at a charge and burst through, sliding to a stop across from Tythel with an unlight axe raised.

“Get down!” Tellias shouted, leaping into action before Tythel could even begin to draw breath. His arcplate’s light dimmed as he got closer to the imperiplate, and the battlefield rang with the force of his blow against his opponent.

“Get free so I can breathe!” Tythel shouted, but Tellias was lost in the struggle. The two metal-clad men were now in a grapple, the unlight axe discarded at the moment of impact.

Tythel loosed her hammer and ran to join in their struggle. She leapt as she got close to the fight, using her feet to push off of Tellias’ shoulders and fly over the imperiplate soldier’s head.

Eupheme was on this side of the breach, and she vanished into Tythel’s shadow right before Tythel landed in a roll. Tythel whirled and swung with her hammer. It met the side of the soldier’s hip and the armor cracked where it landed.

Tellias broke free of the grapple, bringing back one gauntleted fist to slam into the soldier’s faceplate. His opponent was fast and more experience with imperiplate. He managed to move out of the way in time, sending Tellias off balance. For a moment Tythel thought Tellias would come stumbling into her, but he caught himself before he did, instead bringing his gauntlet around to hit the spot Tythel had weakened. She could hear something break deep within the imperiplate, and the soldier inside became more frantic.

Eupheme reappeared them, stepping out of the shadow to shove a thin blade into the cracks now splintering the armor’s hip. The man inside screamed in pain.

From there, it took Tythel and Tellias only moments to finish the soldier off. Moments they didn’t have. “Fall back!” Someone shouted further down the line. “Fall back or be surrounded!”

Tythel snatched up the unlight axe and tossed it to Eupheme. Eupheme nodded and stepped back into shadows again. Tythel began to run to the first fallback point, Tellias joining her. “Don’t get between me and plate again,” Tythel hissed at him.

“Then don’t get so close to plate,” Tellias growled. “I don’t want to see you in hand to hand with one of those things.”

Tythel leapt over the next wall with Tellias, then turned to him to shout, “I was fighting them in hand to hand before you were-”

Eupheme stepped out from the shadow of the wall. “Enough!” she snapped, her voice firm. “This is a battlefield, not a bedroom. Bicker later.”

Tellias turned a deep shade of red, although Tythel could on blink in confusion. What do bedrooms have to do with arguments? Still, properly chastised, she peered through a gap between the stones.

Numbers should have been on their side, yet the Alohym’s forces were pushing them back. That damn warship in the sky was pelting them with unlight beams that could cleave through any barrier they could erect, and they were making good use of their imperiplate, clumping it together in groups of four or five to act like a fist at anywhere resistance was particularly strong. We need something to change the game or we’re done for.

There was no time for clever strategies, however. Soldiers of the Alohym were rushing forwards. Resistance fighters began popping over the walls to open fire, trying to slow their advance. This time, Tythel didn’t bother with an arcwand, instead waiting for them to get closer before leaping out of cover and letting loose a wide arc of dragonflame.

She only caught a few soldiers in her breath, but they fell, screaming in agony as they did. If only there was some way to burn the whole army…Tythel thought.

Then, slowly, a grin began to spread across her face. “Tellias! We need to fall back to the tunnels!”

Tellias gave her an open mouthed stare. “Have you lost your mind? We’ll be trapped like rats down there.”

Tythel nodded. “I have a plan. Well, an idea. Flath it, Tellias, we’re getting picked off from the air anyway! Underground favors us right now.”

As if to punctuate her point, an ancient tower that contained arcwand snipers exploded nearby, shattered by a beam of unlight as thick as a man’s torso. The warship was beginning to slowly advance, its pilot realizing that nothing they had on the ground could oppose them. “Light burn me,” Tellias swore, looking around wildly. “We need to convince the rest of the army, or we’ll just be cowards running.”

Tythel stood up again to let loose another gout of dragonflame at the advancing soldiers. An unlight beam brushed her shoulder, and she dropped back down as she suppressed a hiss of pain. “Eupheme!” Tythel said. “Find d’Monchy. Tell him-”

Tythel didn’t need to finish the explanation. Eupheme gave Tythel a quick nod of her head and vanished again into shadows.

“Are you alright?” Tellias asked, standing up to return fire on the advancing soldiers. From the lack of screams, both from her flame and his shots, neither of them had struck home.

“Are you kidding?” Tythel let out a dark laugh. “I’ve been shot worse than this. I’ll be fine.” She did her best to seem confident, even though every twitch of the injured arm was agony.

Tellias only nodded. “Well, you highness, your Umbrist has gone to try and change the course of an entire army. What do we do until she returns?”

A soldier made it to the wall, leaping over in a swift motion. His eagerness put him directly in Tythel’s arm reach, and she swung her hammer one handed. The man’s chest cavity collapsed under the blow.

“We hold the line,” she said. And Light grant we can hold it long enough.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 73

Tythel’s sleep was shattered by the clamoring of alarms. She was on her feet before her brain was fully awake, cobwebs of sleep burning away as her heart jackhammered in panic. Her vision cleared from the fog of sleep as Eupheme tossed Tythel her hammer. Tythel snatched it out of the air and extended it, then grabbed her shield from where it rested at the end of her bed. “What’s going on?” She shouted to Eupheme over the warbling wail.

Eupheme just shook her head to show she didn’t understand, then she stepped into the space behind the door. Tythel heard air rushing into occupy the space that Eupheme had just vacated, then another rush of air as Eupheme returned. “Downstairs is clear.”

Tythel nodded and rushed out the door and the Inn in bounding steps. Eupheme simply walked through the shadows to beat Tythel to the entrance, scanning the horizon.

Dawn was just beginning to shine over the companion, the top of the sun just peeking over the wall that surrounded the ancient city of Hallith. The alarm continued to cut through the cool air, masking most other sounds from Tythel’s ears. She could barely hear soldiers rushing around, gathering their weapons and armor. Someone nearby was shouting orders, and although Tythel couldn’t make out the words, she recognized the voice – Tellias. Tythel began to run towards him, hoping he’d know what had triggered the alert.

Before she reached him, the alarm cut out, having done its job. It was then, in the silence the followed, that Tythel heard it.

The sound of grinding metal in the sky.

“Ships!” Tythel shouted to Eupheme. The other woman’s face turned into a grim frown, and she nodded understanding. Tythel’s heart continued to pound. We’re not ready for this. The plateau was still being fortified. It didn’t have anything that could withstand a direct assault from the sky, not yet. It didn’t have a way to fight back against that either. They were utterly exposed. Tythel didn’t even know if she could hope to generate enough ghostflame to even give the ship pause, let alone take it down.

“Is the tunnel finished?” Eupheme asked Tythel as they ran.

“I don’t know,” Tythel said grimly, pumping her legs harder. The troops around Tellias resolved into her vision. He was standing on a block of stone, barking orders, clad in armor that glowed like the rays of an arcwand.

One of Armin’s pet projects over the past month had been converting some of the captured Imperiplate to utilize arc packs instead of unlight, so it could be effectively used against the Alohym. He called them arcplate, which Tythel thought was unimaginative but functional and clear. The commanders each had been given one of the dozen pieces of arcplate Armin had managed to finish working on. Armin was certain they would work, but they’d never before been tested in anything close to a live scenario.

The men around Tellias moved out of Tythel and Eupheme’s way as they approached. They were all his soldiers, men who had followed Tellias’ father during the Alohym Wars and continued to follow the young Baron after his father’s death. Many of them were hoisting arcwards, but a distressing number were still armed with unlight weapons – useful against the Alohym’s soldiers, but worse than useless if the Alohym actually took the field. Lets hope they know that.

“Tellias!” Tythel shouted when she was close enough. He whipped his head towards her. None of his usual smiles today – just a grim nod of acknowledgement. “How many?”

“Three ships, only one of which is heavily armed. The other two are transports. They’ll be here in minutes.”

“How did they get so close without being spotted?” Tythel asked, aghast the alarm had taken so long to sound.

“The Alohym flew them through the flathing canyon. We couldn’t see them until they rounded the bend.”

Beside Tythel, Eupheme swore, and Tythel felt herself go pale. The canyon that had protected ancient Hallith should have been a perfect defense – and it had been, in the days when a chariot was the peak of military technology. Those days were long past, and Tythel was kicking herself for overlooking that detail. “How many soldiers?”

“They’ll have a couple hundred each in the transports, and two or three dozen imperiplate troopers in the warship. Not counting any Alohym, of course.”

Tythel’s brow furrowed. The rebels here outnumbered the Alohym forces, but without any way to deal with the ships, it would be a losing battle no matter how the ground fight went. “The tunnels?” She asked hopefully.

“Armin grabbed every Magi we have,” Tellias said. “They’ve gone down to try and crack through. They might make it in time, but…”

Tythel nodded in agreement before Tellias could even finish the thought. “If we’re trapped down there like rats, they’ll cut us to shreds.” In those close quarters, the rebels numerical advantage would mean nothing, and with twice or more the plate wearers, the Alohym’s forces would crush them.

A shout arose from the back of the soldiers. “They’re here!”

Tythel turned to see an Alohym warship breach over the wall, like some horrible cross of squid and whale leaping from the ocean’s depths. The Unlight crystals on the tip of its weapon bent the sunlight as they passed through the dawn air, creating halos around each crystal that grew larger as they began to charge power. Tythel was struck with a sense of vertigo. It reminded her so much of the way the vessel that had killed Karjon had parted the clouds, and for a moment she was that scared girl again, standing atop a mountain as the greatest day of her life rapidly turned into a nightmare.

She missed part of what Tellias was saying as she got the panic under control. “-so they can’t focus us down. Groups of five at most. Don’t clump up.”

Tythel took a moment to piece together what he had said, then nodded agreement. “Eupheme and I will come with you,” she said.

The transports rose aside the warship and began to disgorge their soldiers on the the earth around them. Tellias gave her a single quick nod. “We’ll protect you with our lives, your highness.”

“I’d prefer if you protected your own, but if you have to protect mine, do it with arcwards and keep your lives,” Tythel responded. Some of the large arcwands they’d set up began to open fire on the disembarking Alohym troops. “Let’s get to positions.”

Tellias gave her a wolfish grin, and they began to take cover in ruined buildings and behind stone walls. Of the soldiers tossed Tythel an arcwand. She’d gotten some brief training in their usage from Armin over the month. Her aim was terrible, but she’d be able to add to the general fire until the approaching soldiers got into dragonflame range.

Then the warship opened fire, and unlight beams began to lance across the battlefield.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 72

“So are you going to say anything?”

Tythel didn’t mean to snap when she asked the questions, but she couldn’t help it. Leaving the meeting of the council had her on edge, and she couldn’t shake the feeling that Eupheme was judging her.

If the outburst startled Eupheme, it didn’t show. “Something on your mind, your highness?”

They’d both been silent since leaving the meeting, weaving between the broken stones that were all that remained of Hallith. Eupheme had claimed what seemed to be the upper floors of an inn for their quarters, although for all Tythel knew it was actually a manor of some Hallithian noble, or barracks for some particularly high ranking soldiers. Whatever it had been, it was close to the Reliquary, and only had one room that remained intact enough to sleep in. Perfect for the two of them.

“You know what’s on my mind,” Tythel said, moderating her tone. “I’m sorry I snapped.”

Eupheme shrugged off the apology. “Difficult choices breed anger. It’s natural.”

“Surely you have some thoughts on it, though,” Tythel said as they walked through the doorway of their temporary home. “You’re not made of stone.”

Eupheme smiled, a smile Tythel couldn’t parse. Shadow take me, I wish I’d learned facial expressions sometimes. “No, your highness, I’m not. However…when you spoke of the hoard before, it had a reverence I didn’t understand.”

Tythel sighed. “Eupheme, I’m not sure how to take that.”

“Can I be blunt?”

“Please,” Tythel said as they took seats on the bundles of cloth that served as beds.

“Alright. If you were a human, raised by humans, I’d think you were a selfish bitch.”

Tythel let out a huff of air in shock. “Well, I did ask for blunt.”

Eupheme nodded. “But you’re not fully human, and you weren’t raised by humans. There are differences between the way you see things and the way I do. Often I think it’s one of your strengths. It would be hypocritical of me to judge you only when it goes against what I think is right.”

Tythel sighed, flopping on her back onto the blankets. “So you think it’s wrong.”

“Yes. But I also don’t think I fully understand the significance. As far as I can see, it’s a collection of treasure and coins. It seems like it’s more than that to you.” Eupheme laid down on her stomach, propping her head up on her arms.

“It’s so much more than that,” Tythel said with another sigh. “It’s…I’m not sure how to explain.” Tythel turned to face Eupheme. “Let me ask you something. If it would help defeat the Alohym, would you eat a handful of live centipedes?”

Eupheme made a face. She’d confided her fear of the creatures during one of their late night talks, when Tythel had complained Eupheme seemed too fearless. “No. I mean, I would try, but I know I’d fail. And I can’t imagine how it would.”

“I can’t see how it would either. But…the idea of plundering my father’s hoard for…for material gain?” It was Tythel’s turn to make a disgusted face. “Even for the good of the world, it’s appalling.”

Eupheme frowned. “I can understand, I think. But…what do dragons do with their hoards?”

“It’s a hoard,” Tythel said. Eupheme looked at her blankly, and Tythel groped for the right words. “It’s just…it’s a hoard. You don’t…do anything with it. You hoard. You have your parent’s hordes, and you divide it among siblings if you have any. Then you add your own treasure to it, and then…and then you have it. A part of your parents you keep with you, and you grow it and care for it and pass it along to your children.”

Eupheme regarded her for a long moment. “It’s like a garden,” she said finally.

Tythel snapped her fingers. “Yes. Exactly like a garden.”

“If it was a garden, then, let me ask you something. If someone came to your garden, starving to death, would you deny them fruit from it?”

Tythel closed her eyes slowly, showing how deeply the question hurt her. From the way Eupheme winced, Tythel thought she understood. “It’s different. Fruit in a garden will regrow on its own.”

“Yes, it will. But if the city was starving, would you let them eat all the fruit, even though it meant you could not plant any more trees?”

Tythel put her face into the cloth in frustration. “I guess it’s not like a garden,” she muttered. “The analogy doesn’t work.”

“It doesn’t? Or you don’t like the analogy because it makes you uncomfortable?”

Tythel sat up fully. “Because it makes me uncomfortable, okay?”

“At least you admit it.” Eupheme said, rising to sit herself. She was frowning as she did. “I wish things had been done properly,” she muttered.

Tythel cocked her head in confusion. “What do you mean?”

“Your books had little about my order, didn’t they?” Eupheme asked.

“I mean…yes.”

“What did they say?”

Tythel was failing to see the relevance to their conversation, but went ahead regardless. “They said you served Royal families. That you were guards against assassins and assassins yourself. Little else in terms of the general.”

Eupheme nodded. “We work hard to keep out of the books. Most authors don’t spend time describing the shadows cast by the figures they follow, and that is what we are.”

Tythel took a moment to regard her own shadow. It flickered in the torch they used for light, dancing on the cloth and stone. “Then…tell me what I need to know.”

“If things had been done properly, I would have been raised alongside you. Myself and at least three others, girls around our age. We would have been like sisters to you, although also not your equal. We would have spent our childhood learning your habits, your whims. The hope is you would have chosen one of us to adopt as a true sister in all but inheritance, your closest companion with whom you share your every thoughts.”

Tythel leaned down to rest her arms on her knees and her head in her hands. “That’s how it always was?”

“Always. It means you have an advisor you can trust implicitly, one who is even more trustworthy than your own siblings would have been, since she never would have a claim to the throne so no reason to betray you. And I – she – would have had a lifetime learning your moods, your thoughts, to the point where she could read your intent without you saying a word.”

“That sound wonderful,” Tythel said. “To have someone who knows you that well.”

Eupheme nodded. “It also would have meant I could have understood where you were coming from with this, Tythel. But I don’t. The wealth in Karjon’s hoard could fund the resistance for months, at least, and the books could be the key for cracking the cipher. I don’t understand how you can keep that to yourself.”

Tythel let out a low, tired breath and looked down at her feet. “It’s…it’s like making blades from his bones, shields from his scales. It’s like desecrating his grave.” She could feel her nictitating membranes wiping away the tears that were forming. “I don’t know of any other way to explain it.”

There was silence for so long, Tythel wondered if Eupheme had slipped away. Finally, the other woman spoke. “I suppose I can understand that.” Eupheme came over and put an arm around Tythel’s shoulder. “I won’t press you on it again. I just want to ask one thing. If he were alive, do you think Karjon would hesitate to spend that entire treasure to keep you safe?”

Tythel opened her mouth to speak, but the sound turned into a sob. She buried her head in Eupheme’s shoulder, and Eupheme held her and let her cry. “How many times do I have lose him?” Tythel choked out. “First to the Alohym, then the egg, and now his hoard…how many times do I have to say goodbye to my father?”

Eupheme didn’t answer her at first, just held her and ran her hand through Tythel’s hair and letting her cry. “Don’t think of it at losing him,” Eupheme said gently. “Think of it as letting him still help you. I wish I had known him so I could say this with certainty, but from what you’ve told me…don’t you think he would have wanted that?”

Tythel gave Eupheme a grateful series of blinks. “Yes. He would have.” She pulled away from Eupheme and wiped her eyes. “Light and shadow, I’m a mess. I hardly seem like a princess or a dragon, do I? Just a whiny girl.”

Eupheme smiled. “Your highness, if things had been done properly, my duty would have been to be the person you could whine to.”

“Well…guess you get to do that anyway.”

Eupheme laughed. “It is my honor to be able to do so.”

Tythel wiped her eyes again, knowing they would be red and raw but feeling as if a great weight had been lifted.. “Thank you, Eupheme.” She took a deep breath. “I’ll do it. Tomorrow. First thing tomorrow, I’ll offer it as an alternative.”

Eupheme smiled. “Wonderful. And what, then, shall we do with tonight? More mournful staring off the walls?”

Tythel did laugh now, and shook her head. “No, not that. I think tonight I’ll spend among the others.”

Eupheme nodded in approval, and the two women headed to find what trouble Armin had gotten himself up to, or see if Ossman was able to step away from his duties. They would drink, and dance, and have altogether a wonderful time.

None of them had any way of knowing it would be the last chance they had time together for quite some time.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 70

As they drew closer to the dome, Haradth could begin to make out what was inside. There were buildings in there, small versions of the towers that rose from the depths of the sinkhole. More of the strange animals, too. He could see a few creatures that he now knew were the natural form of the Sylvani, peering through the glass and waving their tentacles. As Haradeth watched, their skin rippled in a rapid display of colors. There seemed to be some kind of pattern in the shimmering of their skin, but Haradeth couldn’t pinpoint it. “They seem agitated,” he commented to Lorathor.

“They are.” Lorathor frowned. “They’re yelling at me for bringing an outsider here, especially now.”

“I can’t hear them,” Haradeth said with a frown.

“They aren’t yelling in words. We don’t speak amongst ourselves. We shimmer. If you knew how badly they’re cursing me right now…” Lorathor sighed. “They’re even angry I’m still in this form.”

“Should you shift?” Haradeth asked with sudden concern.

“No. I was going to shift back eventually. They need to be reminded of…well, of what’s here.”

“I don’t understand, Lorathor. Any of this.”

“I know.” Lorathor gave him a sad smile. “But you will.”

When they reached the end, a doorway opened in the glass. There hadn’t been any break before, Haradeth was sure of it. Two of the Sylvani levelled what looked like arcwands at them, but made of that same woven metal that seemed to be what constructed everything out here. “Lorathor. You’ve gone too far this time,” one of them said.

“Elder Shaaythi,” Lorathor said, ducking his head in a very human bow. “Last time you said that, She agreed with me.”

Shaaythi shimmered dark, rippling patterns of blue and purple and black. “You cannot speak of Her with an outsider!” she shrieked.

“Yet you are speaking aloud for his benefit,” Lorathor mentioned, “and speaking of Her yourself.”

“Only because you brought her up!” Shaaythi wrung her tentacles together and turned her eyes towards Haradeth. “Forgive me, human. Lorathor has gone outside of his remit, but it is hardly your fault. You are not expected to know our customs.”

Haradeth bowed towards the Elder. “No apologies needed. And you need not apologize for being incorrect about my race. I’m only half Human. My mother was Lathariel.”

Shaaythi turned her eyes back towards Lorathor, and her colors were now mixes of reds and golds, making her skin look like it was aflame. “What are you planning here, Lorathor?”

“She will want to speak to him,” Lorathor said calmly.

“You presume to know what she wants?” Shaaythi snapped.

“You presume the same,” Lorathor said simply.

Shaaythi glanced around at the others, and motioned for them to lower their arcwands. Haradeth let out a breath he didn’t realize he had been holding. “Son of Lathariel. You are welcome among our people. It has been some time since we had a guest, but we will do our best to accommodate you.”

“Thank you,” Haradeth said simply, not sure what else to do.

“Unfortunately, Lorathor has made promises he cannot keep. She does not speak to outsiders.”

“Who is She?” Haradeth asked.

Shaaythi shuddered. “She is…she is to us what your mother is to humans, in a way. Our goddess. She Who Is Born of Light.”

Haradeth nodded slowly. “I understand why she would not ordinarily speak to me,” he said, “but these are hardly ordinary times. You live apart, but you share the world with us. The Alohym-”

As soon as he said the name, every Sylvani save Lorathor began to shimmer in the red and gold colors Haradeth now associated with anger. “They should not be spoken of!” Shaaythi said. “Such things are forbidden.”

If she had told Haradeth that she was going to sacrifice him on an altar, he couldn’t have been more shocked. “Shouldn’t be spoken of?” He asked. “They invade our world! They have conquered the humans! They are slaying the gods and the dragons! And you want us not to speak of them?”

“Elder Shaaythi,” Lorathor said gently, “perhaps we should ask Her if she’ll speak to Haradeth.

“I…” Shaaythi hung her head. “It’s not permitted.”

“Not even to ask?” Haradeth asked.

“Not even to ask.”

Haradeth fought the urge to grind his teeth. Has Lorathor taken me all this way for nothing? He glanced sideways at the Sylvani. If Lorathor was fazed or surprised by this turn of events, it certainly wasn’t showing on his face.

“Very well,” Lorathor said before Haradeth could start the argument again. “I assume we can still grant the normal rules of hospitality?”

Shaaythi glared at Lorathor. “For your guest, yes. You, Lorathor, have violated ancient laws by-”

Lorathor interrupted her with a quick snap of his voice. “Her name, Haradeth, is Anotira. She is the Luminous One, our goddess, and she guides us from-”

“What are you doing!?” Shaaythi shrieked, raising her strangely beautiful Arcwand again.

“-within the walls of our Domes, where she is absolute and-”

“Silence or I will cut you down!” Shaaythi said, and Lorathor clamped his mouth shut. “Lorathor. Explain yourself.”

“Haradeth is our guest. Per our laws, that makes him a temporary citizen, does it not? And the laws against sharing information about our origins are very clear – we must not do so with a human, or an Underfolk, or a Dragon. We can only do so with citizens of our realm. And we cannot talk about it outside the dome.” Lorathor beamed at her. “Haradeth is not purely of any of those races, he is a guest and therefore a citizen, and we are within the dome.”

Shaaythi looked ready to faint. “You…you pervert the spirit of the law in favor of the letter of it! Lorathor, what happened to you? Did you live among the humans so long you have forgotten our people?”

“Oh, no, I have not forgotten them,” Lorathor said firmly. “But, unlike the rest of you, I remember Anotira’s first commandment. “Do nothing that prevents the growth of the other races.” We have our magics, our devices hidden here in this city that we have kept secret. Meanwhile, humans have welcomed us into their cities, into their homes, into the courts. That they have not always been perfect, no. They have been fearful, and reactionary, and brutal – but ultimately, they have been good. We need to help them!.”

“That is not for you to decide,” Shaaythi said.

“No, it is for Anotira to decide. And as a citizen who is neither human, nor underfolk, nor dragon, underneath the dome, he has the right to petit-”

“Silence!” Shaaythi snapped, “I am revok-”

“I wish to petition Anotira!” Haradeth shouted, before Shaaythi could kick him out. By the way Lorathor nodded, that had been important. “Under your laws, I have that right, do I not?”

Shaaythi swayed in shock. “It isn’t…it isn’t…”

Then someone began to laugh. A voice that was everywhere and nowhere, that came from the dome above them, the trees beside them, the buildings. It was a warm sound, but it was also terrifying. Even gods were manifest as physical beings. Haradeth looked around wildly for the source of the laughter.

“You were outplayed, Elder Shaaythi,” said a voice. There was a shimmer of light in the air in front of Haradeth, and suddenly there was a being there. She appeared almost humanoid, but made of light. Haradeth could see through her to Shaaythi. Her form was a bright blue, and Haradeth hastily bowed.  

As he rose from the bow, her form flickered, tiny motes of white light replacing here for the barest of instant before reforming. But that wasn’t what set Haradeth’s heart pounding in sudden fear, nor did it cause his mouth to dry up in swelling terror.

No, both of those were because, whatever this Anotira was, she gave off no signs of life to his senses.

“Elders of the Sylvani,” Anotira said, “one has requested my audience. His input is unothodox, but accepted. Leave us. We have much to discuss.”

The Sylvani bowed and began to go, and Anotira raised a finger. “Not you, Lorathor. You got the boy into this much trouble. It falls on you to get him out of it.”

Lorathor nodded graciously, and Anotira beckoned Haradeth closer. “Come, godling. I’m certain you have queries.”

Feet leaden with fear, Haradeth followed the woman made of light without a trace of life in her form.

Her form shimmered into motes of white light again for an instant, and Haradeth wondered if Lorathor had brought him all this way just to die.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 69

Haradeth had never before seen the lands of Sylvani. Few had. Even his own mother had not been here – or if she had, she hadn’t told him. Then again, there’s a lot she didn’t tell me, he thought with a bitter twist. Eighteen was an adult by mortal standards, but a child by the standards of the demigods. There was much his mother had left to teach him. Please, please be alright.

The Sylvani had claimed a stretch of forest on the northernmost tip of the continent, where it was warmest. It wasn’t his woods, but this forest still sung to him as he wound through the trees that towered overhead. The life, the energy that infused this place was different than what Haradeth knew, but also familiar. The great cat that stalked behind them, trying to decide if Lorathor and Haradeth were predator or prey, felt different than the cougars of his home forest, but also similar. The raptors that flew through the trees, small creatures that hunted the great dragonflies of this wood, still held the same intensity in their pursuit as the falcons he knew.

The strangest were the apes that watched them from the trees, scattering when they noticed their feline pursuit. They felt like the beasts Haradeth was most comfortable with, but the also felt like men, a strange blend of the two. Haradeth resolved to seek one out before he left these woods.

That resolve was distracted when Lorathor pushed aside some low ferns ahead of them. “We’re here,” the Sylvani said simply.

Haradeth gaped at what he saw. The homelands of the Sylvani were in a great sinkhole in the middle of the forest, one so wide he could scarcely see the other edge, overflowing with vegetation – but no trees. Instead of trees were great spires of woven green and silver metal, topped with domes of glass that overlooked the valley below. At the parting of the ferns, a metal bridge began to grow out of the side of the sinkhole, twining its way across the vast empty space towards the nearest of the glass domes. It was far more advanced than anything ever built man, and far more beautiful than anything ever crafted by Alohym hands. Lorathor grinned at Haradeth’s open mouthed expression. “I never get tired of it, either,” he said simply, then began to scamper across the forming bridge.

Barely able to breathe, Haradeth followed. What shocked him most was the feeling he was getting from these vines of metal as the grew to grant them passage. They felt alive, somehow, although it was a strange form a life. Living metal, growing like a plant, and with a strange amusement that suggested sentience. It’s like stepping onto another world. Even the animal life within the sinkhole felt different. Strange and wonderful, alive with the same desires as the creatures they had left behind. He managed to catch a glimpse of one that flittered up to study him and Lorathor as they walked across the bridge. It fluttered like a hummingbird, but instead of wings, it hand webbing stretched between tentacles that it undulated to hold itself aloft. Its beak was akin to that of a bird, but ringed by six more tentacles, two of which ended in eye stalks that blinked curiously at Haradeth. He sensed confusion coming from it.

He glanced ahead to asked Lorathor what he was looking at, and almost fell off the metal vines in shock. “Who the flath are you?” he shouted at the thing that had taken his companions place.

It was a hunched creature, standing on two thick tentacles. Its forelimbs were three tentacles each, wrapped into a tight bundle and ending in fingers. The face was flat and featureless, save for a beak much like the fluttering creature that had scattered at Haradeth’s voice. The eyes however…those were undoubtedly the curiously shaped irises of a Sylvani. “I should have warned you,” the creature said in Lorathor’s voice, “but I honestly wanted to see your reaction.”

“Lorathor?” Haradeth asked, his jaw threatening to drop so hard it hit the valley below. “I…how?”

“This is my natural form,” Lorathor said. “When we travel among humans, we shift our bodies into the ones you know. Here, though, there’s no such need to contort ourselves.”

“You…hide what you look like? Constantly?”

The skin around Lorathor’s beak stretched in a way that reminded Haradeth of a smile. “It’s hard enough to travel safely among humans looking as much like them as we can. They never do adapt well to the new and different. It’s safer for us – and for them.”

Haradeth swallowed hard. “I…suppose. It’s just hard to…I’m not used to this.”

Lorathor chuckled, and shifted back to his more human appearance. As he did, Haradeth could see the way skin folded to hide the tentacles as arms, the way the beak was folded into a slit and pulled back to hide itself as a tonsil, the way the legs lengthened and contorted to give the appearance of musculature stretched over bones. “I wanted to show you before you met my people. Here, now, in this time, they will not hide their appearance for the sake of an outsider.”

“What do you mean now? Did they used to?”

Lorathor nodded. “You’ll see. I said it would be difficult to get my people’s aid, and there’s much that’s taboo for me to say without Her approval.”

“You’ve mentioned Her a few times. Can you tell me yet who She is?” Haradeth asked with a frown.

“No. But soon. You were going to ask me something?”

“Oh…yes. The creatures. Why haven’t they spread to the rest of the forest?”

“We keep them contained.” Lorathor said.

Haradeth waited for Lorathor to elaborate, and Lorathor declined, instead beginning to walk down the twisting vines of green metal again. Haradeth began to walk to keep up. “How can you keep them contained? Even my mother couldn’t keep all the creatures within our forest if she asked them.”

“You don’t ask,” Lorathor said cryptically. “You just make it so they can’t leave.”

Haradeth ground his teeth. “You’ve been enjoying the mystery, Lorathor. When do we get some answers?”

“When you stop bellyaching and speak to Her.” Lorathor rolled his eyes, an impressive gesture with his unusual irises.

“Is she in the dome ahead?” Haradeth asked.

“In a manner of speaking.”

Haradeth bit back another snappy reply, instead taking a deep breath. “Can you tell me how many of your people there are, at least?”

“Yes.” Lorathor said, looking over his shoulder – which, Haradeth reminded himself, was no more an actual shoulder than Lorathor’s smile was actually a mouth.

“…and?”

“And I can tell you,” Lorathor said. “But you’re impatient and can be rude, so I’m not going to.”

“If you think I’m impatient and rude, why bring me? Why not…why not anyone else?”

“Because you’re semi divine. Anything less would be an insult to Her. Few gods have ever set foot in our refuge, Haradeth.”

Haradeth opened his mouth, then took a deep breath. “Thank you for the compliment.”

Lorathor beamed at him. “Good, you can learn. Now, come on.” Lorathor motioned for Haradeth to follow, and they continued along the branch of woven metal to the dome of impossible glass.