The Dragon’s Scion Part 81

“Jump!” Eupheme shouted as her arcwand blazed.

Tythel leapt to the side without a moment’s hesitation, grabbing onto a rock that jutted out a bit further from the cliff face. A beam of unlight scored the stone she had just vacated, sending chunks flying free from the wall to crash into the valley below. Her remaining talons bit into the rock. A lance of pain threatened to black out the vision in Tythel’s good eye as her bloodied finger slammed into the rock, but she forced it aside. The rock was beginning to crack under their combined weight, and Tythel had to scramble with her feet and remaining hand to find purchase. “Flath, that was close,” Eupheme hissed. “They’re getting ready for another pass.”

Tythel nodded and took a moment to make sure her grip was firm. Then, taking a deep breath to calm her nerves, Tythel shifted away her talons.

For a terrifying moment, all that was holding her in place was the strength of her grip on the rocks and the tiny footholds barely under her toes. Even her enhanced strength could barely support the two of them. Tythel waiting there for a moment, then tentatively lowered her injured finger onto the rock.

The pressure wasn’t painful. Although the digit was still streaked with blood from the earlier injury, without a talon Tythel didn’t have any injury to cause her pain.

“They’re coming back around,” Eupheme said in a warning tone. “Whatever you’re doing, mind hurrying it up just a bit?”

Nodding again, Tythel shifted her talons back into place. She let out a sigh of relief at having them grip into the stone again, and almost wept for joy when her damaged talons grew back with the uninjured ones. It wasn’t much – she could only heal injuries to the parts of her body she grew – but it was something. “Tythel! Move!” Eupheme shouted.

Tythel kicked to the side again. There weren’t any safe outcroppings on the side of her head she could see out of, so she leapt blindly into the spot hidden by her bad eye, turning her head and praying to both light and shadow she’d find something to grab into. Unlight again sheared away the rock from the plateau. Beams erupted from the ground as Tellias opened fire, streaking past the Skimmers.

There wasn’t anything to grab onto this time. Tythel was forced to again dig her talons into the stone cliff, scoring the stone with lines as they fell. They hadn’t gone as far this time – her talons held, although it sent lances of pain along her arms and legs as she slowed their impact. Eupheme opened fire again. “They’re so fast…” Eupheme said, ejecting a spent light cell and slamming another one into place. “Tythel, I don’t know if I can hit them.”

Tythel nodded, and swallowed hard as she began to climb. She needed every bit of moisture she could get in her ruined throat. A plan was beginning to form, but it required being able to ask Eupheme a question. “How…” Tythel started to say, but the rest of the sentence died in a series of coughs that tasted of copper.

“Don’t try to speak,” Eupheme said in growing alarm. “Just keep climbing!”

Tythel did, waiting for Eupheme’s warning to jump again, looking out of her good eye with a frantic fear. Have to find another outcropping, she thought. Have to get to safety or-

“Now!” Eupheme shouted.

Tythel leapt again, Eupheme firing wildly. Eupheme let out a whoop of excitement as Tythel managed to sink her talons into a soft spot of dirt that was packed into the side of the plateau. A wave of heat hit Tythel a moment latter, followed by a soft “whump” of an explosion. “Got one!” Eupheme said fiercely.

If Tythel could have spoken, she would have congratulated her friend. Instead she kept climbing, her mind racing. The smell when they are near is like burning gas. They only have one heartbeat. Somehow, these aren’t ships, or some new kind of Alohym skin. They’re creatures in their own right!

Suddenly, her crazy plan seemed even more needed. “Close,” Tythel managed to spit out before another round of coughs sent her vision spinning.

“Close? Ground is another hundred feet,” Eupheme said.

Tythel shook her head.

“The Skimmers? They’re coming around for another pass.”

Tythel shook her head again, still climbing.

“Then what do you…oh. Oh no. You can’t be serious.”

Tythel nodded.

“Light and flathing shadow,” Eupheme swore. “About three heights. You’re sure?”

Tythel didn’t even bother to nod this time, continuing her climb and awaiting Eupheme’s signal.

“Damnit,” Eupheme muttered. “Alright, get ready.”

Tythel stopped her climb.

“And…now!” Eupheme shouted.

Tythel leapt, twisting again in the air to face away from the wall. She found herself face to face with the eyestalks on the underbelly of the Skimmer. Although the eyes were markedly inhuman, they widened in a comically familiar expression of shock.

Then Tythel sunk her talons directly into the creature’s underbelly. The Skimmer let out a sound that Tythel assumed was pain, a sound like someone blowing into a broken flute. The creature staggered in the air, and Tythel’s heart stopped. Oh no. I killed it. I killed it and we’re both going to fall to our deaths.

Then the flames emerging from under the Skimmer’s wings reignited, and they began to accelerate. The Skimmer tried to swing its tail around to take aim at them, but Eupheme shot it off with a quick blast of her Arcwand. “You’re crazy!” Eupheme shouted. “You’re madder than the moon!”

Tythel blinked in amusement at the compliment. The Skimmer began to streak away from the plateau, its eyes wild with pain. She could feel it trying to pull up and gain altitude, but the Skimmer wasn’t meant to support the weight of two humans, especially not while losing blood from its abdomen. With every second, the ground grew closer. Tythel could see Tellias racing to follow them, the remaining Skimmer right behind him.

All that was left for Tythel to do was grit her teeth, and get ready to leap off the bottom of the Skimmer before it scraped her and Eupheme to past on the canyon floor below.

 

The Dragon’s Scion Part 77

Tellias and Tythel fled the airborne Alohym, beams of unlight searing the ground behind them and to the sides. An unsettling realization settled into Tythel like a maggot worming into meat. He’s toying with us. The creature was too fast, too lethal. It should have been able to strike one of them by now. Instead it was baiting them, leading them on, herding them. As long as they kept running, he could keep playing with them.

Terror and fury mixed in Tythel’s mind, each one fueling the other. Tythel focused on those emotions, feeding them and hardening them until they held an almost diamond clarity in her mind. “Get ready,” she said to Tellias.

“For what?” he asked, but Tythel didn’t bother to explain. If she could see the Alohym, it could hear here. She could only hope that Tellias would pick up on her plan. Still running, she waited until the Alohym aimed to fire again, then whirled and let loose a gout of pure dragonflame the moment the Alohym let loose its next attack.

Unlight and dragonflame met in the sky, and Tythel could hear him let out a startled shout. The impact of the two forces raced back to their respective wielders. The Alohym was pushed higher into the air, and Tythel was knocked back onto the ground.

It was painfully similar to how Karjon’s flame had caught the warship’s unlight in mid air. Tythel took hold of that pain and funneled it into the flame, using the still dull pain of loss to put more force behind the fire. The point of impact caused Tythel’s flame to expand further, a wide swath of flame filling the sky, obscuring vision of the Alohym. She knew he was still there, however, the pressure pushing back against her dragonflame an unrelenting wall of force. She felt herself start to get pushed into the soil of the ground beneath her, but the flames that were fanning out from the impact with the unlight began to grow more distant.

For a moment, the flame provided more light to the battlefield below than the still-rising sun, throwing everything into sharp relief. Yet Tythel could still see the fire was darker near the point of impact, the unlight eating the natural light being put off the flame.

“You mongrel fahik,” the Alohym hissed in that too human voice. Tythel didn’t know the word, but it was clear from the way the Alohym spat it that it was anything other than a compliment. Still, her heart leapt to note the strain she heard in that voice, mirroring the one she was feeling in her throat and neck.

Tythel grabbed onto that hope and funneled it with the other emotions into her flame, using the hope like a lense to focus the anger and fear and pain to the point where they shone white hot within her. She watched as the dragonflame shifted colors to the wispy blue of ghostflame.

Ghostflame was insubstantial, passing through all solid objects to sear at the very souls of its target. Tythel had hoped that meant it wouldn’t be blocked by impacting with unlight, but it seemed that had been a false hope. The light the ghostflame put out was unearthly in ways entirely different from the unlight, but it was still light, and it seemed that was what mattered. Tythel risked a glance around without moving her head, hoping to see Tellias. Unfortunately, the man had been on the side of her bad eye when the fight started, and therefore out of her vision. She did notice something odd, however.

In the blue light of the ghostflame, she could see her bones through her skin, with the skin a translucent blue superimposed over the skeleton beneath. It was so unsettling it almost broke her concentration. However, The Alohym wasn’t letting up its beam, any more than Tythel was letting up on the dragonflame. In this, at least, Tythel held an advantage, and the ghostflame continued to push its way against the unlight towards the Alohym. Her heart was still pounding with fear. She knew she couldn’t keep this up for much longer, and that was confirmed when a warm, coppery taste began to well up from her throat, Tellias, where in the shadow are you?

As if on cue, the Alohym screamed in pain. Abruptly the pressure against Tythel’s head stopped, and the ghostflame was able to streak on unimpeded. The Alohym managed to dodge a direct hit, but it did sear one of his wings. He started to tumble to the ground. Tellias was standing against a broken pillar, an arcwand pointed at the Alohym. He took a few more shots at the falling Alohym, but his target shifted his arms again, turning them into a pair of barriers to absorb the blows.

“We’ve got it on the ground! It’s hurt!” Tellias shouted. “We need to-”

Tythel cut him off with a hoarse whisper. “No.” She had to spit blood onto the ground.

“Then I’ll go-” Telias started to say, but Tythel was shaking her hand. It burned to speak, more painful than any other time she’d used her fire.

Tythel took a moment to gather her wits, and find the least amount of words needed to explain her objection. “Flame. Sky. Target,” she managed after a couple seconds.

Tellias nodded to show he understood, although he swore under his breath as he did. They’d lit up the entire plateau with that display. Every Alohym and Alohym soldier would know where they were, and with most of the resistance already fled into the tunnels, they’d have little to keep them busy.

Eupheme appeared besides them. “Light and shadow,” she whispered, stepping up to Tythel and helping her to her feet. “What happened?”

“Later,” Tythel croaked. Her voice failed her halfway through the word, and the ‘er’ at the end came out as a gasping wheeze. Eupheme paled at her voice. Tythel put a hand on Eupheme’s shoulder in thanks, then began to head towards the tunnel.

It seemed between the arcwand blasts, Tythel’s flames, and falling close to two hundred feet, the Alohym was no longer interested in pursuing them. Tythel hoped he was dead, but didn’t think that too likely. He had stood against an entire army to cut his way to them. Surely a little fall wouldn’t kill him.

Tythel pulled out her waterskin and began to drink from it as they ran, hoping to alleviate the pain in her throat. The entire plan hinged on her being able to breath flame again. If she couldn’t, she’d just gotten the resistance slaughtered.

Light, please, don’t let that be the case, she thought as they reached the tunnel’s mouth.

And not a moment too soon. Behind her, Tythel could hear the pounding feet of the Alohym’s soldiers charging their way.

“This plan of yours…I hope it works,” Tellias said gently beside her.

If Tythel could risk speaking, she would have assured him she felt the same.

 

The Dragon’s Scion Part 71

“Be not afraid,” Anotira said, motioning Haradeth towards a chair that awaited the building she had brought them to. “I do not intend you harm this day, Haradeth, son of Lathariel.”

Haradeth swallowed what felt like a lump of cotton. “You know my name?”

“Of course. I heard the argument with Shaaythi, after all. I hear all that happens within this dome.”

Lorathor stood silently against the wall, letting Haradeth take the lead. Haradeth did so by sinking into the chair he was offered.

“What are you?” he finally asked.

“I’m a goddess. Like your mother,” Anotira said.

Haradeth shook his head firmly. “You’re not alive.”

Lorathor gasped, but Anotira laughed. This time, the sound came from her mouth, not the air around Haradeth, and it felt more natural – although the lack of life coming from Anotira was still unsettling. “What makes you say that?”

“It’s the truth,” Haradeth said simply. “I can sense life. I know life. You are not a living thing.”

“Interesting. I wonder what that says about me. Are you certain I’m not just too alien for your experiences to process?”

Haradeth shook his head. “The Alohym are alive. I can feel it off them. If I can sense it from them, I surely can from you.”

“Haradeth,” Lorathor said firmly. “She is our goddess. You should not speak to her so.”

Haradeth did not take his eyes from Anotira. “She may be that, my friend, but she is certainly not alive.”

Lorathor opened his mouth to object again, but before he could, Anotira sighed, and again she flickered into motes of light. “I suppose there’s not point arguing it.” She turned to face Lorathor for a moment. “Lorathor. Spawn of Galithin, Chessae, and Corvi. I bind you to speak no word of what you learn here to the others. No clever tricks, no loopholes. If you share what I say here, you will be cast out. If you find some way to subvert the spirit of this order, you will be cast out. Am I clear?”

Lorathor nodded mutely, and Anotira turned back to Haradeth.

“You are correct. I am not alive. Not in the strict, organic sense of the word. Although I’d argue that I can exhibit many of the traits of life. I can replicate, I consume, I grow. I just do so through a different mechanism.”

“I don’t understand,” Lorathor burst in, and Haradeth nodded in agreement.

“How does a Skitter know where to put its claws at it moves?” Anotira asked.

Haradeth frowned. “There’s a lattice inside the Skitter. It controls the legs. It’s sort of like…well, I guess it’s like an insect’s mind.”

Anotira nodded. “It’s exactly like that, in fact. And if a lattice could be built to emulate the mind of an insect, could it be scaled up? To the mind of a wolf? Or a human? Or…something more?”

Haradeth gaped at her. “You…you’re a lattice? So there’s some Sylvani controlling you?”

Anotira shook her head. “No Sylvani controls me. I was built to be self controlling, self aware.”

If Haradeth hadn’t already been sitting down, he would have fallen to the floor. “That’s impossible.”

“If the Alohym had not come, you would have said a web that functions like an insect brain was impossible.” Anotira said gently.

Haradeth could only stare at her mutely.

“I am the guiding intelligence of this city,” Anotira explained. “I am the beginning of the Sylvani’s story on this world, and I am its end.”

After a minute, Haradeth found his voice. “You…what do you mean you’re the beginning of the Sylvani’s story? Did something else make you?”

Anotira shook her head. “I said I was the beginning of the Sylvani’s story on this world.

Lorathor had turned a pale blue. “What…what are you saying?”

“You are not of a people native to his world, Lorathor,” Anotira said. “Your ancestors came here thousands of years ago. Each of the spires that make up this city was once a ship that traversed the same voice the beings you now know as Alohym traveled.”

“Now know as Alohym?” Haradeth said, his voice firm and demanding. “What were they called before?”

“I do not know.”

Haradeth’s eyes narrowed. “You claim to be as old as the Sylvani on this world, yet you don’t know the name of the beings you fled to come here?”

Anitoria flickered again. “No. I do not. My lattice…when we first arrived here, there were twelve of us.”

“The Twelve Luminous Gods,” Lorathor said, still looking so pale Haradeth feared he might faint. “The others died to preserve your life, facing off against the Dark One Eylohir, so that you could guide us for the rest of time.”

“Is that what they say?” Anitoria smiled. “It’s…close to the truth. Eylohir is a word that your language has lost, Lorathor. In the ancient tongue of the Sylvani, it meant…” Anitoria frowned. “I cannot find a good synonym. A loose translation would be ‘catastrophic system failure.’ She sighed again, and Haradeth noted for the first time the sigh was identical to the others. The way her head tilted, the way her arms moved, wasn’t just similar to previous sighs. She was going through the exact same motion each time.

“Our power cores were damaged when we arrived here. To maintain all twelve would have resulted in our shutdown within one hundred years local time. It was decided that the other eleven would go into hibernation. I would be able to access their memories, but since I was the simplest of the Lattice Minds on this ship, I could run with the lowest power drain. Even then, to extend my lifespan, I was to run only when absolutely needed, and pass the important parts of the Sylvani culture and history down through organic, memetic methods, and prepare for the Alohym’s arrival on this world.”

Lorathor and Haradeth shared a look of confusion. “Organic, memetic methods?” Haradeth asked.

“Stories. Legends. Religion. Myths. Things the Sylvani would pass to each other. I made sure to run long enough enough to correct any absolutely flawed assumptions, but-”

“-you let us think we were from this world!” Lorathor burst in, unable to contain himself anymore. “You kept that secret from us! How is that not an ‘absolutely flawed assumption?’”

“It would have availed you nothing,” Anitoria said firmly. “I was to care for the Sylvani. Would you have me force you to feel like outsiders, constantly aware of the fact that you did not belong on this world? Would you have me force upon your an apocalyptic prophecy that the Alohym would arrive, when a hundred times a hundred generations have passed since we arrived on this world? A hundred times a hundred generators burdened by the knowledge of a fate that could arrive at any time? What would that have done to you? You accused Shaaythi earlier of forgetting that humans were worth saving, and that’s without feeling apart and separate from them.”

“What of our tools?” Lorathor demanded. “Of our weapons? We could have shared them with humanity!”

“We did,” Anitoria said firmly. “We gave humanity the tools we had, we gave them our science, we showed them how to channel the light within their world – the same light the Alohym stole from us.”

Lorathor looked a mixture of confused and hurt right now, so Haradeth picked back up the conversation. “If you did, what happened?”

“I can no longer access those records,” Anitoria said, her simulated voice full of bitterness. “I know there was a war. I do not know who fired the first shot. I do not know whom is to blame. I only know that since that war, I cannot access the memories of my siblings. I know my data has become corrupted in places. The older the memory, the harder it is to obtain, and the more likely it is to be riddled with errors. I was supposed to prepare us to face this enemy, and because of a war that was fought with the weapons we granted humanity, I cannot.”

“Surely you have some ideas-” Haradeth began, but Anitoria cut him off.

“I was created to record entertainment, not to formulate plans. When I could access the memory banks of the others, I could use them to simulate intelligence in areas I did not have. Invention. Strategy. Synthesis. Hypothesis.” She gave that sigh again, the same as every other sigh. “Now I am limited. Severely limited. I cannot even access the information I need to restore my connection with the others!”

“So you cannot help us?” Haradeth asked, softly.

“I cannot,” Anitoria confirmed, her voice sad. “I am sorry to have wasted your time. But what power I have left must be dedicated to maintaining the Sylvani’s safety.”

“But-” Haradeth begin.

Anitoria sighed that identical sigh one last time. “No, Haradeth, son of Lathariel. There is no but. I have one purpose I can still fulfill. These people are that purpose.”

Haradeth could see the resolve in her eyes, and realized that no words he could say would persuade this goddess.

Lorathor finally broke the silence, an ugly note to his voice. “Come on, Haradeth. I think we should be going.”

With that, they turned to leave Anitoria’s chamber, and Anitoria once again dispersed into cloud of lights.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 56

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t think so,” she responded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We need one to let go,” Ossman said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tythel scooped Ossman up and jumped out the window.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 50

Later that night, the group reconvened in the Gilded Piglet, taking the conversation to Lorathor’s room.

“They’re not in the same prison we were in,” Ossman started. “In fact, most people don’t know our prison existed. Or at least, didn’t until we broke out.”

“How could they not even know it existed?” Tythel asked, tilting her head in confusion.

“Because there’s a different prison,” Ossman said, settling into a chair they’d brought up from the common room. “A much bigger one.”

“It’s likely that they wanted to keep our imprisonment secret,” Eupheme added, leaning forward. “In case Tythel thought joining those murderous bastards was a good idea – they would have been able to pretend she was always on their side.”

Tythel nodded slowly at the logic. “I take it the rest of the army is in the other prison?”

Ossman frowned. “Yeah. As well as a couple thousand other people.”

“Flath,” Haradeth swore. “When we liberate our people, we risk releasing some of the others.”

“But surely that won’t be that bad?” Tythel asked. “I mean, they’re prisoners of the Alohym, surely they could be allies…” She glanced around and saw the fallen faces.

“They’re not just rebels, Tythel,” Armin said. “Thieves, murderers, the works. All are locked up in there.”

Haradeth took a deep breath. “We’ll throw that to the Shadow for now. Our people are in that prison – what else did you manage to learn about it, Ossman?”

“They converted Goldstone Keep into the prison. Instead of doors, they have fields of Unlight keeping people from escaping. It’s got a defensive wall I wouldn’t want to assault with our army on the outside. Guard towers every twenty paces, with long-range arcwands in each one. The wall is thick stone, from back in the old days, and well maintained.”

“That last part matches with what my rats told me,” Haradeth said. “No way in or out besides the doors. The windows are too small for any of us to fit through.”

“I could try jumping the wall,” Tythel said uncertainly.

“No,” Haradeth said. “Not with snipers every twenty paces. Even in the dark, you’ll be cut down before you hit the ground.”

Tythel leaned back into her chair, frowning.

“Oh, it gets better,” Ossman said in a tone that indicated anything but an improvement. “There’s always at least one Alohym physically there.”

That brought a round of silence to the room. No one’s managed to kill one of those things yet, Tythel thought with a shudder. “What about bribing the guards?”

“They’re too loyal,” Haradeth said. “If we had more time, we could probably find one who would turn against their masters, but we’ve only got a couple days left.”

“Well,” Armin said, with a smile that looked forced even to Tythel, “at least I have something we can use. You may all bow before my amazing talent.”

“We’re not going to bow until you prove how you’re amazing, assuming we even do then.” Tythel said with a blink of appreciation at the joke.

“Fine,” Armin gave an over dramatic sigh. “The unlight barriers they use in place of doors? They’re controlled from the old Magus Tower, which is outside the keep. If we get in there we can disable the field.”

The silence this time was lighter than the one before. “So if we turn it off from back here…” Tythel murmured.

“We only have to assault the Magus Tower.” Armin said with a nod of encouragement. “We can release prisoners as we wish if we control it, so we can even avoid releasing the criminals in there.”

“And as soon as we do, our troops get cut down by the snipers,” Ossman said with a shake of his head.

“What if they didn’t?” Tythel asked, tilting her head in thought.

Now everyone was looking at her. “And how, exactly, do we accomplish that?” Haradeth asked.

Instead of answering, Tythel turned to Lorathor. “Did your contacts know how large the garrison here is?”

Lorathor nodded. “They’ve brought in reinforcements for the big event, so it’s about five hundred.”

Tythel tapped her chin. “That seems low,” she said.

“It’s all they’ve needed to hold us off before,” Lorathor explained. “The Alohym don’t marshall huge armies for the most part. They just equip the forces they have as much as possible.”

“That’s still more than we have,” Haradeth added. “Even if we release everyone of our men they have locked up…”

“Then we don’t just release our men. We let everyone out.” Tythel said. “The criminals, the rebels, all of them. In fact, we let the ones who aren’t with us out first.”

“Light, that’s brutal,” Armin muttered.

Tythel nodded. “Yes, it is. But it could work. We let the initial wave overwhelm the guards, then we let our people out.”

“It could work,” Haradeth said thoughtfully, “Damn me to Shadow, but it could work.” His frown returned. “There’s still the issue of what to do after we get them out, however.”

“We arm them,” Eupheme said. “Did any of you find where the armory was?”

“We were beneath it,” Ossman said.

“How far is that from the prison?”

“About six blocks.”

Eupheme smiled. “The garrison will be torn between coming for the prisoners and coming for us. Sheer weight of numbers will get us out of the initial push. Then it’s six blocks to get our people to the armory.”

“Then we have to get them out of the city, but once everyone’s armed…” Ossman said with a slow smile..

“Once we have an armed force, it becomes much easier,” Haradeth agreed. He looked around the room. “Eupheme, can you walk?”

She nodded. “I don’t want to try to carry anything heavy, but I can walk well enough now.”

“Good.” He stood up, brushing himself off as he did. “Then everyone get ready. We head for the tower in two hours. Unless someone has objections?”

“Just to be clear here,” Armin said, furrowing his eyebrows, “we are planning to use the other prisoners to draw fire from our people. Actually, let me drop the euphemism. We’re planning to send them to be slaughtered for our gain. Is that the plan?” He settled his gaze on Tythel.

“Yes,” Tythel said. “I don’t like it, Armin, but unless we have a better idea…”

Armin shook his head. “I don’t have a better idea. I knew when I started this I’d have to do things I found disgusting. But I will never, ever do them by talking around the horrible thing. If we’re going to do something awful? We call it awful, we admit what we’re doing is terrible, and then decide if we’re comfortable with it. No talking around it, no Alohym propaganda about it. We name it.”

Tythel nodded slowly. “Agreed. Then yes, we are planning to send the other prisoners to get slaughtered for our gain. I do think we won’t lose all of them. I think we’ll end up freeing a lot of them. But we’re letting them out so our people are safer.”

“Well. As long as we’re admitting it.” Armin looked at Tythel, and she found herself wishing more than usual that she could read expressions better. There was something in his eyes she couldn’t place, but it made her uncomfortable.

“Any other objections?” Haradeth asked after a pause.

No one had any.

“Then get ready. Two hours.”

Tythel wanted to talk to Armin, but he was out the door before Haradeth had finished the last word.


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The Dragon’s Scion Part 39

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

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

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

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

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

“Then sew her up,” Nicandros growled.

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

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

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

“You fell off a building.” She said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll take it,” Armin said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dragon’s Scion Part 38

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dragon’s Scion Part 37

With both sets of keys from the two dead guards, it did not take long to open the cells. Nicandros opened the door to Eupheme’s cell, who was sitting the in middle of it with her legs cross in a lotus. “Oh, thank you for saving me the trouble,” she said, rising in a fluid motion. “I hadn’t worked out how to escape quite yet.”

Nicandros let out a sound somewhat like a chuckle. “Eupheme, drop the bravado. We’re getting out of here. That’s what matters.”

As Tythel fumbled with the keys, she could hear Eupheme sigh as she rose to her feet, brushing off her clothes that Tythel knew would be nowhere near as dirty as Tythel had gotten digging a tunnel between two cells. “Still. It should have been my job to escape.”

“Doesn’t matter who did,” Nicandros responded, “Just that we’re out.”

“True.” Then under her breath, so quietly Tythel wondered if Nicandros could even hear her at all Eupheme muttered, “of course, I would have been just a bit quieter about it.

Tythel heard all this, but was distracted by opening Armin’s cell. He was lying in the hay. One of his eye was covered by a massive bruise, and similar contusions and lacerations covered his arms. “Light! Armin, are you alright?”

He looked up at her and gave her a lopsided frown, “Tythel. This is all wrong. It’s all so wrong.” He sounded so deadly serious that Tythel stopped dead in her tracks, looking at him with growing concern.

“What’s wrong, Armin?”

“The hero is supposed to save the princess. The princess doesn’t save the hero! No, leave the keys, go back to your cell, and I’ll come save you. It’s my duty as a hero.” The frown turned into a grin he couldn’t hide.

At least anyone can read Armin’s grins. He always grins because he’s being too damn clever for his own good, Tythel thought with no small amount of amusement as she snorted and rolled her eyes. “I was worried about you, moron. Come on. They’ll be down here with reinforcements soon. Or did you not hear the great flathing crash when we escaped.”

“Absolutely,” Armin said, rising as he did. “Escape should be our number one priority. Especially seeing as you are simply encased in filth, your highness. Completely unbecoming of a lady of your status.”

Suppressing a grin of her own, she headed to Ossman’s cell, saying a silent prayer to the Light that he had been healed.

The Light, fickle as always, chose not to answer her prayer. Ossman was still battered and badly injured. His breathing seemed more steady – he no longer looked like he was lurking on the Shadow’s Threshold – but he was in no state to run or fight. “Your highness,” he wheezed, slowly rising to his feet. “I fear I am not yet fit for duty.”

Tythel’s nictitating membranes flashed back tears at seeing his pain. Yet another reason I need to master Heartfire. At least then I could have healed him. “Ossman. Can you even walk?”

“Slowly” he said, his word beling the pain even speech put him though.

Armin slid past Tythel to offer Ossman a shoulder for support. “Your highness, I’m useless without an arcwand. Let me worry about Ossman, you three worry about me. Sound good?”

Tythel gave him a quick nod and turned. Nicandros was unlocking the safe behind the guard’s desk. “Get over here, everyone, grab your stuff. Move as fast as you can.”

It wasn’t a great surprise that her pack wasn’t in there, although it tore Tythel’s heart to realize her last great hope for the pack’s return was now dashed. Her hammer and shield, however, were in there, and she pulled them out greedily, moving her wrists to activate both. Nicandros’ sword and his special little devices were in there, as was Eupheme’s daggers and the cloak she’d worn to the fight. Tythel couldn’t figure out why that last piece had been put in with the weapons, but it didn’t matter. Ossman’s Axe was present, although not his armor, nor was Armin’s arcwand.

Still, it was something, which was good. Tythel heard footsteps approaching. “Behind me, everyone!” she shouted, running to the door and extending her shield to meet the first wave of attackers. Crouched down like this, the shield could perfectly cover their forms from any array of arcwand fire.

Which was needed. As soon as the three guards that burst in saw them, they opened fire, bolts of red arcfire and light-draining unlight splashing against the shield. The sound was filling the hallway with echos of weapons. They don’t need to kill us, Tythel realized. We’re pinned down. They just need to hold us until help arrives.

Just as she was getting ready to risk throwing dragonfire over the shield to try and give them an opening, Eupheme – who Tythel was certain had been behind her only a moment ago – stepped out of the doorway behind the guards. She shoved a dagger into the necks of the two on either side, and the third whirled to face this new threat – exposing his back to Nicandros’ hurled sword.

Tythel thought about Eupheme. She’d barely seen her in the fight against the Imperipods, and the way she had just stepped out of one of their shadows was suddenly cast in a new light. Had Eupheme slipped past them when she wasn’t looking somehow? Or was it possible that she had somehow moved the distance without crossing it? 

“Your highness, plenty of time to be impressed by me later,” Eupheme said with a quick grin.

“Right.” Tythel took point again, charging forward with the shield held high. They needed to push fast before the entire garrison could descend upon them – and from the sound of it, they were getting ready to do exactly that. Imperiplate would take a long time to put on, and Imperipods couldn’t come in here. We’re just going to be dealing with normal soldiers. “Armin! Stay with Ossman on the stairs until we are ready for you!” she shouted as she burst through the door at the top of the stairs in a single lunge, sending splinters into the room behind.

There were twenty one guards on the other side of the door, raising their arcwands and getting ready to fire. “Seven each,” Eupheme said, her tone matter-of-fact, as if the idea of each of them taking on seven guards was a simple task.

There wasn’t any time to worry. There wasn’t any time to fear. The other thing ahead of Tythel was to bow her head, raise her shield, and continue to charge the nearest group as arcwand blasts streaked towards her.

And all the while she knew that if they didn’t escape before the Alohym arrived, it wouldn’t matter how many guards they defeated.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 36

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

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

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

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

But not the egg.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”