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 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.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 68

“We can’t let this go,” Lord Devos growled into the silence. “The Vacuity Engine…it’s our best chance to beat the Alohym.”

“We don’t know that for certain,” Lady von Baggett countered. “It’s a rumor we’ve heard.” she held up a hand to forestall one counter argument, “I know that it’s a credible rumor, but ‘disabling the Vacurity Engine could turn the tide’ being told to one of our agents from a dying man is hardly enough to risk an assault. For all we know, the Vacuity Engine might not even exist. And even if it does, it might be nowhere near as important as we think it is. We don’t know if it’s worth the risk.”

“What do you propose, then?” Lord Devos had a wicked gleam to his eye. “We keep fighting the same losing war we were fighting?”

“We have a way to kill Alohym now,” the Lady countered.

“No.” Lord Devos pointed a single meaty finger at Tythel. “She has a way to kill Alohym. She’s just one flathing woman, and she’s the princess! She’ll eventually die, and then we’re back to losing.”

“We have more people flocking to our cause than ever before,” Lady von Baggett managed to remain calm in the face of Lord Devos’ rage. “We could-”

“Even if every single person on the flathing continent joined us, we still don’t have a way to take down the Alohym. We’ll die before they fall.”

“We couldn’t kill the Alohym before because we were using their own weapons against them. It’s entirely possible that Arcwands will work if they’re powered by normal lumcells. No one’s tried it before.”

“Bah,” Lord Devos spat on the ground. “I’d rather not throw away men’s lives on a hunch.”

“So instead you’d waste them on the hunch the Vacuity Engine is of any use to us, if it even exists?”

“Enough,” Duke d’Monchy said in a calm but firm voice, cutting off Lord Devos’ retort. “Allow others to speak, please?”

“Uh,” Armin said, taking the opportunity, “I don’t believe it’s a trap. The only reason we cracked this code is because we holed up in ancient Hallith. If we assume the Alohym have the ability to predict what we’re going to do to that degree of certainty, we might as well lay down and die.”

“Thank you, Armin,” Lord Devos growled.

“But,” Armin continued, “it’s true we don’t know what it does. It could be so important it could turn the tide of the war, but it could be it’s a religious relic to the Alohym, or a repository of knowledge they want but don’t need, or something even stranger.”

At least he’s gotten Lord Devos and Lady von Bagget to agree on something, Tythel thought. She couldn’t read their faces well, but it didn’t take any great understanding of human expressions to figure out they both wished Armin had kept his mouth shut.

“Do you propose something then, Armin?” Duke d’Monchy asked evenly.

“I wish I had a solution. If I’m right, if the code is all have Archaic symbols as their key, we’d need to delve into a lot of ruins before we had an answer. The Collegium might hold some of the answers, but it’s only slightly less suicidal to assault a building full of Alohym loyal Magi as it is to assault the Ambulatory Bastion.”

Duke d’Monchy frowned. “We have to do something soon, whatever it is. Our resources are running short. We’ve been able to support ourselves some by trading, but that money is running out. The soldiers need food.”

Everyone stared at each other in glum silence. Everyone but Eupheme, who was giving Tythel an inquisitive eyebrow.

Tythel took a deep breath. She’d told Eupheme about what was waiting back at Karjon’s lair, and told her about the struggle to let anyone use it. On the one hand, it solved so many problems. On the other, it despoiled the last bit of her father left. And what about the living, Tythel? She asked herself. Eupheme’s expression didn’t waiver, but to Tythel’s eyes it started to seem somewhat accusatory. You’re imagining things. You’re lucky you could tell what she was thinking at all, now you’re putting nuance in there?

“Let me see those maps,” Tythel said, moving closer to the table. “There’s got to be some other ruins near by here.” She bit her cheek in concentration. There has to be something else, some half remembered bit of lore…anything other than raiding Karjon’s lair.

“What,  you don’t just know ancient symbols?” Armin said in a teasing tone.

“No, unfortunately. Karjon was focused on teaching me Carodmethi and a few others. Hallithian is so old, it’s barely used anymore.” Tythel’s forehead furrowed in concentration.

“And the locations of ancient cities?”

“I know some maps from the time. Geography can change a lot in seven thousand years. I’m trying to figure out from a few permanent features. And I think…” she tapped a location on the map with her finger in the middle of a forest, her eyes fluttering with excitement. “Yes! I’m sure of it. The rivers have changed, but mountains don’t move much even in thousands of years. Hallith’s greatest rival, Dor’nah. This wasn’t a forest back then, it was a desert, but when the Grey Ridge erupted, it let the clouds past just enough. Hallith remained scrublands, but the rains fell on Dor’nah. The flourished for a thousand years after Hallith’s collapsed, before they fell to Grejhak the Terrible.”

“Grejhak?” Duke d’Monchy frowned. “That sounds draconic.”

Tythel nodded. “It is. Technically Grejhak is my ancestor. He annihilated Dor’nah for some slight or another, but if Karjon’s texts were right, he did so with ghostflame. It would have left the buildings intact. He laired there until his death in the year 7124, as the dragons count years. That’d be…4219 years before the founding of the current calendar. No one disturbed it for millenia afterwards out of fear.”

“Fear of what?”

“Grejhak dabbled in Necromancy, infusing both light and shadow to animate corpses. Superstitious people believed his corpse still wandered the ruins. By the time humans had forgotten to fear him, they had forgotten Dor’nah ever stood there. Which means it should be undisturbed.”

“Undisturbed except for five thousand years of forests growing,” Duke d’Monchy frowned. “It could be worth investigating, but we’d be exposed the moment we left this plateau.”

Tythel nodded. “Then how about a small force? I’ll take them, I know the way. We’ll move quicker in the forest anyway. If we find anything work taking, we can come back with a larger force to delve into his lair, and we can bring back Dor’nahid writing for Armin to compare to the cypher.”

“No,” Duke d’Monchy said. “You’re too valuable to risk, your highness. You can write directions down.”

“And what if something happens? What if they encounter Alohym?” Tythel could feel heat rising to her cheeks, anger and frustration mingling.

“What if the Alohym attack here?” he asked mildly. “If you want to protect people from the Alohym, you can do far more here.”

“And if you want to slay them,” Lord Devos added, “You’ll find more of them to kill here. We can’t stay hidden forever.”

Tythel could already tell she was going to lose the argument. It wasn’t even an argument, not really. Duke d’Monchy’s mind was set. He doesn’t want to lose you, she thought bitterly. You’re too useful.

So instead, other people were going to go and delve into the forest that covered the ruins of Dor’nah. Other people were going to hunt for a treasure five millennia old, based on half remembered scraps of Karjon’s teachings from a era he had only covered as far as it related to their family line. Other people could die because Tythel was hoarding bits of things that would never be used otherwise.

“Fine,” Tythel said with a sigh. “But I’ll  need a couple days to write the instructions down. I’ll need up to date maps, and I’ll be comparing from lore I don’t remember all that well.”

It was agreed. They’d send an expedition into the woods to find if the treasure of Grejhak remained, and if they could find any of the writing of Dor’nah.

The truth was, Tythel could have written what instructions she knew in a matter of an hour. But the two days bought her time to think. Time to decide. Could she really risk the living to preserve her father’s grave? Or, for that matter, could she stand to see her home despoiled to fight a war?

Right now, she honestly didn’t know.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 67

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As far as Tythel could determine, in ages past the Reliquary Hall of Hallith had held the bones of the true Alohym. Those bones, if they had ever truly been there, were either worn to dust by the ages or stolen by looters long ago. It was still a grand structure, built remarkably to withstand the ravages of time. The roof was still intact, supported by twelve massive columns, and the walls were lined with the empty containers that had held the dead bodies of gods. In the center was a long stone table that Tythel suspected might have been holy to the Hallithians. An altar, or perhaps were the bodies of their gods were prepared for storage.

Part of her felt it was wrong to turn that table, this entire structure, into a war room. Practicality had won out over respect for the long dead peoples of Hallith, however. Very few places in the city allowed for a table to be covered with paper and notes and maps without being disturbed by winds.

Armin was there, and he flashed Tythel a grin when he saw her enter. After a second’s hesitation, he blinked a few times. Tythel returned the blinking and then made herself grin in response. Armin was struggling with the happy blink – he usually did it too slowly, indicating concern, and it was an odd gesture without nictitating membranes, but she appreciated the effort more than she could say. After so long struggling to smile so people understood her expressions, it was wonderful to have someone return the effort. So long? It’s only been two months since you left the valley.

            It felt like an eternity. Thinking about that brought thoughts of her father rising up. Thinking about Karjon no longer was a sharp pain that threatened to pull her into tears. It was a dull ache, a hollow feeling. She pushed it aside with more ease than she’d expected. The Duke had also saw her enter and gave her a nod. “Glad you could make it, your Highness.”

Tythel winced at the note of reprimand in his voice that even she could make out. He didn’t like that she was going out to the walls to be alone, or that she was going…well, anywhere where he couldn’t keep a personal eye on her. I’m almost worried he doesn’t trust me. She didn’t think that was the case, just concern for her wellbeing, but it still stung slightly.

Don’t get too close to him, Tythel reminded herself. “Apologies for my delay. I thought it best my ears were on the wall for any approach.” She was glad that Tellias hadn’t caught up yet. She preferred he didn’t see the excuse. When did you start making excuses?

Tythel knew the answer to that question and shied away from that thought. Thinking about what happened to her father was still a dull ache, but Nicandros’ abandonment still burned hot. In part because she still held out hope that it could be fixed somehow. As unimaginable as it was – she had killed his son, after all – it was at least possible. After all, they were both still alive.

At least, you hope that’s true.

“Your ears may be useful on the wall, your highness, but your place is here.” The Duke glanced around quickly. The only people in here were Tythel’s friends and other members of leadership – Lord Devos and Lady von Bagget. Even the Dutchess wasn’t present yet. “Among the leadership. The men are starting to talk about you going off on your own so much.”

Tythel let out a chuff. “And what are they saying? That I’m doing something wrong somehow?”

“No, just that -” the Duke cut off as Tellias walked in. “Good, I think everyone’s here.”

“Is Ossman coming?” Tythel asked.

“No,” Lord Devos said, making sure he met Tythel’s gaze.” I left him with some of the new recruits. This is need to know only.”

And Ossman doesn’t need to know, so don’t you dare tell him, went unspoken. Lord Devos had never been the warm and friendly sort, but Uridin’s betrayal had hardened his already rough edges. He suspected everyone of treachery. Armin had once joked he slept with one eye open and a mirror so he could keep an eye on himself, and Tythel had laughed in part because she could picture it perfectly.

“As a matter of fact,” Lord Devos continued, pointing at Tellias and Eupheme, “these two don’t need to know.”

Eupheme looked to Tythel while Tellias hesitated. “They should stay,” Tythel protested. “Eupheme is my bodygard, she goes where I go.” Duke d’Monchy raised an eyebrow at that, and Tythel pointedly ignored it, “and Baron Tellias has been working on decoding this same text.”

“He didn’t crack the code. Armin did. If Tellias had, I’d be saying Armin should get out.”

Lady von Bagget reached over and put her hand on Lord Devos’ arm. “Eupheme is an umbrist. If we cannot trust her, we should slit our own throats now. Light knows she had ample opportunities.”

Lord Devos considered that, then nodded. “Very well.” He motioned for Tellias to leave.

“But-” Tythel started to say, then saw the slight shake of Eupheme’s head. Don’t fight this battle. Tythel let the exclamation die as a frustrated exhalation.

Tellias bowed stiffly and left.

“Now, can we get to business?” The Duke asked in irritation.

Tythel nodded, looking at Armin. “Eupheme said you’d had a breakthrough?”

Armin nodded eagerly. He was still dusty from the excavations. “He based it on Hallithian!” Armin crowed. “Theognis, I mean. I saw one of the symbols in his cypher when we down in the ruins, and as soon as I did I knew I could use it!”

Tythel did the hyper quick blinks of excitement. We were sitting on the cipher and didn’t even know it. “And?”

“It’s only one section, and I just finished it. I think he must have used different ancient languages for the other parts of the cypher. But I know where they’re keeping the Vacuity Engine!” Armin looked down at what he had written. “It’s on the Ambulatory Bastion!” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, his excitement drained away. “Wait. Flath. That’s…that’s really bad.”

Tythel looked around to see the others were frowning. Duke d’Monchy had turned white. Lord Devos was turning red, and Tythel couldn’t tell if he was going to hit something or swear. “What’s…I haven’t heard about the Ambulatory Bastion before.”

“There’s so much we need to teach you still,” the Duke muttered, his voice too low for anyone but Tythel to hear. Louder, he said, “the imperipods we encountered before? It’s one of those, but scaled up immensely. When the Alohym first arrived, it flew down from the sky and has been roving across the continent ever since.”

“How large?” Tythel asked.

“As large at this entire flathing plateau,” Lord Devos exclaimed. “It’s a flathing walking city is what it is. And the Vacuity Engine, the one flathing thing that might give us a chance, is on it.”

Tythel joined them in looking disappointed. An imperipod the size of a small city. She couldn’t even begin to imagine how they were supposed to assault a monstrosity like that.

It was supposed to be good news, she thought to herself.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 66

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

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

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

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

She returned to her notes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your Highness!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small Worlds Part 169

Horus didn’t bother trying to break the vampire’s grasp. There wasn’t time. He had burned through more than enough power where the need for air was burning at his lungs. Instead of entering a contest of main strength, Horus dropped himself backwards, pulling his legs up as he did. The motion caught Vlad off guard, and the two of them fell to the ground. Horus was able to bring up his feet into the vampire’s stomach and kicked as hard he could.

Vlad had no choice but to release Horus’ neck, not if he wanted his wrists to remain intact. Vlad turned to mist again to save himself impact with the ground, giving Horus’ time to gasp for air. Horus rolled away as Vlad reformed, slamming his heel down on where Horus’ head had been moment’s before.

Concrete cracked under the vampire’s heel. Bits of it flecked up and bit into Horus’ face. Even half burned, Vlad was unimaginably strong. Horus brought his leg up in a kick aimed at Vlad’s knee. Before he could connect, Vlad’s hand lanced down and grabbed Horus by the ankle. Vlad swung Horus over his body, slamming him into the concrete. Horus felt the world spin from the impact, and coughed up flecks of blood. Before he could try to break free of the grip, Vlad lifted Horus back up and swung him in an arc, slamming him into ground on the other side. “I’m going to drain you dry for this,” Vlad snarled, lifting to swing Horus again.

Horus threw his hands out towards the ground on the third swing, twisting reality to give the pavement the consistency of a feathered bed. He sunk into the now soft concrete, then kicked back towards Vlad, taking advantage of the vampire being off balance to free himself. Horus didn’t bother to try and rise, instead twisting to surround himself in a bubble of sunlight. Vlad hissed and recoiled from the field.

“You can’t keep this up forever,” Vlad growled from the doorway he had taken shelter within. “Your power is limited, and you’ve burned a great deal already.”

“I have enough to burn you, vampire,” Horus said, finally rising to his feet. “Your presence has been tolerated on this world for far too long.”

Vlad chuckled, the sound echoing through the courtyard. “Tolerated? You think you are the first god to have delusions about killing me? Please. I’ve survived far worse than you. Do you have any idea how many of our numbers I’ve killed over the centuries?”

Horus peered around, trying to pinpoint the vampire’s voice. Between the acoustics here and his own spinning head, he couldn’t quite place it. “However many it is, the number will not increase today, I can promise you that.”

“Endless void, did you read The Book of Bullshit Cliches? Is this the part where I tell you ‘we’re not so different, you and I’?”

Horus’ eyes flared. “We are nothing alike!”

“Of course we aren’t. You’re a pompous, self obsessed, neckbeard with delusions of grandeur. And I? I’m a survivor.

At that moment, Vlad finished the twist to reality he had been working on. Horus screamed as the ground beneath his feet turned into molten rock, causing his shoes to burst into flames that started to lap up to his ankles. He moved as quickly as he could, before the lava could completely incinerate his feet, but as he landed Horus screamed in pain. The soles of his feet were burned past the point of sensation – the pain seemed to be coming from somewhere around his ankles. The nerves below that had been seared away. Horus didn’t dare look at the mess of charred flesh he knew his feet had become. It was all he could do to maintain his balance, and keep up the field of sunlight that was keeping Vlad at bay.

“Which Hunger are you up to, Horus? I’m sure you’re thirsty by now.” Vlad’s voice seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere. “Probably even feeling the need for food.”

A chunk of rock lifted off the ground and streaked towards Horus’ head. It took every bit of energy he had to dodge it before it could crush his skull. “You know why I always wear gods down before I kill them?” Vlad whispered from the shadows. “It’s not just because it’s safer to wait until they’ve drained all their power. It’s because I know that last Hunger is waiting for them. The need for socialization. The need for human contact.”

Horus saw his vision waiver, and the sunlight surrounding him dimmed as he dropped to one knee. Have to do something or he’ll kill me, Horus thought, frantically searching for a plan.

“It means that when you die, not only are you terrified, but so you’re painfully lonely. Isolated. I like to imagine that when my fangs sink into your neck, you’ll welcome it. Even though it’s killing you, it’s the last bit of human contact you’ll ever get before the grave.”

“Now…” Horus grunted, struggling to keep his eyes open. “Now who’s spouting the bullshit cliches?”

That actually got a laugh out of Vlad as Horus slumped to the ground, the sunlight going out. “I started monologuing. I am becoming a cliche in my old age, aren’t I?” In an instant, Vlad was on top of Horus, flipping him over with a kick to expose his neck. “At least I don’t sparkle. I hope someone kills me if I start to sparkle.” Horus raised his hand, and Vlad batted it aside. “Please. You have no power left. Accept this death, Horus.”

Vlad brought his fangs down towards Horus’ neck.

At that moment, Horus tapped into the last bit of power he had been holding in reserved as he faked his powerlessness, and erupted in sunlight. Vlad recoiled and howled in agony as his flesh began to fleck away. It was so bright it blinded even Horus.

When his vision cleared, Vlad was still there. He looked more like a corpse than a man now, his skin burned to a blackened crisp across his body. If he’d been a normal god, he would have died from his injures already. As it was, his movements were jerky, uncoordinated.

But he was still moving. Horus raised his hand to try another twist to reality, but he had burned through all his power. Nothing happened. He was, effectively, mortal.

Vlad’s power had to be mostly drained as well, but even with no divine strength left, he was still a vampire. He slammed his hand down onto Horus’ check, and Horus felt bones crack beneath the blow. Horus fell onto his back, and Vlad leaned his, his fangs coming ever closer to Horus’ throat. “Tell me, Horus – do you welcome this?” Vlad whispered.

“I do,” said a voice behind Vlad. The vampire started to turn, but before he could make it far into the motion, his chest bulged outwards. A hand shot through it, clenching the still beating heart of the vampire.

“Why?” Vlad asked, the unholy light in his eyes fading.

“I don’t answer questions from corpses,” Bast said, and then reached around – her arm still through Vlad’s chest – and brought the heart to her lips, biting into it.

Horus watched in as Bast shuddered at the bite, her eyes rolling back in her head in apparent ecstacy. He’d seen her feed since she became this horror, but it had never been like this. After that first bite, she devoured Vlad’s heart so greedily, Horus was certain she caught some of her own fingers in those bites. “I had no idea it would taste that good,” Bast whispered, shuddering in aftershocks of enjoyment.

Vlad, of course, said nothing. His body was falling apart, turning to bones and dust. Bast reached down with a bloody hand and patted Horus’ cheek. “You did well, Horus. Do you want to heal naturally?”

Horus nodded. The pain from his burned feet was pushing through the exhaustion, but the idea of waiting for a resurrection – of letting himself die after fighting so hard to live – sickened him.

Beneath that was a terror of what would happen if he was helpless in front of Bast right now, so close to the ecstacy of eating a divine heart. He didn’t believe she would feed on him, not really…but the hand that had patted his face had been missing bits of flesh.

That terror gave him the strength he needed to crawl his way back to his doorway as Bast watched with apparent amusement until he could seal himself inside.

Then, and only then, he allowed himself to pass out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poz could only pray he would live that long.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 64 – End of Book 1

Tythel found Armin below, showing one of the doctors how the device he’d used to purge Tythel of Unlight poisoning worked. “You need to be careful,” he was saying. “I got an abject lesson last night in what too much light can do to a man, and it’s worse than it use to be.”

The doctor nodded and Armin turned and saw Tythel, giving her a smile. “Ty-” he glanced around at the group of doctors and wounded soldiers. “Your highness,” he amended, slapping his fist to his chest.

Tythel opened her mouth to object to Armin’s use of the title, but remembered Haradeth’s words. “You need to learn to start acting like a princess.” Tythel gave Armin her best smile and hoped it wasn’t too unnerving. “Armin. I’m glad you made it through the battle.” She looked over the rest of the soldiers. “All of you.”

That got some smiles from the soldiers, so she didn’t think she’d done too poorly. “Might I have a word, your highness?” Armin asked. Tythel nodded, and let Armin lead her away. “You okay?” He asked.

“I’ll live,” she said with a happy blink. “You?”

Armin nodded. “Look, Eupheme and Ossman are outside. They’ll want to see you too. But…there’s a crowd, Tythel. People who want news about you.”

“What…what do I do?” The idea of facing a crowd was somehow more frightening.

“Say something inspiring, hold up your good hand, and then get out. Haradeth’s going to be waiting for you at the Mayor’s manor, there’s a Crawler waiting to take you there.”

Tythel took a deep breath. “Okay, I can do this.”

“I know you can,” Armin said. He motioned like he was going to hug her, saw her bandages, and instead put a hand on her good shoulder. “I’ll be right behind you.”

“Thank the light for that,” Tythel muttered, and headed to the door.

“Wait!” Armin said, stopping her short. He went over to one of the doctors and came back with a black eyepatch. “I heard about your eye. Figured this would look better.”

Tythel frowned. “How bad is it?”

“You haven’t seen it yet?” Armin asked.

“There weren’t any mirrors up there.”

“Oh.” Armin shrugged. “It’s gone a bit milky. Besides, the eyepatch is a bit more stylish. I’m sure if you think about it, there’s been some leader or another who wore an eyepatch, so there’s precedent.”

“Yuana Qui, Pirate Queen of the Umbral Isles,” Tythel said promptly, noticing Armin’s evasion and deciding not to press him on it. She was aware of the darkness in her vision, but held out a small hope that her continued transformations would eventually heal it. And if it doesn’t, it’s not like I need depth perception to bathe something in flame at close range, or whack it with a hammer, she through wryly before continuing. “She was known as the Scourge of Valaetia, and for thirty years raided their coasts. Although she wasn’t actually a pirate, but a Tsani privateer that had been hired by the Cardometh Empire to disrupt trade between members of the Valaetinian Confederation, something she did well until…” Tythel trailed off and tilted her head at Armin. “I lost you.”

“Sorry, Professor,” he said with a grin and a shrug. “I never studied history much. Now go. Your people are waiting for you.”

‘Crowd’ undersold the number of people waiting outside. It was overwhelming. They can’t all be for you, Tythel tried to console her self. Some have to be waiting for word on their loved ones.

Then the cheering started. Tythel let the sound wash over her, trying not to let panic set in, and then held up her arm. “We’ve won a great victory today!” Tythel said, recalling the speech Xiongnes had made on the steps of Llansire after they had repelled an invasion from Carthomere. “We’ve beaten back the Alohym, and proven them to be false gods. We’ve driven them from this city!”

That invited another wave of cheers. She waited it them to die down, her heart pounding. I hate this oh Light it’s worse than facing down Rephylon. She was suddenly glad for the eye patch, since it hid part of the crowd from her and the panicked look in that eye from them. Keep your voice steady, Tythel. Don’t quaver. Don’t throw up. “I tell you now, people of Dawnchester. The fight is not over. The fight may not be over for some times. But today we have proven that the fight is not lost! That we are not broken! We will fight until we are victorious, until we have reclaimed not just our cities, not just our kingdom, but until we have reclaimed our world! So stand tall, people of Dawnchester! Today, we have taken the first steps on a long journey, and we will still be standing tall at the end of this road!”

Another round of cheers. Tythel lowered her arm, knowing the speech had already been falling apart at the end. “Best to end it on a high note,” she muttered to Armin.

“Say that you have to go or something,” Armin said “but remind them the fight isn’t over.”

The cheering died down as Tythel agreed. “I must go for now. There’s much to do, much to prepare for. But I swear to you, so long as I draw breath, I will not stop fighting. As long as any one of you draw breath, our resistance stands strong. Never let that flame die out from within you, and never let memory of this victory fade!”

Tythel all but lunged into the crawler as the final round of cheers started.

Ossman and Eupheme were waiting inside. Ossman gave her a broad grin. “Didn’t think you’d get to go to this meeting without us, did you?”

Tythel laughed, drunk on relief from being away from the mass of people. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”

“Good,” Eupheme said. “I’d hate to become cross with you.” She frowned with worry. “How do you feel?”

“The tea they gave me to numb the pain is still working. I’m not looking forward to when it wears off.” Tythel blinked with amusement. “If that happens during the meeting, would one of you please distract everyone until I can get more? I don’t know how useful I’ll be groaning in pain.”

“Don’t worry,” Ossman said. “I’m certain Armin will do something stupid to draw their attention.”

“Hey!” Armin objected. “That’s hardly fair. I’ll do something intentionally stupid to draw their attention.”

Eupheme snorted. “There’s many things I believe about you doing stupid things, Armin. Premeditation isn’t one of them.”

“Of course not. I meditate afterwards, to reflect on what I did.”

We did it. Tythel thought to herself with a grin as Ossman and Eupheme groned. She rolled her eyes as she, settled back into her seat. Now, she thought, letting her friends banter, now this feels like a victory.

She wished Karjon was there to share in the triumph. She wished Nicandros hadn’t gone to…wherever he had gone. She wished she’d escaped the fight with injures she was certain would heal, and she wished she had more confidence in her ability to defeat an Alohym in a fight again.

For now, however, she pushed those thoughts aside. For now, for the first time since this had started, Tythel allowed herself happiness untainted by fear or grief or uncertainty.

It was, after all, what Karjon would have wanted for her.


 

End of Book 1. Series resumes September 25th. 

The Dragon’s Scion Part 63

Tythel woke up to a thousand little pains that were swimming in a deeper sea of ache.

She barely remembered Eupheme leading her to the Inn that was rapidly being converted into a makeshift hospital for the wounded. The memory of being bandaged was lost in a haze of pain. Someone had given her something to drink afterwards, and she’d fallen into a dreamless sleep.

She remembered waking up once. Haveron, the sour-faced doctor from the camp, was there, standing over her, talking to someone she couldn’t see. “We could save the eye, but it’s beyond surgery. We’d have to risk using light-”

And more and more and more and more… The sight of those terrible mutants flashed through her mind, and Tythel found the strength to reach out and grab his wrist, causing exclamations of surprise. Haveron winced as Tythel tried to speak. Her tongue felt like it was a dry cloth, and she could only manage to shake her head. “Your highness, I want you to understand, once the eye heals it will be beyond even the light to restore your sight. The nerves were severed. That will never repair itself naturally.”

Tythel shook her head again, as firmly as she could manage.

“I understand. Rest then. We won’t go against your wishes.”

Relieved, Tythel slipped back into that dreamless sleep.

Now it was morning. The Inn was full of the sounds of the wounded and quiet bustling. The doctors were gone.

“Oh, good, you’re awake.” Haradeth said. He was leaning against the window and looking out over the city.

“The others?” Tythel asked, her throat raw from medication and flame.

“Alive,” Haradeth answered. “Much of their army broke when Rephylon’s death reached them. A few defected or surrendered, more fled. I guess they were terrified of whatever could kill a god. The remainder fought throughout the night. There’s still some pockets of fighting. Theognis is holed up in the old castle, but he’s not risking trying to break out. The city is ours.”

Tythel’s eyes widened. “We’ve…managed to claim a city?”

Haradeth nodded. “We can’t keep it. The Alohym main force will be here by tomorrow. We need to be long gone when they get here – we can’t hold out against that.”

Tythel nodded glumly. We’ve accomplished nothing. We’ve gotten ourselves right back to where we were at the start of that, and we call this a victory?

“No, don’t do that.” Haradeth’s voice was a snap. “We won, Tythel. For the first time in sixteen years, we faced the Alohym in battle and actually won. This is going to galvanize the resistance. Many of the former prisoners are staying with us. Soldiers wearing full imperiplate have defected. We have control of some of the Alohym’s greatest weapons, and when we get them to our Lumcasters, they can find ways to recreate it without unlight. And word is spreading – the Alohym are not immortal, they can be killed. This is a triumph!”

Tythel was shocked by the passion in his voice. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to discount-”

Haradeth chuckled. “Don’t apologize. You’ve only been doing this for a few weeks, you can’t be expected to see the bigger picture yet. And…you need to learn to start acting like a Princess.”

Tythel flushed. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“Rumor has already started that you died after killing Rephylon and we’re hiding it. We need you to meet with some civic leaders, to appear to the crowd and wave.” Haradeth shrugged. “We need to prove to people we still have the woman that can kill an Alohym.”

“I don’t know if I can do it again,” Tythel said quietly. “I barely did this time. It only worked because Rephylon was arrogant, talking to me, letting me get in attacks. I would have died if Rephylon wasn’t playing me.”

“Don’t tell anyone that,” Haradeth said in an urgent hiss. “Don’t you dare tell anyone else that it was luck. Right now people have hope. You can’t take that from them.”

Tythel leaned back, startled by the intensity of his warning. “If they follow me thinking I can reliably kill Alohym, they could die.”

“The Alohym will be hesitant to fight you again. They don’t know it’s luck either. Tythel, we have a chance to win this. But right now, much as I hate it, it hinges on the belief that you can kill these monsters.”

“If I can’t, how can we win?”

“Theogines’ notes.” Haradeth patted his pocket. “Theognis knew where the Vacuity Engine was. We need to finish breaking the code, but once we do…we can find it. We can win. But right now, the only flathing way we’re going to do that is if we hold on to the myth of the princess the Alohym fear.”

“I don’t like it,” Tythel said. “I’ve seen what secrets do when they come out.”

“Some secrets have to be kept,” Haradeth growled.

Tythel pursed her lips, then nodded. “I’ll not share.” In that moment, Tythel felt the same animosity towards Haradeth he’d displayed towards her. Even though he was right, it sickened her to keep more secrets from her friends. It’s not his fault, she reminded herself.

“What did I do? Why do you…I don’t know. Dislike me? Hate me? ” The words were out of Tythel’s mouth before she could think it through.

Haradeth seemed surprised, but recovered quickly. “I suppose that’s a fair question. Honestly? You’re an angry child who wants to use our resistance – the people I care about, the people who are fighting for the good of this whole world – to pursue your own personal revenge. You don’t care about the people, just some individuals, and if we win those people are going to want to put you on the throne. I shudder to think of what you’ll do there.” Haradeth held up a hand before Tythel could object. “Don’t…don’t argue with me about it.”

Tythel glared at him. “I’m supposed to just accept you calling me a selfish monster?”

“No.” Haradeth said with a shake of his head. “You’re supposed to prove me wrong. Words won’t do that.”

Tythel’s glower deepened. “How am I supposed to prove it? Anything I do you’ll assume is because i want-”

Haradeth shrugged. “Maybe you can’t. It doesn’t matter, anyway.”

“How could that possibly not matter?”

“Because,” Haradeth said, “we’re using you too. We’ll never stop being useful for your revenge, and you’ll never stop being useful to our resistance. We have a term for that in nature – symbiosis. Like the birds that clean the teeth of a crocodile, even though it could devour them in a single bite.”

“And which one is which?” Tythel asked.

That got a grim smile out of Haradeth. “I suppose we’ll find out.” He stood up abruptly. “A couple healers are going to be along soon, They’ll give you some herbs to help you past the worst of the pain. We need you to be busy today, because we’re leaving with the dusk.”

“Okay.” Tythel still fumed from Haradeth’s accusations, but she didn’t have to like him to work with him. As he turned to leave, she spoke up. “Haradeth, was there any word of…did anyone else show up to the battle? That we weren’t expecting?”

Haradeth paused and turned back to look at her. “No. He didn’t show up, Tythel. I never imagined he would. He no longer could find his vengeance with us.” Haradeth studied her with an unreadable expression. “I see why you two got along so well,” he said after a moment.

With that, Haradeth left.

Tythel felt the grief and anger well up within her, and forced them aside as best she could. You killed an Alohym. The resistance won. This is a time to celebrate, not stew.

There would be time for that later. For now, the doctors were arriving, and she had her medicine to take.

Then it was time to be what everyone wanted her to be.