Dragon’s Scion Part 164

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Tythel climbed a tree to prepare herself for Catheon’s assault, burrowing as close to the trunk as she could go. It was easier to climb than she remembered, aided by her thick talons biting into the bark and giving her purchase her fingers never could have managed before. She smiled at the thought.

When she’d been younger, she’d used these trees as her own personal highway, leaping from branch to branch and giving Karjon daily heart attacks. She’d always known that being gifted with Heartflame would give her the ability to climb like she’d had back then. Well, she’d always hoped. It was wonderful to have that childish hope confirmed.

Everything had been so…terrible since Karjon’s death. War and death and fear and loss. Nicandros had abandoned her. She’d seen more death than she’d ever imagined seeing. She’d lost her eye. It hadn’t all been bad – she’d made friends – but she’d rarely taken the chance to just revel in being a dragon. The thing she’d wanted most her entire life, and she’d barely taken a second to enjoy it.

When I’m done here, I will. The first moment I get. 

Exactly what form that would take had to be considered later, however. Catheon’s wings were growing so loud that they had to be almost here. Tythel strained her ears to listen.

“I’m telling you, there’s an illusion over this valley,” a male voice said in a frustrated growl. It didn’t have the buzzing quality that Tythel had come to associate with Catheon. That must be their Lumcaster. 

“Then what’s beneath it?” Catheon hissed. His voice was distinct – the blend of Alohym buzzing and human speech that made it both alien and familiar. It was somehow worse than the Alohym’s voice, as if the fact that it was recognizable as something that a human throat could produce but also not made it more alien than the Alohym’s native speech.

Of course, it probably didn’t help that his voice was thick was something between arrogance and pure hatred.

“I can’t see through it,” the Lumcaster said, his voice harsh. “That’s veilflame. I’m a lumcaster.”

“You speak pretty boldly to a Scion, Daetor,” a woman’s voice said. That must be the Umbrist. Leora Dimici. The Thirteenth Forsworn, one of the Umbrists that had betrayed their calling. The only one, if Eupheme was correct. Tythel wondered, not for the first time, who Leora was to Eupheme, and why her betrayal had hurt her so much. “Perhaps you could tell us what you can do with the illusion?”

“Well, if you drop me into it, I can fall through it. If you press my face against it, I can see sparkly lights. If you kill me, I could probably haunt it. I can do about as much to Draconic magic as I could to your Umbra, Leora. But trust me, it’s there.”

“I didn’t doubt that it was,” Catheon said in a low purr. “But I’d like more details. Can you tell me at least how close to the ground it is?”

“Fifteen spans,” the Lumcaster – Daetor, Tythel now knew – said promptly.

Whatever was said next was partially cut off by the sound of the Skimmers roaring past. “-be sure?” Catheon said.

“Because that’s the height Karjon stood in life,” Daetor said in the careful tones one would speak to a particularly dense child that’s prone to dangerous tantrums. “I’d be a waste of his power to make it higher, and it’d be pointless to make it lower.”

“You’re certain Karjon made this?” Leora said, “and not that half-dragon bitch?”

“Of course I am.” Daetor scoffed at the question. “If she had access to the deeper draconic mysteries, we’d have died in that fight. She had Dragonflame and Ghostflame. At best, she might have Heartflame. But Veilflame? Warpflame? Strangefire? If she knew how to use those, the only one of us who might have survived would have been Catheon, and only if he flew away very fast.

Tythel heard the wood begin to crack as she tightened her hands into fists and forced them to relax before she tore apart her perch. Karjon had barely mentioned the deeper mysteries, and Tythel had barely even considered them. Especially not now. It was impossible to learn the deeper mysteries without another dragon to assist you. Another part of her heritage that was lost forever thanks to the Alohym. It galled her to hear Daetor talk about them, but more importantly…how did Daetor know this much about how dragon’s magic worked?

Her anger caused her to miss part of the conversation. Leora was speaking. “-overstated. If you were so skilled-”

“I was chosen for this because I fought in the Conquest for the Alohym,” Daetor said harshly. “I’ve faced dragons before. That’s more than some murderer hiding in the shadows can ever claim.”

“You face dragons as part of our army,” Catheon said coolly.

“As part of the Alohym’s army, yes,” Daetor conceded, and Tythel noted that he refused to acknowledge Catheon’s use of the possessive there. She filed it away but didn’t think it would be useful. They were long past the point of clever words saving them. “But I still have seen them.”

The sound of Catheon’s wings was growing louder. He was descending. Tythel tensed up for a reason besides anger. It was almost time.

“What should we expect then?” Catheon said.

“Given the terrain? She can’t fly and thank Your Father for that. She knows the area, though, and will probably try to hit us with flame the moment she can. Dragons almost always open with a burst of fire to try and pick a few targets off. She’s saved her Ghostflame for you.”

“Leave the Umbrist for me,” Leora said. “I can handle her.”

“And I can take care of that bastardization of Imperiplate,” Daetor said. “The war proved Alohym could defeat dragons, Catheon. By the same logic, I’m certain that a half-Alohym can beat a half-Dragon.”

Then they were in view. Catheon’s…whatever it was he war. Alohym skin refit for a human. It was bulkier than before, covered in gleaming black carapace as opposed to the brown he’d had before. Leora was dressed in a bodysuit of dark greens and greys, tight enough to avoid catching but loose enough to avoid restricting her movement. Daetor wore a Lumcaster’s robe that had been divided between the legs and re-woven into loosely flowing pants. “Call me that again,” Catheon said harshly, “and I’ll ensure you regret it.”

“Apologies. I meant no offense,” Daetor said, sounded not even slightly apologetic. “I thought you’d take pride in both parts of your heritage.”

Catheon stiffened, and Tythel realized this was it. This was her moment. She’d never get a better shot on all three of them.

Taking a deep breath and focusing her hatred on Catheon, Tythel took a deep breath and fed that loathing into the fire in her stomach. When she let loose, it was with a beautiful wave of blue ghostflame.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 153

The Portal Stones – Haradeth refused to think of them as boogers, even if he’d say the word aloud to placate Bix – were objects spread across the world. Myths from various cultures held different significance to them. The Cardomethi had claimed they could access the realm that the ancient Alohym had used when they left. The Dor’nahi had maintained they were gates to the true ancestral home of humanity, and would one day lead them back. The Kingdom, before it’s fall, had believed them to be pagan iconography from a pre-Light religion. The warriors of Xhoa held they were gateways to the Shadow, where their Holy and Eternal War would one day spill out of that realm and into the mortal world. The Underfolk had held the belief that they would lead to a world where there was only darkness above and light below, a sacred land where humanity would be forced to live beneath the Earth.

In hindsight, Haradeth realized it should have been telling that the Sylvani were the only peoples who didn’t ascribe any significance to them. Sylvani travelers, when asked about the stones, would only repeat one of the other culture’s legends. Usually with song and drink, because the Sylvani bought their way into acceptance through entertainment when they could, and getting the locals too drunk to organize a mob when they could not.

To the best of his knowledge, no one had asked the Alohym what they believed the stones would lead o. They might not even be aware of the portal stones’ existence.

He voiced that possibility to Bix as they were gearing up, and she shrugged – an expressive gesture with metallic limbs. “Who knows? But I’m guessing not. If those things could have accessed an interplanetary method of rapid transit, I think they would have lept on it with all four hands.”

“You mean they could have activated it?” Haradeth asked. That thought had never occurred to him, and its implications were disturbing. Were they just handing the Alohym another weapon to use in their domination of the world?

“Not without me stabbing them lots. Even Anoirita would have acted then, I think. The only way to fully control the boogers is from here, and the Alohym would have come here if they knew. Also, if they knew what the boogers were, they probably would have figured out that we hadn’t all died out. They would have come and murdered everyone in the face. Except me. Because I’d be stabbing them, you see.”

Haradeth nodded, a small part of him surprised at how easily he’d come to take the little automaton’s violent nature in stride. “But once we activate them, can they trace it back here?”

“Probably not.” Bix looked uninterested as she worked on the console.

“Probably?” Haradeth asked.

Bix sighed. “Haradeth. We last fought the Alohym like, back when your people were deciding that eating cooked meat was a better long term plan than waging wars with flung feces. Excremental artillery. Shit showers. I think that’s all of them.”

“Okay, I just don’t-”

“Wait, no, I have one more. Crap catapults. Okay, now I’m good. What was your most likely stupid question?”

Haradeth waited for a second to make sure Bix was, in fact, done with her jokes. She motioned for him to continue. “I don’t see what that has to do with them being able to hijack the portal stones.”

“Because we’re talking about thousands of years, no matter what world you’re on. I wasn’t just making fun of you for being a bunch of monkeys who developed culture and decided it made you rightful masters of this world. Back then, you had…flath, I used all the good terms. Insert a scatalogical weaponry reference for me okay? Okay. But by the time the Alohym arrived, you’d gone from that to castles and catapults and stabby death, which is a much more refined way of waging war compared to the poop. Even if the Alohym hadn’t shown up, given thousands of years, even you idiots would have figured out arcwands. Technology grows and changes. The Alohym couldn’t crack the Transmatter Warp Platforms back when they invaded us, so they might not be able to crack it now. Or perhaps they’ve figured it out in the millennia in between.”

“Wait, what did you call the portal stones?” Haradeth asked.

Bix pressed a knife against his throat. “Boogers?” Bix asked.

“Boogers,” Haradeth agreed.

The knife vanished, as fast as it had appeared. “It’s a Transmatter Warp Platform. It bends spacetime curviture so the distance between here and there is shorter. It’s their proper name, but I long ago gave up trying to get you people to call them by that. Since you insist on calling them portal stones, I decided to give them an equally stupid name. Thus, boogers. Now, I’m almost ready. What’s the plan?”

“Plan?” Lorathor asked, walking around the corner. The Sylvani was wearing some kind of blue armor that reflected light in a dull manner. It was unlike any metal Haradeth had seen before. He’d told Haradetha bout it. It was a cultural artifact of the Sylvani, but they could be used with special approval. Bix had a suit she could authorize someone to use. The…what was it Bix had called them? The polycarbons in the suit would shift to match the wearer’s natural shapeshifting, allowing Lorathor complete access to his natural talents.

“Yes. Plan.” Bix gave them both a level look. “You don’t have a plan?”

“I didn’t think you’d be in favor of one,” Haradeth said.

“Of course I’m not. It’s no fun messing up someone’s plans if they don’t have one.” Bix crossed her arms and glared at Haradeth.

“Well, that’s part of why I didn’t have one. You can focus on the fact that we’re disrupting the Alohym’s plots?”

“Patronize me again and I’ll…flath, these are complicated equations, even for me. Do me a favor and assume I threatened you and you were truly terrified of it.”

Haradeth thought for a moment and discovered coming up with possible torments Bix could unleash was more frightening than any of the threats she’d actually make. “Done,” Haradeth said.

Bix nodded in approval. “We’ll only have a few seconds. This is some slipshod math. But it will get us there, and there is a ninety-six percent chance we’ll arrive with every body part we left with.”

Bix pushed a button on the console, and the air over the Portal Stone distorted. As Haradeth watched, it folded in on itself, almost like someone pulling a sock inside out, if the sock was the fabric of reality. It hurt his head to watch. “Wait, what was that last thing you said?”

“No time!” Bix said cheerfully and dove through the portal. Haradeth gaped at Lorathor, who laughed and followed. Swearing under his breath, Haradeth jumped through after them.

The portal snapped shut after them. They were in a treasure room lit by dozens of Alohym arcglobes. There were three soldiers in here, staring at them in mute astonishment. “Get Theog-” one of them started to shout.

For his quick thinking, he died first. A dagger sprouted from his throat, moving so quickly Haradeth could barely track it. Bix stood there, grinning at her handwork. The two soldiers remaining began to raise their arcwands.

Haradeth dove for cover as one of them opened fire, unlight ricochetting off a pile of gold. Lorathor closed the distance between them in two great strides, unlight glancing off his armor. The third stepped around and took aim at Lorathor’s back, and Haradeth hurled a gold plate like a discus.

It hit the side of the man’s head and lodged in there.

Bix chuckled. “I knew I kept you alive for a reason.”

“Lorathor.” Haradeth pointed down the cororidor. “Wear one of these faces, and tell Theognis the portal stone activated. Then find Armin and the others.”

Lorathor started to run, his skin and armor already running as he did. Bix gave him a sideways look. “I’m no strategy expert, but why did we just give up the element of surprise?”

“Because we didn’t,” Haradeth said, taking cover. “He’ll be expecting resistance fighters. He definitely will not be expecting a godling, and he can’t possibly be prepared for you.”

Bix nodded at that and headed over to climb into a cauldron. “I’ll pop up when he least expects it. Then I’ll stab him.” She clambered up the side and looked in. “Hey, Haradeth, if someone’s in here, should I stab them? She looks…weird.”

Haradeth ran over to the cauldron and looked in inside.

A half alohym woman was huddled in the bottom, staring at them both with wide eyes.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 147

I never thought I’d be coming back here, Tythel thought as the Skitter broke free of the forest and the entrance to Karjon’s valley loomed above them. Once upon a time, this had been her entire world. Those stone walls that rose up from the floor of the valley had been the edge of reality, the furthest she’d even gone. They were as she remembered them, large and spiked and imposing. The morning sun had started to rise behind them, changing them from black shapes rising in the darkness to dark gray. Tythel’s memory of these stones only had them a few shades lighter than what she was seeing now. Once they passed through the gap she’d exited through all those months ago, they’d be back in twilight for another thirty minutes, until the sun managed to crest over their peaks.

As imposing as they were, they also seemed smaller than she remembered. Her memory held them as these huge, imposing, structures. Completely impassible and as implacable as if they’d been wrought of iron. Now, however? They were formidable, but Tythel had seen Alohym Warmongers annihilate forests in a single shot. She’d seen their Chrysopods shatter walls twice the height of this with beams of Unlight. She’d seen things she never could have imagined. The walls that had once been the border of her world now lacked…something. Like the walls had shrunk in the year she had been gone.

What made you? She wondered, bringing her eyes up to look at the grey stone. It was a question she’d meant to ask her father, when time had permitted. The valley was a crater, the stones that surrounded it where primordial stone had splashed up like water from some immense impact and then frozen in place. It was beyond the power of dragons, men, Sylvani, Alohym, and even the Small Gods to make such a thing.

If Karjon had known, he’d taken that secret to the grave with him. Their secret had not been recorded in any of his notebooks that she’d been able to recover.

“Share your thoughts?” Eupheme asked quietly. She’d wrapped herself fully in her cloak and looked like a blob of shadow that had taken residence in the pilot seat of the Skitter.

“I’m being morose,” Tythel admitted, forcing herself to smile. She’d gotten better at that since she’d left the valley, but this one felt faker than usual to her. “Thinking about what made this valley. The mountain used to be volcanic. Dad formed his lair in the old caldera. But the valley itself was the result of something before even his records.”

“Any idea what made it?” Tellias asked. It was a relief to have him join the conversation unprompted. The tension between them had been fading over the course of the ride, although there was still a gap between them that Tythel could still feel. It was, oddly enough, something on his face. Some expression she couldn’t quite place, but an expression she could still read on some level below the conscious.

“Logically, the easiest explanation was some huge stone falling from the sky, out of the void the Alohym came from. If there can be other worlds up there, it stands to reason that the myths of flaming stones that fall from the heavens are based on reality.” Tythel shook her head.

“But you don’t believe that,” Tellias said, shifting forward slightly. To conserve power, his arcplate wasn’t active, meaning he had nothing but his own muscles to move the dozens of stones worth of steel encasing his body.

“No, I don’t.” Tythel said. They were at the gap now, the one break in the wall that surrounded the valley. The space between the stones was not as mysterious as the stones themselves. Karjon had deliberately shattered the barrier there, to allow animals to travel in and out on their own. At least, that was the reason that Karjon had given her back then. But if that had been why, wouldn’t he have shattered it in the hundreds of years before her life?

No, it seemed most likely he’d done it in case anything were to happen to him, to make sure Tythel wouldn’t be trapped within the crater.

“I think it was the ancient Alohym. If it was a skystone, there would be more like this valley, but I’ve never seen anything like it. This…the stone cooled in an instant to form like this. That’s not how anything else works, other than the Light, but we have no lumwell here.”

“Light and shadow, that’s quite the thought,” Tellias muttered.

“It’s also good for us,” Eupheme said, pulling down the hood of her cloak. “The nearest Lumwell is back in Hillsdale, and it’s a small one. Their lumcaster won’t be able to pull much power from it. He’ll be limited.”

Tythel nodded. “We’ll also have shadows all day long around the edge, at least on this side.”

“We’ll need to get out of them,” Eupheme said, her shoulders stiffening. “If Leora shows up with them…she’s better in the shadows than I am. I think I can match her if we stay in the sunlight, but in a shadow that large, she’ll tear me apart. All of us, really.”

“You’re a bright little lumwell, aren’t you?” Tellias muttered.

“I’m a realist,” Eupheme snapped, with far more vitriol than Tellias teasing had called for.

“The important thing,” Tythel interjected, trying to get the words in before the argument between the two could ignite, “is that the illusion my father had woven over the valley will mean we can negate the biggest advantage Catheon has over us.”

The Skitter went silent at the mention of Catheon. Having a name for the human that wore an Alohym skin like a suit of arcplate should have made him less intimidating, less mysterious. He wasn’t some strange figure; he was a person with a name.

But instead, his name just raised more question. It wasn’t a human name. It sounded akin to Rephylon or Metymon or other named Alohym. Yet the voice inside was human.

“Even on the ground, can we really beat him?” Tellias asked.

Tythel shrugged. “I don’t know. But we can try. I’m sure of that much. And if we can manage to pull it off…we’ll have taken down a real threat.”

“And if we die, the drop I set up in Hillsdale will make sure d’Monchy learns of our fate.” Eupheme said. The tension was fading from her shoulder some. “At least he’ll be warned of what’s coming – and that we won’t be.”

Tythel nodded. She opened her mouth to say something, but then they were past the wall and in the valley.

Ahead, she could see her father’s tomb, and the sight tore the words from her.

The Burning Epoch Part 5

When the helicopters had arrived, Candice and Diane hadn’t stuck around in the living room to see what happened. They’d ran into Diane’s room, the one furthest from the wall, and taken refuge. It seemed like such a pathetic hiding spot, but they couldn’t think of anything else to do. It was better than saying close to the wall and hoping for the best.

Plus, Diane had a television in her room. They could watch the news from here.

“We should go the stairwell,” Diane said. “We should go to the stairwell so we’re not near windows anymore.”

“No,” Candice wasn’t certain of a lot right now – there was very little to be sure of at the moment – but she was certain of that.

The news was still showing Kurt’s livestream. Some other people in other buildings had started streaming as well, and people in other areas, but Kurt was the first and was getting the most attention still.

“So, the helicopters are down,” he said through the television. “The…oh God, the helicopters are down.” He’d relocated to his bedroom and shoved the camera up to the window. “We still don’t know what…wait, I’m seeing movement.”

The camera shifted to put the hole back into focus. More of those scaled arms appeared over the lip. These were smaller, spindlier. The creatures that crawled out, one after another, were about the size of a human, but other than that looked like the bigger ones. They were ganglier, and their eyes wider.

“I think those are…baby Kaiju. They’re baby version of the big Kaiju.” Kurt said. Real insightful commentary there, Kurt, Candice thought. Knowing this was happening right outside her apartment gave the whole thing an air of unreality that was hard to process. Like she was watching from a dream, only the dream was alive and directly in front of her eyes.

“The babies – or juveniles, or whatever they are…they’re going towards the helicopters,” Kurt said, and there was an unmistakable dread in his voice as he turned the camera. “The big Kaiju is…shepherding them towards it.”

Candice hit mute and turned away from the television. Diane was pale and shaky. “They’re going to eat the soldiers alive,” she said, her voice hoarse.

Candice shook her head firmly. “The soldiers…I mean, no one could have survived those crashes.”

“Oh, that makes it so much better,” Diane said, her voice sharp.

“Yes, it does,” Candice said, snapping every word. “Dying in a crash is something I happen to think is better than being eaten alive.”

Diane stared at her for a moment, then looked away. “Fine. Whatever.”

Candice sighed. “Sorry. I’m tense.”

“Gee, can’t imagine why.” Diane gave her a weak grin. “I mean, it’s not like there’s anything going on right now that could be making either of us tense, right?”

Candice responded with a shaky laugh and risked a glance back at the screen. Kurt had turned his camera away from the helicopters, focusing on the Kaiju that was atop 215. It is staring at 213, cocking its head. From outside, Candice could hear it making chirping noises.

She reached out with a trembling hand and turned up the volume.

“- not sure what it’s going to do,” Kurt was saying. “It looks too big to jump down from that height, and I’m not sure how it would climb. It might-oh God, it’s tensing up, it’s getting ready to-”

Kurt’s voice was drowned out by the sound of the Kaiju leaping. It didn’t clear the distance between 215 and 213’s roof. It landed on the side of 213 and latched on with its talons. Candice could hear screaming from inside the building. Diane grabbed a stuffed bear from her bed and held it against her chest.

The Kaiju’s tongue lashed out, bursting through windows. It came out with a screaming woman desperately slapping against the appendage wrapped around her. Candice couldn’t look away as the Kaiju flicked its head and letting go.

The woman screamed the whole way down, landing amidst the young Kaiju on the ground.

Kurt pulled the camera from the window, focusing it on his face. “Okay. Okay. That was…that was horrifying,” he said. His eyes were wide and sweat beaded on his forehead. “I’m going to relocate. I’m going to…I have a friend in the complex. I’m going to go up to her apartment. Candice, if you’re watching, I’m going to be coming up to you. Get a better angle. Everyone else…stay tuned. I’ll be back soon.” He sniffed. “If I don’t sign back on…I didn’t make it. I’m sorry. Jessica, if you’re watching…I love you.”

For a moment Candice felt bile rise in her gullet. How dare he? Coming up here, drawing attention to her and Diane? It was so shitty of him.

But those tears were real. Candice could see that and reminded herself Kurt lived alone. Was he coming up because he wanted a better angle? Or was he coming up because he didn’t want to be alone?

That matched better with the man she knew.

Didn’t mean she wouldn’t kick him in the shin when she saw him.

Right before the feed cut out, there was a pounding on her door. Diane shrieked, which let Candice cover up her own surprised gasp. She ran to the door and poked her eye up to the peephole. For a second, she was convinced it would be one of those big Kaiju out there, or a younger one.

It was Kurt, shaking and pale.

Candice opened the door. “How the hell did you get up here so quick?”

Kurt blinked at her owlishly. “I guess the news has me on a delay,” he said after a moment. “So, they can…so they can cut if I bite the dust.” He chuckled, a sound that turned into a sob halfway through. “Can I…can I come in?”

“You can,” Candice said, holding up a finger. “But if you think I’m letting you record-”

Kurt cut her off. “Ten thousand dollars. I’ll give you ten grand if you let me stream from up here.”

Candice’s mouth clamped shut. That was what she’d make in a month of customer body work. Before the cost of car parts. “You can’t afford that,” she said, almost defensively.

“I couldn’t afford that,” Kurt said, almost sheepishly. “I…have gotten a lot of donations. A lot. I can definitely afford it.”

Candice frowned. “The money won’t do me any good if I get eaten,” she said, knowing how hesitant she sounded.

“Fifteen thousand. For both you and your roommate.”

“Let him in!” Diane said, shouting from her bedroom. Fifteen grand was half a year’s pay for her. Apparently, as frightened as she was, she wasn’t immune to avarice. Candice stepped aside and let him enter.

“Thanks,” Kurt said, letting out a sigh. “I like what you’ve done with the place.”

Candice raised her eyebrow at him. “Really? There’s monsters in the parking lot, but you like what I’ve done with the place.” The last time Kurt had been here had been when she’d moved in, invited a bunch of people she could find on social media up to a housewarming party. A house warming party that had really been about networking and getting clients for her shop, but a housewarming party nonetheless. They’d talked a couple times after then, when he’d been having car problems and brought his car in, and the one time she’d asked for his help with her computer.

Friend was a generous term for what they were. Outside of those interactions, they liked each other’s Facebook posts now and then and bitched about the rent a couple times.

“Okay, yeah, that was stupid,” Kurt said, moving over the window. Candice tensed up. She’d been ignoring the sounds coming from outside, trying her best to push aside whatever horror awaited them out there. “Sorry. I…well, I think that someone needs to show what’s going on here. And from up here it’ll be less…be less visceral.”

“And you realized those small ones are the right size to leap through your window,” Candice said, her voice flat.

“No, why would you think that?” Kurt said, his voice rising about three octaves with the lie. He coughed and flushed. “I mean…okay, yes.”

“We’re not safe up here,” Candice said, her voice low. Diane hadn’t come out of her room yet, and the last Candice had seen her, she’d been ready to go into a full-blown panic attack. Yet she let Kurt in for money…

Kurt shook his head. “I know. The moment they start climbing, I’m running. I’m running, I’m screaming, and I’m probably blubbering. I might even wet myself. I won’t pretend otherwise.” Kurt gave her a grin that shook. “By the way…do you know how to use a gun?”

Candice nodded, and Kurt reached into the back of his pants and pulled one out. “I, uh…”

“Jesus, point that thing somewhere else!” Candice said, stepping away from him. “In fact, give it to me!”

“What?” Kurt said, “I was trying to!”

“Okay, look,” Candice said, trying and failing not to snap. “Your finger is on the trigger. You’re hold a live, loaded gun, with your finger on the trigger. Point that damn thing at the ground and take your finger off the trigger.”

His hand still shaking, Kurt did. Candice stepped forward and, with the care she’d use to remove a live wire, took the gun from his hand. The safety was off. “You could have shot your ass off,” she said.

“Oh.” Kurt looked very small. “Uh…I’m sorry.”

“Me too,” Candice said, thumbing the safety into place and checking the chamber. There was a round in there, as she expected. It was a Desert Eagle .45, what Candice thought of as the Overcompensator. Mostly bought by people who had heard in books and movies it was the most powerful handgun in the world and wanted to make themselves feel big and strong because they were packing serious heat.

“This isn’t your gun,” Candice said flatly.

Kurt shook his head and looked down at the ground. Candice remembered him bending over and picking something up when he’d been in the parking lot.

She decided not to press further. “Fine. Go to the balcony. I’m coming with you. If you draw the Kaiju’s attention, I’m throwing you off.” Kurt started to laugh, and Candice cut it off with a sharp shake of her head. “I’m not sure I’m kidding. You shouldn’t be either. Come on.”

Kurt swallowed hard and followed Candice to see what new horrors awaited them.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 116

Tythel threw herself to the side as the unlight beam approached and covered her head with her shield as the beam stopped tearing through the forest floor and struck the tree that had briefly been covering her.

That saved her. The unlight hit the tree and, for a moment, it sucked in all light that was hitting its branches, creating a massive circle of darkness around herself and its trunk.

Then it exploded, sending unlight-infused splinters spiraling through the air, a hail of deadly shrapnel that could have punched through her scaled hide. She could feel a couple pieces stick into her arms and tore them out with hisses of pain. The idea of having to endure unlight poisoning again was motivation enough to overcome the sharp stinging sensation.

“Move!” Tellias hissed, and Tythel realized she was exposed. She got up and ran, moments before a beam of unlight impacted the forest floor she’d just vacated. This time, it wasn’t a sweeping beam. It drilled into the ground, sending chunks of earth and stone flying away, and unlight corruption began to seep into the leaves and trees.

Tellias opened fire with one of the arcwands, beams of crimson light lancing up towards where the attacker was. The beam shifted in direction and angle as the flying Alohym twisted away from the incoming fire. “Die you monster!” the human inside the flying Alohym-suit screamed, still propelling unlight into the spot Tythel had vacated.

Tythel didn’t want to dissuade him of the notion that he’d managed to strike her. She began to scrabble up a nearby tree with her talons. Get above the tree line and burn him while he’s distracted, Tythel thought to herself. No time to focus on the energy needed for ghostflame. If she hit him hard enough, she might be able to ground him, and once that happened…then they’d at least be on a more even playing field.

She reached the top of the tree before the man inside was finished firing. He was every bit as imposing at Tythel remembered. Easily as tall as Tellias in the armor, but slender and graceful with an unnatural grace. The huge thorax that emerged from behind his legs was shrinking as he maintained the beam of unlight, and Tythel could hear his breathing, ragged with every second.

Ragged and…sniffling. He was crying. The man inside the Alohym skin was crying as he fired into the ground, thinking he was killing Tythel.

Pushing her confusion aside, Tythel took a deep breath and let out a torrent of dragonflame.

It was perfect. The flying Alohym didn’t see it coming. It streaked towards his back, completely unaware, and Tythel braced herself to leap as soon as he fell.

The fire struck a golden barrier before it could hit the flying man, flaring outwards from the impact a good span away from the Alohym’s back.

Oh, right, Tythel thought, looking around wildly. The lumcaster. He was there, in a nearby tree, and waved his fingers when he saw Tythel looking. “Careful, Catheon,” the lumcaster said. He was speaking quietly enough that he likely didn’t believe that Tythel could hear him.

At least she had a name for the man in the flying Alohym suit. Catheon.

Tythel leapt from the tree and latched onto another one. She began to run through the branches, using the skills she’d honed long ago in Karjon’s valley with her new strength and talons for better grip. The lumcaster’s eyes widened as Tythel drew near, brachiating like an ape to close the distance. He leapt out of the tree and began to channel a barrier of golden light.

Tythel landed and heard Eupheme appear behind her. Good, that means I don’t have to worry about my back. Tythel prepared herself to smash her unlight hammer against the lumcaster’s barrier – when it occurred to her that Eupheme’s footsteps sounded wrong. Too heavy, too quick.

She turned just in time to prevent the woman behind her from ramming a spear through her heart. It glanced off Tythel’s ribcage instead, drawing a line of blood. Tythel hit the ground and rolled away from her attack. It wasn’t Eupheme. She was too tall, wrapped head-to-toe in black fabric, and carried a spear that glowed with unlight.

Some other umbrist had joined the fight. An umbrist on the side of the Alohym.

Tythel took a deep breath, fighting aside the pain as best she could. The Umbrist was every bit as fast as Eupheme, and Tythel found herself leaping back repeatedly to avoid getting impaled.

The real Eupheme had appeared behind the Lumcaster. He’d managed to create a collar of light around himself to prevent Eupheme from slitting his throat from behind and had banished all shadows around him. He was now engaged in a swordfight with Eupheme, who was forced to only rely on her speed and skills. In that, at least, the Lumcaster seemed to equally match her.

A beam of unlight streaked from the sky again. This time it slammed into Tellias, driving him to one knee. Catheon – didn’t maintain the beam this time. Tythel prayed he couldn’t, or they were damned.

She caught the head of the new umbrist’s spear on her shield and reminded herself they might be damned either way.

They needed a plan, desperately. They were out maneuvered, out armed, and running short on time. Tythel couldn’t even use her greatest weapon here, not without…

A horrible, dangerous, and beautiful plan occurred to Tythel. She took a deep breath between the umbrist’s strike and let loose a stream of flame. The umbrist ducked into the shadow of a tree and vanished, reappearing on the other side of Tythel, but Tythel wasn’t aiming for her. Tythel spun around, maintaining the flame as she did.

The flame nearly caught the Umbrist mid-leap. She twisted her body in the air, the flames just barely missing her, and the daggers that had been aimed for Tythel’s back went wide. She landed with a curse and rolled to the side, and Tythel chased her with the flame. “You’re going to burn us all!” she shouted at Tythel.

No. I won’t, Tythel thought grimly as she maintained the stream of fire and pivoted in a full circle.

Around her, the forest burst into flame.

The Burning Epoch Part 4

 

The Emergency Room at Mercy Hospital was never a boring place to work. Even on slower nights, like tonight had been, there was always a tension in the air. It was the anticipation, the expectation, that at any moment someone could come through those doors on an ambulance, barely clinging to life, and it would be up to Brenda Newman and her team to keep them from shuffling off this mortal coil and heading into whatever came next.

At the moment, they didn’t have anyone like that. At the moment, the only people waiting for attention weren’t the true emergencies, but the people for whom emergency care was their only option. These were the people who only went to the hospital when they absolutely had to, and all of them knew that it would mean months of calls from bill collectors for bills they couldn’t pay.

There were a few repeat visitors Brenda – Dr. Newman to her colleagues – recognized out there. Robert Burnham was shifting uncomfortably, and Brenda sent a silent prayer to whatever Saint cared for overworked trauma doctors that Mr. Burtham did not need anything removed from his colon this time – or if he did, it was something easier than another damn action figure. Karen Gillman was holding her son Chuck on her lap, shushing tears he wasn’t actually shedding. He looked more annoyed than anything. Ms. Gillman was going to insist her son had a serious injury, and when they talked to him, he’d roll his eyes and say he bumped his shin on a coffee table, or pinched his finger in a book binder, or something equally absurd. Probably. You always had to assume it was serious but based on how Chunk looked more annoyed than anything else, Brenda assumed that was the case.

Those were the repeat visitors she could smile and shake her head about. They were frustrating, and they sucked up resources that could have been used for patients with actual emergencies, but on slow nights like tonight, they weren’t hurting anyone.

Then there were the other returns that made her want to tear her hair out. Shannon O’Dowell’s cough was back, a cough that wouldn’t respond to treatment for long, a cough that required tests that Ms. O’Dowell couldn’t afford. She’d managed to quit smoking, but even at forty, Brenda was afraid it was too late. Mike Gallant had a black eye again, and his speech was slurred. He wasn’t a belligerent drunk, and he didn’t need his stomach pump this time, but he was going to drink himself into an early grave if things didn’t change. Brenda wanted to do more to help them, but there were limits. Shannon especially – Brenda had seriously considered pushing her into an MRI and bribing the techs not write it down if it came back negative. If they could get a diagnosis, they could get coverage for the treatment – but it was a catch 22, because Shannon couldn’t afford an MRI that ended up coming back negative and didn’t believe that she was a sick as Brenda was sure she was.

She’d been about to approach Shannon about that when the EAS started. That had completely changed the demeanor of the hospital. Everyone went from the sleepy tension of a slow shift with minor problems to the high tension of waiting, expectation. Rooms filled with non-critical cases were emptied, their patients moved to other parts of the hospital if they still needed attention. If they didn’t, they were placed in waiting rooms and told not to try to leave yet. Alerts were sent to all on call personal, making sure they were awake and alert and prepared. They wouldn’t be called in yet, not until it was clear it was safe for them to travel in, but they were now ready. The helicopter was checked and made sure it was ready to support emergency services.

She’d been so busy preparing for the emergency, Brenda had actually missed what it was about. The first she realized it wasn’t a normal emergency, that it wasn’t a nascent tornado or impending flood or something worse was during the President’s speech. It took her a moment to understand what she was hearing when she walked in near the end. “-I have been informed another term is being preferred – Kaiju. A Japanese word that existed in popular culture for decades and means ‘strange beast.’ I think this term truly is the best, because while they are indeed strange and dangerous, they are also just that. Beasts. Animals.”

“What the hell?” she said to one of her nurses. Clint Oberman was one of the best damn nurses Brenda had ever worked with, which – given that his stated reason for choosing his career was the male to female ratio – was a source of constant amazement, but that was only if you didn’t know that he said that because he was covering. He didn’t think he could have cut it in med school, but actually wanted to help people. His disapproving father had torn into him for working a ‘sissy job,’ so Clint had built the act carefully to justify his job to his father and himself.

He was good in a crisis, and aside from the ratio jokes, was never inappropriate. He could do his job well, and right now, the skill Brenda most valued was his ability to summarize quickly, concisely, and without emotion. “Monsters came out of sinkholes. Saw footage of one. Here in town. Dinosaur looking things. Thousands. Maybe more.”

Brenda did not stare at him and demand to know if he needed to do a drug test. Clint would never joke about something like this, not when it matched so well with the President’s speech. “Clint, grab two of the EMTs. I want them to go over to the emergency veterinary clinic down the street. Tell them we’re going to need their help.” It was a risk, but it was a calculated one. Clint’s forehead furrowed, but he nodded and ran towards the door.

She could justify the costs to her boss afterwards. Veterinarians knew animal bites better than anyone, they knew how to treat them, and were used to saving lives on a tenth of the budget Brenda operated with. If anyone would come in handy for the surge they were about to face, it would be the veterinarians.

“We will endure, and we will triumph. And again, I assure you, if you are in an impacted area – do not panic. Help is coming. God bless.”

The President’s speech closed, and the TV station cut to the footage of the kaiju attack here in town. The analysts were talking about his speech, but Brenda couldn’t hear them. Not over the pounding in her ears. Not over the sudden weakness in her knees.

That was Sunny Grove apartments. Where her sister and nephew lived. Sunny Grove. The kaiju were in Sunny Grove.

Brenda took a deep breath, and then another one. The nurses were looking at her. The other doctors were looking at her. This was her team, her people. They needed her to hold it together. You can do this, she assured herself. “Alright everyone,” she said, her voice carrying a confidence she didn’t feel. “You heard the President. Help is coming. We have to hold the line until then. If this is happening across the city, we’re going to see-”

Screams echoed from the waiting room. Speech time was over. Brenda joined the rush to see what was happening.

Karen of the fragile son was staring out the window, her boy clutched tightly to her, backing away. One hand was outstretched, pointing, and she was still screaming, a long, unbroken wail. Brenda followed her arm to see what she was pointed at.

A reptilian eye the size of a grapefruit with glowing golden veins was staring through the window, attached to a creature that looked like it had stepped out of myths and legends. Its scales were white with gold accents, its body was long and serpentine, and its wings…it had wings. Large, leathery appendages like a bat’s currently hugged close to its body.

Dangling from its teeth were a pair of blue scrubs, and a human arm, an arm with a barbed-wire tattoo, a tattoo that Brenda had last seen on Clint as he rushed out of the room.

The dragon – there was no other word for it – arced its head back and tossed the rest of Clint’s remains into its mouth. Karen had stopped screaming, although she was still pointing, her mouth open, frozen in a silent shriek of terror.

You killed him, Brenda thought, frozen to the spot. She wasn’t sure if she was blaming Clint or the dragon.

Overhead, she heard the whirring sound of helicopters. The dragon did too, whipping its head to the side, and it hissed a challenge that Brenda could feel in her bones. It extended those immense wings, and Brenda could see her initial impression they were wrong. They weren’t quite like a bat wings. Large sacks hung under the wings, close to the body.

Then the helicopter opened fire. “Get down!” Brenda screamed, following her own advice and throwing herself to the floor. The sound of shattering glass and the roaring of the minigun drowned out the screams inside. Brenda could barely even hear herself over the torrent. Some of the bullets found their mark and struck the dragon. A strange, glowing gold liquid began to flow from the injuries.

The dragon roared, and those sacks under its wings contracted. A blue light filled the hospital and a burst of heat, as the dragon launched itself into the air like a rocket. The gust of wind they created sent shards of glass flying in a deadly hail.

In the aftermath, the dragon was gone. Shannon would never have to worry about her medical bills again, not with the foot-long shard of glass wedged into her throat. She kicked a couple times, her eyes wide with terror, and then the light in them went out. People were screaming, people were crying, and there was so much blood.

She pushed the earlier guilt aside. At least Brenda knew what to do here. She began to bark orders, taking command of the situation. She couldn’t save Clint. She couldn’t save Shannon. But she would be damned if another person died because she made the wrong call. She’d assign blame later. She’d hate herself later. Right now, she had to care for the living.

It was time to hold the line.

 

The Dragon’s Scion Part 114

Dawn was cresting over the horizon as they broke off the road and prepared to make camp. The rest of the trip out of the town had been conducted in silence. Every muscle in Tythel’s body ached from being carried over Tellias’ shoulder for hours, and she’d had to fight the urge throughout to try and shift and make herself comfortable. You’re pretending to be a corpse; she reminded herself, a mantra that was repeated over and over again.

Leaving the Inn had been easier than Tythel had expected. Far too easy. There were bound to be Writ Hunters trailing them, looking to claim the ‘prize.’ Eupheme has whispered that, so low that only Tythel could hear her, and the entire time they’d traveled from town, Tythel had been able to confirm that with the distant sound of footsteps dogging their heels. No more than five of them, as far as Tythel could tell.

A far more manageable number than what they’d had in the inn, but still too many for Tythel’s liking.

Tellias dumped her unceremoniously onto the ground, muttering an apology as she hit the forest floor. There was no reason for him to treat her as anything other than a dead body, after all. She was valuable, but it wouldn’t make sense for him to keep her in pristine condition.

Knowing that didn’t help her desire to kick Tellias in the back for tossing her.

Tellias and Eupheme dragged some downed branches to cover Tythel, then they got to work setting up camp. Tythel took advantage of the time and cover to surreptitiously work out the kinks in her arms and legs. She couldn’t resist anything that might cause rustling, but flexing her toes and fingers wouldn’t show from above. Once feeling had returned to her hands and feet, she started rhythmically tensing and untensing her arms and legs, as well as her stomach and neck.

I’d kill for the chance to stretch properly, Tythel thought. The little bit of flexing was helping with some of the tension from being carried like a sack of potatoes over an armored shoulder for four or five leagues, but she desperately wanted a chance to get up and move about properly.

Also, her bad eye itched. Her eye had itched for the last hour. Tythel swore that as soon as she could move, she’d rub the thing out of its shadow-damned socket, so it would never bother her again. It was maddening to have an itch like that, one where her very survival depended on refusing to scratch.

Patience, Tythel, she reminded herself. Their pursuers had stopped as soon as they’d diverged from the path, making their own camp further down the forest. They were far enough away that without Tythel’s ears, they could have remained completely unheard. She didn’t know how they were remaining unseen – or, more concerning, how they were doing their observation.

“You think we’re being followed?” Tellias asked Eupheme. His voice was still echoing in the helmet, but underneath it, Tythel could hear a measure of strain.

“I think we’d know if we weren’t,” Eupheme said. “I think someone would make it very clear if that was the case.”

Tythel didn’t need to think too hard to read the subtext there. Fortunately, it seemed that was true for Tellias as well, who grunted in acknowledgment of the point. If Eupheme hadn’t been right, Tythel would have seized the opportunity to inform them. If just to get the chance to move.

“We can’t sleep,” Tellias said, his voice low. “Or at least, one of us can’t.”

Again, a veiled meaning, one Tythel didn’t have too much trouble following. She was capable of remaining motionless and breathing shallowly so long as she was awake. Asleep-

“Yes. One of us snores quite loudly.” There was a joking edge to Eupheme’s voice, and Tellias snorted in amusement.

Tythel had to frown. This was a veiled meaning, but she was absolutely lost. Tellias and Eupheme both didn’t snore in their sleep, so it couldn’t be they were talking about either of them. Was snore perhaps a coded phrase of some kind? Tythel turned it over in her mind. It could refer to a roar, although that didn’t quite add up. That could be about the difficulty of getting Tellias out of his armor without her aid…although Tythel had no idea how that would be a snore. Perhaps they meant…

Or, just perhaps, they mean you snore, Tythel thought, suddenly flushing with indignation. Which is absolute rubbish. They’re just taking advantage of the fact that you can’t retort, light forsake them! 

If they knew Tythel was fuming under the pile of leaves and branches, they gave no indication.

The fact was, Tythel realized, they were at an impasse. Right now Tythel had no way to alert them to how many possible foes waited nearby, nor did she have a way to strategize with them. They could strategize all they wanted, but they lacked any information as to what the nature of the threat was, and any strategy would give away that Tythel was alive. For all they knew, an Alohym was trailing them with a small army, just out of their earshot. The moment their aggressors realized that she was alive, they would…

…either flee in fright or charge and attack. Either of which would be better than this interminable waiting.

Tythel sat up so suddenly Tellias let out a startled, strangled sound, and even Eupheme jumped. “Yes, yes, I have arisen from the grave,” Tythel said, adopting the same annoyed tone Karjon had used whenever startling her. “We’ve got five of them, about a mile away. Don’t know how they’re watching us, but they have been since we left town. They’re going to know I’m awake any minute now, I’m sure of it.”

Tythel held up a finger to forestall any response. As she had expected, the moment she sat up, the sounds of footsteps started pounding on the ground – headed towards them. Tythel sat up and held out her hand for her hammer and shield. “They’re coming,” she said.

Five foes of unknown strength, charging the three of them. Eupheme vanished into the shadows, and Tellias and Tythel readied their weapons.

Then, pausing for a moment, Tythel placed her hammer on the ground and rubbed at her eye. She might die here, but she’d be forsaken by Light and Shadow both if she’d die with that flathing itch in her eye.

Satisfied, she grabbed her hammer just as the Writ Hunters burst into view.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 112

“There’s six of them in the main room,” Eupheme said, stepping out of the shadow behind the dresser for what Tythel hoped would be the last time. “And three on both exits. Armed with unlight weapons.”

Tythel swore, although she managed to avoid jumping this time. It helped to expect Eupheme’s return. It helped even more to be busy helping Tellias strap himself into the arcplate. Armin had outdone himself with the device, and even Tythel could follow the relatively simple labelling to install the new power source – one that was designed for skitters, no less. Whenever I see him next, I must tell him he made it as foolproof as possible. 

Of course, finding him was contingent on surviving the next five minutes.

“Unlight weapons – see any arcwands?” Tythel asked.

Eupheme nodded. “At least three different people with arcwands, and two with ringwands.”

Tythel grimaced. If they all had melee weapons, it would have been possible to charge through, or utilize their own newly acquired arcwands to keep them at bay. None of them could stand direct unlight beams, although Tellias’ arcplate would be able to absorb a few blasts. She strapped on Tellias’ greaves, making sure the sturdy hide was well secured.

“We can’t sneak out then,” Tellias said, his voice muffled by the helmet as Tythel placed it on his head. It normally took three people working for ten minutes to get arcplate in place. Tythel and Tellias had managed it in just under five. He was now the tallest of the three of them, nearly seven spans tall, and the red and orange lines of arcplate cut a striking figure. The arcplate, due to the somewhat roughshod nature of Armin’s modifications, was bulkier than the sleek black and unlight design of the Alohym’s imperiplate, with glowing canisters sticking out of the shoulder plates and down the spine. In some ways, it was more imposing than imperiplate – it made Tellias look like one of the holy warriors of old.

“Main room isn’t an option either,” Tythel said, grabbing her own hammer and shield. She regretted not finding the time for Armin to retrofit them to work with arclight, but she’d hated the idea of leaving them aside for too long. They’d been added to her meager list of possessions. Plus, they belonged to Thomah, and therefore represented her only remaining link to Nicandros. Do not think about him right now, Tythel chided herself. “If we go through the main room, this Inn will be destroyed the moment I use my flame. That would be a poor way to repay the innkeeper for his hospitality.”

“What about ghostflame?” Eupheme asked. “It can pass through barriers without harming them, right? The Innkeeper’s room is above us, the Writ Hunters are below. No other patrons downstairs either.”

Tythel considered for an instant. It was very tempting. Just let Eupheme point where she should breath and let loose the wispy blue flame to empty the common room without exposing any of them to danger. It was a nice thought, and if she had mastered ghostflame properly, she’d be able to do it in a heartbeat. Regretfully, she shook her head. “I still have to start with dragonflame and transition through. By the time I got to ghostflame, I’ll have set the building on fire.”

“Flath,” Eupheme said. “Can you at least still hear them?” She walked over to the window and glanced out, as if half expecting to see snipers waiting for them across the window. Tythel didn’t think that was likely, but her hand still twitched with a desire to tackle Eupheme to the ground just in case.

Instead, she took a deep breath and focused on what she was hearing. After a moment, she nodded. “They’re arguing right now about how to handle who gets the spoils of the kill. Someone, a woman, is suggesting that they stop fighting over it now and make it a race – whoever gets proof to the Alohym first gets the prize. There’s some contention over it. We still have a bit of time.”

“Maybe we’ll get lucky,” Tellias said, although he didn’t sound like he believed his own words, “and they’ll turn on each other before even coming up here.”

Tythel snorted at the thought. Writ hunters were a fiercely competitive lot, if half the stories she’d read were true, but they’d rarely fight each other. There wasn’t any profit in it. “Do we ever get that lucky?” she asked.

She could hear Tellias shaking his head inside the helm, although it didn’t move with the motion. Tythel pulled over a chair to see why it wasn’t and found a loose connector strap near the shoulder. If we had missed that…Tythel pushed the thought aside as she secured the strap, then began to check over Tellias another time.

“We could go through the window,” Tellias said. “It’ll mean less damage to the Inn than a fight in here would, and all of us can survive the drop. At least, assuming the arcplate’s charge hold.”

“It’s a brand new arccell. If it doesn’t hold, I’m tracking down Eliert and skinning him, starting with his flathing ears,” Eupheme said in a low growl. “Window is a gamble, and one I’m not keen to take. If we get hurt in the landing, or draw too much attention, we’ll have the Alohym down on us.”

Tellias turned to glare at Eupheme, and Tythel was relieved the helm moved with the motion. “We’re running low on options!” Tellias said, his voice full of frustration. “If you have a better idea-”

At that moment, an idea crystalized in Tythel’s mind. She took a moment to turn it over, although with Eupheme already giving an angry retort, it was hard to focus. “Quiet, both of you! I think I do,” Tythel said before the argument could get really heated. She hadn’t intended for her voice to come out in that harsh a snap, but light their argument was grating on her nerves. “It’s a crazy plan, but it could work.”

“Well, spit it out then,” Eupheme said.

Tythel nodded. “First of all, Eupheme, you’re going to need to wear my eyepatch, and I’m going to need your dagger…

The Dragon’s Scion Part 110

As promised, the Tarnished One was waiting for them with a ‘needle,’ if the definition of needle was changed to include an outright stiletto so large it lacked only a handle to function as a rapier. “You came,” she said, sighing in disappointment. “I guess that means you can choose where I stab you.”

“I would prefer if you didn’t,” Haradeth said carefully.

“And I would prefer if I did,” the Tarnished One said with a broad grin, the metal slivers around her glass eyes dilating to make her look more innocent. When Haradeth met her gaze with a level one of his own, she sighed. “You’re absolutely no fun. Fine. I need your blood.” Seeing the expression that crossed Haradeth’s face, she rolled her eyes. “I need a tiny amount of your blood. This needle is sterile and will store it safely.”

“You don’t want to stab Lorathor too?” Haradeth asked, stalling.

Lorathor shot Haradeth a dirty look as the Tarnished One giggled. “Of course I want to stab him, silly. I just don’t need to stab him. I need to stab you. Like a pincushion.” Her eyes widened. “Yes. That is what you shall be. God of Pincushions. Because I’ll stab you, you see?”

“I did pick up on that,” Haradeth said, his voice so dry it was practically dessicated.

“Well, I don’t know what your meat brain picks up on. No one ever lets me open their meat brains while they’re alive so I can see how they work on. I just have to assume you all are dense and need everything spelled out for you.”

“We can’t all be that dense.” Haradeth crossed his arms. As much as he hated to admit it, part of him was enjoying the banter with this clockwork psychopath. She had the empathy of a starved vulture and a sense of humor Haradeth expected from a rabid hyena, but compared to Lorathor’s endless doldrums, it was a massive improvement.

“If you’re not all dense, then why does everyone react the same when I stab them? They’re always ‘what are you doing to me?’ and ‘why are you doing this?’ and ‘won’t you stop?” and ‘Oh Light, am I going to die?’ when the answers are clear. In order – stabbing you, because I want to, only when it stops being funny, and maybe – I can never be sure what kills meat.”

Haradeth grimaced. “Well, at the risk of being dense, I would like to know why you want to stab me.”

“Because it’s fun?” The Tained One offered, cocking her head in confusion. “You are dense, i just told you that’s why I do it.”

“Sorry, I phrased that poorly. Why do you need to stab me?”

“Oh! That’s actually not a dense question.” the Tarnished One paused and tapped her chin, a gentle clinking sound signaling her thought. “Maybe. How much do you know about phase-matter transference equations?”

“I don’t even know what those words mean,” Haradeth said, after mouthing the words a few times to try and and work them out. He knew the word equations, but it was already an ugly word, and combined with the others it was like finding a mushroom growing on unidentified meat – even if you didn’t know what you were being fed, you could be certain it was something unwholesome.

“Then it’s not a dense question,” the Tarnished One said. “You’re just poorly educated. I need your blood because the phase-matter…” she saw Haradeth’s eyes glaze over and sighed. “The booger I’m working on needs to be configured for your biology. It’s designed for Sylvani and Lattice Minds. You aren’t either, and you’d end up a red paste at the end. Which would be fun, but not for you.”

Haradeth shuddered. “And what does the…phase-matter…”

“The booger,” the Tarnished One said helpfully.

“Fine. What does the booger do?”

“Well, it’s a highly complex configuration that utilizes a network of three lattice minds to tap into your planet’s natural luminferous…” Again, she trailed off as Haradeth felt his attention waiver. “Okay, I’ll put this in terms your meat can understand.” She grabbed a piece of sheet metal. “So lets say this is the world. You are on this end of the sheet. You want to get the other end. You have to walk across it, right?”

“Right,” Haradeth said.

“Okay. What if instead you did this?” With no discernable effort, the Tarnished One folded the nail-thick sheet of steel in half. “You can now go to one point to another in a single step, yes?”

Haradeth nodded, trying to fathom the strength this tiny mechanism possessed.

“Well, the booger folds space like that. It lets you take that step. Only it doesn’t damage the world – things pop back right into place. I think I could find a way to damage the world with it, but I wouldn’t do that until I could find a way out. Otherwise I’d end up damaging myself, and we can’t have that.”

“And you need my blood because?”

“Because if the booger isn’t configured right…well, pretend this sheet metal isn’t the world anymore. Pretend it’s you.” She crumbled the metal into a ball, compacting it into a sphere no bigger than a marble. “See, the booger would try to fit you into a Sylvani shape. But you’re not a Sylvani. So it would use a default configuration – which in this case is a sphere.” She dropped the ball on the ground with a deafening thud. “Only you wouldn’t stay a sphere. You’d be paste. ”

That answered every question Haradeth dared ask at that moment. He was too busy picturing himself crumbled up into a sphere. Shaking, he held out a finger.

The Tarnished One giggled as she stabbed the offered digit.

Small Worlds part 211

No one spoke on the walk out of Officium Mundi. Ryan couldn’t say what was going through Nabu and Dianmu’s heads, but for his part, it was a mixture of lingering rage at the Curators and shock at Nabu’s about-face. He didn’t know what to say to the man – if that was even the right word.

Thankfully, once they were back in his nanoverse, Dianmu took over the silence. “What was that glowing orb you were given?” she asked.

Nabu gave her a small smile. “It’s all the power I had before, condensed. I can access it to a point, but I’m far more limited now – and it’s a finite resource. Once it’s gone, so am I.”

“Thank you,” Ryan said, finally finding the words. “I…I didn’t expect that. Or anything like that.” Ryan motioned to raise some chairs from the staging area floor for the three of them. “Thank you,” Ryan repeated, knowing how weak it sounded.

“I’ve been considering it for a few hundred thousand years,” Nabu said. “We – or I supposed when talking about the curators I should say ‘they’, now – lost our way at some point. I knew that protocol allowed for rules to change when the Council was in recess. When I realized that’s exactly what they were doing, it was the final straw.”

“And you didn’t warn us?” Ryan asked, careful to keep any accusation out of his voice. Nabu had just given up true immortality, beyond what even gods had, for their sake. The last thing he wanted to do was act like an asshole. Am I even still angry at him anymore? Ryan wondered.

Nabu shook his head. “I still had hope that I was wrong. I filled out the form to make sure I was ready, but I still held hope.” Nabu’s lips curled for a moment into a bitter grimace. “It was a foolish hope.”

No, I’m not, Ryan realized. Thirty years of being followed by Nabu had done damage to Ryan’s life, sure. It had cost him any chance at anything close to normality, and now Ryan had a terrible burden looming over him. But…but the later part hadn’t been Nabu’s fault. Nabu did nothing to guide Ryan to the nanoverse. And having a normal life wouldn’t have left Ryan any better prepared for what he was dealing with now.

“Well,” Ryan said, “foolish hope is pretty much our entire stock and trade, so you’ll fit right in.” He gave Nabu a lopsided grin.

Dianmu nodded and smiled. “I don’t think, since I’ve started working with Ryan, I’ve experienced any hope that wasn’t foolish. It’s worked out in the end each time in the end, though.”

“Thank you,” Nabu said, settling into one of the chairs. It was still weird for Ryan to see Nabu doing anything even remotely normal, like sit in a chair, or have his tie loose, or look tired. “Tell me. Is hunger a sharp pain in your stomach, followed by a rumbling sensation?”

Ryan couldn’t help but laugh. “Yeah, that sounds like it. I’ve got some emergency food for if my Hungers flare up – what sounds good to you.”

“I have no idea,” Nabu admitted. “I’ve never eaten anything before.”

“Never?” Ryan asked, freezing and looking at Nabu with incredulous eyes. “I mean…you have a cafeteria in Officium Mundi, right?”

“For visiting gods,” Nabu said, raising one hand to rub at his stomach. “The last thing we want is hungry gods running around Officium Mundi. You all can cause all sort of problems when you get up in your needs.”

“He’s not wrong,” Dianmu said.

Ryan nodded. “How about an Italian sub, then?”

“I literally have nothing to compare it to, so whatever you suggest,” Nabu said. “I do remember you enjoying those though.”

Ryan got up and went over to the console. Moments later, a refrigerator was rising out of the floor. “Go ahead.”

Nabu grabbed the sandwich and took a bite. His eyes widened. “Hmm. It seems there are unexpected benefits to mortality. Also, my tongue seems to be reporting pain.”

Ryan chuckled. “Peppers.”

“It’s an interesting sensation,” Nabu said. Dianmu motioned Ryan over while Nabu finished his sandwich.

“As amusing as it might be to watch Nabu learn about mortal life, we do have an objective here,” she said, her voice low.

“I haven’t forgotten,” Ryan said, shaking his head. “Was thinking about dropping into my nanoverse fully to give us plenty of time.”

“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” Dianmu said. “He’s not human, and his power source isn’t a nanoverse itself. We don’t know what it would do to him. He might not be able to exist in there – and even if he is, he just lost countless eons of power. Then you want him to give up what little he has left?”

Ryan pursed his lips. “Damn. Didn’t even think about that. But yeah, good catch. Although we probably should figure that out – otherwise we’ll have to know at the worst possible time.”

Dianmu laughed, a light and unamused sound. “I do wish I could tell you that was inaccurate.”

Ryan glanced back at Nabu, who had finished the sandwich in a horrifyingly short amount of time. “Hey Nabu, if we needed to drop into my nanoverse, would that…do anything to you?”

Nabu considered for a moment. “It probably wouldn’t be immediately harmful. Probably. I’d rather not experiment right now.”

Ryan glanced at Dianmu, who gave him the politest ‘I-told-you-so” look Ryan had ever received. “Fair enough. In that case, I hate to rush things, but…”

“But time is running short. You need to know the rules, and you need to know before the sun explodes next week.”

Ryan froze at Nabu’s words. “Next week? Next week?” Ryan shouted, his voice cracking. The old anxiety, so long absent, rose up in his throat like an unwelcome house-guest and threatened to strangle him.

Nabu nodded slowly. “Take a deep breath, Ryan. There’s things we can do to postpone, and I’m hoping that – once you know the rules – you’ll be able to figure out a loophole I’ve overlooked.”

Ryan walked over to one of the chairs and slowly slid into it, taking the deep breath that Nabu recommended. “Alright. Tell me everything.”

Nabu leaned forward and prepared to exactly that.