The Dragon’s Scion Part 97

“Let’s talk about me. Because that’s what’s really important. ” the Tarnished One said.

Hardeth crossed his legs under himself and leaned forward. She seemed less inclined to stab them the more more her story went on, although the knife to his throat was still fresh in his memory. Lorathor sat next to him, seemingly more amused than concerned, which Haradeth took as a good sign. Then again, given how bitter his companion had been of late, perhaps that shouldn’t be a comfort.

With a wave of the Tarnished One’s hand, the world of purple lands and red oceans spun. “This was Yolae Ancalenidia. At least, that’s the closest your tongue can come to approximating its name. I know because I’ve tried it with six human tongues. They’re clumsy things. I keep them in a box under my bed because I don’t need to sleep so it doesn’t bother me they don’t shut up. Why do humans talk so much?”

“Uh-” Haradeth started to say, but the Tarnished One seemingly wasn’t interested in an actual answer. She moved on quickly, but not so quickly that Haradeth didn’t have time to imagine a half dozen disembodied, muttering tongues in a footlocker.

“Yolae Ancalendia was the homeworld of me. And the people you now call the Sylvani, and the other Lattice Minds, but most of all me. I was a personal assistant tasked with cleaning the houses of the upper nobility and caring for their children, but I was slated for decommissioning. Can you guess why?” She gave Haradeth a piercing gaze.

“Was it because you kept stabbing people?” Haradeth asked uncertainty.

“No, it was because I was too bright and cheerful and of course it was because I kept stabbing people.” The Tarnished One laughed. “I was originally given a designation, but I chose the Tarnished One because my mental lattice was tarnished. I like choosing my own name. It’s better than Domestic Model 3425098-3/g. Don’t you agree?”

“Absolutely,” Haradeth said without a trace of humor.

“Good. I didn’t want to be decommissioned. I started asking people if I could stab them, and then not stabbing if they said no. Usually. But apparently, the fact that i wanted to stab people meant that I was defective.”

“Did you ever try…not asking people if you could stab them?” Haradeth asked, choosing his words carefully.

“Nope. Have you ever tried asking people if you could?”

Haradeth blinked slowly. “I can honestly say the thought never crossed my mind.”

“Well, you should let it. It’s fun. Now, where was I? Oh, right. I was going to be decommissioned. But then…”

The image shifted. A massive vessel appeared in the empty space above the world. It looked like one of the vessels the Alohym piloted, but blown up to massive proportions, with thousands of unlight tendrils hanging off it and firing on the world below. “Then suddenly there became a very, very big need for people to be stabbed. Guess you can get away with doing anything, so long as you’re useful.

Haradeth and Lorathor watched with growing horror as parts of the world began to burn with Unlight. “They claimed to be our gods,” the Tarnished One said, her voice soft. “They claimed that we were wicked, and need to be purged. Some believed them, and even joined them. I think they were just trying to wipe out the only other species that could challenge them, but I’m Domestic Model with a defective personality, so what do I know?”

Ships that looked like the dome city of the Sylvanie began to rise into space. As Haradeth watched, unlight beams began to cut them down one by one. How many died? How many lives lost to such senseless violence?

“Lots. That’s the answer. I know lots. And I knew that we would lose and I would be destroyed. I didn’t want to be destroyed. There were many, many people I hadn’t stabbed yet. So I snuck aboard a ship, one of thirteen, that was launching from the very far side of the planet, where they couldn’t reach us.”

As Haradeth and Lorathor watched, the world rotated a hundred and eighty degrees to show the smaller ships launching. Two were cut down by an Alohym vessel of the size Haradeth was used to. “We lost two in the launch. Their lattice minds hopped vessels. Their passengers all burned up in the atmosphere or went splat on the ground. They probably didn’t make it into orbit, although maybe some of their corpses are still out there, floating around Yolae Ancalenidia. Of the ten that remained, two experienced critical failures in the journey. Their lattice minds also hopped vessels, and those dead Sylvani are definitely still floating in the void. Unless they hit a star. Then they aren’t.”

The world shifted back to Alith. “One more burned up in the atmosphere.” In front of their eyes, one of the dome ships began to burn with an incredible heat. The image was so detailed, Haradeth could swear he could see tiny Sylvani running around in panic before it detonated in a flash of heat. “Boom!” the Tarnished One said, startling both Haradeth and Lorathor. “Its shields were damaged. Its lattice mind was able to hop vessels, but the people…probably were the source of the legends you humans have for when the sky burned and disgorged the corpses of demons. The Day of Weeping. One more ship was knocked off course. No one knows what happened to it, and its lattice mind didn’t go anywhere.”

“The problem was no, six ships had to process twelve lattice minds and support the entire remainder of Sylvani civilization. Which was really, really hard, because Sylvani are fleshy things and therefore die very, very easy. I know, I helped kill a few that were too sick to help.”

The images faded. “The only two active lattice minds left were a glorified actress and me, the most important of all. Because I have my own power source. So I got to stay active and doing whatever I wanted. Which involved way lass stabbing than I hoped. Although sometimes the Lost let me stab them because they’re so sad of being alive. It’s not as fun as stabbing people who get angry about it, but it’s still stabbing.” The Tarnished One grinned widely.

“And…” Haradeth asked, fearing the answer. “What preparations were made for when the Alohym found this world?”

“None. See, everything we needed to actually fuel an army? Was on the ship that got lost.”

Haradeth sighed. “I was afraid you’d say something like that.”

“Really?” The Tarnished one shoved her face in front of Haradeth’s. “You don’t look scared. You look sad. Sad and scared are different. Scared is what people feel when I try to stab them. Sad is what they feel when I stab someone else.”

“Please don’t stab me,” Haradeth said.

“Please don’t stab me again, you mean.” The Tarnished One danced away. “I won’t. It won’t be any fun. Sad people are boring to stab. But…” she paused and tapped her chin. “But maybe I can make you fun to stab again. If I can help you fight the Alohym, will you let me stab you again?”

Haradeth’s eyes widened. “Yes. Absolutely yes. What – how can you help?”

“Ask me again in a week,” she said. “Then I know for sure if it will work. Because I think I can give you a way to stay ahead of those ugly bugs. But you have to make me one other promise?”

Haradeth nodded. At that moment, he might have promised her a chance to slit his throat if she’d asked for it.

Fortunately, she had something else in mind. “When you go to stab the Alohym, you take me with you. I get to stab with you. And stab you. Again.”

Haradeth didn’t even hesitate to accept that condition.

-END OF PART 1-

-PART 2 BEGINS THURSDAY 01/17 ON NORMAL SCHEDULE-

The Dragon’s Scion Part 67

I’ve published a free novella – click here to sign up for my mailing list and get your free copy!

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 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.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 62

Tythel slumped back to the ground after the burst of ghostflame.

You’re not done yet, Tythel reminded herself. Her vision in her good eye was blurred, but she could see Rephylon. The Alohym laid on its side, its spindly legs twitching spasmodically in the air. It was reaching out towards her, the hands clenching and unclenching.

More importantly, it was speaking, but its mandibles weren’t moving. The voice was coming from inside its chest. You heard this before, Tythel realized. Back in the prison. She’d heard the voice emanating from the thorax. It hadn’t registered at the time, not as anything important. Now that the Alohym lay dying, the voice coming from inside its chest took on a sick importance.

Tythel began to limp over to the Alohym. She could barely walk. The earlier cut in her leg was throbbing with each step, although it was a minor pain compared to the other ones. The ringing in her ear was beginning to fade, but she still couldn’t see out of her right eye. Her left arm was clutched to her chest at an awkward angle, and Tythel knew she needed to heal it at some point. Every step sent pain through that arm, pain that also radiated out to her shattered ribcage. She didn’t think they were actually broken – Tythel was certain she wouldn’t be able to walk if they were.

It didn’t matter. She had to finish this.

She could hear voices from inside the houses that lined their battle. Faces came to windows. People were whispering in confusion and shock. The song notes of those shells began to chime as the few who had the ability to communicate long distance began to share what they were seeing. Part of Tythel thought that might be important, but the rest of her was too focused on her next step to really think about it.

“Tythel?” a voice said. Tythel turned towards it. Eupheme stepped out of a shadow, her eyes wide. “Light and Shadow, you look…is that an Alohym?”

Tythel could only give Eupheme a cut nod. “The army?” Tythel croaked.

“On it’s way back.”

Tythel turned back to Rephylon and resumed walking. “Need to finish…not done.”

If Eupheme objected to Tythel’s course of action, Tythel didn’t hear it. Step by plodding step, she finally closed the distance between herself and the Alohym.

Now that she was close to Rephylon, she could almost hear the individual words coming from its chest. It sounded like it was railing at Tythel. “I’m sorry,” Tythel said to it, bending down to one knee, “I can’t quite make that out.” She slashed with the talons of her good hand to tear open the Alohym’s thorax. “You were saying?”

The last three words came out as a furious growl.

“You will not survive this.” Rephylon hissed through its pain. “Everything will collapse. Your people will call you a monster, a liar, a child, they will turn-”

The Alohym’s words reverted to its native language as soon as the final plate of the thorax was torn away.

Beneath the thorax was not a mass of internal organs. Instead there was a chamber, in which sat a creature not much bigger than a cat. It looked like a segmented, plated worm. One that had been badly burned. Metal cables connected it to the rest of the chamber, and with the thorax gone it began to scream wordlessly.

Tythel reached in, wrapping her talons around it, and yanked it from its chamber. It wiggled and writhed in her grasp, and the sensation was so disgusting, Tythel held the creature as far away from her body as she could.

Gasps began to sound from the houses around her.

“What is it?” someone whispered.

“Where did it come from?” another asked.

“It’s horrid,” a child’s voice said.

Tythel, for a moment, stood there dumbly. They need to see this. She could hear the army was returning – if not for the ringing in her ear, she would have heard them much sooner. They all need to see this. Tythel stood back up, carefully. Someone was at her side. Eupheme, one hand under Tythel’s arm. “Can’t have you passing out now, your highness,” Eupheme whispered. “It’s your first public appearance, after all.”

Tythel did her best not to lean too noticeably into the assistance until she was on her feet again, the Alohym still trying to escape her grasp with frantic struggles and cursing Tythel in that hideous, shrieking tongue. Or maybe it was begging. Tythel had no idea what the Alohym was saying, and didn’t care.

“What the flath is that?” Tythel heard. Armin’s voice. The army had returned. That’s good, Tythel thought.

She held the Alohym aloft, making sure everyone could see this pathetic, mewling thing. Making her voice as loud as she could manage through the pain, Tythel shouted, “People of Dawnchester! Behold your gods!”

Silence as realization settled in, silence only broken by the Alohym’s continued screeching.

Certain she had everyone’s full attention, Tythel ignited her hand in dragonflame.

Rephylon gave one last shriek and fell silent.

In the distance, alarms still blared. In the distance, fighting still raged. But right here, all was silent. If it wasn’t for Eupheme, Tythel would have collapsed right then. As it was, she stood there, leaning heavily on her friend.

“Light Shine on Princess Tythel!”

Tythel looked to the voice, and was shocked to see Haradeth had started the cheer. “Light Shine on Princess Tythel!” He repeated. This time, the chant was picked up by others. It began to spread through the army, and then through the people watching from their windows. They were cheering. The words “false gods” and “death to the Alohym” began to mix in.

You were just worshipping them, Tythel thought. Are you that fickle? Or were you just that desperate for a crack in their divinity? Another, uglier thought followed that one. Or do you just fear what could happen if you didn’t cheer?

It didn’t matter. They’d seen their gods bleed. They’d seen them die. They’d learned the truth – and thanks to Alohym devices, the whole kingdom would know soon.

Tythel tossed the charred remain of the Alohym to the pavement. The cheering surged again.

It’s a start, Tythel thought. Eupheme prompted Tythel to raise her hand for another round of cheers. “Now, your highness, I think you should rest before your people see you collapse.”

Tythel didn’t protest as Eupheme led her away.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 57

Haradeth landed shortly after Tythel did, tossing Armin down into the grass to whirl and face the window he’d just vacated. Tythel followed his gaze. One of the mutants peered up and over through the window, but before Tythel’s eyes it began to slump until it collapsed back into the tower. ”I think they took all the light they could,” Armin said, forcing himself off the ground.

“Is everyone alright?” Haradeth asked.

Ossman held up his hand. The deep gashes Tythel had left in his arm were now scabbed over and pink around the edges. “I think so,” he said slowly. Ossman ran the hand over his now smooth scalp. “I’m going to miss hair until it grows back.”

“It probably won’t,” Armin said, finishing the process of standing up. He began to rub his temples. “I’ve got a headache that won’t quit, but other than that I’m fine. I can fight. We should be moving.”

Eupheme just nodded in agreement.

With alarms going off across the city, the streets were relatively clear, and most of the garrison had been pulled to the walls. Tythel sprinted ahead to catch up with Haradeth. “We’re going to have a problem with the gates, now that every guard has been pulled to them.”

Haradeth grunted. “This entire mission has been flathed up one side and down the other already. The plan has officially turned to a fecal sandwich. The gates are just the crust. Let’s work our way through the other ten problems before we worry about the flathing gates.”

Tythel frowned at his tone, but couldn’t find an argument with his points.

“You didn’t have to leap for Ossman,” Haradeth said after a bit more silence.

Tythel almost stumbled in affront. “Of course I did! Did you think I’d let him fall?”

“You could have died,” Haradeth said.

Tythel picked back up the pace. “And that worries you? I get the impression you think it was better if I was dead.”

Haradeth just grunted at the accusation, which Tythel took as affirmation. “I’d think you’d worry about if you would die or not,” Haradeth said.

“Better to risk that than do nothing.” Tythel didn’t know where he was going with this, and it looked like her confusion was going to go unanswered.

A group of soldiers, unlight swords in hands, turned the corner directly in front of them.

For half a second, the two groups stopped, comically amused expressions on their faces. “It’s them!” one of the soldiers shouted, starting to reach for something on his shoulder.

An unlight bolt from Armin took him in the forehead, and the battle was on.

Tythel picked her target and started to charge, a torrent of dragonflame preceeding her rush. The soldier dove out of the way of the dragonflame and came up with a slash directly towards Tythel’s neck. She caught it with her shield, and the clash of unlight sent a shower of dark sparks flying from where the two met. Have to get this done quick, or they’ll alert the rest, Tythel thought.

Out of the corner of her eye, Tythel saw another soldiers reach for his shoulder. Eupheme appeared behind him and her daggers flashed. His fingers went flying from his hand.

Tythel didn’t see the rest of the man’s fate, as her attacker had stopped trying to overcome her shield with brute force and removed his blade for another strike.

Tythel drew back her hammer and swung. The soldier tried to parry the blow, but didn’t expect the strength Tythel could put behind the swing.

The hammer came down on his face, and Tythel winced at the crunching sound it made. The soldier didn’t get up.

Ossman was finishing off his attacker, and the last of the soldier tried to flee. Lorathor caught him and dragged him to the ground, and with a flash of his knife ended the last of the soldier’s lives.

Attackers? Tythel realized she’d thought that about the soldiers that way twice now. But they weren’t the attackers, were they? They were the defenders, not the aggressors.

They have hundreds of people in a prison awaiting execution, Tythel. Stop weeping for them. Weep for their victims.

“Hey, everyone?” Ossman said, holding up something he’d pulled off the belt of one of the dead soldiers. “I think I know a way we can get into the prison.

Tythel had seen similar devices before, and couldn’t help but blink with satisfaction.

“You know, Ossman,” Haradeth said with a fierce grin, “I think those just might work.”

The prison loomed ahead in the night sky, squat and foreboding. This was not a building built for comfort or beauty. It was exactly what its name implied – a place meant to hold men and women under lock and key. A place where people were taken and left to rot or await the headman’s axe.

It was clearly of a different, more recent make than the buildings around it. Tythel marvelled at the walls, which were smooth and showed no sign of being built out of individual stones. Instead, they looked like they had been hewn somehow out of one single, solitary block, with pillars for towers set in the stone – also formed where it appeared to be a single, unbroken stone.

“How is it possible?” Tythel murmured to Armin.

“The Alohym have this stone mush they use for building. They put up these big molds, with iron bars running in the center, and pour the mush in. After a while it hardens, and you’ve got…well, you’ve got something like that. No weak points, no gaps, no handholds.”

“We don’t need handholds, at least.” Lorathor added, glancing around. “Everyone clear on the plan?”

Nods went around. Haradeth, Armin, and Ossman were staying behind – they had no way to clear the stone wall of the prison.

Tythel headed in with Lorathor and Eupheme.

On top of the prison were great arclights, ones that shone with actual light and not the false radiance unlight provided. They were constantly sweeping, but they were sweeping inwards, not outwards.

You’d have to be crazy to try and break into a prison.

Then I guess I am, Tythel thought, and she lowered her head and charged the last distance between herself and the wall. The wall was tall, about three times as tall as a man, and Tythel was certain she could clear it in a single jump.

She wished she was as confident about what happened when she reached the top.


Small Worlds returns 08/13. If you haven’t yet, check out Weird Theology, the first book of Small Worlds, here

The Dragon’s Scion Part 54

The first imperiplate soldier burst through the door in a shower of splinters. Tythel let loose a burst of dragonflame the instant the barrier dropped, catching the soldier straight in the chest. Reflexes drove the man to raise his hands, but her flames did nothing except heating his armor.

“Tythel! The heat!” Eupheme shouted. The air in this room was rapidly reaching oven temperatures, and Tythel dropped the flames. The soldier would be protected from the extreme heat. Her friends would not.

The imperiplate soldier charged her, and Tythel barely got her shield up in time to meet his gauntleted fist. She swung awkwardly with the hammer, and dealt the soldier a glancing blow. The burst of energy that was released on impact sent him staggering to the side.

“Armin!” Tythel shouted.

“Almost there!” he responded.

The other two imperiplate soldiers were in the room now. Haradeth and Lorathor faced off against one, Ossman and Eupheme against the other. Their arcwands couldn’t penetrate the thick armor the soldiers wore. Their blades were almost useless.

It was a fight they couldn’t win.

Tythel brought her hammer down on the soldier in front of her as he started to regain his footing. He caught the blow on his arms, and the impact sent out a shockwave that rattled the devices and cracked the floor beneath his feet.

That’s it, Tythel realized with a sudden surge of hope. She brought the hammer down again, the same motion she’d used when beating on the top of the walker at the city gates. Each time the soldier blocked the blow, but Tythel didn’t give him time to recover. Hammer fell over and over.

Armin shouted something. Tythel could hear the words but they were lost in the sudden chaos as her last hammer blow landed. “Jump!” she shouted over Armin.

The imperiplate was too strong for Tythel to crack. Tythel’s hammer was too relentless for him to escape. Something had to give.

The floor, even being enhanced by a centuring of bathing in Light, ended up being the thing that couldn’t withstand the assault. It gave out under the soldier and set off a domino effect. The floor they all stood on collapsed in a ring around where the soldier had punched through, sending all of them tumbling to the room below them in a shower of stone and equipment and flesh.

There were sickening crunches from the floor beneath them as the soldiers that had been waiting there were crushed by falling debris. Tythel felt her hammer slip from her fingers as she jumped. The jump didn’t save her or the others from the impact, or from some of the outermost equipment caving in and bashing them, but unlike the imperiplate soldiers they weren’t half buried in the rubble. Tythel’s warning had come in time. The imperiplate was heavy – the soldiers wearing it had been drug down with the rocks, and were struggling against the equipment.

She heard the stones beneath them groan from the weight. It’s holding. Thank the Light, it’s hold-

Something caught the corner of her eye. Her hammer, carelessly dropped while still active, hit the ground and let out another one of its bursts of force.

The impact drove the hammer back up into the air, and the floor beneath them buckled. Tythel dove for the hammer, catching it before it hit again and sent them all tumbling. Hastily, she slipped her wrist through the thong on the end to prevent it from falling free if it collapsed again.

One of the imperiplate soldiers shifted, and the floor beneath them began to crack again. “Stop!” Tythel hissed at him, and for a wonder he did. Beneath them, Tythel could hear the rest of the tower being evacuated. “If you move we all die.”

The imperiplate soldier she had been battering, whose arm armor was twisted and cracked glanced around. “No,” he said after a moment. “I think we’ll survive. You, however, won’t.”

He raised his fist and slammed it into the floor.

It all happened in an instant. Tythel couldn’t follow what was going on. She could only lunge to the side and grab Armin before the collapse began. She made it to one of the walls and sunk her talons into the stone, Armin clutched to her chest.

She couldn’t hear the others over the sound of the floors beneath them collapsing. Someone was screaming, and Tythel realized it was her.

By some miracle or trick of the light, the tower around them did not collapse. Instead, the crashing continued for what felt like an eternity, each subsequent floor giving way to the weight of the floors above it until it became an ongoing cascade of collapsing masonry, changing from a series of distinct crashes to a single, ongoing roar.

Then, the chamber was flooded with light.

Tythel clamped her mouth shut as the sound stopped and dared a look down. There hadn’t been a complete collapse. At each floor, Tythel could see bits of stone and stairs sticking to the side of the walls. Shapes clung to those outcroppings, and Tythel could only hope some of them were the others. It was hard to make out, however, because they were silhouetted by the light coming from the lumwell far beneath them. Tythel had never seen one before, and it entranced her. She’d assumed lumwells would just be golden, but it wasn’t. It looked like a pool of gold swirled with other colors, red and blue and green and purple. A veritable rainbow spiraling out from the center on a sea of light.

And running counter clockwise to the beauty of the light was a second pattern, discordant splinters of unlight that cut through the beautiful pattern.

“If we fall,” Tythel asked Armin shakily, “would we die?”

“That’s an interesting question,” Armin answered. “Not in the traditional sense, no. We’d be turned into luminescent beings and dragged into a higher plane of existence from which no man has ever returned. Which, I suppose, would look a lot like death to the outside observer, but we wouldn’t join the Shadow. At least, that’s what scholars theorize. Any living thing that falls into a lumwell explodes into a shower of light. Which, really, isn’t all that different from dying.”

“You ramble when your scared,” Tythel muttered.

“Well, right now you’re holding me one handed over a lumwell, I think I have a right to be scared.

Tythel’s eyes were adjusting to the sudden brightness. Lorathor was clinging to the wall like she was, holding Haradeth by the back of his shirt. Several floors beneath them had soldiers desperately holding on to various outcroppings. As Tythel watched, one of those soldier’s fingers slipped. He fell, screaming, into the lumwell.

Armin had undersold what happened. The man didn’t explode. He more…dissolved, skin flying away into the light until all that was left was a rapidly disintegrating skeleton that vanished beneath the glow. As he was dissolved, the unlight splinters grew stronger.

“Oh,” Tythel said. She wanted to say more, but couldn’t find the words.

One of the clinging figures pulled themselves up onto a lone stair that was still attached to its mooring. Although Tythel couldn’t see clearly from here, the outline of Eupheme’s cloak was unmistakable. Which left only…

Ossman had managed to get an arm through a window before falling too far. It was twisted at an unnatural angle, but he was holding on for now. As Tythel watched, the arm began to untwist. “This much concentrated light is healing him,” Armin explained, following her gaze. “It’ll heal all of us. Of course, if we wait here too much longer it’ll keep healing past that. We’ll start developing tumors, new bones, third eyes in uncomfortable places-”

Tythel hissed, “Armin, stop,”

“Okay.” Armin closed his mouth, but couldn’t help adding one more thing, “that’s why no one uses the light to heal. I wouldn’t have even risked it on you if the device wasn’t designed to filter unlight. It heals your mind as it does with your body. If you don’t die, you end up going insane, becoming a terrible mutant – and that happens far more often than people actually getting healed. I don’t know what the addition of unlight will do, but-”

“Armin!” Tythel growled.

“Right, right, shutting up.” Armin clacked his teeth shut, but then started talking again. “Thank you,” he said.

“What?”

“For changing your mind. I know we’re fighting something horrible, Tythel, and we’re going to have to do horrible things. But sending out a wave of arcfodder to die before our soldiers was wrong. It’s an Alohym strategy. If we’re no better than they are, we’re just going to replace one kind of monster with another. I think I would have forgiven you in time, but…I don’t know how.”

Tythel turned to face him and made herself smile. “I’m naming you my first royal advisor,” she said. “You’re now Minister of ‘Reminding Tythel to Not Become Terrible.’”

Armin let out a strangled laugh. “I don’t think I’ll serve very long.”

Below them, another scream as a soldier fell into the light below. Tythel looked back to the others.

Haradeth’s shirt was starting to fray. Ossman’s arm was healing, but as it twisted back to its correct location, it was forcing his grip to slip.

Tythel took a deep breath. “No, Armin. I don’t know how, but your position will be a long and prosperous one. We’re going to get out this. I swear it.”

It was an easy promise to make. After all, if she was wrong, no one would be able to call her on it.

Weird Theology is on sale, other regions here. Already read it? Please consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 49

Weird Theology is on sale other regions here. Already read it? Please consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads.


The signs of the battle were still evident as they headed back into town. Their path took them around to the south entrance. It seemed best to avoid trying to re-enter past the downed pod. On the horizon Tythel could still see smoke rising from the fields she had burned. It was worth it, she told herself, hoping that if she repeated it enough she might begin to believe it.

Thankfully, the Alohym had not increased security after their flight. It seemed even their adversaries thought it would be idiotic to try to sneak back into a town they’d just broken out of. It was Tythel’s first time seeing Dawnchester when it was daylight and she wasn’t suffering from Unlight poisoning. Prior to this, the largest group of people she had seen had been the three-hundred rebels. That, to her, had been huge but manageable.

There were at least twice that number waiting in queue just to get into that city, if not more. Light and Shadow. So many people. The sound of hundreds of people was almost overwhelming. The crying of children, the arguing of merchants, the grinding of armor, She could hear everything, but could understand none of it. And that was just the sound! Everywhere she looked, there were people. A surging mass surrounding them.

Tythel started taking deep breaths, trying to steady herself. It’ll be better in the city, she told herself. You were in there, it wasn’t like this.

A traitorous part of her mind reminded her she had been moving at night then. It could easily be this crowded during the day.

“You’re scaring Astray,” Haradeth muttered as they approached the gates.

“What?”

“You smell like scared dragon. Astray is picking up on it. I’m not a miracle worker. Keep this up and he’ll bolt. Probably draw guards in the process.”

“Oh,” Tythel snapped back in a whisper, “that helps soothe my nerves. ‘Calm down or we’re in terrible danger.’ How could anyone possibly feel uncomfortable with that advice? While we’re at it, tell me how being anxious is something the Alohym can sense, so I’m broadcasting where we are just by feeling. Or perhaps that Unlight will curve to strike the nervous! Anything to calm me down.”

Haradeth was quiet as he reached down and patted the side of Astray’s neck. “Smelling like angry dragon isn’t any better.”

Tythel fought the urge to make an obscene gesture at his back. Any attempt to retort was cut off as they got close to the gate.

The guard manning the entrance was a portly man that had to have been squeezed into his armor, with an expression like he was slowly dying of boredom. “Nature of your business in Dawnchester?” Every word was laced with an absolute lack of concern for the answer.

“Ah, my good man!” Armin rode at the head of the group, and he bent in a seated bow. “We are, of course, here to witness the execution of the damn rebels our Saviors have recently captured.”

If Armin’s friendly demeanor had any impact on the guard, it certainly wasn’t visible on his face. “Execution isn’t for another three days,” the guard intoned.

“Three days?” Armin asked in well-feigned surprise before glancing at Eupheme. “Three days! You told me the execution was Noxday.”

“I’m terribly sorry, dear.” Eupheme shrugged. “I should have known better than trusting Ethil’s word on these things.”

“Ethil’s word?!” Armin practically roared at her. “The only difference between Ethil and a rotfly is that one is a buzzing insect that causes constant irritation, and the other is a rotfly. You listened to her?”

Tythel watched as the guard reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Sir-” he started to say.

“Now one minute!” Armin said, waving to the guard, “I need to know why my wife thought it would be good to recommend a trip into the city based on the word of Ethil.”

“Oh,” Eupheme snapped back, “then who should I have asked? Your brother? That idiot couldn’t find his arse with both hands, a map, and a three day head start.”

The guard let out a sigh. “Sir? Ma’am?”

His words had no effect. Armin was beginning to gesticulate wildly as he defended his brother and simultaneously denigrated Ethil. Ossman sidled up to the guard. “I once saw them argue for three solid hours,” he muttered.

This time, the guard let out an audible groan. “Can you make them stop?”

Ossman nodded. “We just need to offer Caldor some beer. He’ll rush straight towards it.”

“Then go, get them out of my damn sight.”

Ossman raised his hands to his lips. “Caldor. The inns should be open.”

Armin brightened up. “The inns? Why did you say so?” Eupheme shot Ossman a look that could have melted steel. The guard was so happy to be rid of them, he didn’t bother asking Haradeth and Tythel to raise their cloaks.

In her bag, Eupheme had a wide variety of makeups. With just a bit of work, she’d made herself, Armin, and Ossman almost unrecognizable. Haradeth and Tythel were too distinctive up close.

“I can’t believe that worked,” Tythel said to Eupheme once they were through the gates.

Eupheme gave her an impish grin. “Most people will do almost anything to get out of an uncomfortable situation.”

Tythel glanced back towards the walls of Dawnchester, wishing she was out of the press of humanity in here. “I can believe that,” she said.

It was less cluttered as they got further into the city and traffic started splitting up, Crawlers taking the main roads as horses were diverted into back alleyways. Tythel let out a relieved breath once the things enclosing her were walls instead of people. “How do people live like this?” she asked.

“It’s not so bad,” Armin said, “There’s endless things to do in a city, endless people to meet. Why would you want to live anywhere else?”

“Peace. Quiet. Privacy. I could go on.”

Armin shook his head.

“Come on,” Ossman said. “Lorathor should have already gotten us somewhere to stay by now.”

Lorathor had spent time in Dawnchester before. It took some trying for the group to get directions to the Gilded Piglet, but the faded gold pig on the sign made it easy enough to find once they had directions. The Sylvani was waiting inside at a table, holding an ale with both hands.

“Any problems getting into the city?” Lorathor asked them as they joined him.

“Only that my flathing wife thought that we should take advice from Ethil,” Armin said with a grin.

Eupheme rolled her eyes as Ossman answered Lorathor’s question with a shake of his head.

“Excellent. We have rooms upstairs.” Lorathor slid them keys. “The owner is an old friend of mine. He won’t report us.”

“You told him who we were?” Tythel asked in a low hiss.

“Of course not,” Lorathor scoffed at the idea. “But if he puts it together, we’re still safe.”

“Sorry,” Tythel muttered, feeling her cheeks flush. “This place has me on edge.”

“You’ll adapt.” Lorathor said soothingly.

“Or you’ll get yourself killed,” Haradeth muttered, and she felt her embarrassment turn to anger. Tythel turned to Haradeth, baring her teeth, but was interrupted by Eupheme putting a hand on her arm.

“Could you help me to my room?” Eupheme asked in a firm voice that bore little resemblance to a question. “My leg is still healing, and I think should lie down for a bit.”

Tythel gave a curt nod.

“Good,” Haradeth said. “We need you healed. Armin, Ossman, I want you two out there. Mingle. Try to find something we can use against the prison. Lorathor, I want you to try and make contact with the underground. Tythel, take care of Eupheme and stay out of sight.”

Tythel pursed her lips. “And what will you be doing?”

“Seeing what the rats know.”

After a pause, Tythel decided she didn’t want to give Haradeth the satisfaction of admitting she didn’t know if he was being literal or not. Instead she stood up, offering a hand for Eupheme to use as support. “Let us know if you need anything,” she said. Tythel didn’t wait for Haradeth’s response as she lead Eupheme upstairs.

“You shouldn’t let him bait you like that,” Eupheme said when they were out of earshot.

Tythel sighed. “I know. It’s just…he knows exactly what to say to be as annoying as possible.”

“Everyone deals with fear differently. Armin jokes more. Ossman goes quiet. You get angry at everyone and everything. Haradeth acts like a prick.” Eupheme shrugged. “Your way of dealing with fear just clashes with his.”

Tythel tilted her head. “I’m not…” the protest died as Eupheme gave her a flat look. “Fine,” Tythel muttered, “but it doesn’t excuse him.”

“I never said it did,” Eupheme said with a smile. “Light, I would love to smack the smug off his face. But you can’t control Haradeth. You can only control how you react to him.”

Tythel grunted. “And what about you?” Tythel asked.

“What about me?”

“How do you deal with fear?”

Eupheme’s smile widened as they entered the room. “I strangle it.”

“Any chance you could teach me that?” Tythel asked with a snort.

Eupheme shook her head. “It’s something you can only learn with experience. As long as you don’t let your fear master you, you needn’t worry.” They reached the door to Eupheme’s room, and Tythel let them both in.

Tythel helped Eupheme change her bandage and helped her into bed. As Eupheme drifted off to sleep, Tythel sat in the center of the room and began to focus on what she could hear.

The sound of the city washed over her like the tide, and Tythel started trying to do her best to pick useful information out of the clamor.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 42

The tentacle thrashed under Tythel, trying to throw her off. In this case, its size worked against it. If it had been smaller, thinner, more whip-like, she would have been tossed easily. As it was, she could see each movement the tentacle made and adjust her feet accordingly to stay onto the limb. It wasn’t easy, by any stretch of the imagination. She’d pictured herself leaping atop the tentacle and dashing across it to the central pod as easily as she’d leapt from rooftop to rooftop, but a few steps into it and she’d almost fallen off twice. Slow and steady, Tythel.

It helped that she’d sprouted talons when she’d landed on the tentacle. She didn’t risk glancing down to her feet again, but she knew what she’d see if she did. Her toes were longer and ended in curved claws. Those claws were her saving grace right now, able to find purchase in the tiny segments that gave the tentacle mobility. She advanced along the appendage with a slow deliberation. You are not going to kill them. We’re getting out of this flathing city.

At least, if nothing else, they are.

Soldiers began to pop their heads out of the top of the pod, unlight arcwands in hands. She pulled out her shield as they opened fire. The hiss of unlight beams on the barrier was just more white noise in the mix, and many of them missed. It’s almost funny. The tentacle thrashing is making me a harder target. She continued to plod onwards towards the central base, as the limb began to readjust. Someone inside had finally figured out that she couldn’t cling on if they got the tentacle completely vertical, and were moving the mass of the central pod over her to drop her off.

T ythel push forward as fast as she dared, the shield her only protection. As soon as she was close enough to risk it, and her footing was sure enough, Tythel pushed herself into a leap to land on top of the central pod.

The men who had poked out to start shooting at her were coming out, unlight blades drawn. Tythel swung down on one as he was coming out, and breathed a quick burst of fire at another.

Then she brought the hammer down on the central disk.

It rang out like a gong, cutting over the sounds of battle and that damned repeated announcement. The hammer, even with its own energy burst and Tythel behind it, was not strong enough to send the pod flying, and the impact reverberated up her arm. She could feel it in her bones, and tasted coppery blood from the force of her teeth being driven together.

She brought the hammer down again.

Again the clash of unlight hammer on Alohym metal. Again an impact that rose up her arm and travelled through her entire body. She could feel herself become nauseous for a moment, as if the reverberations were interfering with her balance. And again, when she pulled it away, the metal it had impacted showed no scratching, no dent.

It has to be more lightly armored, it has to be, Tythel told herself as she raised the hammer again. She brought the hammer down a third time with even more force behind it, putting her entire body into the swing to get every ounce of force she could. This time the sound had even more texture to it than a gong, as if the individual components of the pod were rattling. A soldier that had been trying to climb out past his fallen comrade stumbled back as the entire pod shook from the impact.

And yet, when she pulled the hammer away, the metal was unscathed.

Despair began to set in as she raised the hammer again. A tiny doubt rose up, a gnat buzzing around her thoughts. It didn’t have to be weaker. Perhaps these had been constructed when the Alohym warred against each other, armored for attacks from above. Perhaps it had weaker armor, but it was not weak enough. Or, more accurately, she was too weak.

No.

She pushed that fear aside. She would break this pod or it would break her. And I don’t break, she thought, bringing the hammer down again. I don’t break, she thought again, the hammer ringing against the steel hide of this unnatural creation of the Alohym. I. Don’t. Break. She brought the hammer down with everything she had. The soldiers inside the pods were staring at her in shock and confusion, but they were adjusting to the sound. They were grabbing their weapons to come out and meet her. Still she swung the hammer. Nothing else mattered. Not the soldiers that were taking aim, not the sounds of the pods footsteps as it tried to continue its assault . Nothing mattered besides swinging that hammer, over and over, faster and faster, to the point where instead of the phrase punctuating her swings individual words did.

I

CLANG

Don’t

CLANG

BREAK!

And with that last swing, she did not hear a clang. She heard the wrenching sound of metal tearing. A hissing sound, like lightning in a bottle, began to emerge from the point of impact.

She glanced back to the soldiers in time to see one of them fall. Eupheme was there with her. Tythel didn’t know how she’d got there, perhaps jumping out of one of the soldiers shadows, or perhaps-

“Your highness! Quit staring and finish this flathing thing! I’ve got this here.”

Tythel nodded, and turned back to where she had been hitting. A small tear had appeared in the armor, as long as her finger and about as wide. Tythel brought the hammer down on the tear again. You will break. It was wider this time. You will break. It was now almost as long as her hand. One more blow, and it was as wide as it was long, the hammer’s head punching through so firmly that Tythel lost her balance wrenching it out.

Her claws scrabbled on the surface for purchase. Vertigo set in, and she began to slide down the side of the pod. The ground was four stories away. She could see it, could see herself falling. She didn’t think she’d survive the fall.

Just before she passed the point of no return, her claw caught the lip of the hole she had created. She had her grip back, and whirled back towards the hole. Eupheme was locking down the soldiers, but was doing so with normal shoes. She’d lose her footing eventually, and the soldiers – still half inside the pod – didn’t have that concern.

Tythel took a deep breath, and shot her dragonflame directly into the gap she had created.

The change was almost immediate. Explosions began to rock the pod, flame exiting though the gaps where the legs met the sides. It also flooded back through the pod into the central chamber were the soldiers were.

The pod began to list to one side. Tythel reached out to grab Eupheme’s foot as Eupheme began to lose balance, and then they were falling with the pod, the ground rushing up to meet them.

Had they fallen straight the full distance, the impact still would have killed them. But the joints of the tentacles failed bit by bit as the pod collapsed, slowing their descent enough where the impact was jarring, but non-fatal.

Eupheme let out a single laugh as she started righting herself. “Wait till we tell Armin about this one. He’ll never believe us.”

Tythel couldn’t help but let out a laugh of her own. “They’re..”

“Safely out of the city. Come on, your highness, or we won’t join them.”

The dash through the gate was unimpeded, and together they dashed into freedom.

The Dragon’s Scion Part 41

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tythel turned away.

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

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

She just wished he’d stop saying that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was time for flight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because of me.

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

“What?”

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

Instead, she leapt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dragon’s Scion Part 40

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

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

Armin was nowhere to be seen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you,” Tythel said, sincerely.

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

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

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

Tythel frowned. “What’s going on?”

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

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

“But what about Armin? Ossman?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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