The first beam of unlight nearly killed Nicandros. He ducked as it passed over his head, and the tree it stuck shimmered for a moment before exploding in a shower of splinters.
“Into the woods!” he shouted, but Tythel was already headed that direction. For a second she considered changing course in case he was trying to lead her into a trap, but given that the Alohym had tried to kill him too, it seemed that the enemy of her enemy may very well be her ally.
She darted to the side when the air grew dark again, and this beam of unlight passed by where she had just been. It hit one of the crawling carriages and it, like tree before, glowed for a moment before exploding. Reflexes drove one hand to cover her face, and a shard of metal stuck into her arm.
Adrenaline and shock kept the pain at bay for the moment. Mostly what she felt was annoyance. I just got healed!The flame surrounding that hand winked out, and she knew that there would be agony to be had once she had time feel it.
For now, however, she hurled the flame in her other hand over her shoulder. It likely didn’t land anywhere near the Alohym, but she hoped bursting dragonfire might distract it for a moment. Not long after the crackle of flame there was another burst of thunder and a flash of green light – it seemed Nicandros had the same idea.
Then they were into the woods. These were denser than the pine forest she had left the night before, the trees older oaks, the brush on the ground thicker. It slowed their progress as they entered it, but within seconds the Alohym had no direct vision to them.
It let out a sound, one that was something like a scream but higher and more penetrating. A shriek you could feel in your bones. As they continued to press into the woods, it lashed out with beams of unlight, destroying swaths of woods behind them. Splinters flew on their heels as they pushed further, but the vegetation that was still intact protected them.
Blood was flowing from the shard of metal in Tythel’s arm, and she staggered. Nicandros was behind her, tucking a hand under her shoulder. As tall as she was, he still came up to eye level, and he roughly grabbed her. “Not yet, girl. Hold on just a bit further.”
She nodded and, with his help, the passed deeper into the forest. The sound of wrenching metal filled her ears from behind him. “They’re taking to the air again!”
Nicandros gave her a questioning look, but just nodded. He pulled her to the side.
There was a hole in the ground here, just tall enough for her to enter if she crawled. Doing so was difficult with the shard of metal still stuck into her arm, but with Nicandros’ urging she pushed deeper through the crawlspace.
It was a steep descent, which Tythel considered for the best. Behind her she could hear the sound of a beam of unlight pummeling the ground, trees and plants exploding as it did. The ground rumbled from where it struck.There was light coming from ahead, and she kept pushing towards it on her three good limbs.
They entered the lit area. It was an actual stone room reinforced with thick pillars. Tythel flopped to the floor, panting. It only took a moment before the pain finally caught up with her, and she let out a cry of anguish as it did.
“One moment, one moment,” Nicandros muttered to her, stepping past her. One of the pillars had a hinge in it and he flipped it opened, pressing something inside. A light blue energy washed over the interior of the room, and Nicandros turned to face her. He put down his sword and gently took her wrist, looking it over carefully. “It went right between the bones,” he muttered to himself. “That’s good, but…you’re going to lose a lot of blood when I pull it out.”
Tythel grimaced. “I don’t suppose there’s…argh…anything you can do about that?”
Nicandros shook his head. “It has to come out though. Can you use some of your fire to cauterize the wound?”
“I don’t know cauterize,” she said.
“It means burn the wound shut.”
“Oh. No. I can’t…I don’t burn.”
Nicandros nodded, then recoiled slightly. Tears of pain had begun to rise to her eyes, and her clear membranes had started to flit across her eyes. “What the Shadow?” She couldn’t answer, and he pushed the idea aside. “Okay. I’ll do what I can, but I’ll need to put you to sleep. Can you swallow?”
“I think so,” she managed, and he went back to the hatch in the pillar and pulled out a bottle. In his palm was a small white object, like a stone.
“You ever taken a pill before, girl?” She shook her head. “It’s a potion that’s been dried into a sphere. Damn the Alohym, but their magic isn’t all corrupt. When you swallow it, it melts. Think you can do it?”
She hissed in pain. “Stop asking and give me it.”
He smiled, and at the moment Tythel hurt too much to care what it meant. She opened her mouth and he put the pill on her tongue. A few moments effort later and she’d swallowed it. Almost immediately a numbness crept into her hands and feet, spreading up her limbs and into her chest and head.
She was asleep before her head hit the stone.
What had to be hours later, she was awake. Her blood stained a great deal of the stone beneath her, but she was alive. Her head pounded with pain, and her arm had been wrapped in black bandages that clung to her like a second skin. Nicandros was sitting against a nearby wall, muttering to himself.
“How bad was it?” she coughed out, drawing his attention. He touched his ear and got up, walking over to her.
“I’m not sure why you’re alive, girl. I’ve seen men twice your size loose half as much and perish. What are you made of?” Although the words were rough, there was a soft edge to them, and she gave him a small smile. It reminded her of how Karjon spoke sometimes.
“Sorry I tried to hit you with chains,” she said instead of answering, and he just waved it away.
“Water under the bridge. We’ve got bigger problems.” He pointed to her chest, where the locket lay. It was hanging out of her shirt, and she reached up to tuck it back in. “Where did you get that?”
“It’s mine,” she said, but he was shaking his head.
“There’s three like it on this whole damned world, girl. Two were destroyed. How’d some pyromancer find one?”
“It’s…” Tythel sighed. There wasn’t a reason to lie to him, was there? If he wanted her dead, he had ample opportunity. “I’m not a pyromancer. I came by that gift from my father, the great dragon Karjon.”
Nicandros snorted at the name. “Karjon? That old wyrm died years ago.”
“No.” She snapped out the word harder than she intended. “He died days ago, when Those From Above found us. He’s raised me since I was a baby.”
Nicandros scratched the stubble at his face. “If Karjon was alive, why didn’t he fight? When the Alohym first attacked.”
“He was old,” Tythel said, knowing how defensive she sounded and not caring. “Lathariel reached out to him, but he was too old to fight.”
After studying her face for an uncomfortably long time, Nicandros sat down. “Well, I believe one part of your story so far, girl. You’re definitely his daughter, else why would you care so much? No offense to your father meant.” Tythel relaxed a bit at those last words. “So, what? You found it in his hoard?”
Tythel shook her head. “It came with me, when I was brought to him.”
“Brought to him, eh?” Nicandros scratched his beard again. “So who brought you?”
“My father never got his name. But he was a royal guardsman.” She fixed her gaze on his. “The one carrying the princess.”
Nicandros met her eyes, studying them – then burst out into laughter. “Girl, of all the beautiful lines of bullshit I’ve been fed in my day, this has to take the case. So you’re the lost flathing Heir? Raised by a dragon in the mountain, returning to us now?”
“It’s not bullshit!” She struggled to rise to a sitting position, and batted his hand away when he reached out to help her. “Light and Shadow, how do I prove it? I’d hoped the necklace would be enough!”
“Which is why I’m not buying it. It’s a fake, or a treasure from Karjon’s horde, or something else.”
Despair began to settle into Tythel. “How can I convince you? There’s got to be some way to prove it!”
Again, he scratched his stubbled. “Well, you’re tough and you can throw fire out of your hands. We could flathing use you, girl. And…maybe I know someone who might be able to verify your story. Or, more likely, prove it to be utter horseshit.”
“If they can prove anything, they’ll prove me right,” Tythel said, frowning with determination, and Nicandros chuckled.
“We’ll see, girl. We’ll see. Get some real sleep, not potion induced catatonia. They Alohym are done scorching the forest, but they’ll still be up there for a little while to see if they flushed us out.”
Tythel nodded and went to her pack, pulling out the bedroll she’d been lugging around for the first time in days. She was careful to keep any of the gold from showing – she didn’t know how much she could trust Nicandros. To be safe, she tucked the pack into the bedroll so he’d have to wake her to get to it.
She couldn’t tell if the smile and nod was because of amused offense or approval. At least he didn’t seem angry, as far as she could tell.
“Wait,” she asked as she burrowed into the bedroll. “One more question?”
“Flath, I’m impressed you only have one. Go ahead,” he chuckled.
“I have more than one, but one that’s bothering me right now. How’d you find me?”
He grunted. “Freda and I were…old friends.” She wondered what that pause signified, but could place it. He was an older man, close to Freda’s age she wagered. Childhood friends, perhaps? But why the pause then? “She knew I was fighting against the Alohym. When her husband sung them, she sung me.”
Tythel blinked. “Sung?”
“Yeah. Haven’t gotten a song from her in a few years, since before she married Otis.” He smiled again, but not at her. His smile went into the distance, like he was smiling at something far away.
Tythel cocked her head, the way Karjon had when he was baffled by something she was doing. “I don’t understand.”
Nicandros snorted. “Heh, I believe you were raised by a dragon. Didn’t he teach you about that kind of thing?” Tythel shook her head and he rolled his eyes. “I’m going to help you meet up with others who are fighting back. I’m not going to teach you about foxes and hens, girl. Get some sleep, save your questions for the morning.
She nodded and rolled over, still perplexed. She didn’t know how foxes and and hens related to songs, and what Karjon didn’t teach her about them. Her head kept conjuring images of yodeling chickens scratching at warbling foxes, and none of it made sense. It took some time to banish the images, but one fact remained. She needed to convince him, or whoever he was taking her to, that she was in fact the princess. Otherwise everything was over before it had already begun.
It just might be harder to prove than she thought.