Tythel was awoken by Nicandros shaking her shoulder. “Get up, girl. It’s time to move on.”
The faint blue glow that had infused the stones was gone, and the only light was the strange glowing orb in the center of the room. She blinked a few times to clear her eyes. “I have a name, you know,” she muttered as she started to crawl out of the bedroll.
“So do I. You haven’t asked for it yet, either.” Nicandros was working his own pack as well, already putting various items into it. Tythel honestly could not fathom their purpose, but they had the strange look she’d come to associate with Alohym artifacts.
Tythel pulled out a fresh shirt and a pair of breeches, stepping behind one of the pillars to change out of the clothes she’d been wearing for nearly a week. “I know your name, Nicandros.”
He grumbled, “How in the Shadow’s embrace do you know that?”
“Heard Freda say it when you arrived.” She desperately wanted some fresh water to bath, so she wouldn’t be putting clean clothes on dirt, but it was better than continuing to wear filthy clothes.
“You’re lying. You were three stories up, there’s no flathing way you heard.”
Tythel actually found it in her to laugh, and realized it was the first time she’d done that since Karjon’s death. That thought strangled the laughter in her throat, and she let out a sigh. “I still don’t know what flath means. And my father adopted me with Heartfire. I am his daughter as much as my birth parents’.”
“How do you not know what flath means?”
Tythel finished pulling on the clothes. Her injured arm was protesting by the time she finished, but it held out long enough to let her finish getting dressed. She closed and opened her fist experimentally. Next time I get injured, I’m going to do it on my leg instead.
The idea she would have any control over that gave her a small, bitter smile. “I was raised in a mountain. Otis and Freda were the first humans I met who weren’t trying to kill me. How in the Shadow’s embrace do you expect me to know about what has changed since Those From Above arrived.” She stepped out in time to see Nicandros fit a glass lense over his eye. It looked like the one Otis had been wearing. Up close and without fever wrecking her brain, she could see small, backwards lettering appearing on it, as if drawn by some spirit. “I’m Tythel, by the way.”
Nicandros grunted. Tythel was no better at human expressions than she had been before, but she felt she knew Nicandros well enough already to reasonably expect the name ‘girl’ wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. “Flath is a term from their tongue they use to speak to their human soldiers. It means ‘to thrust deep into an enemy position.’” He waggled his eyebrows. “You can see what that came to mean, I imagine.”
Tythel cocked her head at him. “No, I can’t.”
“Light and Shadow, girl, you have a lot to learn.” Nicandros shook his head. “You’ll figure it out. C’mon, we need to move.”
Muttering in annoyance under her breath, Tythel grabbed her pack and secured it to her back, and followed him crawling back up to the surface. The crawl out seemed shorter than the crawl in, and when they entered the open air, she could see why.
The forest had been levelled, and they emerged not at ground level, but in the center of a still smoking crater. Once they had clambered out of it, she could see they dotted the landscape, and where they were not present, the force that had created them had laid trees low. Faint traces of unlight lightning cracked a few spans above them, as if the air itself had been injured by the attack. “All of this…for two people?” she whispered, horror at what she was seeing keeping her voice low.
“Aye, girl.” Nicandros motioned for her to keep moving, although he kept talking as she followed. “It’s their way. They’ll let you lie at their feet as long as you are a good dog, but the moment you even growl they’ll burn down the entire house just to show you what terror means.”
“And Freda? Otis?”
Nicandros glanced over at her. “They should be fine. He sung them on you – if he hadn’t and they’d learned of you otherwise, they’d both be dead. No one knows Freda sung to me.”
Tythel swallowed a hard lump that was rising in her throat. “They might. I heard Otis and Freda arguing when the Alohym arrived. They were being…loud.”
“Damn,” Nicandros winced. “Well, if they were caught, it’s too late for us to do anything about it. Flathing Alohym would have executed them last night.
“Oh,” Tythel said, and didn’t know what else to say. Too much death the last week, too much destruction. She realized the only thing to do was keep walking.Nicandros seemed to agree that conversation was over, and he lead her away from the devastation and into the parts of the forest the Alohym had left untouched by their unlight. At the edge of the clearing the plants looked sickly, turning yellow and growing strange purple pustules. Nicandros pulled out his sword and sliced through the plants before they crossed, and Tythel swore she could hear them faintly shrieking as he did.
That ugly work done, they were into the woods again, and the blasted landscape was behind them. It was some time still before Tythel spoke. “So, what was that place?”
Nicandros glanced at her. “You mean the hole we were in?” Tythel nodded. “Back during the war, we used some of their crystals from the few vessels we downed. They don’t just make blasts – they can be used to sustain magic. We figured out how they work, repurposed them. That was a bolt hole, somewhere we could take cover to rest and heal.” He turned his gaze back to the forest ahead. “I was in that one when they finally won, at least here in Kiennor. Got the song that everyone was surrendering.”
“But you didn’t?” Tythel asked.
He snorted. “Of course I flathing did. There wasn’t anyone around to keep the fight going, what was I supposed to do? A couple years later, she found some of us old soldiers, said she was starting up a new fight. I joined in, until…” He trailed off and sighed. “Doesn’t matter. The point is, you got lucky. I just decided to get back in, a couple days before Freda sung me.”
For once, Tythel could perfectly place the note in his voice. The pain of loss. She decided it would be best not to press him on it. “Who found you?”
“Lathariel, Queen of the Woods.”
Tythel stumbled at the name, and Nicandros gave her another concerned look. “Sorry, it’s just…are we going to her?”
Nicandros nodded. “If anyone can sort out your true heritage, it’s her.”
“Oh.” After a second, she swallowed and muttered, “Flath.” The word felt odd on her lips, and Nicandros chucked a laugh.
“Got a problem with Lathariel?” He asked, an undertone to his words that Tythel couldn’t ignore.
“Of course not. I’m just worried…I mean…”
“Oooh,” Nicandros interrupted, and Tythel knew sarcasm when she heard it, “you’re worried because your dragon daddy told her to flath herself when she came asking for help, she might be a bit hesitant to welcome you in? Might bear a bit of a grudge that the most powerful dragon in the land decided to stay at home and raise a human?”
“It wasn’t like that,” Tythel snapped, molten anger rising from her gut. “He didn’t get me until after all was already lost! And if it hadn’t been for that, I wouldn’t be here now!”
“Well that’s just flathing wonderful. Girl, you ever think that if he had helped, a lot of people would be here now?”
Tythel wanted to punch him in the back of his damn head, but restrained herself. “No. A single one of their ships killed him. If he had gone, he would have died, and I would have probably died when that guard fell over dead, and nothing else would be different.”
Nicandros shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not. But Lathariel won’t hold that against you. She’s not the kind of person to judge you for what your family did. Others might. Shadow’s embrace, I know a few who absolutely will. Lathariel won’t.” He turned back to face forwards before adding, “probably.”
Tythel’s questions, for a time, were subsumed by anger. How dare he talk about her father like that? He said himself he abandoned the cause for a time!
They walked in silence for a time until she got her rage under control. Nicandros didn’t know. If he had known Karjon, he never would have said anything like that. He wouldn’t have dared.
That certainty helped her calm down enough to speak again. “How far is it?”
“If we stick to the woods, probably another three days. We’re not going to, though. There’s a clearing up ahead. We’ll break for lunch, then we’re going to get to open air. We should be far enough from Hillsdale to be able to pick up the pace.”
Tythel’s stomach was quick to remind her that, while she had gotten food pumped into her veins, she hadn’t put any food into her mouth in days. She readily agreed to the plan.
The made camp amongst some stone ruins, Tythel adding some of the smoked meat to Nicandros’ trail rations, a mixture of nuts and dried berries.
While she chewed, she looked around the ruins. Some of the structures looked familiar, which should have been impossible. But perhaps she’d read about it in her studies?
“Oh!” It hit her like a flash, and her exclamation startled Nicandros into alertness. “That’s an Cardomethian column!”
“A what now?” he growled. She assumed he was grumpy from being startled.
“These ruins, they’re from Cardometh.” Seeing his blank look, she felt a surge of pride at finally knowing something the grumpy old man didn’t. “Cardometh was the empire that spanned the Yabormah Sea, what we now call the Central ocean. One of the greatest Empires there ever was! They even conquered the Kaocan League, the precursors of our Valaetinian Confederation, although I suppose they fell to Those From Above too. The Empress of Cardometh, Ruth III, broke her army into a dozen smaller forces and liberated the towns the Kaocan had taken during the last Yabormahi War, and…” she saw that Nicandros’ was nodding along, but, as bad as she might be reading expressions, disinterest was pretty clear.
She cleared her throat. “Sorry. It’s just…I never imagined seeing anything from Cardometh in person.”
Nicandros gave her another of those smiles she couldn’t read. “Don’t fret, girl. I got to hear a lot of words I’ve never heard before, and that’s always something. You done eating?”
Tythel nodded, and began packing up. As they headed back to the road, it occured to her that one day, in the distant future, someone may find a relic from this time, and excitedly exclaim over lessons their father had taught them.
Only time would tell if the long lost kingdom they discussed was the Alohym or humanity.