After the fight with Thomah, Tythel had been exhausted. The sun was finally setting on what felt like the longest day of her life so far, and she was physically, emotionally, and magically drained like she never had felt before. It was all she could do to gather her pack and curl up against a nearby tree to fall asleep, and she had been unconscious before her head had even came to rest on the pack.
She woke up in confusion, wondering why her bed was full of needles. “Karjon?” she called out groggily, and speaking her names brought reality crashing back into focus. For an instant, it was like he had died all over again, and she shook with an overwhelming tide of emotion. The idea crossed her mind that she could just lie here. Scavengers would eventually be along for Thomah’s burned corpse, and once they were done with him the hungrier ones would risk live prey. If she just stayed still and waited-
No. Absolutely not. No. You are not giving up. She forced herself to sit, folding her legs into what Karjon had said was called the lotus position, and rested her hands on her knees. He’d read about it one of his books, a technique human wizards used to focus their minds, and he’d adapted it to helping teach her draconic magic.
It also had proved calming in the past. Today, pushing herself through the mental rituals she’d learned as a child did not magically erase her grief, but it did help calm the paralytic surge she’d initially felt. When she finished and opened her eyes, she felt able to face the day.
Her shoulders still ached, and the right one that had been burned by the unlight of the Those From Above – the Alohym, she reminded herself – had begun to throb in deep, low pulses. She leaned her head to the right and inhaled, catching a faint whiff of some wrongness, a sickly sweet smell like the time she hadn’t wanted to eat her chicken leg and hid it under a pile of gold. Rot.
She’d never had to worry about that kind of thing before. Any time she’d been injured growing up, Karjon had seen to it with salves and poultices. The only serious injury she’d even gotten was a broken ankle trying to hop into the pile of gold, and that he’d cured by bathing the injury in Heartfire. She had no idea how to treat an infection. Someone from the village will know. She had to hope they would, at least. Otherwise, things were only going to get worse from here.
The sun was already high overhead. She didn’t think she’d make it to town tonight unless she pushed herself, which meant it was time to get moving. Before leaving, she did do one last quick thing and collected the tiny rod and disk that had made Thomah’s hammer and shield, which had fallen away from the fire when Thomah fell.
She had no idea what magic was required to make them work, or if they would even work for her, but it was worth grabbing them. Should have grabbed some of the weapons from the hoard before leaving, she chided herself. The drakesteel dagger was something but it was a small weapon, and she didn’t like the idea of trying to get close to someone who knew what they were doing.
Karjon had tried to teach her to defend herself in a fight once, but in his words it had been like a hawk trying to teach hunting to a kitten. It was adorable, but not particularly useful.
Those gathered, she head off down the bison path again, trying to ignore the ache in her shoulder as best she could.
By sunset, the infection had become undeniable, and town was still a good distance away. She had needed to stop once to regurgitate the smoked meat, and again to empty the remaining contents of her stomach. She could feel the fever creeping across her forehead, and every step trembled.
With the onset of darkness, she had two choices. She could rest and hope to get better in the morning, or she could try to push through the night and risk advancing in the darkness. Neither was particularly appealing to her, even with fever clogging her thoughts. For the former, the rot could be much worse by tomorrow, leaving her unable to walk. For the latter, she could easily get lost.
Pushing forward seemed like the better option. She watched as the last of the sun’s rays sunk below the horizon, just as she exited the pine forest. The bison path here met what looked like a proper roadway, one worn by ages of human travel.
As she stepped onto the road, her vision began to brighten, the world starting to throw itself into sharp relief. For an amazed moment, she thought this was another gift from Karjon – and then she saw the real source.
It had come up behind her, scuttling out of the forest, and she realized how badly the fever must be affecting her that she didn’t hear it coming. She recognized the body of it from descriptions in Karjon’s book, that much of it was clearly a carriage. Instead of being drawn by horses, however, it scurried forward on six long and spindly legs. It had two lamps in the front, but the lamps shone unnaturally bright.
“Get out of the road!” someone shouted as the carriage scuttled up to her and she stood there, staring at it blankly. There were people in the carriage, a man and a woman.
A small part of Tythel noted that this time the man did not fill her with revulsion, so it must have been the armor before.
“Did you hear me? Move!” The man was the one shouting. He was a thicker fellow, with a single eyepiece in. The eyepiece was made of green glass, and Tythel could not begin to fathom its purpose.
“Otis, look at her,” the woman said, putting a hand on the man’s shoulder. She was probably about the man’s age, and they were both easily twice Tythel’s age if not more.
The man, Otis, did, and his eyes widened. Tythel wondered again at the significance of it. She didn’t think she looked like something frightening right now. Although she was still as tall as she always had been, she was swaying slightly in the road, and could feel her knees shaking with the effort of holding her upright. She had slept in the forest and hadn’t changed clothes, so those were a mess, and hadn’t wasted any time on her hair either. She must look like some wild child, raised by animals.
“Hey!” Otis shouted, although his voice had changed tenor from an angry shout to one of concern, “You all right, miss?”
Tythel licked her lips and found her voice, buried somewhere under a pile of fever. “I’m hurt,” she managed.
“Well we can see that!” He glanced at the woman, who nodded encouragingly. “I’m coming out. I’m armed, so if this is some kind of honey trap to rob me, I will shoot to kill.”
When he stepped out, he was holding something that looked like a crossbow without the cross. It was short and thick, and the end of it had a crystal. This one, at least, did not look like one of the unlight crystals, but rather a large glass one with a red tint. Tythel wanted to go into a defensive posture, maybe even call flames to her hand, at the sight of it. Instead, her fevered brain decided the best course of action right now would be to turn around and vomit into the road.
“Ligh-er, Alohym preserve you, girl, you’re sick!” Otis’ lips curled down, and Tythel wondered if that was something most people did when they pointed out the blindingly obvious.
“I was shot. By a…” she motioned towards the thing in his hand. “Two days ago. Bandits.” That last lie occurred to her at the last moment, but it seemed like a good one. The man had been worried about bandits with pots of honey, after all.
The thought made her want to laugh, but a wave of nausea prevented that.
“You have a two-day untreated burn?” He asked, and she nodded. He swore, that same word Thomah had used, “Flath.”
“Otis!” his wife objected at the word. “Stop swearing and get her in the back, we need to get her to the doctor.”
“Yes, Freda.” He reached over to take Tythel’s hand, and Tythel let herself be lead back to the skittering carrier. She felt some small part of her want to recoil from the device, clearly something invented by Those From Above, but for the most part she wanted to lay down and pass out.
As soon as she got into the seat, which was the softest thing she’d seen in days, she did exactly that.