Tythel spent the rest of the week in a haze of fever. People came and went. At one point a woman came in with a white mask covering the bottom half of her face and stabbed Tythel with a needle. Or tried. It broke, which caused the woman to frown and mutter something that sounded like “unnatural.” When Tythel awoke later, there was a needle attached to a tube stuck into her arm. She went to pull it out, but something clattered on her wrist.
She glanced at it and saw she was shackled to the bed, which seemed like it should be important, but for the life of her Tythel couldn’t figure out why.
Another time she woke up to overhear a snippet of conversation. “…report it.” That voice sounded like the woman from earlier, the one wearing the white mask who had called her unnatural.
“We are not going to report it. She’s just sick.” That voice sounded like Freda, using the same tones she’d used to tell Otis not to swear the other day. Days ago? Tythel wasn’t certain.
“She’s not human, Freda. She’s not right. And that wasn’t a normal arcwand that hit her. I know when it’s an Alohym weapon, it’s why it went to rot so fast. She’s a criminal, or something worse.”
“Catha Lambright.” Freda put as much strength into those two words as every single line of Catha’s objection. “We are not…” and for a moment she faltered, like she was trying to find the words that would keep Catha happy. “We are not bothering them until we know more!” There was a note of triumph in Freda’s voice now.
Catha answered, but Tythel lost her grip on consciousness as she did, and the fever consumed her words as it dragged Tythel into something like slumber.
Dreams came between the spells of wakefulness. Karjon and her falling, but Karjon was telling her how she had failed him as they fell. Her sprouting wings and a tail like a proper dragon and breathing a jet of flame that consumed her form until she was just a head breathing fire into the darkness, a head that was then blown apart by an unlight beam, then the entirety of the horde fell through the space where her head had been. That egg hatched, but what crawled out wasn’t something good or beautiful, it was a monster with chunks of Alohym metal stuck to its skin, and it breathed unlight fire.
That last one made her wake up with a gasp, and this time she felt her mind achieve true alertness.
She was in a bed, like she had thought, and the shackles were real. The room looked like it belonged to someone of great means, with a thick carpet on the floor and actual glass in the windows. A painting of a young woman hung from one of the walls, over a well-crafted dresser. The curtains were drawn, letting light stream in.
Freda was sitting in a chair in the room, a book on her lap. When she heard Tythel struggle, she looked up and rushed over to her. “Shhh, dear, it’s alright. You had a nasty go of it for a bit there, but you’re going to be alright.”
“Chains?” Tythel asked, her throat not wanting to utter more than a single word at time.
Freda gave them a glance, her mouth turned down. Tythel recalled the word for that finally – it was a frown, she’d read about them. Characters in her books were often frowning, usually when something bad was happening. When Freda didn’t answer, Tythel tugged on them for emphasis.
“Right,” Freda, snapping her attention to Tythel. “Well, dear, those are…a precaution right now. We can talk more about them in a bit. But you need water, I think.”
Too tired to push against the chains any more, Tythel just nodded. Having actual water run past her tongue as Freda gently tilted some into her mouth was a sensation so wonderful, so blessed, that Tythel could momentarily forgive the chains.
“Thank you,” she whispered after Freda pulled it away. “How long?”
“Four days, dear. You were in and out of it for four days.” Freda patted her on the knee.
Tythel opened her mouth to answer, when all of a sudden a terror struck her, and her eyes scanned the room. “My pack?” she asked, her heart pounding. “Where is my-”
“Shhh, it’s alright dear. Under your bed, and we haven’t touched it.” Freda watched Tythel, who was still breathing heavily and clenching and unclenching her fists. When she didn’t stop, Freda nodded to herself and pulled the pack out from under the bed and gently placed the heavy pack in Tythel’s lap.
The chains were loose enough for Tythel to clutch the pack to herself. The thought of losing it, losing the last momentos of her father…she had to fight back tears, and bowed her head so Freda wouldn’t see her membranes blink.
“Thank you,” Tythel said when she got herself under control.
Freda gave her a sad smile. “Must be very important to you.”
“The…I lost my father.” Tythel didn’t think any further explanation was needed, and since Freda didn’t press the issue, it seemed she agreed.
“You poor dear. You still need more rest, you know.”
Tythel opened her mouth to answer, but at that moment Otis entered the room and saw them. “Well, look who’s up? Jolly!”
Now that she was past the confusion and panic, Tythel got to look at them a bit better. Their skin was paler than hers by a fair margin. Otis’s hair was a deep blue running close to black, while Freda’s was closer to purple, and their eyes were wider with pale gold irises. She’d read about this in a book of Karjon’s, “The Lineages of Humanity” by the wizard Xovan. Humans skin and hair and eyes and fingernails and even bones would change color over the course of generations based on the nearest lumspring. The villages within a few leagues would likely have similar coloration, but past that the people could be similar or vastly different.
Tythel’s appearance – tan skin, red hair, and green eyes – was common near the capitol. Which, in hindsight, should have clued her that Korjon’s story about finding her in a field while hunting wasn’t entirely truthful.
They were staring at her, and Tythel coughed to play it off as her throat still being sore. “Yes, thank you. For your help. Although…” she tugged the chains again.
“Erm, right, right. Well, now I suppose we should talk about that, hmm?” He glanced at Freda, and Tythel got the impression that Otis was often doing that.
“I suppose,” Freda sighed. “You see, dear, your injury…well, it looks like a burn from an- well, we were wondering how you got hurt.”
Tythel tried to smile. From the way they looked at each other, it wasn’t a great attempt. “There was a soldier in service to the Alohym on the road. He had, he said he had been on a mission. But…” She bit her lip to think, to buy herself time to fully fabricate the lie, “He was swaying. Like he had been to the drink. Said he wanted my pack, that he was commandeering it. I thought he might be a deserter. So I ran and he shot me in the back. Then…you know how the air gets a bit darker when they fire their weapons?” The couple nodded. “That happened. He ran away when he saw that. I saw them flying away from the mountains later. I don’t think they were looking for him.”
“Ahhh. The Alohym smiled upon you, little lady,” Otis said with a smile. “They were not in the area for your friend, not the day you were hurt. They were in the mountains to hunt a foul beast, a dragon!”
“No!” Tythel said, and when they both looked at her in shock at the vehemence in her voice she kept talking. “How horrible. I was smiled upon. By the Alohym.”
“Yes indeed you were.” Otis and Freda shared a look, and Tythel realized that, once she found a person she could trust she desperately needed instruction in reading facial expression. She had a feeling that there was a sea of nuance she was complete missing because she could not read it – and was likely doing them incorrectly as well.
“We had to cuff you because of that, dear,” Freda said, standing up and putting her hand on Otis’ shoulder. “Now…well, we need to talk. There’s…things going on that we can’t quite explain right now, isn’t there dear?”
“Quite, quite.” Otis smiled at her, which Tythel took as a good sign. “We’ll be back in a little bit yes?”
“Okay. Can…can you make them a bit looser, at least? I have a terrible itch on my arms.”
They shared a look, and Freda nodded. Otis crawled under the bed, and a moment later Tythel’s grip was loose enough she could reach across her own body. She thanked him as he crawled out.
The couple left the room, and Tythel waited to hear them talk, thanking Karjon silently for the hearing.
Otis’ voice “It doesn’t explain the skin, love. Or the necklace. There’s too many oddities. We need to call him.”
Freda started to protest, but Tythel tuned it out, instead reaching to to take each chain in her hands and engulfing them in dragonflame, praying the flame would get them hot enough to be weakened before whoever ‘he’ was arrived.
She had no intention of being here when that happened.