After that last blast, Tythel could hear screams and groans coming from within the Earth. Troops that had been caught within the fortress that survived the unlight blast. She looked askance at Nicandros, but he shook his head and motioned for her to keep moving. “Nothing we can do for them,” he said, and his gruff voice was softer than usual. “The Alohym will fire again soon, and they’ll go to the Shadow’s Embrace.”
With that sobering thought, she started moving down the tunnel. She heard the second shot go into the fortress and, as Nicandros had promised, the cries of those trapped in the ruins did cease. The cries of those being carried on stretchers, injured from the battle in the woods the night before, did not. The task ahead of them was at least simple, just a matter of walking through the tunnel as the distant thunder of Alohym unlight caused the Earth to shudder, bringing down chunks of dirt in between the roots of the plants Lathariel had supporting the tunnel.
With every blast, Tythel could hear Lathariel crying out in pain. Haradeth had looped back around to his mother. She had one arm draped over his shoulder, every time one of those great blasts tore through her forest she let out another scream like she was being stabbed through the heart, but in between Tythel’s ears could hear Lathariel reassuring Haradeth that she would survive this, so long as a single plant still lived within those woods.
Having seen what the weapons had done earlier, Tythel was confident at least that some plants would survive. She bit her cheek as Lathariel cried out again. Reasonably confident.
A hand came down on her shoulder, and Nicandros said gruffly, “Don’t worry, girl. Lathariel’s a goddess. It’s going to take more than a few volleys to take her down.”
“Thank you,” she said, and as Nicandros withdrew his hand she realized that was the first bit of contact with another human she’d had in her entire life that wasn’t as the direct result of an injury or to cause an injury. It was comforting.
“Can’t someone make her be silent, at least?” hissed Lord Devos. Before Tythel could speak, Nicandros had punched him in the kidney, and he shouted in pain. Several of his men reached for their swords, but Nicandros held up a hand and stepped over the Lord.
“Tell you what,” Nicandros growled into his face. “How about I beat you until you can be silent about it? Then you can teach her the trick.”
Devos spat onto the ground, then looked up at Nicandros with a smile on his face. That confused Tythel, since she’d thought that smiles were supposed to indicate happiness. Why would Lord Devos be happy about being punched and humiliated? “You would have made a good Abyssal, Nicandros,” he said as he got to his feet. Something in his tone made Tythel shiver, and it was so at odd with the look on his face.
Nicandros resumed walking in silence next to Tythel. She took advantage of the silence to try and count footsteps. It was a skill that Karjon had boasted of having, and she figured now would be a good time to try to pick it up.
There was little else she could do at the moment.
Although she couldn’t quite manage it, by the time they were at the entrance, she had figured out that each pair of feet had a unique sound to to them. Weight of the walker, weight of the shoes, distance of the stride – all of them contributed to making every person’s walk as distinct as their voice. She focused for a time on just Nicandros’ gait to make sure she could recognize it. If nothing else, I really want to greet him by name without looking up. Like Warlord Calian of the Dralthate Cycle. He had a bad knee that popped some as he walked, just loud enough for her to hear now that she was focusing on it. How did I miss that for the last day?
That thought, as absurd and out of place as it was, was the last thought she had as they stepped out of the tunnel and into the sunlight. Lathariel had lead them to a long abandoned city by the sea, one of the old Cardometh empire. Tythel was certain she would be able to pinpoint it once she had time to explore.
For now, she turned her eyes skywards. The sun was shining, and birds were singing. A huge murder of crows, in fact, were flying away from the destruction of Lathariel’s forest. As men and women began to exit the tunnels, Tythel went to one of the columns and began to scramble up its side. The pillar had layers that were about a foot apart that made excellent hand and footholds, and really it wasn’t much more dangerous than clambering along Karjon’s horde. Her injured arm was still aching in protest, but that bandage Nicandros had given her must have contained some magic.
Once she reached the top, she peered back in the direction they had come.
Lorathor shouted at her from below. “Princess Tythel! What can you see?” Tythel glanced down at him for a moment. Even from thirty feet in the air, she could get a better view of him than she had in the dim glow of the glowing plants the night before. His most distinctive feature was the w shaped iris, and like all Sylvani his skin was a constantly shifting pattern. Right now it was tan with brown stripes, serving as excellent camouflage from on high. Instead of hair, he had three prominent ridges on his head. Sylvani could channel air through those ridges to create beautiful music – or in this case, easily shout to be heard over the roar of waves and the chatter of men.
She turned her vision towards the horizon. They’d walked most of the night, so about six hours of marching. Going through a tunnel and slowed down some by the injured as they had been, they hadn’t been able to cover as much ground as would have been possible for a healthy force. Still, they had gone far enough that, even with her vision stronger than it had been before and the benefit of her altitude, she couldn’t actually see the forest, just a plume of smoke rising from where it had been “I don’t see…wait!” The crystal tipped tentacles of one of the Alohym vessels emerged from the smoke, followed by others. “They’re coming out of the smoke!”
Below her everyone fell silent. Tythel clung as closely as the column as she could, suddenly terrified the distant vessel would spot her and turn towards the people below who were hidden by the hillside they had emerged from. She watched as they turned and gave it another full minute to make sure she was right before shouting “They’re turning west! They’re heading away!”
A ragged cheer rose from below, and Tythel glanced down. There were probably about two, maybe three hundred soldiers cheering her. A small part of her, the part that Karjon had raised on stories of great rulers and great wars of the past, was glad that the first sight they had of her was her on high, delivering good news.
It was about thirty feet to the sand below. She slid down the side of the pillar, doing her best to keep her descent controlled so she wouldn’t ruin the moment with an awkward fall at the end.
When she reached the ground, she caught a coppery whiff of blood on the air that came out of the tunnel with the troops. As soon as she did, she reached up and tied her hair in a tail behind her head. “We should start seeing to the wounded.”
Nicandros gave her a confused look. “We? Do you know medicine, girl, or how to utilize Alohym bandages?”
Tythel shook her head, and then held up her hand to let dragon flame engulf it. “What was that word? Cauterize? And when I’m done with that, I can fetch for those who do know what they’re doing.”
She couldn’t be certain, but she thought his smile was approving. At least, she hoped it was.
“Alright. Stick with me.” He motioned for her to follow, and they went to where Haradeth was organizing the injured around his mother. Lathariel was, to Tythel’s relief, still breathing. Roots were beginning to grow from her back and deeper into the sand.
She glanced towards Haradeth and pointed to the roots, and he answered the unasked question, “She needs to draw upon the strength of this beach, what little it has, to heal. Keep your flathing flames away from her and she’ll be fine.”
Tythel recoiled from the venom in his voice. Haradeth had said little since the argument in the fortress, but even she could see the anger blazing in his eyes. What did I do? I just arrived, this can’t be my fault. “This way, girl,” Nicandros said, steering her away from Haradeth’s wrath.
They headed in to join the injured to provide what relief they could.