When Eupheme woke her, Tythel’s head was full of cotton and spiderwebs. “Bwah?” she asked, blinking to try and clear her head.
“It’s time,” Eupheme said, holding a finger to her lips as she did.
Tythel had to blink a few more times before the thought clicked into place and she nodded. They had all gotten rooms on the lower story of the Inn, so once she’d hastily gathered her pack it was a simple matter to slip out the window with Eupheme and make their way to meet up with the others.
“Everyone rested?” Nicandros grunted when they got to the meeting spot at the edge of town. He didn’t wait for nods to continue, “Haradeth sent a signal. There’s a token force on guard, about seven men. We go in quiet, we take them out before they know we’re there. Then we plant the charges and get out. Tythel, Urdin, and Ossman, stay behind with the riders, keep watch until we send the signal.” He didn’t even glance at Tythel before interjecting, “no arguments. Tythel, we need your ears out there, and none of you are particularly easy to hide.”
Tythel closed her mouth, wondering how he’d known she was going to say something. Ossman made sense, he was built like what a bull wanted to be when it grew up. The riders also had heavy armor, so of course they couldn’t go. But until the point about her hearing had been made, Tythel wanted to say she’d be perfectly capable of staying quiet.
No one else had any objections, and Nicandros nodded, leading his small group into the factory.
Tythel sat on a nearby rock, focusing on what she was hearing to try and pick any threat out of the air that she could. She took the hammer and shield out to make sure she was ready for combat.
“You’re truly the heir of the royal family?” Urdin asked around the same time that Tythel heard a man gasp his last near the footsteps she associated with Nicandros. If she was right, if those were his footsteps, then his heartbeat barely got quicker when he drove whatever blade home. She could hear them all save Eupheme, who must have been using a touch of Umbrist magic to hide herself even from draconic ears.
“Yes,” Tythel responded with a smile. Urdin frowned at her, although Tythel couldn’t tell if it was because of the smile attempt or because he disliked the answer.
“Tell me, princess, what do you know of your parents?” The words, in another tone, should have put her on edge. Instead, the way he asked sounded more like he was asking her if she expected it to rain again tomorrow, or if she thought they’d survive the night, or if she’d realized that everyone eventually succumbs to Shadow no matter what they may accomplish in their lives.
His voice matched his face perfectly, since every word he uttered was so depressingly down.
“Not much” Tythel answered as a man slumped to the ground near Armin’s footsteps. His heart was pounding like a drum as he did.
“Ah. So you can’t say whether you’d try to follow their example should you reclaim the throne?”
Tythel wanted to shush the man. There had to be a better time for this conversation. “No, I really can’t. If they were good, and kind, and just, I would. If they were cruel and greedy and selfish, I’d try to avoid it. I know the one I called my Father was all of the first three, so I hope I’d be those as well.”
“I see. Let me ask you a question, your highness, if you’ll permit it?” Tythel thought about saying no, but Urdin continued to before she could, “two men bring to you a problem. A poor man is saying a rich man is infringing on his property. The rich man claims the property has been in his family for generations. Which one is correct?”
“What a stupid question right now,” Tythel hissed, unable to help herself. “We’re in the middle of something rather important, and it doesn’t even have an answer. Without knowing who had the land first, how could I decide who is correct?”
“You could not,” Urdin said, and finally Tythel caught the silken undertone to his questions. Something significant was going on here, and she was missing it. Urdin continued, “but you still must give an answer, so what is the right one?”
Tythel thought for a moment, buying herself time to listen a bit longer, “The property should go to the poor man, since he has less and therefore needs more. The rich man should get a small sum from the crown to compensate for the loss of records that would have proven or disproven his case. There, satisfied?” The last words came out harsher than she intended.
Urdin thought for a moment, and then looked over Tythel and shook his head. “It will do.” Behind Tythel, she heard a couple Abyssals shift, as if they were turning around, but when she glanced back at them, they were facing away to watch what could come from outside. Ossman was a bit further away, staring at somethin in one of the Abyssals’ hands. I wonder what that was all about? she wondered, but pushed the thought aside. It seemed like something she could worry about later.
It was good that she did, because before she would have had time to wonder about it further, her ears finally caught something. The sound nearly stopped her heart. It was not the low hum of unlight engines, which was a small blessing. It sounded iike the deep thud of the footsteps of imperiplate, but much louder and larger. And there were three of them. “Something’s coming!” she hissed.
Urdin’s face didn’t register a change, but his body went tense, like a wire had been pulled. “The others?” he asked.
Tythel heard another guard drop at the same time Urdin asked the question. Three down. That meant four were still standing. There was no time – the approaching threats were moving too fast. “We don’t have time, and they’re not ready,” she responded.
Urdin nodded, and drew his arcwand. “Go warn them. Ossman, go with her. We’ll hold the line here. Go!”
Tythel didn’t wait, taking off at a run towards the factory with Ossman right on her heels. She didn’t bother trying to be silent or stealthy as she ran.
A guard saw her coming and cried out. Before Ossman could unsling his arcwand to aim at the man, Tythel had a ball of dragonflame in her hand and hurled it at the guard in a smooth motion. If nothing else, training had improved her accuracy, and the man fell before he could make another sound.
He’d already raised an alarm with that cry, however. She heard sounds of fighting break out within the factory. Nicandros greeted her when she got to the door, his face contorted with anger. “What the flath, girl? You could have gotten us killed!”
“Something’s coming!” Tythel gasped. “Something big, I don’t know what it is. Urdin said-”
Tythel paused as she realized how close the footsteps had gotten. She whirled around.
They came out of the forest surrounding the factory, each one looking like headless imperiplate designed for a giant. The torso was large enough to fully fit a man within, and each of the arms was a long as Tythel was tall. On top, where the head would be, two mail-clad soldiers stood, armed with unlight arcwands and swords.
The tentacles on the giant walkers’ arms came together, and they dove for cover as they opened fire with great rays of eldritch power, heedless of the damage they might do to the factory behind them.
As she crouched behind the wall, a small part of Tythel wondered why she did not hear them fight against Urdin as they approached.