Tythel remembered little of the flight through the city. Just glimpses, snatches that flitted in and out of memory like butterflies punctuated by a spinning sensation and darkness. Nicandros pulling her into an ally and her trying to object until he clamped a hand over her mouth and they crouched behind a barrel as an imperipods stalked past. In the daylight, when she wasn’t fighting them, Tythel expected them to look less menacing. The reality was they seemed worth, giants of metal and unlight that stalked down streets barely wide enough to accommodate them, small tendrils on the sides with sensors sweeping back and forth.
“Stay down, girl,” Nicandros had muttered, and Tythel realized she was trying to rise. Part of her saw these things and wanted to fight them, wanted to overpower them for what they’d done to her and her friends. She was snarling, a deep sound in her throat that put Tythel in mind of the noise Karjon had used to spook lions when they wandered too close to his lair. Something primal in her was responding to these things as her foes, and she was struggling against Nicandros.
He held her, and it was a measure of how weak Tythel was that her struggles were about as effective as a kitten. The world started to spin again, and went dark.
Her vision spun back up. She was in an alley, but it was a different one. Tythel was certain this one was different because they could not see the street, and the bricks above her head were a darker shade of brown, and enough time had passed for Eupheme to get her hands coated in a layer of blood. Eupheme was trying to stop someone from bleeding, although Tythel couldn’t process who it was.
“I can’t cauterize her, Nicandros!” Eupheme was hissing. “How many flathing times do I have to tell you that? She doesn’t burn.”
“Then sew her up,” Nicandros growled.
“Ossman is the one who’s been studying how to do that, not me. I’m an assassin, not a surgeon. And before you ask – no, we’re not waking Ossman up. That’s just a good way to lose them both!”
They’re talking about me. They think I’m dying. That thought struck Tythel as hilarious, and to show her appreciation for the humor she coughed up blood.
Armin responded before either of them could, rushing over to kneel by her head. His hair was messy and had some blood in it as well, and Tythel reached up to touch his face.
“You fell off a building.” She said.
“That was yesterday, your highness,” Armin said with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. It was a sad smile. “I got better. Now it’s your turn.”
“But I can’t,” she murmured, the world starting to spin again, “I lost my egg.”
Armin shared a concerned look with Eupheme, but the world began to grow dark again, and she was falling, falling back down into the darkness. “Tythel!” Nicandros said. Or at least, she thought it was Nicandros. It came from so very far away. Or maybe it wasn’t his voice, maybe it was Karjon. Maybe he was waiting for at the bottom of this fall and was calling her name. Was he beckon her or warning her away?
She rose out of the darkness again. She was not in an alley. At least, it wasn’t like any alley Tythel had ever seen, but the ones she’d seen in between snippets of darkness were the only alleys she’d ever really seen, so maybe it was normal for alleys to have shelves and tables.
“I don’t care about the Lum. I’m a mage, I can provide the flathing Lum. But will it work?” Armin was shouting, and Tythel wanted to admonish him because there were imperipods nearby only seconds ago, but then Ossman lumbered into view and seemed fine so maybe it had been longer. How long had she been down in the darkness?
Ossman fell onto the table next to Tythel, and she realized he wasn’t lumbering, but being carried by Nicandros and Eupheme. If Ossman is still hurt, stop shouting, Armin. There are imperipods nearby! She tried to shout all that, but what came out was wordless mumble.
“You don’t understand, mage,” said another voice, one Tythel didn’t recognize. It was old and hoarse, like sandpaper being rubbed along a beach. “Her blood is poisoned. She should be dead – I don’t understand why she is not. I can give you the curative, and you’ll have to power it, but I can promise nothing.”
“I’ll take it,” Armin said.
But at what cost? Tythel thought. From what she was hearing, it sounded like Armin would be paying in gold the resistance could ill afford, and she saw Karjon’s horde again, large and glittering. How many problems could my father’s tomb solve? But that wasn’t right, it wasn’t his tomb. He’d died below and she’d given him the best grave she could. She reached out with one hand, blinding groping for someone. She found Nicandros’ sleeve and tugged it.
“Don’t exert yourself,” he growled, leaning down to hear what she was trying to say. “You need to rest. Get better.”
I killed your son. You should be pushing me into the Shadow. The words didn’t come out of her lips, although she wanted to say them. Instead, what she managed to get out was a simple request, “Bury me in the valley.”
Nicandros tried to shake her hand away, glowering at her with a fury so great she wondered if she had told him the truth about Thomah. “Don’t you talk like that. You’re not going to flathing die, you hear me?”
“NIc. Please. Promise. Bury me,” and she felt tears spring to her eyes. She was so weak her nictitating membranes could only sluggishly clear the tears, but her grip on Nicandros’ sleeve was as hard as iron. “in the valley. Under the mountain. With my father.”
“Alright.” Nicandros finally managed to free his sleeve with a yank. “Alright. But you’re going to be fine. Now stop with this flathing ‘bury me’ nonsense.”
Satisfied, Tythel slipped back into the light touch of the Shadow, the gentle caress of darkness that seemed to beckon her deeper, to fully accept the Shadow’s embrace.
When she finally rolled out of that comfort, they were in a building. From the dirt walls, Tythel though it might be a basement. Armin was sitting in a chair next to her, clutching something in his hands that glowed like a small sun. There was a cord connecting that device to thinner cables, and those thinner cables were inside of Tythel’s wounds. Light travelled along the cords, not the gross unlight of the Alohym, but the warm pale glow of the rising sun. Or setting. It’s always prettiest just before it goes out. That seemed profound to Tythel, although part of her suspected she’d feel otherwise if she survived.
“Where’s Eupheme?” growled a voice, and it wasn’t Nicandros. It was Ossman. Ossman was up and walking, and he looked better, although still not good. He was covered in bandages, and reminded Tythel of the mummified Princes of Phaenidia. Except he isn’t the one that’s cursed. I have a curse in my blood.
“She’ll be back,” Nicandros said, glancing at a hearth in the side of the wall. It’s like he expects Eupheme to burst out of there at any moment, Tythel thought, and then recalled the way Eupheme had rolled under a table and come out behind a man. Oh. He probably does.
“I don’t like it,” Ossman objected, and Tythel was glad he was feeling well enough to be stubborn. “The entire city is looking for us, Nicandros! If they find her-“
“-she’ll escape, especially if she doesn’t have to worry about saving us,” Nicandros responded. “She’s twice as capable of any of you lot.”
“And what about you?” Ossman asked, his chin jutting out defiantly.
“Doing this? Still better that I would be.”
“Both of you shut up,” Armin said from beside her, his voice flat. Tythel looked at him and saw his skin was turning gray around the edges, a streak of white forming in his hair. “I need to concentrate, and I’m not interested in listening you two repeat the same flathing argument.”
No, Armin, don’t waste away for my sake! Tythel tried to say, but she couldn’t form the words.
Eupheme chose that moment to step out of the hearth. One of her arms was bleeding. Tythel could smell it was a fresh wound. “They’re about a league out of the city,” she said, brushing away Nicandros’ concern with a wave of her hand. “If we can get out, if we can get to them, they’ll be able to take us the rest of the way.”
Nicandros nodded. “So Haradeth and Lorathor survived? Both of them?” He asked Eupheme.
“I don’t know about Lorathor. Haradeth and him got separated.” Ossman got up and lumbered over to Eupheme, who offered him her arm for bandaging. “But Haradeth is fine, and he-“
“They.” Ossman interrupted. “you said they.”
“He made some new friends. They’re going to help us.” Eupheme glanced at Tythel and sighed. “At least, they’re going to help her. Some old oath.”
No one owes me any oaths. Tythel thought, and she tried to shift, but found Armin’s hand on her chest, right under her neck. Either he was far stronger than he looked or she was even weaker than she felt. “I swear to the light, your Highness,” Armin growled, “If you undo all my hard work, I’ll personally follow you to the Shadow.”
Tythel blinked at him. “You look like you’re going to anyway,” she croaked.
“What, me? I’m fine. Just pulling power from an unfamiliar lumwell. Nothing to worry about at all.”
You’re lying, Tythel thought, but that was enough, that was more than enough. The effort of moving that much had her spinning back down into the shadows embrace. Maybe I should just go all the way down.
But this time there was a light in the darkness. She clung to it as tightly as she could, hoping against hope it would be enough.
She didn’t come fully to her senses for another three days.