Tythel dragged herself out of the Shadow, still clutching that ball of light. When her senses returned, she could feel her mind returning with them. Thoughts were clearer and linear. Her head was still pounding, but it wasn’t making it impossible to think.
Before trying to move, she took stock of the room around her. Nicandros was sitting nearest, all but looming over her. Eupheme was on top of the stairs, sharpening a dagger. Ossman was asleep on a bed in the corner, looking less like a mummy than he had when Tythel could remember last.
Armin was nowhere to be seen.
Besides them were a few new objects. The first Tythel noticed were more weapons, smuggled into the basement while she slept. Arcwands, enough for each of them. Then there was a pile of rags in the corner, clothes of all shapes and sizes haphazardly strewn together. The strange device Armin had been using on her rested on top of them, and a few more devices Tythel couldn’t place.
She started to get up, but Nicandros put a hand on her shoulder. “Easy, girl. You with us?”
Tythel let herself be pressed back into the bedroll. “I think so. How long?”
“Four days. A shard of the unlight blade broke off, got stuck in your ribs.” Nicandros gave her a smile, and in that smile Tythel could see the echo of the fear that must have plagued him for days. “How are you feeling?”
“Better than last time I got up.” Tythel rose to a sitting position, having to stop and wince once she was fully up. Her head was throbbing in protest, and she reached up to rub her temples to try and quell the pain. It’s like the morning after I snuck a sip of Sylvani wine from Karjon. Seeing as Sylvani wine was one of the few alcohols that could manage to intoxicate a dragon, it had been extremely potent for twelve year old Tythel. He acted so mad. I can’t believe he let me do that just to teach me a lesson. She pushed back the memories to focus on the present “How bad was it?”
“Tythel,” Nicandros said in a warning tone, but Tythel shook her head.
“Nicandros. I need to know, please. How bad?” It was hard for her to say why she felt like she needed to know. Something about it struck her as important. Maybe it’s just because they risked everything to save you? Or just good to know how close you came to dying.
Nicandros sighed. “We almost lost you, girl. If not for Armin, we would have. Your blood was tainted with unlight. If we hadn’t managed to purge it…” Nicandros sighed. “Unlight poison does terrible things to a person.”
Part of Tythel wanted to ask what it would have done to her. She noticed that Nicandros hadn’t said “die” once in his entire explanation. I wonder if that’s because he doesn’t want to say the word…or because something worse would have happened. There wasn’t time to ask about that right now. There were more important questions. “Where’s Armin? How is he?”
In response to the name, pile of rags in the corner shifted. Tythel started at it until Armin’s head poked out of them. “Oh, praise the light. You’re alright.”
Tythel couldn’t stifle as gasp at his face, although she tried. It was nearly all grey, worn and gaunt, looking like something more skeletal than the handsome young man she remembered. The white streak she’d seen forming in his hair had become a series of streaks, tiger stripes of pale hair. His eyes were dull, almost lifeless. “Armin! What did you do to yourself?”
“It’s nothing,” Armin said, extracting himself from the rags. His clothes hung loosely on his frame, and as soon as he was free from the improvised bed he started shivering. That’s why the rags. He’s freezing. “The local lumwell…it’s been tainted with unlight. So…” Armin shrugged.
“You look half dead.” Tythel said, blinking with concern.
“You were three quarters dead. Now you’re one fourth dead and I’m half dead. Fair trade, right?” Armin managed a grin, and although it was a bit ghoulish Tythel felt some of her tension fading. If Armin was grinning, he was still Armin.
“Thank you,” Tythel said, sincerely.
“Psh,” Armin rolled his eyes. “I just did it so the big softy there wouldn’t cry.” He pointed to Nicandros, and although the words came out harsh and rasping, Tythel found a laugh for his attempt at humor.
“Well, thank you for making sure Nicandros didn’t cry.” She glanced over at Nicandros, who was surreptitiously wiping his eyes. Armin wasn’t kidding, Tythel realized, her eyes widening. Or accidentally was right. Either way… Tythel sucked in a breath. Nicandros still didn’t know she’d killed Thomah. Would you still worry for me if you did?
“I’m glad you’re back on your feet, your highness,” Eupheme said, sheathing the dagger and walking down the stairs. “We were just getting ready to try moving you without you waking up.”
Tythel frowned. “What’s going on?”
“They’re closing in on us,” Eupheme said with a shrug. “The Alohym want us recaptured, bad. I can barely step out of the shadows without being spotted, and I think they figured how far I can travel – which isn’t very far.”
“They’re coming to search this block tonight,” Nicandros growled, and Eupheme nodded to confirm his words. “We can’t stay any longer.”
“But what about Armin? Ossman?”
“The big lump,” Eupheme said indicating Ossman with a quick flick of her hand, “is fine. Just sleeping off the last bit of healing. He can move, he can fight.”
Tythel looked at Armin, who shrugged. “Honestly, your highness? I’m not getting any better until I can attune to a healthy lumwell.”
Tythel let her tongue flit out of her mouth for a moment, a gesture Karjon always made when she presented him with a problem he couldn’t answer. Much as she wished it wasn’t the case, one of Karjon’s knowledge gaps had been in the realm of human magic. He’d explained to her the basics – human mages attuned themselves to a nearby lumwell, which were connected by invisible rivers of power. They could draw power from there…somehow. He’d been vague about it. There had been a lumwell in the valley below the mountain, and he’d taken her to it, but she’d felt no resonance. Whatever that meant. He’d said that meant she wasn’t a mage, and from the way Karjon had phrased it, he’d taken immense relief in that fact.
Probably because he would have had to find a teacher for me. Would have put him in danger. “Why can’t you heal until then?” she asked Armin.
“The lumwell is tainted. Same as your body was.” Armin’s joking manner had completely evaporated now, and his tone was somber. “It happens in the cities a lot these days. Some mages have learned how to tap into the…the taint, the unlight pollution. I’m not one of them. It’s too dangerous. But that means drawing power when I’m attuned to one…” Armin shrugged. “A burning man won’t stop burning until you pull him out of the flame.”
“Can you just…” Tythel groped for the word, trying to figure out what she was saying. I do not want you to die to save me. “Unattune? Something like that?”
“That’s the nasty catch, your highness.” Armin gave her a wan smile. “If I do, there will be backlash. Unpredictable magical effects. I could warp, I could shatter, I could kill you all in an controlled power surge.” Armin shrugged again, and Tythel hated how loose his clothing looked every time he did. “Archmages can swap lumwells with the slightest twitch of a finger. I’m a glorified power source.”
“Well, I met an archmage in the dungeons,” Tythel said, forcing a smile, trying to get him to return the expression. It felt unnatural on her face, but Armin did respond with his smile brightening slightly. I feel like I’m threatening him. “I’d rather take a glorified power source over a dozen of him.”
“As touching as this is,” Eupheme interrupted, “we have to get moving. Before they sweep the block tonight and catch us?”
Nicandros nodded in agreement. “Wake up, Ossman,” he said, kicking the leg of the bed Ossman was sleeping on. “We leave within the hour.”
“Mmmwah?” Ossman said, blinking himself awake. “Tythel? Are you with us or are we in for more egg talk.”
Tythel gave the most dignified sniff she could manage. “I don’t have the faintest idea what you’re talking about.”
That got a chuckle out of Ossman, and together they began to pack their things.
They were leaving the city tonight. Only time would tell if they left it for the open plains or to join the Shadow’s embrace.