The building they were staying in turned out to be a home belonging to a couple that had been executed for aiding one of the resistance groups. “Once they do,” Nicandros explained to Tythel as they were packing, “the people and everything they owned are declared Anathema.”
“Like in Cardometh?” Tythel said, frowning. Anathema as a religious practice had died out when the Cardomethi empire fell, to be replaced with Exile to the Shadow. It meant the Shadow would rule your life as well as your death, but was far gentler than –
“Girl, you know I don’t know anything about Carodmeth.” Nicandros snorted. “It means that if you touch anything that belonged to them before it’s been cleansed, you’re marked and the Alohym will keep you from the Shadow’s embrace. And if you get caught, you’re probably a rebel and get treated as such.”
-That. “Yeah, that’s about the same,” Tythel said in a small voice.
Nicandros turned away to rummage through a pack, pulling out Tythel’s hammer and shield. “The Alohym don’t seem to have figured out we uses Anathema houses when we’re in cities. Safer than exposing someone who is still alive to the flathing Alohym. Although I think this is the last time we’ll get to use that trick.”
Tythel blinked in confusion. “How could they not have figured it out? They’re not stupid.”
“Because we’ve only done it once or twice before, as a last resort. Like this was.” Nicandros shrugged as he handed over the armaments. “It’s a trick we knew could only sit in a cryobox for so long. Saving you and Ossman was worth burning it.”
The guilt began to rise in Tythel again, and she fought it down. If you tell him now, he’ll be thinking about it during the escape. He might even not trust you during it. At least wait until you’re out of the city and safe. At least wait until…Tythel resisted a sigh. At least wait until you can stomach the look in his eyes.
She knew that wasn’t fair to herself, that there were solid reasons not to tell him now. That didn’t change the fact that it felt like cowardice.
“Thank you, then.” She tried to force a smile for Nicandros. He raised an eyebrow in confusion, and Tythel blinked again. “Did I get it wrong?”
“If your lips don’t go up, it’s just a grimace. You’re getting better, girl, don’t worry.” Nicandros did give her a smile, one she hadn’t been able to place before but was now realizing was an indulgent smile.
Tythel turned away.
“Hey, Tythel, don’t worry.” Nicandros said. “We’re going to get out of this. Remember, I promised. Not going anywhere.”
Instead of answering, Tythel shouldered her pack. “Don’t make promises you can’t be sure you’ll keep,” she said, brushing past Nicandros before her nictitating membranes started flashing away the tears. She knew it looked like she was angry, and she was. It’s not his fault.
She just wished he’d stop saying that.
“Eupheme,” Tythel approached the woman, “The routes still clear?”
Eupheme gave her a tilted head of confusion that Tythel appreciated. “They were five minutes ago, your highness. Do you want me to check again?”
Tythel bit her lip. “No. It’s only been five minutes?” Eupheme nodded. “I just…” Tythel glanced out of the corner of her eye at Armin.
The young mage was moving around getting ready, but it was a listless series of gestures. He seemed present, mentally, but without his usual cheer and jokes he was…Tythel couldn’t put a word to it. He’s just going through the motions. Eupheme followed her gaze and then motioned to draw Tythel’s attention back. “He’s stronger than he looks, your highness.”
Tythel didn’t know if Eupheme meant that, or was saying it for Tythel’s benefit, but it was appreciated all the same.
“Alright, everyone, listen up,” Nicandros growled. “Once we go out that door, we’re not going to have long to go before we run into a patrol trying to close the net. Take them down hard, fast, and silent. If we pull that off and break out of the web, we’ll be clear. If we don’t, we’re going to have to fight our way out through the entire flathing city. We’re about half a mile from the wall, and Eupheme’s already made sure we’ll have an open gate. If you get separated, head towards the Northwest gate. Push hard, but we’re not trying to take down the whole flathing garrison here. If your opponent can’t chase, it’s time to move, not fight. Understood?”
Everyone nodded and headed towards the door. Tythel took a deep breath to steel her nerves and, with one last glance to make sure Armin was still on his feet, opened the door.
The night air was still and cool. It should have been refreshing, but there was something off about it. A foul stillness that reminded Tythel of when Karjon had exposed some new tunnels for the lair. The stale air from in there had been exactly like this.
By contrast, to Tythel’s ears, the city was very much alive. There was a woman arguing with her husband about her sister. Here was a young boy trying to comfort a younger child, promising papa would be home soon. The gentle sounds of a couple kissing. Some less gentle sounds from a different couple that confused Tythel. What on earth are they doing? And so on and so forth. An absolute cacophony of life that had been hidden from her in the basement.
And when we were on the first floor, Tythel reflected as she fell in behind Eupheme and Nicandros, who were taking up scouting positions in the front. There had been no sound from the city at large when they had been there. Did Anathema actually do something? Or was it some other factor? Tythel shook her head to dismiss the thought and try to tune out the sound. She needed to stay focused. Even with Eupheme and Nicandros taking point, Tythel might spot something they missed.
Tythel heard the clang of the Alohym soldiers enhanced mail at the same time Eupheme held up a fist to bring the group to a stop and gestured at Nicandros. He nodded, raising his arcwand, and Eupheme vanished into the shadows.
Everyone tensed. Tythel was holding her breath, Ossman was hunching his shoulders to look as small as possible, even Armin was…well, the best one could say for Armin right now was that he looked alive, which was an improvement.
They were so focused, they all missed the soldier coming up behind them before it was too late.
“Targets spotted!” he shouted into his shoulder, and Tythel whirled around. In a single smooth motion she activated and let her hammer fly as she did. The soldier was a good distance away, having shouted the warning before the sound of his mail alerted Tythel. The hammer still struck him in the chest, and he went stumbling back as Tythel ran to pick up the weapon. Stupid, stupid, Tythel chided herself.
“Come on!” Nicandros shouted as Tythel’s fingers closed around the hammer’s handle. The time for stealth was over.
It was time for flight.
Tythel was able to catch up to Ossman and Armin. When she reached them she slowed down to match Ossman’s speed and grabbed Armin by the back of his clock and tossed him over her shoulder. “Tythel, what are you doing?” he shouted, practically in her ear.
“Shoot behind us!” she responded. It wasn’t the reason she’d picked him up, but Tythel took pride in herself for the improvisional answer.
Armin grumbled but unslung his arcwand as soldiers began to close in behind them. He opened fire.
Alarms started sounding across the city. A deep, booming voice sounded over the city, coming from a dozen different origins. “U’doh’can. U’doh’can.”
“What are they saying?” Tythel asked Ossman as their feet pounded on the pavement.
“Stay in your homes,” Ossman grunted. “It means they’re not going to be holding back.”
Tythel nodded and pushed her head down. They’d caught up to Eupheme and Nicandros. Eupheme was running oddly, her form trailing a shadowy impression of herself with every step. Nicandros just ran as fast as he could.
The gate loomed ahead. Freedom was almost there! Tythel pushed herself a bit harder, determined to get Armin to freedom.
Then a metal tree trunk slammed into the road in front of them. It took Tythel a moment to realize it belonged to one of the tentacles of the pod-walkers from the forest. It was thicker than the one they had fought back then, and Tythel didn’t think they’d be lucky enough to open a small hole she could exploit this time.
Tythel’s mind was racing. If I was building a colossus like that, where would I short the armor? The answer was obvious. No one in the world had flying machines besides the Alohym, so why would you waste armor on the top.
Because of me.
Tythel shoved Armin at Ossman. “Get him out of the city!” She shouted at Ossman.
“Go! I have a plan!” Tythel didn’t wait for Ossman to answer.
Instead, she leapt.
The leap took her high enough to hit the roof of a two story house beside her. The walker turned towards her, and lashed out with one of its tentacles. Not there yet. Without even pausing on the balcony, she took two more steps and launched herself into the air again, this time landing on the roof a third story building. The people inside the house screamed in panic, but that was swiftly drowned out as the tentacle slammed into the balcony she had just vacated.
The screams from inside the building were frightened, not pained. Tythel hoped she hadn’t gotten anyone killed as the walker swung towards her again. Tythel had to drop to her knees to slide under this blow, bending backwards till she could feel her hair press the tiles.
Then she pushed up to resume charging. A four story building was nearby, and was her target. It seemed – thank the Light – the Alohym soldiers inside were unwilling to fire Unlight inside a city and were trying to swat her like a bug instead. Perfect.
She leapt up to the four story building. The pilot of the pod had figured out her destination and a tentacle was swinging to meet her. Instead of trying to dodge this one, Tythel landed on it.
For a moment she almost lost her balance. The metal was smooth and polished to a sheen, it offered very little in the way of foothold. Then she heard and felt something catch in her foot, and her momentum stopped. Worry about that later. Tythel pivoted towards the pod and began to charge up the length of the tentacle.
If I survive this, Nicandros can never complain about my technique again.