It was a while before Tythel had collected herself and returned. They’d helped Eupheme out of her bedroll and she was now sitting on a log nearby. Her skin was getting color back from the ashen look it had before. Armin turned as she approached, “So glad you’re back! I need you to help me settle a finer point of contention between our dear Ossman and a ill tempered bear. You see…” The rest of the joke died on his lips as he saw her face. “Tythel? What’s wrong?”
“Nicandros is gone,” Tythel said, her voice barely a whisper.
Haradeth’s eyes narrowed. “Gone? What do you mean, gone?”
“I mean he left,” Tythel said, unable to stop the bitterness creeping into her voice. “I mean he’s quit, he’s done, he’s no longer going to be working with us. Or at least, with me.”
Silence reigned. “What happened?” Ossman asked softly, breaking the spell.
“I…” If you tell them, will they leave too? The fear choked the words in Tythel’s throat. I can’t lose anyone else. “I confessed something to him. Something that’s between me and him. It doesn’t impact any of the rest of you. I swear that. Can we…please, just leave it at that?”
“No,” Haradeth said, “we cannot. A personal disagreement with Nicandros caused him to abandon us? I’m sorry, but I don’t believe it. Nicandros hates the Alohym, more than anyone I’ve ever met.”
Tythel clenched her fists, then forced them apart. “He quit once before, didn’t he? Is it that hard to believe he’d do it again?”
“Frankly, yes,” Haradeth responded. “He came back because they killed his son. Now you’re telling me because he didn’t get along with you – which doesn’t make sense based on what I’ve seen of the two of you – he’s gone?”
“Leave it alone, Haradeth,” Armin said, crossing his arms.
Haradeth raised an eyebrow, “I’m sorry?”
“I’m serious, Haradeth. Leave it be. If we needed to know, Tythel would tell us. Look at her – you’re really going to push her on this right now?” Armin stepped up to Haradeth’s face.
Haradeth sneered at Armin, “I’m the ranking member on the field, especially with Nicandros gone. Stand down, Armin. I need to know how she cost us one of our best operatives!”
“No, you don’t! She already gave us the important details.” Armin’s eyes flashed with visible light.
“Armin’s right,” Ossman said from behind Haradeth. “Nicandros is gone. That’s what matters. Why do we need to know more?”
“Because this isn’t a gathering of friends, Ossman. This is a military organization! We don’t get to hold information back because ‘it’s personal.’ All of you need to realize that we can’t let personal feelings dictate our actions at this point. We are fighting against a foe that vastly outnumbers us with resources we can barely comprehend. We don’t get the luxury of personal lives if it could possibly impact-”
“I killed his son!” Tythel shouted. “That’s what it was, Haradeth. His son was part of the Alohym and helped attack my father and when I found him after the fight I burned him in his armor. Nicandros can’t forgive me for that, so he left.”
Silence resumed its reign. Haradeth thought in the silence, then nodded. “Good.”
Tythel cocked her head, confusion erasing anger. “Good? It’s good that I killed his son?”
“Yes. His son signed up to fight on behalf of the Alohym, Tythel. He saw what they were doing, and said to himself, ‘yes, this is an organization I should be a member of.’ As far as I’m concerned, you did this whole world a favor.” Haradeth stepped away from Armin, who was looking at Tythel with wide eyes. “And,” Haradeth continued, “if you hadn’t told us, the Alohym would have figured it out. Used it against us somehow. I’m glad you came around to seeing reason.”
“You didn’t know,” Eupheme said, before Armin or Ossman could speak. “You didn’t meet Nicandros until later. And, as far as I’m concerned?” She shot Haradeth a dirty look, “Haradeth has a point. Not about telling us. But that Nicandros’ son joined the Alohym. He became our enemy. We’re at war. That’s that.”
Tythel took a deep breath. At least I’m not going to lose her, Tythel thought. Ossman was nodding along with Eupheme. Armin was still staring at Tythel with wide eyes.
“Armin?” she asked hesitantly.
Armin shook his head. “I’m not as rabid as that, Tythel. Light forsake me, but I’m not.” He saw Tythel’s face fall and held up a finger, “I’m not saying I agree with Nicandros. I Ijust don’t believe that every Alohym soldier should die. Some of them are just people who believe they’re doing the right thing. We might not understand how they can, but they do believe it. However, you’d just lost your father. I don’t think it’s right to hold what you did in the aftermath of that against you. I still don’t know what I’d do if I ever got my hands on…” Armin shook his head again. “Nevermind. Just…I understand.”
Tythel could see there was more there, but didn’t want to push Armin on it. Not right now. “Thank you,” she managed.
“You all are very loud,” a voice said from the bushes, making them all jump. As Tythel’s heart started to slow down, Lorathor slipped out of the underbrush, his skin resuming its normal texture as he did.
Haradeth nodded towards the Sylvani. “How much of that did you overhear?”
“All of it,” Lorathor said with a shrug. “I honestly find the importance you all put on blood relations perplexing. What matters is that Nicandros left. Again. Not that it would change anything.”
“What do you mean?” Tythel asked.
Lorathor closed his eyes before continuing. “There’s no good way to say this. It was as you feared, Haradeth – Urdin’s betrayal went beyond the mission. He lead the Alohym back to the ruins. There wasn’t even a fight. Almost everyone’s been captured – they’re being taken to the city, where they’ll be executed.”
Everyone stared at him.
“My…my mother?” Haradeth asked, his voice shaking.
“Haveron managed to hide himself and her,” Lorathor said. “They’re both fine. A few others, too. Everyone else, however…”
“That’s it, then,” Haradeth said. “It’s over.” There was a finality to his voice.
Lorathor nodded. “I’m afraid so. I’ll be returning to my people – there’s other causes to fight for, but before I join in one of them I’d like to…”
Lorathor’s voice faded into the background as Tythel looked at the others. Ossman’s fists were clenched in rage. He’d never once spoken as to what pain had driven him to fight against the Alohym, but whatever it was seemed to be burning very near the surface right now. Armin had sunk to the ground and put his hands over his face. If he’d been moving more, Tythel would be worried he was weeping. Instead, it just looked like he couldn’t make sense of what was going on. And Eupheme…
…Eupheme was looking at Tythel, as if waiting to see what she’d do next.
Tythel had run out of tears to shed. Nicandros was gone. Her last hope of getting revenge for her father was gone. The people she’d met – virtually everyone she knew that wasn’t here – were slated for execution. There’s nothing I can do.
The word shocked Tythel even though it came from her lips, and everyone looked at her. “No,” Tythel repeated, trying it on for size.
“No?” Lorathor asked, “No what?”
“No, they’re not going to be executed.”
Lorathor frowned. “I suppose it’s possible Haveron misinformed me, but I assure you I confirmed before I returned. The execution takes place this coming Luxday, your highness.”
“Luxday,” Tythel muttered. “That’s…that’s not for another four days. Why so long?”
“They want to make a bit of a spectacle of it,” Lorathor said. “They’re pulling people in from the outlying farms and villages to witness. They’re going to execute an entire rebel army – or what was left of one. They want everyone to see it.”
“Four days,” Tythel bared her teeth. “Four days, then, to save an entire army from under the Alohym’s noses.” Tythel turned to look at everyone. “I can’t speak for all of you, but I’m tired of losing. This is something we still can save. We already broke out of prison once, and this time we’re on the outside. It’ll be easy this time!”
“Uh,” Armin said with a frown, “not to be indelicate, but you almost died. So did I. As did Ossman.”
Tythel nodded. “So, let’s try not to do that this time.”
“Oh good,” Ossman muttered, “a solid plan.”
“We have four days, Ossman. We can come up with a plan. But I’m just done losing. There are hundreds of people awaiting execution right now, and if you’re with me…” She took a deep breath again. “If you’re with me, we’re going to save them all.”
Somehow, she added to herself.