The signs of the battle were still evident as they headed back into town. Their path took them around to the south entrance. It seemed best to avoid trying to re-enter past the downed pod. On the horizon Tythel could still see smoke rising from the fields she had burned. It was worth it, she told herself, hoping that if she repeated it enough she might begin to believe it.
Thankfully, the Alohym had not increased security after their flight. It seemed even their adversaries thought it would be idiotic to try to sneak back into a town they’d just broken out of. It was Tythel’s first time seeing Dawnchester when it was daylight and she wasn’t suffering from Unlight poisoning. Prior to this, the largest group of people she had seen had been the three-hundred rebels. That, to her, had been huge but manageable.
There were at least twice that number waiting in queue just to get into that city, if not more. Light and Shadow. So many people. The sound of hundreds of people was almost overwhelming. The crying of children, the arguing of merchants, the grinding of armor, She could hear everything, but could understand none of it. And that was just the sound! Everywhere she looked, there were people. A surging mass surrounding them.
Tythel started taking deep breaths, trying to steady herself. It’ll be better in the city, she told herself. You were in there, it wasn’t like this.
A traitorous part of her mind reminded her she had been moving at night then. It could easily be this crowded during the day.
“You’re scaring Astray,” Haradeth muttered as they approached the gates.
“You smell like scared dragon. Astray is picking up on it. I’m not a miracle worker. Keep this up and he’ll bolt. Probably draw guards in the process.”
“Oh,” Tythel snapped back in a whisper, “that helps soothe my nerves. ‘Calm down or we’re in terrible danger.’ How could anyone possibly feel uncomfortable with that advice? While we’re at it, tell me how being anxious is something the Alohym can sense, so I’m broadcasting where we are just by feeling. Or perhaps that Unlight will curve to strike the nervous! Anything to calm me down.”
Haradeth was quiet as he reached down and patted the side of Astray’s neck. “Smelling like angry dragon isn’t any better.”
Tythel fought the urge to make an obscene gesture at his back. Any attempt to retort was cut off as they got close to the gate.
The guard manning the entrance was a portly man that had to have been squeezed into his armor, with an expression like he was slowly dying of boredom. “Nature of your business in Dawnchester?” Every word was laced with an absolute lack of concern for the answer.
“Ah, my good man!” Armin rode at the head of the group, and he bent in a seated bow. “We are, of course, here to witness the execution of the damn rebels our Saviors have recently captured.”
If Armin’s friendly demeanor had any impact on the guard, it certainly wasn’t visible on his face. “Execution isn’t for another three days,” the guard intoned.
“Three days?” Armin asked in well-feigned surprise before glancing at Eupheme. “Three days! You told me the execution was Noxday.”
“I’m terribly sorry, dear.” Eupheme shrugged. “I should have known better than trusting Ethil’s word on these things.”
“Ethil’s word?!” Armin practically roared at her. “The only difference between Ethil and a rotfly is that one is a buzzing insect that causes constant irritation, and the other is a rotfly. You listened to her?”
Tythel watched as the guard reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Sir-” he started to say.
“Now one minute!” Armin said, waving to the guard, “I need to know why my wife thought it would be good to recommend a trip into the city based on the word of Ethil.”
“Oh,” Eupheme snapped back, “then who should I have asked? Your brother? That idiot couldn’t find his arse with both hands, a map, and a three day head start.”
The guard let out a sigh. “Sir? Ma’am?”
His words had no effect. Armin was beginning to gesticulate wildly as he defended his brother and simultaneously denigrated Ethil. Ossman sidled up to the guard. “I once saw them argue for three solid hours,” he muttered.
This time, the guard let out an audible groan. “Can you make them stop?”
Ossman nodded. “We just need to offer Caldor some beer. He’ll rush straight towards it.”
“Then go, get them out of my damn sight.”
Ossman raised his hands to his lips. “Caldor. The inns should be open.”
Armin brightened up. “The inns? Why did you say so?” Eupheme shot Ossman a look that could have melted steel. The guard was so happy to be rid of them, he didn’t bother asking Haradeth and Tythel to raise their cloaks.
In her bag, Eupheme had a wide variety of makeups. With just a bit of work, she’d made herself, Armin, and Ossman almost unrecognizable. Haradeth and Tythel were too distinctive up close.
“I can’t believe that worked,” Tythel said to Eupheme once they were through the gates.
Eupheme gave her an impish grin. “Most people will do almost anything to get out of an uncomfortable situation.”
Tythel glanced back towards the walls of Dawnchester, wishing she was out of the press of humanity in here. “I can believe that,” she said.
It was less cluttered as they got further into the city and traffic started splitting up, Crawlers taking the main roads as horses were diverted into back alleyways. Tythel let out a relieved breath once the things enclosing her were walls instead of people. “How do people live like this?” she asked.
“It’s not so bad,” Armin said, “There’s endless things to do in a city, endless people to meet. Why would you want to live anywhere else?”
“Peace. Quiet. Privacy. I could go on.”
Armin shook his head.
“Come on,” Ossman said. “Lorathor should have already gotten us somewhere to stay by now.”
Lorathor had spent time in Dawnchester before. It took some trying for the group to get directions to the Gilded Piglet, but the faded gold pig on the sign made it easy enough to find once they had directions. The Sylvani was waiting inside at a table, holding an ale with both hands.
“Any problems getting into the city?” Lorathor asked them as they joined him.
“Only that my flathing wife thought that we should take advice from Ethil,” Armin said with a grin.
Eupheme rolled her eyes as Ossman answered Lorathor’s question with a shake of his head.
“Excellent. We have rooms upstairs.” Lorathor slid them keys. “The owner is an old friend of mine. He won’t report us.”
“You told him who we were?” Tythel asked in a low hiss.
“Of course not,” Lorathor scoffed at the idea. “But if he puts it together, we’re still safe.”
“Sorry,” Tythel muttered, feeling her cheeks flush. “This place has me on edge.”
“You’ll adapt.” Lorathor said soothingly.
“Or you’ll get yourself killed,” Haradeth muttered, and she felt her embarrassment turn to anger. Tythel turned to Haradeth, baring her teeth, but was interrupted by Eupheme putting a hand on her arm.
“Could you help me to my room?” Eupheme asked in a firm voice that bore little resemblance to a question. “My leg is still healing, and I think should lie down for a bit.”
Tythel gave a curt nod.
“Good,” Haradeth said. “We need you healed. Armin, Ossman, I want you two out there. Mingle. Try to find something we can use against the prison. Lorathor, I want you to try and make contact with the underground. Tythel, take care of Eupheme and stay out of sight.”
Tythel pursed her lips. “And what will you be doing?”
“Seeing what the rats know.”
After a pause, Tythel decided she didn’t want to give Haradeth the satisfaction of admitting she didn’t know if he was being literal or not. Instead she stood up, offering a hand for Eupheme to use as support. “Let us know if you need anything,” she said. Tythel didn’t wait for Haradeth’s response as she lead Eupheme upstairs.
“You shouldn’t let him bait you like that,” Eupheme said when they were out of earshot.
Tythel sighed. “I know. It’s just…he knows exactly what to say to be as annoying as possible.”
“Everyone deals with fear differently. Armin jokes more. Ossman goes quiet. You get angry at everyone and everything. Haradeth acts like a prick.” Eupheme shrugged. “Your way of dealing with fear just clashes with his.”
Tythel tilted her head. “I’m not…” the protest died as Eupheme gave her a flat look. “Fine,” Tythel muttered, “but it doesn’t excuse him.”
“I never said it did,” Eupheme said with a smile. “Light, I would love to smack the smug off his face. But you can’t control Haradeth. You can only control how you react to him.”
Tythel grunted. “And what about you?” Tythel asked.
“What about me?”
“How do you deal with fear?”
Eupheme’s smile widened as they entered the room. “I strangle it.”
“Any chance you could teach me that?” Tythel asked with a snort.
Eupheme shook her head. “It’s something you can only learn with experience. As long as you don’t let your fear master you, you needn’t worry.” They reached the door to Eupheme’s room, and Tythel let them both in.
Tythel helped Eupheme change her bandage and helped her into bed. As Eupheme drifted off to sleep, Tythel sat in the center of the room and began to focus on what she could hear.
The sound of the city washed over her like the tide, and Tythel started trying to do her best to pick useful information out of the clamor.