On the wall across from them, Lorathor was now clutching Haradeth more firmly by shifting his feet into something closer to hands. Tythel wasn’t certain how long Lorathor could hold there, but he didn’t seem to be straining. Ossman’s grip was still firm, but tenuous. Have to get to him first.
Before Tythel could even formulate a plan, one of the soldiers on a ledge close to the pool of light began to scream. Tythel couldn’t help but look, and was shocked to see he wasn’t falling. The man was starting to glow. As Tythel watched, extra arms began to sprout from beneath his shoulders. His hair fell out, and he started to grow. “They’re tumors,” Armin whispered, following her gaze, “but they’re also muscles.” The man was growing taller as well, his legs bending backwards till they resembled something closer to goat legs, and his jaw began to distend forwards.
“He’s going to start ranting soon,” Armin said, and Tythel was too entranced to tell him to be quiet, “they usually are talking about peace and hope and redemption. The good news is lumwell mutants are harmless. Mostly just charge people and rant like that until they startle someone into shooting them.”
The man’s transformation finished. The end result was horrible, but also strangely beautiful. The creature’s skin was now pearlescent and shone with a glow of its own. It was still recognizable as being once human, but also was clearly something it. It moved with a preternatural grace as it began to scale the walls. He was speaking as he did, like Armin had promised. “Pain and leave no warp death infect and tear and leave and banish the lies the wrong do you see the wrong in the core find the wrong rend the wrong…”
Tythel glanced at Armin as the words reached his ears and he frowned. “Well, that’s noticeably worse than usual.”
The lumwell mutant reached another soldier. With an enraged howl of “Pain!” the once human creature leapt on his former comrade and wrapped its hands around his throat. It didn’t settle for strangling the man, however. It leapt back down until the soldier, struggling to break free.
The soldier’s screams took on a different note as he began to glow. The mutant held him there, still screaming. “Leave the wrong warp more find and tear and banish and rip and hunt and more and more and more and more,”
“And more and more and more,” the soldier started to agree. He didn’t sprout new limbs as the first one did. Instead, his arms and legs began to grow extra joints until they were longer than he was tall. The first mutant let go, and his new companion began to use those long limbs to work his way up the side of the tower.
“That’s going to go really poorly for us,” Armin said, almost conversationally. “I’ve never heard of a lumwell mutant acting with anything close to strategy.”
“Any suggestions?” Tythel asked. A few soldiers had recovered enough to began training unlight arcwands on the mutants. When they opened fire, the creatures screamed in rage even as the shots missed and began to target those soldiers.
“Shoot them with fire before they kill us?” Armin asked hopefully.
Tythel shook her head. “Maybe we should just run away.”
Armin nodded. “Good plan. Any idea how to do that?”
Tythel looked around the chamber. “Lorathor? You have Haradeth?”
“He needs to eat less from here on out, I think,” Lorathor said. “But yes, I do.”
“Can you move with him?”
Lorathor let out grim laugh. “It’s taking both my hands to hold myself to the wall. The moment I lift one, we’re both going plummeting. If we’re lucky, we end up falling into the lumwell and dying.”
“Why is that lucky?”
Haradeth picked up Lorathor’s meaning and pointed to one of the lumwell mutants. “Better death than that.”
“Oh.” Tythel felt her mind working furiously. “Armin, we’re bathing in light right now. Don’t suppose you can do a bit of something to make our situation less aweful?”
“Oh, sure, I’ll just waggle my fingers and we’ll all sprout wings.”
“Really?” Tythel asked.
“No.” Tythel glared at him, and Armin elaborated. “I’m already doing what I can. I’m diverting the light away from us. Which is why Ossman’s arm has stopped healing, incidentally. I’m just buying us more time before we turn into insane mutants. It’s the limit of what I can do, but it’s something.”
“I have an idea,” Haradeth said. “Tythel, your hammer. Do you think you can toss it to me?”
Tythel had almost forgotten it was still dangling, inactive, from her wrist. “Armin, can you hold on?”
In response, Armin shifted carefully to wrap his arms around behind her neck, and his legs around her waist. “Your highness, this is quite improper,” Armin said in the arch tones of a highborn noble. “People are going to talk.”
Tythel flushed and ignore the comment. Now that she didn’t have to hold Armin, he had a free hand and could shimmy along the wall until she reached a platform. She tentatively put her weight on it. It groaned under the strain. “Once I throw this,” Tythel said to all of them, “the platform under us might collapse. I think I can stop us before we die.”
Armin took a deep breath. “You sure about that?”
Tythel gave a curt nod. “Haradeth, are you ready?”
Haradeth pursed his lips, and gave her a firm nod.
Tythel collapsed the hammer, and tossed it. She whirled as soon as it left her fingers to dig her talons into the wall behind them as the platform they stood on collapsed.
The started to fall towards the lumwell, Tythel’s talons raising deep furrows in the stone. Horrible visions of falling into the pool of unlight below, or stopping them so low Armin couldn’t protect them anymore, began to flash across her mind.
They came to a halt down near Ossman and Eupheme. “What in the Shadow was that about?” Eupheme asked.
Tythel cast her eyes upwards. Haradeth had caught the hammer. Below them, the sound of the soldiers unlight rifles had stopped. The first mutant had slumped over, dead from repeated exposure to the lumwell’s radiance, but there were about ten of them now.
“Haradeth has a plan,” Armin said in answer to Eupheme.
“Oh good,” Ossman said. “Any idea what his plan is?”
“He didn’t share it,” Tythel said. “All he said was that he needed my hammer.”
As they looked up, Haradeth reached out and activated the hammer. It began to glow with unlight, and the lumwell mutants began to howl in rage.
Then Lorathor pushed and let go of the wall. They both began to plummet towards the lumwell. “No!” Tythel shouted as she watched them fall.
The lumwell mutants surged forward in a mass, trying to catch Haradeth and Lorathor halfway down the pit. Several missed their lunge, falling into the lumwell and disintegrating. The one with overly extended arms managed to wrap those limbs around Haradeth’s legs as they fell. It snatched Haradeth back towards the ledge, lunging towards his neck.
Haradeth brought up the hammer between himself and the mutant, and it recoiled away like he was holding something toxic and vile. The ranting of all the mutants increased, echoing in the empty tower. “They can’t touch it,” Haradeth shouted over their voices. “And they can’t let it drop into the lumwell!”
“Good!” Tythel shouted. “What now?”
Lorathor began to scale the wall as the other mutants approached Haradeth. Haradeth had to wave the hammer about like a torch to keep the creatures at bay. Once Lorathor reached the window, he was able to hang down and grab Haradeth, hauling him the rest of the way up. “Climb to me!” Haradeth said. “Then you and Lorathor can get the others! He can carry Eupheme!”
Tythel relayed the order over the jabbering lumwell mutants, who were increasingly trying to get to Haradeth. He was beginning to swing the hammer with increasing urgency to hold them at bay. “Hurry!” he shouted. Lorathor was already making his way to Eupheme.
Without waiting to see what would happen, Tythel began to climb as quickly as she dared, shuffling along the wall. A few times she felt Armin clench in pain as she was forced to drag him across some rough outcropping or bumped him against the wall, but he held on until they reached the window.
“We can’t get past the mutants,” Tythel said to Armin.
“I can clear a path, I think.” Armin closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Just be ready to move.” When he opened his eyes, the cornal imprint left by the sunstone was glowing. Armin slapped his hand to the wall.
The section he touched began to glow with unlight. One of the creatures let go of its handholds in terror and fell into the lumwell below.
Tythel didn’t hesitate and scurried over the patch of wall to the window, propping Armin on the ledge. “Be ready for me to come back,” she said. “I think we’ll need that again.”
Armin smiled and opened his mouth to respond, but was cut off by Eupheme’s screaming Tythel’s name. Tythel whirled around just in time to catch Ossman’s grip slip fully.
Tythel screamed as he started to fall towards the swirling lumwell.