The tunnel was a winding maze burrowed into the rock of Hallith, twisting downwards to make sure the slope was not too steep. The walls were almost perfectly circular, although they still needed great wooden struts to support them. Armin had been grousing that if they’d carved them as arches, they’d have been able to forgo the supports, but had conceded the extra time needed for that was probably not worth the effort. As it was, the thick beams of wood would prevent the tunnel from collapsing.
There were five entrances upon the main plateau, all of them leading to a junction about a hundred feet down that allowed access to the single tunnel deeper in the earth. That junction, where five tunnels converged into one, was the biggest weak point in the whole structure. The lumcasters hadn’t been able to spare time to worry about structural integrity, and whenever Tythel walked past the entrances she could hear the beams groaning under the pressure. The sound of them was growing louder now as they grew closer. Over that creaking sound, Tythel could hear the voices of soldiers ahead of them, coming from the main tunnel. Ossman’s voice reached her ears, and she smiled to know at least one of her friends was safe.
“We’re the last ones in,” Eupheme said as they continued along, the footsteps of Alohym soldiers pounding behind them.
Tythel nodded. It would make things easier, knowing there was no one behind her that she had to worry about. She had enough concerns as it was.
They rounded a bend and the junction was ahead. It was empty – the soldiers were already proceeding down to the lower levels, where Armin and the other lumcasters had hopefully broken through to the outside. If they hadn’t…but no, Tythel couldn’t think about that, not right now. They would break though, one way or another. Right now, all she needed to do was give them time to get everyone else out.
She tried not to think about the fact that she hadn’t yet figured out how to survive what came next. She was certain she’d figure something out. The Imperiplate helm at her side, banging against her hip with every step, was a good reminder that she at least had some options. I’ll have to risk a songstone afterwards, let them know I’m all right. Assuming she was, of course. That, Tythel had to admit as she finished the last of her water, her throat still raw from the flame she’d poured through it, was seeming much less likely with every moment.
Don’t think about it, she told herself, and recalled something Karjon had once told her. It had been when she was learning to leap among the trees of the valley, wanting to get as close as possible to the awesome flight capable her father was capable of. She’d fallen again, and expressed concern to him that she’d break her leg. “If you think it’s too dangerous, you shouldn’t do it,” Karjon had said gently.
Tythel, at the time only twelve, had protested loudly. “But I want to do it! I love it.”
Karjon had nodded. “Then you accept the risk. Everything you do, Tythel, will carry risks. You could get hurt, physically or emotionally. You have to decide if the risk is worth the reward. And you may, one day, find something that is worth any risk, any danger. When you do, go into it with full knowledge that you accept those risks.”
Leave it to him to turn even a child’s whining into a chance for a lesson, Tythel thought with a rueful grin. They were in the junction now, and Tellias and Eupheme were looking at her expectantly. “Can you tell me the plan now?” Tellias asked, although the question came out as more of a demand.
Tythel winced and rubbed her throat. This was it, the moment of acceptance. I do this with full knowledge of the risks, father, I promise. She took a deep breath. “No,” she whispered, her voice still barely able to raise. She motioned towards the tunnel, trying to indicate she’d tell more when they were deeper in.
Tellias and Eupheme turned and began to head that way. Tythel followed behind, waiting for them to cross the junction, to get under the wooden beams.
As soon as they were, Tythel reached out, shoving them both with all her strength. Eupheme went tumbling, end over end. Her umbrist’s grace let her turn it into a roll to prevent injury. Tellias was wearing arcplate. If he’d been expecting it, there was no chance she would have been able to push him so easily. She’d caught him with one foot in the air for that very reason, and off balance, Tellias toppled over and began to slide down the tunnel. “What the shadow?” he shouted in surprise.
Tythel didn’t respond. She needed her voice, and she didn’t have the time. Her unlight hammer sprung to her fingers as she extended it, and with two quick blows hit the beams supporting the tunnel. They shattered under the impact, and Tythel had to leap back as the tunnel began to collapse. “Tythel!” Tellias shouted, reaching out towards her. Eupheme shot her a glare full of daggers. Tythel mouthed sorry to her as rocks began to fill in the gap between them. The tunnels were well lit, with few shadows large enough for Eupheme to jump through. Her range was fairly short – Tythel could only hope that it was too short for her to reach back to the junction.
The collapsing rocks didn’t completely fill the tunnel, and Tythel swore. This needed to be airtight or it wouldn’t work. Before she could raise the hammer to collapse it further, Tellias did her job for her, scrambling over the rocks. The arcplate brushed against the ceiling, collapsing the tunnel the rest of the way.“What the flath do you think you’re doing?!” Tellias bellowed at her.
It was Tythel’s turn to glare daggers. “Saving,” she hissed through her ruined throat.
“And what about you?” he demanded.
Tythel ignore the questions. The Alohym soldiers further down had heard the sound of the collapsing tunnels, and were whooping with excitement at being close to their quarry. Instead, she reached up and put her hand on the side of Tellias’ helm. “Airtight?” she croaked.
“Of course,” he answered with a scoff. “I don’t see how that matter…oh. Oh no.”
Tythel gave him a nod and turned to get to work. She took a deep breath and pushed the frustration at Tellias, the fear of how she would survive, the shame for Eupheme’s glare – all of it – into her throat.
Then she let loose dragonflame the moment the first of the soldiers entered the junction. He raised his hand in a reflexive gesture of defense, but Tythel hadn’t been aiming at him.
Her flame was weak, pathetically so. Tythel could immediately feel her throat scream in protest at being forced to burn again so soon after the last blast. She didn’t need to push herself too hard – not so long as she could keep it constant. Still, the pain brought tears to her eyes.
The dragonflame hit the floor of the cavern, and as soon as the rocks began to heat, they released the long ago locked away miasma that infused these stones.
A cloud of purple and green gasses erupted from the point of impact. The hot air coming from the flames pushed the noxious poison away from Tythel and Tellias, and sent it streaking towards the soldiers that were standing in the way of the cloud of death and the air.
When this had happened last time, Tythel had barely released enough gas to do more than frighten everyone and make one man sick. This time, she kept pouring on the flame. The onrushing wall of miasma met the first soldier, who had just started to raise his unlight wand to take aim at her.
He gasped in surprise, and that sealed his fate. The gasses pushed their way into his mouth and nose far quicker than a mere gasp could account for, likt it was something alive and hungry, and his skin began to turn grey. Black veins erupted along his arms and neck and face, spreading downwards towards his chest and lungs. His eyes withered and turned to ash that blew out of empty sockets.
The sight was terrible. Tythel fought back an entirely different set of tears, instead taking her terror and using it to fuel the dragonflame. Soldiers began to scream higher up the tunnel, and she could hear panic set in as they scrambled away.
Tythel fell to her knees as she poured dragonflame into the now molten pool in front of her, a pool that was spreading outwards, releasing more and more gas as it heated the rocks beneath it. She pushed herself away from the fumes, and silently prayed she would be able to survive before the poison crept into her own lungs.
I do this with the full knowledge of the risks, Tythel had told herself, but she’d never imagined the death would be so horrible. This time, the thought was entirely different, fear worming its way into her heart. She threw it into the dragonflame, but it didn’t go away, instead sitting there with one solid thought that betrayed her earlier confidence.
I don’t want to die.
She could only pray those wouldn’t be her last words.