Tythel leapt to the side as the Aeromane’s claws dug furrows into the dirt where she had just been standing. It growled in confusion, whipping its head towards them. Eupheme raised her arm and fried a couple shots. One managed to sear the Aeromane’s shoulder, and it roared in fury. Tythel kicked off the ground with all of her strength, hurling herself away from the beast. Eupheme kept firing at it, and the Aeromane began to run along the ground after them.
I have to do this. There’s no other way. Tythel took a deep breath. Immediately pain began to well in her throat, although it was less than before. Tears welling in her eyes, Tythel let out a tiny burst of flame.
The effect was immediate. Although it came nowhere near the Aeromane, the beast reared up and let out a surprised chuff of air, waving its forewings at them and looking around. The beast was old, it seemed. Old enough to know what dragonflame meant. It gave Tythel a look of almost comical confusion. You are tiny and delicious, it seemed to be thinking, yet that fire is hot and bad. “Eupheme…” Tythel managed to whisper hoarsely. “Get behind it.”
Eupheme, for a wonder, didn’t argue. With the sun as low on the horizon as it was, the entire canyon was covered by the deep shadow of its own walls, and Tythel felt a rush of air as Eupheme’s weight vanished from her back.
The Aeromane snapped it’s jaws and cocked its head in confusion, looking at Tythel through squinted eyes. The beast knew that humans did not suddenly vanish. Humans did not breathe dragon flames. Humans screamed and crunched between its jaws. Now it was confronted with oddities upon oddities. Scholars described aeromanes as no more intelligent than land-bound great cats, but in its confusion, Tythel saw a glimmer of some deeper intelligence. The aeromane was just smart enough to understand that what was happening was wrong and unnatural. Just smart enough to be baffled.
Unfortunately, it also seemed smart enough to call her bluff. The aeromane began to lower down to be on all fours again. Without any further dragon flame, with the strange vanishing human not reappearing, hunger was replacing fear.
In response, Tythel held out her hand and extended her hammer. It crackled with unlight. The aeromane reared up again, hissing in anger and fear. Things kept vanishing. Things kept appearing. The aeromane did not like these things. It let out a series of growls and hisses.
That’s a language, Tythel thought, her eyes widening. It was too rhythmic, too distinct to be anything else. Crude and primitive, perhaps. Aeromanes were solitary creatures, they wouldn’t need much complexity in their language. But, although she couldn’t understand the words, the tone was unmistakable.
The aeromane was swearing. Angrily.
Tythel opened her mouth, hoping to take advantage of its confusion. She didn’t attempt to breathe dragonflame. The thought of doing that to her throat again made her stomach churn. Instead, she tried to roar.
The sound that came out was weak and rasping. The aeromane cocked its head further in confusion. Tythel opened her mouth and attempted to roar again. The sound, while far from fearsome was still doing its job, still confusing the aeromane. Giving Eupheme time to line up a shot.
When she ‘roared’ for the third time, the aeromane joined her, a deep bellow of pain that echoed through the valley. It whipped around, and for a moment Tythel could see Eupheme framed under one of its wings, but Eupheme vanished before either Tythel or the aeromane could get a good look at her. The creature turned back to Tythel and bellowed a challenge, rage and confusion mixing in the sound.
Tythel let out another wave of dragonflame in response. It wasn’t much – it was barely more than a flash – but it was enough. The aeromane decided there was better, less confusing prey elsewhere in the valley. It lept into the air, flapping to gain altitude.
Tythel collapsed, her vision spinning. It had taken everything she had left in her to let out that last bit of dragonflame. Eupheme appeared at her side, catching Tythel before she collapsed to the ground. “Tythel! What’s wrong?”
Tythel could only gesture towards her throat. That coppery taste was filling her mouth again, and she spat blood onto the grass below. Tythel felt her lids start to grow heavy. Just a little bit of sleep, Tythel though. Just a little bit and –
Eupheme slapped her hard across the face. When Tythel blinked in confusion at the sudden, sharp pain, she realized she was on her back, facing upwards to the suddenly dark sky above. Stars were dotting the narrow stretch of sky she could see. I passed out. Tythel thought, blinking groggily. “Tythel, you have to get up. We have to get you somewhere safe.” Eupheme waved the splinted wrist in front of her face. “I can’t carry you. Tellias’ armor has no power. You have to get up.”
How does she know Tellias’ armor isn’t powered? How long was I out? Tythel nodded, trying to rise to her feet. Gingerly she leaned her arm over Eupheme’s shoulder, trying not to put too much weight on the injured woman. “Others…” Tythel gasped in pain from the effort of that word.
She thanked the light Eupheme understood her meaning. “They Got free of the cave. They made contact. We’re thirty leagues from them, your highness. We’ll discuss what we do next later.”
That was what Tythel needed to hear. She let Eupheme lead her to a nearby cave. There was some scent in here, something about this cave, that Tythel found oddly familiar. Her brain was too addled to place it. It will wait until morning, Tythel told herself, her thoughts full of cobwebs and fluff.
“We’re here,” Eupheme said. “You can rest now.”
Tythel nodded and nearly drug Eupheme to the ground as she collapsed into an almost dreamless sleep. She did have one dream, an oddly vague one. Eupheme was asleep against a wall, and Tellias was snoring in his armor at the entrance. Karjon stood over them, looking at her in confusion. Tythel wanted to reach out to him, to ask him for help, but she was too tired, even in her dream.
She didn’t wake again until mid morning. Eupheme and Tellias were still asleep. Her throat was as sore as the time she’d caught a throat infection that had forced Karjon to raid a village for medication, but nowhere near the bloody rawness it had been the night before.
Tythel stepped into the sun and stretched, then paused in shock as she saw what waited outside the cave. Massive claw marks. She traced her fingers over them. They were just the right size to belong to the aeromane. It returned, Tythel thought in confusion. If the aeromane had come along while they were asleep, it should have eaten them. Instead, it seemed that it stalked up to the entrance of the cave, before taking to the sky again.
It was a mystery for later. For now, she decided to soak in the knowledge she’d survived Alohym, Skimmer, and aeromane all in one day. The resistance lived, and the fight would continue.
She let Eupheme and Tellias sleep for awhile longer. They’d earned the sleep, and she’d earned a chance to bask in the sun.
She’d earned a moment of peace.