“Duke d’Monchy,” Armin said, as firmly as he dared to a member of the nobility. “I understand the urgency to leave this tunnel. However, we’ve heard from Eupheme. There’s an aeromane out there.”
Armin folded his arms to hide the way his hands clenched in frustration. Breaching the plateau had happened just a few minutes before Eupheme’s song came through. Armin and his fellow lumcasters found themselves trying to hold an entire army from trying to pour out into the fresh air. To make matters worse, Armin wanted to do exactly that. He’d been starting to fear that they’d remained trapped under here forever, slowly dying of asphyxiation, never realizing they had miscalculated and were just tunneling deeper into the earth.
“You think a beast is going to attack an army?” The Duke asked incredulously. “Surely you jest, Master Armin.”
“I wish I was. I’ve studied the creatures, m’lord. Aeromanes have, throughout history, risked attacks on armies. They can get out of bow range quickly enough after grabbing prey.”
“We don’t rely on bows anymore,” Dutchess d’Monchy was less dismissive than her husband, but no less insistent. “Surely arcwands could slay the beast if bows once worked.”
“They absolutely could, you ladyship,” Genevia interjected, putting the stately grace that had come with age behind her words. She fixed the Dutchess with her three eyed gaze, and Armin wanted to cheer in thanks. Genevia’s gaze was unnerving as the blackest reaches of the Shadow, but when it was employed against someone else Armin appreciated it. “What’s less certain is, in the dark, we’ll be able to slay it before it manages to kill any of our men.”
The Duke and Dutchess shared a look, and Duke d’Monchy sighed. “Very well. What word, then? Is the princess alright? And the others?”
Armin nodded. “They are well, m’lord. They are also thirty leagues from here. It might be wisest to meet them at the rendezvous.”
“Impossible,” the Duke said with a scowl. “Tellias in that arcplate could cover that distance in a single day. How did the princess and her umbrist keep pace?”
“By riding some new Alohym creation,” Armin said grimly. “They’re called Skimmers. They can fly faster than the Alohym’s vessels. Shorter range, most likely, but they’re smaller and more agile and…”
“And the perfect flathing scouts,” Lord Devos spat the words. “Where did the Alohym get the flathing things?”
“From a distant star,” a voice said.
Everyone turned to look at the speaker. Ossman. Armin winced at his voice. Ever since the incident at the mage tower, Ossman had been…different. Prone to unusual outbursts like that. He was normal the overwhelming majority of the time, and then would say something like that. “What do you mean?” Adenot asked, his voice gentle. Armin resisted the urge to shoot the other Llumcaster a glare. Adenot meant well, Armin was sure, but ever since learning what had happened to Ossman, Adenot had treated him more like an experiment than a person.
Ossman frowned in thought, and shrugged sheepishly. A red flush began to creep up his neck. “I don’t know. Just an idle thought, I guess?”
Adenot took out a piece of parchment and began to scribble on it, nodding to himself as he did. Armin wanted to go over, give Ossman some words of reassurance, but what could he say? “I know the light addled your mind, but it’s okay, you’re giving my colleagues some very useful data?”
Somehow, Armin doubted that would do much to make Ossman feel any better.
“Lord Devos raises an excellent point,” the Duke said, mercifully pulling attention off Ossman. “These things…how do we handle scouts that fly that quickly?”
“There is good news there, m’lord,” Armin said, glad to keep the conversation off of Ossman. “Though they fly like ships, Eupheme confirmed they can be felled like animals. If we see them, I suggest our best course of action is to fire every arcwand we have to bring them down before they can report back to their masters. She said they didn’t have any songstones that she could see, so they’d have to report in person.”
“That’s something at least. How long do we have to wait here, Master Armin?”
I shouldn’t be in charge! Armin wanted to shout. I didn’t even finish my apprenticeship! Genevia is eldest. Or Adenot. Flath it, even Clarcia is more equipped to lead a group of Lumcasters. I’m an ambulatory power source, I’m useless. Stop treating me like I’m in charge. “Until dawn, m’lord,” Armin said out loud. “With sunlight, we’ll be able to see it coming – if it’s still even in the are.”
The Duke nodded and turned to leave, the Dutchess and Lord Devos following. Of the noble council, only Lady Von Bagget, who had been silent up until then, remained.
“What of Tellias?” she asked Armin, her voice low and urgent. “Is he well?”
Armin nodded. “His Arcplate ran out of light. It was one of the first pieces I converted, and I hadn’t gotten a chance to fix the leakage problem.” It took Armin a moment to remember the relation. Tellias was Lady Von Bagget’s second cousin on her mother’s side. She’d been the one to vouch for his allegiance.
The tension in her shoulders faded. “And he’s with the Princess?” she asked. This question was still urgent, but not as fearful.
Being treated like a full Lumcaster had its privileges. Technically all full Lumcasters were minor nobility, although their titles could not be inherited. Still, it meant nobles spoke more freely around him now. In those contexts, Lady Von Bagget had made no bones about her intention to see her cousin the next Prince Consort. Tythel being stranded with that pompous git would only be good for Lady Von Bagget’s plans. “Yes,” Armin answered honestly, fighting a scowl at the calculating smile on Von Bagget’s face. There will have to be a Prince Consort. Tythel will need an heir.
It still rankled him to see Lady Von Bagget so eager.
She left after getting her answers, tapping her chin in thought. Armin rolled his eyes at her back.
“You look like you just swallowed a whole vase of rotflies,” Ossman said quietly.
Armin didn’t bother hiding the grimace this time. “Genevia, would you mind helping Adenot check himself for any new mutations? I know he’s eager to find out if he finally got one, and I think a professional eye would be useful.”
If getting commands from a Lumcaster that had never graduated bothered either Genevia or Adenot, it didn’t show. Armin secretly suspected they wanted command as much as he did. The other two Lumcasters left, leaving Ossman and Armin relatively alone. “It showed that much?” Armin asked.
“A blind Underfolk could see it at noon,” Ossman said with a grin.
“Tythel’s not a pawn in someone’s marriage game,” Armin groused. “We should at least see if we’re going to win and reclaim the kingdom before we start picking out a husband for her. And she should get some say in it.”
Ossman chuckled. “Armin. Do you honestly believe anyone on Alith could force Tythel into a marriage she didn’t wish for?” He emphasized her name, to show exactly how absurd he found the concept.
“No, I just…flath it. It bothers me.”
Ossman’s grin only widened. “Of course it does. I’m surprised it took this long for you admit it does.”
Armin frowned. “What do you mean by that?”
Ossman gave him a look of wide-eye incredulity and sighed. “Nevermind. Just don’t forget that Tythel has the lineage of an entire kingdom to think about – and with how much she knows about history, she probably understands that better than we do.” Ossman stood up, brushing off his pants. “I’m going to see if Lord Devos needs my help.”
Armin watched the larger man go, wishing he could understand what that meant.