The new Umbrist leapt back from the expanding circle of fire that surrounded Tythel. The woman considered the flame for a moment. “You are touched in the head,” she said after a moment’s consideration of Tythel’s predicament.
Tythel smiled, collapsed her hammer and shield, and stepped into the inferno that raged around her.
Everything she owned had been treated by Karjon to protect it from flame. A dragon did not keep possessions long without those protections. She was grateful for that – it protected her garments and even the fragile notebooks within her pack. Heat intense enough to sear a human to the bone was comfortable against her scaled hide. She could feel the metal of the hammer and shield growing hot against her back, and reminded herself that this slow, menacing walk had to have an end time.
“The princess just killed herself,” the Umbrist said into a songstone. “I think we’re flathing shadow she’s alive!”
Tythel came roaring out of the fire, her talons outstretched. The Umbrist fell backwards, and Tythel’s claws only raked across her arms. The Umbrist turned the awkward stumble into a roll, taking herself into the safe shadows of a nearby tree and vanishing.
Tythel whirled, slashing behind herself and downward. The Umbrist was coming up from the shadow, and Tythel’s talons drew lines of blood across her face and torn off the ebon mask she was wearing.
Tythel recognized the woman. The Writ Hunter from the tavern, the one who had seemed to command the others – and the one that Eupheme had seemed so disturbed by. She looked exactly as Tythel remembered her, although with several more bloody lines in her face than she had before.
The Umbrist dove away. The flames had progressed enough that Tythel no longer cast a shadow behind herself, and the woman was caught out in the open. She was still quick as a snake, but Tythel did not need to fear the flames that were penning them in.
Above the treeline, Tythel heard a sudden curse, followed by hacking coughs. The wind had carried the smoke to the lumcaster, it seemed. “Eupheme! Meet at the rendezvous!”
She didn’t know if Eupheme heard her. She didn’t know if Eupheme would listen. Deepest shadow, she might be furious with me for trying to send her away. Tythel brushed the thought away. This was different. Eupheme had a choice this time. Sure, and she could have come out from behind the rocks last time, and she didn’t because it was too dangerous. But that didn’t stop her from being furious with you. Just like she will be for this trick.
Tythel growled at her own internal monologue. The wind was spreading the flames, and she added to the torrent.
A thick cloud of smoke rose up, obscuring the ground. She could still hear Catheon buzzing up there in the smoke, but he didn’t come any lower – and his unlight beams had ceased for the time.
The Umbrist was gone. Tythel was certain of that, at least. A blazing forest would be a poor battlefield for a woman who relied on shadows for fighting. Just like Eupheme…are you certain you haven’t burned her too?
It was too late to undo it. Tythel forced the thought down, as she had already, and hoped she’d be able to keep that away for a bit longer.
Tellias was coughing in his armor. The repeated blows from Catheon had cracked his breastplate and driven him to the forest floor. Smoke was gathering around him, and the armor was beginning to glow with heat. Tythel rushed forward and scooped him up in her arms, grunting at the exertion. This armor was heavy. Far heavier than Tythel remembered it – although when they’d been carrying it before, they’d expelled the arccell. And he was storing the weapons they’d purchased.
“Tythel…” Tellias said, coughing roughly before he couldn’t continue. “Get out of here…they’ll be waiting when the fire clears…”
Tellias descended into another round of hacking coughs, and Tythel chose to ignore his protest. He was absolutely right. They’d seen her survive fire, they’d expect her to take refuge in the flame.
Thankfully, that wasn’t her entire plan.
Many of the landmarks she’d been relying on had been burned away in the fire, but Tythel didn’t need to see what she was looking for. She could hear it, the wind whistling by.
Tellias still cradled in her arms, Tythel took a step towards salvation. Each footstep was like walking up a river, and the weight of Tellias in her arms was burning her shoulders. The slice in her side from the Umbrist’s spear was screaming in protest, and Tythel had to grit her teeth against the pain before she could take another step. Then a third. The effort was greater than she’d imagined, and her lungs started to burn – not from heat and smoke and flame, but from the sheer exertion of carrying this much weight.
Halfway there, Tythel told herself. You’re halfway to safety.
A burning log fell in front of her path, missing her by a tiny distance. She crushed the half-burned wood under her foot, and felt splinters dig into her scales. She wasn’t sure if they broke the skin. Her ankles were in enough pain to make it impossible to tell.
He shouldn’t be this heavy, Tythel thought, but pushed the thought aside. It was extraneous, useless, and needless – and the answer was obvious. Tythel had spent a day draped over a shoulder. She’d been in a fight, she’d burned strength with dragonflame, and she hadn’t slept since yesterday morning. Tellias wasn’t abnormally heavy – she was just exhausted.
She could see her destination ahead, and took a step with renewed confidence.
Her foot landed in a hole belonging to some small, burrowing animal, and she collapsed to the ground. She could feel something in her ankle give, and involuntarily roared at the sudden pain radiating up from her leg. Her ankle was blazing with pain.
“Tythel!” Tellias said, fighting back a cough, his voice more insistent. “You have to go!”
Tythel looked down at him, staring directly into the helmets eye hole. He was right. He was absolutely right. The safest option would be to leave him and run to safety.
“No,” she growled, and she wrapped her hands under Tellias’ ankle. “I’m not losing anyone else.” Gingerly, she put weight on the injured leg. It protested, but it didn’t cave. Just a twist then.
Tythel heaved Tellias along the ground for the last few steps, tears springing to her eyes with each weight on her bad ankle, before they finally reached what Tythel desperately had hoped was safety.
Together, they tumbled into the hole in the earth Catheon had created.