The corpses that had been forcibly reanimated by foul necromancy mixed with unlight exploded into clouds of dust. That lost shadow, bound by unlight chains, dissipated in the surge of power to flow from Claricia’s hands. It was pure brightness in a way Armin had never experienced before. When they’d been digging the tunnel was the most light Armin had ever seen channeled at any one time, and in those cases, he’d been able to avoid looking directly into it. This time it had been impossible to avoid.
He could see through it without any difficulty.
I’m surprised Clarcia had the control for that, Armin thought. Managing to manifest that might light while still remaining visible for human eyes was advanced Lumcasting, and he’d thought it was far beyond her-
“I think I’m blind,” Ossman said. Armin recognized that voice. It was Ossman trying to fight back fear.
“Me too,” Guiart said in a plaintive tone.
“I think we all must be then,” Aildreda said. Her voice sounded like Ossman’s, tightly controlled. “Clarcia, I’m assuming you can see? Since you manifested the light?”
“Nope,” Clarcia said with what was obviously forced cheer. “I’m blind as a bat that’s had his eyes burned out. And then thrown in a well. At midnight. It’s temporary though. Unless I aim for the eyes, which I obviously wasn’t.”
“So we’re all blind?” Ossman said. There was a low note in his voice, one most people knew anyone else would have missed. It was Ossman’s version of panic. “We’re blind in the lair of a dead dragon and necromantic constructs and possible Alohym soldiers and-”
“Oh, so the possible danger is bad, but the actual danger of the undead that were trying to claw your face open? I don’t get any thanks for removing them,” Clarcia said, her voice thick with anger. “I just did a feat most Masters couldn’t manage. You’re lucky I didn’t burn your skin from your bones! But sure, a little temporary blindness?”
Ossman’s voice was a low growl. “What if there’s more of them?”
“Then at least you won’t be a corpse for them to feast on!” Clarcia snapped.
“It’s flathing inconvenient timing,” Ossman responded, clenching his fists.
Clarcia rolled her sightless eyes. “I’m so sorry saving your life inconvenience you. Next time I’ll make sure to ask permission before I destroy a dozen monsters your axe couldn’t-.”
“I can see,” Armin said firmly before the argument could get more heated. Everyone turned their heads in the direction of his voice. None of them quite managed to pinpoint him, although Aildreda proved closest.
“Why didn’t you say so?” she asked.
“Because I…” Armin swallowed what he had been about to say. The truth was, it was because it was another sign of the fact that he’d become a walking blasphemy. No human eyes should still be functioning after the amount of light Clarcia had unleashed. Armin should have been as blind as the rest of them.
Instead, here he was, seeing clearly when the rest of his companions were standing stock still in their own personal darkness.
“Because I wanted to make sure,” Armin finished, hoping the argument didn’t sound as weak as it was. “I managed to shield my eyes a bit from it, but it still took a bit for my vision to return.”
“Well…what are we supposed to do now?” Guiart asked, his voice trembling. “There could be more of them. If they come and we’re blind…”
“Then I’ll take care of it,” Armin said, his voice carrying an authority that he absolutely did not feel. Blessedly, no one questioned how he intended to manage that when he’d barely made an impact on the first wave of these creatures. “We obviously can’t walk while you all can’t see. I’m going to…everyone stay where you are. I’m going to come and lead you to a spot so you’re all together until your eyes clear.”
He started with Clarcia, putting a hand on her shoulder to gently guide her. Her back was a mass of tension, muscles so corded that Armin could feel them through even this light touch. “I’m not wrong, am I?” she said quietly to Armin. “I didn’t use enough power to…I’m right about how long it will last, right?”
“Of course not,” Armin said. He had no idea if that was true or not, but at this moment it was what Clarcia needed to hear. Only time would tell if sight would return to the others. He pushed the thought aside. If It didn’t…if it didn’t, he’d have to have Guiart walk him through using the Skitterer and abandon the mission. My first mission in command, and everyone but me is blinded in the first fight. “Just you wait. It’s a matter of time, that’s all.”
Clarcia directed a grateful look in Armin’s general direction as he finished walking her over to the corner of the room and helped her to sit down. “I’ll be right back. There’s stone at your back on both sides, so you’re safe.”
Next up was Aildreda. She was every bit as tense as Clarcia had been, although there was a bitter edge to her tautness that Armin couldn’t quite place. “I should have spotted that,” she said, her voice low and angry. “If I had realized…Clarcia could have done that without having awoken them. I should have warned you to stay back.”
“No, that wouldn’t have changed anything.” Armin smiled at her, then remembered she was blind. He continued with the lie, it falling easily from his lips. “The best thing that would have happened is they would have woken up as soon as Clarcia started lumcasting. It’d still be worth trying next time, but I’m almost positive that would have been the outcome.”
Aildreda sighed, and some of the tension faded from her back. “You’re…probably right.”
“Of course I am. Haven’t you learned by now that ‘correct’ is basically my title? Why do you think d’Monchy chose me for this role? Because of my winning smile.”
Aildreda snorted a laugh. “Well, as far as I can see at this instant, the smile is phenomenal.”
Armin blushed at the compliment, then remembered her predicament. He burst out laughing. “That, my dear Aildreda, has to be the finest backhanded compliment I’ve ever had the pleasure to receive. Like expecting wine and taking a deep draught of pure horse piss.”
Aildreda was smiling when he helped her sit next to Clarcia. She put one arm around the younger woman.
Next was Guiart. Armin wanted to go to Ossman next, but Ossman would punch him for not tending to the others first, and Guiart looked like he was at his wits end. He shrieked when Armin’s hand touched his shoulder.
“It’s me, it’s me!” Armin said.
Guiart drew a deep, ragged breath. “Oh, Light. You must think I’m a coward.”
Armin started to lead him over to the corner with the others. He could feel Guiart shaking under his hand. “Absolutely not. I don’t know how badly I’d be frightened if something happened to my vision in a place like this.” Armin was relieved to be able to tell the truth in this instance. After lying to Clarcia and Aildreda to comfort them, a chance to use the truth was-
Guiart was shaking his head. He wasn’t tense. His shoulders had slumped, and his head hang low. “Not that. I mean…my hands were shaking too much during the fight to aim. You never missed a shot, and I was shaking like a leaf. I’m worse than useless – I’m a liability. If we get our vision back, I should wait here.”
“You ever faced and Alohym?” Armin asked.
Guiart frowned. “I don’t see-no, I haven’t.”
“Well, I did. Once. At the Collegium Rebellion. Do you know what I did when that thing rounded the corner?”
Guiart shook his head.
“I pissed myself,” Armin lied. “Like a child with a bad dream. Promise you won’t tell Ossman – I was able to convince him it was water.”
Guiart looked in Armin’s direction with eyes wide from shock. “You jest.”
“Often, but not about this. I make jokes at other’s expenses, not my own.” He clapped Guiart on the shoulder as they reached the corner. “Bravery is something you forge, like a sword on an anvil. You have to take a beating before it’s strong enough to be useful.”
Guiart nodded thoughtfully and sat down on Clarcia’s other side under Amin’s direction.
One more left. Ossman. He walked over and put a hand on the big man’s shoulder.
“So,” Ossman said, his voice lower than the others had been, “any pretty lies for me?”
Armin nearly stopped cold. “You heard all that?” He asked.
Ossman nodded. “I don’t think the others did, but you walked past me which each of them. You really do have the awareness of a cat trying to find a treat – only able to stare at the pointing finger, not the food. So. What’s my lie to make me feel better?” His voice didn’t sound angry, like Armin had first thought. Ossman sounded more amused than anything else.
“I’m glad I didn’t send you back,” Armin said.
Ossman’s amusement began to fade, “You-”
“-am not going to waste my closest friend’s time with a lie. I’m glad I didn’t send you back. We’d be dead if I had, and I’m sorry I doubted you.”
Ossman walked a few more steps in silence. “I see why d’Monchy chose you for this,” Ossman said when they reached the wall.
Armin chuckled. “Because I have such a winning smile?” he asked.
“You’re already repeating jokes,” Ossman said, settling next to Aildreda. “You used that one already.”
“Well, I’ll figure out some new jests while you all remember how to see. Talk amongst yourselves if you wish – I’ve got first watch. And the rest of them, as well.”
Ossman made a rude gesture, and Armin turned back to watch the hallway the undead creatures had come from. He was glad Ossman understood why the Duke had put him in charge of his operation.
He just wished he could understand it himself.