Tythel grabbed the end of the rope as it came falling into the tunnel. “It’s long enough!” she shouted, craning her head back.
Even to her ears, Eupheme’s voice came back small and distant. “Finally! Next time you throw yourself in a hole, you really should have a plan to get back out of it.”
Tythel chuckled and shook her head. After they’d both slept, Eupheme and Tellias had insisted on letting her rest. She’d tried to protest, but her own exhaustion had teamed up with the two of them and forced her to sleep for a bit. While she’d slept, Eupheme had stepped through the abundant shadows to find some rope.
Tythel had been glad for the shadow when Tellias had told here that’s what Eupheme was doing. It had hidden her deep flush. She hadn’t even tried to consider a way out of this pit when she’d jumped down it, and had only realized there had been no clear escape route when Tellias had said that Eupheme was going to the surface.
Just now, Tellias was giving her a concerned look. “You…did have a plan for us to get out, right? Because I remember you telling Eupheme to go to the rendezvous, not come and recover us.”
“Of course I had a plan,” Tythel objected, feeling that flush forming again. If Eupheme hadn’t come back, the only option left to her would have been to dig to the surface from down here. It would have taken days. She wasn’t certain how deep they were buried, but given that Eupheme had needed three attempts to find a rope that was long enough to reach the bottom of this pit, it couldn’t be shallow. If they’d found water, it was possible she would have made it back to the the sunlight before she’d collapsed from starvation. Possible.
All of a sudden, Tythel felt a desperate need to get out of this flathing hole.
Tellias looked like he was going to ask what that plan might have been but wisely decided to keep the inquiry to himself. Tythel didn’t know if that was to avoid angering her or if it was to keep himself insulated from the realization that Tythel had thrown him in a pit with no idea of how to get out. Instead, he secured the bundle to the bottom of the rope.
His armor was too heavy. It would risk breaking the rope if he tried climbing up with it. So the armor was being hauled up after Tythel climbed up with Tellias on her back. It was a gamble – if the rope broke, it would be difficult to recover the armor. However, the alternative – the rope snapping and killing Tellias in the fall – was worse.
Tythel’s pack was on Tellias’ back. She’d claimed she wanted to keep as much extra weight off the arcplate as possible, and Tellias had pretended to believe that excuse. The extra weight was minimal, there was no need to worry about the rope snapping. Certainly not enough to make her even considering risking her pack alongside the armor.
It’s good to know your priorities are in order, Tythel thought to herself, blinking away the thought and bending down to let Tellias onto her back. His arms wrapped around her neck. “Am I choking you?” he asked.
Tythel shook her head. “Just keep them where they are. If you tighten up, you’ll be tugging on my chin, which I’m pretty sure I don’t need to breathe.”
“You sure about that? I’m no expert in half-dragon breathing, so I can’t be certain you don’t need to breathe through your chin.”
“I’m almost positive,” Tythel said with a wry grin, standing up. Tellias’ weight was barely enough to register as a presence. She tugged the rope one last time, making sure it was secure. “We’re coming up!” she shouted to Eupheme.
A faint shadow appeared at the lip of the spot of light above and made a wide-armed gesture beckoning them up. Confident that Eupheme had properly secured them, Tythel began to climb.
The added weight of the arcplate at the bottom prevented the rope from swinging wildly as she made her way up.
The last time she’d tried to climb a rope this long had been a couple years ago. Karjon had several golden statues depicting the Eight Holy Oaths of the Carnadi Islands. The people of that island had believed that, so long as the Eight Holy Oaths were maintained, the Lumwells would never grow dark – but if they were broken, they would be snuffed out forever.
The statues were all that remained of the oaths, each of them built in the likeness of a man or woman with the head of an eagle and the arms of a jaguar. No one knew what the Eight Holy Oaths were, which Tythel had reasoned meant that they had probably been broken by now, and the lumwells hadn’t gone out.
She’d wanted a closer look at them, but Karjon had them displayed high on a ledge. Instead of waiting for him to return from hunting, she’d fashioned a lasso out of silk and thrown it until it had caught itself around one of the statues. They were pure gold, the weight was more than enough to support her.
The climb was twenty feet. A tiny fraction of the distance she had to go now. But back then, she hadn’t had been reborn in heartflame. She was strong – years of helping clean piles of gold in place of normal chores did not make for weakness – but there were things Karjon hadn’t taught her. Things he couldn’t have taught her, because he didn’t know.
So she’d been completely unaware of how sharp a thin length of silk could be.
Even now, the memory made her hands ache. It had sliced two deep furrows into her hands that had cut her almost to the bone as she slid down the silk, still reflexively clinging to it as tightly as she could manage in the vague hope it would stop her fall.
The smart thing to do would have been to let go, let gravity do its work. She’d barely been halfway up the rope, it was unlikely she would have even sprained her ankle. By grabbing on, she’d only made the injuries worse.
Karjon had been back in mere minutes, having heard her cries. As soon as he’d seen the blood, he’d taken a deep breath.
It was funny. Even then, in the worst pain of her life – at least, until she’d found herself in battles and discovered whole new levels of pain – she’d never doubted for an instant what Karjon was doing.
That was the first time she’d seen him unleash heartflame. The golden fire had washed over her in waves, and her entire body had been warm – except for the palms of her hands, which had felt like she’d dunked them in ice water.
Afterwards, he’d lectured her for a good half hour on how dangerous that had been. Then he’d plucked her up by the back of her shirt in his jaws, like a mother cat carrying a mischievous kitten, and plopped her on top of the ledge.
The memory made her smile. Now she was the one carrying someone to a height they couldn’t reach, although she couldn’t carry them in her mouth. The idea of carrying Tellias in her mouth made her nictitating membranes flicker in amusement.
Then she was hauling them both up and over the edge to collapse to the earth.
Puffs of ash flew up from where she had landed, a billowing cloud that formed around her and Tellias. They both started coughing, and Eupheme stepped smartly away from the ash as it filled the air around them.
Tythel’s nictitating membranes flicked shut, protecting her eyes from being filled with ash – the reason dragon’s had the protective covering. She could still see through them, although they rendered the world cloudy like smoked glass.
It was enough. The forest they had been in only yesterday was now a charred wasteland that stretched for miles.
A wasteland of her creation.