“I’m so sorry for how I acted when you showed up,” Nicandros said as he re-entered the room.
Poz smiled. “You need not apologize,” he said, his tone genuine.
Nicandros looked like a new man. He’d talked to Poz for hours, and wept, and talked some more. Poz had to do very little speaking of his own. He got the feeling Nicandros had desperately wanted someone to care. Humans were like that – they fiercely protected their pain, right up until someone convinced them it was safe to release it. Then they would share it all. It often made them feel better. It always was better for them.
After they’d talked, Poz had convinced Nicandros to visit a bathhouse and a barber. Being relieved of the matted locks he had before and having the accumulated grime from days of mourning washed away, as well as having his facial hair removed, was a good first step to feeling like a person again. At least, in Poz’s estimation. Even deep in Grubflesh, he’d always been fastidious about his cleanliness. It was a relief to see it had improved Nicandros’ mood as well as Poz had hoped.
“Yes, I do. You were – are – a friend, and you had no way of knowing I wished to be left alone.” Nicandros pulled up the chair and sat down. The pain was still there in his eyes, but it no longer consumed his every glance the way it had before. “And thank you for ignoring those wishes.”
Poz chuckled. “I was happy to do so,” he said.
“Still. You said you needed my help. The least I can do is repay your kindness.”
“Think nothing of it,” Poz said, waving away the thought. His hearts began to pound faster at the reminder of his real purpose here.
One thing had become abundantly clear during Nicandros’ long, rambling retelling of everything that had happened since he’d met the dragon princess. His anger at the girl was still white hot. It ran so deep Poz hesitated to use a term as light as anger.
And Poz’s purpose here was to seek advice about this Tythel. How would Nicandros take that?
“Still,” Nicandros said. “You didn’t come all this way to pull me out of…of that. Why did you?”
“I found something,” Poz said, picking his words with great care. “And since I did, the Alohym have been hunting me for it. That’s why I came through the window.”
“Do you still oppose them?” Nicandros asked, his lips curling down in a frown. Poz could not miss the caution in his voice.
“I left the Resistance shortly after you did,” Poz said. “I wasn’t of much use even at the best of times, and in your absence, I’d lost my patron.”
“I’m sorry for that,” Nicandros said. The tension he’d showed a moment ago started to fade.
“I understood your reasoning. It was hardly something I could fault. I should have taken your offer to leave with you. I believed that I’d still be able to help.” Poz shook his head at his own foolishness. “Grubflesh really did impact my judgment worse than I realized.”
“I should have insisted,” Nicandros said. “Light and Shadow, I knew how badly that was impacting you. I’d seen the difference. It was a terrible thing for them to force upon you.”
“It was a terrible thing that I did. The punishment fit the crime.” Poz shifted uneasily in his seat. “I regret breaking the terms of my exile.”
“I’m surprised you did. After how long you held out, I thought nothing would convince you to go against those terms.” Nicandros leaned forward. “What changed?”
“The Alohym were hunting me, personally. I couldn’t…there wasn’t anyone I could hide behind anymore.” Poz held up a hand to forestall another apology. “I don’t mean that as an inditement. Just that it was what it was.”
Nicandros nodded slowly. “Then…what did you find?”
Poz took a deep breath. He still wasn’t certain about this. Quite the opposite, in fact. It was entirely possible that this would send Nicandros back into a spiral or enrage him all over again. “Perhaps we should wait for tomorrow?” Poz suggested. “The day grows late, and you’re still recovering.”
“I appreciate the concern, but I’m not a flathing porcelain doll.” Nicandros grinned. “I understand why you’re worried, I do. But…you helped me see purpose from here again. I think I know what I’m going to do next. But first, let me help you.”
“What are you going to do?” Poz asked. There was an edge to Nicandros’ grin that Poz misliked. Something…not quite manic. He couldn’t quite place it.
He got better too quickly, Poz realized. That was the problem. Nicandros had been wallowing in pity for days. Now one conversation later, and Nicandros had done a complete reversal. He was smiling, he was laughing, he was joking…but his eyes had barely changed at all.
“It doesn’t matter,” Nicandros said.
“You weren’t grieving,” Poz said. “That’s not why you were so drunk. You were trying to make a decision. A hard one. And…you’ve made it now.”
“I remember when you were still allowed to eat other flesh,” Nicandros said, nodding in agreement. “I’d forgotten how sharp you are. Yes. Without a reason to seek revenge against the Alohym, I was considering what I was going to do next. I had no fight. No purpose. Telling you the story…it helped me gain clarity.”
“And?” Poz asked.
“And I’m going to accept an offer that I received some time ago. I’ll tell you about it later.” Nicandros furrowed his forehead. “You seem flathing determined not to tell me what you came all this way for. Why not?”
Poz leaned back and bit his lip. Nicandros was being odd, that much was certain. But…the man had lost his child, had lost his reason for living, and was just recovered from a binge unlike anything Poz had seen before. Of course, he was going to be odd. “Can I still trust you?” Poz asked.
If the words hurt Nicandros, it didn’t show. At least, it didn’t increase the pain Poz could already see in his eyes. “Absolutely,” Nicandros said. “You helped me gain clarity when I’d been floundering, even if it was just by listening.”
Poz reached into his pouch and pulled out that damn golden egg. “I found this. Are you familiar with it?”
Nicandros’ eyes grew wide at the sight. “Where did you get that?” he asked, his voice tight.
“I stole it from a battlefield.” Poz winced at the admission. “It was…how I was supporting myself.”
“You were there that night?” Nicandros asked.
“Light and Shadow, I can’t believe it.” Nicandros took a deep breath. “Do you know what you have?”
“A dragon’s death egg. Specifically, the death egg of Karjon the Magnificent, adopted father to…” Poz trailed off.
“Tythel,” Nicandros said, and he spat the word with far more vehemence than he’d ever said ‘flath.’ “Poz, I have wonderful news. We can help each other here. I’ll take the egg off your hand and free you from being chased from the Alohym.”
“How does that help you?” Poz asked, cocking his head. “What will you use the egg for?”
“Fill the offer I’ve decided to accept,” Nicandros said.
Poz felt himself starting to tense up. The pain was fading from Nicandros’ eyes, being replaced by a hungry gleam that Poz knew too well. He’d seen it in his own eyes before, deep in the grip of Grubflesh, when he’d not eaten for days and was looking in a mirror, considering breaking his oath – as well as his weak mind could consider anything then. Need mixing with desire and blended with the knowledge that what he was considering was unthinkable. “What was the offer?”
Nicandros shook his head. “I’m sorry, a condition was that I don’t speak of the details of what they’re asking me to do.”
Poz swallowed har. “Who made you the offer?”
“That…” Nicandros paused to consider. “That they didn’t forbid me saying.”
“Who?” Poz repeated when Nicandros didn’t elaborate right away. “Who made you an offer?”
“The Alohym,” Nicandros said. “They want me to do a job for them. And if I do it…if I do it, they’ll give me my son back.”
Now Poz was certain.
He’d made a terrible mistake.