Tythel whirled, her talons stretched out, but Leora had already leapt back. The dagger was still stuck into her back, wedged between her shoulder blades. Moving was agony. Flight was out of the question. With a single stab, Leora had grounded her. Got to get the dagger out, Tythel thought, reaching for her back.
Leora had already produced another dagger and was lunging for her. Tythel had to leap out of the way, hopping back from the thrust that was aimed squarely for her heart. Eupheme. Where’s Eupheme? That thought leant her motion an extra edge of panic. Reflexes Tythel didn’t know she had drove her to flap her wings, and the sudden lance of agony caused her to stumble when she landed. Leora’s next strike was aimed straight for Tythel’s heart, and she barely got her hands up in time. The blade of the dagger passed between Tythel’s middle and ring fingers. At the last second, Tythel caught it by the pommel before Leora could drive it into her heart.
“Die!” Leora shouted, bearing down on the blade. Tythel had to drop with Leora’s motion to avoid having her hand cut in half. With a flick of her wrist, Tythel was able to wrench the blade from Leora’s grasp. It bit into the scales between her fingers, deep enough to give her a new source of pain.
Leora drew a new dagger out of her sleeve and brought it around in a wide thrust aimed for Tythel’s throat, one Tythel was too badly positioned to block.
So. This is it.
There was a ring as the dagger struck another blade interposed in its path. Eupheme emerged from the shadow provided by Tythel’s wings, pushing Leora back. “Not. Today.” Eupheme hissed between clenched teeth.
The two were locked in a contest of strength, giving Tythel a moment to think. Leora and Eupheme both were covered with a dozen tiny cuts from where they’d managed to strike each other. Leora had a similar injury on her left arm – one that Tythel now realized she’d only used to draw new daggers. Eupheme had been spared any deeper injuries so far and seemed to have the upper hand – but there was no telling how long that would last.
Tythel reached for her back, trying to get at the dagger. I can help Eupheme. I just need to-
Her fingers closed around the hilt, and she sunk her talons into it. Bracing herself against the pain, Tythel pulled the dagger out.
She roared at the sensation. Not a scream, not a shout, but a true roar.
The sound threw both Eupheme and Leora off their balance. There was a primal instinct in humans, ones that went back to when their ancestors had huddled in caves as the ancestors of dragons roamed the sky. Something deep in that ancestral memory told both women that sound meant they were in terrible danger, and the sudden surge of adrenaline sent them both stumbling, breaking the lock they’d been held in.
Leora reacted first. She flipped the dagger she’d been holding and to grip it by its point and tossed it straight at Eupheme. Eupheme raised her hand in a warding gesture, and the blade went straight through her palm. Eupheme cried out in pain.
That wasn’t what caught Tythel’s attention, however. It was the way Leora’s eyes widened at Eupheme’s scream, the way her jaw dropped, the look of absolute horror that stretched across her face.
Tythel took advantage of the distraction and lunged. Leora didn’t start to dodge in time, and Tythel was able to catch her by the shoulders and shove her against a tree. The branches shook from the impact, and Tythel sunk her talons into Leora’s arm. From what Eupheme had told her, now Leora wouldn’t be able to step into the shadows without taking Tythel with her.
Leora snarled and reached for a dagger, but Tythel just wrenched her arms. She was rewarded with a grinding sound and a scream from Leora as her shoulder popped loose of her socket.
“I don’t know who you are,” Tythel hissed, her face inches from Leora’s, “but I made myself a promise. If I could, I’d spare Eupheme from having to kill you. I could see how much this battle tormented her. I’ll send you to the Shadow myself if it spares her that.”
“Then…do it,” Leora spat out the words between agonizing gasps. “Just shut your flathing mouth and do it.”
“Not until you answer a question,” Tythel said. “Why did you look like the sight of that blade in Eupheme’s hand made you sick?”
“She…she should have ducked,” Leora said, the words thick on her tongue. “It wasn’t…it wasn’t supposed to…” now there were tears in her eyes. “End me, damn you. Send me to the Shadow.”
“It wasn’t supposed to what?” Tythel demanded.
“It wasn’t supposed to hit!” The words came out in a frantic rush. “Light and Shadow take you, she’s my sister and I wasn’t trying to injure her!”
Tythel stared at Leora in shock. Silence fell on the valley in the wake of Leora’s exclamation, silence that was finally broken by the sound of soft footsteps. Eupheme was approaching. “Move, your highness,” Eupheme said between pained gasps. The dagger was still wedged in her hand, but a new one had been drawn in the uninjured limb. “I’m going to end this monster’s miserable life.”
“Eupheme…” Leora said. Tears were starting to stream down her face now, tears that even the injuries Tythel had done to her couldn’t cause.
“I’ll make it quick,” Eupheme said. “I owe you that much, Leora.”
Tythel shook her head. “Don’t.”
“Don’t?” Eupheme asked, stopping in her tracks. “Tythel, she betrayed the order. It’s not for you to kill her. That duty falls to me.”
“Eupheme,” Tythel said, choosing her words carefully. “Catheon came to kill me because I killed Rephlyon, who he thought of as his father. Nicandros abandoned me because I killed Tomah. I fight the Alohym because I want vengeance for my father. And this…this is your sister.”
“My sister,” Eupheme said numbly, “is dead. I’m just killing the thing that poisons every memory of her.”
Leora’s tears were flowing freely. “I did it…”
“Quiet,” Eupheme said. “I told you, I don’t care. Tythel…don’t put yourself in the middle of this.”
Tythel’s lips tightened as her mind raced. “Is there a way to stop her from stepping into the Shadow?”
“A drug,” Eupheme said. “It numbs our ability to sense the other side.”
“Do you have any?”
“Give it to her,” Tythel said. “We need….she’s the last one alive. We need to know what she knows.”
“And then?” Eupheme asked.
“And then I leave you to decide her fate,” Tythel said. She had no right to deny Eupheme vengeance, if vengeance was what Eupheme wanted. But she owed her friend a chance to think through what she was doing before she killed the last remaining member of her family.
Eupheme considered for a moment, then stuck the dagger into the ground. “As you wish, your highness.” She pulled out a vial and walked over to Leora. “Open your mouth.”
Leora did. Tythel and Eupheme both watched her throat to make sure she swallowed.
Eupheme produced a rope from under her cloak and started to bind Leora’s hands to her feet. “Where’s Tellias?” she asked.
Tythel stood up. The motion made her head spin, and she could feel the blood running down her back. If Leora’s dagger had gone any deeper, she would have punctured a lung, maybe even Tythel’s heart. Just a bit longer, she thought. Just a bit longer, and then you can get that dealt with. “I saw him by the lake. He killed the lumcaster. I’m going to go…I’m going to go find him. You all right?”
Eupheme didn’t look at Tythel. Her eyes were locked on her sister’s. “I will be,” she said, her voice quiet. “Thank you.”
Tythel whispered a welcome and began to walk towards where she had seen Tellias. Silently, she begged the Light that he would still be alive when she got there.