Tythel found Tellias on the banks of the lake. The mud he was laying in had turned black from being soaked in his blood, and it was beginning to soak into the water. Tythel rushed towards him, her heart pounding so hard it threatened to burst out of her chest. “Please, no. Not another one. Not him.” she said. She wasn’t sure who she was begging for him to be alive. The Light, the Shadow, the Cosmos themselves. Anyone or anything who would listen.
No one answered her.
Tellias wasn’t moving. Tythel knelt next to him, her nictitating membrane flashing. It was a reflex from the early days of her transformation. Dragons didn’t have tear ducts, and her transformation had gone to the point where she had no tears to cry.
So she expressed grief the way she’d seen her father show it. She tilted back her head and let out a roar of anguish. The sound was distinctly draconic, a low rumble that built to a sound like blocks of granite being rubbed together, slowly increasing in pitch from there until it blended into a shriek. Birds erupted from trees, moles fled to their burrows, and even the insects fell silent at the sound. In the aftermath of her cry, the entire valley was silent.
And it was only in that silence she could hear the faint sound of his heartbeat, far too faint to be heard normally.
“Tellias!” Tythel exclaimed, hope rising in her chest. She pulled the face mask of his armor, wrenching the damaged plate away with brute strength. I’m not too late, I’m not too late. I’ve got him, I’ve got here in time, I’ve-
The sight of Tellias strangled that hope. Red streaks ran from his mouth, nose, and ears. His head had tilted to the side, which had spared him from drowning in his own blood, but it let her see the side of his temple. It was curved inwards. Shards of bone had to have been driven into his brain. He was alive in the most technical sense of the term, but only because his heart still beat, and his lungs still drew air.
She’d seen injuries like this before, in the aftermath of battles. They were, in some ways, worse than death. His body would linger for days until he starved to death. If they got a hold of the Alohym’s technology, the same ones that had allowed her to survive after that first fight with Tomah, the machines that put tubes into arms and provided nutrients, that could be extended to weeks, maybe even months or years. She’d even heard rumors there were some the Alohym had kept alive from the initial war, now seventeen years past. Their bodies were withered with disuse and they looked like little more skeletons, but they still lived.
Not even rumors suggested those had ever reawakened. Tellias would not return. His body was nothing more than an empty vessel. Or worse – there were some who believed that his soul would still be trapped in his body like this, that it would not go to the Shadow until his body fully failed.
If she still had tears to cry, she would have wept.
Eupheme appeared behind her. “Leora’s bound. We’ve got a day before more of the drug is needed, and with her injuries I don’t think…she’ll…escape…” Eupheme’s words trailed off as she saw Tellias’s injuries. “Light and shadow,” she whispered hoarsely.
Tythel couldn’t respond. Even her own injuries seemed a remote and distant thing right now. “He asked to court me,” Tythel whispered, finally breaking the silence. “Right before we left to come here. He said I was fierce and beautiful and wonderful and that…” Tythel’s voice broke, and she had to swallow a lump to continue. “I told him no. I told him…dragon’s don’t love the way humans do. Not…not when it comes to romance.”
Eupheme knelt behind Tythel, beginning to work on bandaging the still bleeding wound between her wings. “Was that the truth?”
Tythel nodded miserably. “I still…I should have-”
“No,” Eupheme said. The word was an odd combination of tender and firm, friendly and strict. “That would have been worse. What you did was honest. Hard, but honest.”
“If I had, though…he would have…”
Eupheme pulled hard on the bandage. The sudden pressure cut Tythel off with a hiss of pain. “Tythel, listen to me,” Eupheme said. Her words were as firm and as sure as her hands. “A lie to protect someone from a painful truth is far more cruel than honesty could ever be. You wouldn’t have spared him any injury if you’d told him a lie, you just would have set him up for more pain later. It would have broken his heart to learn the truth – that you’d never be able to love him back the way he wanted – if he’d had time to fall in love with you. Instead, you spared him that, and hopefully set him down a path where those feelings could have turned into loving you as a friend, or a comrade-in-arms, and eventually as his Queen. You saved him from that anguish.”
“But…” Tythel choked on the words. “Eupheme, he’s gone. You don’t recover from injuries like that. Even a Lumcaster…they’d have to use so much Light that it would turn him into one of those monsters that guards the Lumwells.”
“Does Heartflame create monsters?” Eupheme asked.
Anger rose unbidden, and Tythel snarled the next words. “I don’t know how to use Heartflame. I can’t help him.”
“Not yet.” If Tythel’s anger got through to Eupheme, she didn’t show it in the slightest. “But you learned Ghostflame to defeat Rephylon. You grew wings to survive Catheon. You will learn Heartflame. This is a lingering wound. We have the Skitterer. We’ll get him back to town. We’ll put him in in the care of someone with the Alohym tools. They’ll keep him alive. They can keep him alive for years. And then, when you learn Heartflame, you’ll return, and you’ll restore him. But that only happens if we start moving now. If we don’t get him care soon, his brain will swell with fluids and he’ll die.” Eupheme tied off the bandage. “So…can you move?”
Tythel was tired. She was so tired, and in so much pain. She wanted to lay on the grass and sleep for the next decade.
But Eupheme had given her real hope. And hope is more powerful than fear or love or anger or hate when it comes to finding strength you’d thought depleted.
“Do you have an arcell?” Tythel asked.
Eupheme handed her one. Carefully, Tythel drew a thin line along it with her talon. Light began to leak out of the crack, and Tythel dropped it in the armor. It wouldn’t contain enough to mutate Tellias, and it certainly wouldn’t contain enough to revive him, but it would stabilize him enough to survive the journey. “Stay with him. Scavengers still dwell here, and they might come if we leave him alone. I’ll go get the-”
“You stay with him,” Eupheme said, cutting her off. “I’ll go get the Skitterer and Leora. You stay here.” She stood up and gave Tythel a tired smile. “After all…what is better for scaring off scavengers than a dragon?”
Tythel’s eye flickered in appreciation, and Eupheme vanished into a nearby shadow.
Now, there was nothing to do by wait and hope.