And, after far too long, we return to Tythel and co. I’m going to be holding off on trying to keep a regular update schedule until after the holidays to give myself time to keep recovering from illness and all that, and that also is delaying the release of early access chapters on Patreon slightly – but that will be coming as soon as possible. I’m so excited to bring this back. Enjoy.
Tythel felt like she’d never fully escape Hillsdale. Her entire life she’d wanted nothing more than to explore the town, be among the people so far below her father’s lair, see what they did and how they lived. She hadn’t thought of them as her fellow humans – she was far too much her father’s daughter to feel like other humans would be her kin – but she’d wanted to understand their lives, see the stories they lived with her own eyes instead of reading about them in tomes her father had gathered over centuries.
It was darkly amusing how much she’d come to hate this place.
Maybe if she had come here under better circumstances at at least one point in her life. If her first visit hadn’t been because she was clinging to life after being shot with an unlight beam and ended with her fleeing for her life alongside Nicandros. If her second visit hadn’t been because she and her friends were trying to lure a monster to her father’s valley for a battle to the death, a fight she had half expected to end with her dying in her father’s home.
If her third visit hadn’t been because Tellias was clinging to life, a life she could save if only she’d been able to master Heartflame.
“Freda!” Tythel hissed, banging on the door once again, hoping the woman would be the one to answer the door. This was the place she’d recovered once before, through the kindness of Otis and Freda, and anyone could save Tellias it was them – or they would know where to take him.
“Are you sure they slept here?” Eupheme asked. Her voice was quiet, and although Eupheme knew better than to whisper when trying to avoid notice, Tythel could still hear the tightness in her voice. She was standing next to the litter they’d built to carry Tellias off the Skitterer and to this place. Tythel could hear his breathing, wet and ragged. He’s not suffering. Not with his skull damaged like that. If Tellias was still in there in anything resembling awareness, his brain was far too broken for him to feel any physical sensation. But that didn’t mean his body was flourishing. It was barely clinging to life.
The slow death. That’s what they called these injuries these days. The mind was damaged beyond the repair of even Alohym medicine, too damaged to be healed with light without causing mutation. There was one thing that could heal an injury like this, and it was something beyond Tythel’s current powers. Yet if they could get him to the machines in time, he could be stabilized. Kept alive until Tythel could learn how to heal him.
If only Freda would answer the flathing door.
“I hear someone in there,” Tythel growled, and she raised her hand again. To knock, although she was a moment away from bashing down the door with brute force and dragging whoever was in there out to help.
She didn’t need to. The person inside finally began to move towards the door with hesitant steps, and Tythel could hear the scrape of a latch being undone. “Who’s there?” someone said, opening the door a fraction.
“Someone who desperately needs healing,” Tythel said, trying not to sound too angry. It was a woman speaking, and her voice was strangely familiar. It wasn’t Freda, that was certain.
The figure on the other side opened the door. “What happened…oh, Light and Shadow.” The swear came as soon as she saw Tellias’s form, and her distraction helped her not notice the way Tythel’s eyes widened when she saw the speaker.
Catha Lambright. The woman who had sold Tythel to the Alohym, and had almost gotten her killed in the process.
Tythel was glad Eupheme had insisted on the disguise. Tythel’s wings had been a huge problem for getting into town unnoticed, but if she draped them across her her shoulders they could hide – barely – under a cloak. Add to that some modifications Eupheme had down with powder and charcoal, both to hide Tythel’s scales and alter how her features looked, and Catha was unlikely to recognize her.
That didn’t stop Tythel’s hands from twitching in a reflexive clawing motion. Thankfully, Catha was far too focused on Tellias to notice.
“Bring him in, bring him in,” Catha said, motioning them frantically. “Careful with that litter, if you jostle him it could damage his spine…”
The way she trailed off made it clear Catha was already putting together how little that would matter with the injury to Tellias’s skull, but she was still clearly a professional if nothing else. Under her instructions, Tythel and Eupheme were able to carry Tellias up to one of the cots they had here for the most serious cases. “I’ll get him on a bloodwetter right away, and some medicine to kill off infection,” Catha said. “Then I’ll get Otis. He’ll be able to tell you more.”
“Freda,” Tythel said. Otis had vassilated on whether or not to report them. Tythel had far more trust for Freda’s skills – and her discretion.
The mention of the name had an immediate reaction on Catha. Her eyes widened, and began to glisten. She started to get to work on the bloodwetter. Tythel was familiar with the device – it kept you from starving or dehydrating while you were unable to eat or drink. “I’m sorry,” Catha said. “I didn’t…you knew her?”
Tythel noted the past tense and gritted her teeth. “Yes. I did.”
“I’m so sorry,” Catha said.
“What happened?” Tythel asked.
“She was taken by the Alohym for abetting rebellion. When she wouldn’t tell them…she held on for so long, they say.”
“She was executed,” Tythel said flatly.
Catha nodded, and Tythel couldn’t help but note that she wouldn’t meet either of their eyes. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
You killed her, Tythel thought, and if they hadn’t needed Catha to keep Tellias alive right then, Tythel didn’t know what she would have done. Freda had saved her life. The first human Tythel had ever met who wasn’t trying to kill her. Freda was dead, and Tythel hadn’t even known. I didn’t even check when I was here last time. There had been a reason for that, wanting to avoid drawing Alohym attention to this place, but now…now Tythel wished she’d tried to stop.
“Thank you,” Tythel managed gruffly.
“Your friend here…what’s his name?”
“Dommo,” Eupheme said, speaking before Tythel could. Tythel wondered if it was because Eupheme didn’t trust her to be able to remember the lie right now, or if she just wanted to speak before Tythel started clawing Catha’s throat out.
“Dommo. How was he injured? Otis will want to know what to look for.”
Eupheme shook her head, putting on an angry expression. “Flathing idiot had heard rumors there was still a Dragon’s horde up in the mountain. We came along to try to keep him from breaking his fool’s neck. He pushed ahead of us in the climb, and…”
It was the only lie they’d been able to come up with that would explain how badly battered Tellias was.
“Third person we’ve had try that since the dragon died,” Catha said, shaking her head. “Although I’m sorry to say your friend is the worst injury we’ve seen because of that.”
Eupheme sniffed convincingly. “That’s Dommo. Has to outdo everyone at everything. Even has to fall off a mountain and get more injury than everyone else.”
Catha smiled sympathetically. How can you smile. How can you smile through the weight of your sins? Tythel wanted to scream, but kept her mouth clamped shut. “Did you clean his wounds?” Catha asked.
Eupheme nodded. “Best we could.” There would be enough dirt from the transit where it would look like an amateur job. At least, they hoped.
“That’s the only reason he’s alive still. No fever from infection yet. You did a good thing there.” Catha finishing putting the needles in Tellias’s arms. “I’ll go get Otis. You two stay with him, but put these on first.” She handed them a pair of fabric masks with strings in the back. “They’ll filter any contagion on your breaths.”
“Shouldn’t you have worn one?” Tythel asked.
Catha’s response was to open her mouth. There was something silver and artificial, a mesh behind her teeth that stretched as she spoke. “Standard for medical work,” she said, and now that Tythel knew to look for it she could see it flex and move. It was a strange thing. “They activate when we need them.”
Tythel just nodded and tied on the mask. “How far away is Otis?”
“He’s just downstairs. I’ll be back in a moment.”
Good. Tythel could hear what happened, and what she said. She gave the woman a slight nod.
Catha exited and there was nothing to do but wait.