Otis worked in silence for a bit. “He’ll live,” Otis said after a bit. “I’m sorry, your highness, but that’s all I can say. He’ll likely never wake up again, and he’ll certainly never be the same.” He gave her a sidelong glance. “At least, not without the Heartflame. You’re certain it will work?”
Tythel did her best not to look at how dangerously collapsed parts of Tellias’ skull looked, tried her hardest not to listen to how ragged his breathing was. “No,” she whispered. “But I have to try.”
Otis nodded and began to pack up his medical equipment. “I don’t…I can’t afford to cover the tax after the two months,” Otis said. “Not without bankrupting myself quickly.”
“It won’t be a problem,” Tythel said. “Light and Shadow, my father’s horde is…it won’t be a problem.”
“Good.” Otis sighed. “I’m surprised to find you back here. After everything that happened in Edgeminster, I figured you’d want to be with the resistance. Reclaiming your throne.”
“We were separated in the ruins of Hallith,” Tythel said. It felt like years ago. “And we were leading away a monster that was chasing us. What happened in Edgeminster?” The question was an afterthought. She was so worried about Tellias, she’d missed the dour turn to his eyes, the way the word came out as a harsh whisper.
“You haven’t heard? Then…I’m sorry to be the one to inform you. There was a massacre. Hundreds are dead. Maybe thousands.”
Tythel stared at him, her eyes growing wide, and Eupheme gasped in surprise. “Tell me everything. Please.”
Otis sat back down. “What I’ve heard was mostly rumor and hearsay. The Alohym have not released a statement, and when they do it will probably be full of lies. There was…someone in Edgeminster. An Underfolk. That much, most of the rumors agree on. The Alohym arrived hunting him, including a thing that looked like a human encased in the carapace of an Alohym. And…someone else.”
Tythel nodded, feeling numbness creeping in. Another like Catheon, she thought. The same kind of being that had nearly killed all three of them. And there were more of them. What if the Alohym had an army of those things? They couldn’t fight that. No one could fight that. If they were waiting…wait. Her brain started to catch up to what Otis had said. And, more importantly, how he had said it. That hesitation, the way his eyes had gone to the window, a mixture of fear and anger creeping into his voice… “Someone else?”
“The hunt for the Underfolk became dangerous,” Otis said, like she hadn’t spoken. “A bell tower exploded. Everyone agrees on that. Then, somehow, the Underfolk hijacked the song network. He or she or…I never learned a good word for the Underfolk maharim, but it probably wasn’t one of them, since they never leave the caves. Although these days, none of the Underfolk do, so who knows?” Otis shook his head. “Anyway, the Underfolk takes over the song network in Edgeminster and starts playing what the Alohym and the…other person were talking about.”
There it is again. “Someone else.” “Other person.” Each time like he was avoiding speaking the name for fear of invoking some terrible curse. “Otis…who is it?”
“They were willing to destroy the town to get the Underfolk. Made it very, very clear that…that they didn’t care what happened to the people in there.” Otis’ voice cracked on the word care, and Tythel knew he was thinking about his wife, and how well the Alohym’s ‘mercy’ had gone for him. “They made it abundantly clear that the town was nothing to them, that Edgeminster could burn, even their own soldiers could burn. The entire town heard it, including the Alohym’s troops. No one knows who shot first. Some say it was the soldiers. Some say it was the townspeople. Some say it was the soldiers shooting at each other, or at the Alohym, or at…at her guest. No one’s positive. But…the Alohym shot last. That much is certain. They’ve got some of their ships hovering over the town all day round right now, and they say there’s a dozen Alohym personally on the ground, hunting down rebels. They say that the rebels include their own soldiers. They also say you’re there, fighting alongside them, or that you were there and died, or that there was no Underfolk and it was you instead, but…” Otis gestured to Tythel. “At least I know that rumor is a lie.”
Tythel took a deep breath. “Eupheme. We…we can’t sleep tonight. We have to get back up the mountain, get my father’s horde. The resistance will need it, and Tellias will need it so Otis can keep him alive.”
“All of it?” Eupheme asked, her voice carefully neutral.
“All we can carry,” Tythel said, giving Eupheme a slight nod. The Alohym slaughtered an entire town. She couldn’t wrap her head around that. It was too big. Armies clashed. People died. But cities…cities were wiped out in wars, but this felt different. Worse. In the past, it was done with swords and arrows and fire. Now it’s done with unlight and from ships that fly too high for anyone to fight against.
In their initial invasion, the Alohym had avoided damaging civilian centers. It seemed those days were past. As dead as what passed for peace these days.
“Understood,” Eupheme said, and Tythel could practically feel the relief radiating off her.
Otis, likewise, looked relieved, and Tythel hated to shatter that relief, but she had to know. “Otis…who was it? The person you don’t want to name, I mean.”
“I don’t know for certain,” Otis said. “But some people claim to have heard the Alohym speaking to him, and some of the descriptions of him match…they match.”
“They match what?”
The next word was like a dagger straight to her heart.
“Nicandros. I’m sorry, your highness, but it sounds like Nicandros.”
“Impossible,” Tythel said, although she knew even as the word left her lips she was saying it not because it was impossible, but because she didn’t want it to be impossible. “Nicandros gave up everything to fight the Alohym. Everything. He only stopped when his son signed up with them. He wouldn’t…he would never betray us. He’d never work with them.”
“Never?” Otis said. “He was…he was close to Freda. Not me. But from what she told me, from what I saw, Nicandros was a man who would do whatever he thought was necessary. His hatred of the Alohym was only eclipsed by his love for his son, and he would do anything to protect his Tomah.”
“Tomah is dead,” Tythel said, the words coming out far harsher than she intended. “I should know. I killed him with my own hands.” As if their mention reminded them they existed, her hands started to shake. “There’s nothing else Nicandros can do for Tomah. All he has left is hating the Alohym.”
“No,” Eupheme said quietly, putting a hand on Tythel’s shoulder. “Tythel…he has someone else he can convince himself to hate.”
Tythel didn’t mean to let the sob out. Without tears, it was a harsh, ragged sound, and she clamped it down before it could be followed by more. Eupheme’s hand on her shoulder tightened, and Otis looked at her with eyes full of sorrow.
“There’s something else,” he said. “Some of the rumors carry the exact words. One in particular…he was demanding the Alohym give him his son back. Just like they offered…pardon the language. Just like they offered “that bitch her father.”
Sorrow is a powerful emotion, but it has little it can offer to hold off the advance of dread. Rephylon had offered her Karjon. Had offered her Karon returned to life with Alohym technology. Nicandros…what would Nicandros do if it meant he could have Tomah back?
Shadow take me, that’s the wrong question, Tythel thought, the fear taking root in her heart. It would be much better to ask what he wouldn’t do to get Tomah back?
For the life of her, Tythel couldn’t think of a single thing for that list.