“They’re coming,” Tythel said.
The Skitter had been running for the last hour, an hour spent in tense silence, waiting for the very real risk that at any moment a patrol would intercept them. It was a chance worth taking, a risk they were aware of, but so far it hadn’t happened.
None of them had been speaking for that hour. It had stretched on interminably. On more than one occasion Tythel had considered breaking the silence, but the fear of making sound that would cover the sound of pursuit or a waiting ambush had kept her mouth shut. She could only assume the same held for Tellias and Eupheme.
Now, however, they were both looking at her with wide eyes. “What do you hear?” Eupheme asked.
“The sky is screaming,” Tythel said. She’d just picked up on it, and it did what it always did – took her back to the first sound her improved hearing had been able to detect as the Alohym’s tentacled ship descended from the sky to slaughter her father and her. “Screams of iron and cracks of rivulets. It’s one of their ships.”
“Flath. We weren’t expecting that,” Tellias said, spitting out the word. “This is a mistake.”
Tythel shook her head. She wanted to agree with him but had no better plan. The trio that hunted them was too dangerous to fight any other way, and the fact that they were bringing an entire vessel didn’t change that. “I was able to hide in the illusion over the valley after my father died. They couldn’t penetrate it then, and that was…a year ago.”
With a start, Tythel realized she’d turned seventeen a couple days ago. Or she would in a couple of days. Maybe a week in either direction. Dates had never been something she’d focused on too hard – Karjon had been the one to keep track of dates, but he’d used the draconic calendar. Between her sessions of unconsciousness, the long marches that seemed to stretch ahead endlessly, the dull months in hiding at Hallith, and the random days of panic that had each seemed like a week, she’d lost track of the human calendar in comparison.
“Who knows what they might have discovered in the last year?” Tellias asked, his voice thick. “What if they’ve uncovered a way to see through it?”
“Then we die,” Tythel said simply, looking out over the road ahead. She didn’t recognize this stretch of roadway. It was likely a couple more hours before they reached the point where Freda and…Tythel found she couldn’t recall her husband’s name. It didn’t matter. They’d soon reach the point where she’d been rescued.
“That’s all you have to say? ‘Then we die?’” Tellias’ eyes hardened. She could see his hands clench into fists in the arcplate. Would you be this angry if I hadn’t rejected you? Or would you have regretted my acceptance now if I had?
“Yes.” Tythel growled the word. “Tellias, we have a humanoid Alohym, an Umbrist who has been doing this longer than Eupheme, and a true Lumcaster after us. I’m a half-reborn half-dragon, you’ve got arcplate Armin threw together in a cave with a crate of scraps. Eupheme is the only one with a chance of escaping if this goes bad this time, and she’ll die before she escapes without me.”
Eupheme nodded to confirm what Tythel was saying, though she focused on steering the Skitter down the road.
“Light and shadow,” Tythel continued, “we’re massively overmatched. The presence of a ship just adds more Alohym soldiers, and we can cut through those easily enough. They’ll be a distraction, nothing more. If it has flathing Skimmers or weapons of its own, if it’s more than a transport vessel, then the illusion is the only thing keeping us safe. If they can suddenly see through it, we’re flathing dead, and we can’t do anything about that.”
Tellias gave her a stricken look, and Tythel felt immediately guilty. It was hard to remember that he had no more idea what he was doing in this than she did. They both had to go off their best instincts and their training – his in politics, her in history, neither of which was particularly well suited to battle strategies. History is probably better at least, Tythel thought. “I just…feel like we should have a plan other than ‘we die.’”
Tythel sighed heavily. “Well, we have the next few hours to come up with one. If we don’t, we can’t plan for every contingency. This was the best option.”
Eupheme, who had been silent so far, nodded in agreement. “We lead those three back to the others…can you imagine what they’d do? Especially if they came back with an army, and maybe an actual Alohym on the field as well, and a few Skimmers? We’d be slaughtered by the dozens, and Leora would cut our leadership to ribbons. We Umbrists aren’t best as front-line fighters. We’re our best as assassins no walls can keep out. It’d be a massacre, and it would be the end of us.”
“And if we die trying to stop them?” Tellias asked, his voice soft.
“Then we take Leora down with us,” Tythel said, coming to a sudden decision. “The Resistance has fought against Lumcasters before, and Catheon isn’t that much more dangerous than a normal Alohym. She poses the greatest threat – something they won’t know is coming or how to fight.”
Eupheme’s nod was grim, and Tellias could only shake his head – not in negation, but in disbelief. “Well, as long as we have a plan.” He grinned as he said it, but it was a sickly expression even to Tythel’s eyes, and he quickly put on his helmet before they could stare at his face too long.
Behind them, the rending steel sound of the Alohym vessel grew closer. Its progress was faster than theirs, but not by much. In a couple of hours, Tythel would be able to hear the hum of its unlight engine and weaponry. It might give her an idea of this was a gunship or one of their transports. Either would be bad, but the transport would likely be worse.
“I’ve never gone in with a chance the mission would be impossible,” Tellias said quietly. “I always assumed that there was some way out – that if I hadn’t thought of it, de’Monchy had, or my aunt, or Master Armin, or you, your highness. I’ve never known there was a chance it was hopeless.”
“There’s always that chance,” Tythel said, trying to make her voice as gentle as possible. “Have faith, Tellias. We made it this far when you didn’t see the flaws. Light and shadow, most of the time I don’t realize how large the flaws are until afterwards.”
“Well, I feel greatly comforted,” Tellias said, but he laughed after he did, so Tythel assumed it wasn’t meant in anger.
“What I mean is…just because you’re aware of it doesn’t mean it’s any more dangerous. We survived impossible odds before. Somehow. We can do it again. We will do it again.”
Tellias nodded, and his posture seemed to relax some. Tythel was grateful for that.
She wished she had the confidence she was projecting.