Tythel had started the gout of fire aimed upwards, so she didn’t sear Lathariel if there was a delay turning it to Heartflame. Unlike Dragonflame and Ghostflame before it, Heartflame didn’t burn her throat. Or rather, Tythel suspected, it did, but healed the damage as it happened. Either that, or she’d progressed far enough into becoming a dragon that the flames wouldn’t burn her any more. She hoped it was the later. Sarven was still wrapped around her neck like a shawl, but was now awake and watching the flames with wide eyes. He cooed in excitement when it turned to the blue of ghostflame, and chirped again when the fire went to the silver and gold of heartflame. Tythel tried not to let herself get distracted by his excitement.
Instead, she shifted the heartflame down to Lathariel’s form. The army had been carrying her unconscious form for months now. As a goddess, Larthariel didn’t show any external signs of injury anymore. Tythel wasn’t even certain she could heal Lathariel. But she had to try.
“What are you-” Haradeth’s voice was angry, and was only cut off by Armin grabbing his arm.
“I told you,” Armin said. “Heartflame. The healing fire.”
“You shouldn’t have started without me,” Haradeth said, and Tythel could hear his heart pounding. She couldn’t respond right now. Just maintain the constant flow of metallic fire. She could feel Lathariel in the flame. Tythel had gotten a similar impression when using Heartflame on Sarven’s egg, but that had been a tiny feeling. With Lathariel, it was like feeling a continent. There was so much energy in the goddess, so many places where cracks existed in her life force. Tythel let the heartflame start sealing those cracks, and mentally followed them to their source.
In the center of Lathariel’s being, where the heart would be on a human, there was a huge gaping hole. The cracks radiated out from that space, like glass punctured with a spear. The cracks were mending, but that hole…it felt so immensely deep and vast, that some instinct told Tythel she’d burn through her own power before she came even close to filling it.
It made a kind of sense. Lathariel had been rendered insensible when the Alohym destroyed her forest. If Tythel’s guess was like, that hole represented her connection to the forest, severed and destroyed by the Alohym. Another crime to lay at their feet. Instead, Tythel let golden flame race through the damage, welding shut cracks as soon as they found them.
Tythel was starting to get dizzy, and she could feel sweat beading on her forehead. Maybe it had been wrong to start with Lathariel. She should have known healing a goddess would be orders of magnitude harder than hatching an egg, or healing a wound on a human. She started to waiver.
Eupheme was there in an instant, her hand firmly on Tythel’s elbow to steady her. “Don’t push yourself too hard,” Eupheme said, the words nearly lost in the roar of the flames coming from Tythel.
Tythel used her free hand to squeeze Eupheme’s fingers, letting her friend know she’d heard. Tythel couldn’t go much longer anyway. She let the flames start to sputter out, and started to sag as Eupheme supported her.
“Are you okay? Is she okay?” Haradeth asked both questions back to back, unable to calm himself enough to wait for an answer. He was already moving towards his mother as Eupheme helped Tythel to a chair. “Is she?”
Tythel took a deep breath, her head spinning. “The forest was her heart,” she said.
“I can’t heal an entire forest,” Tythel said, gasping for air. It didn’t occur to her until just now the real limit on her flame might be human lung capacity. Sarven licked Tythel’s cheek and cooed gently. “I could heal the damage its destruction did outside of that. I don’t know if…”
Ossman had been the one to spot it. Lathariel’s fingers were twitching. Haradeth leaned in, looking at her closely. For a moment no one dared to breath. Then, after a moment, Lathariel’s eyelids fluttered and opened. She gave a small smile and reached up to Haradeth’s cheeks. “My son,” she said, her voice soft and strained.
Haradeth’s eyes, always so hard and firm and commanding that Tythel had seen, started to sparkle with tears the moment Lathariel spoke, and his face went slack, and in that expression Tythel could see the boy he’d once been. “Mom,” he said, his voice choking on the word. He moved his lips, like he was trying to say more, but was too overwhelmed to do anything else but press into his mother’s touch. The tears were flowy freely now, and Lathariel’s eyes were going damp as well.
“We should give them a bit,” Tythel said as quietly as she could, getting nods from the others. She’d had another reason she wanted Lathariel back up and walking.
“She still looks so weak,” Armin said, hesitating.
Tythel put a gentle hand on his arm and steered him away from the reunited family with the gentle firmness she remembered Karjon using when she was going somewhere dangerous or just needed her to be somewhere and she wasn’t moving. From the way Armin’s eyes widened, he was as surprised by Tythel’s newfound strength as she was, but he nodded in agreement with the suggestion. He’d just been distracted. Once they were further away, Tythel turned to him. “I couldn’t heal her connection to her grove,” Tythel said. “There was something absent there, something I couldn’t reach. I…I don’t think we have Lathariel back at anything close to her old strength.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Armin said. “Haradeth…he hasn’t been the same since she was injured. You didn’t know him before, so you’d barely be able to tell, but…trust me. He was different. And you gave him that back.”
Tythel expected to feel her cheeks grow warm with a blush at the praise. They didn’t. Something she’d lost with the draconic transformation. She was glad it had left. She’d never particularly minded blushing, but it wasn’t something dragon’s did, and one more sign she had completed her ascendance. “It’s the least I could have done,” Tythel said.
“Still…” Armin trailed off, the glanced at Eupheme and Ossman. “Can I borrow her for a moment?”
“Up to you,” Eupheme said, looking at Tythel. She had barely spoken to Armin since the argument earlier, and Tythel appreciated her friend’s fierce defense.
“It’ll be fine. Although stay nearby. We can’t let our guard down.”
Eupheme nodded. Ossman glanced at Armin, then back at Tythel. “I…have to look into something, anyway. I’ll talk to you later.”
Armin motioned for Tythel to follow him back into the keep.
“I’m sorry for what I said earlier,” he said.
“I…don’t think I have any room to criticize someone for what they do in the throes of grief.” Tythel ran her hands through her hair, a reflexive gesture. Except she didn’t have hair anymore. Her fingers instead ran over the spines that had replaced the mammalian fur. She wanted to find a mirror so she could see what she looked like now.
Armin didn’t need to ask what she meant. Tomah. “At least, in your case, it was someone who was actually to blame.”
Tythel shrugged slightly. “I don’t think I would have behaved any more rationally if it hadn’t. And…your accusations weren’t completely unfounded. Just delayed.”
Armin raised an eyebrow.
“Haradeth was right about me at first. When I joined with you all, it was because I wanted to avenge my father, and that was all that mattered to me. I wouldn’t say you all were tools of my vengeance – I wasn’t quite that calculating – but I didn’t care what happened to anyone, including myself, so long as I got my revenge.” Tythel gestured towards her eye patch. “I have a reminder of that.”
Armin nodded. “I don’t think anyone can blame you for not caring about people you barely knew. Although…you were stretching your wings earlier, weren’t you? The pain is gone there now, yes?”
“Well…have you tried taking that eyepatch off?”
Tythel froze. It hadn’t even occurred to her. She reached up with a hand that started to shake, then stopped herself. “Not yet,” she said. Armin made an inquisitive sound in his throat, and Tythel pushed ahead. “I have Sarven,” she said, earning a sleepy chirp from the infant phoenix on her shoulders. “I have Heartflame. Today has become one of the best days I’ve had in a while. I’d rather not learn it didn’t heal my eye until tomorrow, in case that is what happened.”
“And if it did heal, that’ll make tomorrow another good day,” Armin said. “Well…I suppose all I can do is make today a better day.”
“Are we okay?” Tythel asked, trying her level best to keep her voice under control.
Armin sighed. “It’s not the kind of thing you just get over,” he said. “But…I acknowledge it’s mostly irrational. I just need to move past it, and that will take time. So…the answer is we will be. Just let me sort my head out first?”
“Absolutely,” Tythel said. “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me,” Armin said, giving her one of the lopsided grins she hadn’t seen in far too long. “At least, not yet. You can thank me right about…” there was a chest from his room in the hallway. He waved away the soldier he’d set to guarding it, and gently opened the lid.
Armin probably said ‘now’ after opening it. Tythel wouldn’t know. Her heart was pounding so fiercely, she could hear it in her ears. Inside the chest was a veritable treasure trove – dozens of golden eggs that housed phoenixes, awaiting her to help them hatch.
If Tythel still had been capable of tears, they would have been pouring forth now. She couldn’t anymore. She certainly couldn’t speak.
Armin caught her before her legs gave out. “Are you okay?” he asked, his voice a mixture of amusement and concern.
Tythel just stared at the eggs for a moment, until Sarven stirred and nipped at her ear. She stroked his head and finally found her voice.
“We won’t be the last.”
Want to read more of what I’ve written? Try out The Wastes of Keldora!