“T-tomah?” Tythel sputtered, trying to figure out if she’d misheard that name.
“Yeah,” Nicandros missed the stuttered, and seemed to take the question for confusion. “Still don’t know what happened to him. Probably never will.”
“I’m…I’m so sorry,” Tythel managed, taking deep breaths to try and calm herself. Tell him, Tythel, she chided herself. But tell him what? That his beloved son had been involved in the raid that killed her father? That he’d become a murderer in imperiplate? That she’d found him and, even though his armor had been broken and he’d been injured, she’d fought him and burned him alive?
“Thank you.” Nicandros chuckled darkly. “It’s funny. Even though he was working for him, I blame the Alohym for his death. I don’t know what they did, but…”
“But they must have something to do with it.” Tythel finished for him, wanting as she did to burrow into the floor of her cell and die. She’d killed Thomah. Not in the heat of battle, but as an execution. Revenge. And Nicandro’s son had…
“I want to burrow into the floor,” Tythel muttered to herself, looking at the ground.
“What was that?” Nicandros asked, and Tythel was glad he didn’t have her hearing.
“The floor, Nicandros. Look at the floor!” She had to fight the urge to shout.
There was silence on the other side, and she could picture him studying it “Have you lost your mind, girl? It’s a floor. Stone and…” and she could practically hear it click into place for him, like her hearing had gotten so good she could pick up on thoughts falling into place. “And nothing else.”
Tythel, as much relieved for the distraction as she was for the possible escaped, worked her fingers into the gaps between the stones. She could see why they didn’t bother with putting mortar between them. They were far too heavy to be lifted by someone that was working with normal strength. Even Ossman would find these impossible without being able to get his hands down beneath the stone.
Ossman didn’t have the strength of a dragon.
The stone was slick and smooth, worn by ages of prisoners held within the cells. Her first time, her fingers couldn’t get purchase on the edge of the stone. It slipped out of her grasp before she had it more than a couple inches off the dirt, thudding back to the ground with a dull sound that set her heart racing.
“Careful, girl,” Nicandros hissed. “What about the chain, anyway? Don’t rush it.”
Tythel scoffed. “My hands are free. I can deal with the chain now.”
“Still, don’t rush it.”
Tythel took a deep breath. “You’re right. We don’t even know where the others are.”
“Good news on that front at least.” Nicandros sounded like he was recovering from talking about his son, which was fine by Tythel. If they never mentioned Thomah again, it would be too soon. What are you going to do? How could you keep that from him? How could you not? No answer presented itself as Nicandros continued, “Eupheme and Armin’s cells are across the hall from me. Haven’t seen Ossman, but there’s only two other cells down here, he has to be in one of them. Looks like Haradeth and Lorathor made it out. But still don’t try to get out yet.”
Tythel blinked, tilting her head at the wall. “Why not?”
“If we wait until tonight, the guards will be less attentive, and that’ll give the Alohym time to patch up Ossman and Armin the way they did me. Eupheme’s fine, but they both took a beating.”
Tythel sighed. “Good point. I’ll dig over to you, shouldn’t take too long. Then when I do-” She cut herself off. “Quiet, something’s coming.”
In hindsight, she probably could have finished that sentence. Her hearing gave her plenty of advanced notice, but why risk it? A guard walking down, keys jangling with every step. “How are the prisoners?” he asked, and Tythel recognized that voice. Lucien Ori, she thought, the name seared into her mind. She needed to get him talking, need to find out which Alohym he served.
“The two are whispering, like Rephylon hoped.” Knew it, Tythel thought triumphantly, but the guard was still speaking. “The heiress punched the wall, I think. The big one’s been taken for healing. The others…silence.”
“Good,” Lucien said, although his voice was sour. “That girl…they’re really going to spare her.”
“I heard the conversation. Yeah, they are. She’s too flathing useful to let die, apparently.” From the guard’s tone, he was about as enthused by it as Lucien was.
“That little bitch cost me Thomah.” Tythel’s heart started pounding, but their voices were low. Nicandros hadn’t heard, right?
“I heard.” The guard sighed. “Who are we to defy the will of the Alohym?”
“No one,” Lucien said without hesitation. “But have they given any orders regarding her friends?”
The guard was silent for a moment. “Just the one next to her. They need to be able to talk. The others…”
Lucien chuckled. “They’re healing the big one. It’s not for us to undo Their work. But the other two?”
“No reason they can’t have an accident,” the guard growled in agreement. “The boy. The other girl, she’s…disturbing.”
“I’ll see you tonight, then,” Lucien said, and she heard his footsteps recede.
“Okay, he’s gone,” Tythel said, “although they can hear us whispering. Can’t make out what we’re saying, though.”
“I can’t make them out either,” Nicandros responded, and Tythel had to fight back a sigh of relief. “What’s the word?”
Tythel bent down and began sliding her fingers between the cracks in the stone, “They Alohym are going to heal Ossman. Not Armin, though – and some of the guards are coming back tonight to kill him.” She began to drag the stone up as carefully as she could. “We can’t…” she grunted, “afford to wait. If they…” and hear the stone started to slip again, and she pressed her fingers tighter against it. Sweat began to form on her finger tips. It was nearly three inches out of the stone now, ready to slide back in, and if it did the sound would be too loud to mistake for a frustrated slap on the wall this time. “…if they don’t heal Ossman, we’ll have to care for him…” another inch, and her arms were starting to tremble with the effort. The stone was starting to tilt. It was almost free, she was almost there, “ourselves.”
With that last word, and final surge of effort, the stone slid away from the others. She didn’t need to worry about letting it fall – it took all she had to slide it across the floor.
Beneath the stone was dirt. Beautiful, brown, packed dirt.
“Damnit,” Nicandros growled. “Alright. Did you get the stone out?”
Tythel was panting with the effort. “Yes. It’s just dirt underneath.”
“Think you can dig fast enough?”
Tythel raised her hand to the chain attaching the collar to her neck, and wreathed it in dragonflame, like she had in the sickbed in Hillsdale, but without the fear of burning too hot. It snapped in seconds. She turned to the hole in the floor, letting the dragonflame dance on her fingertips. “Oh, yes. Get ready, Nicandros, I’m coming.”
“Great. Keep your ears open, let me know if you need a distraction.”
Tythel didn’t respond with words, instead plunging her hands into the earth, shoveling out great scoops of semi-molten dirt as she combined digging her way through the ground with melting it away. Light, give me strength to do this and Shadow, shelter me as I do, she thought as she worked, and maybe, some day, grant me both so I might confess to Nicandros what I’ve done.
There wasn’t any time to worry about that, though. Armin’s life was hanging in the balance.