Karjon didn’t shout a warning – he didn’t have time. He turned around as quickly as his bulk would let him and reared back, readying a gout of flame. At the same time, those abnormal crystals began to glow. Although Tythel realized that glow wasn’t the right term. The air around the crystals was growing darker, and they seemed brighter by contrast.
Then both sides let loose their attacks. The beams of unlight that erupted from the tentacles converged into a single beam that raced toward Karjon’s flame, and when they impacted the fire began to split, shattering into individual threads of flame that went wild from their target. By the same token, the dragon fire seemed to consume the beam like it was kindling, and an unnatural green smoke began to erupt from the impact.
Tythel tried to rise to her feet. She could feel energy welling within her, a desire to join the battle, but as soon as she got her knees she was betrayed by her own muscles. Although she was still feeling fine mentally, energized by the Heartfire, her body had just reworked itself on a fundamental, physical level. It was exhausted, and let her know by driving her back down to the snow.
Karjon’s flame winked out when the beam died down. She could see the ship better now that it was clear of the clouds. It was a long cylinder that tapered to a point at the end, and had two large apparatuses on the side that looked like a hybrid between insect wings and ship sails. In the center of the front was a single eye of some clear substance that looked like glass around which the tentacles were arranged. The whole thing had an unnatural symmetry, deep sea life somehow affixed to the sky against all sense and reason.
Smaller pods began to detach from the main vessel, and their falling was slowed by glowing balls of energy at their – Tythel squinted to make sure she was seeing it correct – feet. Yes, those were feet, and the pods were in fact suits of armor in the shape of men, each one as tall as Tythel. They didn’t fall according the laws of gravity, instead descending down in an arc that was carrying them closer to Karjon.
“The people!” she shouted, but Karjon was busy, because the main vessel was firing its unlight again. This time he could not counter it directly, because they were not aiming for him, but rather a spot a bit further down the mountain. They were trying to cause a collapse, and it was taking all of Karjon’s effort to keep his flame between that and the attackers.
Move, Tythel! she screamed at herself. Are you going to die in the snow like some helpless princess, or are you going to fight like a dragon?
Somehow, she found the strength within her. It was like a physical thing, a well deep under the surface she had not tapped before. She stood, and when the floating armor began to close she tapped into that well to call upon her limited pool of draconic magic.
She did not have the strength to call upon a pure flame like Karjon could, even now. But she could call balls of fire to her hands that she could hurl at their attackers, and those did burn hotter than they ever had before. Her hands shook with the effort of standing and calling upon her limited magic, making aiming nearly impossible. Of the twelve she threw, only two found their marks. One raised its hands in defense and in doing so, sent the the suit tumbling end over end. Once the feet were facing the sky they began to propel it towards the ground faster than gravity could manage.
The other suit was impacted squarely on the chest. It wobbled slightly, but continued to approach.
“I can’t hurt them!” she shouted, turning to see Karjon.
He had found a break in the unlight of the ship, and angled his flame upwards. It raked across the bottom of the vessel, a flame more concentrated than anything she had ever seen Karjon make before, so bright it was nearly white. She had to avert her eyes at the sight. When her vision cleared, the underside of the vessel glowed red from the heat. If it had been normal steel or something comparable, Tythel was certain it would be molten slag.
It wasn’t, however. The ship was heated, but it was not damage, and those crystals were beginning to suck the light from around them again. They’d fire again soon, and Karjon was panting with the exertion.
“The valley!” Tythel shouted as the idea struck her. Karjon turned his head towards her and just gave a quick, short nod. She hopped onto his back, grabbing onto the spines behind his wings as she had the first time he’d let her ride him. Karjon kicked off the top of the mountain and began to flap his wings with all his might moments before the beam impacted where they had been, shearing off the top of the mountain as easily as Karjon’s talons tore open bison hide.
Then he was diving, and she was holding on as tightly as she could, her aching muscles already screaming in protest.
Beams of unlight began to race towards them from the falling pods. She could see what they were using to launch them, as small tentacles erupted from their suit’s wrists, making them look like their hands were in the center of small version of the ship that plagued them. The large beam from the ship also tracked them, closing the distance faster than Karjon could fly.
A beam of unlight struck her in shoulder, and she nearly blacked out from the pain. If she hadn’t had the tiny scales on her skin, it probably would have severed that arm. As it was, the arm lost all strength, and she had to focus entirely on holding onto Karjon with her one remaining limb.
The main beam stopped. For a moment a felt a surge of relief pierced the pain in Tythel’s mind they dove to the safety of Karjon’s illusionary valley – and he had been right, she could see through the illusion now – but already the tendrils were warming up again.
This time it was not a single beam, but a volley of them, each one firing a single beam in a circle around Karjon that snapped shut to a close. Her father twisted in the air, trying to drive through the gap, but the space might have been too tight, or maybe he was just moving slowly so he wouldn’t throw Tythel from his back. Either way, it had the same effect.
She could do nothing but watch, screaming in horror and rage, as the beam cut Karjon’s right wing in half. He roared in agony, and then they were falling towards the valley below.
Tythel’s only comfort as the irresistible pull of the ground asserted its dominance was that, at the very least, their attackers wouldn’t get to see them die.