“I think we do need to cover how we lost,” the Duke said, “since it puts some important context into what happened.”
Tythel leaned forward onto the dolphin’s head. “You know better than me.”
Duke d’Monchy nodded. Agreement with her? Appreciation for acknowledging it? Tythel wasn’t sure, so waited for him to continue.
“Their first wave of attacks nearly crippled us before we even knew we were at war. Their ships emerged from the sky near every major force that was in the field or at march or at war. I was leading a force north, against the Panshaw Dynasty, over their incursions into our land. Fifteen thousand men, two weeks into the siege to the fortress of Rhanphon, which housed a similar amount. Then their vessel emerged from the sky.”
He took a deep breath and shook his head. “Light. I can’t describe what it was like that first time. A leviathan of the deep descending from the sky. We thought at first the conjurers at Rhanphon had unleashed some Titan from the Old Age, until they started firing their arrows at it.”
“They came low enough for bows?” Tythel asked, starting to tilt her head until she noticed Haradeth and straightened it.
“Yes. As far as we’ve been able to tell, their main weapons have a range of about five hundred feet. Further than that and power drops off significantly. They could have still devastated us, but…”
“They wanted to shock the flath out of us,” Lord Devos growled. “My riders were running between raids. I know you’ve seen what those guns can flathing do to a person, Princess.” He blinked a couple times. “Person, dragon, whatever. Have you seen what happens when do do a sustained beam against the flathing ground yet?”
“She’s seen the aftermath,” Nicandros said, nodding to her. “The forest, that first night. And those weren’t long sustains.”
“What does a long sustain do?” Tythel asked, dreading the answer.
“Fifteen thousand men.” Duke d’Monchy shuddered. “We started to flee as soon as the…I liked that word you had for it, unlight?” Tythel nodded. “As soon as the the unlight beam hit. The explosion grows more slowly than you’d think, not like one out of a powder keg. Just fast enough where you think you can run away.” He took another deep breath. “You can’t. I was on top of a hill, making plans. Far enough away to watch. Discipline collapsed almost instantly. They scattered in every direction, and when the explosion’s edge caught them…I can still hear their screams.”
The Dutchess reached over again and put her hand on the Dukes arm. He took it in his free hand and clutched it tightly. “Of the fifteen thousand I had brought with me, less than seven hundred survived that initial blast. The defenders of Rhanphon began to cheer, but the vessel was turning on them. It didn’t fire like it had at us. It started using the smaller beams to pick off the siege weapons, and then the actual Alohym descended like locusts from hell and took the fortress.”
Tythel couldn’t stop the head tilt this time. “Why not just demolish the fortress, like they had the army?”
Haradeth’s eyes narrowed. Tythel got the sinking feeling she’d failed in his mind again, but she pushed it aside as the Duke continued, “We don’t know, but we have some theories. If you’ll allow me to explain them later?” Tythel nodded. “The vessel moved on after the Alohym claimed it. They didn’t bring enough to defeat every army, every fortification, in a single attack. We figured that out later, though.”
“It’s raiding tactics,” Lady Von Bagget chimed in. “Hit a port, then move to somewhere far enough away and hit them before word spreads you’re in the area.”
Duke d’Monchy nodded. “We had no way of matching their speed. I sent riders to every force nearby I knew of, allies and adversaries alike, to try to warn them. In almost every instance, by the time the riders arrived, it was too late. Either the vessel we had initially faced or another had reached to them. The few times the riders beat a vessel there, it didn’t make a difference. We had no weapons that could stand against them. The greatest wizards could hold back the unlight beams for a few second, but that was it.”
He lapsed into silence, and his wife picked up the thread. “We in the cities were unaware of what was happening for almost a full day. It was a week before we saw them – the Alohym were initially focused only on military targets. By the time they came after us, they had already recruited or enslaved our soldiers into their armies, stuck them into early versions of their imperiplate.”
“Imperiplate?” Tythel realized that, so far, her only contributions to the conversation had been nonverbal or interrupting with questions. On the other hand, it was the best role for her right now.
“Their armor that can fly.”
“Ah.” Tythel felt her jaw tighten at the thought of those, of the swarm of men descending from the sky, of Thomah cooking in his suit.
The Duchess checked to make sure that Tythel understood then continued. “Every Alohym was supported by at least twenty people. Sometimes more. The guard’s swords bounced off them, their arrows shattered uselessly. I did see a human soldier go down. Some mad bastards, if you’ll pardon my tongue, had set up a ballista in an alleyway. The moment a soldier walked by it, they let fly.”
Tythel had to chuckle at the thought. “So nothing short of siege weaponry could hurt them?”
Nicandros picked up the thread. “Now that we have arcwands of our own, and devices we pilfer from them, we have more options. Back then, though, we couldn’t touch them.”
“Except for the dragons,” Haradeth added, looking directly at Tythel.
“Aye,” Duke d’Monchy said, “there was that. Dragon flame would pass through the hull of their ships.”
Tythel sighed. “I’m not sure how. When they attacked us, my father’s flame would only make it hot.”
“I saw it with my own two eyes,” Nicandros said. “Fire so hot it burned blue. Didn’t really damage the ships, though, but when the dragon turned their flame towards it the flathing thing would just fall out of the sky.”
Tythel swore. Everyone looked at her, but she swore again. “Ghostfire. That’s what it was, it wasn’t dragonflame, it was ghostfire.”
Haradeth sneered again, “So your father could have been useful, if he hadn’t-”
Karjon had been an incredibly patient father. He had never lectured Tythel, instead preferring to take time to help her understand. He did not push her, not in the way that fathers would sometimes push their children, not in ways that she found frustrating. It was always a gentle push, a nudge, an encouragement. He had rules, sure, and they had chafed at time, but he would always make sure she understood the reason for the rules.
She could not climb the cliffs because if she fell, she would die, and she was not yet a strong enough climber. She could not venture into the village because humans were fearful of dragons, and she wasn’t yet old enough to do so alone. She could not read more advanced books of magic until she could safely practice the basics. Rules she did not like, but rules she could understand and respect. It had been wonderful, in her opinion, and she felt it had prepared her for anything life would throw at her. In many ways, she was right.
It had one major side effect she had never considered before, however. It meant she had never gotten to discover and learn to cope with the fact that she had a temper.
Before whatever hateful thing was about to come out of Haradeth’s mouth left his lips, Tythel whirled in her seat and struck him with the back of her hand across his face. “Say one more word. Tell me again how my father was a coward, or a failure, or whatever wretched thing you were going to say. Tell me how my father died because your mother didn’t clarify that it was ghostflame, not dragonflame. Go ahead, do it. Because I just learned that if Lathariel had been clearer, my father would still be alive, and I would love to work out those feelings right now.”
Haradeth glared at her, but before he could speak, Nicandros stepped between them. “Save it for the Alohym,” he growled, not looking at either of them.
Tythel took a deep breath, trying to reign her fury in. It didn’t work. “I need to clear my head. Can we take a brief recess?”
She didn’t wait for a response. Tears starting to well up in her eyes, she pushed herself to her feet and stalked away from temple.