Tythel emerged from the ashes to absolute chaos, and she stood there a moment in the open, gaping at the battle unfolding in front of her.
Beasts had come pouring out of the woods to join the fight, joined by Haradeth and Lorathor. They had swarmed two of the imperipods, and while the two of them and the animals had not yet found a way to damage the Alohym device, they were too small and close and nimble for it to have swatted them yet. It was a stalemate, which meant that part of the battle was at least going better than the rest of what she could see.
Armin was on top of the roof of the factory, an arcwand in hand, taking shots at the soldiers that were still swarming. Ossman had engaged one of the soldiers in hand to hand, his axe flashing. It had a orange edge that put Tythel in mind of the arcward blasts, and had buried it in the armor of one of the soldiers as she emerged. Before he could exult in his victory, however, he buckled and dropped to one knee, and Tythel could see that his armor – mail like the soldiers – was stained red with the blood of numerous wounds.
Another soldier was approaching, and Eupheme stepped out from the soldier’s shadow like a ghost rising from the grave, drawing her dagger across his neck before he could fell Ossman. Eupheme was less injured than Ossman, but her breathing was ragged and her hands shook as they went back to her side.
Nicandros was running towards the two, and one of the imperipods took aim at him, not with a single beam but several small beams of unlight. One of them caught him in the shoulder and he didn’t even shout as he reeled back. He fell, laying on the ground, not moving. If Tythel’s ears didn’t pick up the sound of his heartbeat, she would have believed him dead.
That last detail spurred Tythel to action at the same time one of the soldiers noticed her, raising his unlight arcwand to take a shot at her. She was already charging and before the soldier could shoot she took a deep breath and let loose a gout of dragonflame that engulfed him.
Although that had taken care of the last soldier, it drew the attention of one of the imperipods. It turned to face her, the night growing darker around it as it gathered its beams.
As she stared, panic gripping her it opened fire with a solid beam of unlight.
Tythel met the unlight beam with her own dragonflame, and the two collided in the air between them.
It was the same thing she’d seen Karjon do the day he’d died, his breath meeting the ship’s unlight, but what she hadn’t seen when Karjon had done it was how much effort it took. The impact travelled back up the dragonflame and she was bowled over, sent tumbling back end over end to come to rest on her back, her head spinning from the impact as the unlight raced overhead.
It struck the factory behind her, and the pilot of the imperipod swept it sidewise to collapse the rest of the wall. She got a brief glimpse of Armin falling among the ruin, and then he was gone from sight.
The other imperipod, not distracted by the beasts spurred by Haradeth, was turning with a plodding inevitability to take aim at Eupheme. She saw it but she seemed unwilling to abandon her task, trying to help Ossman to his feet. In a moment, they would be dead. The two imperipods would turn on Haradeth and Lorathor, and they would die along with their animals. If Armin and Nicandros were still alive, they would die too, and with that would be the last of everyone Tythel knew.
Her head started to clear, and her thoughts took on Karjon’s voice. And are you some helpless bystander in all this? Or are you my daughter?
Tythel forced herself to her feet, fear and anger and determination building with every motion. Her heart was pounding louder than it ever had, so much so she could hear her blood throbbing in her ears. Her hands weren’t shaking like she expected them to be, but calm and steady. She bent down and started to rush the imperipod, howling with rage as she did.
It hesitated for a moment. Maybe she had caught it off guard, or maybe the pilot was laughing at the idea she was charging him when he’d beaten her so easily before. It gave her some time to close the distance, but not enough. The night turned to inky blackness around the unlight crystals, and it fired.
She didn’t meet the attack with dragonflame this time. Instead, she dove to the ground, extending the unlight shield as she did, pushing off it as it hit the ground to turn it into a roll that brought her directly between the imperipods legs, and this close she could hear the pilot inside, hear his heartbeat accelerate, and hear him let out a panicked curse.
Now she let loose the dragonflame, the hottest she could manage, so hot she imagined she could see the blue tinge of her closest attempts at ghostflame forming around the edge.
It wasn’t ghostflame, it was just pure dragon fire. Where her simple throw early had left the imperipod glowing, this sustained stream caused the imperipod to begin to shake and buckle as it went from red to orange to white hot.
The imperipod didn’t melt, it didn’t explode, it didn’t collapse. But she heard something inside it make a noise like lightning striking a tree, she heard the pilot scream in pain, and then it went silent.
She was already moving the moment it did. The imperipod that had been taking aim at Eupheme and Ossman had seen what happened, and it was turning with frantic motions at odds with its plodding speed. Her throat was burned raw. She was having trouble breathing air at this point, let alone fire. If it got a chance to shoot her, she had no means to stop it.
She drew her unlight hammer at the same time as the imperipod let loose a stream of those smaller beams, trying to close them together around her. They came close, so close she could feet the unnatural chill of the unlight. Before they could fully close in, she drove between its legs, striking it with every ounce of might she could manage directly in one of the imperipod’s odd, back-bent knees.
Her strength alone was not enough to buckle the knee. But as it had the day she’d acquired the hammer, when Thomah has struck her with it, it let out a bust of power as she drove the hammer into the imperipod.
The knee cracked from the impact. The imperipod started to collapse to one side, and she was diving out of the way as it collapsed to the ground, coming up with her shield raised, stopping between it and Eupheme.
Her heart was still pounding, her blood still rushing in her ears, her knees threatening to buckle themselves from the exertion. What she thought was sweat started to run down the side of her her head, but as it ran down her arm she could see it was blood, dripping down her neck and into her armor. A small part of Tythel couldn’t help but wonder how close those small unlight streams had come to opening her head completely.
It didn’t matter right now. What mattered was the downed imperipod, struggling to turn itself around to take aim at them as it still laid on the ground. She could see now Armin digging himself out of the rubble, she could still hear Nicandros’ heartbeat, and even Haradeth and Lorathor seemed to be faring better against their foes. We did it. We did it! She almost shouted the words, but another sound reached her ears before she could.
The deep sound of metal grating on metal was coming from the clouds.
She barely had time to shout a warning before the Alohym vessel burst into view in the night sky, imperiplate soldiers leaping out of it to swarm the area. “Surrender!” said a booming voice, one that seemed to come from the vessel itself, like it was some great sky monster screaming for them to submit. “Surrender! Surrender!”
The soldiers were surrounding them. She didn’t have it in her to fight the vessel, didn’t even know how she could if she had the strength.
Her nictitating membranes flashed, blinking away tears. We had it. We had won! It hadn’t mattered. She glanced at Eupheme, the only other person she could see who was still able to fight, and Eupheme gave her a slight nod. “It’s not worth dying,” Eupheme whispered. “As long as we live, there’s still hope.”
Feeling nothing even close to hope Tythel let her shield and hammer fall to the ground and dropped to her knees, putting her hands behind her head.
She didn’t even resist as the fit the manacles to her wrists.