Rephylon gazed at Tythel for a bit, just long enough where Tythel began to wonder if she was supposed to speak first. Before she could break the silence – she still had no idea what she’d break it with – it let out a lone drone mixed with clicks and wet sounds like meat sliding across sandpaper.
She was reminded of Thomah shouting before he died. “O’malh’ti! O’malh’ti! Hoth’tivath!” If Tythel let herself try to make out distinct sounds in the horrible noise Rephylon was emitting, she could hear how those worlds – and flath, for that matter – would be the closest a human mouth could come to copying that grotesque speech.
“You do seem to be the daughter of the old Royals in this region, yet your flesh also seems different. You are more than they were. Explain,” Theognis intoned. It took Tythel a second to realize he was literally translating what Rephylon was saying. Rephylon tilted its head to the side in obvious confusion.
Tythel’s heart was pounding. If she lied to to the Alohym, it might know otherwise, and might take poorly to the lie. She got the feeling she wouldn’t like its displeasure. On the other hand, it didn’t know. It couldn’t tell what she was. Given that the Alohym had made a mission out of eradicating dragonkind, if she told it the truth it likely would also take poorly to that. “I was born a human. How could I be anything else?” she tried. At least it wasn’t technically a lie.
Rephylon reared back a fraction of an inch, and Tythel wondered what that signified. It wasn’t like any gesture human or dragon had ever made, and she found herself doubting her earlier conclusion that the head-tilt was confusion. It spoke again, with Theognis translating, “That question is one we will have answers for.” Theognis gave her an grin as he relayed that line, and Tythel shuddered at the thought of what finding those answers would entail. “Yet you are the daughter of the Royals of this region. Why do you fight against us?”
The question startled Tythel so much, she forgot her fear and let out a sharp laugh. “Why? You kill people for standing against you. You took away this world from humanity. You oppress us at every turn. And, most importantly,” and here for the first time Tythel found the strength to meet its gaze as her owned narrowed, “you killed my father you monster. How could I not fight against you?”
The Alohym reared back another fraction, and brought one of those bisected forearms up to tap both its head and shoulder simultaneously. Is that like a man scratching their chin? Or a dragon flicking its tail in thought? At least Tythel could take comfort it was unlikely anyone was particularly adept at reading the emotions of these invaders. “I arrived ten cycles ago,” Theognis said for Rephylon, “and your parents died long before that. You were an infant, you did not know them. Why would you care?”
Tythel snarled. “Not them. My father was Karjon,” she said.
Rephylon looked over at Theognis and made some sound Theognis didn’t deign to translate. He spoke in that strange tongue himself, although they sounded more like words coming from Theognis’ lips. Come to think of it, no part of the Alohym moves when it speaks. How does it even make sounds? The questioned seemed trivial and Tythel tried to push it aside, but some part of her brain kept circling back to that. The sounds were coming from its head, yes, but they were also coming from deep inside its chest – what Tythel supposed she should be calling its thorax. How did this monster speak?
She heard Karjon’s name in Theognis’ answer, and it struck her that it was clear what they were talking about. Rephylon had no idea who or what Karjon was. The idea that one of them didn’t even know who he was filled her belly with fire all over again, and she considered attempting to flame even with the ache in her throat.
“Karjon. Who is this Karjon?” Theognis translated, and the fire in her belly began to settle into into a thick stew of molten lead.
“Karjon was – “ Tythel almost started to scream his praises at them, but bit her tongue before she could go any further. If she told them too much, she’d likely earn her own death. By the time you’re done, every one of them will know his name. Don’t tell them now. “- was the one that raised me. He died in – “
“Do not dissemble,” Theognis snapped without any input from Rephylon. “You told Lucien that he died in the raid on the dragon, that he was the dragon. But he was a dragon. Who was he, that he matters so much to you that you fight against the Gods in his name?”
“He was my father!” Tythel shouted, and tears of frustration began to creep into her eyes. Before she could stop herself, her nictitating membranes flashed across her eyes.
Theognis took a step back at the motion, as if she was somehow as horrible a monster as the creature standing besides him. If Rephylon found it odd, it did not show it in any word or gesture. When Theognis began to translate again, his voice was halting and uncertain. “You hold a bond to this Karjon the same as humans hold to those they share flesh with?”
“Yes,” Tythel hissed through clench teeth. “What part of that is so hard to understand?”
“We are constantly surprised by humans ability to hive-bond. I have seen humans become suicidally angry over the death of lower life forms they keep as hunting partners. I have seen humans weep for the destruction of their nests, even if we offer to rebuild them. A dragon? They are the monsters we are saving you from, and yet you claim one as a parent?”
Tythel gaped at Rephylon. “Saving us from? No, no, that doesn’t make sense.” She bit her lip in thought, then felt her eyes widen in realization. “Of course. Just like the Nahdi, when they conquered the Brerica. They told them it was for their own safety, that they were protecting them against the Cardometh, when Cardometh had no ambitions on that peninsula. You’re claiming dragons are the threat because you want to appear better. Every Light needs its Shadow.”
Karjon had once said that she could be distracted by a history lesson in the middle of a battle. This wasn’t a battle, it was an interrogation, but he was certainly being proven right at the moment. Rephylon leaned forward, till their faces were mere inches apart. It let out the droning hiss directly in her face, and Tythel leaned as far away as possible when it did. “Dragons eat humans,” he intoned for Rephylon, as if saying it would have the same weight as the truth, “and now they are gone. We have saved you.”
“Not me,” Tythel said, with as much defiance as she could muster pressed against the wall. “I lost the greatest being I’d never known because of you. You didn’t help me, you ripped me apart.”
The Alohym reached up with it’s bisected arms, and she couldn’t move away enough to prevent it from touching her. She wondered if she’d gone too far, if it was going to kill her right here and now for daring to talk about to it. No, I can’t die yet. I still have work to do! She almost risked a flame, but instead of a strike or a throttle like she expected, it touched her cheek and arm delicately. The touch was cold and smooth, like the carapice it resembled, but there was something about the motion that reminded her of how people comforted each other. “Yes,” Theognis translated, “we did. And we will fix that, if you will serve.”
Tythel jerked away from the touch. “How can you possibly fix it? He’s dead. There’s no bringing him back.”
“We are gods, child. We will do exactly that, if you will serve.”
Tythel felt her heart, already pounding as fast as it ever had before, accelerate. “I will not subject my father to a necromancer’s touch!” she hissed.
“Necromancy is children playing in our domain. No, we would not bring him back as some undead thing. We would rebuild his body with our devices, and then we would call his soul back to it. He would live again, as he was before his death.”
“That’s impossible. You’re not gods, not really.”
Theognis chuckled for a moment, and Tythel for once could read a reaction perfectly. Theognis new, as well as she did, that the Alohym were not gods. They were something else, but he did not believe in their divinity. Was it you, Theognis, who suggested they steal the Old Tongue word for god? Or was that their own idea?
Rephylon was droning again, and Tythel waited for Theognis to translate its words. “You may disbelieve if you wish. Yet we have ships that sail beyond the sky. We have marvels your species never imagined. We channel power you had not dreamt of. I assure you, such a feat is not beyond us.”
Tythel had to remember to breath. If the Alohym could bring Karjon back… “Why should I trust you?” she asked.
“Because we have need of you, Daughter of the Royals. The humans of this kingdom, they are…rebellious. If we had you, it would help quell those that feel the Royals should rule again. And if we failed to deliver, you would have no reason to serve.”
Much as she wished otherwise, there was a logic to Rephylon’s words. I could have my father back! The idea that he might not be lost to her forever was a fresh agony, ripping open the wounds she had thought were beginning to heal. She could hear his voice again, rest against his flank, shelter under his wings. She could play with him again, sit on the ground listening to his wisdom, learn more about what it meant to be a dragon now that she was one. Isn’t that what you really want?
The Alohym’s gaze was unreadable, but Tythel felt an expectation beneath that stare. She couldn’t find the words to answer it’s offer, and fresh grief began to wrack her body to the point where she was finding it difficult to stand.
Rephylon again reached out with that two-handed arm and wiped away the tear that began to roll down her cheek before she could jerk away, droning as it did. “Think on it, child,” Theognis translated. “In three days, you will be taken from here. Then you will either be executed or you will have you father returned to you. Your companions, likewise, may be spared if you choose to serve.”
With that, the two turned to leave, leaving Tythel with her doubts and her tears.