In the time it took Tythel to get to Rephylon, a dozen people had died.
The Alohym stood in the center, its bifurcated arms raised over its head, unlight glowing on its slender fingertips. It started to form eldritch sigils in the air with the light, and a burst of energy lanced out and hit another prisoner in the back. The man screamed in agony, then fell to the ground dead.
“Get back!” Tythel shouted, activating her hammer and her pilfered shield. You should listen to your own advice, she thought as the Alohym whipped its head to face Tythel.
It opened its mandibles, and from them came a single word in recognizable speech, although the voice still buzzed horrifically around the single syllable. “You.”
Tythel raised her shield to prepare for its inevitable attack, heart pounding. “So you can speak our language. I was wondering about that. Why the charade of pretending you couldn’t?” Tythel didn’t care about its answer. The longer she kept it talking, the more time she could give the prisoners to escape.
“A translator ensures our words are understood properly,” Rephylon said, regarding her with unreadable, alien eyes. “Tone. Body language. Gestures. Such things are not universal.”
Given that Rephylon said that in what sounded like a buzzing monotone, Tythel could actually see its point. Her mind raced for a way to keep the conversation going, but the Alohym seemed interested in keeping up the dialogue.
“Theognis said you, however, reacted abnormally for your species. Why?”
Tythel nearly spat back that she wasn’t intending to answer anything the Alohym wanted to know, but bit her tongue. The point was to keep it talking. “You know I wasn’t raised by humans,” she said.
The Alohym gave her a curt nod, and Tythel reminded herself that even her limited understanding of human reactions was useless here. It could have meant anything. It was incredibly surreal to be talking directly to one of these things in public. She half expected to wake up from the dream at any moment. She’d be back in her bed in Karjon’s lair, and she would tell him all about this insane dream about Those From Above invading the world. Maybe he’d help her write it down into something coherent. More likely, by the time she was alert enough to tell the story, most of the dream would have faded.
The Alohym’s words cut through the momentary dissociation from reality. “Your species has a remarkable adaptation to imprinting. We’ve observed this in the humans we have personally raised, but your experience confirms it’s not unique to being raised by us.”
Tythel recoiled from the Alohym’s words. “The humans you have…the what?”
“We’ve raised humans ourselves. Your species is unusually fragile in infancy, there was an adjustment period. But I can say we are quite pleased with the results.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Tythel asked hoarsely, suddenly realizing that she may be underestimating the Alohym.
Around them, the rest of the soldiers and prisoners had managed to get away. Tythel stood in the street alone against the Alohym. Except…not really. She could hear sounds in the houses around them, families moving to windows to see if it was safe to come out – and then staring entranced to see one of their gods in person.
“Because you are going to die, child,” the Alohym said with an expansive gesture. Tythel wondered if it was their version of a shrug. “There is no harm in telling you this.”
Maybe it was the strange buzzing monotone, but something in the Alohym’s words spoke absolute certainty to Tythel. It was positive she was going to die in this fight. I’m not sure it’s wrong.
Realizing the time for talk had passed, Tythel steeled herself, and charged the Alohym.
So far, when seeing Alohym fight, she’d only seen them use their unlight, sending beams of destruction with their every gesture. Rephylon didn’t cast anything her way as she charged in, however. It waited patiently for her to close the gap between them. She brought the hammer back to swing at the monster that had stolen the name of the gods of old.
It darted away from her strike with preternatural speed, then lanced in. The two hands on the left came in faster than Tythel could follow under her shield, striking her in the chest. The blow sent her flying back. She managed to land on her feet, sliding few feet before she brought herself to a stop. It was an effort not to fall to the ground. Breathing was suddenly painful, and Tythel wondered if it had cracked her ribs. I think it did, she thought as she took another hitching breath. Light. It’s so fast.
Rephylon stood there, cocking its head, awaiting her next strike.
Tythel shifted her stance and charged in again. She didn’t want to give the Alohym the chance to grab the upper hand.
This time it stood there and let her bring the hammer down, taking the blow directly on its chest. The impact of the hammer’s steel against the Alohym’s carapace landed with a sickening crack, and Tythel was certain it had misjudged her strength. When she pulled the hammer away, the jagged lines she’d made in its torso were already sealing up.
Before she could react, it darted in with another double fisted strike. She managed to, barely, get her shield up between the Alohym and herself. At least, it’s first strike. The Alohym’s other hand whipped around and struck her across the face, sending her flying again.
This time, she was too disoriented to land on her feet. She slammed into the stone of some house, and could hear the family inside scream in sudden terror at the impact as the stone cracked beneath her. She fell forward, landing on her hands and knees.
Rephylon still stood there, waiting for her to get up. “Perhaps our concerns about your kind were unfounded,” the Alohym said, regarding her with that same blank expression on its tilted head. “Or perhaps you lied about being a dragon, as you have about so many other things. Either way, I am unimpressed.”
Rage lanced through the pain, clearing Tythel’s head. She couldn’t see out of her eye on the side of her head where the Alohym had struck her. She wasn’t sure she ever would again – she’d felt something crack under the blow. That ear also couldn’t hear anymore, just reporting a loud ringing sound that never varied in tone.
Tythel forced herself to her feet regardless, using the hammer as a cane to push herself to her feet. “You want to see what a dragon can do?” Tythel asked.
“If I didn’t, I would have already slain you,” it said with another of those expansive gestures. “You live only because you are of interest to my studies.”
Tythel’s good eye was seeing red. She didn’t bother with bantering further, instead taking a deep breath and letting loose a gout of dragonflame.
The heat washed over the Alohym. If Rephylon had expected her to give a quick blast, it was mistaken. Tythel kept the fire pouring out, washing over the creature. She could see her flame began to heat and then melt the stone the Alohym was standing on. A surge of hope began to blossom in her chest. The Alohym had gotten too cocky, too arrogant. She was going to win!
She exhaled fire until her body forced her to stop, needing some air to keep her going. She gasped as the flames dissipated, waiting for the rock to cool so she could see. She wondered if there would be anything left of the Alohym.
Rephylon stepped out of the heat, kicking its spindly legs to knock aside some molten stone that clung to its feet in a manner that suggested it was doing nothing more than shaking off mud. The creature’s carapace glowed a dark red, and Tythel could see evidence of warping. It had taken some damage, but didn’t seem to care. How? Tythel asked herself as disrepair began to settle in. What kind of creature can be bathed in flame and seem…annoyed?
“At the risk of repeating myself,” the Alohym said, raising its hands to gather unlight to its fingers, “I am unimpressed.”
Tythel could feel tears coming to her good eye as she braced herself for the Alohym’s attack.