Unlight met dragonflame in the street between Rephylon and Tythel. The force of Rephylon’s strike travelled back down the flame, and Tythel could feel her head want to whip back from the impact.
A small part of her brain wished she was built like a dragon, so her entire body could absorb the recoil. As it was, she found herself stumbling back against the wall.
When the feedback stopped, Rephylon dashed in, passing through her flames like they were nothing to strike her in the side. Tythel frantically brought up her shield, barely quick enough to stop the blow. The Alohym’s fists met the unlight barrier and pushed against it, forcing her to her knees. “This has been instructive,” Rephylon informed her as it continued to press upon the barrier. “Once you’re dead, your genetic template will be used to create a new phenotype of soldiers. I can only imagine how effective they’ll be.”
Tythel only understood some of the words in that sentence. She was distracted by watching what was happening to its carapace as it pressed against her shield.
The warping her dragonflame had caused was fading.
Realization struck. Just as the light had caused Ossman’s arm to heal itself in instants, so was unlight affecting the Alohym. That’s why we never could beat them, Tythel realized with mounting horror. Unlight corrupts light, and unlight heals them. We didn’t come up with arcwands until recently. The best weapons we had were healing them the entire time!
It was a shame she was going to die before being able to inform anyone.
Tythel moved now, swinging the hammer awkwardly towards the Alohym. It didn’t even attempt to dodge. The burst of unlight would only heal it, after all.
Which was why halfway through the swing, Tythel deactivated the hammer and drove the handle into its shoulder. She was rewarded with a sickening crunch, and yellowish fluid erupted from where she drove the improvised weapon into the Alohym.
She expected it to scream in pain and recoil away. Instead, it reached out with its good hands and grabbed Tythel by the forearm before she could pull away.It let her struggle for a moment, making sure she understood that she could not break away from that terrible grip.
Then it snapped her arm.
The pain was unimaginable. Worse than being cut, worse than any of the previous injuries she’d suffered. Tythel roared in pain, and was only half aware as Rephylon hurled her down the street again – right up until her tumbling path caused her to land on the broken arm. That sent a fresh hell of pain though her brain.
Tythel was certain she blacked out for an instant. Maybe she slipped into the Shadow.
When her eye started to focus again, she saw Karjon standing behind the Alohym, and was certain she was dead. Karjon regarded her with big, sad eyes that were blinking slowly, the nictitating membranes sliding across his eyes in sadness. He opened his mouth and spoke to her. “Ghostflame is not possible with the raw, unfettered emotions that fuel Dragonflame. This will require the strength of passion, the fire of anger, the brightness of joy, the intensity of grief – but focused to a fine point.”
Tythel was now certain she was hallucinating, since those were the exact words she’d read in Karjon’s book. If Karjon’s spirit was really here, she’d expect him to give her real advice, say something to help. She also didn’t care. Tythel’s nictitating membranes wiped away tears as she looked up past Rephylon to the hallucinatory Karjon. “I don’t understand,” she said. “I’m so sorry, father. I never understood.”
Rephylon paused and looked over its injured shoulder. Apparently, all it saw was open air. “It’s interesting how often you humans descend into madness at the end,” it said. “I should make a more in depth study of that. Fortunately, you have brought an army to me. I’ll have ample subjects to work on.
Tythel looked up at the creature and felt an icy hand wrap itself around her heart. She imagined Eupheme in the clutches of this creature. Or Ossman, who had suffered so much already. Or Armin, his laughter reduced to screams of agony as the Alohym tried to push him to madness.
“No,” Tythel growled. She held her broken arm against her chest and forced herself to rise. Forced herself to stand and face this creature, to look it in the eyes. A calmness crept over her.
“No?” The Alohym’s buzz sounded inquisitive. “Why in the Void would you think you have anything to say in the matter.”
It didn’t seem all that interested in her answer. The Alohym skittered in again and struck her in the chest. This time she definitely felt a rib crack. Her back was too a wall, and she didn’t have far to travel with the blow. Instead the Alohym could begin to beat her with a series of rapid blows to her chest. When it backed away she slumped to the ground, catching herself on her good arm.
Tythel coughed, and coppery taste filled her mouth as a splash of red stained the stone beneath her. The pain was unimaginable, but that calmness, that sudden certainty remained.
She forced herself to rise. “Because,” Tythel said, “I understand finally.”
Rephylon stopped, regarding her with a tilted head. “Understand what?”
“It’s not enough to hate. It was never going to be enough to hate all of you. That’s too broad, too indirect. It needed to be…a specific emotion” Tythel paused to cough up blood again. “Thank you,” she said.
“For killing you?”
Tythel shook her head. “For helping me focus on what really matters.”
Behind Rephylon, Karjon blinked happily before he faded back into her memory. Rephylon cocked its head at her, opening its mandibles to speak again. Tythel didn’t wait for it to get out a single word. Instead, she gathered those images, the imaginings of what this particular monster would do to her friends, and channeled it into her mind, letting it mingle with her grief for her father and the loss of Nicandros and her love for the people who had taken her in.
She opened her mouth and exhaled.
The flame that came flowing forth was a beautiful, pale blue torrent of ghostflame.
This time, the Alohym did scream.