“We can’t let this go,” Lord Devos growled into the silence. “The Vacuity Engine…it’s our best chance to beat the Alohym.”
“We don’t know that for certain,” Lady von Baggett countered. “It’s a rumor we’ve heard.” she held up a hand to forestall one counter argument, “I know that it’s a credible rumor, but ‘disabling the Vacurity Engine could turn the tide’ being told to one of our agents from a dying man is hardly enough to risk an assault. For all we know, the Vacuity Engine might not even exist. And even if it does, it might be nowhere near as important as we think it is. We don’t know if it’s worth the risk.”
“What do you propose, then?” Lord Devos had a wicked gleam to his eye. “We keep fighting the same losing war we were fighting?”
“We have a way to kill Alohym now,” the Lady countered.
“No.” Lord Devos pointed a single meaty finger at Tythel. “She has a way to kill Alohym. She’s just one flathing woman, and she’s the princess! She’ll eventually die, and then we’re back to losing.”
“We have more people flocking to our cause than ever before,” Lady von Baggett managed to remain calm in the face of Lord Devos’ rage. “We could-”
“Even if every single person on the flathing continent joined us, we still don’t have a way to take down the Alohym. We’ll die before they fall.”
“We couldn’t kill the Alohym before because we were using their own weapons against them. It’s entirely possible that Arcwands will work if they’re powered by normal lumcells. No one’s tried it before.”
“Bah,” Lord Devos spat on the ground. “I’d rather not throw away men’s lives on a hunch.”
“So instead you’d waste them on the hunch the Vacuity Engine is of any use to us, if it even exists?”
“Enough,” Duke d’Monchy said in a calm but firm voice, cutting off Lord Devos’ retort. “Allow others to speak, please?”
“Uh,” Armin said, taking the opportunity, “I don’t believe it’s a trap. The only reason we cracked this code is because we holed up in ancient Hallith. If we assume the Alohym have the ability to predict what we’re going to do to that degree of certainty, we might as well lay down and die.”
“Thank you, Armin,” Lord Devos growled.
“But,” Armin continued, “it’s true we don’t know what it does. It could be so important it could turn the tide of the war, but it could be it’s a religious relic to the Alohym, or a repository of knowledge they want but don’t need, or something even stranger.”
At least he’s gotten Lord Devos and Lady von Bagget to agree on something, Tythel thought. She couldn’t read their faces well, but it didn’t take any great understanding of human expressions to figure out they both wished Armin had kept his mouth shut.
“Do you propose something then, Armin?” Duke d’Monchy asked evenly.
“I wish I had a solution. If I’m right, if the code is all have Archaic symbols as their key, we’d need to delve into a lot of ruins before we had an answer. The Collegium might hold some of the answers, but it’s only slightly less suicidal to assault a building full of Alohym loyal Magi as it is to assault the Ambulatory Bastion.”
Duke d’Monchy frowned. “We have to do something soon, whatever it is. Our resources are running short. We’ve been able to support ourselves some by trading, but that money is running out. The soldiers need food.”
Everyone stared at each other in glum silence. Everyone but Eupheme, who was giving Tythel an inquisitive eyebrow.
Tythel took a deep breath. She’d told Eupheme about what was waiting back at Karjon’s lair, and told her about the struggle to let anyone use it. On the one hand, it solved so many problems. On the other, it despoiled the last bit of her father left. And what about the living, Tythel? She asked herself. Eupheme’s expression didn’t waiver, but to Tythel’s eyes it started to seem somewhat accusatory. You’re imagining things. You’re lucky you could tell what she was thinking at all, now you’re putting nuance in there?
“Let me see those maps,” Tythel said, moving closer to the table. “There’s got to be some other ruins near by here.” She bit her cheek in concentration. There has to be something else, some half remembered bit of lore…anything other than raiding Karjon’s lair.
“What, you don’t just know ancient symbols?” Armin said in a teasing tone.
“No, unfortunately. Karjon was focused on teaching me Carodmethi and a few others. Hallithian is so old, it’s barely used anymore.” Tythel’s forehead furrowed in concentration.
“And the locations of ancient cities?”
“I know some maps from the time. Geography can change a lot in seven thousand years. I’m trying to figure out from a few permanent features. And I think…” she tapped a location on the map with her finger in the middle of a forest, her eyes fluttering with excitement. “Yes! I’m sure of it. The rivers have changed, but mountains don’t move much even in thousands of years. Hallith’s greatest rival, Dor’nah. This wasn’t a forest back then, it was a desert, but when the Grey Ridge erupted, it let the clouds past just enough. Hallith remained scrublands, but the rains fell on Dor’nah. The flourished for a thousand years after Hallith’s collapsed, before they fell to Grejhak the Terrible.”
“Grejhak?” Duke d’Monchy frowned. “That sounds draconic.”
Tythel nodded. “It is. Technically Grejhak is my ancestor. He annihilated Dor’nah for some slight or another, but if Karjon’s texts were right, he did so with ghostflame. It would have left the buildings intact. He laired there until his death in the year 7124, as the dragons count years. That’d be…4219 years before the founding of the current calendar. No one disturbed it for millenia afterwards out of fear.”
“Fear of what?”
“Grejhak dabbled in Necromancy, infusing both light and shadow to animate corpses. Superstitious people believed his corpse still wandered the ruins. By the time humans had forgotten to fear him, they had forgotten Dor’nah ever stood there. Which means it should be undisturbed.”
“Undisturbed except for five thousand years of forests growing,” Duke d’Monchy frowned. “It could be worth investigating, but we’d be exposed the moment we left this plateau.”
Tythel nodded. “Then how about a small force? I’ll take them, I know the way. We’ll move quicker in the forest anyway. If we find anything work taking, we can come back with a larger force to delve into his lair, and we can bring back Dor’nahid writing for Armin to compare to the cypher.”
“No,” Duke d’Monchy said. “You’re too valuable to risk, your highness. You can write directions down.”
“And what if something happens? What if they encounter Alohym?” Tythel could feel heat rising to her cheeks, anger and frustration mingling.
“What if the Alohym attack here?” he asked mildly. “If you want to protect people from the Alohym, you can do far more here.”
“And if you want to slay them,” Lord Devos added, “You’ll find more of them to kill here. We can’t stay hidden forever.”
Tythel could already tell she was going to lose the argument. It wasn’t even an argument, not really. Duke d’Monchy’s mind was set. He doesn’t want to lose you, she thought bitterly. You’re too useful.
So instead, other people were going to go and delve into the forest that covered the ruins of Dor’nah. Other people were going to hunt for a treasure five millennia old, based on half remembered scraps of Karjon’s teachings from a era he had only covered as far as it related to their family line. Other people could die because Tythel was hoarding bits of things that would never be used otherwise.
“Fine,” Tythel said with a sigh. “But I’ll need a couple days to write the instructions down. I’ll need up to date maps, and I’ll be comparing from lore I don’t remember all that well.”
It was agreed. They’d send an expedition into the woods to find if the treasure of Grejhak remained, and if they could find any of the writing of Dor’nah.
The truth was, Tythel could have written what instructions she knew in a matter of an hour. But the two days bought her time to think. Time to decide. Could she really risk the living to preserve her father’s grave? Or, for that matter, could she stand to see her home despoiled to fight a war?
Right now, she honestly didn’t know.