Tythel’s sleep was shattered by the clamoring of alarms. She was on her feet before her brain was fully awake, cobwebs of sleep burning away as her heart jackhammered in panic. Her vision cleared from the fog of sleep as Eupheme tossed Tythel her hammer. Tythel snatched it out of the air and extended it, then grabbed her shield from where it rested at the end of her bed. “What’s going on?” She shouted to Eupheme over the warbling wail.
Eupheme just shook her head to show she didn’t understand, then she stepped into the space behind the door. Tythel heard air rushing into occupy the space that Eupheme had just vacated, then another rush of air as Eupheme returned. “Downstairs is clear.”
Tythel nodded and rushed out the door and the Inn in bounding steps. Eupheme simply walked through the shadows to beat Tythel to the entrance, scanning the horizon.
Dawn was just beginning to shine over the companion, the top of the sun just peeking over the wall that surrounded the ancient city of Hallith. The alarm continued to cut through the cool air, masking most other sounds from Tythel’s ears. She could barely hear soldiers rushing around, gathering their weapons and armor. Someone nearby was shouting orders, and although Tythel couldn’t make out the words, she recognized the voice – Tellias. Tythel began to run towards him, hoping he’d know what had triggered the alert.
Before she reached him, the alarm cut out, having done its job. It was then, in the silence the followed, that Tythel heard it.
The sound of grinding metal in the sky.
“Ships!” Tythel shouted to Eupheme. The other woman’s face turned into a grim frown, and she nodded understanding. Tythel’s heart continued to pound. We’re not ready for this. The plateau was still being fortified. It didn’t have anything that could withstand a direct assault from the sky, not yet. It didn’t have a way to fight back against that either. They were utterly exposed. Tythel didn’t even know if she could hope to generate enough ghostflame to even give the ship pause, let alone take it down.
“Is the tunnel finished?” Eupheme asked Tythel as they ran.
“I don’t know,” Tythel said grimly, pumping her legs harder. The troops around Tellias resolved into her vision. He was standing on a block of stone, barking orders, clad in armor that glowed like the rays of an arcwand.
One of Armin’s pet projects over the past month had been converting some of the captured Imperiplate to utilize arc packs instead of unlight, so it could be effectively used against the Alohym. He called them arcplate, which Tythel thought was unimaginative but functional and clear. The commanders each had been given one of the dozen pieces of arcplate Armin had managed to finish working on. Armin was certain they would work, but they’d never before been tested in anything close to a live scenario.
The men around Tellias moved out of Tythel and Eupheme’s way as they approached. They were all his soldiers, men who had followed Tellias’ father during the Alohym Wars and continued to follow the young Baron after his father’s death. Many of them were hoisting arcwards, but a distressing number were still armed with unlight weapons – useful against the Alohym’s soldiers, but worse than useless if the Alohym actually took the field. Lets hope they know that.
“Tellias!” Tythel shouted when she was close enough. He whipped his head towards her. None of his usual smiles today – just a grim nod of acknowledgement. “How many?”
“Three ships, only one of which is heavily armed. The other two are transports. They’ll be here in minutes.”
“How did they get so close without being spotted?” Tythel asked, aghast the alarm had taken so long to sound.
“The Alohym flew them through the flathing canyon. We couldn’t see them until they rounded the bend.”
Beside Tythel, Eupheme swore, and Tythel felt herself go pale. The canyon that had protected ancient Hallith should have been a perfect defense – and it had been, in the days when a chariot was the peak of military technology. Those days were long past, and Tythel was kicking herself for overlooking that detail. “How many soldiers?”
“They’ll have a couple hundred each in the transports, and two or three dozen imperiplate troopers in the warship. Not counting any Alohym, of course.”
Tythel’s brow furrowed. The rebels here outnumbered the Alohym forces, but without any way to deal with the ships, it would be a losing battle no matter how the ground fight went. “The tunnels?” She asked hopefully.
“Armin grabbed every Magi we have,” Tellias said. “They’ve gone down to try and crack through. They might make it in time, but…”
Tythel nodded in agreement before Tellias could even finish the thought. “If we’re trapped down there like rats, they’ll cut us to shreds.” In those close quarters, the rebels numerical advantage would mean nothing, and with twice or more the plate wearers, the Alohym’s forces would crush them.
A shout arose from the back of the soldiers. “They’re here!”
Tythel turned to see an Alohym warship breach over the wall, like some horrible cross of squid and whale leaping from the ocean’s depths. The Unlight crystals on the tip of its weapon bent the sunlight as they passed through the dawn air, creating halos around each crystal that grew larger as they began to charge power. Tythel was struck with a sense of vertigo. It reminded her so much of the way the vessel that had killed Karjon had parted the clouds, and for a moment she was that scared girl again, standing atop a mountain as the greatest day of her life rapidly turned into a nightmare.
She missed part of what Tellias was saying as she got the panic under control. “-so they can’t focus us down. Groups of five at most. Don’t clump up.”
Tythel took a moment to piece together what he had said, then nodded agreement. “Eupheme and I will come with you,” she said.
The transports rose aside the warship and began to disgorge their soldiers on the the earth around them. Tellias gave her a single quick nod. “We’ll protect you with our lives, your highness.”
“I’d prefer if you protected your own, but if you have to protect mine, do it with arcwards and keep your lives,” Tythel responded. Some of the large arcwands they’d set up began to open fire on the disembarking Alohym troops. “Let’s get to positions.”
Tellias gave her a wolfish grin, and they began to take cover in ruined buildings and behind stone walls. Of the soldiers tossed Tythel an arcwand. She’d gotten some brief training in their usage from Armin over the month. Her aim was terrible, but she’d be able to add to the general fire until the approaching soldiers got into dragonflame range.
Then the warship opened fire, and unlight beams began to lance across the battlefield.