Armin stood in front of the assembled nobility and leadership of the rebellion, and Tythel could hear his heart pounding from here. Whatever news he had, he was either excited or nervous or both. Knowing Armin probably both. There were other people in the room along with the leadership Tythel knew. People that Tythel didn’t recognize, even.
“Thank you all for meeting with us today,” Duke de’Monchy said. “I think you’ll be very interested in what we have to say.”
A thin woman with blue hair and snorted. “If it wasn’t for the gold you promised, de’Monchy, none of us would have come. I certainly am not interested to hear the words of someone who has their nose so far up a royal asshole they’re breathing shit.”
“Countess Marketta,” de’Monchy said, his lips a thin line. “Colorful as always, I see.”
“I renounced my title, de’Monchy, and my lands have been dived into farms for the people. Call me a countess again at your peril.” The – Wait, no, no title. Marketta pointed an accusatory finger at Tythel. “Meanwhile, you’re trying to put her on the throne. I told you last time we spoke, that counts as what the old courts would have considered ‘irreconcilable differences.’ As far as I caer, you can suck Light until you burst from it.”
“Excuse me,” Tythel said, breaking the silence that followed. “But you did come to this meeting, which indicates the gold is more useful to your than your hatred.”
“Tythel,” Marketta said, stressing the word. “I’m sure de’Monchy has been too busy plying you with cakes and lies to keep you abreast of what’s going on in the world, but we are losing. If this fool wants to weaken his mad quest to put you on the throne by giving us his money, I’ll take it off his hands. Especially if he’s going to finally share the real secret of how he killed an Alohym.”
“I did,” Tythel said.
Marketta snorted. “I’m not some Alohym ass-kisser, to believe that line of shit. It was a clever bit of propaganda, I’ll grant that, but you don’t need to pretend this ‘dragon princess’ thing is anything other than-”
Tythel stood up and Marketta fell silent. Not from Tythel standing, but from her stretching her wings to their full span. Marketta’s mouth fell open as the cloak fell away revealing these were purely organic, no creation of Alohym artifice or trickery of a lumcaster. Tythel made sure to keep her face straight. It hurt to stretch her wings still, thanks to Eupheme’s sister’s dagger, but Tythel didn’t need the strength to fly.
Just the to make a dramatic point.
“Sorry,” Tythel said, not actually meaning the word. “I thought it would be best to settle that particular matter in an inarguable manner.”
Marketta stared at her for a long moment, then burst out a single harsh laugh. “You’ve got a royal’s arrogance, as sure as you have a dragon’s wings. Well, if that’s the answer to how de’Monchy killed an Alohym, I’m done here.” She started to rise.
“Marketta,” Armin said, cutting through the tension before it could escalate. “I understand where you’re coming from. Believe me. In this room, no one wants to see Tythel on the throne less than me. But she’s a damn effective weapon, so let me ask you – which do you hate more? Her or the Alohym?”
After a moment’s consideration, Marketta sat back down, but Tythel barely registered it. She was looking at Armin with wide eyes, and a tightness was forming in her chest. He was lying to make a point. Of course he doesn’t mean that. Yet…he’d sounded so certain. And now he wasn’t looking at her. And he’d been strange earlier.
Light and Shadow, had Armin turned on her?
Eupheme placed a hand on Tythel’s under the table, steadying her and reminding her she had to keep ahold of herself. Tythel did her best to surreptitiously take a few deep breaths.
“Thank you,” Armin said. “May I explain our findings?”
Marketta nodded. Several others that Tythel didn’t recognize did as well, although Duke de’Monchy looked furious at Armin when he did. Apparently he didn’t like anyone undermining Tythel in front of the leaders of another resistance group. Or groups? One side was glaring daggers at both Marketta and de’Monchy.
“Thank you.” Armin gestured, and behind him another lumcaster moved their hands, creating a light construct that Armin couldn’t make himself. It looked like a fortress, but it stood upon spindly legs. “I trust you all are familiar with the Crawling Citadel, the Alohym’s primary fortress on this world.”
Nods all around.
“In our attempts to gather information about them, we came across a term that drew our interest. The Vacuity Engine. We were under the impression it is crucial to our defeat of the Alohym, and it was located inside the Crawling Citadel. After the death of Theognis, I was able to decode his notes. We were half right. The Vacuity Engine is absolutely crucial to our defeat of the Alohym. However, it is not within the Crawling Citadel.”
Armin gestured again, and the image shifted. The crawling citadel shrunk, and a new structure appeared over it. It was immensely large, and looked like a gate without a wall. To give a sense of scale, one of the Alohym’s tentacled ships flew form the gate while they stared at it. It looked like an ant crawling alongside a human’s foot. One of the really small ants.
“That,” Armin said. “Is the Vacuity Engine. It’s how the Alohym are able to bring their vessels to our world. More importantly, it’s where the unlight is coming from. And it can be accessed from within the Citadel. And…once we’re on board, we can destroy it. Without unlight, we don’t need dragons to kill the Alohym. Their healing fails.”
He slashed his hand through the image, and it shattered.
“Without the Vacuity Engine, the gods become mortals.”