The Heart’s Oath – Chapter 3

Iana gazed at the waving grains of gold, newly sprouted from the warm spring earth and felt hot rage surging through her veins.

The people of the rolling hills that spread out before her army thought that they were entitled to peace and effortless prosperity regardless of how they treated others. They thought Iana’s people were like fruit grown in an orchard the gardener had abandoned. Unprotected, unloved, and waiting to be plucked and consumed by anyone who chose to reach out their hand and take what they wanted.

The Green Council, Inara’s homeland, was the smallest of the Blessed Realms, but it was far from the weakest. Though their gods slumbered with the rest of the divines, the Green Council had delved more deeply into the mysteries of their magics than any other realm.

Senkin, their neighbor to the west had forgotten that. In their greed, they’d violated sacred treaties, and so it fell to Iana forces to remind them of the cost their insults incurred.

Move. Her command flowed through root and branch, spoken in the rustle of leaves and the heavy stomp of the Warbringer’s tread. Words weren’t needed for the army that she commanded.

Each realm has its legends. From the spirit haunted peaks of Gallagrin, to the sun-wielding glory of Light Warriors who guarded Senkin’s throne, those legends reflected the magics the realm had been gifted with by their gods. The tales of the Green Council spoke of the realm as a single, animated forest. The trees were said to possess a mobility and will on par with any of the Mindful Races while being able to grow and regenerate at supernaturally fast rates.

Iana smiled thinking about that. The other realms knew nothing of the miracles those of the Green Council were capable of performing. Let Gallagrin have its bonds to terrible mountain spirits. Let Paxmer have its dragons. The Green Council’s magic was deeper and stronger than any of them. She didn’t work with spirits or dragons but with the magic of life itself.

Life isn’t kind though. It’s rough and voracious and hungry, which fit her mood perfectly.

Senkin had expected the Green Council’s defenses to lie in the trees and brambles which filled the realm and made travel through it almost impossible for invaders. The enchantments which defended Iana’s homeland were far from its only protection though and as one of the prime commanders of the Warbringer squadrons, Iana intended to enlighten them, and the rest of the world to that fact.

That piloting her Warbringer in actual battle at last gave her a deeper thrill than any she’d experienced in her life was nothing more than a pleasant perk.

Flush with an intoxicating flood of excitement, she pushed forward, taking the lead position as was only natural for commanding her army.

The other realms called the Green Council’s magic “Nature Binding” and thought of it as nothing more than the ability to manipulate trees. It was an intentional misunderstanding the Green Council had been wise enough to foster in its neighbors.

Iana’s Warbringer was formed from material that could be mistaken for a tree. At a great distance. On a dark night. As she urged it down the hill into Senkin territory though anyone viewing it would have thought of the Warbringer as some sort of protean giant. It stood as tall as six large men, but hundreds of times more massive. Its gargantuan form was a composed of constantly rearranging vines and bark and exposed wood, with the only discernible features being the emerald bright fires that burned where its eyes and mouth should have been. For all of the wildness that lashed out from it though, the whole creation was under her complete control, which was the eeriest aspect the giant possessed. It didn’t move like a behemoth should move, and it was faster and more aware than anything its size had the right to be.

For as terrifying as Iana’s Warbringer was though wasn’t how it moved, but rather that it didn’t march alone.

Behind her came the warriors under her command, a dozen of them, each driving their own enormous engine of living destruction. Under their feet, the land trembled and through the air a sickly yellow mist spread.

There were border guards who stood before them. Loyal Senkin troops, who’d been exiled to the least glorious assignment in the realm. Purposeless for generations as they protected Senkin from a neighbor who had no interest in the world outside its borders. The last thing any of them could have imagined was being called to arms by a horn that hadn’t sounded in centuries.

Iana wanted to sweep over them like a tempest and grind them into loam for her Warbringer to feed upon.

She crashed forward towards them, hungry mouths with bramble spears for teeth opening on each finger of her Warbringer’s massive hands. Confronted with the onrushing horror of her approach, the Senkin troops lashed out with the solar fires they were gifted with.

Lances of light three times the width of a soldier’s arm punched through Iana’s Warbringer’s legs in four places. Two more beams crashed into her chest at the same time. All six attacks sparked fires and blasted through her form, burning into the Warbringers behind her.

Iana didn’t slow in the slightest. The damage to her legs was regenerated as fast as the solar fire could burn her. The chest of the mighty construct shrank slightly as material from it was consumed in fire but the hungry twisting of the vines pulled the flaming bits inside the main body and the emerald fire of its eyes and mouth flared briefly brighter.

Chaos erupted in the Senkin ranks as their attacks failed to damage the charging horde of tree-man-monsters. Some fled immediately, crashing into others who were racing to join the hastily assembled front lines. Others continued their futile attacks while one had the presence of mind to erect a wide shield of glittering golden light.

Iana was the first to reach the radiant shield and she met it with the fury that had been kindled inside her. Senkin had violated the peace between them. They were the enemy. The Green Council wasn’t weak, but Iana knew that on this field, on this day, she and those she commanded were the only ones who could stand against the Council’s enemies. Without her to protect her realm, years of sacrifice and the hopes of those who came before her would be lost.

Not today. Her heart’s vow was echoed by the other Warbringer pilots under her command.

She hammered on the shield and watched it flicker and fade where she hit it, only to be renewed as other Senkin guards took up defensive casting as well.

“Flank them,” Iana said, speaking aloud and knowing that no matter how far the Warbringers were from each other, their pilots would hear her without issue. “Make them spread their shields out.”

In the distance behind the shield, Iana saw people rousing and starting to flee the border town. She cursed as they escaped. They were enemies, even in flight, and to fail to stop them immediately meant that they would be back later with reinforcements.

The thought provoked her to a greater flurry of rage and, with the Warbringer’s spiked hands, she tore a hole in the projected shield and belched forth green fire.

The primary caster of the shield let the spell down at the last instant and summoned a smaller, personal shield. The two other casters who joined her were not as reactive though. Iana’s fire washed over those two, searing them to dust while the primary caster’s personal shield struggled to weather the storm that assailed it.

As the shield collapsed, Iana lunged forward, racing to catch the clever caster in her grip before the soldier could mount any new defenses. For as fast as the Warbringer was though, the Senkin caster was quicker. Fire shot from her hands and feet, blasting into Iana’s legs and slowing the Warbringer down while the caster flew backwards into the air, buying space and time.

Iana lashed out with long vines from the Warbringer, catching the Senkin caster by surprise. Another caster seared the vines away with another lance of light.

More vines poured from the Warbringer, which the flying caster evaded by soaring higher and the second caster destroyed with her solar lance.

Despite failing to capture the Senkin soldiers though, the vines accomplished their purpose. Both of the soldiers were too distracted evading or destroying the vines to observe how far Iana’s Warbringer moved.

The clever caster tried to conjure another shield the moment she noticed how much Iana had closed the distance between them, but Iana landed a solid smash from the Warbringers spiked hand on the flying soldier. The blow drove the Senkin from the air, sending her in a straight line to crash into one of the buildings in the border town.

Iana stomped on the other soldier, driving her into the ground and extinguishing the solar lance that the woman held.

A massive ram of blinding light smashed into the Warbringers chest, driving it backwards a few paces. With eyes of fire, Iana didn’t need to wait for her vision to clear and she saw the flying soldier struggling to rise, her hand dropping after the release of the incredible attack.

Iana stepped forward again, intent on finishing the job she started and ridding the world of an enemy of the Green Council. She couldn’t let these soldiers become someone else’s problem to deal with. She had to end each and every one of them so that those she was charged with protecting would never be endangered or lost.

Another massive blast of light knocked Iana backwards, though this time she was braced for it and wasn’t driven off as far.

The clever caster, flashed forward in a burst of golden light, stopped beside the other soldier that Iana had crushed into the earth. Iana saw blood pouring from a gash on the clever caster’s head, but the soldier looked at the Warbringer with an anger that matched Iana’s own. The other soldier looked broken but was still breathing.

For a moment it looked like Iana might eradicate both of the Senkins who were preventing her from pursuing the fleeing soldiers but then two other Warbringers caught up with her and the Senkin soldier cursed. Before Iana could strike, both soldiers disappeared in another burst golden light.

The Senkins had suffered casualties but far too few.  Iana knew that regardless of the days outcome there would be a reckoning. Senkins counterattack was inevitable. She didn’t fear that either for herself or for her troops. They would be victorious in every battle they fought, or they would fall and be replaced and join their gods in the slumber of the Wintering Green. It was the promise made to all of the warriors of the Green Council.

More flashes of golden light caught Iana’s attention, as the Senkin casters who were still able to move fled the town. They would be back, but Iana was determined that they would never reclaim their town.

Turning her Warbringer to face the building beside her, she sent roots and tendrils crashing through it, tearing the structure apart with an irresistible strength. Around her the other Warbringers commenced similar efforts of destruction and a town that had stood for centuries was torn down and consumed by the hungry forest in minutes.

Iana looked around at the work of her army when they were done and smiled. The yellow mist that was spreading over the hills was seeding the land with furious new growth and shrouding it, just as the Green Council was shrouded, from the hostile spells and scryings of any foreign power.

Gallagrin had shown the world that the gods no longer protected the lands of the Blessed Realms. The Green Council would show the world why it had never needed divine protection.

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