Dae gripped the wooden figure in her hand and resisted the urge to hurl it across the room. It was an heirloom piece, part of set used to depict the placement of forces on the war map. Treating it poorly would be an insult to the generations of Gallagrin commanders who came before her. Plus it was sturdy enough that it would probably knock a sizeable divot out of the wall if she threw it as hard as she wanted to.
“The news from the Council is confusing,” Gala, the Green Council’s former representative said. “Their advance in Senkin has been halted, and there are reports that your queen has taken to the field personally.”
“At the same time we’ve got reports of shock troops pouring through the Frostmoon Gap,” Faen Kemoral said. “We’re going to lose Moon’s Reach and half the northern dells before we can get an army assembled to hold the Council forces back.”
“We have armies up there,” Dae said. “But they’re not organizing to fight the Council forces are they?”
“The Harli family’s army was recalled to Castle Harli yesterday,” Faen said. “They’ll keep the Council from taking the castle but they’re not going to directly oppose them.”
“That might be for the best,” Gala said. “Your forces don’t know what they’re up against.”
“To be fair, neither do the Council’s forces,” Ogma Daili said. Dae liked Ogma’s enthusiasm, but the Acting Commander of the Scout Corp was missing a few critical pieces of information.
“They might,” Dae said. “Operational security during our civil war was shot to pieces. The Council could have learned a lot about us by observing the battles from afar.”
“They weren’t even required to do that,” Gala said. “We were invited to witness some of the conflicts in the northern realms by the families we have connections to. In the early stages of the war, they wanted us to see that the realm would still stand. In the later stages they wished to show the inevitability of your queen’s victory.”
“We have to deal with the nobles,” Faen said. “They’re necks are on the line here too.”
“Not all of them,” Dae said. “The Harli’s are going to bear the brunt of the cost, so they may be willing to capitulate but the other families will leave them to hang in the wind. They have us in a poor position thanks to the invasion. It gives them leverage and if there’s one thing those snakes know how to do its exploit opportunities.”
“That’s always been our biggest problem,” Faen said. “Can’t trust them out of your sight, but if you keep them close the nobles will stab you in the back.”
“Are they truly so bad?” Gala asked. “It seems that if they were so adept at their schemes then they would have succeeded in one by now.”
“The ambassador raises a good point,” Ogma said. “We know there are nobles who supported the queen. Can’t we just ask those for help?”
“We can,” Dae said. “If we’re willing to admit that we’re keeping the other nobles here against their will.”
“They’ve been held in session for a month, I think everyone knows they’re here against their will don’t they?” Ogma asked.
“Not precisely,” Dae said. “Realistically, we all know what’s going on, but because the queen is working within the formal processes still, this can all still be resolved as just the wheels of bureaucracy moving as slowly as everyone jokes of them doing.”
“What she means is that no one’s been explicitly insulted yet, so whenever the queen’s ready, we can all pretend that this never happened,” Faen said.
“The alternative is that the Queen, or rather one of her agents, will have to call formal charges against everyone who was involved in the last attempt to usurp the throne,” Dae said.
“Why don’t we just do that then?” Ogma asked. “We’re paralyzed as it is. Maybe that would let us act while we still have a realm to defend.”
“Right now we’re fighting the Green Council,” Dae said. “The last thing we want is to fight both the Council and a rebellion of the noble armies.”
“They’ve proven that they’re willing to attempt to remove the queen from her throne. At this point open rebellion is the only tactic they haven’t dared to try,” Faen said.
“It’s worse than that though,” Dae said. “When the queen returned from the God’s Hall, she did so with complete certainty in her reign.”
“Yeah. you flew in on a Dragon King,” Ogma said. “That kind of made an impression.”
“But not a permanent one,” Dae said. “Haldraxan is gone, as is the queen for the moment.”
“Your queen left you in authority for the duration of her absence though,” Gala said. “Surely your nobles will respect that.”
“Some will,” Dae said. “The troublemakers are the ones who only recognized the queen’s power, not her authority though.”
“It sounds as though you must recall your queen then,” Gala said.
“That’s one of our many problems,” Dae said. “We can’t.”
“But it’s imperative,” Gala said. “I know what the Council will do. I can tell you of the weapons they’ll use. If they take a piece of your realm, you’ll never truly get it back, and even if you could, you wouldn’t want it.”
“I don’t mean that we’re not allowed to contact the queen,” Dae said. “I mean we can’t. She’s gone into the Green Council’s lands. Their magics block ours.”
“Then your realm is lost,” Gala said. “I will have to seek asylum with Paxmer. Perhaps their dragons can withstand the Council’s advance.”
“Our armies can hold against the Council’s forces,” Dae said. “They just need someone to lead them.”
“No,” Faen slammed his hand down on the table. “Get that idea out of your head Akorli. You are not going to the northern front.”
“I believe you were saying earlier that I was dangerous because I inspire people?” Dae said. It wasn’t true. Not in Dae’s eyes. Alari was the inspirational one. She was the one with the gift for working with others. Dae had training in command, but she hadn’t grown up as a public figure or experienced any desire to be one. Let the masses focus on Alari, Dae was content with looking along with them, provided she had the closest view of all of them.
“Without you, here, in this castle, this realm loses the last scrap of stability it’s holding on to,” Faen said. “You want to inspire someone? Inspire a brilliant general to head up there and take care of things.”
“Is that the sound of someone volunteering I hear?” Dae asked.
“I said a brilliant general,” Faen said. “Brilliance isn’t my stock in trade and we both know it. I’m needed here as much as you are. Maybe more so, since I seem to be the only one with an ounce of sanity left here.”
“There’s also the matter of the war with Inchesso,” Ogma said. “I have the Scout Corp mobilizing for it already, but I can shift their mission focus to the Council instead.”
“We can’t afford that either,” Dae said. “Invading Inchesso is a critical play in this game.”
“Should we really be treating this as a game?” Ogma asked.
“We have to,” Faen said, before Dae had a chance to respond. “There are too many lives at stake to look at this as anything other than a game that we cannot afford to lose.”
“But the Council isn’t playing around with us,” Ogma said. “Their invasion is serious.”
“All the more reason for us to work this like a game,” Dae said. “That doesn’t mean we’re playing around. It means we’re looking for all of the moves our opponents are going to make, and we’re looking for every form of victory we can win.”
“I don’t think I understand how that makes it a game,” Ogma said.
“A fight is simple, but it’s fast,” Dae said. “You don’t game a fight once it’s begun. There’s no time. Not in a serious fight anyways. You survive it, and you do whatever you can in order to accomplish that.”
“We’re not fighting now though,” Faen said. “And the Council isn’t either. So we have to stay aware of the broader realities behind what we see occurring.”
“How does that help here?” Gala asked. “Whatever you do, you’re still be invaded by an unstoppable force from the Council.”
“No one’s unstoppable,” Dae said. “Even the Sleeping Gods bled and died when the faced the wrong foes.”
“The Green Council is making one of the classic mistakes of warfare,” Faen said. “Opening a second front when they don’t need to is a recipe for defeat.”
“Only if you possess the power to fight back against them, and you are squandering that on an unnecessary invasion of Inchesso,” Gala said. “How is that any different than what the Council is doing?”
“Their forces are perfectly organized and coordinated,” Ogma said. “Ours are as likely to turn on each other as the enemy. So that’s a difference right?”
Dae couldn’t repress a grin. Ogma didn’t have the full view of Alari’s plan, but she was willing to embrace the insanity of it anyways. That was as much as a piece of madness endemic to the Gallagrin psyche as it was the sort of residual faith that Alari left in her wake.
“See ambassador,” Dae said. “If we’re willing to go into battle with troops like that, then victory must be assured right?”
Gala shook their top branches in a gesture that was too close to a human shaking their head for Dae to read it as anything else.
“What have I gotten myself into?” Gala asked.
“Don’t worry,” Dae said. “This isn’t your fault. This is the world moving like it was always going to move. We’ve nudged the timetable a little bit, but there wasn’t any real escape from this happening soon or later, and in this case, sooner is a lot better than later. If all this happened after our lifetimes, there’s no telling what kind of weird fictions the realms would be clinging to. Better that the truth comes out now.”
“And what truth is that?” Gala asked.
“The one we’ve been ignoring for centuries now,” Dae said. “The Sleeping Gods are gone. When they went away, it wasn’t for a little naptime. They left us, but more importantly, they left us this world.”
“That’s blasphemy,” Gala said. “All of the realms still venerate their deities.”
“Venerate the memory of, yes, that’s fine,” Dae said. “But it’s long past time that we admitted that they are not around to guide us or limit us anymore. We’ve been walking on our own for a long time now, and that’s a fantastic thing. We’re like children who haven’t noticed that they’re parents left a long time ago and that we’re adults in our own right now.”
“We will never have the wisdom or power of our creators,” Gala said.
“We don’t have it now, but we’re wiser and more powerful than we ever were under their care,” Dae said. “This is our chance to wake up, and to prove it to ourselves.”
“Why would you throw off our gods like that though?” Gala asked. “What if they awaken tomorrow?”
“Then the whole world will change again,” Dae said. “We let our fear of that world though keep us from living in this one.”
“That sounds great, but getting back to the ambassador’s earlier point; how does any of that help us with the army that’s coming through Frostmoon Pass?” Ogma asked.
“We can’t keep living in the world of yesterday,” Dae said. “Or expecting some greater force to come along and make everything right. We’re here, right now, because we’re the ones who can make it right. Even if it’s hard, and even if we don’t want to have to do it.”
“Which means?” Ogma asked.
“Which means, it’s time for me to meet with the nobles,” Dae said. “They’re a part of this realm too, which means whether they like it or not, they’re part of fixing this problem too.”