The Heart’s Oath – Chapter 40

Jaan waited for her chance to speak with the Green Council with an exemplary amount of patience. Her reward for waiting quietly though was the opportunity to wait ‘just a little bit longer’.

“Is there any word from the Council’s session?” she asked.

“The Speaking Glade is still under sequestration,” Tan-Orange-Maroon Blinet said.

“And there’s no scheduled time for them to emerge?” Jaan asked, dipping into reserves of patience that only dealing with her family usually called for.

“No Lady Lafli,” Grey-Emerald-Midnight Blinet said, “They meet until their discussions are resolved.”

Jaan sighed. Her position was precarious. She’d taken a massive risk in stealing the ledgers from Senkin, and a bigger one in fleeing from her sister. The two women were far too evenly matched for the outcome of that chase to have been anything close to a certainty, but the dice had fallen in Jaan’s favor. Across the Senkin border and into the Green Council’s terrain, they’d flown quicker than the fastest of birds. Even that hadn’t been fast enough to avoid all of the Council’s defenses though.

Jaan’s last bit of luck had revealed itself when the defenders who captured them turned out to be in the employ of one of her family’s primary connections among the Council. She was treated as befit her family’s amiable relationship with Dagmauru and her sister was restrained as the war criminal she was.

As a friendly ambassador, Jaan had naturally turned over her ledgers to Dagmauru’s staff and agreed to join him as he attended an emergency session of the Green Council’s leadership. It was a perfect offer, marred only by the fact the joining Dagmauru as he attended the Council’s meeting did not mean joining Dagmauru at the Council’s meeting.

Instead, Jaan was relegated to remaining behind, outside the sacred grove where the Council met. Her presence was known only to Dagmauru and those who swore deepest loyalty to his service. It wasn’t an advisable position to be in. It wasn’t a safe position to be in.

Jaan knew that the Council was undertaking radical actions and, in her experience, once a first set of boundaries were overstepped it became increasingly simple to overstep more of them.

While the Lafli family had enjoyed decades of close connection with several of the members of the Green Council, Jaan wasn’t under any illusions that she could look to Dagmauru as a friend. He was a foreign power and as such he had his own motivations. In general those seemed to line up with the Lafli family’s desires but in the tumult and chaos of an ever escalating war, it was all too possible that their interests might diverge.

The best shield Jaan could raise against that turn of fate was to connect with the other Council members the Lafli’s were friendly with. So long as their interest aligned with one of the powers in the realm, she could dance around her position as an outsider and reap the rewards  the chaos offered. If the whole of the realm turned against her though all hope of survival would be lost.

“The other Councilor that Dagmauru met with, are they within the meeting grove as well?” Jaan asked, looking for any path she could find to connect with someone other than Dagmauru.

Dagmauru hadn’t been unhappy with her arrival. Jaan had brought him information after all and, in times of war, information was often an invaluable treasure. Despite the warmth he received her with though, Jaan could see that Dagmauru’s attention was focused more on the meetings before him than the windfall that she brought.

If she couldn’t make contact with another of the Lafli’s friends on the Council, Dag’s friend Bal seemed like a potentially useful lever that she could use if the need arose. Or they would be if Jaan could manage to meet them and discern what their motivations were. It seemed like a safe bet that their desires didn’t align with Dagmauru’s since Dag had returned from their meeting bearing the kind of trembling silence that spoke volumes about how disagreeable the outcome was.

“I am sorry. We do not know the location of Balmauru,” Tan-Orange-Maroon Blinet said. “They were scheduled to speak to the assembly though so they are likely sequestered as well.”

And that was Jaan’s primary issue. Everyone with any clout or importance was in the Council’s meeting, and she was relegated to standing outside its walls. As much as she hated to admit it, there was only one ally she could count on under the present circumstances.

“Has my sister been transferred to the Council’s custody yet?” she asked.

“No, Lady Lafli,” Grey-Emerald-Midnight Blinet said. “With the start of the Council session we have not be able to meet with the proper representatives yet.”

“Who will be taking custody of her?” Jaan asked. She knew Jyl hadn’t been moved yet, but it hadn’t been clear from what Dagmauru had said as to which branch of government would take responsibility of a Guardian to the Queen of Gallagrin.

“She will be transferred to one of our research facilities,” Grey-Emerald-Midnight Blinet said. “We are forbidden from initiating unmonitored communications with them for the duration of the conference though.”

“But you can contact them?” Jaan asked, confused.

“No, the security protocols on the research labs disallow any monitored communications between them and the outside world,” Grey-Emerald-Midnight Blinet said. “They may only speak with Dagmauru personally.”

Jaan frowned. Dagmauru wasn’t going to use Jyl as a witness before the Council. He was going to bury her, perhaps literally, in a hidden laboratory, probably with an eye towards working out the secrets of Pact magic.

That was distasteful on a number of levels.

Jaan had turned over Senkin’s secrets. She never intended to turn over any of Gallagrin’s though. Gallagrin needed the advantages that Pact magic offered. It was a strong bargaining chip in the Lafli family arsenal. Also the other Council contacts that the Lafli family knew might take it amiss that Dagmauru had been given sole access to a magical research subject when such secrets could have benefited all of them.

Most importantly though was the point that Jyl was Jaan’s sister. Her twin. For all their competition and acrimony, nothing would change that.

“May I inspect her bindings?” Jaan asked. “She’s one of Gallagrin’s most talented Pact Knights. You may not have covered all of the methods she could use to escape.”

“She is still unconscious,” Tan-Orange-Maroon Blinet said. The creature looked confused as to how there could be any danger from their prisoner given that precaution.

“She may be, but that doesn’t mean her Pact Spirit is,” Jaan said. It wasn’t a lie, merely an extreme exaggeration. Only the most aware and potent of Pact Spirits could act in place of their hosts. The pact bindings made very sure of that and relaxing those particular restraints was the sort of thing that only a truly mad Pact warrior would attempt.

As Jaan expected though, the Blinets were unaware of that particular aspect of Pact magic.

“We shall double the guard on her,” Tan-Orange-Maroon Blinet said.

“You’ve seen what Queen Alari is capable of,” Jaan said. “Do you wish to see what one of the people assigned to guard her can do?”

Again, carefully managed truth was such a better tool than any outright lie would be. Let the Blinet’s imagine havoc on a scale greater than what Alari had inflicted so far, they didn’t need to know that the Queen’s Guardians were several times less powerful than the woman they protected.

“Why did you not speak of this sooner?” Tan-Orange-Maroon Blinet asked.

“Your defenses are formidable,” Jaan said. “They have held her till now. I seek only to augment them so that there will be no unexpected failures.”

It wasn’t unexpected if it happened according to her plan after all.

“Of course,” Tan-Orange-Maroon Blinet said. “She is being held in the storage compartments in the central underbelly. We will take you to her.”

The Trolliphaunt was a massive creature, made all the moreso by the structures that had been built as a shell around it. On it’s back there were various small buildings and a natural grove that looked to have several coffin size shallow holes. Apparently a mechanism for ensuring the health and maintenance of people with botanical biologies who spent long periods of time unaware of their corporeal bodies.

Beside the Trolliphaunt’s sides hung various additional buildings and ladders, one of which a Red-Orange-Brown Blinet led Jaan down to.

Inside the storage room, Jyl hung suspended in a tank of clear fluid. Her eyes were closed and she showed no signs of motion, not even breathing. It was a disquieting sight for Jaan. Like looking into a mirror and seeing her corpse reflected back.

“It’s difficult to tell if the spirit is still active,” Jaan said. A slight inaccuracy there. She wasn’t adept enough to even begin to tell if there was any active Gallagrin magic at work within the tank.

“We cannot remove her from the paralytic gel,” Red-Orange-Brown Blinet said.

“Not even for a short period?” Jaan asked, tumblers turning and falling in her mind.

“Our supplies were meant for transport,” Red-Orange-Brown Blinet said. “We do not have the proper anesthetics to hold an enchanted captive. This is a makeshift effort at best. Before she is approved for transport we will need to either dissect her and preserve the pieces individually or administer a military grade restraining solution.”

“I would only need a moment to determine whether the spirit is active or not,” Jaan said, carefully skirting a lie with the unspoken words that given a moment she was reasonably sure she could definitely say that, yes, the Pact spirit was active, and unleashed.

“We cannot risk even that,” Red-Orange-Brown Blinet said. “The paralytic could wear off within seconds if she was removed from it.”

“Thank you,” Jaan said. “That is exactly what I needed to know.”

And then she stabbed him.

People forgot that Pact Knights are never unarmed, despite a seeming lack of weapons or armor. It suited Jaan well.  Red-Orange-Brown Blinet would have disagreed, but as he was lacking functional lungs the sentiment came out as little more than a wet gurgle.

Another Blinet moved to sound the alarm, but Jaan pinned them to wall with a heavy throwing knife. She couldn’t fight the whole of the Green Council but a few support staff didn’t exactly present a challenge.

Being careful to avoid the paralytic gel, she tipped Jyl’s tank over and let the liquid contents spill out to the forest floor below. Jyl herself slid free but remained covered with a thick sludgy layer of the gel until Jaan splashed a bucket of cleaning water over her.

Waking up didn’t seem to be a pleasant experience. There were convulsions, vomiting of gel that had filled lungs and stomach, and flailing motions as mobility returned to various body parts. The process was cut short though by a blinding transformation, which Jaan knew would purge the remaining gel from Jyl’s system.

“Where are we?” Jyl asked, her armored eyes alight with rage and humiliation. “What have you done?”

“Saved your life,” Jaan said. “You may express your gratitude now or later.”

Jyl punched her in the face.

In fairness, it was something of an expression of gratitude that the punch didn’t carry the full strength of a Pact Knight behind it. Rather than turning Jaan to mulch, it merely knocked her back and bloodied her nose.

“You betrayed us,” Jyl said.

“I am ever loyal sister,” Jaan said. “Your continued existence is testament to that. Now shall we discuss our options?”

Jyl visibly writhed, shuddering as she fought to suppress the rage that radiated off her in waves.

“What do you want?” she said at last.

“The Green Council is meeting in secret to discuss their next move,” Jaan said. “They have already invaded Gallagrin but more importantly my contact here has decided to exclude our family from the Council’s considerations. That cannot mean anything good.”

“And what do you want to do about that?” Jyl asked.

“We need to enter the Council’s closed session,” Jaan said. “They are plotting the fate of the realms. That’s not their role. It’s ours.”

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