Iana knew they couldn’t win. Dagmauru had too many of the Blighted Legion on the field and they were capable of disabling a Warbringer too easily. Wylika and the rest of her troops had another fatal weakness too. None of them were inside their Warbringers like Iana was. They were all safely back in their control bowers. Safely surrounded by their support staff, who were all safely under Dagmauru’s control.
“We were never taught the words I would need to tell you how grateful I am,” Iana said to her troops along the link she’d established with them. “When Dagmauru thought I was corrupted, he locked me in and sent fire spiders to burn me alive. I will not let that happen to you.”
“Wait Iana, don’t! Let us buy time for you to get away. You’re the only one of us who can escape,” Wylika pleaded. A hard lump formed in Iana’s throat. Wylika knew the peril she was in, they all did, and they’d chosen to stand against Dagmauru anyways. For her. They’d chosen to stand for her, and they were going to die for her.
“No. I won’t accept that. You cannot die. I won’t allow it. This is my order; do absolutely whatever it takes and live for me instead. Warbringer Command Override: Pilot Ejection on my mark. Mark.”
With the order given, every Warbringer on the field except hers slumped over. Wylika and the rest of the Warbringer pilots under her command had been spat out from their control bowers and, if Iana knew them, were about to start carving a path through any support or security that tried to capture them.
That didn’t mean they were out of danger. In truth, Iana had no idea how any of them would manage to escape the compound they were held in. There were too many troops loyal to Dagmauru and the Council around them. If Wylika could unite them, Iana’s troops, her family, might stand a chance but there was nothing left that Iana do to help them.
What she could do though was show Dagmauru what a bad idea it was to have her as an enemy. Iana knew she was going to lose but she wasn’t going to sell Dagmauru his victory cheaply.
“Clever,” Dagmauru said. “You’re the first person to defeat an entire company of Warbringers. You will also be the last.”
“I certainly hope so,” Iana said. “Unlike you, I care about the future of the Green Council.”
“You know nothing of our future,” Dagmauru said. “And you will see none of it either.”
With a gesture from the Divine Sanction, he ordered the Blighted Legion to attack. Iana was surprised that he didn’t have the Sanction join the fray but it seemed to confirm Alari’s guess about it’s limitations. Even in bondage the God of the Green Council’s wouldn’t act against one of their own citizens. At least not under the command that Dagmauru had been able to bind them with.
The Blighted Legion were under no such restriction though. They served because they were built to serve, as crafted and supernatural as the Warbringer Iana controlled.
When they’d first fought, Iana had engaged the Legion’s soldiers with the strongest defenses she had available. The problem with that approach was that the Legion could drain those defenses and claim the magic that powered the defenses as their own. Iana hadn’t faced an opponent like that before, but, unlike the Legion, she was no mere machine of magic. She could think, and react, and imagine new paths and strategies.
As the Legion advanced, thorns as tall and thick as a full grown dwarf sheared through them.
The Warbringer’s size was it’s primary combat advantage but they were a well matured and battle tested design which meant they possessed every advantage the Council had been able to afford to build into them. As a result, with centuries of research and development packed into her Warbringer, Iana had a very deep arsenal to draw on.
The first wave of Legion soldiers were splattered across the landscape by the thorns, but that didn’t keep them from regenerating. It also didn’t keep the second wave from advancing even faster than the first.
Iana waited until the second rank of Legion’s soldier had closed as near as the first rank had and unleashed her next volley. The shots flew faster, but with the homing spells from the Warbringer to guide them each of the thorn spikes found their mark.
And then exploded.
The force of the explosion was fueled by a pair of highly antagonistic chemicals that mixed together on impact. The Warbringer’s designers had liked that feature because it was very efficient in terms of the magic expenditure compared to a purely mystical fireball. Iana was pleased with the results because the blast offered the Blighted Legion no magic to absorb.
“Nice work,” Alari said. “If you can hold them off for a little longer we may be able to get out of here.”
“You’re not leaving this field, Gallagrin,” Dagmauru said.
“How much longer do you think you can hold it?” Alari asked. “I can see what the binding spells are costing you.”
“We have reserves that are deeper than you could ever dream of matching,” Dagmauru said.
“I don’t have to match them,” Alari said. “I just need to wait until someone on your side sees what a colossal waste this is.”
“By placing yourself as the prize to be won, you’ve ensured that we can afford to spend ourselves almost down to nothing if victory requires it,” Dagmauru said.
Alari laughed, but it was a laughter that was shot through with pain.
“I’m not the prize,” she said. “I’m the bait. I would have thought you’d have noticed that by now.”
“What do you think have you baited out?” Dagmauru said. “All of your actions have played exactly into plans I laid out before you were even born.”
“And that didn’t worry you at all?” Alari asked.
“What cause have you given me for worry?” Dagmauru asked.
“I did just what you thought you wanted,” Alari said. “Surely you’ve tried to implement schemes in the past haven’t you? Do they ever run according to your original plan?”
“They do when sufficient care is taken to adapt for the variables involved,” Dagmauru said.
The Blighted Legion were beginning to coalesce from the small bits Iana had blown them into. It was a slow process, given the damage she’d inflicted but also an inevitable one unless she could find a means to disenchant them.
“If I am a variable that you have adapted your plan for, then why are we having this conversation?” Alari asked.
“Because you don’t yet know that you’re beaten,” Dagmauru said. “For all your bluster, you are weakened and frail. Your magics can barely keep you standing erect and you cannot call for any more.”
“Well at least you noticed that,” Alari said. “I was wondering if everything was going to escape you.”
“I am not going to destroy you,” Dagmauru said. “But I can promise that we are going to learn every secret there is to know about Gallagrin’s magic and we are going to do so in the most efficient manner possible. You should be aware, in regards to that, of the techniques we possess for keeping you alive through experiences that mortals were never designed to endure. Since you seem to be talkative, perhaps we will learn something new about those states as well. Our usual subjects become quickly unresponsive when they are spread across a forest acre.”
“You could save us both that kind of pain if you surrendered now,” Alari said.
“Commander Iana’s Warbringer is serving as an admirable defense for you,” Dagmauru said, “But she is burning its reserves, and for as clever as she is, they won’t be enough to last more than another few minutes. She knows this, I know this and, if you are honest, you know this too.”
“I do,” Alari said. “It’s why I wanted her to leave while she could, and why I am humbly grateful that she stayed.”
Alari looked up at the towering behemoth above her. The colossal frame blocked her view, but Iana somehow felt like they were gazing directly into each other’s eyes.
“Iana, for what you’ve done here today, I offer you my thanks and the love of Gallagrin,” Alari said. “If you wish it, there is a place for you and yours in my realm and in my house, from today and ever onwards.“
“We probably need to survive this though right?” Iana asked.
“That would make the offer somewhat more meaningful, yes,” Alari said.
“You know that once this is done, Gallagrin will be mine,” Dagmauru said. “Or has it escaped you that without the Royal Pact Spirit, your realm can’t hope to stand against our power.”
“What makes you think they won’t have the Royal Pact Spirit?” Alari asked.
“Because in just a few minutes you will be captured, I will control the spirit and there will be none left who can threaten the Council.”
“Allow me to rephrase, what makes you think I will have the Royal Pact Spirit when you capture me?” Alari asked.
Dagmauru started to speak and then paused. For a long moment there was silence on the battlefield.
“What do you mean.” Dagmauru’s words were slow and deliberate.
“Exactly what I said. Did you really think I would come here if there was any chance it would endanger my realm?” Alari asked.
“You have the Pact Spirit,” Dagmauru said. “It is what allows you to stand in the face of the Sanction’s glory.”
“Yes I do, and yes it is, but that doesn’t mean I can’t relinquish it to my heir,” Alari said.
“That’s impossible, you have no children,” Dagmauru said.
“True, but I do have an heir,” Alari said. “Gallagrin law is quite open in that regards. The crown can name whomever they wish to speak for them or to act as their heir.”
“A convenient fiction. You have announced no heir to your people,” Dagmauru said. “Our spies in your court would have relayed the news.”
“The heir doesn’t need to be announced. Only the Pact Spirit needs to know of their status, so most monarchs wait to publicly name the heir. The heir represents a weak point in their reign since they can chose to contest for the throne at any time, but I have someone who I trust with my life, my heart, and my soul.”
“You planned on giving up your crown?” Dagmauru asked. “That’s absurd.”
“No, I planned on safeguarding my crown,” Alari said. “You will never discover the secrets of Gallagrin’s magics. Not from me, and not from anyone else. There is no prize for you to win here today, no return on the investment you’ve made. For that reason and dozens of others, you’ve already lost.”
“What else have you done?” Dagmauru’s voice was a low, primal growl. Iana had never heard that tone from him. Alari had struck a deep nerve there, Iana just wasn’t certain if that was a good thing or not.
“I expect you’ve attempted to invade Inchesso by now?” Alari asked. “How’s that the turning out for you?”
“What do you know of that?” Dagmauru asked.
“I know that Council are the most adept casters in the world,” Alari said. “I know you have magic reserves far beyond what the size of your realm would normally support. Most importantly though, I know how spell designers think. Good is never good enough, you always want to push the boundary farther, make your enchantments just a little stronger. If it costs an unsustainable amount of magic that’s a problem you fix once you’re out of the prototype stage.”
Dagmauru made a low growling sound but said nothing.
“Of course once a conflict shows up, you’re going to want to use your best and most powerful devices and sorceries,” Alari said.
“You know nothing about us,” Dagmauru said.
“Don’t I?” Alari said. “You showed up to fight a queen outside her own realm and thought the right weapon to fight with was a bound God. That’s absurd on a level most can even envision much less execute.”
“It looks absurd to you because of Gallagrin’s primitive skills with magic. For the Council this is well under our control.” Dagmauru said.
“I can see the magic you are burning to keep the divine forces under control. I bet it feels indescribable but, be honest, without Inchesso’s wealth, you can’t afford to keep that abomination active for more than another few minutes. Can you?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Dagmauru said. “Inchesso’s magics will be ours and Gallagrins as well. Even if you release the Royal Pact Spirit, we will simply take it from your successor.:
“Oh, you definitely don’t want to try that,” Alari said. “I gained the Royal Pact Spirit through sheer, bloody effort. Since then though I haven’t needed to call on its power often, so I’m not that precise in my use of the magic it offers. My successor though? She lived for years with her magic restricted to the level allowed to a peasant, and she practiced with it enough that she could slay a noble. If she gets her hands on this spirit, not even the Grand Assemblage of the Gods will be able to save you from her wrath.”
“We shall see,” Dagmauru said, and stepped forward as the Blighted Legion rose, renewed once more.
“No, you won’t,” Alari said. “Inchesso will not fall to your forces, and Senkin is protected as well. This field is the end of your journey. Surrender now and our judgement against you will reflect the wisdom you showed.”
“Your judgement and your vision are both fatally flawed,” Dagmauru said. “I will not offer you the same choice though. Your surrender is irrelevant. Legion, destroy them both.”
Iana met the charging forces with bursts of thorn fire that filled the air around her with an exploding cloud of death. The Legion soldiers were radiant with their own power though, greenish-gray light pouring from their eyes and mouths.
The thorn bolts did as much damage as they had before, but the enchanted soldiers reformed hundreds of times faster thanks to the additional magic Dagmauru gave them to draw on.
Iana tried to aim her bolts carefully, targeting the tiny spell cores within them when a Legion soldier was blown apart enough to make their core visible. Those soldiers she was able to permanently destroy, but there were so many that by sheer weight of numbers they were able to press relentlessly inwards, forming a tighter and tighter circle.
The Legion soldiers were being cut down less than a dozen feet away from where Iana’s Warbringer towered over Alari when Iana had to admit that the end had come.
“I’m sorry,” she said, taking advantage of her last remaining seconds. “I should have believed you sooner.”
“There’s nothing to be sorry about,” Alari said. “You bought us time.”
“Not enough,” Iana said as the Legion soldier closed the last few feet and touched her Warbringer again. Magical power began failing all through the goliath and Iana knew it would only take the Legion seconds to pierce the command capsule and drag her out to her death.
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Alari said, looking skyward as a smile spread across her face.
“No one can save you now, Gallagrin,” Dagmauru said.
Lightning struck Iana’s Warbringer and the thunder clap that followed blew the Blighted Legion backwards, arcs of electricity incinerating them before they could touch the ground.
“I beg to differ,” Daelynne Akorli, the Queen’s Champion, said.