Dae rose from where she had landed atop Iana’s Warbringer and surveyed the scene before her. They were standing in a blasted wasteland. Everything in sight in the direction of Senkin was a smoking ruin. On the Green Council’s side of the border, the trees were still lush with life though and the destruction was limited to a swath of ash that had been burned into the landscape.
And there was a chained god towering before them.
That was interesting.
She looked around for Alari and found her standing in the shadow of the Warbringer. Protected.
That was good.
A blast of divine force, irresistible and final, slammed into her.
She didn’t have the protection of being a citizen of the Green Council. She wasn’t a god herself. The destruction from the blast was almost absolute, rendering to particles anything it touched.
Dae waited for it to stop and rolled her shoulders when it did.
“That’s…” Dagmauru said, stuttering over the words, “That’s not possible.”
Of course it was. The blast was only “almost absolute” in its destruction.
Dae skipped down off the Warbringer and stood before it and Alari, shielding them both.
“What are you doing?” she asked, looking up and down at the massive form of the Divine Sanction.
The sight was, by some measures ridiculous. Behind Dae, Iana’s Warbringer rose like a giant, it’s roots and vines dwarfing her body. Before them both, the Divine Sanction rose into the sky, it’s form ever changing, sometimes suggesting a humanoid structure, sometimes suggesting a more primal, bestial nature. Compared to it, Dae was the size of a mouse, but her presence halted the Sanctions advance nonetheless.
“Defending my realm,” Dagmauru said.
Dae’s head twitched towards the sound and then looked away again.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” she said.
“I’m trying to defend the Queen,” Iana said, her voice a mixed bag of confusion, awe and hope.
“Thank you,” Dae said. “It looks like you’ve done a good job. But I want to hear from them.”
She pointed at the Divine Sanction.
“I am Dagmauru, I speak for the Green Council, and I demand to know what sort of abomination you are.”
“Still not talking to you,” she said.
“I believe she’s speaking to the god you have bound up in there,” Alari said, stepping forward to stand with Dae.
Her gait eased as she moved, turning from a pained shamble to a slightly stiff shuffle to a free and easy walk.
“Yeah, explain yourself,” Dae said. As addresses to a god went, it lacked a certain amount of reverence. Given what the god was demonstrably capable of doing it seemed exceedingly unwise to be so informal and blunt. Weighed against that was what Dae was demonstrably able to endure.
“They’re bound,” Alari said. “And the strongest bindings seem to be ones that silence them.”
“I cannot tell you how good it is to see you ok and in one piece. Wait, you are ok right?” Dae asked, letting her attention turn away from the Sanction at last.
“Better since you got here,” Alari said. “This didn’t play out quite like I’d planned for it to.”
“Yeah, we’re going to have a long talk about your plans when we get back to the castle,” Dae said. “I get veto rights on anything that involves you risking your life without me.”
“I find myself less inclined to argue that point after this little adventure,” Alari said. “If Commander Iana hadn’t been here, things might have gone somewhat poorly.”
“I officially love you Commander Iana,” Dae said. “Now the question is what do you want to do about this thing. It looks really dangerous.”
“It is,” Alari said. “In a few minutes it’s probably going to overload, kill its pilot and then wipe out a good portion of the Blessed Realms.”
“I’d rather that didn’t happen,” Dae said.
“You overestimate your chances,” Dagmauru said. “We have power to spare to keep the Sanction operational. You are not walking off this battlefield no matter what sort of enchantment you’ve wrapped yourself in.”
“I’m not enchanted,” Dae said.
“About that,” Alari asked. “What did you do to yourself? You’re…different.”
“Kirios wouldn’t give me any more magic,” Dae said. “He said it was too dangerous, that I’d become a Berserker if I lost control of it.”
“That doesn’t seem to have stopped you,” Alari said. “I can’t tell where your magic begins or ends. Your Pact Bond is completely obscured.”
“It’s not obscured,” Dae said. “It’s gone. I had to let Kirios go.”
“But you’re using magic still. How is that possible?”
“I promised I would protect you,” Dae said. “You know I’ve loved you since we were teenagers. Being apart didn’t change that. You being with the Bastard prince didn’t change that. I’m only myself, my best self, when I’m with you. You make me brave and strong. Being a soldier at Stars Watch didn’t change that, being with the Dawn March didn’t change that.”
Dae felt silent for a moment and Alari waited.
“Being a Berserker hasn’t changed that either.”
“Adae,” Alari said and reached toward her.
“It’s ok,” Dae said. “I needed the power to save you, and this was the best option I had.”
“Then you have failed your liege, warrior,” Dagmauru said. “We know of Berserkers. We have studied them extensively. We know your weakness. Time is your enemy. Before long you will succumb to the madness that swirls within you. We don’t have to do anything more than keep you here and you will be our agent of destruction.”
“How bad is an out of control Berserker?” Iana asked.
“I can shrug off this things attack’s,” Dae said. “How bad do you think it will be when I lose control?”
“It doesn’t have to come to that,” Alari said. “You’re still my subject, your magic is still Gallagrin’s magic, and thus mine to command.”
“Go ahead,” Dagmauru said. “Take away her magic. Save her from the Berserker’s madness. Commander Iana’s Warbringer is disenchanted, without your pet monster you will be defenseless before our power.”
“He’s got a point,” Dae said. “And there’s another problem, but before we get into that, we need to deal with him.”
“You being here has helped restore me a lot. You’re giving me a connection to Gallagrin that I can call on through the Pact Spirit,” Alari said. “Even with the piece of Gallagrin that you represent though, I don’t know that together we have enough power to take that thing out.”
“I said I came here to protect you,” Dae said, letting a broad smile spread across her face. “I never said I came alone.”
From the clouds, ships began to descend and beside them flew shining warriors.
“Who?” Alari asked, utterly befuddled.
“I raced ahead a bit, but your nobles wanted to show you that they had your back,” Dae said as scores of Gallagrin’s most powerful Pact bearers began to descend to the destroyed battlefield.
“But the ships?” Alari asked, visibly stunned at the support that was arriving.
“Just a little force from Senkin that we ran into,” Dae said.
“Senkin’s here too?” Alari said, her eyes going wide.
“Not the queen herself,” Dae said. “I gather she’s mopping up what’s left of Blighted Legion that attacked them. Apparently they can only absorb so much power before they explode. It turns out the force that saved the Senkin Queen was headed this direction anyway, so we grouped up with them.”
“The force that saved…” Alari began and then understanding lit in her eyes. “Haldri! Haldri saved Senkin?”
“And us,” Dae said. “The rest of our forces could never have gotten here in time without her. I guess after she had the brainstorm of bombing the Blighted Legion from the air, she decided to fly her forces into the Council’s land and make sure the job got finished properly.”
“You’ve delivered all of my enemies to me in one place?” Dagmauru laughed. “How will I ever thank you. With this my victory will be an unalloyed success.”
“Just one problem,” Dae said. “You have to go through us.”
“Oh,” Alari said. “Yes, I have a lot more power to draw on now. Thank you.”
With a wave of her hand she struck the Divine Sanction with a blast of force that sent it sailing a half mile back into the forest.
“You’re welcome,” Dae said. “This is for all those times I couldn’t find a proper birthday gift for you.”
The Divine Sanction sent an earthquake rumbling through the land as it regained its feet, steam billowing from its back as magic surged through it to move its massive bulk. It reared back a head that looked like a bear’s and belched forth another atomizing blast of divine power.
Dae met the blast in mid-air. She was a pebble in front of a raging torrent.
And the torrent stopped.
Or more precisely, though it was wider than a river, the blast funneled down into her outstretched hand, leaving a soft golden glow surrounding her as she landed gently beside Alari.
“No attacking the people who’ve come to watch you fall. What part of ‘you have to get through us’ was unclear?” she asked.
Dagmauru tried to crush Dae under the Sanction’s heels but Alari slapped him back again. Another wave of force rebounded off the Sanction’s chest as Dagmauru brought its defenses into play.
Again it lashed out at Dae, and this time Alari’s counter attack slid right off it.
The fist-like appendage that slammed into Dae didn’t move her in the slightest, despite the first being three times the size of her entire body.
Dagmauru threw another blow and another, experimenting with raw physical power where divine energy had failed. Raw physical power, in the end, didn’t do any better though.
“Keep punching me if you like,” Dae said. “Watching you get frustrated hasn’t gotten old yet.”
“This is not possible!” Dagmauru said. “Even as a Berserker there is no possibility that you have this much power. Nothing is more powerful than our gods!”
“Still think your magic reserves are deep enough to outlast us?” Dae asked.
“I have personal reserves as well,” Dagmauru said. “Powers untapped since the age of the gods.”
“They won’t be enough, but go ahead and try them anyways,” Dae said.
Dagmaura threw root spears ten times taller than Dae, followed by bile sprays, and a hundred variations of fire. None of them worked either.
“It would seem that your defenses are sufficiently formidable, for now,” Dagmauru said. “You cannot win though. You’re attacks are meaningless. Nothing can harm this incarnation of divinity.”
“Let’s put that to the test,” Alari said and drew back her hands, gathering a maelstrom of power between them.
Acting in unison with her, the Senkin lancers and the Gallagrin nobles pooled their efforts. At Alari’s command raw power streaked from her hands, joined by a blistered curtain of enchanted arrows and spears of light.
Over and over they struck, hammering away at the Divine Sanctions defenses as Dae watched, ready to defend against any return attacks.
The Divine Sanction was silent though. It soaked each of the attacks and returned looking none the worse for the wear.
“This is incredible,” Dae said.
“We’ll need more than incredible to beat this thing I guess,” Alari said.
“Oh, not that,” Dae said. “I mean it’s incredible that the bound god still isn’t talking.”
“The constraints the Green Council has them under are too strong,” Alarti said.
“We could always change that, couldn’t we?” Dae asked.
“If the Sanction slips out of control it will destroy everything in the Blessed Realms,” Alari said.
“Sure, that could happen,” Dae said. “But I think we might get to see something else instead. Do you trust me?”
“With my life,” Alari said. “Ever since you first confessed how you felt.”
All around them the world had gone silent, as though it sensed the moment that was to come.
“Then let’s end this threat,” Dae said and entwined her fingers with Alari’s.
The bolt that flew from them was formed of golden light and lightning. It smashed into the Sanction and did no more damage than the others had.
At least at first. The beam didn’t let up. Instead it started digging.
Not into the flesh of the god, but rather into the chain which blocked off the god’s mouth.
As the links severed, the world was bathed in a light so searingly bright that it washed away everything before it.