When the Divine Sanction fell, Iana’s world was washed away in light. It wasn’t a blinding brilliance though. Her eyes felt more open than they ever had before.
“Hello daughter,” a woman as tall as the sky said. She was clad in all the shades of green and had traits from everyone Iana had ever known or seen in the Council’s realm.
Iana was so dwarfed by Telliakai that any emotion besides abject terror should have been impossible to feel.
Instead though she felt warm.
“Hello,” Iana said.
“Thank you for your courage,” the goddess said. “You have changed the world we made.”
“Is that ok?” Iana asked.
“Of course,” Telliakai said. She wasn’t the world encompassing figure she had been. She walked beside Iana as a human girl of Iana’s age and height but she was somehow no smaller than she’d been before. “We left you this world. It is yours to mold and grow now. I am glad you chose to change it for the better.”
“I think it was pretty terrible before,” Iana said.
“Yes, it was,” Teliakai said.
“Why did you leave us then?” Iana asked. “Couldn’t you have stopped this from happening?”
“Yes, I could have controlled everything that occurred within our realm,” Teliakai said. “But if I controlled it all, there would be no you.”
“What do you mean?” Iana asked.
“If you speak my words and perform my deeds, if you can’t make any bad decisions or poor choices because I am there to correct them, then your life will be mine and there will be no trace of you within it,” Telliakai said.
“So we need to be bad to be ourselves?” Iana asked.
“No, you need to be able to choose,” Telliakai said. “That is one of many reasons why my cousins and I descended to sleep. To allow you to choose for yourselves the world you’ll create.”
“But we don’t all get to choose,” Iana said. “They made me into what I am.”
“Yes, they did,” Telliakai said. “And choosing to be different than what they willed you to be was difficult wasn’t it?”
“I don’t even know if I chose that,” Iana said. “I think I had to do what I did.”
“Many choices feel like that,” Telliakai said. “And that is why I thank you.”
“It feels like the forest is still calling to me, like I still need to obey it,” Iana said.
“You know you don’t though,” Telliakai said. “You’ve chosen to walk a path outside it. You can continue to make that choice, or you can return. Accepting the will of the forest can be as much of a choice as rejecting it is.”
“If I don’t go back, will it still hurt?” Iana asked.
“Yes and no,” Telliakai said. “You bear wounds which will need care to heal. That may come in time, or you may rejoin the Council and drift off into the embrace of what you know to fill the holes your masters carved into you. If you walk away though, you will find that distance will help you grow in new directions and become someone you can’t yet imagine you would be. Whichever you chose though, there will be no guarantee of a life devoid of pain.”
“I don’t want to go back,” Iana said.
“Then you will need to find a way forward,” Telliakai said. “I will grieve my realm’s loss in losing you, but celebrate the world’s joy at the happiness you may find.”
“What about the people I served with? Can you make it so that the other pilots have it easier?” Iana asked.
“The world is no longer mine to change, except in tiny bits perhaps,” Telliakai said. “But it is yours. If you wish to see their suffering averted, that is a task to set your shoulders to.”
“I don’t know if I can manage that,” Iana said. “My Warbringer is destroyed and I’m not much of anything without it.”
“You are more than you can imagine,” Tellaikai said.
It was difficult to deny the judgment of a god, and even as rattled as she was by the enormity of the events that surrounded her, Iana felt a kernel of joy bloom forth in her heart.
“What happened to the others?” Iana asked.
“There are many others who were affected by the events you played as role in,” Tellaikai said. “And many things have happened to them.”
“What about Alari? And Wylika? And Dagmauru?” Iana asked.
“The Gallagrin Queen awaits you when you leave my sanctum,” Telliakai said. “Your second-in-command is safe and rushes to save you even now, unaware that you are no longer in peril. As for my Undying One, Dagmauru is telling me all of what he has done while I have been asleep.”
“Are you going to punish him?” Iana asked.
“No, his punishment shall come from those he wronged,” Teliakai said.
“What about the children in the creche?” Iana asked. “He set them up to die. He wanted them killed so the Council would have a reason to go to war.”
“Under normal circumstances the burden would be upon you to speak for them,” Telliakai said. “In this case though, since he used my power without invitation, I have some additional leeway to work with. When he is called to account for his deeds, even the dead will be able to speak and render their verdict on him.”
“Will I get to see you again?” Iana asked.
“Though you may leave my realm, you will always be my child,” Telliakai said. “It is doubtful that we will meet in this fashion again, but if you look me, you will see my work throughout your world.”
“In the things you made in the Green Council you mean?” Iana asked.
“The Green Council was my realm, shared with my siblings,” Telliakai said. “But my siblings and cousins touched much more of your world than just our own realms. Though we eventually divided it up into our own pieces, your world began as a collaboration between many of us and is the stronger and the better for not being cast in any one of our images.”
Iana hugged Telliakai.
“I don’t want to go back there,” she said.
“We can stay here as long as you like child, but your life is outside my sanctum,” the goddess said.
Iana held her tighter, and Telliakai embraced her back softly.
Going back to the real world meant confronting Dagmauru over his betrayals. It meant acknowledging the Green Council’s mistreatment of her and all of the other Warbringer pilots. It meant acknowledging the things she’d done in her rage.
It was so much easier to stay wrapped in the warmth of a goddesses love, but after a long, timeless moment, Iana knew she had to let go.
“I can’t stay here can I?” she asked.
“Not and remain yourself,” Telliakai said.
“What if I don’t want to be me anymore?” Iana asked.
“Then we would have a different conversation,” Telliakai said. “But that’s not what you want, is it?”
Iana considered what it would be like to be a bird, or a growing vine, or even some other human girl. She wouldn’t have to deal with any of the problems that stood before her. She’d be free in her new life. She could leave her past behind in exchange for a fresh start, free from the wounds she carried and the sins she needed to atone for.
But she wouldn’t just be leaving behind her problems. She’d be leaving Wylika behind. And any chance to make up for the things she’d done.
“No, it’s not what I want,” Iana said, drying her eyes. “I want to go back. I want to be a better me the hard way I guess.”
Telliakai wiped away a tear of her own.
“I am proud of you, my daughter,” Teliakai said. “I may not change your world but I can give you this blessing; always and forever there will be someone who remembers you and who loves you and who is so very inspired by the child she helped create. You are your own person, but you will ever be in my heart and as you stood today against power that was stolen from me, so too will that which is mine never harm or hinder you.”
“I hope I can see you again!” Iana said.
“I can promise you will see me one more time, though perhaps we shall meet before then as well?” Teliakai said.
The light that embraced Iana faded away leaving her on the blasted plains, standing before the vast chasm that the Divine Sanction had torn into the lands with it’s repeated blasts.
“Iana!” Alari called out, appearing at her side and helping her to sit up.
Several feet away, the husk of Iana’s modified Warbringer sagged. A few taproots remained sunk into the earth, but the giant enchanted machine was too spent to be moved.
“Alari?” she asked. “Are we alive still? I think I just talked to one of my gods?”
“We’re all ok,” said another woman, the one who’d appeared in a flash of lightning.
There was a hardness to the woman’s frame, all solid muscles and sharp lines, but the joy that danced in her eyes was so soft and warm that Iana couldn’t believe she was the same person who’d stood before a machine with the power of a god and called for its wrath.
“How about you?” Alari asked. “You were at the epicenter of that blast and we didn’t have anything good to shield you with.”
“I don’t think I was in any danger,” Iana said. “Not from Telliakai anyways.”
“I’m pretty sure we’ve taken care of your problem with your boss too,” Dae said.
“Yes, Telliakai said she was speaking with Dagmauru,” Iana said. “I don’t think he’ll be any trouble from here on.”
“I’d kind of like to be a fly on the wall for that conversation,” Dae said.
“Given where we are, be careful what you wish for,” Alari said.
“Point taken,” Dae said, looking around the devastation that surrounded them.
“So what happens next?” Iana asked.
“I think I finally get to have the leaders of the realms come to my conference,” Alari said. “After this at least the Green Council, Senkin, Inchesso, and Paxmer should be deeply interested in establishing rules to prevent this sort of thing from happening again.”
“That’ll drag the other realms in too,” Dae said. “No one’s going to want to be left out and left vulnerable as a result.”
“What about with us though? Or are you going to hold the conference right here?” Iana asked.
“It’s tempting,” Alari said. “Maybe if they were forced to breath in these ashes the delegates and monarchs would be less likely to lose focus. I suspect for that exact reason though they’ll want it to be held elsewhere.”
“We’ll need to deal with the army we brought here,” Dae said. “If I know our nobles they’re already planning how they’re going to spend the loot from ransacking the Green Council. And whatever side trips they can get away with into Senkin.”
“I think we can dissuade them from that idea,” Alari said. “The Divine Sanction we fought isn’t the only one the Green Council has after all.”
“Yes, but…” Dae silenced herself. “Right, wouldn’t want to tackle with the other ones they have in reserve.”
“Are you going back to Gallagrin then?” Iana asked.
“That seems like the safest place to put a bunch of Gallagrin nobles” Dae said.
“Can I come with you?” Iana asked.
She couldn’t stay in the forests of the Green Council. She needed distance from what had gone on there. She needed to discover who she was without the next Dagmauru feeding her convenient lies.
“Certainly!” Alari said. “You have a place of honor in my realm, always.”
“I won’t take up much space,” Iana said. “We’re taught to live in our command pods for days at a time.”
“That’s ok,” Dae said, exchanging an unreadable look with Alari. “I think I know a family that can take you in.”
Relief flooded through Iana’s heart, only to be immediately replaced with further trepidation.
“I can’t leave my troops though,” she said feeling ripped in half.
“Those would be the fifteen or so pilots who chose not to fight you when you were protecting me?” Alari asked.
“Yes,” Iana said. “Dagmauru raised us as a family. I have to make sure they’re ok.”
“Do you think they would want to come to Gallagrin too?” Dae asked.
“I don’t think any of us will want to stay knowing what we do now,” Iana said.
“That should be fine then,” Alari said. “The family Dae has in mind shouldn’t have any problem taking on all of you.”
“Do you think the Council will oppose us on that?” Dae asked.
“They’re certainly free to try,” Alari said with a cheerful grin.
The capital city of Highcrest was like a living miracle in Iana’s eyes. So many people from so many places and so many different languages being spoken that she felt like she was standing within a song that had no beginning or ending.
Forest songs were like that in the spring when life was abundant and fresh, but Highcrest seemed to be like that all the time.
“What if the family the queen has set us up with turns out not to like us?” Wylika asked.
She and the other Warbringer pilots who’d been under Iana’s command had been released from their service to the Green Council with honors and applause. A new group of councilors were in the majority but even so none of the pilots wished to stay, which was just as well given that the Warbringer program was being decommissioned from what Iana had heard.
“Then we’ll go somewhere else,” Iana said.
“Can they really have room for all of us though?” Wylika asked.
“We don’t eat much or take up much space, and we’re trained, so maybe they’ll want us to act as guards or something?” Iana said.
Their carriages rolled through the merchant districts and into the nobles estates, which both relieved and worried Iana. She knew her troops weren’t adept at any of the merchant crafts and while that seemed like a nice and peaceful existence, she wasn’t sure that nice and peaceful would ever fight her properly.
The noble’s quarters frightened her in the abstract. Everything she’d ever heard about Gallagrin’s nobles was that they were a pack of bloodthirsty demons, an impression which had been all but confirmed based on the damage they’d done to the Council’s invasion force.
As the carriage rolled through the gates of the castle proper though, Iana began to wonder where their final destination would be.
Perhaps the Queen was going to personally introduce them, to ensure the small army of trained warriors from the Green Council was properly received by their new hosts?
She was perplexed when the carriages took a turn towards the outer section of the castle grounds and finally stopped before a large house that was isolated in one of the queen’s gardens.
“We will bring your personal belongings to your rooms if you wish?” one of the valets asked.
“Ok,” Iana said. She didn’t have much in terms of personal belongings and her mind was swimming at the notion that her room was anywhere near the elegant building before her.
The garden was woven into the building’s exterior with a skill that the grandest architect in the Green Council would have envied.
It was ridiculous of course. A pure expression of aesthetic beauty without any sort of functionality, as though the garden didn’t need to accomplish at least five purposes at once. As though it was allowed to simply be a work of art and that was enough to justify its existence.
“Is this where we’re staying” Wylika asked, sounding as entranced as Iana felt.
“Yes, they’re waiting for you inside,” the valet said.
Iana stepped through the main doors uncertain what sort of mad people her new family might be, to have a garden like that and to take in so many children they didn’t know.
“Welcome home,” Alari said.
“How was the trip?” Dae asked.
“You?” Iana asked. “We’re going to be with you?”
“Alari’s wanted children for a long time,” Dae said.
“And my nobles have been worried about my lack of them,” Alari said. “Hopefully they will enjoy meeting Gallagrin’s new Princesses and Princes.”
“I’m a Princess now?” Iana asked.
“You’re whatever you want to be,” Alari said. “But if you wish it, I would be honored to have you standing beside me.”