Undine always liked the idea of arriving in the nick of time to make the perfect save. He’d grown up devouring stories like that, and while he knew reality rarely matched the telling of the great deeds of yore, there was a part of him which hungered for nothing more than to be the unexpected hero who swooped in and saved the day when all seemed lost.
Seeing Princess Iana being thrown off into abyss a moment before he and Eorn arrived was therefore just a trifle disappointing. Undine wasn’t a viscous or vengeful man, but as he watched Iana flailing to gain a handhold that she would never reach, a hard cast settled over his features and his teeth locked together.
“Throw me after her!” Eorn said.
It was a commendable idea. Sail off into the depths of the Abyss to rescue the one they’d been charged to protect. Another of their company, their commander Jyl, had a similar idea, and it failed for her just as it would have for Eorn.
In full Pact Regalia, Jyl leaped into the Abyss to follow Iana and bring her back, but at the edge of the Abyss she hit an invisible wall.
“Our magic is tied to Gallagrin,” Undine said. “Lady Dae warned us of this. We’ve failed.”
The Pact Spirits Undine, Eorn, and the other knights of Gallagrin were bound to were intrinsically a part of Sleeping God’s creation. Neither they, nor those they were bonded to could leave it.
“We have to try something!” Eorn was looking around as though there was some particularly long piece of magical rope they might through to the princess who had been swallowed by the darkness.
Before Undine could refocus her on the other problems that remained before them, two screaming balls of light shot across the quarry. Only the fact that Undine was drawing on his pact’s magics to perceive time passing at a slower rate allowed him to notice the new arrivals as they flew helplessly across the battlefield the quarry had become and out into the darkness beyond.
Without the time to mourn his lost princess, Undine wasn’t about to mourn the passing of two strangers, but their arrival was so outside of his expectations that he watched the Abyss for a fraction of a moment longer after they too vanished into the endless dark.
And that’s when the star appeared.
It was a tiny thing. Nothing more than a spark of light. Against the overwhelming, endless depth of the Abyss it was less than a candle flame, but even all of the weight of the void wasn’t enough to keep it from shining. Undine’s breath caught in anticipation. Nothing could exist in the Abyss, but out there, even beyond the reach of the spirits, a miracle had been born.
The star drew closer and Undine saw that it was a person. As most miracles are.
It was Iana. In her arms were the two Shadowfolk who’d shot off past the end of creation, and garbing her were the enchanted clothes which Dae had gifted her.
“That’s not possible,” Tonel, the Shadowfolk Elder, and also the one who’d thrown Iana into the void, said.
Behind him, his troops, waited, unsteady and fully revealed in the glaring light from Iana’s robes.
“For you, it’s not. For the Blessed Realms’ first Sorceress though? Well let’s just say this isn’t all she’s capable of,” Iana said as she settled down onto the edge of the quarry, the light around her fading away as she return to a space that was at least notionally connected to the Blessed Realms.
“It doesn’t matter,” Tonel said. “She’s not here, and you are still outnumbered. If the Abyss won’t kill you for us, then I will take care of it myself.”
The two Shadowfolk Iana had rescued regained their feet and moved to stand before her.
“Elder Tonel,” Bellightra said. “We bring a message from Elders Banra, Jofolo, and Peregin.”
“The Revolution Stratagem has been formally abandoned,” Lelandra said.
“They also instructed us to inform you that an official pact has been formed between the Shadowfolk Elder Circle and the Princess Prime of Gallagrin,” Bellightra said.
“From this moment forward, you are to drop all efforts at enacting any part of the Revolution Stratagem, in specific any that would impinge on Princess Iana’s health or well-being,” Lelandra said.
“Wait, what is this now?” Jyl asked, sounding as befuddled by the development as Tonel appeared to be.
“I’ve been speaking with the Shadowfolk Elders,” Iana said. “Present company excluded. We’ve come to an arrangement that will benefit both parties.”
“That’s preposterous,” Tonel said. “You’ve been my prisoner since you returned from the trip the World Eaters took you on!”
“I’m not saying I didn’t have help,” Iana said.
“Does this mean you can tell us what Silian was saying while you were mumbling to yourself?” Yuehne asked.
“Silian?” The balls of light in Tonel’s eye sockets burned a brilliant scarlet of rage. “That is not a name your lips may pronounce.”
“Silian, Silian, Silian,” Iana said. “Pretty sure you’re wrong there.”
Tonel tried to take a step forward but Jyl and Pelay were at Bellightra and Lelandra’s side and without fanfare Undine and Eorn joined them. The battlelines were irregular and sloppily drawn but Tonel halted himself, perhaps seeing that what should have been a certain victory was rapidly becoming a likely loss.
“Blasphemer!” Tonel wasn’t moving forward, but he didn’t lower his weapon either.
He’s waiting for reinforcements, Undine thought. It wasn’t a terrifying prospect. They were already outnumbered. Being more outnumbered just meant more glory to be won. Not that the numeric imbalance would last long.
If Tonel wanted to commit the full measure of the Shadowfolk forces to this battle, then he would be handing Lady Dae the opportunity to end their threat once and for all.
Undine delighted at the idea of a glorious battle, but he knew if it came to a full on struggle, there would be little glory to be found.
Ideally in Undine’s mind, a fight was contested by both sides based on the demands placed on their honor. Both parties were as invested in the struggle as the situation demanded, which meant fights to the death only occurred when both parties had something worth laying down their lives for.
In a battle against the Shadowfolk main forces, there would be soldiers fighting because they’d been ordered to die, and there would be Pact Knight’s who were fighting because the Shadowfolk gave them no other choice. It wouldn’t be a combat of equals, it would be warriors fighting like rabid animals against a force with no option but to act as exterminators.
“I would be careful with the use of that word Tonel,” Iana said. “Of the two of us, one is listening to your progenitor informing her of your indiscretions with the attaches you’ve kept over the years and the other is the ‘Elder’ who is so removed from what his people need that he can’t hear the one voice that unites them all.”
“You’re lying, I’m the first among the Elders, I am the best for my people!” Tonel’s voice rose in ire and volume.
“Are you?” Iana asked, stepping past the protective barrier of the Shadowfolk and Pact Knight’s who stood before her. “Who profits from the Revolution Stratagem?”
“All of my people!” he said.
“We will have the vengeance long denied us!”
“No. You won’t,” Iana said. “You’re like a child lashing out at nothing and all you would have gotten from your vendetta is nothing. I am not your enemy, and neither if Queen Alari. She was the one who enacted your vengeance for you. It was by her hands that the Butcher King died. You owe her your thanks and gratitude.”
“You don’t understand our vengeance at all.”
“I’ve burned cities in the name of vengeance. I’ve shattered the boundaries of the realms in the name of revenge. I’ve stood before the wrath of a god with justice on my lips and righteous fury in my soul. You’ve lived longer than me but you will never know as much about vengeance as I do.”
Iana stood nose to nose with Tonel, the fire around her in no sense physical and in no way deniable.
“At least not until you experience the mercy that I’ve seen,” she said, the fierce anger that stormed around her washing away like the tide.
“Vengeance is foolish,” she finished. “Especially misguided vengeance.”
“Vengeance is what we are!” Tonel said.
It wasn’t Iana’s voice that spoke, despite the fact that it was her mouth which moved.
“We have always been more than any one thing,” the speaker said. “We are not vengeance, we are who we chose to be. Always and forever. That is the legacy I left for you.”
“Who are you?” Tonel asked, stepping back as terror rippled down his body.
“You know who I am,” Silian said. “You’ve always known but you’ve never wanted to hear me.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Tonel took another step backwards, and his troops shifted uneasily, their weapons lowering as their leader became visibly unglued.
“It’s time Tonel, there’s still one piece of honor left for you, one act of dignity as yet unruined.”
“What are you talking about?” Tonel brought his weapon up to ward off Iana’s advance.
“He’s speaking of you stepping down,” Iana said as she took a step forward. “You’ve led your people to this precipice. Others are waiting to lead them back, release those who serve you, don’t carry this madness any further. We don’t have any room left to work with.”
“No.” Tonel threw down his weapon. “I will never give up what it mine. It’s mine! Do you hear me! These people are mine! Their greatness is my greatness. It’s greatness that I gave to them and that they will spend for me!”
He turned to his troops, body livid with pulsing rage.
“Do it!” he screamed. “Kill them! Kill her! Do it!”
Silence echoed over the quarry.
It was no longer a battlefield.
No one was willing to fight.
Not for a madman. Not for a tyrant. Not when there was a better way.
Tonel’s scream when he realized this tore through Undine. He’d never heard a sound of such primal fury and loss before. Even as fast as Undine was, Tonel’s movement was hard to follow.
In a blink the Shadowfolk Elder exploded with magical fire. Before another passed, he’d regained his weapon and was rushing at Iana.
The Pact Knights moved as one but in between blinks, Iana simply wasn’t there and Tonel streaked through the space she’d appeared to be in.
In the end, Undine wasn’t sure if Tonel meant to dash off into the Abyss or whether he had simply blundered in his final attack. Blundering seemed more likely and was the story that seemed to spread the easiest among the Shadowfolk.
Iana, standing just a few feet away had perhaps the best view but she spoke of it only as a ‘tragic accident’ and seemed content to allow the memory of the late and unlamented Tonel to pass away without further comment.
“So what is this pact thing she’s put together with the Shadowfolk?” Eorn asked after they were safely back in Castle Highcrest.
“From what I understand, Iana’s instituted a ‘Princess’ Council’,” Undine said.
“And that would be what exactly?” Eorn asked.
“A group of advisors who will help her understand Gallagrin and it’s people better.”
“That doesn’t sound like a big deal,” Eorn said. “Why is everyone up in arms about it?”
“Apparently she’s planning to give each of them her Voice when she takes the throne,” Undine said.
“Wait, like Lady Dae has Queen Alari’s Voice?” Eorn asked.
“Exactly. They’ll all be able to speak as the monarch.”
“Won’t that get….?”
“Confusing? Messy? Why yes.”
“You’re looking forward to this aren’t you?”
“They’ll be be trying times once our foreign princess comes to power but yes, I think they’ll be worth hanging around for too,” Undine said. “Provided you’re here with me?”
“Heh, like you could lose me if you tried,” Eorn said and punched Undine affectionately in the shoulder.