Moving billions of people from one world to another wasn’t possible under the best of circumstances, and from what Val could see, the situation on Greenglim was as far from the best circumstances as it was possible to get.
“If they would just work together!” Sarah curled her hands in fists, frustration pouring off her in waves as around the mob two groups who had come together for negotiation raised their voices ever higher trying to scream each other down rather than talk through their differences.
“Mt Disaster agreed to buy us some more time, but it wasn’t for this,” Val agreed. The temptation to start literally knocking sense into the two parties made her fingers itch, but she kept that urge in check. She could beat a lot of the people here, but even if she smacked all four billion sapients on Greenglim that wasn’t going to lead to the outcome they needed.
“We’re out of time already,” Sarah said. “I got a short communique from James. The High One’s forces have started attacking already. We need to get back there, like twenty minutes ago.”
Val pinched the bridge of her nose. Her talents didn’t run towards diplomacy. Sarah’s didn’t either. They needed someone else for this mission. Almost anyone else in fact. Without someone who understood how the natives of Greenglim thought there wasn’t much hope of getting them to cooperate enough to continue the exodus to their new homes on Earth.
Part of Val wondered if there was any point to even trying.
Greenglim was doomed. Even the mountains knew that. Something the people there had messed around with had proven to be existentially toxic to the planets biome. Maybe Tam or Sarah could have worked out what had happened and been able to offer a solution that would fix the problem at its source, but Val doubted it. Both the Vielii and the Growing Ones had spent decades trying to reverse the environmental disaster that was swallowing their home to no avail.
Even worse, Greenglim was a world where the elemental spirits of the planet were quite awake and active, and they were convinced of the world’s need for death and rebirth as well. Even if there was a plan with a chance to halting or reversing the damage that had been done, Val would have had to fight the land and sea of an entire world to attempt it.
Listening to the two sides bicker, Val wasn’t entirely sure that picking a fight with a planet wouldn’t be the preferable option, but there was a third choice that whispered tempting and seductive words.
The Earth needed them back. Val and Sarah, and every other ally that was pledged to stand in its defense. More than the Earth though, their team needed them. Anna and Tam. Jen and Sarah. JB and Jim and James and Jimmy B.
Val knew where Aranea would be.
The Earth wasn’t going to die before its gods did.
Even gods who spent most of their time in mortal form.
Even gods who were lousy at cooking and who denied clogging the shower drain with hairs ten times longer than any of Val’s could have been.
Even gods she loved.
The attack on the Earth was going to come on multiple levels. It was the only option if the intent was destroy a whole world. Sending a force to ravage the physical world left open the door for all sorts of mystical reprisal from the realms beyond the physical which nonetheless drew sustenance from the mundane sphere they were connected to, or reflections of.
Purely mystical assaults wouldn’t work for a similar reason. Destroy a magical realm and so long as the bedrock it was anchored on existed, it could be reborn from the dreams and wishes of the mortals who remembered it, or feared it.
Val had no idea what the cost of rebuilding a realm like that was, but James had said that’s how things worked, and Val knew she could trust his research.
So the High One and his collaborators were going to assault every part of the Earth. From plain old coffee shops in Des Moine, to nearly lost realms like Sunken Atlantis, and to get to any of them, the High One was going to have to go through all of the divine entities who called their Earth and its realms their home.
For anyone else, that would have been daunting, but the High One had too many supporters to back down.
In the grandest scheme of things they weren’t many. The percentage of worlds that believed in cruelty and the sacrifice of others for their own gain was small, but the High One had been able to energize enough of them to create a force large enough to break through any world’s defenders.
Val knew how the battle was going to go. When the High One struck, the higher Earthly powers would fight back, and while that battle might last a while, it wasn’t one the Earth was going to win. At least not without some outside help.
Help from people who knew what the problems really were. People who could fight back because they knew what each side wanted. The correlation to the situation on Greenglim struck her like a thunderbolt.
“I think I know what we have to do,” she said. “Help me look for some new recruits.”
“Uh, what?” Sarah asked.
“The Second Chance Club needs some new members. We want at least one person on each side who’s interested in calming this down,” Val said.
“How are two people going help get this many under control?” Sarah asked without acknowledging that the job was currently resting on only two pairs of shoulders as it was.
“Because they’re going to look for two more, and so on,” Val said. “We don’t have to convince everyone to settle their differences, we just have to support the people who know what those differences are and want everyone to live to see tomorrow.”
Ambassador Brams wasn’t a combat leader, but he was already tainted thanks to his meeting with Otherworldly powers, and so of all the Preserver’s leadership he was the most expendable.
Other cultures would have considered that unconscionable. Brams’ record of service and dedication to the Preserver’s cause should have won him honor and accolade rather than placing him on the deadliest ground of the Holy Eradication Effort (as the war against the Earth had been official dubbed by the Preserver high command).
Brams smiled at that as a gas station exploded beside him, the blast wave reducing the two nearest buildings to kindling and shrapnel.
He was at the heart of the conflict, as deep in the fighting as he could arrange to be, and there was nowhere else he wanted to be.
His peers would have called him mad. They all subscribed to the idea that being among the powerful and elite meant that they were better and more valuable the common masses. For any of those to expose themselves to mortal peril was unthinkable. Why ever risk something like that? It was what soldiers existed for, to be fed to the engine of violence which would enforce the Preserver’s will and claim ever more power for them.
Wars weren’t fought over principals. Wars were fought because they offered power to the victor. Where the Preserver leadership made their mistake, in Brams’ estimation, was in believing that the elite among Preserver society deserved the power they had collected.
They didn’t. Brams did.
Meeting the High One and hearing his story had confirmed it for Brams.
The High One had once been one power among many but power can’t be shared, only delegated or divided, and any division of authority weakens it all. The High One had solved that problem with the destruction of his peers, claiming their power as his own once there was no one to oppose him.
Brams liked that story, and saw all too clearly how he might force a similar narrative to play out with the Preservers.
Oh, true, he might not chose to stand quite so alone as the High One did. Better to have trusted minions and lesser powers to serve him. Those were always handy to have around in any hierarchy unless you wanted to do all the work yourself. Also, it would be a lot easier to take over his world if he left some room for those who were loyal to him to fill in.
Before that could happen though, he needed to expand his powerbase, and that meant taking a few risks.
A rocket struck the soldier beside him. It packed a similar punch to the gas station explosion, which put it well below the level where the soldier could be harmed by it and where Brams barely even noticed the attack. His troops were wearing the best armor money could buy. His personal armor was substantially better than that. Brams knew he had to take risks, but that didn’t mean he intended to be sloppy about them.
“Destroy the plane that fired that,” Brams said with a wave of his hand towards the nearest soldier. He didn’t care about the ineffectual attacks all that much but he preferred not to be interrupted while he was staking his claim on the new world.
That was the mistake the High One had made, or rather one of the many mistakes the foolish deity had made. The High One saw the Earth as only a blasphemy, and so was only focused on expunging it of life.
With the battles that were raging in the heavens and on the ground, anyone able to fight for the Earth’s survival would be slaughtered and then the whole world and all of its realms would be burned to ashes by a rain of Divine Fire. The High One had shown them all that outcome, the only one the Fates of the Earth had woven into their tapestry because the world’s future was set and nothing could change it.
What the High One missed though was that a world of ash was still a world, and its realms, even if they were dead, empty shells, were still places where power could be gathered and hidden.
Let the other elites stay safely behind the lines, hiding from the dangers they feared. Let them hide from all the opportunities the ruined Earth could provide as well. The Preservers were already focusing their plans on the aftermath of the Earth’s destruction, plotting how they would eradicate the Pure Ones, the High One, and all the others while the war for Earth had left the others weakened. With all their attention turned towards outside threats and the promise of plundering uncountable worlds, there was no better time to strike at them from within.
Their plans would still go forward of course. The other worlds were just as much in need of Holy Eradication at the Earth was. The only change would be who was commanding the Preserver’s forces and who would rule those uncountable worlds.
Brams smile again as more rockets landed. The Earthlings were nothing if not tenacious. Also incapable of seeing the futility of their efforts, but that was to be expected from a species who had fallen under the dominion of something like the Potestates. They would cling to hope as it cut them down like the cruel and merciless blade it was.
Brams felt the smoke from the rocket blasts reaching out to choke him, but he had no more need of the Earth’s atmosphere than he did with its peoples. The smoke did limit his natural vision though so he switched to viewing the world along purely mystical lines.
The first that crashed into his nose glowed like the surface of the sun.
As Brams was sent tumbling head over heels through a cement wall, he only had time to wonder how any Earthly thing had hit him that hard.
Standing a hundred yards away, where he had been directing his soldiers, Val cracked her knuckles and let a wolfish smile play across her face.
She was going to enjoy educating the Preservers on how hard Earthlings could hit when they were backed into a corner.