Haldraxan’s entrance to the God’s Hall shattered not just the walls but the divine firmament the sanctified space was built upon. Tremors grew in strength from the moment that he landed but no matter how violently the floor shook it couldn’t slow Dae’s progress towards the center of the room where the two queens were locked in a life-and-death struggle.
Blistering rage flared from her regalia in the form of incandescent ribbons that trailed off Dae’s arms and shoulders like smoke.
She called no warning to Haldri. She offered the Paxmer queen no terms and no option for surrender. One moment she was far across the room striding over ground that was tearing itself apart and the next she was at Haldri’s back, a decapitating swing of her blood drenched blood checked at the last microsecond by Alari raising her hand.
“No,” Alari said. “She needs to live.”
Dae froze into a statue, her every sense screaming to complete the work she’d labored so long and hard to accomplish. Only her love and faith in Alari stood against that primal need.
“She’s hurting you,” Dae said, her will balanced on the edge of her blade as she struggled to understand Alari’s words.
“Not any more,” Alari said. “Not now that you’re here.”
In proof of her words, she pushed Haldri away from Dae’s blade and away from herself.
Haldri was as frozen as Dae, her eyes wide with shock and horror, though she wasn’t focused on either Alari or Dae. Her attention was riveted on Haldraxan, disbelief twisting her features into a mask of horror.
“Why?” Dae asked, her blade trembling as the royal blood that dripped from it began to run black.
“Because we need them,” Alari said.
Dae lowered her sword. Even apart from the demands of love and faith, it wasn’t hard to trust her best friend. She knew the wiley twisting turns of Alari’s mind well enough to be sure in that moment that whatever the Queen of Gallagrin needed them for wasn’t going to involve letting them go free or regaining a position where they could hurt anyone ever again.
The moment her muscles relaxed though, the floor fell out from under them in a titanic roar.
Dae was plunging from into the open sky before she was fully aware of what had happened. Around the debris of the God’s Hall was falling, as were the two queens who’d met within it and the Dragon King who had shattered the barriers around it.
“The Gallagrin Spirit is contested!” Alari’s shout carried over the rush of wind as they fell and Dae understood the ramifications of that.
Without the Gallagrin Pact Spirit, Alari’s personal power was drastically limited. Moreover since the liminal stretch of sky leading to the God’s Hall was not bound to any of the realms, the favors she could call upon were limited as well.
No one had foreseen that the seemingly eternal God’s Hall would be brought low as part of their plans, so neither queen had contingencies in place for the eventuality of it. Dae however did had a Dragon King under her direct and absolute control and, being as large as a castle, he was more than capable of gently plucking all of the falling people from the sky. Flying however was another matter.
“The High Road is falling to pieces too!” Dae said as Haldraxan wobbled in flight from the aetheric turbulence. “Where do we go?”
“Head to Highcrest,” Alari said. “And declare my south eastern garden ceded to Paxmer as an embassy.”
“What?” Dae asked, her thoughts scrambled by the unintended acrobatics of Haldraxan’s flight.
“You still speak with the Queen’s Voice,” Alari said. “Sanli doesn’t know I authorized that so she can’t have contested it. You still have my full Royal Authority.”
“Can I speak against her then?” Dae asked. “Strip her of her citizenship?”
“No, she’s already bound by the magics of the contest,” Alari said. “Neither one of us can be banished, brought to trial or stripped of our position by other means until the contest is resolved. It takes priority over everything else.”
“In that case, I declare that the south east garden of Alari Gallagrin is hereby gifted to the realm of Paxmer to stand as sovereign soil for all of their uses both physical and mystical for so long as Gallagrin chooses to retain diplomatic relations between the two realm,” Dae said and then asked, “Will that cover it well enough?”
“That was perfect,” Alari said and hugged her knight.
“I do not understand,” Haldri said, blinking and coming out of the horror-daze that had stunned her senses away. “What are you doing with us?”
“I am bringing you to my castle,” Alari said.
“Why?” Haldri asked. “You could have tortured us anywhere. Oh, or will ours be a public execution?”
“I’m not going to execute you, or torture you at all,” Alari said. “In fact you’re going to be an honored guest.”
“A what now?” Haldri asked.
“That will be your official designation,” Alari said. “If you wish a clearer picture of your plight, then imagine yourself as a trophy I shall pose in my garden. You will spend the rest of your days a prisoner in a iron cage. Through you I will show the world what it means to cross me.”
“So there will be torture,” Haldri said, tired and expecting her fate.
“There will be no need for that,” Alari said. “Your life as a queen is over. You tested me, and you having nothing left as a result. No throne. No power. No options save for those which I grant you. Every day you live will be at my sufferance, until I decide I no longer need you as an example to others.”
“I still have power yet,” Haldri said and raced to leap from the side of Haldraxan’s back to her death on the ground below.
Dae’s sword flashed in the sunlight, burying itself through Haldri’s leg and into Haldraxan’s thick scales.
“No,” Alari said. “You don’t.”
Haldri screamed in rage.
“Why? Why do this? What do you gain?”
“You were right,” Alari said. “About the century of bloodshed the two of us were set to loose upon the world.”
“That cannot be changed,” Haldri said. “A realm has fallen, the god’s defenses are gone. Even their hall of peace has crumbled. All that is left for us is fire and death.”
“Spoken like a dragon,” Dae said.
Haldri glared at her for speaking to a queen so bluntly but with her injured leg and overall precarious position the former regent of Paxmer was wise enough to refrain from making any complaints.
“We are not going to tolerate years of violence,” Alari said, drawing herself up to her full regal height. Most of the Gallagrin Pact Spirits power was still lost to her, but even without it she could manage a royal bearing. “Your offense against us came to light two seasons ago. Before that time we bore you and yours no ill will. It was our hope that our two realms could be united in a peaceful spirit. In those two seasons, we conceived and enacted a plan which has overthrown your reign and opened your realm to our complete conquest and subjugation. What do you think think that will tell our peers?”
“I already explained how they will see today’s events,” Haldri said. “Even the dimmest among them will at last understand that they can profit from their neighbors weakness, or that their neighbors will be looking to profit from theirs.”
Around them the wind whistled as Haldraxan glided onto a new path, finding one of the High Roads which ran to the capital of Gallagrin. With support of the aerial pathway, the Dragon King’s flight grew more stable. Dae kept the giant beast on the upper tiers of the High Roads nonetheless to avoid the issue of being over Gallagrin soil. Too close in would be just as lethal as landing would be. Only the farthest, most unclaimed of High Roads could allow a dragon passage over another realm, and even then Dae could feel the lack of ambient Paxmer magic stealing away the Dragon King’s monumental strength. No lesser dragon could hope to match their king’s power and so none could hope to match his range.
“You misunderstand,” Alari said. “What will our peer learn of Gallagrin and our power when they see you brought low?”
Haldri looked puzzled for a moment and then understanding blossomed.
“They will be terrified of you,” Haldri said. “None of them will understand how you defeated us, and by keeping Haldraxan and myself alive you will make it appear that we are no threat to you at all.”
“They will be afraid of our power,” Alari said. “They will be daunted by the prospect of contending against us when so old and bitter an adversary was dispatched so quickly, but, they will be afraid of us.”
“How can they not be?” Haldri said. “You have done what no monarch before you has. They will be horrified at the prospect that you will do the same to them!”
“At first they will be,” Alari said. “Which is why I will speak to them. And why they will see you.”
“You would use me to show what their destruction will look like?” Haldri asked. “And my realm to show how badly damaged theirs will become?”
“No,” Alari said. “Your realm will not be damaged. There will be no plunder, no burning, no retribution. Not against your realm, or against your person.”
“That’s insane,” Haldri said. “Paxmer is full of wealth. There is power there to be seized with both hands.”
“Yes, we’re going to leave Paxmer’s wealth and power to those who follow in your wake. Let them repair the damage you have done to your realm,” Alari said.
“You don’t need it?” Haldri asked and again understanding lit her eyes. “You don’t need it. You’re sending a message to the other realms. You’re showing them that you conquered my realm simply because you could, because you chose to.”
“Yes,” Alari said. “And I will tell them that should anyone else try to conquer one of the Blessed Realms, we will stand in the defense of those who are imperiled.”
“And if anyone tries to conquer Gallagrin,” Dae said. “Our armies will be backed by the Dragons of Paxmer.”
“You can’t take our dragons!” Haldri said. “They can’t survive outside of Paxmer.”
“Of course they can,” Dae said. “I’ve seen them on your ships. So long as they have a bit of Paxmer territory to work from, they can strike almost anywhere.”
“Your plan can’t work,” Haldri said. “Without our dragons, Paxmer will be the weakest of the realms. Everyone will descend on us.”
“We are not taking the dragons away,” Alari said. “We will simply place their care in wiser hands.”
Haldri blinked at that and, surprisingly, relaxed. Dae unsummoned her sword and moved to bandage the wounded queen’s leg.
“I feel very light all of a sudden,” Haldri said.
“It’s the blood loss,” Dae said. “You’ll be fine, I didn’t hit anything critical.”
She spared a questioning glance at Alari, who smiled in return both at Dae and at Haldri, who was no longer queen and no longer a threat.
As Haldraxan flew onwards, Alari’s gaze went distant and she started to mumble as though reciting a conversation overheard from a great distance.
“Sanli is making her concluding arguments,” Alari said.
“How does the contest stand?” Dae asked.
“She’s claimed that I have brought Gallagrin only war and ruin,” Alari said. “That I am a danger to all and that no good has ever come from my misguided rule.”
“I’m not allowed to kill her, am I?” Dae asked.
“You won’t need to,” Alari said. “I think we can make a rather dramatic case of our own.”
Dae smiled and angled Haldraxan downwards towards Highcrest, eager to see the look on the noble’s faces when their true queen arrived.