The Heart’s Oath – Chapter 18

Iana wasn’t afraid. With the crash and chaos of battle exploding around her, she had no song in her heart except for exhilaration. This was her day.

She’d trained with her troops for as many years as she could remember. The Council had singled her out for command from before she knew what commanding an army of Warbringers meant. All of the things she’d done in preparation, the long days working to understand her Warbringer, the longer days learning to understand those assigned to her. Discovering how to motivate people, how to keep her troops focused even when she was lost and unsure of what to do. All of that had been in preparation for the moment that was before her.

The Senkin opposition to her troops’ advance was fierce. The fighting was harder than any battle against the monsters of the Lost Glades. Senkin’s military fought with power and precision, they fought without mercy or hesitation, they gave it their all but despite that the Warbringers were winning!

Iana felt like her spirit was glowing with a light bright enough to cast shadows on the sun. She wasn’t just fighting, she was orchestrating. In her mind, the battlefront was one giant, multi-layered song. Discord threatened at every moment to shatter the anthem of victory that Iana was playing, but with each step forward she kept herself and those she directed singing a clear harmony. Thrusts against them became dramatic pauses in the music or dips into a minor key, only for the crescendo surge of her forces advancing again to stir her soul to greater heights of rapture.

In all the days she’d fought the monsters that gathered within the Green Council’s borders, Iana had always wondered what it would be like to face an equal foe. Or at least someone with the same level of resources and training and organization that her forces possessed. She’d lain awake after a long days of training, letting visions of what a real war would look like dance through her head. Would she be fast enough? Would she be smart enough? Could she protect the people she had to protect? How strong was she, really?

Strong enough it turned out.

A Warbringer lost its legs to a massed barrage of solar flares from the Senkin troops but before it hit the ground another Warbringer was at its side. The second Warbringer used the opening in the Senkin lines created by the Senkin attack to launch deadly, barbed whips into their midst. It was a spontaneous moment, the Warbringers acting in response to commands Iana had given them seconds earlier, but it played out like a maneuver they’d spent weeks rehearsing.

Without shields for protection, the attacking unit of Senkin soldiers disappeared in a shower of blood, just as the crippled Warbringer rose on new legs, striding forward into the gap in the Senkin ranks to to wreak more havoc on their numbers.

Iana saw both the ebb and flow of her troops power and called for feints and pushes, attacks and regroupings with such natural ease that it felt like she was fighting two battles at once.

Almost automatically, her Warbringer tore through the battlefield, shielding the seed pods that both destroyed Senkin’s control over the land and gave the Warbringers an inexhaustible well of power to draw on.

Above that battle though, another raged, one in which Iana wielded her troops with a single vision against the Senkin troops. The armies weren’t a collection of individuals but rather two vast fighters who danced slowly and gracefully around one another. Each struck with terrible force, but each was resilient beyond measure too.

When Iana sent a Warbringer to flank to the Senkin army’s north side it was as though she was probing her enemy’s defenses with a poisoned needle. A long Warbringer couldn’t do that much damage, but Senkin had to respond to the strike or else the poison of having a Warbringer cutting through their ranks would rot the formation from the inside out.

As the Senkin troops swarmed around the Warbringer, pinning it in place and burning out huge sections of its structure, a new opening was created in the Senkin defense, like a fighter parrying a low blow at the cost of leaving their head exposed. Iana jumped on that opening, sending in two of her Warbringers. She knew it wasn’t a true opening though and had two more Warbringers prepared to help draw fire from the ones she extended into Senkin’s weakened ranks.

The Senkin army’s shields and fire drove off the first two Warbringers but their efforts weren’t wasted. Other areas of the battle were shifting in response to the damage they inflicted, the Senkin troops falling back to regroup and bring their wounded farther from the fray.

Iana felt drunk with the power that coursed through her. She couldn’t believe how everything she’d been told about the Green Council’s inherent superiority was proving to be true.

Her earlier thoughts of rebellion were washed away by the tide of their impending victory. The Council had been right. By allowing the initial Senkin troops to escape, the force that had been marshalled to oppose them had been gathered too quickly. The Senkin army was a powerful fighting force, but the Council had fielded a more powerful one.

On their own the Warbringers wouldn’t have been enough. Even so mighty a collection of engines of destruction couldn’t defeat a greater number of enemies with similarly strong magics to draw on.  

That was why the Council had sent support.

The yellow fog was one of the deep magics the Council had discovered while the other realms were busy playing their little games. The opaque gas acted as a deadly toxin for the Mindful Races who encountered it, while at the same time providing fuel and power to the Warbringers.

Iana’s Warbringer and all of the rest weren’t operating at full power. They were processing well over the maximum amount of magic that any Warbringer could store.

Behind them, concealed and protected by the wall of yellow fog, the Green Council’s support troops labored. They had simple jobs. Prepare the Conquest Seeds. Load them into the Grand Catapults and keep firing them to where the Warbringers were or where they needed to advance to. Other support casters kept the fog wall advancing, claiming Senkin territory and providing the option of a refuge which Iana’s forces hadn’t needed to use yet.

Those and hundreds of other roles were part of the chorus that sang in Iana’s head and, in the heat of the battle, she loved every voice among them. She was with her people. They were in perfect unity. And they were winning.

Then a force from the sky struck the land and everything shattered into madness.

Iana was nearby, but not the closest to the impact site. Despite the vast weight of her Warbringer and the many enormous feet it stood on, she felt it being flung to the ground like a boneless doll.

The fall disoriented her for a pair of long seconds and by the time she rose a hush had fallen over the battlefield.

At the center of the impact crater stood a woman with wings of azure and sapphire and rose and silver radiating from her back.

Behind her stood a taller, older woman who gazed on the scene before her with the kind of disaffected, regal dignity that made Iana think of the eldest on the Green Council.

The winged woman, a native of Gallagrin based on her coloration and features, surveyed the landscape around her, focusing on the Green Council’s forces.

Iana felt fear creep into her heart, followed by rage. Her forces had been winning. They’d been moving in such powerful harmony and this new arrival had disrupted that? Iana wasn’t going to let that happen.

As quick as she could imagine it, her troops began converging on the new combatant. Iana knew she needed to wipe the winged woman off the board as quickly as possible.

It might even be the final winning play if she could defeat the winged woman and her companion. Surely, she reasoned, this was Senkin’s military pulling out its most powerful warrior as a weapon of last resort? If the winged woman fell then the rest of Senkin’s army might at last understand how outmatched they were and surrender without further fighting. That didn’t feel right but it was all Iana had to go on, so she clung to the idea.

The first Warbringer to make it to the winged woman shot a dozen razor sharp, briarthorn vines out when it was thirty feet away from her.

The winged woman caught the vines.

Then she pulled the Warbringer off its feet and sent it sailing through the air towards her.

As the giant plant monster fell on the winged woman Iana thought their job might be complete with the sacrifice of only one unit.

Then the winged woman punched it.

It was comical to watch. The woman appeared tiny next to the vast bulk of the Warbinger that was falling on her. The next moment though the Warbringer was nothing more than a pile of disconnected kindling twigs, each no larger than a toddler’s index finger.

Iana couldn’t process that for a moment.

One of her Warbringers was gone.

Destroyed in an instant.

Her mind was both frozen in silence and screaming in terror. Her orders sounded hollow and angry to her ears as she directed three other Warbringers to converge on her position as she raced to engage the winged woman as fast as a Warbringer’s colossal gait would allow.

Before they could reach the winged woman though, Iana saw her draw back her wings and take in a deep breath. It looked comical again, but Iana had no desire to laugh.

When the wings came forward something beyond wind came with them.

Air shouldn’t be able to lift wood and vines and water, not on the scale of a Warbringer, but this gale did. Tornado force winds a mile wide slammed into Iana and the rest of her troops blasting them backwards, head over heals.

Behind Iana, the fog curtain was driven back over a mile, revealing the support workers and the Senkin fort they were encamped around. They were exposed and vulnerable where a moment earlier they’d been in no danger at all.

Iana struggled to get her Warbringer to its feet again.

Whatever had landed on their battlefield, it couldn’t be a part of the Senkin army. Nothing could be that strong.

For a horrible moment, a sick idea occurred to Iana.

One of the Sleeping Gods had woken.

That didn’t seem possible and, if it was, Iana didn’t want any part of a quarrel between the gods.

“Now that we have some breathing room, perhaps they will listen to us?” the winged woman said to her companion.

“Their power is not yet spent,” the older woman said. “They will fight because they believe their reserves are not yet depleted.”

Iana wasn’t sure how the Sleeping Gods spoke, but that didn’t sound like what it should be. The older woman was right though. There was still fight left in Iana and her troops. This was her day even if it meant she had to fight the gods themselves to win it!

Alone, she charged forward, quick roots digging deeper into the soil of the converted land than any of her troops could have managed.

She’d built up a massive charge, torn from the newly converted land, by the time she reached the winged woman and she brought that force to bear in one mountain shattering blow.

The winged woman responded by lightly holding up her hand to catch Iana’s crushing attack. The impact fractured the Warbringer’s hand and arm, but the Winged Women didn’t move or flinch in the slightest.

“What is it that drives you?” she asked and pulled Iana’s  Warbringer off balance again to crash down face first. Before Iana could rise, the winged woman laid her hands on on the Warbringer’s back and tore it open.

The excess of magic the Warbringer stored burst forth in a surge of yellow fog. Yellow fog which the winged woman inhaled completely.

Iana watched the woman’s eyes shimmer for a moment, appearing like pools of silver rather than any living eyes that ever existed.

When the winged woman spoke a moment later, wisps of blue mist escaped her mouth.

“The Council’s been playing in our domain,” she said with a delighted smile. “Transformation belongs to us, not them. Not the brightest move on their part was it?”

Then she breathed forth more of the blue mist and Iana felt her control over the Warbringer go numb and freeze away completely.

With the last of her connection to it, Iana watched as the winged woman directed the Warbringer to stand and serve its new master rather than the Green Council.

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